Sunday, 20 August 2017

Robert Efron On The Nature Of Perception

What is Perception?
By Robert Efron 
Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science

In his essay, “What is Perception?”, Robert Efron shows how the knowledge of perception can be used to develop a better understanding of the disease called visual object agnosia.

He writes, “Unfortunately, the exact nature of perception has never been adequately defined or conceptualized, with the result that those who attempt to study disorders of cognitive function do not always know whether a disturbance of cognition is due to a defect in a sensory, perceptual or conceptual process.”

He takes up the case history of a 24-year old soldier, Mr. S, who has developed a severe cognitive disturbance over an accidental over-exposure to carbon monoxide. Mr. S, Efron explains, used to be totally blind, but after a period of some time his vision returned with a striking peculiarity—he is not able to name any common object at which he looks despite the fact that his visual acuity is at least 20/100.

After evaluating the entire range of symptoms that Mr. S is exhibiting, Efron reaches the conclusion that he is suffering from “visual object agnosia.”

While conducting an analysis of Mr. S’s ailment of visual object agnosia, Efron provides a good explanation of not only perception but also sensation and consciousness.

He defines perception as “the direct, immediate awareness of discriminated existents which results from patterns of energy absorption by groups of receptors.” The term “discriminated existent” is used to apply to “the segregated, isolated, cohering, ‘thing’ which is perceived. The objects we see or touch; the notes, tones or voices we hear; the odors we smell, and the flavors we taste, are all ‘discriminated existents’.”

Postscript:
I learned about the works of Robert Efron from Roger Bissell. Here's what Bissell has to say about Efron:

Robert Efron is a retired neurophysiologist living in Northern California. He has worked at veterans hospitals in New York and California and done pioneering research and theorizing on perception and hemispheric lateralization (right brain/left brain, for those of you who eschew polysyllabization).

For several years during the mid-to-late 1960s, Efron was part of Ayn Rand’s circle of intellectuals. During this period several articles he wrote on consciousness, perception, and related issues were published in professional journals. One of them, “Biological without Consciousness – and Its Consequence,” originally appearing in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, was reprinted in The Objectivist, and another, “The Conditioned Reflex – a Meaningless Concept,” was published in the same journal and reprinted as a pamphlet by the Nathaniel Branden Institute.

His essay “What is Perception?”, originally appearing in Boston Studies in Philosophy of Science, was not published by Rand or Branden, but was presented live to at least one Objectivist campus group and was announced in The Objectivist.

Efron dropped out of Ayn Rand’s circle during the turmoil of the breakup of the Nathaniel Branden Institute,. his sister Edith already having parted ways with Rand a year or two previously over personal differences. 

Friday, 18 August 2017

Leonard Peikoff Says That He Is Not A Philosopher

Leonard Peikoff
Most Objectivists are convinced that Leonard Peikoff is one of the world’s greatest philosophers. But in his podcast on July 21st, 2008 (episode 22), Peikoff emphatically declares that he is not a philosopher and that philosophy is not an area of interest for him.

Here’s an excerpt from a transcription of Peikoff’s podcast, episode 22 (4 minutes from start):
“And the fact is that I'm not an epistemologist, let alone a technical one. The older I get, I realize I'm not a philosopher, and never really was. My real interest in life is cultural analysis. How does philosophy influence, for instance, the rise of Hitler or kind of educational system we have or great plays ... that's always been the kind of thing I've done. The only exception is OPAR, which was pure philosophy, but that was simply paying off a debt. I had to do that to Ayn Rand in exchange for what she had, you know, taught me for 30 years. But other than that I never would wanna write or really lecture on philosophy. I don't see that there's anything wrong with that, but that is just not what I do.” [Transcription by Elliot Temple
I agree with what Peikoff has said in the above transcript—he is certainly not a philosopher. Since he took charge of Objectivism after Ayn Rand’s death in 1982, he has hardly done any philosophical work of scholarly importance. The only work of pure philosophy that he has done is OPAR, but this book is merely a restatement of Rand’s ideas.

In the podcast he reveals that he wrote OPAR because he was “simply paying off a debt” to Ayn Rand. This means that he was motivated by a sense of “duty.”

For Ayn Rand, “duty” is a bad word. In her novel We The Living, Rand writes, “There is no such thing as duty. If you know that a thing is right, you want to do it. If you don't want to do it—it isn't right. If it's right and you don't want to do it—you don't know what right is and you're not a man.”

The Objectivists must let this point sink in:

Leonard Peikoff, the heir to Ayn Rand intellectual legacy, admits that he wrote OPAR out of a sense of duty. This means that spent months writing OPAR simply because he wanted to pay the debt that he thought he owed to Ayn Rand who was his teacher for 30 years. Apparently the writing and the book’s publishing brought him no personal joy.

Therefore OPAR was not a labor of love for him; it was a labor of duty.

And that’s the way the cookie crumbles. 

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Veatch’s Survey of Popper’s Flawed Model of an Open Society

Karl Popper
In his essay, “Plato, Popper and the open society: Reflections on who might have the last laugh,” which was delivered at the Sixth Annual Libertarian Scholars Conference held in October 1978 at Princeton University, Henry Veatch has done a superb analysis of Karl Popper’s work on political philosophy, The Open Society and its Enemies.

Veatch agrees with Popper that the political program laid out by Plato in the Republic will lead to a closed society. But, according to Veatch, the particular line of attack on Plato in The Open Society and its Enemies is neither well-mounted nor well-executed. Popper claims that Plato was a historicist, but Veatch rejects the idea. He says, “I just don't believe that Plato was a historicist. Marx, to be sure, may well have been one. Yet Plato was no Marx, nor Marx Plato.”

Another mistake that Popper makes in his analysis of Plato’s ideas is that he does not consider Platonic theory of Forms worthy of any consideration. Veatch says that if Popper had paid attention to the theory of Forms he would have had the opportunity to analyze the Form, or the nature, of man.

Veatch writes, “In other words, what I am suggesting is that the philosophical legacy of Plato, that Popper chose to renounce, is just this notion that, by his very nature as a person or as a human being, a man has a job to do, a natural end or goal, a kind of natural fulfilment or perfecting of himself that he needs to aim at and strive for, that no one else-no, not any power under heaven or even in heaven-can achieve for him, and that he's simply got to do himself.”

The Book I of Plato’s the Republic begins with the question: “What is justice?” Veatch points out that in this question Plato is raising the question of justice, and more specifically he is raising “the question as to justice in the life of the individual.” Plato answers this question just after the beginning of Book II of the Republic.

Veatch suggests that we should reverse Plato's order and consider the ethical before the political. ”We first consider what it is that our nature demands of us as individual human beings, and only subsequently consider what may be required of us, or what it might be right for us to do, or how we need to live our lives considered as members of the political community and of society.”

Once Plato’s order of priorities is reversed, it becomes obvious that certain responsibilities are incumbent upon individuals, and at the same time “certain constraints are naturally imposed upon our fellow human beings and upon society to respect the natural obligations and needs and requirements that are incumbent upon us by our very nature as individual human beings.”

Thus we reach the conclusion that man’s nature demands an openness in and of society. Now the question is why didn’t Popper take cognizance of Plato’s inverted priorities? Veatch offers persuasive arguments to show that Popper’s flawed theory of science is to a large extent behind his decision to ignore such obvious problems in Plato’s theory.

Popper believed that scientific theories do not rest on observation and experiment—instead, the great scientific geniuses dream up or invent the scientific theories which miraculously correspond to reality. Science, strictly speaking, cannot tell us the way things are, and therefore it is not possible to discover the natural values of human life by scientifically examining human beings.

So what kind of values the people living in Popper’s “open society” must have? Instead offering people the freedom of choice, Popper resorts to preaching his own list of values which, he maintains, every member of his open society ought to follow. But if values have to be imposed on man, then why shouldn't people accept Plato’s values instead of Popper’s?

Here’s an excerpt from Veatch’s essay:

“It is a freedom, Popper thinks, that each of us has, simply to choose his own image or ideal of what a human being should be or of the good life for man and of what it ought to be. Not only that, but Popper immediately follows this up with his own recommendation as to what he thinks that image of man is that all of us ought to choose and thus freely embrace. It is the image of man as free, as rational, as altruistic, as a happy denizen of the Open Society, etc. All well and good! Yet still, do we not need to ask just why this particular image of man should be the preferred one?”

Veatch goes on to say that if people have to accept the values of any philosopher or leader, then they have countless choices. They can as well reject the values preached by both, Plato and Popper, and accept the values of Marx, Nietzsche, Tolstoy, or anyone else. “In other words, Popper's particular libertarian vision of man is not one whit better, and has nothing more going for it than let us say Plato's totalitarian vision.”

“Popper's faith in the Open Society—at least to judge by the logic of Popper's over-all philosophical position and even implicitly by his own admission—amounts to no more than a sort of child's game of "Let's pretend'-let's pretend that man should be free and fraternal and rational, let's pretend that man should be allowed to bask in the pure air of an Open Society; let's pretend that such is the way man is and ought to be-and let's pretend it, even as we admit that it is all only a fiction and not a reality at all, only a pretend game, and one that is not and cannot be anything for real.”

On the whole, in his essay Veatch conclusively proves that Popper believed that a free society can only be achieved when there is some kind of social engineering by the intellectual elite. While seeming to reject Plato, Popper accepts Plato’s worst political ideas. In essence, Popper is as much an enemy of freedom and open society as Plato is.  

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Typical Objectivist Logic—My Philosophy is Closed, Yours Isn't

Leonard Peikoff, in his 1989 article, “Fact and Value,” made the stunning proclamation that Objectivism is a closed system, by which he meant that Ayn Rand’s philosophy is complete, and nothing new can be added to her system.

With his closed system doctrine, he essentially established that Objectivism consists solely of Rand’s own works and those specific works by other thinkers which she endorsed during her lifetime. But he reserved for himself and his followers the privilege of deciding which works by which thinkers are endorsed by Rand and can be included in Objectivism.

Thus he effectively turned Objectivism into a gated community which is guarded by his chosen acolytes. I don’t know of any other philosophy in the entire history of humanity being held as a closed system. Only “religions,” “cults,” and “totalitarian political ideologies” are held as closed systems by their brainwashed fundamentalist followers.

It is noteworthy that Peikoff conferred the privilege of being “closed” only on Objectivism. What about the systems developed by other philosophers? Are the systems developed by the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Hegel and others open or closed?

In “Fact and Value,” if Peikoff had offered a broad argument for every philosophy being regarded as a closed system his position would still be irrational but he would have escaped the charge of being a bigoted and biased intellectual. But his stance seems to be that only his philosophy of Objectivism is closed, and everyone else's philosophy is wide open.

Here’s a quote from The History of Philosophy lecture, in which Peikoff is defending the attribution of the“Law of Identity” to Aristotle, even though Aristotle did not discover this law:
"Now as to the law of identity, just for the record, although it always goes along with the other two [the law of contradiction and excluded middle] is regarded as an Aristotelian law, and although it’s obviously all over the place in Aristotle implicitly, as a formally defined law, the law of identity was not discovered, as far as I can tell until the 12th century AD by a philosopher known as Antonius Andreas. But that’s just a minor wrinkle because it’s always called an Aristotelian law because it’s so obviously the same essential point as the law of contradiction and excluded middle. Contradiction and excluded middle Aristotle defined and named." ~ Leonard Peikoff, The History of Philosophy, Lesson 15, Aristotle: The Father of Logic (Section 4) @ 0:49 / 4:53.  [Transcription by Kurt Keefner
If Antonius Andreas is allowed to complete Aristotelian system by describing the “Law of Identity” which is in line with Aristotelian thought, then why are contemporary philosophers barred from filling up the “huge gaps” which are there in Ayn Rand’s thought?

Many people believe that the closed system doctrine has very little to do with safeguarding the philosophy of Ayn Rand. It is, in essence, a power-play by Leonard Peikoff and his key aides—they proposed this doctrine because they want to ensure that there is no threat to their complete hegemony over Rand’s legacy. 

Monday, 14 August 2017

Plato - Allegory of the Cave

This is a good animated introduction to Plato's Allegory of the Cave:

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Al Gore Versus Irena Sendler

Irena Sendler, 1942
The global temperatures are cooler now than in 2007 when Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize based on warning of an imminent apocalypse due to anthropogenic global warming, but the “inconvenient truth” is that the global temperatures are not rising.

It is worth looking at the accomplishments of Irena Sendler who Al Gore beat out in the race for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Irena Sendler is the Polish woman who, along with her underground network, rescued 2,500 Jewish children in Poland during World War II. I think, unlike Gore, Sendler has some "real" accomplishments.

Here’s an excerpt from Sendler’s Wikipedia page:
Assisted by some two dozen other Żegota members, Sendler smuggled approximately 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and then provided them with false identity documents and shelter outside the Ghetto, saving those children from the Holocaust. With the exception of diplomats who issued visas to help Jews flee Nazi-occupied Europe, Sendler saved more Jews than any other individual during the Holocaust. 
The German occupiers eventually discovered her activities and she was arrested by the Gestapo, tortured, and sentenced to death, but she managed to evade execution and survive the war. In 1965, Sendler was recognised by the State of Israel as Righteous among the Nations.[6] Late in life, she was awarded the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's highest honour, for her wartime humanitarian efforts.
Here’s the link to the video of Glenn Beck telling the story of Irena Sendler

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Why is Jordan Peterson Popular?

It is refreshing to watch the videos of Jordon Peterson. He has the courage (which is a rare quality for an academic) to speak clearly on contentious social issues. Here’s a brief list of reasons for which, I think, he has earned millions of followers:

1. He speaks clearly and with precision against the postmodern narrative of the leftists. He is well-informed and is good at communicating his ideas.

2. He rejects the postmodern doctrine of political correctness, which is being spread by large sections of the academia, mainstream media and the cultural and political establishment.

3. He is steadfastly opposed to the nonsensical postmodernist arguments on issues such as: gender identity, gender-neutral pronouns, minority rights, immigration, Islamic statism and terrorism, and freedom of speech in the academia.

4. He speaks in a colorful, jargon-free language which makes his videos quite entertaining.

5. He makes lot of sense in his lectures on psychology, history, politics and even issues related to religion. He is a magnet for people who are fed-up of the trivial nonsense being peddled by the left.

The large number of followers that Peterson has (despite being against the left) testify that people are now totally sick and tired of the leftist narrative.

Here's a Peterson's video in which he is analyzing the reasons behind his own popularity: 

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Tibor Machan’s Advice to Philosophers: “Check Your Premises”

Tibor R. Machan provides a clear advice to philosophers that they must observe Ayn Rand’s “check your premises” policy. He suggests that even the Objectivist philosophers need to “check their premises” at regular intervals.

Here’s an excerpt from his letter (Dated: 12 Nov, 1995) to Roger Bissell:
Philosophy is often a kind of pleading of one's own case, of trying to show that how one lives, what one thinks, squares with a comparatively superior account one can give of reality.  I have never known of any major or minor philosopher who does not at the end of the day try to give an account of the world that in some ways makes sense of his life and shows him to be something of a happy camper in the process, doing the best one can do at living one's human life.  This runs the terrible risk of making philosophy terribly subjective, and if one does not keep checking back—that old "check your premises" policy Ayn Rand recommended—conscientiously, relentlessly, with every halfway decent objection taken reasonably seriously, one will fall prey to such subjectivity or wishful thinking.  Indeed, one reason I think the inner circle Objectivist crowd, as well as many other dogmatists, misunderstand philosophy - the debate between Kelley and Peikoff on truth is a case in point - is that they do not take seriously the awesome responsibility of never being able to close the book on the process.” 
In an early paragraph of the same letter, Machan makes another interesting point:
When one remarks that his misconduct occurred "because I didn't think," as in "Dammit, I didn't think" said in a reproachful way, one implies that it was an option to think or not to, on which important things hinge.  This power of thinking is at once the power of self-direction.  So thinking and freedom are two aspects of the same power human beings possess qua human beings.
I think there is a lot of wisdom in Machan's words.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Logic as a Human Instrument

Logic as a Human Instrument by Francis H. Parker and Henry B. Veatch is an excellent book which leaves the reader with a good understanding of some of the most important concepts and methods in logic. Here are some useful definitions that I picked up from the book’s Chapter One, “What is Logic?”:

Study of logic
[The study of logic] will be concerned not with the psychological acts and operations of human thinking as such but with the methods and techniques and instruments which must be employed in thinking, if such thinking is ever to lead to knowledge. Or looked at a little differently, logic itself is the means or the technique which, when we observe it and use it, insures that our thinking will be correct and valid and, so far as possible, even true. Thus it was that the title which eventually came to be given to the logical writings of Aristotle, who first systematically formulated what we now know as logic, was the Greek word organon, which means literally “tool” or “instrument.” Thus it is too that, defined in terms of purpose, logic is simply the tool or instrument of knowledge.

The three W’s
[The] three questions—“What?” “Why” and “Whether?”—are natural and inescapable for us; one could hardly imagine a day passing without their being asked in some form or other. That they seek three kinds of object—a characteristic, a reason, and a fact—is also clear and natural, though perhaps somewhat less explicit. When we express the situation in ontological terms and say that the mind intends three aspects of reality—essence, cause, and existence—you are likely to say , like Monsieur Jourdain, “Is that what I am seeking to know?” “But still,” you will add, “I see the connection.”

…[The] three W’s as we have called them, are precisely correlated with and actually determine the character of the three different logical tools.” …The tool for knowing a “what” or essence is a term or concept… The tool for knowing a “whether” or existence is a proposition… The tool for knowing a “why” or cause is an argument or demonstration.

Intentionality of knowledge
The most fundamental feature of knowledge—and indeed of all awareness—is that it is always of or about something other than itself. We have an experience of war, a feeling of pain, a concept of a triangle. We make propositions about bodies gravitating, and arguments about the interior angles of a triangle equalling two right angles. All awareness, all consciousness, all knowledge, is about something other than itself. It tends into, or intends, something distinct from itself. For this reason this most fundamental trait of knowledge is called its “intentionality.” All knowledge is “intentional”; every piece of knowledge is an “intention.”

… The most basic trait of knowledge is its intentionality—the fact that it is always of or about something other than itself. And this trait sharply distinguishes instances of knowledge from other things. Your concept of a triangle, or your proposition about its interior angles, is of or about the triangle; but the triangle isn't of or about anything—it is just itself. So intentionality is the distinguishing feature of all items of consciousness, and the most basic general characteristic of knowledge.

What is a sign? 
The instruments involved in knowledge must also be intentional. Our knowing tools, like knowing itself, must be revelatory, disclosive, meaningful. That is to say, the instruments by which we know reality must be significant of reality. In brief, then, all cognitive instruments are signs. But what is a sign? This question belongs specifically to the science of semantics (from the Greek sema, “sign”), but an understanding and use of logic requires knowledge of the nature of signs. What, then, is a sign?

…Every sign is representative, and representative of something other than itself… For every relation of a sign to its signatum there is another relation which underlies and justifies the particular relation of significance in question. This justifying relation we shall call the foundation-relation.

What is a word?
In forming words, therefore, we are attempting to reduce to a minimum the multiplicity of traits which characterizes natural sensory images.  In short, a word is an ideal sensory image. It is a natural sensory image artificially idealized and purified of all accidental accretions and thereby qualified to convey or signify a single abstract trait.

A word, nevertheless, still signifies only materially; it is still only a material sign since it is a mark or sound in its own right with certain properties of its own which are quite different from the properties of its meaning or signatum. In spite of the purity or singles of its significance, it is still not pure and single in the way in which an idea or formal sign is, for the latter is nothing but significant of its signatum… Moreover, the word is also an artificial sign since its significance depends essentially on an arbitrary human act. And since this is so, its significance will vary in place and time.

The second intentions
Our minds in knowing are first directed toward the world of real, independent beings, and we are not aware of the instruments and operations in which that knowing consists. Real beings, then, as objects of knowledge are our primary objects of attention and intention; they are first intentions, and all of their real properties are called first intention properties. But when in reflection we turn to the instruments involved in this primary intention, we make them objects of a second intention, they are thus second intentions, and all of their peculiar properties are known as second intention properties. This is true of all those features which things come to have just in so far as they are known—such properties as being a concept or a subject or a predicate. That is, the properties belonging to the cognitive status of things, to the status of things as formal signs, are second intentions. This, of course, is not true of material signs like words, since they are real beings with real properties of their own in addition to being signs. Like a pair of glasses, formal signs, though they are involved in our knowledge of reality, are themselves objects only of second intention. Logical instruments, then, are not only beings of reason; they are also second intentions.

The practical point of this second intentional status of logical instruments is to realize that increased proficiency in knowing the real world requires a temporary withdrawal from the real world… to those instruments and techniques without which no knowledge of the real world is possible. This is the job of logic as a study. But logicians, like Plato’s philosopher-kings, must then return to the “cave” of the real simply because the very meaning of the things which concern them in their withdrawal is to signify or reveal the real.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The Philosophy of Language and Meaning

Some Questions About Language: A Theory of Human Discourse and Its Objects 
Mortimer J. Adler 
Open Court

In Some Questions about Language, Mortimer J. Adler conducts a philosophical examination of the subject of language. But his specific focus is on the theory of meaning.

He takes a systematic and structured approach and presents his arguments in a conversational format, as an orderly series of questions and answers which clarify the basic problems about language and meaning, while expounding the logical framework of Adler's own theory of meaning which serves as a solution to these problems.

In the first chapter, “Scope of a Philosophy of Language,” Adler explores the range of problems that philosophy is competent to deal with. He differentiates these problems from the closely related problems that are beyond philosophy’s scope, and, in addition, are incapable of being dealt with until the prior problems have been solved.

It is not possible for people to have a conversation unless the words which they are using are “meaningful.” The “meaning” is something which grants what would have been a meaningless sound the status of a “word.” Words have referential significance—they refer to or signify that which we apprehend, and the “meaning” refers to the relationship between a “word” and the “object” to which the word refers to.

Here are the four questions that Adler answers in the first chapter:

1. What is the primary fact that a philosophy of language should try to explain or account for? 2. What aspects of language should a philosophical approach to the subject not attempt to deal with? 3. What, specifically, should be avoided in developing a philosophical theory of language? 4. How are the philosophical problems of language related to the concerns of the logician and the grammarian dealing with language?

Answering the first question, Adler says, “The task of philosophy, as I see it, is to construct a theory that attempts to explain the reality or fact of communication which I have taken as its point of departure.“ His objective is to describe how men communicate by using natural language. He holds that philosophy is not concerned with the truth or falsity of a statement. He says, in his answer to the second question, “A philosophy of language, in short, is concerned with the communicability of statements that can be either true or false, but not with their truth or falsity.”

I think that the most interestingly worded question that Adler offers in the book comes in the Epilogue: “What is it that confers referential meaning on otherwise meaningless marks or sounds, thus making them into the meaningful words of a language?” This question, as he himself declares, is about the genesis of meaning.

Adler says that there are three different approaches to the philosophical consideration of language:

1. The syntactical approach
2. The “ordinary language” approach
3. The semantic and lexical approach

He rejects the first two approaches, and his own philosophy of language follows the semantic and lexical approach, which he says, “commits itself to ordinary language as a satisfactory instrument of both philosophical and everyday discourse.” This approach takes a philosophical view, and not a historical one, in offering the explanation of “the genesis of referential meaning by the voluntary imposition of meaningless notations on the objects of our apprehension.”

According to Adler, we voluntarily grant referential significance to meaningless notations when we impose these notations on objects of perception, memory, imagination, and thought, which we apprehend by means of ideas. He explains this point in chapter 3, “Solution of the Primary Problem,” while answering the question: “Can meaningless notations acquire referential significance by being imposed on ideas?”

Here’s an excerpt from Adler’s answer to the above question:

“The ideas in the mind of one individual are numerically and existentially distinct from the ideas in the mind of another. If a given individual ceased to exist, his ideas would cease to exist with him, for their existence is subjective in the sense that it is totally dependent on his existence as the subject who has them. Precisely because ideas are subjective in the sense indicated, making them the objects that are signified or referred to by the words which have been imposed on them as their names prevents language from being used as an instrument of communication.”

Adler’s point is that the acquisition of referential meaning cannot be explained in terms of an individual’s voluntary imposition of meaningless notations upon his own ideas as the objects to which they refer. The subjective ideas in our mind are never the objects which we apprehend when we perceive, remember, imagine or think.

The next question which he answers in chapter 3 is, “Why is it that meaningless notations can acquire referential significance in no other way than by being imposed on the objects of perception, memory, imagination, and thoughts?”

In answering the above question, Adler points out the basic fact that we can never apprehend our own ideas. This is because the ideas in our mind are not the objects which we apprehend, rather they are the instruments or means by which we apprehend objects. It not possible for any individual to inspect or be aware of the ideas that he has in his mind. You can only have inferential knowledge of the ideas. The ideas serve as the means by which we apprehend objects which we can name or designate by single words or descriptive phrases.

The definition of an idea which Adler offers in chapter 3 is worth noting: "The products of these several acts—percepts, memories, images, and concepts—can all be grouped together under the term "idea," just as all the acts by which they are produced can be grouped under the term "acts of the mind.”"

But how do we apprehend abstract nouns such as “freedom,” “justice,” “n-sided polygon,” and so on which cannot be perceived as particulars? Adler offers a solution for this problem in chapter 7, “Objects of Thought.” He says that in discussing freedom or justice, it is possible to give examples of the universal object that is before our minds by describing a man in a particular setting as being free or unfree, or by describing a man performing a certain act as being just or unjust. The ideas that cannot be described in a particular setting are apprehended by us through reference to the technical terms that go into the formulation of those very ideas. 

On the whole, Adler’s Some Questions About Language is an interesting book. It introduces the reader to a number of important issues in philosophy of language and the theory of meaning. 

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Searle says he is not a “Property Dualist”… but Feser insists that he is

John Searle
In his paper, “Why I am Not a Property Dualist,” John Searle declares that he finds property dualism unacceptable.

He says that “all of our mental phenomena are caused by lower level neuronal processes in the brain and are themselves realized in the brain as higher level, or system, features. The form of causation is “bottom up,” whereby the behavior of lower level elements, presumably neurons and synapses, causes the higher level or system features of consciousness and intentionality.”

As this view emphasizes the biological character of the mental, and treats mental phenomena as ordinary parts of nature, he calls it “biological naturalism.” In essence biological naturalism is a middle position between materialism and property dualism.

Here’s how Searle explains his objections to property dualism:
"The property dualist and I are in agreement that consciousness is ontologically irreducible. The key points of disagreement are that I insist that from everything we know about the brain, consciousness is causally reducible to brain processes; and for that reason I deny that the ontological irreducibility of consciousness implies that consciousness is something “over and above”, something distinct from, its neurobiological base. No, causally speaking, there is nothing there, except the neurobiology, which has a higher level feature of consciousness. In a similar way there is nothing in the car engine except molecules, which have such higher level features as the solidity of the cylinder block, the shape of the piston, the firing of the spark plug, etc. 'Consciousness' does not name a distinct, separate phenomenon, something over and above its neurobiological base, rather it names a state that the neurobiological system can be in. Just as the shape of the piston and the solidity of the cylinder block are not something over and above the molecular phenomena, but are rather states of the system of molecules, so the consciousness of the brain is not something over and above the neuronal phenomena, but rather a state that the neuronal system is in." 
Further, he says:
"I say consciousness is a feature of the brain. The property dualist says consciousness is a feature of the brain. This creates the illusion that we are saying the same thing. But we are not… The property dualist means that in addition to all the neurobiological features of the brain, there is an extra, distinct, non physical feature of the brain; whereas I mean that consciousness is a state the brain can be in, in the way that liquidity and solidity are states that water can be in." 
Edward Feser has written a paper, “Why Searle Is a Property Dualist,” in which he argues that Searle’s anti-materialist arguments in philosophy of mind entail property dualism.

According to Feser, property dualism is unavoidable in the way in which Searle describes his theory of biological naturalism. “If the physical processes which cause consciousness are objective third-person phenomena, and consciousness and other mental phenomena are subjective or first-person in nature, it is reasonable to describe the latter as being of a fundamentally different kind than the former. That is, it is reasonable to say that there exists in the universe a dualism of properties,” Feser writes.

Here’s another interesting excerpt from Feser’s paper:
“If paradigmatically and uncontroversially physical phenomena are essentially objective, and paradigmatically and uncontroversially mental phenomena are irreducibly subjective, then it follows that they are of fundamentally different metaphysical kinds. It follows, that is, that property dualism – the claim that there are (at least) two metaphysically fundamental kinds of property in the universe – is true. Since Searle accepts the antecedent, he is committed also to the consequent, whether he realizes it or not and whether he wants to refer to that consequent by its usual label 'property dualism,' or instead by the label 'biological naturalism.'”
In my view, Feser offers very convincing arguments to prove that some kind of property dualism is there in John Searle’s thinking. I am convinced by Feser’s arguments.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Here’s the Answer to “What Happened”

By having What Happened as a title of her memoir on her failed  2016 campaign for White House, Hillary Clinton has established beyond doubt that she is totally confused about why she lost to Donald Trump.

She can make any number of excuses about Russia, sexism and much else in her book, but what happened is that she lost because she was totally clueless about the issues that were at the forefront of voters' minds.

The mainstream media seems as confused as Clinton is. During the election campaign, most mainstream media organizations threw journalistic ethics into the garbage dump and did an almost totally one-sided propaganda for Hillary Clinton. They tried to send out the message that Trump is unfit for president’s job.

But people saw through the collusion between the elite journalists and the Clinton machine. Trump won and he shattered the fragile ego of many politicians, journalists and intellectuals. The shrieking hordes of never-Trumpers can’t understand how he made it into the White House despite being demonized  by most TV channels and newspapers. Well, if they wish to know the reasons behind his victory, they ought to get out of their echo chambers and start speaking to some “normal people”—people like Walter Donway.

Donway’s book Donald Trump and His Enemies: How the Media Put Trump in Office, which is a collection of his articles written between March 2016 and June 2017, can serve as a good educational material for the clueless leftists who are shellshocked by Trump’s rise to power. In his Introduction to the book, Donway says:

“The media mantra had been: How could any decent, intelligent person support Trump? What must they be thinking? And the media told them what they were “thinking” by characterizing their candidate as racist, xenophobic, sexist, misogynist, anti-Semitic, insensitive to the disabled, insensitive to the bathroom preferences of transgendered individuals, and standing for nothing but white nationalist desire to build “the wall” and wreck health care for the poor.”

In the book’s Chapter 1, “I Need an Interview with Donald Trump,” (The Savvy Street, March 17, 2016), Donway points out the most appealing positions that Trump took during the election campaign or in the past. Here’s the list:
1. Cut the entire Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Education. 

2. Black lives matter, but we need a strong police presence; police are the most mistreated people in America. 

3. Climate change is a hoax. 

4. Oil is this country’s lifeblood. 

5. When you love America, you protect it with no apologies. 

6. Better to have Middle East strongmen than Middle East chaos. 

7. Get rid of the regulations that are destroying us.
8. Replace ObamaCare with health savings accounts. 

9. ObamaCare is a catastrophe that must be repealed and replaced. 

10. Kill ObamaCare before it becomes a trillion-ton weight. 

11. Don’t raise the minimum wage, it makes us non-competitive. 

12. Full and unequivocal support for the Second Amendment—I don’t agree, but many readers will. This is one of Trump’s most consistent positions.
This list of Trump’s positions shows how politically incorrect his campaign was. He spoke against BLM, he insisted on better law and order, he opposed ObamaCare, he opposed illegal immigration, he rejected minimum wage, he blasted Islamic terrorism—and yet he won. He won precisely because he did not sacrifice sensible political ideas on the altar of political correctness.

Donway has been a follower of Ayn Rand’s philosophy for close to five decades. In the chapter 15, “Driving Trump from Office: The First Skirmish,” (The Savvy Street, February 23, 2017), he says that Ayn Rand did not champion Nixon in Watergate, but she did say that this was a lynching. In an Ayn Rand Letter, dated April 9, 1973, entitled “Brothers, You Asked for It!” she said: “I had hoped to write a letter, someday, entitled ‘Why I Will Not Write About Watergate’—and explain that “I do not take part in lynching.”

In the article, “Still Waiting for America To Become “Intellectually Polarized,” (The Atlas Society, April 8, 2017), Donway makes an interesting comparison between the rise of Trump and Ayn Rand’s sense of life. Here’s an excerpt:
“Donald Trump energized that sense of life with his fabled business success in the heart of New York City, his celebration of his wealth, his brashly confident gamble to seize the Republican nomination, his unapologetic lifestyle of glamor, his blunt patriotism, and his feisty “Don’t push me around” response to critics. Add to that his unshaken confidence in the face of squalid, literally unprecedented personal attacks by the media—many of them false, out of context, or dependent upon a grotesque double standard. These have made him a paladin of the American sense of life. And if, as Ayn Rand asserted, the last remaining asset of American philosophy is the American sense of life, then Mr. Trump’s victories are the re- assertion of that sense of life after the Obama years and faced with the prospect of their continuance by Hillary Clinton.”
The bogus analysis and the pathetic excuses that Clinton will offer in her memoir What Happened is not tell the clueless folks what really happened in the 2016 election, but Donway’s Donald Trump and His Enemies: How the Media Put Trump in Office, which is filled with information on the political and social realities that drove tens of millions of voters to support Trump, will.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Is Brain a Digital Computer?

John R. Searle, an effective critic of the materialist and dualist theories of the mind, conclusively refutes the idea of brain being a digital computer with his famous “Chinese Room” argument. But I think he offers stronger arguments on this subject in his paper, “Is the Brain a Digital Computer?”

According to the computer model of the mind, the mind is to the brain what a program is to hardware. This model argues that the human beings have a computational system in which the mind is the program and the brain is the hardware.

Here’s the logical structure of the argument that Searle uses (in his paper, “Is the Brain a Digital Computer?”) to refute the computer model of the mind:

1. On the standard textbook definition, computation is defined syntactically in terms of symbol manipulation. 


2. But syntax and symbols are not defined in terms of physics. Though symbol tokens are always physical tokens, "symbol" and "same symbol" are not defined in terms of physical features. Syntax, in short, is not intrinsic to physics. 


3. This has the consequence that computation is not discovered in the physics, it is assigned to it. Certain physical phenomena are assigned or used or programmed or interpreted syntactically. Syntax and symbols are observer relative. 


4. It follows that you could not discover that the brain or anything else was intrinsically a digital computer, although you could assign a computational interpretation to it as you could to anything else. The point is not that the claim "The brain is a digital computer" is false. Rather it does not get up to the level of falsehood. It does not have a clear sense. You will have misunderstood my account if you think that I am arguing that it is simply false that the brain is a digital computer. The question "Is the brain a digital computer?" is as ill defined as the questions "Is it an abacus?", "Is it a book?", or "Is it a set of symbols?", "Is it a set of mathematical formulae?"

5. Some physical systems facilitate the computational use much better than others. That is why we build, program, and use them. In such cases we are the homunculus in the system interpreting the physics in both syntactical and semantic terms. 


6. But the causal explanations we then give do not cite causal properties different from the physics of the implementation and the intentionality of the homunculus. 


7. The standard, though tacit, way out of this is to commit the homunculus fallacy. The humunculus fallacy is endemic to computational models of cognition and cannot be removed by the standard recursive decomposition arguments. They are addressed to a different question. 


8. We cannot avoid the foregoing results by supposing that the brain is doing "information processing". The brain, as far as its intrinsic operations are concerned, does no information processing. It is a specific biological organ and its specific neurobiological processes cause specific forms of intentionality. In the brain, intrinsically, there are neurobiological processes and sometimes they cause consciousness. But that is the end of the story.

Searle has also argued against the mind being a digital computer in the Chapter 9 of his famous book, The Rediscovery of the Mind

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

John Searle on Materialism and Dualism

In his essay, "Why I Am Not a Property Dualist," John R. Searle says that "the mind-body problem, so construed persists in philosophy because of two intellectual limitations on our part. First, we really do not understand how brain processes cause consciousness. Second, we continue to accept a traditional vocabulary that contrasts the mental and the physical, the mind and the body, the soul and the flesh, in a way that I think is confused and obsolete."

Towards the end of the essay he sums up his ideas on materialism and dualism. Here's the excerpt:
“Both materialism and dualism are trying to say something true, but they both wind up saying something false. The materialist is trying to say, truly, that the universe consists entirely of material phenomena such as physical particles in fields of force. But he ends up saying, falsely, that irreducible states of consciousness do not exist. The dualist is trying to say, truly, that ontologically irreducible states of consciousness do exist, but he ends up saying, falsely, that these are not ordinary parts of the physical world. The trick is to state the truth in each view without saying the falsehood. To do that we have to challenge the assumptions behind the traditional vocabulary. The traditional vocabulary is based on the assumption that if something is a state of consciousness in the strict sense – it is inner, qualitative, subjective, etc. – then it cannot in those very respects be physical or material. And conversely if something is physical or material then it cannot in its physical or material respects be a state of consciousness. Once you abandon the assumptions behind the traditional vocabulary it is not hard to state the truth. The universe does consist entirely in physical particles in fields of force (or whatever the ultimately true physics discovers), these are typically organized into systems, some of the systems are biological, and some of the biological systems are conscious. Consciousness is thus an ordinary feature of certain biological systems, in the same way that photosynthesis, digestion, and lactation are ordinary features of biological systems.”

Monday, 24 July 2017

Yet Another Autopsy of Orthodox Objectivism by Greg Nyquist

Greg Nyquist has posted a new blog on his website Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature. He has nothing new to say in this blog—basically he is offering for the umpteenth time the same old dirty laundry from Orthodox Objectivism’s Augean Stables.

Here’s an excerpt from the post titled, “Orthodox Objectivism: An Autopsy, Part 2”:
Peikoff's stewardship of  Objectivism veered from one disaster to another, each worse than before. The first crisis was brought about by a biography of Ayn Rand published by Peikoff's cousin, Barbara Branden. If Peikoff had any notions of seeking to transform Objectivism into a respectable system of thought, he immediately threw all that overboard after the publication of the Passion of Ayn Rand. Under his leadership, the cultish aspects of Objectivism, which had been there from the start, became even more pronounced. This development became a stated point of doctrine when, a year or so later, he excommunicated David Kelley from the movement. In fairness to Peikoff, it's not clear he set out to give Kelley the boot. It is more likely that his minions, particularly Harry Binswanger and Peter Schwartz, set him to it. It's long been thought that the real reason why Kelley was thrown overboard stemmed from his endorsement of Branden's biography. But I've always suspected the primary reason stemmed form sheer envy. Schwartz, Binswanger, and others within the Objectivist elite resented Kelley's intelligence and scholarly credentials. They recognized Kelley as their superior and hated him for it. Hence their attempts to incite Peikoff against Kelley. 
Whether the ire of orthodox Objectivists against Kelley was motivated by envy and resentment and/or Kelley's endorsement of The Passion of Ayn Rand and/or some other factious reason, Peikoff was persuaded to write a screed against the perceived Kelley menace. In the essay "Fact and Value," Peikoff insisted that Objectivism was a closed system, on the grounds that the philosophy referred solely to doctrines originating, or at least endorsed, by Rand herself. This essentially mummified Objectivism into an Ayn Rand personality cult. The philosophy became largely restricted to Rand's known views, as sanctioned by Peikoff himself. Objectivists were allowed to apply those views to their own lives. But they were not allowed to revise or amend such views. Criticism of Rand's personal behavior was not tolerated. ARI became a kind of Objectivist Vatican, with Rand the principle deity and Peikoff its Pope. Excommunications followed. Not only Kelley and his followers, but ARI board members George Riesman, Edith Packer, and John McCaskey. Because of criticism directed against the Ayn Rand Institute and Peikoff for continuing Rand's policy of dramatic breaks with people over minor doctrinal differences, Peikoff and ARI often preferred to silently and discreetly ostracize those they no longer wished to be associated with. This, in any case, appears to be what happened with Tracinski, among others. 
Intellectually, Peikoff left orthodox Objectivism worse than he found it --- which is an accomplishment of sorts, though not in a positive way. As an intellectual movement, Objectivism was already veering towards its inevitable crack-up when Peikoff took over from Rand in 1982. His decision to close the system sealed the philosophy's fate. Unable to take in and adapt new discoveries in the cognitive and psychological sciences, Objectivism became increasingly difficult to regard as a serious, rational, science-friendly philosophical movement. Meanwhile, Peikoff was busy developing the worst aspects of the Randian creed. His specialty had always been one of the weakest parts of the system, the philosophy of history. Peikoff had come to believe that Rand's vague and scientifically dubious speculations about the role of philosophy in the course of history could provide special insights to the future of the United States and Western Civilization. Assuming that history is determined by the most fundamental ideas developed by the greatest philosophers, he came to the conclusion that the United States was heading towards a theocracy.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Friedrich Nietzsche on Beethoven



“At a certain place in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, for example, he might feel that he is floating above the earth in a starry dome, with the dream of immortality in his heart; all the stars seem to glimmer around him, and the earth seems to sink ever deeper downwards.”

~ Friedrich Nietzsche in 'Human, All Too Human'

Perspectives on Mind-Body Relationship

The philosophy of the brain is of great interest as it seeks to find the answer to the greatest puzzle of mankind, the puzzle of man’s nature.

In Some Questions about Language, Chapter III, “Solution of the Primary Problem,” Mortimer J. Adler offers his answer to the question: Can meaningless notations acquire referential significance without the intervention of the mind?

Adler’s answer runs across 6 pages, but in this blog I look at only the perspective on mind-body relationship that he offers while presenting his answer. Here’s an excerpt:
It is necessary to explain the question before attempting to answer it. The word “mind” is here being used in the broadest possible sense to cover acts of perception, memory, imagination, and thought, and also to cover acts that are voluntary as contrasted with the involuntariness of the purely reflex or automatic behavior. This use of the word “mind” does not commit us initially to any view of the relation of mind to brain as somehow distinct from one another. It does, however, preclude the complete reduction of the mind to brain.  
If (i) brain states or processes are regarded as being nothing but neurochemical conditions or events, and if (ii) they can be described in no other terms, and if (iii) it cannot be said that brain states or processes involve or give rise to acts of perception, memory, imagination, and thought (acts which are at least analytically distinct from brain states and processes described in neurochemical terms), then “mind” is just another word for “brain,” and the use of it is misleading for it tends to suggest the addition of something somehow distinct. 
If, however, mind is regarded as somehow distinct from brain, so that brain states or processes, in addition to being described in neurochemical terms, can be said to involve or give rise to acts of perception, memory, imagination, and thought, then mind can be appealed to as a factor in explaining the acquisition of referential significance by meaningless notations. This is the case whether brain states or processes are both the necessary sufficient condition of acts of perception, memory, imagination, and thought, or only the necessary but not the sufficient condition of their occurrence.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Free Society Versus The Totalitarian Progressives

Lying as a Way of Life: Corruption and Collectivism Come of Age in America 
Alexandra York
Futurenow Press (May 2016) 

Why did the mainstream media fail to predict that Donald Trump was going to win the 2016 presidential election? I think that is because mainstream journalism has become centered around the editorial offices and newsrooms that are secluded from the “real world” and are generally dominated by socialites, celebrities, intellectuals and the political elites who have a totally leftist worldview. The journalists have lost touch with what is going on inside the minds of many normal people who actually go out and vote.

Alexandra York’s monograph gives a glimpse of the level of anger and distrust that people feel for the establishment political candidates. She does not mention Donald Trump even once in her monograph, but when she explains the massive societal and political damage caused by the Barrack Obama presidency, her eye might have been on the next presidential election in which she may have been hoping that anyone with the will to undo Obama’s progressive policies would win. It is worth noting that York’s monograph was published in May 2016, when most opinion polls were vociferously proclaiming that no conservative-leaning candidate had the chance of getting past the Hillary-Obama juggernaut.

In her Introduction, York notes that Barack Obama is an Alinsky-method-trained Community Organizer, virtually unknown politically when he ran for office, and that his election as President was like a “meteorite from out of nowhere.”

“In certain regards, [Obama’s] election to America’s highest office may be a blessing because his consistent behavior bent on weakening this nation has proven so bald and bold that few can any longer deny his overweening purpose; thus, his presidency may be a beneficial wake-up call for thinking citizens who care about the future of freedom.”

In the above paragraph York seems to be suggesting that the American people are so frustrated with Obama that they are ready to support any candidate who is not infected by the malaise of political correctness and welfarism. When she calls Obama’s presidency a beneficial wake-up call, she seems to be saying that the situation is now ripe for total political change.

But the scope of the monograph is not limited to an analysis of the Obama presidency. York believes that Obama represents the climax of the efforts that the leftist intellectuals have been making during the last 100 years to rob Americans of their individualism and liberty and turn the country into a collectivist totalitarian state.

The thesis that she offers in the monograph is that lying is a way of life for most third-world nations that are ruled by collectivist regimes. These third world countries are massively corrupt—not only their politics but also their culture in general is based on lies. She points out that Obama spent his early formative years in Islamic Indonesia where she has spent time and personally witnessed lying as the norm. In contrast, America, in the early years of its existence, had a culture of individualism and liberty which led to the development of a healthy political environment. But in the last many decades, collectivist ideas have made deep inroads in American culture, many if not most American politicians have become as venal and corrupt as those in third-world countries.

In Chapter One, “Morality,” York focuses on amorality as the culprit in all lying societies. Within this thought-provoking, in-depth examination of the mental mechanics behind lying, she notes that Islam has always been a “religion driven by an all encompassing totalitarian social-political ideology.” Without dwelling exclusively on Obama—she gives due time to the then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and others--she does present a list of instances like the Iran “deal” where the Obama administration sacrificed American interests to support Islam.

She also admonishes Obama’s support of the climate alarmists and the United Nations: “Even more dead serious and truly lethal to America’s sovereignty, however, was Obama’s signing the United States on to the UN’s 2030 resolution that affectively relegates our country to the status of a follower and will transfer our wealth to “emerging nations” without any say from us.”

Lying as a Way of Life, however, is not a politically motivated work. With a much broader brush, York spends considerable time on the intellectual corruption that the The Frankfurt School scholars brought to American culture during the 1930s. They played a major role in creating an intellectual environment that deluded millions of people into supporting a leftist candidate as Obama and, later, Hillary Clinton. The Marxist leaders of The Frankfurt School were determined to destroy much more than American politics. They strove to destroy the very premises of free will, freedom, and individualism on which the Western civilization is based:

“It was this group of European scholars first coming together at the University of Frankfurt, who later insinuated the whole concept of Political Correctness into America by adroitly mixing Marxist economics with Freudian psychoanalysis. Using the innocuous name “The Institute for Social Research,” they infiltrated Columbia University’s curricula by design and invitation for the express purpose of initiating collectivism into our liberty-loving country through various, susceptible cultural channels.”

But how was the Frankfurt School able to execute its plans for societal-political change in USA? York says that The Frankfurt School received its intellectual sustenance from the powerful leftist scholars in Europe and America, people like H. G. Wells for example. Regarding Wells, she says, “By taking Darwin’s biological theory of natural selection of the fittest into the practical-political human realm, he persuasively advanced the idea of a scientific elite class (the fittest because scientifically educated) to be in control of the world via this global governance…”

York also refers to the work done by Herbert Croly, the founder of leftist The New Republic. In 1909, he published his book The Promise of American Life which has served as a blueprint for liberal progressive movements in America ever since. And in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt started the Progressive Party which “initiated the political expression of these new intellectual persuasions into the expansion of administrative power in the federal government along with a host of “changes” for transformation.”

Philosophy and politics were not the only means for The Frankfurt School to spread a collectivist mentality in America. They also made good use of art by promoting the works of leftist painters, filmmakers, novelists, and other artists. “Picasso, for example, was a communist, and his artistic brand of Cubism certainly deranged normal thought patterns into at least a state of uncertainty, which is the first step in preparing the mind for new and unfamiliar ideas.”

In the 1930s, Saul Alinsky started disseminating his ground-breaking innovations for cultural discord. His book Rules for Radicals is still a go-to handbook for leftist progressives. York says that the best way of understanding the significance of Alinsky’s methods is to look at his most influential present-day student, Obama. “In his early adult life after college… Barack Obama became an active and successful Community Organizer in Chicago and went on to teach the Alinsky methods to others.” She also notes that after Hillary Clinton wrote her college dissertation on Alinsky, she remained friends with him until his death.

In Chapter four, “American Politics: The President, His Administration, Congress, and More,” York puts the presidency of Barack Obama under the lens again because she sees that he exemplifies the progressive transformer psychology and is clearly not leaving the scene after his terms are over. Here’s an excerpt:

“As the ‘leader’ of the free world, Mr. Obama shepherds not only American citizens toward dictatorship by the elite, he also encourages citizens of other countries to ignore the requirements for freedom by rhetoric. While visiting Argentina recently, for only one example among many, he included the following passage while speaking to a youth group there: ‘So often in the past there has been a division between left and right, between capitalist and communist or socialist, and especially in the Americas, that’s been a big debate. Those are interesting intellectual arguments, but I think for your generation, you should be practical and just choose from what works. You don’t have to worry about whether it really fits into socialist theory or capitalist theory. You just decide what works.’”

York says that by blurring definitions and encouraging pragmatism, Obama and others of his ilk are championing amorality—lying as the norm without conscience or consequence—as the path to success.

After talking about the intellectual, political, and whole-cultural challenges that America faces, York, in Chapter 6, “The Future—What To Do?” offers a list of 19 steps that citizens who are aware of the challenges and are willing to do something about it can take to combat not only big government but what she calls “Tiny Tyrannies” of strangling local regulations and help enable their declining culture to free itself from the stranglehold of progressive leftist thought.

Overall, Lying as a Way of Life is an informative monograph.  It tells you about the past influences and the present intellectual and cultural struggles in America as well as giving a sense of the consternation and frustration that many Americans feel regarding the blatant attempts to divide and conquer their country by institutionalizing progressive policies at many levels. It also explains the rise of an outside-the-established-elite person like Trump to power (even though he was not elected at the time of writing the monograph) and the expectations that his supporters have from him.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Jordan Peterson: Humans are a cancer on the planet? What a hell of a thing to say!



Jordan Peterson: "Humans are a cancer on the planet? What a hell of a thing to say!" 

The Pragmatist Meaning of Truth

While it was C. S. Peirce who first formulated pragmatism, it was William James who popularized it. For James, pragmatism was not a way of fixing our beliefs cognitively—it is a way of settling metaphysical disputes that otherwise might be interminable. He basically believed that truth is that which works, and there is no such thing as objective truth.

Here’s an excerpt from William James’s 1904 lecture, “What Pragmatism Means” (2nd lecture in his book, Pragmatism):

"The pragmatic method is primarily a method of settling metaphysical disputes that otherwise might be interminable. Is the world one or many?—fated or free?—material or spiritual?—here are notions either of which may or may not hold good of the world; and disputes over such notions are unending. The pragmatic method in such cases is to try to interpret each notion by tracing its respective practical consequences. What difference would it practically make to any one if this notion rather than that notion were true? If no practical difference whatever can be traced, then the alternatives mean practically the same thing, and all dispute is idle. Whenever a dispute is serious, we ought to be able to show some practical difference that must follow from one side or the other's being right.”

Further, he says:

“A pragmatist turns his back resolutely and once for all upon a lot of inveterate habits dear to professional philosophers. He turns away from abstraction and insufficiency, from verbal solutions, from bad a priori reasons, from fixed principles, closed systems, and pretended absolutes and origins. He turns towards concreteness and adequacy, towards facts, towards action and towards power. That means the empiricist temper regnant and the rationalist temper sincerely given up. It means the open air and possibilities of nature, as against dogma, artificiality, and the pretence of finality in truth.”

Monday, 17 July 2017

The Magazines Which Ayn Rand Published

For some reason the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) is not selling digital editions of the magazines which Ayn Rand co-published and edited during the 1960s and 1970s.

I am talking about these three magazines:

The Objectivist Newsletter (co-published by Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden from Jan 1962 to Dec 1965)

The Objectivist (co-published by Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden from January 1966 to mid-1968, and then by Rand alone from mid-1968 to Sep 1971)

The Ayn Rand Letter (published and edited by Ayn Rand from Oct 1971 to Feb 1976)

Most philosophy institutions offer past issues of their magazines for free on their websites. But the ARI is charging for its 50 year old magazines—I have no problem if they charge, but they should at least offer the readers the convenience of having these magazines in a digital format.

A hardbound copy is not only costlier as compared to a digital edition, it is also difficult for the readers to handle if the book has too many pages. For instance, the hardbound edition of The Objectivist which the ARI is retailing for $54.95 on its eStore has 1120 pages. It is a torture for the hands to handle this book while reading.

Perhaps the ARI can learn something from the website of the Mises Institute which offers all the works of Mises and many other scholars in a digital format. 

Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Concept of Mind

The Concept of Mind
Gilbert Ryle
Routledge (2009; First published: 1949) 

Gilbert Ryle’s main target in The Concept of Mind is Descartes’s doctrine of dualism, which states that the mind (which is not in space and is not subject to mechanical laws) and the body (which is in space and obeys the mechanical laws) are two separate entities, and that the mind may continue to exist and function after the body dies. Ryle says that the Cartesian doctrine is essentially preaching that a non-material mind inhabits the body as a “ghost in the machine.”

The Cartesian doctrine leads to all kinds of ontological, epistemological and semantic problems. Its ontological commitments lead to the mind-body problem, and its epistemological commitments lead to the semantic problems and the problem of other minds.

According to Ryle, the Cartesian doctrine makes a basic category-mistake, when it analyzes the relationship between “mind” and “body” as if they are part of the same category. He points out that the other theories of mind also make basic category-mistakes—the idealist theory makes a basic category-mistake when it tries to reduce physical reality to mental reality, and the materialist theory of mind makes a basic category-mistake when it attempts to reduce mental reality to physical reality.

The mental processes cannot be rejected from the physical processes. The operations of the mind are not merely represented by the intelligent acts; they are the intelligent acts. The acts of learning, remembering, imagining, knowing or believing are not just the pointers to the intellectual operations and mental processes; they are the intellectual operations and mental processes.

In chapter 2, “Knowing How And Knowing That,” Ryle tackles the problem of distinction between theory and practice. He writes: "Efficient practice precedes the theory of it; methodologies presuppose the application of the methods, of the critical investigation of which they are the products.” You don’t need to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of how a motor vehicle works in order to be a vehicle mechanic.

The idea that intelligent action is based on intelligent theory can lead to infinite regression of theorizing. “The regress is infinite, and this reduces to absurdity the theory that for an operation to be intelligent it must be steered by a prior intellectual operation.” Ryle points out that human understanding can be best explained as a form of “knowing how.”

“To be intelligent is not merely to satisfy criteria, but to apply them; to regulate one’s actions and not merely to be well-regulated. A person’s performance is described as careful or skilful, if in his operations he is ready to detect and correct lapses, to repeat and improve upon successes, to profit from the examples of others and so forth. He applies criteria in performing critically, that is, in trying to get things right.”

Ryle deals with the knotty subject of “will” in chapter 3, “The Will.” He says that if we accept Cartesian dualism we are led to believe that the mind or soul has three parts—thought, feeling and will. This in turn leads to the idea that “the Mind or Soul functions in three irreducibly different modes, the Cognitive mode, the Emotional mode and the Conative mode.This traditional dogma is not only not self-evident, it is such a welter of confusions and false inferences that it is best to give up any attempt to re-fashion it. It should be treated as one of the curios of theory.”

He rejects the idea of “volition” which he believes leads to the problem of infinite regress. If a case of volition, or an act of choosing, is describable as “voluntary," than it must be the result of a prior choice to choose, and that from a choice to choose to choose and so forth.

Gilbert Ryle's Portrait by Rex Whistler
While proving that dualism is a myth invented by Descartes, Ryle proposes that the doctrine known as philosophical (and sometimes analytical) behaviourism offers a better solution to the problem of mind-body relationship. He says that the mind is incorporated with various abilities or dispositions which explain behaviour such as learning, remembering, knowing, feeling, or willing. He warns that personal abilities are not the same as mental processes or events, and to evaluate abilities as if they are mental occurrences is to make a basic kind of category-mistake. However, he also criticizes the behaviourist theory for being rigid and mechanistic like the Cartesian theory.

In chapter 4, “Self-Knowledge,” Ryle offers an interesting perspective on the widely believed concept of introspection which makes the claim that it is possible for mind to observe and analyze its own working, and that we are conscious of what is happening to us and at the same time we are able to introspect about what is happening to us. He points out that it is not possible for the human mind to focus on two things at the same time. If I am conscious of something, then I cannot be conscious of the fact that I am conscious of that thing. You can either laugh or introspect about why you are laughing. Therefore introspection is a post-event phenomenon—to be accurate it should be called “retrospection.”

“The fact that retrospection is autobiographical does not imply that it gives us a Privileged Access to facts of a special status. But of course it does give us a mass of data contributory to our appreciations of our own conduct and qualities of mind. A diary is not a chronicle of ghostly episodes, but it is a valuable source of information about the diarist’s character, wits and career.”

First published in 1949, The Concept of Mind is regarded as a great classic. The book is worth reading primarily because of the radical arguments which it offers for refuting the Cartesian doctrine of dualism.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Telepathy Versus Philosophy of Mind

Mary Lou Jepsen, a former Google employee, has founded a startup called OpenWater which aims to develop technology for enabling people to communicate with other individuals and even computers through the medium of thoughts. (Here and Here)

But the idea of mind-to-mind communication, or telepathy, is a violation of the law of causality which says that only material entities can have interactions with other material entities.

It is not clear what is Jepsen’s understanding of the mind. In the articles that I have read, there is no information about her view of mind-body relationship or the method by which she believes the mind can communicate its thoughts to computers and other individuals. She says that her startup needs to file for patents before it can provide any proof of feasibility.

According to Jepsen, telepathy technology will make it possible for human beings to download their thoughts, dreams and inspirations, and send the digital version to the printer.

If telepathy becomes a reality, our understanding of the mind will be revolutionized—the entire philosophy of mind will have to be rewritten. If it is conclusively proved that a non-material mind can directly communicate with material entities then that will certainly grant a new lease on life to traditional theories like  Cartesian dualism. Our understanding of the human society and basically the entire universe will undergo a sea change.

Jepsen claims that OpenWater will develop technology for telepathy in less than eight years. If she is right then we can rest assured that an authoritarian dystopia is only eight years away.

Also, OpenWater is not the only company pursuing the odd idea of telepathy—Elon Musk's Neuralink is also in the fray. Musk claims that within eight to 10 years healthy people could be getting brain implants as new computer interfaces. My own assumption is that now it is a race between Jespen's OpenWater and Musk's Neuralink—who gets bankrupt first!