On Philosophy

October 5, 2006

Intentionality and the Experience of Intentionality

Filed under: Intentionality — Peter @ 12:00 am

As I have described it here and here intentionality is best viewed as something that can be said of the mind, or a way of describing some of the connections between the mind and the world, but the intentional relation itself is not part of the mind. Believing there to be a necessary connection between a thought and the real world objects it is directed at is a form of externalism, and since we know that externalism implies that the mind is epiphenomenal, and because the mind is not epiphenomenal, we conclude that there is no such necessary connection. It certainly feels like there is though.* When we perceive an object it feels as if we are being presented with object itself, not some representation of the object. Why do we interpret our experience this way if there is no necessary connection?

To explain the intentional feeling I must make a few preliminary observations. The first is that we only have access to our experiences / the contents of consciousness, a point that was made evident by phenomenology. The second is that the idea of a separately existing world is not itself contained in our perceptions, but rather something we deduce from them. I suspect children realize the existence of an independently existing world when they realize that objects don’t go away when they can’t be seen, which obviously leads to the idea that the objects themselves are somehow existing independently of the person who perceives them. The fact that our perceptions can sometimes be “wrong” (i.e. later perceptions disagree with earlier ones, or different senses disagree at the same time) further reinforces the idea that there is more to what exists than our perceptions of it. However, since we only have access to this independently existing world through our perceptions we begin to identify it with them, thus leading to the feeling of intentional directedness that accompanies them.

Now some will say that this intentional feeling is not really directed at the world but at whatever is the cause of our perceptions. That might be true when we are talking about what is at the other side of the intentional relation, but because the intentional feeling is caused by a certain conception of the world it is not the case that we feel our perceptions to be directed at whatever is out there. More specifically we conceive of the world as something that has an “independent existence” (meaning that it needs nothing else to exist, unlike perceptions which require a perceiver), as mentioned previously. If the world were shown to be simply a simulation this would be a denial that the trees we perceive are real, independently existing, trees. We would then consider the feeling that our perceptions were directed at real trees to be false, not that our feelings of intentionality were really directed at virtual trees all along.

Of course there will always be some who will argue that we “really” feel our perceptions to be directed at whatever they are really intentionally related to, and that it is simply faulty introspection that leads us to believe that they are directed at one thing or another. But, if you really believe that our awareness of the experience of intentional directedness can be deceived in this way there is no reason to suppose that it must really be directed at anything at all. In fact it would make the most sense to say that our real feeling of intentional directedness is not actually directed at anything at all, and that it simply appears to us that we feel our perceptions to be directed something; certainly this is the simplest solution. It also reveals how strange it is to suppose that how something feels to us might not be how it “really feels”, since how something feels to us is all that matters in terms of consciousness and the mind in general, leaving nothing for the how it “really feels” to do. (see also)

Although this account of where our feeling of intentional directedness comes from probably won’t convince any externalists that the intentional relation is not in the mind, it should defuse worries that an internalist account of the mind somehow leaves unexplained the intuition that mental activities are directed at some specific thing in the world.

* Another reason to believe that our experience of perception as containing some connection to the external world is inaccurate is a thought experiment described by Horgan, Tienseon, and Graham in their paper “Internal-World Skepticism and the Self-Presentational Nature of Phenomenal Consciousness”. First we consider a person who lives a normal life, and thus feels that their experiences about trees are about real trees, and any decent description of intentionality will agree with this feeling. However, we could kidnap this person and imprison them in a virtual world (without their knowledge), which is as far as they can tell indistinguishable from the real world. Since they don’t know that they are in a virtual world they will still feel that their experiences of trees are about real trees (as they have no reason to think differently), but now a decent theory of intentionality should tell us that their experiences are really about virtual trees. Since it is possible then for the feeling of intentionality to disagree with real intentionality it is logical to conclude that the feeling of intentionality arises from some other source, and not from the real intentional relation.

September 30, 2006

Intentionality From a Systems View of the Mind

Filed under: Intentionality — Peter @ 12:51 am

Recently I have been considering the idea that it is only possible to determine if a system is conscious by examining how the state of the system in a given instant is connected to previous and subsequent moments, as well as the properties of the system at that moment (which are all some theories consider relevant for consciousness). This same approach can be used to examine intentionality, specifically to address the question “which systems have intentionality?”

When we ask that question we are specifically interested in which systems have a “primary” about-ness. We intuitively understand that there are many kinds of things that can be about other things, for example photographs are about their contents. However, many of the things we consider to have about-ness have “secondary” about-ness, meaning that they are only about the things that they represent because beings exist who interpret them as being about things. A photo of a dog is only about a dog because it invokes in us sensations similar to those that we have when we see a real dog. To beings with different methods of visualizing the world that very same photo wouldn’t be about anything at all, and their equivalent of photos wouldn’t be about anything to us. Thus the photo’s about-ness depends on other things. In contrast, when a person sees a dog their experience is about the dog no matter who or what else exists in the world, and so in an important sense this about-ness, which we call intentionality, is more important.

Just as when investigating consciousness, problems arise when attempting to find some criterion for an intentional relation in a specific instant. No arrangement of matter, it would seem, could be intentional because we could take an image of that arrangement, and, despite the fact that the image preserves all the relevant information, the image would not have intentionality. As with consciousness, the solution is to consider whole system, not just a specific instant of it. Fred Dretske, in his paper “A Recipe For Thought”, proposed that there were some systems, such as compasses, that possessed a primitive intentionality. The criterion for this primitive intentionality is that a property, P, of a system is about some feature of the world, C, if and only if the presence of P is usually caused by C. Thus a compasses’ needle might be “about” the direction of the North Pole, since its orientation is usually caused by the earth’s magnetic field.

There is one problem with this account, however, which is that it still seems like a person or other beings are still required to give the orientation of the compasses’ needle its meaning. Although the needle would still point north in a world devoid of people it seems possible that it wouldn’t be about the direction. To remedy this we add the criterion that not only must P usually be caused by C but that P must cause the system to act (including thought-acts) as if C. So a normal compass wouldn’t be about the North Pole, but a simple robot that was programmed to move in a northwards direction based on information from a compass would be. Of course behavior is how we usually determine whether a system has intentionality, since it is what we can most easily observe, but internal changes (thoughts) also count, as mentioned above, and so it is possible that some completely immobile systems have intentionality, although we might never know it.

This account fits perceptual intentionality well, but it still needs some work to cover all cases of “primary about-ness”. Most significantly we have thoughts about external objects that are about them, but these thoughts are not caused (directly) by those objects. Fortunately, the account we have been developing requires only a small change to account for this. Instead of requiring that C be the usual cause of P we instead require it to be the usual external cause of P, allowing P to be caused by internal processes as well (specifically whatever unconscious processes produce thoughts). And instead of requiring P to result in acts as if C we instead require P to result in acts appropriate to the mode of presentation as if C. This is simply a way of saying that when P is invoked because of perception one set of acts is expected to result, those appropriate for C really being there, while when P is invoked because of a “supposing” then another set of acts result, those as if possibly C, and so on for all the distinct ways in which P can be invoked.

Finally I should probably mention that this account of intentionality is not a form of externalism (although Dretske does develop his theory into an externalist account). This is because intentionality, as presented here, is not a part of the mind, instead it is a way that we can describe or talk about the mind. As far as the operation of the mind is concerned the cause of P is irrelevant (in the sense that the mind will have the same sequence of states, and the same consciousness, regardless of whether P at a particular moment is caused by C or by something else).

August 31, 2006

About-ness (a.k.a. Representation, Intentionality)

Filed under: Intentionality,Language — Peter @ 1:01 am

When considering what it means for something to be about / representational / or directed at something else there are three distinct cases that need to be considered. One is representation as encountered in perception, capturing the sense of what I mean when we say that perception is about objects in the external world. Second is representation in thoughts or ideas, capturing the sense of talking about my ideas, thoughts, and concepts being about something non-mental. Finally we have the case of words, pictures, and other inanimate objects, which we can talk about being about other things.

1. About-ness in Perception

Perception is certainly the easiest case to deal with. For our perception to be about something in the world it must inform us that the world is a certain way. For example if we perceive that there is a dog in front of us our perception is about a dog being in front of us. Of course perception can be about things that don’t actually exist. For example we may misperceive or hallucinate, and in this case perception is misinforming us about the world. Still, what such a perception is about is what it was informing us about, even if such information was wrong. So, even if we perceive that there is a dog in front of us where there actually is none, our perception is still about the dog.

It might seem at first glance that this treatment of about-ness in perception is too vague, since we have defined what perception is about in terms of what it informs a subject about, and what it informs a subject about may vary depending on the subject. This is easily remedied however, simply by defining the content of perception more precisely. We should agree that being exposed to some perception the subject’s internal state is transformed from S-1 into some new state, S-2. We define the content of the perception then as the most likely state of affairs that could have caused a perception that would cause the S-1 to S-2 transition. This is why a hallucination is not about an illusionary dog, because the most likely cause of that perception would have been a real dog. (The exact sense of “most likely” might seem a little vague, but I won’t get into it here.)

Conveniently this more formal definition can also be extended to objects without minds as we commonly understand them. For example, we could use this definition to argue that the spinning of a compass’ needle is about magnetic fields. Such a description fits well with Fred Dretske’s paper “A Recipe for Thought”, in which he argues that the primitive intentionality found in simple objects is the kind of thing that our more complicated intentionality is built out of.

2. About-ness in Thoughts / Ideas

A slightly more difficult case to address is what a thought, idea, or mental image is about. Since we can’t tie such occurrences directly to events in the external world we can’t approach the problem in the same way we did with perception. Simple cases, however, can be built upon the treatment of perception, assuming that you accept, as most do, that our perception comes pre-conceptualized (i.e. when we see a tree we don’t see only a particular image, we see it as a tree). Given that, we can say a particular concept or mental image is about whatever state of affairs in the world is the most likely cause for a perception that would invoke that concept. The concept of “dog” then is about all those things that when perceived we would identify as dogs (but not about illusionary dogs, or other cases of misperception, since remember that given the analysis previously about perception can’t be about an illusion, except possibly in very unusual cases).

Obviously though the content of more complex ideas, such as “the war of 1812” can’t be defined in this way. In these cases I think that the content of such ideas must be defined in terms of the simpler concepts, which the more complex one can be broken up into. For example “the war of 1812” is about a “war” that happened in “1812”, and these concepts in turn must be broken up into simper ones, until we arrive at concepts simple enough to be defined in terms of perceptions, at which point the content of the more complex concept can be pinned down by them. At first glance it may not seem possible to define the content of mathematics in this way, but ultimately I think we can pin down numbers in terms of the cardinality of groups of physical objects. A full exploration of this possibility will have to wait until another time, however.

One response that people may have to this account is that “it doesn’t feel that way”. I agree that when we use a complex concept it doesn’t feel as though there are a number of simpler concepts associated with it that are responsible for the meaning, it simply seems to have a meaning. However I contend that these simpler concepts are there, unconsciously in many cases. After all it is through them that we come to understand more complex concepts initially, so I don’t see it as unreasonable that they should remain there in the background, fixing the meaning.

3. About-ness in Words / Pictures

Finally, we come to the case of words, pictures, and other inanimate representations or depictions. In these cases I would say that what they are about depends on the subject that perceives them, and that any universal or objective intentionality that they are said to possess is only an average we talk about for convenience, much like we talk about “the average man”, and not as something that exists on its own. I have detailed this argument elsewhere though, so I won’t go into more detail here. Given then that we are dealing with only a single subject defining the content it easy, it is identical to the concept (or concepts) that perceiving it invokes in the subject. For example the word “dog” is about dogs because it happens to invoke dog-the-concept in me when I hear it. Words, serving as a way to communicate accurately, usually invoke only a single concept, but paintings and sculptures may invoke more.

It may seem then that I am defending a very radical interpretation of art, such that what it is about depends solely on the viewer, and not on the artist’s intent. It is not my intention to step into the world of art criticism here, and to defend myself I should mention again that when we describe a word or painting as about something we often really mean the “average about-ness”. Thus one could rescue the world of art criticism by defining what art is about to be “average about-ness” or “about-ness to the artist”.

4. Conclusion

How we actually define what it means for one thing to be about another is an interesting project, but there are two lessons here that are of greater relevance for other philosophical endeavors, especially in the philosophy of mind. One is that what about-ness or intentionality is varies depending on the domain we are studying, there isn’t going to be a single definition that fits, for example, perception and language equally well. Secondly, the about-ness of a particular object of study always depends on factors external to that object, which should prompt us to conclude that, properly speaking, its about-ness or intentionality is not part of that object but rather a useful way of describing it that we can engage in from an outside perspective. (for more on this idea see here)

August 18, 2006

Intentionality and Perspective

Filed under: Intentionality — Peter @ 1:22 am

Earlier I argued that considering both the first and third person perspectives could give us insight into what knowledge is and why disagreements about its nature arise. Here I apply that same technique to intentionality (the way our thoughts are about or directed at things in the external world), and, as was the case with knowledge, it seems that the third person perspective may be misleading us.

It seems to me that much of our talk about about-ness or directedness is prompted by the third person approach to the mind. We hear other peoples’ reports of their thoughts and observe their actions, and from these we deduce that the content of their thoughts corresponds to objects in the external world (this is a rather obvious deduction). For example, if a person says “I see a tree” clearly they are reporting their experience to us, specifically that they are being presented with a visual sensation which either prompts, or is intertwined with, their concept of tree. We can also observe that there really is a tree before them, and thus we conclude that their experience is about or directed at the real tree, and furthermore that there is an intentional relation between the content of that experience (the concept of tree) and real trees.

However, when we turn to our first person experience of consciousness we cannot find this intentional relation. Certainly trees are the content of some of my thoughts. Sometimes I see trees directly, sometimes I imagine them, and sometimes I think of them only in abstraction. In none of these cases does the connection between the content of my thoughts and real trees present itself to me. Thinking of some imaginary plant that has never existed feels the same as the experience of thinking about trees, excluding of course the difference in content. From this we can conclude that since we aren’t aware of the intentional relation directly it isn’t part of consciousness (see here).

Admittedly the intentional relation might still be part of the unconscious, somehow acting as a framework for thoughts. I will dismiss this possibility for now, since we don’t know enough about how the unconscious mind works to make well founded judgments for or against the possibility of the intentional relation being part of it. As far as I can tell there is no reason that such a connection must be part of the unconscious mind, no explanations of experience or behavior require it, and thus I set it aside, by Occam’s razor. However, even if we exclude the intentional relation from being part of the mind, we are not prevented from putting forward the theory that concepts or content or meaning (whatever word appeals to you most) are derived from experience, and that without experience they would be meaningless (a very Humean point). In other words denying that a connection between thoughts and the real objects they are about is part of the mind does not imply that the mind is somehow divorced from the external world.

But certainly our third person perspective, which affirms the existence of an intentional relation, can’t be completely wrong. Indeed there is something right about it; the only mistake being made is the assumption that the intentional relation is part of the mind. It makes perfect sense to understand the intentional relation as a description of what the mind is doing. This is a distinction we make often in everyday life, but admittedly the mind is a complicated thing, so it is easy to get confused. For example we describe the moon as orbiting the earth, and here it should be obvious that the connection with the earth is simply a way of describing what the moon is doing, not part of the moon. The moon would be completely unchanged if the earth was replaced by some other object with the same mass. Likewise the mind would be completely unchanged if the objects it is “directed at” suddenly vanished, at least until their absence was noticed through perception. If the rest of the world were to disappear when I closed my eyes there is no reason to believe that a thought when my eyes were closed would be any different from the same thought when my eyes were open.

If this is true, that intentionality is simply a description of the mind encouraged by a third person perspective, what role does it have in the philosophy of mind? None whatsoever. It is true that how concepts come into being and their impact on how we act and perceive the world is certainly relevant, and if this is what you mean by intentionality then yes, it does have a role to play. However the intentional relation, as viewed as a connection between individual thoughts and the objects they are directed at, has no place in the philosophy of mind (but is rather important to the philosophy of language).

July 22, 2006

Comprehensive Objections to Externalism

Filed under: Intentionality,Language,Mind — Peter @ 5:12 pm

This post doesn’t contain any significantly new material, it is simply a collection and refinement of a series of earlier posts (specifically this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, and that one).

1: Prelude

Here I will attempt to demonstrate that externalism is a bad way of describing the mind through an objection by cases (although I like to think of it as a choose your own refutation). There are several kinds of claims that I am not attempting to refute, which some people may confuse with externalism. First I am not attempting to show that nothing depends on the external world. The belief that the truth of statements depends on the eternal world seems perfectly rational to me, and has nothing to do with the mind (see here). Secondly I am not trying to argue against the idea that we need the external world in order to understand the mind, because this claim is trivially true about everything, and thus says nothing interesting about the mind. (For example a vase cannot be understood in the absence of the rest of the world, because the idea of what a vase is requires some sense of its purpose, the existence of flowers, ect.) Finally I am not trying to show that the mind cannot grasp a priori truths (specifically tautologies), or that there are no such truths, because I have argued earlier that such truths are not properly part of the external world in the first place (see here).

2: First Step

Let me begin by dividing the possible interpretations of externalism into two groups. Either the relation between the mind and the external world is a causal connection, in which case proceed to section 3 for a refutation, or the connection is non-causal, in which case proceed to section 4.

3: Causal Views

There are two significant problems with an interpretation of externalism that attempts to define the connection between the mind and the world as casual.

3.1: The Problem of Fictional Objects

Lets say that our view of externalism is that the connection to the external world is somehow providing content for our thoughts (or the sense/meaning of them). If this is the case how should we account for fictional entities? A fictional entity, let’s say Darth Vader, can’t be the cause of any of our mental states, because he doesn’t exist. It is true that our mental states are causally affected by stories about Darth Vader, but we have the ability to think of Darth Vader himself, not just about certain movies that he was in. Since it is impossible to reasonably deny that people can direct their thoughts at such non-existent entities we should be inclined to discard an interpretation of externalism that dictates that a causal relation between the world and the mind provides meaning or content for thoughts.

3.2: The Reduction to Internalism

Of course perhaps the external relation doesn’t have anything to do with conscious thought, and thus we feel it might escape the objection presented above. Let us consider then a causal version of externalism as a real possibility. We would say then that the mind is connected to an object, say X, by X’s causal influence on the mind. Let’s examine then what this connection means at a given instant of time. Certainly when we look back to the moment of time where whatever information about X that influenced that mind was generated it might seem reasonable to say that our future thought about X is dependant on that X in the past and the mind in the past. However as we consider moments in time closer to the actual thought X falls out of the picture, and instead what we consider to be connected to us is the medium by which the information about X was transmitted (say the reflected light). When we reach the moment of the actual thought there is nothing left from X that we can consider to have a causal effect on us, because the effect of X on us happened some time in the past. When considering that moment of time, the moment when the thought happens, all we can say is that we have a thought about X, even though the thought isn’t connected to X. For all intents and purposes this is the same as internalism.

4: Non-Causal Views

The non-causal view of externalism can be further divided into two views. One interpretation of externalism holds that the connection between the mind and the external world has real (and hence observable effects) on behavior, consciousness, or the unconscious. Proceed to section 5 for a refutation of this view. On the other hand we can interpret externalism as primarily definitional, and hence we should expect that the connection between the external world and the mind has no observable effects. Proceed to section 6 for a refutation of this interpretation.

5: Real Effects Views

If the connection between the world and the mind has real and observable effects then we should be able to detect this connection through experiments. Below are two experiments (which you can do on your own) that demonstrate that the external world does not have a non-causal connection to behavior, consciousness, or the unconscious.

5.1 Effects on Behavior / Consciousness Experiment

A non-casual theory of externalism could hold that our consciousness or behavior about an object, about say a soap bubble, participate in a relation between us and the soap bubble, and that this relation has a real effect on either our consciousness or our behavior. So then blow a soap bubble and, before it disappears, place it behind a curtain, wait a few seconds, and then take it out. Sometimes it will have popped while it is behind the curtain and sometimes it will have remained intact. However no matter what actually happened your thoughts about the bubble, and your behavior, including language behavior, weren’t affected (assuming you weren’t in direct contact with it). Your interactions with other people about the soap bubble, and your subjective awareness of your thoughts, are the same when the soap bubble stays intact and when it pops, given that you can’t see it (or at least that was the result of the experiment when I preformed it). Thus there is no way to tell the difference between your thoughts in the case of the intact bubble and the case of the popped bubble. This is exactly the opposite of what this interpretation of externalism predicted, and hence we should reject it.

5.2 Effects on the Unconsciousness Experiment

It is possible of course that the real effects of the connection claimed by externalism are on the unconscious mind. In which case we can run another experiment designed to reveal if there are any unconscious impulses that are attuned to the existence of the bubble. We do this by asking the subject to guess whether the bubble has popped or not. If they guess correctly we give them a piece of chocolate, and if they guess wrong we smack them with something blunt (make sure your volunteers are willing). If the person never achieves better than 50% accuracy this is pretty good evidence they aren’t sensitive, even unconsciously, to the existence of the bubble. (Such experiments have a well-known history of revealing unconscious knowledge/sensitivity.) Although you can run this experiment for yourself (and I have), you can also take a look at professional studies of “esp”, some of which are set up in a similar manner (for example the subject may be asked to determine which card from a set the experimenter is holding, if the subject has a connection to the cards they should be able to tell unconsciously even if they have no psychic powers). Performing this experiment, or looking up the results of previous research (but remember to find studies from neutral parties, don’t expect the esp foundation to conduct unbiased experiments) reveals that if there is an unconscious awareness of the bubble it is small enough to be hidden by experimental error.

5.3 A Possible Objection

A possible response is to defend the externalist connection as not connected to specific thoughts but the content of “classes” of thoughts. Under this interpretation it is not a specific thought about the bubble that is influenced by the externalist relation, but the content of a class of thoughts that is the “template” from which all my specific thoughts about the bubble are derived. This interpretation would still fall into the same problems facing the standard theory, so we make the additional assumption that this class is “timeless”, specifically that it is related to the bubble when the bubble existed, but because the class itself is timeless it can provide us with the content for our thoughts even when the bubble is gone. Of course this is basically the same as reintroducing the theory of forms in another guise, and thus I would reject it for the same reasons that we doubt the existence of the forms. Of course as I have argued before something that is always present can’t be considered a real cause (see here), or at least not one that we can know about, and hence the objections in section 6 should apply.

6: The Definitional Interpretation

So finally we arrive at a point where the kind of externalism we are considered is purely definitional. It doesn’t have observable consequences, nor is the external relation causal. In this case the following three objections are relevant

6.1 The Problem Of Other Minds

The problem of other minds is a classic part of philosophy. The question is as follows: how can I be sure that other people are conscious in the same way I am? (And also how can I be sure that things such as rocks aren’t?) I think that any theory about the mind that can’t solve the problem of other minds is lacking something important, and should be rejected, since it certainly seems as if we can be sure who has a mind and who doesn’t. For example dualism and idealism are famously unable to satisfactorily solve the problem of other minds, which I personally think is a good reason to discard them. Externalism can’t solve the problem of other minds either (and internalism can). This follows from the following argument: The only things we can observe about other people are physical or that which can have a causal effect on the world. We can observe their behavior directly and we can make guesses about the activity inside their skull, but that is about it. Externalism asserts that there is a non-causal connection between thoughts (part of the mind) and the external world. It is a consequence of externalism that for a mind to be a mind (and have thoughts) it must possess this non-casual connection. Why? Well if it wasn’t required then such a connection wouldn’t be an essential part of the mind, and thus we wouldn’t consider externalism to be a good theory about the mind. (For example even though the statement that “some minds believe externalism” is true it isn’t a good theory about minds because it doesn’t tell us anything about what is essential to minds in general.) However we can never be sure when such non-causal connections are present (since as mentioned above we assumed that externalism didn’t have observable consequences), and thus we can never know with any degree of certainty if other people have minds like ours, since we have no evidence either for or against their possessing the necessary non-causal external connections.

Some might object to this argument, stating that language contains a non-physical connection to the external world, and thus language use gives us reason to believe that the mind has a non-physical connection. However from the following argument we can conclude that language either doesn’t have a non-physical connection, or doesn’t provide evidence of minds, and thus that this response doesn’t solve the problem of other minds for externalism. Consider then the following situation: you shake a box of blocks and spill them on the floor. To your surprise they spell: “stop shaking me”. If you believe that these words contain a non-physical connection to the world then clearly this connection isn’t a reason to believe that something has a mind, since the box doesn’t have a mind. On the other hand if these words don’t contain a non-physical connection then there is no reason to believe that any words you come across have such a connection, since there is no difference between the words spelled out by the blocks and words created by people, at least as far as you can tell (and a simple experiment could prove this).

6.2 The Problem Of Theory Strength

Given the kind of externalism we are discussing here, the best we can say about externalism is that it is true in the sense that it is consistent. Internalism however does make claims about the contents of the world, as well as make testable predictions, and thus the truth of internalism is a matter of certainty (not that I am saying that we are currently certain about internalism, just that we could be, given the categories of knowledge discussed in the linked post). For example internalism predicts that activity in the brain will be closely correlated with what people are thinking about, and indeed experiments have shown this to be true (or at least highly probable, since you can never eliminate all experimental error). Internalism is also incompatible with externalism, and given this we should accept internalism, and reject externalism, because of the general principle that we should accept truths that could be certain over those that are only consistent. Why should certain truths trump consistent truths? Well consider the following situation: the theory that everything is made up of the four elements can be considered a consistent truth, if we are allowed to define the four elements as we please (for example air might be subatomic particles a, b, c; earth might be … ect). However the atomic theory (everything is made of atoms) is part of the realm of certain truth, since it makes definite predictions about what we will find, its truth isn’t guaranteed by definition, it must be confirmed by experiment. We settle such cases using the principle I invoked earlier, not because it is necessarily wrong to accept the elemental theory given the right definitions, but because we seek greater predictive power and hence the atomic theory is more useful to us in our search for the truth. I argue that the internalism / externalism divide is much like this. Externalism doesn’t explain anything that internalism doesn’t, it is simply a more convenient way to talk about certain situations. Internalism on the other hand does make predictions about what we should find in our physical investigations into consciousness, and thus is of greater use in our search for the truth about the mind and consciousness.

6.3 The Epiphenomenalism Objection

Although it is logically possible for the mind to be epiphenomenal (to have no effect on actual behavior) many find that conclusion to be unacceptable and to warrant discarding any theory that would lead to it. If the mind as described by externalism really isn’t epiphenomenal then it must be a cause of behavior, and so if we work backwards from behavior we should encounter something that can be considered the externalist mind (however an externalist chooses to define it). Immediately of course behavior is caused by the activity of neurons, which in turn are caused by the activity of other neurons. No matter how far back we follow these causes we never have evidence of a non-causal connection, only purely causal connections between neurons and other neurons, and neurons and sensory inputs. This in turn implies that either the non-causal connections that are part of externalism are not part of the mind, which really is the cause of behavior (and this is effectively a denial of externalism), or that the non-causal connections are part of the mind, but that this mind isn’t a cause of behavior (epiphenomenalism). Both these conclusions seem to imply that externalism should be dropped in favor of some other theory.

I should mention that there is also a “split-mind” possibility, namely that some of the mind is responsible for behavior, and is found by our investigation into behavior’s causes, and that there is another part of the mind that the non-causal connections are part of, but that it is not connected to the part of the mind that controls behavior. I reject this possibility because it still leads to the conclusion that the mind is at least partly epiphenomenal, and more strangely that it is composed of two completely separate parts that don’t affect each other (this is not the same as the right-left hemisphere division because the two hemispheres do communicate, through both the corpus callosum and the hindbrain).

7: Concluding Remarks

From the above arguments I am satisfied that externalism is a bad way of thinking about the mind. I know there are some who will say that the way I understand the mind is not the same way externalists define it. Of course anyone is free to re-define words as they wish, but the way I have used the idea of mind here is consistent both with the way ordinary people speak about the mind, and with the way it is understood in the philosophy of mind. So if externalism isn’t making claims about the mind in either of these senses I guess I have no idea what it could possibly be describing.

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