Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Are indexicals a threat to materialism

Bill Vallicella thinks they are, and I am inclined to agree.

35 comments:

B. Prokop said...

Isn't this just another, and rather roundabout, way of saying that consciousness proves there is more to the world than just materialism? (which it does)

Papalinton said...

Vallicella says: "Maddell's point is that the first-person point of view is irreducibly real: it itself cannot be a subjective addition supplied from the first-person point of view. It makes sense to say that secondary qualities are projections, but it makes no sense to say that the first-person point of view is a projection. That which first makes possible subjective additions cannot itself be a subjective addition."

Why? Why would "it make no sense to say that the first-person point of view is a projection"? if indeed the first person point of view changed. If the first person realized the inanity of viewing the world through the lens of the christian mythos and rightly changed, then it seems the first first-person view was simply an illusion, a projection.

Incidentally, the function of consciousness does not prove there is more to the world than just materialism. That is simply active teleology, itself an ideational projection.

Vallicella says: "Maddell's point is that the first-person point of view is irreducibly real ...."
Shades of ID, methinks

finney said...

Papalinton:

Suppose I'm in love with a girl, and I believe that she loves me. That it seems that she loves me may be an illusion; it may be a projection of my subconscious desires. But the seeming, or believing, itself is not an illusion - it's simply true that *I* believe that she loves me, and there's no illusion about that.

So of course people may change their points of view - they might think they're looking at something true and later they realize it was an illusion and change their mode of thinking. But the idea that there is a "point of view" itself is not an illusion - it is an objective fact that subjective points of view exist.

As Vallicella says: "But to say that subjectivity itself, first-person perspectivity itself, is a subjective projection is unintelligible."

And as John Searle echoes, "where consciousness is concerned, the existence of the appearance [whether that appearance is an illusion, or is at it appears] is the reality."

Think of Descartes: Everything I'm thinking about might be an illusion, but if so, then it can't be an illusion that I have thoughts.

Crude said...

That is simply active teleology, itself an ideational projection.

*snicker*

Shades of ID, methinks

Pfffbwahahaha.

So, Linton, tell us. Do you think Valicella's piece is also a statement of creationism and evolutionary denialism? Perhaps you can work climate change denialism in. I mean, he's talking about indexicals, and there's a world climate index. Surely they're related, right? ;)

Shackleman said...

Materialist:
"كل هذا الامر"

Non-materialist:
"I'm sorry, but I do not understand."

Materialist:
"totus est res"

Non-materialist:
"I'm sorry, but I do not understand."

Materialist:
"all is matter"

Non-materialist:
"0101100101101111011101010111001000
10000001101101011000010111010001110
10001100101011100100010000001101000
01100001011001000010000001101110011
01111001000000110110101100101011000
01011011100110100101101110011001110
01011000010000001100001011011100110
01000010000001110011011011110010000
00111100101101111011101010111001000
10000001101101011001010110000101101
11001101001011011100110011100100000
01100100011010010110010001101110001
00111011101000010000001101101011000
01011101000111010001100101011100100
0101110".

B. Prokop said...

I think I spotted a typo. Shouldn't your third line read, "10001100101011100101010000001101000"?

mattghg said...

Shades of ID, methinks

*facepalm*

I wonder, though, if Valicella's argument can be sidestepped by some kind of appeal to the 'cognitive significance' (in Frege's sense) of certain propositions to certain individuals. Facts about cognitive significance can be included in the list of third-person, non-indexical facts. Not a very well-developed thought that, but I am doing other things. If anyone wants to spend time on it, read 'Indexicals' by David Kaplan.

Shackleman said...

I assume Mr. Prokop, you're being facetious?

If not, then no. Unless you know the encoding, the ones and zeros have no meaning. Changing the third line would force in a typo where none existed before. :-)

The point, of course, is that one cannot derive meaning from matter alone, and my post illustrates that. And, to take it further (and on point of this thread), matter has no meaning apart from a consciousness...but that is a more subtle point that I suspect would be lost on the materialists among us. :-)

Why do materialists ever try to "argue" for their position anyway? "Arguments" cannot possibly change my brainstate to align with theirs (i.e. come to agreement with them), because "arguments" are not material. Silly materialists...

Blue Devil Knight said...

How do specifically indexical contents pose a threat to materialism over and above the general problem of semantic content? For instance, say you were to grant that a materialist can fix nonindexical contents (e.g., 'Light is made up of photons'). Will indexical contents still stand out as a special problem for materialism?

Shackleman said...

I think BV answers this, BDK. From the article:

"indexicality is merely a subjective addition, a projection: it belongs to the world as it appears to us, not to the world as it is in reality. On this approach, when BV says or thinks 'I,' he refers to BV in the first-person way with the result that BV appears to BV under the guise of 'I'; but in reality there is no fact corresponding to 'I am BV.'"

Whereas semantic context is not necessarily specific to the first person.

The first person experience is important because it can be known as a brute fact whereas semantic context has to be inferred. So as I read it, indexicals carry more force than the problem of semantic context.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Shackelman: It still seems once some kind of nonindexical naturalistic content is granted (especially if you think having nonindexical thoughts requires being conscious), the hard work is over for the naturalist. Getting indexical content is just a matter of filling in details.

Focusing in on indexicals is like saying that the concept 'right turn' is really tough for materialists because it is a projection, that 'right' and 'left' are not objective features of the world.

Also, we can consider the indexical 'that' as in 'That rock is falling'. It seems I can cash the content out as a relatively simple spatial relationship between the utterer and where he is pointing. Or 'The dog that is now on the mat' also involves the indexical 'now.' This also seems relatively easy to cash out in terms of the location (in time) of the utterer.

It's because of such simple examples involving spatiotemporal coordinates planted on some utterer that I think there has to be more to it. Bill seems to be focusing in on the first-person singular pronoun. Is that the real crux, that he thinks that particular indexical is troublesome for materialists? Or am I still missing something crucial here?

Papalinton said...

As far as I can see, indexicals can only be understood or manipulated or pondered over by functioning materialists, in other words, every physical entity on this thread that can described as a person.

Not to put too finer point to it, the mind is what the brain does. Everything is predicated on materialism. Even the laws of physics cannot survive in a vacuum, they can only be deduced by and are at base, simply descriptors of a materially functioning universe. Without this universe, the laws of physics are non-existent. Pretty much the same reason god[s] are non-existent. Without people there would be no gods. It is not the 'essence' of Vallicella that is discussing indexicals here.

Oh Shackleman, by the way, 0101010000111101001011100101001111001010101100.
I thought you'd like that. :o)

A bit of a beatup really. At bottom Vallicella is simply attempting to posit the possibility, if not outrightly justify the 'existence' of the christian god in his materially existing brain that can either think real stuff or gibberish, both with equal relish and believability. Believability is so indiscriminate.
And should a believer attempt to posit the foolish notion, "Therefore without god there would be no universe", how would they ever possibly know that? One can think real stuff or gibberish with equal facility. Theism went down the road of gibberish, cloaking the natural world and their lack of understanding of what constitutes the brain and how it works with accretions of myth, superstition and mysticism.

To imagine indexicals a threat to materialism is one of those gibberish moments.

Cole said...

Either I'm not very good at defending the arguments for and against God's existence or Alvin Plantinga is right when he says the arguments aren't strong enough. I'll go along with the more humble conclusion that the arguments and evidence make it rational to believe in the resurrection. But I tend to lean on the more experiential side of things. My relationship with my Higher Power is more like a dance. As a dreamer I like to relax into the music and the dance. As the music ceases we become the music and dance the timeless turning of soul in harmony with soul as we merge and become one. This merging of the souls cannot be understood with the mind but it is real. It lifts me out of the ego into love. To me, all this trying to prove or disprove God is just ego. Too often the amature apologist places too great of an emphasis on the intellect not knowing it's limitations. The rational values of the mind confirm the ego's illusion of it's own identity when it's own limitations are not taken into consideration. I'm leaving behind this illusion of security and following the inner longing of my heart.

Shackleman said...

Mr Linton,

57 68 65 72 65 20 64 6f 65 73 20 74 68 69 73 20 6d 65 61 6e 69 6e 67 20 65 78 69 73 74 20 69 6e 20 73 70 61 63 65 20 61 6e 64 20 74 69 6d 65 3f 20 20

50 53 3a 20 20 59 6f 75 72 20 63 6f 64 65 20 64 6f 65 73 6e 27 74 20 72 65 6e 64 65 72 20 69 6e 20 41 53 43 49 49 2e 20 20 42 75 74 20 74 72 79 20 61 67 61 69 6e 2c 20 79 6f 75 20 68 61 76 65 20 6d 65 20 63 75 72 69 6f 75 73 21 21

B. Prokop said...

As the great mathematician Euler said to Diderot, "(a+b^n)/n = x, therefore God exists".

mattghg said...

BDK,

Bill seems to be focusing in on the first-person singular pronoun. Is that the real crux, that he thinks that particular indexical is troublesome for materialists?

That has to be it, I think. Or rather, the existence of 'facts' on which the truth of propositions expressed using that indexical turn.

BTW I made a mistake earlier. The Kaplan article I was thinking of isn't called 'Indexicals', it's called 'Demonstratives'.

Papalinton said...

Bob
"As the great mathematician Euler said to Diderot, "(a+b^n)/n = x, therefore God exists"."

Rene Descartes at his prime.
[Latin] "Cogito ergo sum";
[(French] "Je pense donc je suis";
[English] "I think, therefore I am"

However I heard it said that right at the time Descartes was experiencing this epiphanic moment in his study, he was rudely distracted, and lost his train of thought. Apparently he was meant to have opined:

"I think, therefore god isn't." [Persiflage, Bob, persiflage.] :o)

Papalinton said...

Bob
I forgot to add:

"Thiebault says that he has no personal knowledge of the truth of the story, but that it was believed throughout the whole of the north of Europe. The encylopedist Diderot paid a visit to the Russian Court at the invitation of the empress. He conversed very freely, and gave the younger members of the court circle a good deal of lively atheism. The empress was much amused, but some of her councillors suggested that it might be desirable to check these expositions of doctrine. the empress did not like to put a direct muzzle on her guest's tongue, so the following plot was contrived. Diderot was informed that a learned mathematician was in possession of an algebraical demonstration of the existence of God, and would give it him before all the Court, if he desired to hear it. Diderot gladly consented. The mathematician, which was Euler advanced towards Diderot and said gravely, and in a tone of perfect conviction: "Monsieur, (a + b^n)/n =x, therefore God exists. Any answer to that!" Diderot, to whom algebra was Hebrew, was embarassed and disconcerted; while peals of laughter rose on all sides. He asked permission to return to France at once, which was granted.

Source:Thiébault, "Souvenirs de vingt ans de sejour a Berlin", 1804, by way of Augustus de Morgan "Assorted Paradoxes" and James Newman, "the world of mathematics".

Note: Diderot knew his mathematics and had written on involutes and probability. So, the story is unlikely to be true. (Thanks to Kenner Rawdon to point this out to me.)"

:o)

Papalinton said...

Shackleman

This was very funny. I especially like the bit where, ".. 6e 64 65 72 20 69 6e 20 41 53 43 49 49 2e 20 20 42 75 74 20 74 72 79 20 61 67 61 69 6e 2c 20 79 6f 75 20 68 61 76 65 20 6d 65 20.

That, was very amusing.

Clayton said...

Here are two definitions of materialism:

(Vallicella) According to materialism, reality is exhausted by non-indexical physical facts.

(2) According to materialism, reality is exhausted by non-indexical physical facts and the facts that strongly supervene upon them.

Given (2), I don't see how the anti-materialist argument is supposed to work because at no point does anyone even try to show that there's some fact (indexical or otherwise) that doesn't supervene upon the non-indexical physical facts. So, my first complaint is that BV is just incredibly uncharitable to the view he attacks. (Shocking!)

The post itself is incredibly sloppy, Victor. Here's what BV says:

"On this approach, when BV says or thinks 'I,' he refers to BV in the first-person way with the result that BV appears to BV under the guise of 'I'; but in reality there is no fact corresponding to 'I am BV.'"

False. In reality there is a fact that corresponds to "I am BV", and that is a non-indexical fact. (Or, option II, it is an indexical fact that supervenes upon underlying non-indexical facts.)

He then goes on to say:
"There are billions of people in the world and one of them is me. Which one? BV. But if the view sketched above is correct, then it is not an objective fact that one of these people is me. That BV exists is an objective fact, but not that BV is me."

No. The materialist will agree that the sentece "BV is me" expresses some proposition. Call it 'p'. If p is not a fact, p isn't true. The materialist doesn't say that p isn't a fact. What the materialist offers is a non-indexical truth-maker for p. It doesn't imply the absence of a truth-maker for p.

He then concludes with this:
"According to materialism, reality is exhausted by non-indexical physical facts. But we have just seen that indexical thoughts are underpinned by indexical facts such as the fact of BV's being me. These facts are irreducibly real, but not physically real. Therefore, materialism is false: reality is not exhausted by non-indexical physical facts."

I don't get how the fact that the proposition expressed by "BV is me" picks out could be distinct from the fact that the proposition expressed by "BV is BV" picks out. Since the latter is a non-indexical fact, I'd say that the latter is, too.

(I don't know how facts are individuated, but you can opt for fine-individuation and coarse-grained individuation. On the first, if 'a' and 'b' differ in cognitive significance, Fa and Fb count as two different facts. Given this view, Fa and Fb might count as two different facts even if the same portion of reality serves as their truth-maker (e.g., if 'Now is the time to see the dentist' and '3:00 is the time to see the dentist' are both true, they are made true by the same things). Given this conception of facts, BV's argument won't go through until he shows that the truth-maker for non-indexical facts (e.g., the fact that BV is BV) isn't a truth-maker for the proposition expressed by his use of "BV is me". On the coarse-grained conception of facts, two propositions might differ in terms of their cognitive significance and still pick out the same fact. On this view, his argument is dead in the water.)

BDK is right that once you give the materialist thought and intentionality, indexicality poses no new problems.

finney said...

"I don't get how the fact that the proposition expressed by "BV is me" picks out could be distinct from the fact that the proposition expressed by "BV is BV" picks out."

It's distinct, because the proposition "BV is BV" is necessarily true, no matter who says it. The proposition "BV is me" is true contingent upon who says it. The two propositions aren't interchangeable.

Clayton said...

"It's distinct, because the proposition "BV is BV" is necessarily true, no matter who says it. The proposition "BV is me" is true contingent upon who says it. The two propositions aren't interchangeable."

That's not right. Not on the standard story about indexicals, at any rate. The proposition expressed by a sentence containing an indexical is determined by its character and then the relevant features of the context of utterance. With "me", it's the speaker. With "here", it's the place of utterance. With "now", it's the time of utterance. If you say, "My pants are on fire" and I say "My pants are on fire", we utter the same sentences but we express different propositions since the proposition I express is true only if CL's pants are on fire and the fact that my pants are on fire won't make the proposition you express true.

Clayton said...

"It's distinct, because the proposition "BV is BV" is necessarily true, no matter who says it. The proposition "BV is me" is true contingent upon who says it. The two propositions aren't interchangeable."

We can see that trouble arises for your view in modal contexts. Consider the sentences "BV is BV" and "BV is me" and suppose that they have been uttered by BV.

(1) BV is BV.
(2) I am BV.

On the view you suggest, the propositions expressed by (1) and (2) are both true, but (2) is contingently true. If so, then "I" would not be a rigid designator. If so, then BV could say things like this (truthfully):

(3) I am BV, but I could have been VR and not BV.

If BV says "I am BV, but I could have been VR instead", I think he's just confused. Don't you agree? He could have been taller and could say that he could be. He could have been richer. He couldn't have been Victor.

finney said...

*If* this is water (assuming we have a prior definition of water), and *if* water is H20 (which in this case is presumed by definition), then this is H20.

The proposition following the first *if*, I take to express a contingent truth. It could have been that this particular muddy stuff is not water.

But the proposition following the second *if*, I take to be necessary. So, IF water is H20, "H20" and "Water" are rigid designators. Similarly, "I", when uttered by BV, in the sentence "I am BV", is a rigid designator, even though the statement "I am BV" is contingent.

Does this make sense? That's how I tend to classify things.

Blue Devil Knight said...

finney you are getting into weird Kripkean territory, where such claims 'this is water' are (said to be) true by necessity, though also a posteriori, which adds an illusion of contingency because of different modes of cognitive access to the same referents.

Or something.

Clayton knows this stuff much better than I do, so he will hopeful show if I am wrong.

E.g., it is exactly analagous to 'water is H20', which is (said to be) necessary a posteriori.

Indexicals are supposed to be rigid designators just like 'water', so that is why clinton is doubting your claims (I think).

I never liked possible world analyses of necessity. So I'm not endorsing any of this.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Sorry, Clayton, I called you Clinton once in the last post.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Though finney I admit your conditional expression has me puzzled enough to not be sure if my response is adequate.

Clayton said...

Hi Finney,

I think some of this is wrong, I'll explain why below.

"*If* this is water (assuming we have a prior definition of water), and *if* water is H20 (which in this case is presumed by definition), then this is H20.

The proposition following the first *if*, I take to express a contingent truth. It could have been that this particular muddy stuff is not water.

But the proposition following the second *if*, I take to be necessary. So, IF water is H20, "H20" and "Water" are rigid designators. Similarly, "I", when uttered by BV, in the sentence "I am BV", is a rigid designator, even though the statement "I am BV" is contingent."

I don't think "This is water" is contingently true if it's true. Typically, "This" and "That" are treated as demonstratives. On any given use, they pick out something rigidly if at all. If "is" here is the "is" of identity, you either have to say that "this" is not a rigid designator or that "This is water" expresses a necessarily true proposition.

To see this, suppose that S1 and S2 are two singular terms (names, descriptions, demonstratives, indexicals). Suppose that S1 and S2 are rigid designators. Suppose that:

(1) S1 is S2 (or, if you prefer, S1 = S2).

For (1) to be contingently true, (1) has to be true in the actual world but false in some possible world. For that to happen, there has to be an x and a y such that x and y are distinct where 'S1' refers to x and 'S2' refers to y. If, however, S1 and S2 are rigid designators, they pick out the same objects in all worlds. Since they pick out the same object in this world (we have to assume this for (1) to be true), they pick out the same objects in all worlds. So, if (1) is true, so is:

(2) Necessarily, S1 is S2.

I think that the mistake you've made is perhaps that you think that the semantic value of a demonstrative is determined by means of some associated description and that the result is that 'This' and 'that' turn out to be non-rigid designators. That's a non-standard view, but it's neither here nor there really because 'I' is not a demonstrative, it's an indexical and 'I' will rigidly designate the speaker who uses it.

Anyway, as a rule, if you have an identity statement where 'is' is flanked by two rigid designators, the identity statement expresses either a necessarily true proposition or a necessarily false proposition. You can see this if you think about substituting the singular terms in modal contexts. You cannot substitute non-rigid designators salva veritate in modal contexts (e.g., 'Necessarily ...'), but you can substitute rigid designators in such contexts. Consider:

(3) S1 is S1.
(4) Necessarily, S1 is S1.

Everyone thinks that (3) is true and that (4) follows. If we assume (1) and assume that S2 is a rigid designator, we get from (4) to (2) given the necessity of self-identity and the idea that rigid designators can be substituted within modal contexts.

_______
Notice that your original example didn't involve the 'is' of identity but the 'is' of predication. There's a complication here, but I'm assuming that 'This' picks out a liquid that's not just water contingently but necessarily. It's one thing to say that this glass that contains water could have held beer and another to say that this liquid that is water could have been a different liquid. Since our original issue had to do with identity statements and not the predication of essential properties, I tried to organize the discussion above accordingly.

Shackleman said...

"If BV says "I am BV, but I could have been VR instead", I think he's just confused. Don't you agree? He could have been taller and could say that he could be. He could have been richer. He couldn't have been Victor."

This depends on your priors. I wish I could remember the book and quote, but the Dalai Lama asked "Am I me, or am I my brother?". He was supposed to have a twin but he died before birth.

Granted, for the naturalists among us this is all nonsense. But for the dualists among us, it's a *really* cool question. At least it is to me. :-)

"Why am I me?". I can easily account for the physical body. It's obviously contingent, stretching back to the beginning of time. Traveling back in time far enough along my lineage, somewhere, sometime, I have a great grandfather to the power of oh, about a billion or so, that was an amoeba. Had my amoeba grandfather not survived long enough to reproduce, my body would not exist. Hard to wrap my mind around that, but it's necessarily true. For that matter, had my Mom had a headache that night, my body would never have existed, for the exact genetic code that makes me me had but one and only one chance to be actualized.

If one isn't astonished at this thought, especially when applied to oneself, then I don't know what would make one astonished!

So it seems to me that I have hit the near impossible odds of being me, yet here I am. But what if I didn't have to play the cosmic lottery? Given dualism, "I" might have had a completely different body than the one I have. So too for BV and VR. Perhaps they were actually switched at birth? ;-)

Okay, enough of the fun food for thought....carry on all...

finney said...

Clayton:

Much of your response makes sense to me. I see your point: even though water is discovered to be H20, the identity relationship is necessary, not contingent.

I suppose I'm struggling to see the application of this discourse to the statements

"I am BV" and "BV is BV"

Granting your argument, "I am BV", if true, is necessarily true. "BV is BV" is necessarily true, as we both stipulate.

Yet I still insist that there's a difference between these two statements, since the former is (necessarily) false when uttered by the vast majority of the world's population, and the latter is necessarily true, regardless of who utters it. This is why I said that the former statement is "contingent" upon the identity of the speaker in a way that the latter is not, and thus that the two propositions expressed by the statements aren't interchangeable.

Maybe this is a distinction without a difference. Maybe not.

Clayton said...

"Yet I still insist that there's a difference between these two statements, since the former is (necessarily) false when uttered by the vast majority of the world's population, and the latter is necessarily true, regardless of who utters it. This is why I said that the former statement is "contingent" upon the identity of the speaker in a way that the latter is not, and thus that the two propositions expressed by the statements aren't interchangeable."

I think I see what you are getting at, but it might help to distinguish between two kinds of contingency:

(i) If a sentence S contains an indexical or demonstrative, the proposition it expresses is contingent upon features of the context of utterance.
(ii) If a sentence S expresses the same proposition p in every context of utterance, the proposition is contingent iff p is actually true but there's some possible world in which ~p.

Roughly, there's a contingent connection between a sentence and the propositions that sentence can express vs. a contingent connection between the propositions expressed and features of the world that make them true.

The sentences containing indexicals like 'I', 'here', and 'now' display that first kind of contingency. If you and I both utter "I am in London" we express different propositions (as evidenced by the fact that what we say has different truth-conditions). You should take a look at David Kaplan's "Demonstratives" for a helpful discussion of the difference between contexts of use, circumstances of evaluation, and the way that features of the context help determine which propositions our sentences can express. I think that anyone who has read that can see that BV's arguments won't work.

William said...

"
I think that anyone who has read that can see that BV's arguments won't work.
"

If you mean by indexicals just the kind of unique label given as if it were the VIN of a car, I agree.

But BV is talking also about his attitude and behavioral response to the indexical meaning that it is _his_ contingency.

So I think in the article that _self_ consciousness gets slipped in by BV in a round about way, at BP said at first post.

Clayton said...

I don't know if I follow, but it looks as if on your rendering of BV's argument, BDK hit the nail right on the head. Once intentionality is in the picture there's no problem here. If there's any problem here, it is the problem of intentionality. Indexicality and indexical facts are just red herrings.

finney said...

Hey Clayton:

Thanks for this discussion. Seeing your point, I'm inclined neither way - it's better to refrain from forming a settled opinion on this until I've read more on the subject.

Victor Reppert said...

But doesn't the role of indexicals in language tell us something about how we understand consciousness?

There seems to be something which, unless there is life after death, ceases to exist. Yet, on a materialist view, everything is matter, and matter is not created nor destroyed. What is it that ceases to exist?