Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Perception, Belief and Thought

It seems to be a central claim of possible worlds semantics that propositional attitudes have, all of them, the same content. Furthermore, possible worlds semantics seems to assume that perception and belief states can have the same content – provided that perception is also understood as a propositional attitude. I think these claims fail to account for a very simple and intuitive difference between perception and belief. That is, the intuition that external objects are not objects of belief, whereas they clearly are objects of perception.

This intuition is supported by our ordinary accounts of perception and belief. We do not ordinarily think that the house in front of me can be believed or thought of, but we clearly speak of it as if it could be seen and touched. There is nothing at all problematic about the sentence ‘I cannot see that house’, but there is something terribly mistaken about the sentence ‘I cannot believe that house’. Notice how different this is from the sentence ‘I cannot believe that there can be such a house’. This one sounds right. However, it seems mistaken to say ‘I cannot perceive that there can be such a house’.

Thought, on the other hand, seems quite amiable with belief. One can substitute any belief sentence for a thought sentence and nothing weird comes out. Similarly, one cannot substitute any perceptual sentence for a thought sentence without saying something wrong. It is mistaken to say ‘I cannot think that house’, but nothing problematic comes out of saying ‘I cannot think of there being such a house’ – though you would be confessing a pretty limited imagination thereby.

Nonetheless, according to possible worlds semantics, the content of a belief state is a set of possible worlds, or a set of possible individuals, or a set of relevant doxastic alternatives according to Lewis. If so, then the objects of belief and thought are just the same as those of perception. Possible objects and individuals certainly are perceivable (at least the actual ones). But what makes us think that they are also believable, or thinkable? It seems then, that possible world semantics cannot account for this intuitive distinction between objects of perception and objects of thought.

One might try to make it up by arguing for a difference content and object of the attitude. If one’s theory of propositional attitudes takes the ‘content’ and the ‘object’ of a mental state to be metaphysically distinct entities, then nothing should be inferred about content. It might still be, for all that theory claims, that perceptual and intellectual (i.e., perception and thought) content are the same. I don’t know how much can be done here. I am not convinced that there is actually any good distinction between the object and the content of a propositional attitude. It is clear to me, however, that these states do not have the same objects. We perceive objects, but do not believe them. Thus, if one claims that the content of a mental state is a possible object and, hence, that it is an object of perception, like possible worlds semantics does, then one is failing to account for an important distinction between objects of perception and objects of thought.

A controversial way to make this distinction would be, I guess, to say that there is no such thing as belief ‘de re’ if the ‘res’ of the beliefs are the same as those of perception. Perception, on the other hand, seems quite amiable with its being ‘de re’ and, also possibly, ‘de dicto’.

Friday, April 20, 2007


Estoy leyendo el libro de Corripio. Resulta que es un libro de fuerzas gravitacionales en planos semánticos. Es decir, un libro de ideas afines. Aristóteles dice que una vez que una idea comienza a dar vueltas en la cabeza adquiere un momentum propio, de manera que la idea sigue y sigue dando vueltas sin control. Algo similar pasa con las ideas afines. Una empuja a la otra, como en un juego de pool. El problema es que, si no ponemos muchos límites, guardando algunas bolas de billar en las buchacas, cualquier idea nos lleva a cualquier otra. Lo cual resulta en una gran locura e incomprensión. Tanto que hemos creado una clasificación especial para los libros que se dejan llevar por esta inercia. El de Corripio es de ideas afines, otros se llaman ‘Diccionarios’ y otros más ‘Lexicógrafos’ y ‘Tesoros’. Todos, no obstante, son la misma novela, sobre el mismo pueblo, desde montañas distintas.

No por nada decía Hume que la sinonímia, o la causalidad entre una y otra idea, es tan inexplicable como la gravitación en la mecánica de Newton.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Are they all names?

I am trying to work out a theory of proper names (PN) according to which a PN is not a part of natural language. This, I’ve heard, is Mill’s view of Language. Names simply name, and that is that. Names do not have meaning, on this view. And so on. And so forth. I have an initial problem with this view: it cannot work out for everything we call names, not even everything philosophers ordinarily call grammatically proper names.

So my view faces an initial problem: to put the limits to the phenomena I want to explain. It is often accepted that things like ‘London’, ‘Aristotle’, ‘Pegasus’, ‘Phlogiston’, and ‘Peter Ludlow’ are all within the same category. On my view, this is false. I am not sure about ‘London’ but it seems clear to me that ‘Pegasus’, ‘Phlogiston’ and ‘Aristotle’ are no within the same category as ‘Peter Ludlow’. There is an important difference between them. From the speaker’s point of view neither ‘Pegasus’, ‘Phlogiston’, or ‘Aristotle’ refers to anything with which there can be acquaintance. Thus, form this point of view, what makes something a PN is not the object that it refers to, but the relation that holds between the object and the subject.

Both ‘Pegasus’ and ‘Phlogiston’ are empty names. There can be no acquaintance whatsoever with what we intend to refer to by means of them. Thus, none of them is a PN. No worries then if those linguistic entities have a meaning. No worries if such meaning is determined by a definite description (DD).

It turns out that whether or not something is a PN is an a posteriori matter. Just like ‘Vulcan’ turned out to be an empty, fictitious, name, so may many other theoretical terms like ‘Neptune’, or ‘Pluto’ for that matter. What these names have in common is the fact that they are introduced by means of a theory that gives us the identity conditions of the object.

To contrast, consider the case of a paradigmatic introduction of a PN. I walk with Jon down the Diag and run into Axel. The introductory ritual, more often than not, goes as follows: “Have I introduced the two of you before?” I say, “No” they say, “Jon Axel. Axel Jon” I say, “Jon” says the one, and “Axel” says the other. Have we used any theory, presupposed any property, or associated any description whatsoever? It seems to me that we haven’t. From that moment on, both Axel and Jon are acquainted with each other. And that’s all we need, nothing more, nothing less.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bio Pumps

I ran into Larry today. It is eight thirty by now, so he's been working for good three or four hours. That's probably the reason why he was enjoying the NY Times with a cup of coffee. I inevitably asked about the news, and he gave one of his most fantastic replies:

L: "Did you know they're going to have Bio-Diesel now?"
E: "No, I didn't."
L: "What are they going to have now? Vegetarian Pumps?"

I started, and couldn't stop, laughing.

L: "Vegan Pumps, perhaps?"
E: "No. They'll have ethical pumps."

And so it goes when there's no limit. Once ethics is all over the place, it just becomes hilarious.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Boring Fellini

Why is Fellini so boring? For the past few days Cata and I (and sometimes Juanito) have been trying to digest Fellini. We started with “Lo Sceico Bianco”, and then moved on to “E la Nave va”. I have to say that the latter was much more enjoyable than the former. But still boring. Furthermore, I have to say I really loved the second one. The whole idea of paying honors to a former friend, a great friend that past away, and to do so by having a whole opera set up in a transatlantic journey, can really touch some inner chords. But still, it is still boring. Why is Fellini so boring? Here are some ideas:

There are two main sources of boredom. Boredom comes from situations which we either (a) already understand (or believe to understand) so well, from top to bottom, that no questions come afore; or (b) something so utterly distant, obscure, and difficult that it is difficult to even imagine what is the use of it and, of course, no questions come afore either. They both tend to be inoffensive, but sometimes (b) gets too close to arrogance.

I think Fellini’s problem is the second one. It seems to me that he is so immersed in complicating things, in trying to show how difficult everything is, how senseless, how incomprehensible, that he actually manages to reach the top of boredom. Ok! I agree, experience is a difficult thing and we are made in such a way as to simplify things. Otherwise we die, either out of stress, boredom, or radical inability to do anything (which results from both). But this is something that not even Fellini can change, and his intent to show how cumbersome things are is just another futile way to give a story – and, therefore, a simplification – of what human experience is. Even to say that this makes no sense is a simple way to put things. So why not accept this fact? Why be so arrogant and insist in spitting out a relentlessly cumbersome story that may last forever?

There is still much of value here. I’m just complaining about the boring side of it. It is always nice to see that, in spite of Fellini’s obscurity, la nave va!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Throwing what down the toilet?

Possible-worlds are highly appreciated. Possible-logical-spaces, however, are not. I have been wondering about this for a couple days now. I see why people may think it is useless. But uselessness is not a proof of impossibility; and, thus, of non-existence at all.

If possible worlds are nothing over and above the objects and that inhabit them, and the distribution or pattern they observe, then logical space seems to be nothing over and above the possible worlds, and the distribution they observe, that define it. But then, if a different distribution of inhabitants is enough to determine a different possible world, why can a different distribution of possible worlds not define a different logical space? There seem to be many different logical spaces. There are infinitely many, in fact.

If possible worlds are nothing but the most inclusive set of things that are causally connected with each other, then logical spaces are nothing but the most inclusive set of things that are logically connected with each other. And if we can rigidly refer to inhabitants of possible worlds, maybe we can do so with inhabitants of logical space.

If closeness and similarity are relations that hold between possible worlds, then they are properties of different inhabitants of a possible logical space. If the same worlds, which we can refer to across logical spaces (i.e., rigidly), can have different relations of closeness and similarity among them, then the same worlds are inhabitants of different logical spaces. Hence, the worlds Plunk and Plank may be close in Logical space Peter, but not so much in Rob.

But then, a counterfactual that holds in close and similar worlds within logical space Rob, might never the less not hold within Logical space Peter. And so, counterfactuals, laws, and what not, require us to fix into a logical space (or a set of them), and not only into possible worlds (or a set of them). So they will be true in so far as we decide to narrow down our minds.

Surely this must be nonsense. For different worlds cannot differ in relation with other worlds (e.g., be closer or farther, similar or different) without differing in the way they are. But if they differ in the way they are, they are really just a different possible world. One and the same world cannot occupy different positions in logical space.

Even more surely, this latter cannot be so. For if there need be only one logical space, then there can’t be any different ways a world can be. Possibilities are not possibilities of worlds, worlds are always necessarily so, there cannot be any different ways a world might be. Hence, there cannot be such thing as change.

So I do not know, what chunk is it that we should junk? Is it possible worlds, or possible spaces? Is it both?

Silencio (9)

Seré menos categórico. Tomé el calentador y lo convertí en objeto, en volúmen o, más bien, en masa. No sé bien cómo funcionan los conceptos de los físicos. Sospecho que no corresponden del todo con los míos. Pero ese objeto blanco, con apéndice largo y flexible que según los conocedores entrega energía eléctrica al objeto en cuestión, ya no es un calentador. Tomé el cable y lo separé de la pared. Cuidadosamente levante un mueble oscuro de la sala, para recoger el cable sin peligro. Lentamente fui enrrollando el cable en torno a una ranura que sobresale del rostro de ese objeto blanco y amorfo. Lentamente el cable iba entregando su estatura. Lentamente el calentador iba perdiendo su función. Lentamente.

Ahora ocupa un lugar privilegiado en la ontología de mi habitación. En perfecta coordinación con otro objecto de volumen distinto y masa superior, que justo en frente se permite obstruir el paso de la puerta que resguarda la salida de emergencia, este objeto blanco, antes calentador y ahora masa, se permite estorbar el giro de la puerta que resguarda el umbral entre la sala y mis ideas, entre los demás y su reflejo. Y esa cosa que antes me protegió del frío, ahora me permite disfrutar el calor de una primavera lenta. Una primavera que me entrega bocanadas de aire y amor, un viento que echa a volar fotografías y papeles y que, de pronto, hace esta habitación mi casa y se vuelve Sandra, Consuelo y Eduardo. Fotografías vuelan por aquí y por allá. Y la sonrisa, extrañamente, sigue en mi rostro.

Esa masa amorfa. Una primavera que tardó mucho en venir. Pero que ha llegado, al fin. Y si lo dudan, pregunten a ese objeto blanco que me mira fijamente a mis espaldas. Lo tengo ahí, en primera plana, como testigo principal del cambio.

Miento. Terriblemente. Esa sonrisa, no se mantiene siempre en ese rostro. A menos, claro, de que las sonrisas determinen a los rostros. Entonces he de decir, que esas sonrisas se mantienen en algunos de mis rostros. ¿Y los demás? ¡Los demás son mayoría!