Hard or Impossible? Neil Rickert’s attempt to ‘explain consciousness.’

Neil Rickert was at it again attempting to ‘explain consciousness’ over at PS at the imperative-phrased invitation of Joshua Swamidass to: “Tell me how you think consciousness evolved.” https://discourse.peacefulscience.org/t/rickerts-ideas-on-consciousness/3684/

Neil had written this: “What it really boils down to, is that there is no such thing as metaphysical truth. There is only conventional truth. And different social groups will disagree over their social conventions.”

TSZ poster BruceS answered Neil’s challenge and addressed part of its background assumptions: “Another fan of Rorty-style pragmatism… Seems to be a cult among TSZ moderators.” So perhaps this is worth discussing here as well (though obviously the lone religious theist moderator at TSZ Mung was forgotten in BruceS’s comment).

I too reject the notion that “there is only conventional truth,” a view, however, that this site’s founder Elizabeth Liddle also seemed to hold. In the fields I have studied, this is a view held largely by social constructivists, which is often turned into a kind of ‘sociologism’ – the ideology that holds all things can be explained by appeal to societies or groups alone. This view, however, unfortunately comes at the cost of other ‘truths’.

Thus, I respectfully disagree with Neil and believe that the claim “there is no such thing as metaphysical truth” is just his own convenient fiction. It would seem that he has taken a massive detour away from ‘metaphysical truth’ and is now trying to ‘explain’ something that cannot actually be explained. Additionally, it appears that this detour has had to do largely with an attempt to create a ‘religion substitute,’ along the lines of Daniel Dennett’s evolutionistic-atheist worldview.

Rickert tells: “I was a deeply committed Christian for part of my life. But I came to doubt that, long before I started to study human cognition.” https://discourse.peacefulscience.org/t/rickerts-ideas-on-consciousness/3684/4 It thus seems that it was instead a reaction against YECism that had an important role in Neil leaving whatever Christian community he had been ‘deeply committed’ to, prior to taking up a pastime study of human cognition. If not for YECists, he might still believe in metaphysical truth & a Creator who loves us – all people – even Neil.

Rickert writes about his, “study of consciousness, where I have to look at how people make conscious assessments of what is true.” He admits that he holds “a view which many people – perhaps most people – will see as wrong. That’s why it is difficult to explain consciousness.” Yet, this makes the mistake of suggesting that it is merely other peoples’ fault why he can’t ‘explain consciousness,’ rather than taking responsibility for his inability or lack of success to convince others about how ‘consciousness evolved’ (implied: naturalistically, without need, use or role for a supernatural Creator) on himself. Maybe ‘consciousness’ simply can’t be ‘explained’ and hence there is little value in trying to do so (unless or even if one is trained as a PhD in the field and has made it their life’s passion). Otherwise, I don’t understand the ‘that’s why’ implied in Neil’s assessment of the professed difficulty of ‘explaining consciousness.’

I find the rejection of YECism dilemma fascinating and surely relevant for the TSZ community, most of whom reject YECism. It is not one commonly faced where I grew up, so please excuse if my questions come across as ignorant or insensitive. However, I did personally face and had to grapple with the ideology of YECism as told to me by a person who I highly respect still to this day and who has become a very successful practitioner in his chosen field of study & expertise (non-academic), which has nothing to do with the age of the earth. I even thought YECism had some glimpse of merit for a time, before realising that what had to be ignored and discounted in order to remain a YECist displayed errors too voluminous to seriously entertain.

Does rejection of YECism lead some people into a crisis of faith? How do we face or encounter YECists as still respectable and worthy human beings even though we wholeheartedly disagree with the ideology that they have embraced (as part of their consciousness)? I believe Neil is right to wonder about these things. And I believe it would be wrong to act unjustly towards or to treat people in an inhumane way simply because they hold an ideology that is damaging usually to no one other than themselves and their local religious community, as if I held any power as ultimate judge over the care for their souls by demanding that they turn away from ideological YECism.

“We can, of course, sit back smugly knowing that we are right and that the YECs are wrong.  But, at the same time, the YECs can sit back smugly knowing that they are right and that we are wrong.” … “People do not like explanations of what they already take for granted.  They don’t believe that an explanation is needed, since they already take it for granted.  And, if pointing out that what they take for granted depends, in part, on social conventions, then they are likely to see that as questioning what they take for granted. / This is why it is hard to explain consciousness.” – Neil Rickert https://nwrickert.wordpress.com/2019/02/21/the-hard-problem-of-consciousness/

My concern with the social constructivist and ‘social convention’ approach to ‘truth’ is that it places the utmost difficulty on the doorsteps of other people, rather than accepting responsibility on one’s own doorstep by insisting that one *can* ‘explain consciousness.’ It is surely unfortunate, however, because Neil may not have had to face this dilemma in a different Christian community, given that YECists constitute a rather large minority view among Christians worldwide (despite what R. Byers says). Indeed, most Christians don’t get upset with each other about ‘evolution’ or ‘consciousness’ as they go about their regular lives of prayer and worship and aren’t upset by it in their beliefs or relationships with others at their local churches.

Another option, one that Rickert might like to consider, is that consciousness is something that can’t actually be explained, certainly not ‘scientifically’. It may even be a God-given reflection of human beings as ‘ensouled’ creatures. Consciousness may thus simply be always something greater than what can be grasped by highly limited, finite human minds, rather than a temptation toward trying to become god-like in our self-understanding; a topic not meant for full comprehension. At some point, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Bahai’s and others must simply admit we don’t have all of the answers and consciousness, as well as some ‘metaphysical truths,’ are surely strong candidates for such an admission.

Leaving the Church because one can’t understand/explain why YECists couldn’t change their minds when faced with a huge amount of ‘strictly scientific’ evidence for an ‘old earth’ may indeed be felt by some as a very difficult but necessary situation to face. It is not one that perplexes me and I have never faced any pressure from a religious person inside a ‘house of worship’ to adopt their hypothesis about the age of the Earth. I have been calmly told about their views, but never with insistence. There is help, however, for those who have experienced pressure or insistence. Indeed, this is precisely what the BioLogos Foundation was built to encounter, as it is made up largely of former YECists who didn’t turn away from religious faith but found a way to embrace theology without accepting YECism, i.e. while rejecting YECist ideology.

Please consider this as an attempt at understanding and simply offering an answer to Rickert’s dilemma, rather than at dictating any particular solution to the problem. As it involves his own personal history that he has volunteered on the internet on this extremely sensitive topic, I certainly do not wish to put any words in Neil’s mouth or to misrepresent him or his view. I do not wish to ‘out’ his thoughts or character about anything he wishes to keep private. Please do forgive my inability to ‘explain’ these things more clearly, as I’m just trying to understand what if any link there might be between rejecting ‘metaphysical truth,’ trying to ‘explain consciousness’ and leaving a church due to what might appear as YECist fanaticism and refusal to accept scientific knowledge about the Earth, creatures and people on it.

474 thoughts on “Hard or Impossible? Neil Rickert’s attempt to ‘explain consciousness.’

  1. walto: What would it mean to actually (“formally”?) be true, in your opinion?

    The right answer to a math problem, perhaps.

    ETA, I’m streaming UK political events currently so not giving this stuff enough attention.

  2. walto: Why does truth have to be an explanatory concept (whatever they are, exactly?)

    Due to vagaries in the forum software, you appear to be quoting me.

  3. Alan Fox: walto: What would it mean to actually (“formally”?) be true, in your opinion?

    The right answer to a math problem, perhaps.

    On that response, you would seem to be restricting the concept of truth to the concept of provability.

  4. Kantian Naturalist,Perhaps. But if a truth is some proposition that accords with reality, can be verified by enquiry, that’s fine. I just see people using “Truth” as some reified entity having independent existence rather than a property one might reasonably or unreasonably assign to a claim about the world.

  5. Kantian Naturalist: On that response, you would seem to be restricting the concept of truth to the concept of provability.

    I like that there’s no such thing as truth, but there’s such a thing as “rightness” (as in “the right answer to a math problem”). The word just rubs some people the wrong way, apparently. petrushka, e.g., is uncomfortable with it unless it has a “v” in there for the customary “u”.

  6. Alan Fox:
    Kantian Naturalist,Perhaps. But if a truth is some proposition that accords with reality, can be verified by enquiry, that’s fine. I just see people using “Truth” as some reified entity having independent existence rather than a property one might reasonably or unreasonably assign to a claim about the world.

    So much confusion pumped into two sentences. Hard to know where to even begin……

  7. Alan Fox:
    Kantian Naturalist,Perhaps. But if a truth is some proposition that accords with reality, can be verified by enquiry, that’s fine. I just see people using “Truth” as some reified entity having independent existence rather than a property one might reasonably or unreasonably assign to a claim about the world.

    I don’t know who “these people” are (though a certain TSZ participant comes to mind), but I don’t see why avoiding their rampant confusion requires you to go so far in the opposite direction. The idea that truth is a relation between assertions and the world seems to have something to it!

    Now, to be sure, I don’t support that idea entirely or without qualification — but I’m motivated by all sorts of theoretical considerations that lead me to reject certain aspects of ordinary usage.

  8. Is it a thing that atheists who have rejected dogmatic, conservative Christianity use this “TRVTH”, as a mocking homage to the Latin? Where is this even coming from?

  9. The OP is a mess because explaining consciousness is not the same as explaining how it evolved. Neither Gregory nor Neil seem to be aware of the distinction (if Neil’s is correctly quoted as trying to explain evolution, rather than the meaning of truth, which has nothing to do with explaining the evolution of consciousness either, what a fucking mess indeed.)

  10. KN,

    I don’t know who “these people” are (though a certain TSZ participant comes to mind)…

    Don’t be shy. Why not quote this person and explain what you find problematic about their stated view? That’s exactly the sort of discussion that TSZ is meant for.

    Is it a thing that atheists who have rejected dogmatic, conservative Christianity use this “TRVTH”, as a mocking homage to the Latin? Where is this even coming from?

    At TSZ, anyway, it seems to be mostly a petrushkaism, akin to his preference for “lowercase truth” over uppercase.

    Here’s petrushka:

    Lowercase truth. I bet my life everyday on ordinary notions of truth.

    I still don’t know what uppercase Truth (or TRVTH) is supposed to be, in his view.

  11. keiths: Don’t be shy. Why not quote this person and explain what you find problematic about their stated view? That’s exactly the sort of discussion that TSZ is meant for.

    If I thought this person were capable of reasonable conversation I would. I’ve made the attempt many times over the past year or so, without success. Since it’s against the Rules to accuse someone of not arguing in good faith, I prefer to engage with this person as little as possible.

  12. KN,

    If I thought this person were capable of reasonable conversation I would.

    Why not do so anyway? If they’re truly incapable of reasonable conversation, as you claim, then an exchange would make that obvious, and your claim would be vindicated.

    On the other hand, if your claim is false, and the person can and does engage in reasonable discussion, then I can understand your hesitation. You’d look foolish making a claim that was immediately falsified.

    Anyway, setting aside your beef with this person, do you understand my point about scientific realism and metaphysical naturalism?

    You had written:

    If there’s a way to block the inference from scientific realism to metaphysical naturalism, I’d be interested to see what it is!

    I responded:

    Just note that scientific realism doesn’t exclude theism or other forms of supernaturalism. Since it doesn’t exclude them, metaphysical naturalism can’t be inferred from it.

    In case you find that confusing, consider an alternate phrasing:

    Metaphysical naturalism excludes God and other forms of the supernatural. Scientific realism does not. Therefore metaphysical naturalism can’t be inferred from scientific realism alone. You need something else — something that can rule out the supernatural — to justify the inference to metaphysical naturalism.

  13. I intend TRVTH to represent the gods eye view.

    Presumably, god knows what free will means, and determinism, and time, and causation, and consciousness.

  14. KN,

    I’m also still curious about the following. You wrote:

    If the truths are assertions and the truthmakers are objects, states of affairs, or (God forbid) possible worlds. I find that impossible to reconcile with the sort of modest, liberal naturalism that I think is the most promising metaphysics. Our understanding of the world may be linguistic in form, but the world itself is not.

    As I pointed out, our understanding of the world isn’t limited to linguistic representations, and in any case there is no requirement that representations take on the form of their referents, or vice-versa.

    Anyway, what is problematic about states of affairs as truthmakers under naturalism? Suppose Juliet is at the library. How does it create a problem for naturalism to assert that this state of affairs — Juliet’s location at the library — makes the sentence “Juliet is at the library” true?

  15. petrushka:

    I have no problem with statements like Joe was born in 1948.

    Then why object to “It’s true that Joe was born in 1948”?

  16. petrushka,

    I intend TRVTH to represent the gods eye view.

    I would just say that there’s an actual state of affairs, and that statements, beliefs, ideas, etc., that correspond to that actual state of affairs are true.

    An omnipotent God could, of course, take in a God’s eye view. But contra Neil, you can speak of a God’s eye view without assuming or implying that such a God exists. Furthermore, such a viewpoint needn’t exist in order to talk coherently about an actual state of affairs.

    “Joe was born in 1948” is true if in the actual state of affairs, Joe was born in 1948. No omniperches needed.

  17. keiths:
    petrushka:
    Then why object to “It’s true that Joe was born in 1948”?

    I concede that such statements, taken in context, are useful. But I wandered off my intended path, which was to bitch about attempts to define consciousness.

    Possibly off topic:

    https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/04/mind-fixers-anne-harrington/583228/

    I have a nephew — schizophrenic — who has argued at great length that his perceptions are just as valid as anyone else’s. I don’t know what he would say about the truth of facts.

  18. Entropy:
    The OP is a mess because explaining consciousness is not the same as explaining how it evolved. Neither Gregory nor Neil seem to be aware of the distinction.

    I agree that ‘explaining consciousness’ (whatever that might mean, as it is apparently a goal of Neil’s, not mine) is not the same thing as explaining how it ‘evolved’ or ‘arose’ or ’emerged’ or ‘became real,’ etc.

    To be clear, Joshua Swamidass phrased the invitation to Neil imperatively, “Tell me how you think consciousness evolved.”

    Neil had written this, which likely should have been included in the OP:

    “Conscious [sic] evolved, in a reasonably natural way. / I wish I could explain in detail, but I have not yet found anyone interested enough to listen for such an explanation. The difficulty with explaining consciousness, is that almost everybody is deeply committed to mistaken ideas.” https://discourse.peacefulscience.org/t/the-relationship-between-math-and-physics/3017/82

    Thus, it seems, if Neil were ever going to ‘explain consciousness,’ then it would take ‘natural evolution’ alone to do it. No Mind can be involved, as Neil doesn’t believe he is created in the image of God.

    “Consciousness cannot come from intelligent design. It can only arise through something like evolution.” – Neil Rickert (Ibid)

    Well, it would only be ‘from’ Intelligent Design (i.e. a divine Mind), not mere intelligent design (‘created’ or ‘evolved’ minds). The use of “something like evolution” sounds like hand-waving skepticism in support of ideological naturalism. Then again, that ideology is common in the worldview among most skeptics here at TSZ.

    Bill Cole answered Neil Rickert as follows:

    “You don’t know consciousness cannot come from intelligent design [sic] as you have no way to validate this claim. It may simply be a more powerful intelligence [sic] that truly understands the interworking of the universe. The assumption that the material universe is all there is maybe false.”

    Neil didn’t respond to getting called out on his “what else could it be hypothesis”.

  19. I agree wit Neil, but I have no proof. The strongest argument I can make is that we can see the physical implementation of consciousness, but cannot understand it or produce an equivalent in another substrate. Not by design. It remains to see how AI will evolve.

  20. Gregory,

    To be clear, Joshua Swamidass phrased the invitation to Neil imperatively, “Tell me how you think consciousness evolved.”

    I don’t know why you keep harping on that. Swamidass can be bossy, but this wasn’t one of those cases. He was simply reassuring Neil that he was willing to listen:

    Neil:

    I wish I could explain in detail, but I have not yet found anyone interested enough to listen for such an explanation.

    Swamidass:

    I’m all ears @nwrickert. Tell me how you think consciousness evolved.

  21. Bruce,

    Take the intentional stance for someone first encountering SM saying words just after his creation: that person and someone from twin earth will differ on the fact of the matter regarding SM’s meaning for SMs vocalization of “water”

    Not if their meanings match. And of course, that’s the crux of the whole debate.
    It’s really just the Fredrick/Frodrick scenario all over again.

    Your position is that Fredrick and Frodrick mean different things by “water”, because one of them has interacted solely with H2O while for the other it’s only ever been XYZ. I say they mean the same thing by “water”, and that this is determined by their physically identical representations (which match both substances, since they don’t include the chemical makeup).

    Suppose Fredrick is teleported to Twin Earth. He points to a lake and says “Water.” The locals respond, “Correct, water.” By your lights, Fredrick is wrong to call it “water”, the locals are right to call it “water”, and the locals are wrong to affirm Fredrick’s correctness in calling it “water”.

    If that isn’t absurd enough, suppose the freshly zapped Swampman points to a lake and says “water”. By your lights, he doesn’t mean anything at all by the word.

    By my lights, Fredrick, Frodrick, and Swampman all mean the same thing by “water”, and the meaning encompasses both H2O and XYZ. This avoids the absurdities of the externalist history-based approach, and doesn’t introduce any disadvantages that I can see.

    Can you think of any?

  22. Bruce,

    As SM [Swampman] interacts with a language community over time, one could argue that becomes the relevant causal history for interpreting him.

    That idea leads to more absurdity. The stuff he calls “water” doesn’t change during that time, yet you would argue that what he means by “water” actually changes.

    And when exactly does the changeover occur, and why? Is it a function of elapsed time? Cumulative contact with people? Does it happen the first time someone points to a lake and says “water” to Swampman? Or does it take more “exposure”, and if so, why?

    What if Swampman encounters another swampman, and both of them agree that the stuff in the lake is “water”? Does that count, or is the word still meaningless in both their mouths?

    These absurdities don’t arise if you accept that the meaning is determined by the nature of the physical representation, and not by its history.

  23. keiths:

    Then why object to “It’s true that Joe was born in 1948”?

    petrushka:

    I concede that such statements, taken in context, are useful.

    You’re back to talking about usefulness, but the issue is whether a sentence like “Joe was born in 1948” can actually be true or false.

    I submit that “Joe was born in 1948” is true if in reality, Joe was born in 1948.

    Do you disagree?

    Do you agree that there is a fact of the matter regarding Joe’s birth year? (Assuming that Joe exists, that his birth didn’t straddle the stroke of midnight on December 31st, etc.).

  24. Neil Rickert: It is consistent with the theistic view that God created language, meaning and truth.

    I misunderstood your use of ‘theistic’ then.
    I had thought the theistic implications came from correspondence truth, specifically from being able to assess the correspondence between language and truthmakers from some objective viewpoint which was able to assess all of reality in order to correctly determine the correspondence underlying truth.

    The viewpoint of reality is the God’s eye view.

  25. keiths: Your position is that Fredrick and Frodrick mean different things by “water”,

    Yes, I agree that the core of our differences is different assumptions about externalism versus internalism/descriptivism.

    I personally think externalism is more convincing, not only for the reasons given by SEP. I also think language must be tied scientifically to our concepts, and our concepts must in the end be based on inquiry into the world by the community in which we live. Furthermore, I think there is objective truth about the world to be found in science, so that concepts about the world need to be assessed in light of the nature of the world itself, not just what the community believes.

  26. Neil Rickert:
    BruceS: I read that as the extreme form of Kuhnian incommenurability.

    Neil: There’s an ambiguity there, and I’m not sure which way to take it. But, never mind.

    Roughly, radical interpretations of Kuhn say that scientists cannot rationally compare and choose among paradigms, because a paradigm can only be assessed within itself. A paradigm changes the way a scientist perceives the world.

    I thought this might be why you were saying to Erik that it was impossible to compare different paradigms about the solar system.

  27. Kantian Naturalist: That’s all well and good, but here’s my lingering concern: Tarski works this out with regard to formal languages, and it took Davidson to apply “Convention T” to natural languages. But the implication of doing so — which I believe only Rorty was bold enough to realize — is that “truth” becomes only a semantic concept.

    The reason Tarski schema alone does not work is that Tarski was not just the schema, it also needed a model to interpret the schema into the domain of inquiry.

    For his approach to meaning, Davidson inverted the schema in the sense of reversing “knowing meaning involves knowing truth conditions” to “knowing truth conditions implies knowing meaning”. He used Tarski schema to provide theory about meaning.
    The modeling comes from interacting with language users, triangulation with them, and assumptions about rationality to be applied to understand interactions and triangulation.

    I take Walto’s reference to the Trac as being to the “remaining silent” bit of mysticism (or maybe quietism) which it ends with. I think Ramsay was right in evaluating the worth of that observation (ie not being to whistle it either).

    I suspect Walto is not so much being mystical as expressing a lack of interest in discussing because he has better things to do, and that’s completely understandable.

  28. BruceS: I misunderstood your use of ‘theistic’ then.

    The viewpoint of reality is the God’s eye view.

    Yes, I am using “theistic” (with respect to truth) when people use “true” in such a way as to suggest that they are assuming a “God’s eye view” (without necessarily being an actual theist).

    I’ll note that some folk in this thread are discussing the truth of:
    “Joe was born in 1948.”
    That’s a great example of how I am using “human convention”. Everything about that sentence depends on human conventions, from our conventions about dates, our conventions about ages, birthdates, etc. And you would even use our conventions about the use of birth certificates to check on the truth of such a statement.

    And again, contra to keiths, this is not “merely linguistic convention”. These are conventions about how we behave in the real world and how we use properties (ages) that we consider real. So I am not leaving reality out of the picture. But there would be no truth and no meaning for this sentence without human conventions.

    In terms of cognition and consciousness, I am trying to focus attention on the importance of human conventions and our role in making and following conventions.

  29. BruceS: Roughly, radical interpretations of Kuhn say that scientists cannot rationally compare and choose among paradigms, because a paradigm can only be assessed within itself.A paradigm changes the way a scientist perceives the world.

    Well, yes. But I doubt that Kuhn was that radical. We can and do choose between paradigms. It’s just that it isn’t a simple logical choice. Rather, it’s a pragmatic choice.

    I thought this might be why you were saying to Erik that it was impossible to compare different paradigms about the solar system.

    My read was that Erik was trying to compare a paradigm about the solar system with the solar system itself.

  30. BruceS: I personally think externalism is more convincing, not only for the reasons given by SEP.

    I’m an internalist. To me, externalism seems absurd.

    I also think language must be tied scientifically to our concepts

    How would that be possible? What science treats concepts as objects?

    our concepts must in the end be based on inquiry into the world by the community in which we live.

    I don’t see how that is possible, either. To me, concepts seem to be unavoidably subjective. The words that we use to describe them are public, but the concepts themselves are not. How we form concepts seems to be fundamental to understanding consciousness.

  31. BruceS: I suspect Walto is not so much being mystical as expressing a lack of interest in discussing because he has better things to do, and that’s completely understandable.

    I really am kind of mystical/quietistic about this, based on Tarski, Wittgenstein, and Hall, the latter two of whom, incidentally, would have conceded the vacuity concern expressed in your first paragraph, but would not have taken the Davidsonian route away from it you and KN mention. I discuss this stuff a bit in my paper on cognitive predicaments in the Hall book that I think you have.

    But yeah, I don’t want to think about this stuff at present.

  32. Neil Rickert,

    “To me, externalism seems absurd.”

    Welcome then to a further critique of evolutionary theories in human-social sciences! = P The amount of externalist explanations that underhandedly usurp the power of human choice found in evolutionary SSH is astounding.

    “My leaving Christianity had nothing whatsoever to do with YECism.” – Neil Rickert

    My apology for misinterpreting your words. It had seemed you simply couldn’t accept the ‘social conventions’ of YECists & thus left the church you were “a deeply committed Christian [in] for part of my life,” which had many YECists in it. That was what I was most curious about; not the consciousness controversy.

    The topics of ‘explaining consciousness’ & ‘the evolution of consciousness’ hold little interest for me, which is why I haven’t commented. Obviously the atheists & agnostics here have a thing for this theme, even as much philosophistry turned away from God has been on display in this thread. One is reminded that “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing.” Explaining consciousness undoubtedly won’t fill that vacuum even if one tries.

  33. Neil Rickert: In terms of cognition and consciousness, I am trying to focus attention on the importance of human conventions and our role in making and following conventions.

    It’s fairly easy to construct trivial examples of true or false statements, so why do we spend so much time arguing about facts?

    And why do we spend so much time trying to reduce real world alleged facts to certainty?

    There are,of course, people sitting in jury boxes who have to decide true or false beyond reasonable doubt. Since this is a thread about consciousness, I would point out that many of those decisions are about motive and intention

  34. walto: but would not have taken the Davidsonian route away from it you and KN mention. I discuss this stuff a bit in my paper on cognitive predicaments in the Hall book that I think you have.

    I was just giving my understanding of the role of Tarski in Davidson.

    Phil of language is fun like crosswords are fun and math puzzles are fun, but my current bias is that philosophy of language is armchair speculation, unless it is unattached to empirical analysis in linguistics, psychology, neuroscience.

  35. Neil Rickert: How would that be possible? What science treats concepts as objects?

    Psychology for one. Neuroscience for another.
    https://neurosciencenews.com/neuroimaging-concepts-brain-2113/
    https://www.amazon.com/Origin-Concepts-Susan-Carey/dp/0199838801/

    I don’t see how that is possible, either. To me, concepts seem to be unavoidably subjective. The words that we use to describe them are public, but the concepts themselves are not.

    Behaviourism was abandoned in the 50s.

  36. Gregory: One is reminded that “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing.”

    It’s kind of weird to see a sociologist quoting Pascal without even an attempt to show that Pascal’s claim has any empirical support.

  37. BruceS: The stuff on scientist’s perception being affected paradigm is a standard interpretation of Kuhn’s SSR.

    Well, yes, sure. The part that went too far was “Roughly, radical interpretations of Kuhn say that scientists cannot rationally compare and choose among paradigms, because a paradigm can only be assessed within itself.” Scientists do choose between paradigms, and they usually see that choosing as rational. However, it is a pragmatic choice rather than a logical choice, so if you equate “rational” with “logical” then it would not be rational.

  38. Neil Rickert: However, it is a pragmatic choice rather than a logical choice, so if you equate “rational” with “logical” then it would not be rational.

    OK but why would anyone want to equate “rational” with “logical”?

    I think there are two distinct questions here: whether scientists and philosophers who resolve a debate between competing paradigms are doing so according to rational criteria, and whether there are good reasons for historians of science to retrospective asses the replacement of one paradigm by another as sufficiently rational to count as progress.

  39. Neil Rickert: I don’t see how that is possible, either. To me, concepts seem to be unavoidably subjective. The words that we use to describe them are public, but the concepts themselves are not. How we form concepts seems to be fundamental to understanding consciousness.

    That seems quite odd to me. I don’t understand how we can distinguish between words and concepts. How could we get any awareness of what concepts are, if they distinct from words?

    It seems to me that Brandom was basically right to argue that understanding a concept amounts to knowing how to knowing how to track the valid inferences drawn from the use of a word in a sentence.

    To use one of his examples, if someone says “it’s red but I don’t know if it’s colored” then they’ve failed to recognize that “if it’s red then it’s colored”., But that’s just part of the content of the concept of being red, because red is a color. If you don’t know that red is a color, then there’s a really crucial part of the concept of red that one has failed to grasp — even if one can reliably distinguish red objects in one’s visual field.

  40. KN,

    I don’t understand how we can distinguish between words and concepts. How could we get any awareness of what concepts are, if they distinct from words?

    You don’t see how the word “collision” differs from the concept of a collision?

  41. Alan:

    Half our brain doesn’t use language.

    Both hemispheres process language, and that’s the basis for many split-brain experiments.

  42. walto,

    Btw, I’ve enjoyed Keith’s spirited defense of internalism in this thread.

    Thanks, walto. I think it’s an important topic, because a history-based externalism of the kind Bruce is advocating falls afoul of physicalism, in my estimation (besides leading to absurdities like the ones I’ve mentioned already).

    More on the conflict with physicalism later.

  43. Neil,

    I’ll note that some folk in this thread are discussing the truth of:
    “Joe was born in 1948.”
    That’s a great example of how I am using “human convention”. Everything about that sentence depends on human conventions, from our conventions about dates, our conventions about ages, birthdates, etc. And you would even use our conventions about the use of birth certificates to check on the truth of such a statement.

    That the sentence involves human conventions is obvious — language is a convention, after all — but that doesn’t imply that the truth of the idea expressed is merely conventional.

    Take the issue of dates. Suppose we express Joe’s date of birth using the Islamic calendar. Does that actually change the time at which Joe was born? Of course not.

    There’s a difference in reality, and not just by convention, between an event happening 40.1 earth revolutions after the Tunguska event versus one happening 44.6 earth revolutions PT (post Tunguska).

  44. Neil,

    My read was that Erik was trying to compare a paradigm about the solar system with the solar system itself.

    Models are tested by comparing predicted observations to actual observations. That’s why I asked you, incredulously:

    I pointed out to you years ago that the Ptolemaic model was falsified by Galileo’s observations of Venus’s phases. Do you still not get it, after all this time?

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