Sunday, July 29, 2007

Reply to an old response from Doctor Logic

There was an important response from Doctor Logic a month or so back which requires a response.
On to your main argument...Science was free to analyze what was quantitatively analyzable through mechanistic analysis and treat everything else as mental.I think the distinction that was made was between the objective and the subjective, not between mind and matter. I wrote a long response about this, but I think I can summarize it very briefly.Science is about isolating properties of things from biases of observers. That is, isolating properties are part of the thing itself rather than accidental side-effects of interactions with particular observers.An objective property of a system is a property that inheres in the system itself, independent of knowing anything about the external observer.I cannot say that music is objectively pleasant until I specify who is listening to it (i.e., put an observer in the system). So, I could say that Beethoven's 6th is objectively pleasant to me but not objectely pleasant in and of itself. Hence, pleasantness of music is subjective.However, by using instrumentation and external verifiers, we can show that sodium is objectively explosive in contact with water. We don't need to know anything about the experimenter to state this fact.Now, historically, it may be the case that some regarded the objective-subjective distinction as a mind-matter distinction (I don't know if it is or isn't the case). However, that's not necessary to the success of reductionist science. What's necessary is an objective-subjective distinction for systems.This would be my answer to your question "how did that work back then?"

VR: Here’s the problem I have with this. So long as we can include both subjective and objective features of reality as part of the furniture of the world, you can make a distinction between subject and objective features of the world that the early reductions required. The problem is that if reality is ultimately physical, then in the last analysis nothing is really subjective. In the last analysis subjective states are not subjective after all. What is ultimately real are physical states and combinations thereof. What is real are physical states and states that are logically entailed by the existence of those physical states. The subjective is expunged from orthodox physical descriptions, and there is no entailment from physical states to subjective states. Hence the “siphoning off” that was so essential for the early reductions will not work for mental states, and as a result the very thing that made a reduction of temperature to the mean kinetic energy of gases plausible makes the reduction of the mental to the physical implausible.

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At 7/30/2007 03:14:00 PM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...


Thank you for taking time to answer this.

In your response, you say:

The problem is that if reality is ultimately physical, then in the last analysis nothing is really subjective.

I think this is begging the question. I am using subjective and objective from a systems perspective. There is a system that is me, a system that is the subject under study, and a system that contains us both. A property of a subject is said to be objective when I obtain appropriately-controlled evidence of those properties (i.e., when my perception of the properties is not just a peculiarity of me, the observer). At the same time, the overall system containing us both can still be objective.

These definitions of objective and subjective hold whether one is a physicalist or dualist. If I am a dualist, I can still isolate what is me versus what is in the external world by using scientific methods. If I am a physicalist, I can do the same.

So your claim that "if everything is physical there is nothing subjective" doesn't hold up. That claim confuses the subjective with the non-physical, which is begging the question for dualism. It is your belief that the subjective is non-physical, but this is not necessary to the objective/subjective distinction. Whether the subjective is non-physical is the question we are debating.

You also say:

The subjective is expunged from orthodox physical descriptions, and there is no entailment from physical states to subjective states.

Even dualists believe that the subjective becomes objective when the entire system is under study. For example, it may be an objective fact that Victor likes opera, while at the same time admitting that the "Victor-appeal" of opera is a subjective property of opera.

Now, much of the subjectivity in our perceptions happens to be mental. Your like or dislike of opera is probably not genetic or due to your diet. However, it is almost certainly due to your personal history, and your taste is something that may not be shared by other observers (and certainly isn't part of the opera itself). This does not mean that we are justified in identifying all things subjective with all things mental.

For example, the allergenic nature of peanuts is subjective without being mental. If a person is allergic to peanuts, we may know this fact about that person objectively. This doesn't mean that the observed allergic interaction is in the peanut alone. It means the allergy is in the interaction of the peanut with the allergic person, and that makes the allergic nature of the peanut subjective.

So your quote about the subjective being expunged from physical descriptions is misleading. A physical explanation of a subjective reaction of a particular observer is objective. This is a bit confusing, so I'll elaborate. :)

Say we have an object (e.g., a peanut), and a subject (an unnamed human observer). The human observer's allergy to the peanut is subjective with respect to the peanut. This is because, without knowing who the observer is, we cannot predict an allergic reaction.

However, if we broaden our definition of the object to include a particular taster (i.e., object is now the peanut and Bob), then we can determine objectively what the reaction will be. The allergenic nature of the Bob-peanut interaction will be objective. No matter who observes the interaction (you, me, Dr. Smith, etc.), we will all confirm Bob's allergy.

So, science can expunge the subjective from a subject, but that doesn't mean there's nothing subjective taking place within the boundaries of the subject.


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