Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Object, The Illusion - Take Four

This post is the fourth in the series of The Object, The Illusion
The previous posts regarding the same topic can be found here – Post 1, Post 2, Post 3

Consider, this time, that there is a table in a room. We can agree here that what we associate with the table – like color, shape, feel depends from person to person, and the depth of knowledge of these properties change as we move to either macroscopic or microscopic levels. The senses/ sensors do not give us the truth about the table, only the appearance of it.

Thus it becomes evident that the real table, if there is one, is not the same as what we immediately experience by sight or touch or hearing. The real table, if there is one, is not immediately known to us at all, but must be an inference from what is immediately known. Hence these questions arise:
(1) Is there a real table at all?
(2) If so, what sort of object can it be?

Define a few terms: [from Bertrand Russell’s “Problems of Philosophy” ]

  • ‘sense-data’- the things that are immediately known in sensation: such things as colors, sounds, smells, hardness, roughness, and so on.
  • ‘sensation’ - defined as the experience we have immediately because of the above.
  • ‘matter’ is defined as opposed to mind, as something we think of as occupying space and is incapable of any sort of thought or consciousness.

Considering the real table, if it exists, as a physical object; we need to find the relation between sense-data [very similar to the ‘properties’ we discussed in the previous posts] and the physical object.

Bishop Berkeley (1685-1753) in Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, in Opposition to Sceptics and Atheists, was the first to come up with the theory that there is no such thing as ‘matter’ at all, and that the world consists of nothing but minds and their ideas.

In the sense as ‘matter’ is defined above, Berkeley denies it exists- he does not deny that the sense-data which we commonly take as signs of the existence of the table are really signs of the existence of something independent of us, but he does deny that this something is non-mental. He admits that there must be something which continues to exist when we go out of the room or shut our eyes. But he thinks that this something cannot be radically different in nature from what we see, and cannot be independent of seeing altogether, though it must be independent of our seeing. He is thus led to regard the 'real' table as an idea in the mind of God. Such an idea has the required permanence and independence of ourselves, without being -- as matter would otherwise be -- something quite unknowable, in the sense that we can only infer it, and can never be directly and immediately aware of it.

Other philosophers since Berkeley have also held that, although the table does not depend for its existence upon being seen by us, it does depend upon being seen by some mind -- not necessarily the mind of God, but more often the whole collective mind of the universe.

'Whatever can be thought of is an idea in the mind of the person thinking of it; therefore nothing can be thought of except ideas in minds; therefore anything else is inconceivable, and what is inconceivable cannot exist'

But these philosophers, though they deny matter as opposed to mind, nevertheless, in another sense, admit matter. Of the two questions above:
Is there a real table at all? (2) If so, what sort of object can it be?
Now, Berkeley and other philosophers admit that there is a real table, but
Berkeley says it is certain ideas in the mind of God, and others say it is a colony of souls. Thus both of them answer our first question in the affirmative, and only diverge from the views of ordinary mortals in their answer to our second question. In fact, almost all philosophers seem to be agreed that there is a real table. They almost all agree that, however much our sense-data -- color, shape, smoothness, etc. -- may depend upon us, yet their occurrence is a sign of something existing independently of us, something differing, perhaps, completely from our sense-data whenever we are in a suitable relation to the real table.

There is an interesting experiment by Descartes. Descartes invented the method of systematic doubt. He determined that he would believe nothing which he did not see quite clearly and distinctly to be true. Whatever he could bring himself to doubt, he would doubt, until he saw reason for not doubting it. By applying this method he gradually became convinced that the only existence of which he could be quite certain was own. Because, doubt concerning his own existence was not possible, for if he did not exist, nothing could deceive him. If he doubted, he must exist; if he had any experiences whatever, he must exist. Thus, his own existence was an absolute certainty. 'I think, therefore I am, ' (Cogito, ergo sum). Starting from there, he proves that our particular thoughts and feelings that have primitive certainty.

Bertrand Russell says in one sense it must be admitted that we can never prove the existence of things other than ourselves and our experiences. No logical absurdity results from the hypothesis that the world consists of ourselves and our thoughts and feelings and sensations, and that everything else is mere fancy. But although this is not logically impossible, there is no reason whatever to suppose that it is true; and it is, in fact, a less simple hypothesis, viewed as a means of accounting for the facts of our own life, than the common-sense hypothesis that there really are objects independent of us, whose action on us causes our sensations.

But, he uses instinctive belief, that is every principle of simplicity urges us to adopt the natural view, that there really are objects other than ourselves and our sense-data which have an existence not dependent upon our perceiving them. We should never have been led to question this belief but for the fact that, at any rate in the case of sight, it seems as if the sense-datum itself were instinctively believed to be the independent object, whereas argument shows that the object cannot be identical with the sense-datum. This discovery, however -- which is not at all paradoxical in the case of taste and smell and sound, and only slightly so in the case of touch -- leaves undiminished our instinctive belief that there are objects corresponding to our sense-data. Since this belief does not lead to any difficulties, but on the contrary tends to simplify and systematize our account of our experiences, there seems no good reason for rejecting it. We may therefore admit that the external world does really exist, and is not wholly dependent for its existence upon our continuing to perceive it.

ps: "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." - Philip K Dick

1 comment:

evilsense said...

Ok, so you do accept there was problem in assigning the properties to subject and the object. The problem is in the classification, if I think about it.

Check my reply: