Thursday, April 20, 2006

I don't believe I'm still keeping this up

Blue Devil Knight said...
You are right that truth and the like hasn't been a focus for the EMers from the get-go. They have spent a lot of time on more basic questions about the dynamics of neural nets and the like, without thinking as much about normative issues. This would have been a great criticism about ten years ago.

But as I've said a couple of times now, they do think brains construct models of the world, and these models can be closer or further from reality.

For example, I think the contents of my visual experience are a model of the world (a nonpropositional model of what is happening in the "specious present" to evoke activity in my retinae). This model can be inaccurate (illusions) or accurate (we are very good at determining if two lines are parallel). What does this concept of a model's fit to the world leave out that you want with truth?

I do not experience propositional contents directly, or if I do, I don't know they are propositional. I engage in verbal imagery, imagining myself or others saying things. I often have a feeling of understanding when I engage this sensory imagery. I sometimes have no such feeling of understanding, as when I listen to someone speaking in Portugese.

That feeling of understanding may indicate that there are propositional contents which I have (unconsciously?) "grasped". I prefer to stay neutral: I have an understanding of the statements, and frankly don't make confident psychological claims about the basis of my understanding. I am an agnostic. EMers are atheists. Propositional devotees are theists.

If a person can be in a state of understanding a proposition, isn't that a propositional attitude?

The problem with talking about models is that models aren't really models unless they are recognized as models, and once they are recognized as models, you have a relationship between some state of the person and a state of affairs, and if the person is a language user, the person is capable of stating, at least if asked, what they see. I construct sentences in my mind before writing typing them in, just like this one.

Have these neurophilosophers explained what verisimilitude is? And doesn't accurate just mean truthful? The problem here is that I know what an accurate model is because I understand what truth is. The whole thing feeds of the very folk psychology which presumably has been condemned. A model is accurate just in case if gives me lots of true beliefs. It's inaccurate if it doesn't.

All we seem to be getting here is an analogy to physical vision. The analogy has some strengths, but some things aren't a whole lot like physical vision. Shoot, I have other senses as well, and those are somewhat different from physical vision. And I can say that I "see" a logical connection between three sentences when I solve a syllogism, but that makes sense just in case I have propositional attitudes.

We keep being told that what we are being given is 1) not propositional but 2) does all the work of propositional attitudes. If it's does all the work of propositional attitudes, then why isn't it a propositional attitude. If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, why call it a goose?

Ask an eliminativist or eliminativist sympathizer a question, and you will be given all sorts of scientific detail about the latest discoveries, but as if these answered the fundamental philosophical question, when they really do no such thing. Back where I come from, this is called a smokescreen.

It seems pretty clear to me that I am as directly and immediately aware of what I believe as I am directly and immediately aware of the computer screen in front of me. I know what my sentences mean. If I didn't, there would be not much point in debating this stuff.

Being told that there are no beliefs strikes me as something like being told that we are brains in a vat. Even though there is a self-refutation argument to the effect that we are not brains in vats, (Putnam's) most epistemologists would argue that we are entitle to dismiss the skeptic about the external world without being able to prove the skeptic wrong. It seems to me that, even in the absence of a good self-refutation argument against EM (the structure of which I will be presenting in future posts) we have good reason to reject EM for much the same reason. If it's true, then most of what I believe is false and it's the end of the world.


Blue Devil Knight said...

If a person can be in a state of understanding a proposition, isn't that a propositional attitude?

I said understanding statements in language, or verbal imagery. We can understand such things, but this doesn't imply that the understanding involves propositional attitudes (i.e., another set of sentences in a different language).

In science, models are evaluated not wrt a binary truth value, but typically in terms of how well they fit the data. It becomes a graded, probabilistic question, rather than a boolean question. I am saying our internal models may be better evaluated using statistical norms (e.g., the mean distance between your model's predictions and the actual data) than boolean norms.

I emailed Paul about this discussion, and he's sending me a manuscript. He agreed with your criticisms (that he was, in the past, only questionably a realist), and my criticism that he hasn't exploited the rich resources available with public language to do much normative epistemological work traditionally attributed to internal representational states.

Blue Devil Knight said...

The 'it's the end of the world' argument is also used by lots of theists I know. I guess I'm just not easily persuaded by moral passion justified with historical inertia.

But maybe I'm defective: I just found out from this web site that my name, 'Eric Thomson', is an anagram for 'Ethics Moron'!

Hee hee.

Blue Devil Knight said...

By the way, the title of your post expresses my sentiments too. I have been surprised at the uncharacteristically dismissive tone, given the weakness of the arguments presented against EM. More typical is the lack of creativity in thinking about how EM could be true without the world coming to pieces. I wasn't joking when I said that it is a lot like theists confronted by my atheism. Perhaps that is part of the attraction to me, but alas I can only be an agnostic in this debate.

Hiero5ant said...

I'm less concerned with personalities in the conversation than I am with the MTV rapid jump-cut format wherein Victor makes a post, has it extensively responded to by BDK, makes a few more posts on other topics, and then a few days later makes a new post quoting some or all of one of BDK's comments, to which BDK again responds, to which a new post without a like to any of the previous posts. It makes it difficult to follow, and enables addressed points to be needlessly repeated and unaddressed inconvenient points to ignored.

Tim said...

One thing I can't figure out: why this mental substance, that is supposedly basic and the only thing that can account for truth and meaning and rationality, so often errs in matters rational and meaningful and truthful.

Kip said...

Through what sensory modality do we observe these propositions? Maybe I am missing this modality. So Victor is, to me, like Nagel's bats.

Victor Reppert said...

Is Churchland now a more robust realist?