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Thread: Subjectivity as a dimension rather than a substance or property

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    Veteran Member PyramidHead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by untermensche View Post
    OK.

    I will stop being nice.

    The idea that singular minds are all a unique dimension is absolute shit.

    A very stupid idea.
    VERY SAD!

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    Yes the stupid idea that can't be rationally defended is also sad.

  3. Top | #23
    Fair dinkum thinkum bilby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PyramidHead View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by untermensche View Post
    OK.

    I will stop being nice.

    The idea that singular minds are all a unique dimension is absolute shit.

    A very stupid idea.
    VERY SAD!
    Well, when it comes to very stupid ideas about the mind, you must admit that untermensche is something of an expert. His experience is the field is unsurpassed.

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    Tell me one stupid idea I hold.

    More total bullshit pretending to be knowledge.

  5. Top | #25
    Veteran Member PyramidHead's Avatar
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    Let's not go any further with making the thread about untermensche.

    One thing I would like to clarify is that we run into a language problem when we try to talk about subjective awareness. It's like trying to paint a picture of a blank canvas, but not just any blank canvas, the very canvas upon which you're making the present painting. It can quickly devolve into semantic nonsense. For this reason I think it will be useful to back up and define some ways of talking about this idea of a dimension called the subject.

    Why do I not say, as unter suggests, that every person has their own subjective dimension?

    The answer is that such a view goes too far in positing a 1:1 relationship between conscious organisms and instances of subjective awareness. There are simply no criteria that would unify the contents of a given person's life, such that it constitutes "Bob's subjective world" and is the same world throughout all of Bob's experiences. Certainly there is no physical identity that preserves the subject throughout an entire lifetime, nor does a particular pattern or relation of patterns connect all the various occurrences within a single brain's subjective awareness. That we call it a "single brain" as such is a convention of language to help us focus on the distinctions we evolved to regard as important. In reality, there is no concrete barrier that metaphysically separates anything from anything else.

    So, in the region of space and time we humans call "Bob's brain" for the sake of convenience, there are neurochemical events taking place, and from Bob's perspective these have a tactile feeling of being tickled under the arm with a feather. Nowhere in the region of spacetime we have cordoned off and scrutinized will we find anything that remotely resembles the tickle as Bob experiences it. I argue that this does not point to the tickle being made of "mental stuff" or appearing as a "mental property", but that the feel of being tickled is one and the same object of analysis as the region of spacetime called "Bob's brain", but viewed along a different axis, from the inner perspective looking out rather than from the outer perspective looking in. Things in reality having different experiential contents that cannot be reconciled with one another is a familiar property of dimensions; from any spot along the Great Wall of China, I will have no problem measuring how tall it is, provided I have a good ladder. But to measure its length, I can't just stay in one spot along its span, I have to traverse the whole thing. No measurement I take on the ladder will get me any closer to knowing how long it is. That's what our lack of success in locating subjective experience in the brain is actually like.

    We can picture Bob's brain having multiple configurations across time and space, from year to year or moment to moment, with only fuzzy connections linking all of the instances into one whole. In short, there is no underlying physical unity to justify treating Bob's inner experience as corresponding to his own personal subjective world. The differences between slices of Bob's brain across time are not special compared to the differences between Bob's brain and Mary's brain at a given time. Both are regions of the universe in which physical interactions among neurons are organized in a way that it is like something to feel. They cannot be sorted into neat boxes corresponding to the persons Bob and Mary. They are, at bottom, tokens of the same phenomenon, which when experienced in a first-person way is uncountable and seamlessly unified despite being realized over many iterations. It is experienced simply and immediately as the dimension of this, here, mine, now, regardless of what region of the universe comes together to produce it.

    Like the depth of a 3-D polygon, the subject adds something to what is observed in an absolute sense that does not admit to degrees along a spectrum. So long as there is any extension at all of depth, the polygon will remain a 3-D object. It does not become more or less 3-D as its depth is varied. In just the same way, the subject in each perspective undergoes experiences unilaterally or not at all. An unconscious inanimate object is like a flat square, with precisely zero depth, for even a smidgen of depth would instantaneously classify it as 100% 3-D. Similarly, for an experience to be subjectively noticed in even the smallest way means it is totally present in the awareness of the subject.

    We do not expect each instance of spatial depth to have some kind of stable linkage with all others. The depth of my computer monitor is in no way integrated with the depth of the picture frame on my wall. Yet, both are tokens of the same phenomenon, depth, best understood as a dimension of space we perceive as going "inward" relative to height and width. If we never encountered anything with depth, that description would be meaningless to us. Akin to this is the ineffable quality of subjective experience; there is literally no way to describe what yellow looks like without reference to other subjective experiences. And like depth, there does not need to be any mystical causal influence between "Bob's" subjectivity and "Mary's" subjectivity (defined as they are through the convention of identifying and naming regions of reality that are important for human needs) in order to treat the thing they both occupy as a dimension, impossible to characterize or conceive in terms of the others, as is befitting the category.

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    You will not be able to distill from existence "pure" experience.

    All experience is experience as something.

    As a bird as a human.

    As an individual.

    You experience as yourself, even if you were slightly different yesterday.

    You cannot experience as anything besides yourself.

    All of experience is an individual endeavor.

    Dimensions are static and uniform.

  7. Top | #27
    Contributor Speakpigeon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PyramidHead View Post
    I mentioned this in another thread, but I read somewhere that a lot of the confusion about the mind/body problem and how to account for qualia seems to stem from the assumption that first-person experiences should be interpreted either as substances (so that it makes sense to say "aha, no matter how closely you look at my brain you'll never find the experience of seeing red!") or properties (with the apparent dead end of explaining why certain physical events have this weird property of feeling like something). But when you reflect on the issue, the ineffability of the subjective has a lot in common with the ineffability of a dimension. Here I'm using "dimension" in its sense of describing an extent in which measurements can be made independently from measurements in other dimensions. Not in the sloppy way people talk about "alternate dimensions" when they really mean parallel universes and such.

    So, the ordinary concept of a dimension like height, which cannot be approximated even in theory when you're only looking at length or depth, is what consciousness behaves like in practice. Think about it: for the denizens of someplace like Flatland, where everybody is a height-less line segment or simple polygon, height isn't even something that can be put into words. Their philosophers would struggle to make sense of it, suggesting perhaps that it was a special substance that could appear and disappear magically, or a special property of some lines and not others, or perhaps some would claim all lines have height in varying degrees. Eliminativists about height would counter that a complete physical explanation of everything in Flatland could be provided without requiring anything like height as a substance nor a property, so it's actually a fairytale, an illusion.

    None of these views would quite capture the reality of the situation, of course. Height isn't a substance, for one thing. It's kind of like a property, but not in the same way being bald or being an accountant is a property. You don't say of someone: she is 36 years old, wears a leather jacket, has brown hair, and has height. In actuality, you'd say she is tall, short, or some specific height, which is how dimensions work. They aren't properties in and of themselves, but the stage or span in which properties are located relative to one another.

    The subjective world seems amenable to this interpretation. We can't make sense of it as a substance without running afoul of physics, and it seems useless as an explanatory tool when we treat it as a property. But as a dimension, it naturally takes on the qualities we expect from it. Things seem to be situated within it, like buildings and trees are apparently situated in the vertical dimension relative to the ground, and descriptions of it seem to be independent of descriptions based in other dimensions, like the measurement of an object's height is fully independent of its weight or temperature (I'm simplifying for argument's sake).

    Thus, looking for consciousness by scrutinizing the brain down to its smallest details is unlikely to ever reveal first-person sensation, not because qualia are some new kind of substance or immaterial property of all matter, but because we are like Flatlanders, unable to take a view that looks "down" upon the plane of our experience, unable to experience experiencing per se as itself an object of experience. We just have to accept the fact that the inner, outward-looking perspective of the mind is a dimension of reality that we shouldn't expect to be causally linked to any other, in much the same way that we normally don't believe height is caused by certain configurations of length, or that time arises only when there is a particular degree of complexity in an object's width. Consciousness is a dimension like those, and the mysterians are right that we will never describe it in terms of the other dimensions.
    Sure, why not? However, it seems to me it is just a rewording of the dualist view. Subjectivity in one dimension and the physical world in another, or else I don't see the point of talking of dimensions. Me, I doubt that it's a promising direction of inquiry. The subjective world is all we know as subjects. The physical world is something we come to believe exists on the basis of our subjective experience. We experience redness and we believe there's a red flower. That's good enough to me as a starting point and that's all we seem to understand, when we do. From there, either you try the dualist route, saying knowledge and beliefs are two distinct modalities irreducible to each other so that all we can do is live with them and be content, like I do (I don't see where would be the need for a reduction). Or you try the monist route where somehow one of the two modalities would reduce to the other so that we would be left with just one of them. Materialists may well think there's just the physical world. Others may well think there's just the subjective world. Another thing would be for them to prove either claim, or even offer some convincing justification they are right. We would need some very clever perspective on this but your "dimension" paradigm doesn't seem to help at all. And it should be expected that humans are limited in what they can understand even if the road to knowledge is infinite.
    EB

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    Veteran Member PyramidHead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Speakpigeon View Post
    Sure, why not? However, it seems to me it is just a rewording of the dualist view. Subjectivity in one dimension and the physical world in another, or else I don't see the point of talking of dimensions. Me, I doubt that it's a promising direction of inquiry. The subjective world is all we know as subjects. The physical world is something we come to believe exists on the basis of our subjective experience. We experience redness and we believe there's a red flower. That's good enough to me as a starting point and that's all we seem to understand, when we do. From there, either you try the dualist route, saying knowledge and beliefs are two distinct modalities irreducible to each other so that all we can do is live with them and be content, like I do (I don't see where would be the need for a reduction). Or you try the monist route where somehow one of the two modalities would reduce to the other so that we would be left with just one of them. Materialists may well think there's just the physical world. Others may well think there's just the subjective world. Another thing would be for them to prove either claim, or even offer some convincing justification they are right. We would need some very clever perspective on this but your "dimension" paradigm doesn't seem to help at all. And it should be expected that humans are limited in what they can understand even if the road to knowledge is infinite.
    EB
    The advantage of the dimensional view, as I see it, is that you can take the monist route without insisting that the modalities reduce to one another, having your cake and eating it too. Here is why. If I say of a square that it has length and width, I have not proposed anything like dualism about the square. I can happily and consistently remain a monist about whatever the square is made of. Yet, nor do I have to say that its length can be explained in terms of its width or vice versa. This is because monism and dualism are stances about what substances exist or not, but dimensions are merely aspects of substances and do not add the same ontological "baggage" as positing a whole new class of things. Whether there is only one kind of substance or two, and whether reality is mental, physical, or something else, the dimensions of space and time can be described in exactly the same way without modification. I say this is how we should be conceptualizing subjecthood, as an aspect of the framework like the spatial and temporal dimensions instead of an object within it. To me, it would render the whole discussion about qualia and brain states pointless, like trying to measure the circumference of a point or the duration of a plank of wood.

    The question, as you say, is how to demonstrate that this is truly the right way to conceptualize subjectivity, because ordinarily speaking, if there are no empirical consequences to a hypothesis then it might as well just be called a language modification with no substance. However, I don't know if dismissing this view on those grounds would be warranted. If what I'm saying has merit, we need only to think of the situation with regards to the other dimensions we are familiar with and ask how their natures were demonstrated. As it turns out, this helps my view. Never did it require demonstrating that the height of a tree was distinct from the width of its trunk and its age over time, because such are basic features of observation itself, not objects of observation.

    In fact, imagining the perspective of a two-dimensional being with no concept of height, we can find no justification even in principle that would make him fully comprehend what height actually is; that dimension is simply not a feature of his observational apparatus. If his colleagues in two-dimensional philosophy departments regarded the "hard problem of height" as a perennial mystery that needed solving, and started proposing models of reality that divided substances into "physical" (for them, having length and width) and the inscrutable substance of "tallness", we would know they were wasting their time, as height is properly understood as a simple dimension, nothing that would necessitate a divided ontology.

  9. Top | #29
    Contributor Speakpigeon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PyramidHead View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Speakpigeon View Post
    Sure, why not? However, it seems to me it is just a rewording of the dualist view. Subjectivity in one dimension and the physical world in another, or else I don't see the point of talking of dimensions. Me, I doubt that it's a promising direction of inquiry. The subjective world is all we know as subjects. The physical world is something we come to believe exists on the basis of our subjective experience. We experience redness and we believe there's a red flower. That's good enough to me as a starting point and that's all we seem to understand, when we do. From there, either you try the dualist route, saying knowledge and beliefs are two distinct modalities irreducible to each other so that all we can do is live with them and be content, like I do (I don't see where would be the need for a reduction). Or you try the monist route where somehow one of the two modalities would reduce to the other so that we would be left with just one of them. Materialists may well think there's just the physical world. Others may well think there's just the subjective world. Another thing would be for them to prove either claim, or even offer some convincing justification they are right. We would need some very clever perspective on this but your "dimension" paradigm doesn't seem to help at all. And it should be expected that humans are limited in what they can understand even if the road to knowledge is infinite.
    EB
    The advantage of the dimensional view, as I see it, is that you can take the monist route without insisting that the modalities reduce to one another, having your cake and eating it too. Here is why. If I say of a square that it has length and width, I have not proposed anything like dualism about the square. I can happily and consistently remain a monist about whatever the square is made of. Yet, nor do I have to say that its length can be explained in terms of its width or vice versa. This is because monism and dualism are stances about what substances exist or not, but dimensions are merely aspects of substances and do not add the same ontological "baggage" as positing a whole new class of things. Whether there is only one kind of substance or two, and whether reality is mental, physical, or something else, the dimensions of space and time can be described in exactly the same way without modification. I say this is how we should be conceptualizing subjecthood, as an aspect of the framework like the spatial and temporal dimensions instead of an object within it. To me, it would render the whole discussion about qualia and brain states pointless, like trying to measure the circumference of a point or the duration of a plank of wood.

    The question, as you say, is how to demonstrate that this is truly the right way to conceptualize subjectivity, because ordinarily speaking, if there are no empirical consequences to a hypothesis then it might as well just be called a language modification with no substance. However, I don't know if dismissing this view on those grounds would be warranted. If what I'm saying has merit, we need only to think of the situation with regards to the other dimensions we are familiar with and ask how their natures were demonstrated. As it turns out, this helps my view. Never did it require demonstrating that the height of a tree was distinct from the width of its trunk and its age over time, because such are basic features of observation itself, not objects of observation.

    In fact, imagining the perspective of a two-dimensional being with no concept of height, we can find no justification even in principle that would make him fully comprehend what height actually is; that dimension is simply not a feature of his observational apparatus. If his colleagues in two-dimensional philosophy departments regarded the "hard problem of height" as a perennial mystery that needed solving, and started proposing models of reality that divided substances into "physical" (for them, having length and width) and the inscrutable substance of "tallness", we would know they were wasting their time, as height is properly understood as a simple dimension, nothing that would necessitate a divided ontology.
    You'd have to explain very carefully what you mean by "dimension". Strictly speaking, height isn't a dimension. It's a quantity (of space). Same thing for width and length. Talk of dimension is normally a way to express the degree of freedom of quantities. Space provide three degrees of freedom for spatial quantities so that you can distinguish height, width and length in a meaningful way. But they are not dimension. You couldn't pinpoint where spatial dimension are. All you can say is that space offer three degree of freedom. The analogy between the pair subjective experience/physical world and dimensions should be with the pair time dimension and the whole of the three space dimensions. But then you end up with too very different qualities, time and space, which look a lot like two distinct substances to me, until such a time the two are shown to be of the same quality or nature. If you compare the pair subjective experience/physical world with height, length and width then that's not dimensions you're talking about and that's definitely no even anything fundamental contrary to the pair time/space.

    Ok, I stop here to let you chew on this and see where you want to go.
    EB

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    Veteran Member PyramidHead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Speakpigeon View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by PyramidHead View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Speakpigeon View Post
    Sure, why not? However, it seems to me it is just a rewording of the dualist view. Subjectivity in one dimension and the physical world in another, or else I don't see the point of talking of dimensions. Me, I doubt that it's a promising direction of inquiry. The subjective world is all we know as subjects. The physical world is something we come to believe exists on the basis of our subjective experience. We experience redness and we believe there's a red flower. That's good enough to me as a starting point and that's all we seem to understand, when we do. From there, either you try the dualist route, saying knowledge and beliefs are two distinct modalities irreducible to each other so that all we can do is live with them and be content, like I do (I don't see where would be the need for a reduction). Or you try the monist route where somehow one of the two modalities would reduce to the other so that we would be left with just one of them. Materialists may well think there's just the physical world. Others may well think there's just the subjective world. Another thing would be for them to prove either claim, or even offer some convincing justification they are right. We would need some very clever perspective on this but your "dimension" paradigm doesn't seem to help at all. And it should be expected that humans are limited in what they can understand even if the road to knowledge is infinite.
    EB
    The advantage of the dimensional view, as I see it, is that you can take the monist route without insisting that the modalities reduce to one another, having your cake and eating it too. Here is why. If I say of a square that it has length and width, I have not proposed anything like dualism about the square. I can happily and consistently remain a monist about whatever the square is made of. Yet, nor do I have to say that its length can be explained in terms of its width or vice versa. This is because monism and dualism are stances about what substances exist or not, but dimensions are merely aspects of substances and do not add the same ontological "baggage" as positing a whole new class of things. Whether there is only one kind of substance or two, and whether reality is mental, physical, or something else, the dimensions of space and time can be described in exactly the same way without modification. I say this is how we should be conceptualizing subjecthood, as an aspect of the framework like the spatial and temporal dimensions instead of an object within it. To me, it would render the whole discussion about qualia and brain states pointless, like trying to measure the circumference of a point or the duration of a plank of wood.

    The question, as you say, is how to demonstrate that this is truly the right way to conceptualize subjectivity, because ordinarily speaking, if there are no empirical consequences to a hypothesis then it might as well just be called a language modification with no substance. However, I don't know if dismissing this view on those grounds would be warranted. If what I'm saying has merit, we need only to think of the situation with regards to the other dimensions we are familiar with and ask how their natures were demonstrated. As it turns out, this helps my view. Never did it require demonstrating that the height of a tree was distinct from the width of its trunk and its age over time, because such are basic features of observation itself, not objects of observation.

    In fact, imagining the perspective of a two-dimensional being with no concept of height, we can find no justification even in principle that would make him fully comprehend what height actually is; that dimension is simply not a feature of his observational apparatus. If his colleagues in two-dimensional philosophy departments regarded the "hard problem of height" as a perennial mystery that needed solving, and started proposing models of reality that divided substances into "physical" (for them, having length and width) and the inscrutable substance of "tallness", we would know they were wasting their time, as height is properly understood as a simple dimension, nothing that would necessitate a divided ontology.
    You'd have to explain very carefully what you mean by "dimension". Strictly speaking, height isn't a dimension. It's a quantity (of space). Same thing for width and length. Talk of dimension is normally a way to express the degree of freedom of quantities. Space provide three degrees of freedom for spatial quantities so that you can distinguish height, width and length in a meaningful way. But they are not dimension. You couldn't pinpoint where spatial dimension are. All you can say is that space offer three degree of freedom. The analogy between the pair subjective experience/physical world and dimensions should be with the pair time dimension and the whole of the three space dimensions. But then you end up with too very different qualities, time and space, which look a lot like two distinct substances to me, until such a time the two are shown to be of the same quality or nature. If you compare the pair subjective experience/physical world with height, length and width then that's not dimensions you're talking about and that's definitely no even anything fundamental contrary to the pair time/space.

    Ok, I stop here to let you chew on this and see where you want to go.
    EB
    Maybe I'm not so formal about the dimensions and their proper names. Whatever you want to call them, there is a vertical dimension, a horizontal dimension, and a dimension that is tangential to those called depth, breadth, or whatever. I like the pairing of subjective/objective as being akin to time and space, because it reinforces the idea that we can treat the two as dimensions (or degrees of freedom, if you like) while still affirming monism about the thing they are dimensions of (which would equate to "spacetime" as a singular substance, for example). Whether the physical unification of these dimensions is convincing to you or not is another matter, and for my part I just take it on trust since I'm not a physicist. But some monists use the word "phental" to describe whatever the thing is that seems to have both physical (spatial, temporal) and mental (subjectively experienced) dimensions. Thanks for your input.

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