On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3/5 is "mediocre pass", 4/5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: There was enough time to write out the necessary points to reasonable length.
All times in these blog "revision histories" are stated in UTC (Universal Coordinated Time/ Temps Universel Coordoné, a precisification of the old GMT, or "Greenwich Mean Time"), in the ISO-prescribed YYYYMMDDThhmmZ timestamping format. UTC currently leads Toronto civil time by 4 hours and currently lags Tallinn civil time by 3 hours.
- 20170829T0257Z/version 2.0.0: Kmo finished converting his point-form outline into coherent full-sentences prose. He reserved the right to make tiny, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 2.0.1, 2.0.2, 2.0.3, ... .
- 20170829T0110Z/version 1.1.0: Kmo finished polishing his point-form outline. His hope was now that he would complete much of the task of converting this to full-sentences prose by bed time, i.e., by UTC=20170829T0330Z, and that he would be able to finish off the rest of the conversion - interleaving that task with another task, outside the blogosphere - by UTC=20170829T1800Z.
- 20170829T0001Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo had time to upload a moderately polished point-form outline. He hoped to finish converting this to full-sentences prose over the coming 3 hours.
[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past months shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears. - The blogger software has also shown a propensity, at any rate when coupled with my erstwhile, out-of-date, Web-authoring uploading browser, to generate HTML that gets formatted in different ways on different downloading browsers. Some downloading browsers have sometimes perhaps not correctly read in the entirety of the "Cascading Style Sheets" (CSS) which on all ordinary Web servers control the browser placement of margins, sidebars, and the like. If you suspect CSS problems in your particular browser, be patient: it is probable that while some content has been shoved into some odd place (for instance, down to the bottom of your browser, where it ought to appear in the right-hand margin), all the server content has been pushed down into your browser in some place or other. - Finally, there may be blogger vagaries, outside my control, in font sizing or interlinear spacing or right-margin justification. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via Toomas.Karmo@gmail.com.]
For adequately serious reasons, I have spent three blogging weeks away from the analytical philosophy of perception and action. Tonight I ease my way back into philosophy. Contrary to what I had been hoping when bracing myself in recent days for tonight's spate of once-again-philosophical blogging, I shall not yet prove able to finish off the philosophy of perception, so as to embark on something refreshingly different, the philosophy of action. Tonight I can only add some supplementary material on perception, and write a digression on the education system (making some reference to contemporary Oxford), and set a piece of homework.
I start by recapitulating, but now in moderately fresh language, my principal conclusions so far:
- Two logical features of perception have to be kept in view simultaneously. (a) Perceiving involves perceiving-in (as when we feel the piglet, concealed in a blanket, in feeling the blanket, and feel the blanket in feeling pressure on that part of our skin which is in contact with the blanket, and feel pressure on the skin in feeling events in the nerves running from our hand up to our cortex, and feel those events in feeling neuronal events in the cortex itself, and feel those cortical events in "being-pressured" - where "being-pressured" is a neologism parallel to "being-in-pain" ("hurting"), or again parallel to "being-nauseated" ("sicking"). (Or again, it is as when we see that sunlit lawn in seeing the patch of retinal light, which we see in seeing various neuronal events, which we in turn see "in greening" - where "I green, thou greenest, he-she-it greeneth" are neologisms paralleling "I hurt, thou hurtest, he-she-it hurteth," or again paralleling "I thirst, thou thirstest, he-she-it thirsteth.") (b) It is a coherent use of language to "project", or "objectify", moving with Wittgenstein from "I hurt whenever I touch this leaf, with its dangerous chemical secretions" to "There is a pain-patch on this leaf."
- Once we keep this pair of points in view, and additionally adopt a realist conception of causation (as opposed to a reductionist, "philosopher-DEFGH"/"Darren Gloom"/"Dagwood Spume", conception of causation) we seem to have to reject the post-mediaeval philosophers' notion of "sense data" ("sense impressions", "Vorstellungen"). In making the rejection, we seem to have to throw out the post-mediaeval attempts at "phenomenalism" (on which sunlit grass, crows, red tablecloths, and the like are held to be mere "logical constructions out of sense data"). In making this rejection of "sense data", we also seem to have to throw out the alternative post-mediaeval attempt to exhibit the grass in the lawn, the crow on the grass, and so on as "precariously known realities behind sense data". We have in particular to reject an idea from Bertrand Russell back in 1912, as I quoted it in "Part A" on 2017-05-15/2017-05-16 - what we directly see and feel is merely an "appearance", which we believe to be a sign of some "reality" behind. (Well, here I really am guilty of criticizing the recently dead, with explicit quotation, contrary to my Igominy and Humiligation Precept, from "Part B", back on 2017-05-22 or 2017-05-23. But a direct reference to the recently dead, by way of an outright quotation accompanied by a prompt and rather brusque rejection of the material quoted, seems to be what is at this point most likely to be helpful to that (sizeable minority?) of my readership who have undertaken some university-level coursework in philosophy. - And I may as well note also, leaving the realm of the recently dead for the long dead (once again trying to help the just-mentioned philosophically erudite segment of my readership), that not only do we end up rejecting Bertie's 1912 formulation - we also end up rejecting the dreaded "Ding and Sich", forever concealed behind its dreaded dense screen of "Vorstellungen", as advocated by "Prof. Immanual Tank", or somebody, out in 1781 Königsberg.
It will now be objected: Are you not falling into circular reasoning? In accepting the physiologists' account of sunlit lawn, crystalline lens, retina, optic nerve, and visual cortex, with the corresponding neurophysiological accounts for hearing, touch, and the other senses, are you not assuming something which ought instead to be argued for - namely, the existence of such straightforward physical things as grass, sunlight, corneas, retinas, optic nerves, and cortices?
This is a delicate objection. I hope that my readers will ponder my reply with duly neutral, duly nonpartisan, diligence, to see if I am perhaps somewhere in need of correction. As always, I am to be reached via e-mail to Toomas.Karmo@gmail.com - in this instance, perhaps with some suitably attention-grabbing subject line, such as I have some thoughts about your blog. My reply is that either the textbook physiological theories are straightforwardly true or they are straightforwardly false. What physiology claims, for good or ill, is to be taken as an assertion (true or false) of fact, no different in principle from the assertions that (e.g.) light takes more than a million years to travel from the galaxy M31 to our eyes at the eyepieces of our binoculars, or that the age of the cosmos is a spectacular number of times greater than the few thousand years inferred from a literal reading of the Book of Genesis, or that the Earth is to a good approximation spherical. I say, bluntly, that either the Flat Earth hypothesis is true or it is untrue. If you like the Flat Earth, well fine - but then you have to reply, as a working geophysicist and not as a mere armchair speculator, to the various arguments advanced in many a respectable science classroom for a Round Earth. (There is, for instance, the argument that sailing vessels close to the visual horizon have their mast tops visible, their hulls invisible. With a Flat Earth, we would indeed get a visual horizon, and yet we would not get the vanishing hulls.) So likewise, say I, for physiology. If some people do not like my account of perception, wanting instead to rescue Phenomenalism, or to rescue Bertie-in-1912, or to rescue the circa-1781 dreaded Königsberg Ding an Sich, they have to establish a factual inaccuracy in current physiology. That basically means their forsaking the speculative armchair for the lab or the dissecting room, and attempting some physiology researches of their own.
This leads me into a digression which will (I regret) burn up the bulk of what blogging time remains available tonight, but is nevertheless advisable, as being potentially helpful to some readers. (My digression resembles in this respect my not-quite-friendly verbatim quoting of the long-suffering 1912 Bertie.) It has been asserted that philosophy is the "Queen of the Sciences". The Gentle Reader can imagine how the sparks rise from my scalp when I hear such unhumble claims. Fuming, I recall the cruel old joke. If, contrary to what I think tonight, I have already used it at some point in my past months of blogging, then I beg the Gentle Reader's indulgence:
As every Dean knows, a physicist is vexatiously expensive. The main problem lurks in the equipment grant - running into easily tens of millions - allowing those superconducting magnets to get bathed in liquid helium, those plasmas to attain solar-interior temperatures, those vast steel vessels to get pumped down (with roughing pump, diffusion pump, and the application of much exotic grease, from Dow Corning or suchlike) to their requisite high-grade working vacua.
Every Dean also knows how cheap, in happy contrast, is a mathematician. Here you need supply only a desk, a chair, blank paper, and a wastepaper basket.
And every Dean knows that a philosopher is cheaper still. For the philosopher, you still have to supply desk, chair, and paper, but you can omit the wastepaper basket.
So "Queen" indeed, sniff I.
Trying to be nice, however, I realize that Philosophy does deserve a role as a Constitutional Monarch, keeping things steady without getting in the way. Here is Philosophy - with her sensible shoes, her handbag, her television Message around lunch time in dozens of loyal countries on each and every Christmas day. Here is Philosophy using the Received Pronunciation with her bevy of snuffling corgis. What is it she does? As in a Westminster-style constitutional monarchy, the real power gets wielded by Prime Minister and Cabinet, so in the scientific world the real power gets wielded by physics (and, I suppose, also by chemistry and the life sciences, to the considerable extent to which they may prove able to model themselves on physics - striving for rigour in their defining of terms; deploying their mathematics with due clarity and due parsimony; and remaining poised to reject one conceptual framework for another, in a "revolutionary overturning of established paradigms", should their hitherto-accepted conceptual framework prove inadequate, for instance in the light of fresh laboratory developments or fresh observatory developments).
In a constitutional monarchy, the Crown is in Walter Bagehot's formulation entitled to be consulted, to encourage, and to warn. Analogously, in the intellectual world, philosophy is entitled to attempt some steadying tasks for physics, without trespassing into armchair physical speculations. Where potential conceptual difficulties lurk, it is the privilege of philosophy to probe. So, for instance, philosophy is encouraged to examine whether the concept of entropy in thermodynamics, or again of wave-particle dualism in quantics, is correctly clear. (I rather gather that the professional philosophers-of-physics do say "yes" for entropy, and I rather suspect - but here it is particularly important that I some day find time for further reading - that they again do say "yes" for wave-particle duality.)
It is not, on the other hand, the job of philosophy to query matters of fact. Either we altogether give up on the study of deep physical reality, or we get our information on such deep physical factual things as Big-Bang-versus-Fred-Hoyle's-Steady-State from the best available source. That source is admittedly the Department of Physics, humiliating though the admission may on occasion feel.
In so elevating physics, and in so lowering philosophy, I do not mean to imply that physics (along with whatever empirical disciplines may now or in future succeed in taking on the rigour of physics) is in any sense humanity's sole source of insight - even outside (I write here as a Catholic) the conceivable domain of contingent, empirical, event-within-human-history divine revelation. Outside physics, and left rather untouched by the various revolutions physics undergoes in its unavoidably tumultuous historical development, are aesthetics and ethics. It has been well said by a Catholic mathematician-philosopher that "The heart has its reasons, which reason does not grasp." Literature, in particular, communicates deep truths from outside physics. (Here I take "literature" in the broadest sense, to encompass many of the Old Testament narratives, such as the pair of Genesis creation stories; and in a different way the modern novelists and modern dramatists; and in a different way again humanity's corpus of high poetry, from Gilgamesh and the Book of Psalms to the present day; and in yet different ways again parts of popular culture, for instance the more morally serious of the detective novels, or those often deeply moralizing, not always silly, productions known to the Anglo world as "Country and Western" - "The crystal chandeliers light up/ The paintings on yer walls/ Wah-wah-wah.") Physics can have nothing to say on such central questions as "What is a good human life?", central though those questions are to literature, from Gilgamesh and the Old Testament right up to the kitchen-radio guitar-plonking "Wah-wah-wah." On these questions philosophy, on the other hand, does have a duty to speak. Philosophy has perhaps in some instances even a duty to try speaking authoritatively.
Before quite ending this digression, I may as well add some remarks on the proper organization of education, both in physics and in philosophy.
I make no attempt here to pronounce on the organization of education in a wider sense - as discussed by, for instance, English literary critic F.R. Leavis (1895-1978) (I understand he believed in the centrality, on any properly run Anglo-Saxon campus purporting to be a true university, of the Department of English), or in John Henry Cardinal Newman's 1850s Idea of a University. But so far as the special domain of physics and philosophy goes, I would point the reader to my blogging from 2016-07-04/2016-07-05, as "Part E" of the essay "Is Science Doomed?" In that blog posting, I left to the Leavises and the John Henry Cardinal Newmans the task of articulating goals for a humanities-centred school. I took as my model for such a school a real-life institution, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College (OLSW, here in Ontario; their Web outreach both was in 2016 and is now in 2017 at https://www.seatofwisdom.ca/; when I blogged on this topic back in 2016, OLSW had not yet attained its 2017 level of institutional development, and was therefore styled more reticently as "Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy").
But in that same blog posting, I imagined a science-centred school, which I called "the Other Place", operating "just down the road from" OLSW in 2070 or 2100 or 2120 or so.
Readers interested in the organization of higher education might now want to revisit that posting of 2016-07-04/2016-07-05. I stand by what I wrote back in 2016, except that now I would recommend the incorporation of some modest philosophy component (consistent with the idea of philosophy as a mere Constitutional Monarch - handbag, corgis, and all) right within my Other-Place curriculum. I see it like this, that everyone at the Other Place should be asked to do a little bit of philosophy, if only to be able to navigate the conceptual chokepoints prominent in thermodynamics and quantics. I would imagine tonight that each student is asked to allocate a minimum of (say) 20% of his or her workload to philosophy. (Tonight I would take philosophy to include classical first-order mathematical logic, up to the canonical-model completeness proofs, in at least a semantic-tableaux proof-theory setting.) I would imagine that although nobody would be greatly encouraged by the "Other Place" Deans to do very much philosophy, some few students, having demonstrated unusual formal-logic and conceptual-analysis proclivities, might be allowed or encouraged to give philosophy significantly more of their time - in extreme cases, even as much as, say, 60% or 65% of their time.
On preparing for tonight's writing, I recalled to myself that back in the 1970s, Oxford offered undergraduates something like a "Joint Honours School in Physics and Philosophy" - or was it "Philosophy and Physics"? (Oxford used, and perhaps still uses, "Honours School" as the University of Toronto administration uses "Specialist Programme", or as I suppose many American schools have traditionally used the phrase "Major Program".) I cannot recall ever meeting anyone, in my time in 1970s Oxford, in that particular School. The usual thing was, rather, for the undergraduates I knew to be working either in "Greats" (this combined philosophy with Greek and Latin literature-and-history) or - what seemed more common than "Greats" - in "Philosophy, Politics, and Economics".
But Oxford kept that old Honours school, whether popular or not, on its books. So what, I asked myself this afternoon, as I prepared to blog, has become of it? To my surprise and happiness, I found the old School alive and well, and now operating under the gratifyingly ambitious styling "4 year MPhysPhil".
The explanation at https://www2.physics.ox.ac.uk/study-here/undergraduates/the-courses/4-year-mphysphil runs as follows: Physics and Philosophy has been offered as a degree course at Oxford since 1968, and since then the course has developed and changed greatly, in response to changes [in] physics and current issues in the philosophy of physics over that period.
On this same Web page is an explanation of the ideas guiding this "P&P" programme, at any rate in its current phase of development. It is encouraging to see how consistent Oxford's current thinking is with what I have in the past few days been passing through my own mind, as a possible appropriate philosophy-honouring curriculum for the imaginary deep-future "Other Place": This course will be of interest to those who seek a deeper philosophical understanding of the basis of physics and who want a degree comparable in level with advanced European degrees. In the physics and philosophy course some of the physics subjects in each year are replaced by topics in philosophy. The Joint Honours degree in Physics and Philosophy is intended to restore the long-standing connection between natural science on the one hand and the study of its foundations in metaphysics and the theory of knowledge on the other hand. The course is also intended to equip those who take it with the ability to think scientifically, to handle difficult concepts and to present their conclusions incisively and effectively. It is a course which aims to bridge the Arts/Science divide.
That last reference, to a "divide", is perhaps an intentionally low-key, intentionally back-handed, intentionally polite, gesture toward the acrimonious Snow-Leavis debate, which I mentioned here in my "Part A" (on 2017-05-15 or 2017-05-16).
With blogging time now running out, tonight's posting will have to end with a homework problem. Consider a distant parallel to the Sick and the Pain, respectively at the intersection of First Avenue with A Street and the intersection of First Avenue with B Street (as set up in "Part C", from 2017-05-29 or 2017-05-30). Suppose we find emotional disturbances to sweep through the human population of Europe, in ways that can be plotted on a map, even as the weather can be. For some reason or other - the natural thing will be to postulate underlying causal mechanisms, and to hope eventually to uncover them - everyone in the Loire Valley this week is strongly depressed. Next week, the "Depression" moves over to Alsace, and from there out to Germany. The week after that, it has migrated to Poland - now somewhat less intense, and with scattered "Patches of Mellowness" forming near the High Tatras, and with a "Mild Euphoria" now appearing over Switzerland, evidently on its way down to Italy.
The homework comprises two questions:
- To what extent is it appropriate to "objectify" the Depression, the Patches of Mellowness, and the Euphoria Wave, as I already in Part C, on 2017-05-29/2017-05-30 (following a Wittgenstein suggestion) have discussed the "objectifying" of the Pain at First Avenue and A Street and the Sick at First Avenue and B Street?
- To what particular aspect of a previous installment from this present essay is scrutiny of the "Depression", the "Localized Mellows", and the "Southward-Drifting Alpine Euphoria" specially relevant?
[This is the end of the present blog posting.]