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So, I learned what a quale is with Adam See. I especially remember the banana thought experiment he used. Something like, “if a person in a room knew everything about bananas ever, would an actual encounter with a banana add to that person’s knowledge?” Well, the answer seemed obvious to me. Of course that person attained some form of knowledge; perhaps a practical knowledge or an intuition? It seems as if these real aspects are quale. Plus, I figure there is a stark difference in just knowing everything about say, a person (maybe mom), and actually experiencing that person. How can anyone justify the non-existence of quale!? Hum, back to the thought experiment, and to be fair, I am still trying to imagine a person with the eternal knowledge of bananas!
So, I was supposed to ask Adam something about the ontological status of thought and qualia. But then I forgot my question, so we talked about going to graduate school for philosophy instead. He said it was good that I like teaching.
So it looks like Adam did a version of the “Mary’s room thought experiment” on William, except with bananas instead of the color red (which is kinda weird because bananas aren’t “quales” but I guess the overall effect is the same). I never really got how anyone could possibly claim that Mary didn’t learn something new. I think the whole thing really hinges on the ambiguity of the word “learn” though. We tend to think of learning as acquiring data or facts, like Mary does. And then we think about it more and we realize learning also involves developing skills (probably more than acquiring facts). If someone just watched movies and read books about riding bikes they wouldn’t be able to ride a bike. But, now it seems weird to think of color-perception as a skill like riding a bike; but it seems more like a skill than an acquired piece of information. So maybe it’s not about “learning” or “knowledge.” Mary definitely has a new experience. But was this ever in question? I just don’t see how learning all the physical facts that constitute an experience can be considered a substitute for the experience itself. They’re just two different things…. And I also don’t see why any of this has to be such a huge problem for materialism.
I don’t know why it’s a problem for materialism either! It’s not like our experiences are hallucinations or not real. At any rate, it seems like its impossible to reduce everything to purely natural processes anyway, there has to be some sort of consciousness that wrestles with and translates phenomena into some physical law. I don’t know how we’d ever be able to get rid of this “being” that inevitability experiences, and who’s intuitions, sensations, and will are so often beyond just the mere scope of facts.
So, I don’t know if the “being” or consciousness or some particular phenomenal experience is gotten rid of just because we (or someone) give a material explanation of it. We can give a physical explanation of the process of perceiving red (i think?…. it has something to do with light-waves, and retinas and cones and rods and stuff), and yea, the explanation itself isn’t going to be “red.” But that’s like opening a cookbook and expecting to find the food itself in there. I have no idea if this makes sense…
A quale (yes, the plural really is qualia, but I like the
less pretentious ‘quales’ much better!) is a funny little thing. Different people have used the term
differently of course, but Goodman intended it to be both anti-platonist, as a
quale is a particular and all reality can be understood in terms of quales, and
he also intended it to be phenomenalist instead of physicalist. This last point
has to be understood historically, and it might really interest you, because it
was a debate within the analytic world in pre-war and post-WWII Europe, which
of course had some affect on the development of continental philosophy. The physicalists (such as Carnap **),
argued that the atomic starting points of experience were objects, and that the
particulars in the world could be reduced to the experience of objects.
The subjectivity of experience is important to you, and you
are right to focus on that. It is difficult though (as you know) to give an
account of subjective experience while still giving an account of knowledge, as
the latter seems to carry with it demands for public and intersubjective
experience. Your knowledge of a banana or of your mom can’t be the kind of
knowledge we want to call (shared) knowledge. So how does private knowledge fit into that picture?
This is the way the conundrum has been set up. But of course this is only truly a
conundrum if we think of the subjective and the objective as cleanly
bifurcated. I think you have a good sense of the alternative view. If,
alternately, there is a murky boundary – always being renegotiated and
redefined – between my inner private awareness and the consensual communis
opinio, then we don’t’ have quite the confusion. The difficulty
comes not only when we see the subjective and the objective as two mutually
exclusive enclaves, but as two static and worlds, each unable to impenetrate
This Mary thing is actually an old debate that’s dressed up to look like a new one. Actually, it’s two debates: a metaphysical one and an epistemological one. The metaphysical one is of course the
“what’s real” question, with the opposing teams being the materialists and the – what we should call for present purposes – the “non-materialists” as they are not quite idealists (though probably related in a cousin-type fashion). The epistemological one is, again, the old question: what constitutes knowledge? In
this particular version of the debate the question is whether knowledge is completely constituted by the information that is characterized as “third-person” – that information that we call “scientific”.
This would then leave out of the so-called knowledge category all first-person subjective experience, even subjective experience of (scientific) third-person perceptual phenomena.
“Qualia” is a term that has been used by various people, with varying definitions. For Goodman, it was the presented particular quality specifying color, place, and time. It was a phenomenalist definition of the basic unit of reality instead of a physicalist definition (which would have been an object or something like the Logical Positivists’ “the given”). Even though people are often using the term “qualia” to refer to a subjective part of perception that seems cleaved from the third-person, scientific, or “physicalist” part of perception, Goodman was not really using the term in this way. He did not mean for qualia (or in my own non-pretension version, “quales”) to be an argument for mental, non-physical entities. In fact, he did not countenance abstract objects.
Having made that disclaimer regarding the term, the main question(s) still remain: What’s real? And, What constitutes knowledge? Is it just the things that form the basis of third-person, objective experience that
we thus share with others? Or is it the things that are part of our own sense-experience; the things we hold tight within our own worlds, our own private experience? I’m not sure it’s a skill vs. knowledge distinction that you made; that would be a distinction between information stored in the declarative part (in the neocortical) of the brain and the non-declarative part (in the basil ganglia). Aristotle noticed these basic distinctions in his Ethics… The distinction is really more along the lines of whether knowledge is constituted by materialist facts, or whether knowledge incorporates mental (e.g., non-physical) data that
is subjectivist, private, and non-public in nature.
The historical difficulty with [private] sense data (cf. Hume’s famous difficulty with this issue) is that even if it serves as the basis for a physicalist “given” (i.e. physical object, not just a phenomenal sense
experience), that “given” has an odd way of evaporating. We think it’s solid but it’s not. For my sensing of something is always my sensing, and if scientific experience is to have a footing in empirical data, that data must always have its footing in private sensing. So the problem becomes: where is this objective reality and is it still objective? A mind-independent reality (e.g. the kind the materialist wants) has a tendency to easily slip over into a mind-dependent one.
There has to be a line that is drawn between the inner and the outer. We want the physical object to be real, we want it to be shared data, we want it to be objective. But how do we obtain it? Through sensing. But ah, here’s the difficulty. For most, we want a shared experience, a shared world; we want the joint mushrooming of the phenomenon that we call“knowledge.” And so, if that’s true – which is the world science has promised us – what happens to that subjective, ineluctably private world we each call
I think you’re right to say that the problem is, in many ways, one of definition. If the notion of “learning” is confined something that is isomorphic with third-person knowledge, such as a materialist description of the world – one that is always a description of things from the third-person, e.g., “objective” perspective –
then we seem puzzled at the idea that our own subjective experience is somehow not a part of what’s called “knowledge”. I mean, how my experience of red (or a banana) not count as knowledge; or, to move up a level in the linguistic confusion, how does my knowledge of red not count as knowledge?
In short, it is a problem for materialism because materialism wants reality to be defined in terms of third-person descriptions. This is Russell’s motive in distinguishing knowledge by description (e.g., third-person) with knowledge by acquaintance (e.g., experience). This problem dovetails with the traditional idealism/materialism debate, where the latter can’t countenance mental, non-physical entities. Goodman, despite his use of the term “quale”, was adamantly opposed to idealism, though didn’t really want to join
the opposing team either. Both forks have prongs that impale themselves.
So, yes, it is about what we call “knowledge”. But, now, what do we think that is?
At this last POPc meeting, we got to speak about nominalism and what it meant for a notion of subjectivity. It was really cool! Somehow our conversation ended up being about whether there was really an inner dimension of consciousness, or whether (in line with the changing nature of reality for nominalists) we were webbed within, or reflections of others. I like the latter possibility a lot more. I can’t even imagine uttering even the word “I” without it referring to some sort of “We” that conditions even our singular possibility for speech. I mean, if after all, language is what draws our attention to objects in the world, makes images memorable, and translates things into intelligible terms, we can’t ever think of such pointed and shared language in the singular. Maybe, from this line of thinking, consciousness is just a multiplicity of many contingent beings overlapping one another at any instance in time or space – or as Dr. Shottenkirk put really nicely in more concrete terms; perhaps “I” is just one circle on a sort of venn diagram that is intersected by many other “I”s that themselves constitute another circle in a whole web of relations. hum
I think I learned what nominalism was at POPc, but now that I’m thinking about it again, I’m getting confused. So there’s no such thing as “red,” understood as an essential property of things, it’s just a predicate we apply to things. We point to things and call them red and so then they’re red (there’s probably a bunch of things wrong with this crude description). So maybe Mary doesn’t know that what she sees is red. In fact she probably doesn’t. But regardless things would be different for Mary (I think) if she saw blue. So, there’s something in the world by virtue of which whatever Mary sees is either red or blue. There’s a reason we apply certain predicates to certain things. What is this reason?
Before today, I had a distorted perspective on people who called themselves philosophers. I always assumed that they were slightly pretentious people trying to figure out the purpose of life and death, or other very vague topics. It was interesting to learn for the first time, that it most definitely is not. Kate, the philosopher who I spoke to, showed me that philosophy can come from anything, even languages.
We talked about a certain phrase in Korean that caught her attention. It’s a phrase that is similar to “I love you” but its meaning is something different. It means a collection of things from, loving endlessly, and respect, and even a sense of possession. There is no equal phrase in any other language. At least from what I know, not English or Spanish.
I enjoyed our conversation very much. It’s nice to know that philosophy is not as overblown as I thought.
The question of what is right and wrong came up. Whose right is right or who determines what is right? At what point do we deny someone the chance to do their idea of right or should we?
I truly enjoyed my conversation with Kate. I am a visual artist and really dont know a flute about philosophy .. I was a bit intimidated by jumping into our conversation at first. There was a hat to pick random questions, I planned to pull a paper from the hat to help steer our path. Before I did we fell into an interesting conversation about the intension of the artist in the work that we create. How important is it that the idea comes across to the audience? I work very intuitively, try not to think too much in order to channel and not let my ego or fears taint the work. The finished work develops a certain meaning to me, which is most commonly the exact opposite of that of my audience. As a poet, Kate had some similar experiences with her work and we bounced ideas around that had me questioning the type of experience someone shares with my work. Wrapping it up, I was a bit curious where the conversation would have gone had I pulled the paper from the hat.. we decided to pull one just to see, and it was exactly where we had gone on our own.. like a fortune cookie.
I talked with Kate today about the schopenhauer and the will, and how we experience emotions differently. We were wrestling with what the will is exactly, and how it affects what knowledge we acquire. I think that knowledge is a very personal thing that is largely determined by ones individual experience. even when it comes to emotion, we can take certain similar experiences in different way. Many of the thing that we know and feel that are universal to some extent are also indescribable, such as a subconscious feeling of acceptance or rejection within a crowd. We can identify with the general feeling of anxiety or comfort, but may have a different value or meaning for it in relation to our individual experiences.
As I know your philosophical views fairly well, I’m tempted
to not respond to just your post but to your larger body of knowledge. But that
could go on forever, so perhaps I will just stick to the rules and stick to the
post. (This is perhaps a good idea even though I made up the rules and so
surely can un-make them, but just to make things look less random and chaotic,
I will be obedient to myself…)
Which bring us nicely to Schopenhauer. Obedience plays an interesting role in
his thought, but again talking about that might be an endless detour. To pinpoint him a bit more and to
address your concern with the will: “To explain this somewhat more accurately,
I remind the reader that our consciousness has two sides; in part it is
consciousness of our own selves, which
is the will, and in part
consciousness of other things, and as
such primarily knowledge of the external world through perception, apprehension of objects.” (S., The World As Will and Representation Vol. II
Trans EFJ Payne (NY: Dover, 1958), p.
367) In volume I, he states, “All willing
springs from lack, from deficiency, and thus from suffering.” (p. 196)
I am no Schopenhauer expert, as I only spent a bit less than
a year studying him (during the writing of my dissertation). And, as you might
guess, he veers a little too closely to Kant’s belief in a firmly established
external, objective source of truth – it’s a bit too much for me to want to
spend time with him. But you know
they say Schopenhauer always slept with a loaded pistol near him, so perhaps
that belief in certainty was only superficial.
Anyway, your issue was how the will affects what kind of
knowledge we gain. If you go with Schopenhauer’s definition of the will (a
definition which does fluctuate a bit), it revolves around our distinct
awareness of ourselves; an awareness that seems qualitatively different from
our awareness of everything else.
I understand your argument that we all experience things a bit
differently, but it is, it seems to me, hard to prove that one way or the
other. There is, on the one hand,
the subjective experience, and then there are two other things as well: my
articulation of my subjective experience, and your parsing of my
articulation. By the time you have
listened to my experience and compared it with yours, that e.g., your parsing or understanding of my articulation – is
three stages beyond the initial experience itself. Each stage of that process,
from my original experience to my articulation to your parsing of my
articulation, must distort both what it translates (e.g., the previous stage)
as well as distorting that originary metaphysical data. Much is left unarticulated, both because
much is missed and not realized in the initial experience, and much is left
unarticulated simply (as you point out) because we are unable to articulate
much of that. Words are to
experience like boulders are to sand.
It cannot do the work we hope it to do.
So yes, maybe we experience things differently from one
another. But then, maybe we
don’t. Maybe there is this (as you
also point out) universality to some kinds of experience, which would make a
certain amount of sense as we are all animals of certain species operating
within the constraints imposed by that species. For example, we all have two eyes that work the same,
etc. But again, how far that
universality goes is hard to nail down.
Science – the physics of bodies, the biology of our organisms, the chemistry
that lurks beneath both – is surely about that universality of our bodies. So of course a great deal of the claim
to universality is true, at least within that materialist sort of realm. It is when one steps over into
psychological that the hard ground turns to quicksand. How much is my experience like
But we shouldn’t follow S. down into that spiral of
sourness. Let’s do a Monty Python
and “look on the bright side of life”. If we say that the difficulty is just
knowing what is shared and what is not, we can, instead of focusing on the
insolvability of that, then see what we gain with that dilemma. Surely our ignorance of what is shared
and what is universal must be the ripe source of much that is pleasurable and
meaningful: I listen to you and try to parse your explanations because I want
to know. And, I care about what
you say because I want to know. If
I already knew, I wouldn’t listen, and I wouldn’t care. Not knowing whether or not my subjective
experience is like yours seems like a small price to pay for that. Right?
We often think that the creative process ends when an artist finishes a work and showcases it in a museum or gallery, but in a sense, the artist is extending the process through the observations of the viewers. Finding background information can change one’s perspective and ability to look deeper, as well as find application it to other aspects of life. Once someone has given birth to a work of art, book, movie, etc. it is still a living work as long as there are people to experience it, projecting onto it their own background, emotions, and experiences. ~KJSa
(Anonymous Poster-Not Daniela!)
You say that post is not you, and I remember that there was
another woman who posted but didn’t want her name used. Unfortunately, I don’t know who she is,
and also unfortunately, I don’t know if you agreed or not!! I know many of your views, and so
perhaps more fairly I should just write you a response not to what you posted,
but to address more what I know you think about and what philosophical
perspectives you align with. (forgive ending the sentence with a preposition…)
With that we must jump to Kant! But, as this series was A Night With Nelson Goodman, I will
instead tell you a little about that.
Goodman rejected much of what Kant stood for: G. rejected K’s synthetic
a priori, he rejected the idea that there was a non-constructed, objective
reality, he rejected the Kant’s idealism.
The following is an excerpt from my book on Goodman:
Clearly Goodman agreed with Kant that we “concatenate” the
empirical data, which is unstructured before we impose on it space, time, and
causation. Goodman only takes this
perspective farther when he argues that all data is not only absent these three
things, but is completely indefinite before our acceptance of it into our
Goodman also departs from the Kantian perspective that demands a bifurcation
between cognition and judging, such that these are seen as different kinds of
contemplations that correspond to the objects that they are contemplating. In other words, to contemplate an
aesthetic object is a different mental activity than contemplating a cognitive
object; resulting in the distinction between 1) knowing, and 2) judging. To “know” something is to have that
thing brought under a concept, under a principle. To “judge” something, on the other hand, is to experience it
as a particular. With aesthetic
experiences, one experiences the particular as either the beautiful or the
sublime, the latter being that which holds the greatest reward, for it is that
which most fully appeals to our disinterested contemplation – the “purposeless purpose” such as seen
in the tulip, which is recognized as God’s creation; it is a contemplation
which is independent of our knowing the purpose of that object or what
advantage we might extract from the object. On the other hand, the painting and other forms of human artifacts
are merely beautiful and cannot give us the truly disinterested
contemplation. But in both cases,
aesthetics is feeling, not knowing.
course, this is not Goodman.
Goodman rejects the Kantian distinction between knowing and judging by
denying a priori knowledge, and, hence, the epistemological distinction between
analytic and synthetic statements.
I, too, would argue against the distinction
between knowing and judging. I, too, would agree with Goodman that art is
actually quite like science: both are constructed symbol systems, both require
combinations of “feeling” and “thought”, both require a dove-tailing of knowing
and judging and that these latter two are never experienced apart from the
other. I wonder what you think
The grid and paper like concept of the artwork made me reflect on the eastern philosophical tradition in that we as the experiencers of this constructed reality enter into the reality of the constructor assuming that we understand the nature of what we are experiencing, but the truth is just beyond our perceptual range. Then when we realize we were in this constructed reality we make vain attempts to understand and when we almost “get it” we are forced to acknowledge (Like the Bramanist) that the truth is something we cannot entirely fathom.
I think I know what post is yours though you decided to be
mysterious and anonymous. That
nicely dovetails with the content, which I know to be yours as I recognize the
views! “…reflect on the eastern philosophical tradition in that we as the
experiencers of this constructed reality enter into the reality of the
constructor assuming that we understand the nature of what we are experiencing,
but the truth is just beyond our perceptual range.”
I, too, think we have a constructed reality. I think Goodman is right about that
one. There was for him (and others
at that time) a general rejection of not only Kant’s synthetic a priori but of
the a priori in general. Reality
was constructed by us, and it is through symbol systems that we understand
those constructs. And it was the quale that was at the bottom of that
construction. Goodman was trying to get to the very basic unit of his
constructionalism, not unlike what Wittgenstein did in his Tractactus. For Goodman,
the basic unit was a particular color, at a particular place, at a particular
time. It is the perceptual unit
that is at the basis of all experience.
And all experience is constructed out of a bunch of those individual
quales (or “qualia” in the proper – and in my view, silly – use of the
So each of us build up a little system of quales, many of
which are ones we have inherited from our culture and from others. Reality is a
construct, but social life has built into many forms of reality that is passed
down from the group to the individual.
Much of what we see we see because others have convinced us to see
it. This is not an argument for
not seeing it the way the social construct demands. Surely we as social creatures must do that. Otherwise it
would be a world of nut jobs. And nothing would get done.
But what about those cases where the symbol system is not
just an inherited one, but an individually constructed one? That’s what you were concerned with –
the artist’s individual construct.
And when we look at it, how much do we accurately parse from that
I think you are right to hit upon the opacity of the
communication. Goodman wanted to
nail it down, wanted aesthetics to be a system that was tied to the strict symbolism
of semantic (linguistic) expression.
So that predicates, with their extensional definitions, would be the
thing that was referred to. “The
painting is sad” would have meaning because you would have this metaphorical
definition of “sad” that would have its sure footing in the secondary extension
of the term.
But I think you’re right – much is not translated. And that
is the cherry on top. That’s the best part; if we know that we don’t completely
know, we go back over and over to explore and discover, to revel anew in
someone else’s experience, the care about their point of view. If we got it all we wouldn’t do
And I bet a lot of those ancient Indian philosophers knew
This has led to a very interesting, extended philosophical discussion on creativity, parameters, and how the two interact to make Art. Far more discussion than at any other art opening I’ve ever attended. Questions with Kate include: How do parameters affect creativity? Do we tacitly accept the artist’s and society’s parameters upon entering the gallery (I think yes), to subsequently either accept and work within them (like the art) or reject and replace them with our own (walk out of the gallery in a huff)? Is there something about this work that exerts control over the medium such that control replaces creativity– in other words, is it a formal cop-out for old-school creativity, as is most non-representational contemporary art? Both painstaking and deliberately obtuse? Is that a bad thing? Is that a good thing? Is that just a thing? Can it be just a thing? Can it??