Friday, October 18, 2013

Mental States, Compatibility, and Disembodied Minds

From guest blogger Michael Dean.

I want to take one more stab at identifying and individuating disembodied minds. There are a variety of experiences which one mind may experience simultaneously as Steinberg and Steinberg show. Even seemingly incompatible thoughts may be experienced in the same mind simultaneously, like a desire to eat and not eat ice cream. Minds are complex, and a simple self-examination may suffice to show this happens fairly often. So we cannot individuate minds when there are conscious experiences that are seemingly incompatible. To put this in somewhat technical terms, a variety of token experiences of seemingly incompatible types may be occurring simultaneously in the same mind. It may even be possible for two token experiences of the same experience to be occurring simultaneously. We can imagine two sets of eyes looking at green walls. There are two tokens of the ‘green visual experience’ type occurring simultaneously in the mind. However, as I pointed out in class, if we conceive of experiencing the ‘aha! I think, therefore I am’ moment of understanding Descartes’ cogito as a type of experience, then it seems to me like this might be a type of experience for which any mind can only have one token experience occurring at one time. What would it be for a mind to be having two token experiences of ‘Aha! I exist because I think!’ simultaneously? Perhaps this is possible, but unlike the other seemingly incompatible experiences the Steinbergs consider, I cannot imagine myself having this experience twice simultaneously in my mind. If it is true that a mind can only experience one token of this type at a time, then if at time t1 there are multiple token conscious experiences of this type, then we may have grounds for individuating disembodied minds. I hate creating arguments against conclusions I like, so please help show me what is wrong with my argument.


Jesse Steinberg said...

Thanks for the post, Michael Dean!

Can you say a bit more about how we can determine that there are two tokenings of a mental state type at a given time? Is this just a stipulation of your case? If so, there may be an objection about begging the question looming here.

I find your example of the cogito really interesting. Can you say more about what the mental state is that you've got in mind? Is it the BELIEF that (roughly) I must exist since I am thinking? Is it a FEELING with the content "I exist." I'm not sure what that really is, but maybe this is what you have in mind. If so, it might help me understand your example more clearly if you explain what that is exactly.

Thanks again!

isaac scott said...

I find your objection intriguing but I agree with Jesse. It's not quite clear what having multiple cogito moments simultaneously. This occurrence could be shown to be not so hard to comprehend if we take the example of people with multiple personality disorder. Here we could think of this disorder as having two self awarenesses while existing in one mind.
Another thing your post made me think of was how this argument bleeds into what identity is. If one does come to have multiple disembodied minds within him, which one is actually him. Are they all him? If you gain or lose a mind do you become someone else? Maybe these questions are getting to far ahead however, because the problem of the multiple cogito will have to be addressed first.

Anonymous said...

Hume points out that passions, original ideas, complete in themselves, without reference to anything else, often mix rather than preclude one another. Since they don't reference anything extended, which would make them separable and distinguishable, they are able to combine.

Will Psilos said...

Since I'm not Michael Dean (and presumably my thoughts are differentiated from his in some way) I might be wrong in interpreting what he's saying, but I think another way of putting this example might be the process of self-consciousness. That is to say that the cogito example is one of self-consciousness or self-awareness and two disembodied souls cannot both be aware that they are the same self. Perhaps this can be accused of assuming the conclusion, but I take it that in addition to the knowledge that thought entails existence, self-consciousness also automatically includes knowledge that can take the form of "I am me and not someone else" or "I have my own individual perspective." As in The Meditations, this knowledge is prior to any considerations of space, and isn't tied to spatial relations. If it's true that self-consciousness and self-awareness automatically individuate consciousnesses, it certainly is an example of a mental process that can differentiate disembodied souls.

Chase Tarrier said...

After reading Michael Dean's elaboration on his idea of Descartes' "I think therefore I am" example, I must say I find it quite compelling. It seems to me that this idea has a lot of potential as a means of individuating minds. For any mind to have the thought that it is existing is to qualify itself as an individual entity separate from other minds. As Descartes points out, under the method of doubt the only real initial proposition that being can know is that it exists and is a thinking thing. So if there is more than one simultaneous case of some mind or entity having the though "I am a thinking thing" then there must necessarily be more than one mind having the thought. For one mind to have this thought twice over seems illogical to me. Similarly for more than one entity to have this thought about the same mind or same consciousness seems illogical as well. If there is more than one case of self awareness occurring there must be more than one mind. I am not entirely sure that this allows a method for counting minds without begging the question, but it seems like it can at least prove that there are multiple minds separate from each other, which is a compelling starting point for an objection at the very least. What the objection needs is some criterion that will allow for the further individuation of the minds and their ability to be counted as well. I am not entirely sure how to solve this problem because it seems like saying "there are two examples of self awareness simultaneously" is to beg the question and have already awarded them individuation. However, it seems intuitive that more than one entity has self awareness simultaneously, and that there must therefore exist more than one mind. I am not entirely sure how to reconcile these two claims, but it seems there is great potential for a strong objection here. Nice work Michael.

Jesse Steinberg said...

Michael Dean's case is really fascinating.

What exactly is the reason that an agent cannot have two "tokenings" of the relevant mental state related to the cogito? Presumably there's something about that Eureka/Aha feeling that precludes it from being had twice over at a single time by a single agent. Is this part of the logic of that experience?

It might help to consider other examples. What about the belief that p or a desire for q? Could a single agent believe that p twice over at a certain time? It doesn't seem like it on first blush. However, there are some controversial examples--which raise complex issues in philosophy of language and mind--to consider. Suppose Lois believes that Clark Kent has brown hair. And suppose that she believes that Superman has brown hair. She then believes that a certain individual (the guy who is Clark/Superman) has brown hair. She could presumably have both beliefs--the belief that that guy has brown hair--twice over. What's the lesson of this example? Again, this is all quite controversial, but it might be that two tokenings of the belief that p can be had by a single agent at a given time. This example might suggest that we have to be very careful about the claims we make about the logic of certain mental states--and whether an agent could have two tokenings of a mental state at a given time.

I certainly don't think that the Superman case is definitive, and I think satisfactorily replying to Michael Dean's case will involve more of an argument. My point with this comment is simply to press some key questions and to get clearer about the example and the assumptions of Michael Dean's argument.

Anonymous said...

Our cognitive abilities are not the sum-total of consciousness. A cognitive, reasoned analysis of volition, will, identity and consciousness will always fall short as the mind is clearly not a computer. Our emotional abilities, which are nor amenable to cognitive analysis, are, as Schopenhaur puts it, the adequate objectivity of ourselves as will. When Hume launches his cognitive abilities in a quest for his own identity, he always stumbles upon some perception, "of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure." What he's doing is appealing to reason and isolating his perceptions and, in doing so, he can never catch himself without a perception; however, he can lose the appeal to reason and be himself. Schopenhauer suggest that function of our cognitive abilities are limited simply to employment in the service of the will. They are not ourselves nor do they reveal ourselves. The ice cream example is a good one but a bit trite and the passions are calm and, as Hume suggests, can easily be confused with reason. Consider when our cognitive abilities go out the window during a breakup, when passions are not calm; there is no reason to stumble on love or hatred - the two are one - which is why the discovery of our nature is not amenable to cognition, reason, or plurality.

Anonymous said...

Or simply listen to Richard Dawkins struggle and fumble over quantum mechanics and the idea that something came from nothing. At least, nothing amenable to cognition...

Anonymous said...

Take six disembodied experiences of “I think, therefore I am.” Two occur at T1; two occur at T2; and two occur at T3. Now, using Steinberg’s diagram, how many minds are there?

1) Are there 6 minds, with each experience contained in a different mind over the three time intervals?

2) Are there two minds, the top row having repeated experiences of “I think therefore I am” over the three time intervals and the bottom row having repeated experiences of “I think, therefore I am” over the three time intervals?

This already shows that there is a problem with identifying and differentiating minds in a disembodied (incorporeal) state. (Incidentally, this is because we identify and differentiate minds by reference to the persons (material living human beings) who have these mental states. Mental states are like erosions. Erosions are identified and differentiated by reference to the material bodies that undergo this process. There is no sense in talking about erosions in the absence of any material body.)

Now, the question we are discussing is whether the diagram is compatible with there being only ONE mind. If what we are talking about is a phenomenal experience of some particular sort (like the visual field case), then I can see no reason why one purely immaterial mind can’t have two identical phenomenal states at the same time. In what way are the two experiences incompatible with one another?

What’s going on here is really an appeal to the principle of The Identity of Indiscernibles (from Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646 – 1716), a German mathematician and philosopher). Two things can’t really be different if they have all their properties (including special location) in common. So, six pencils all alike in their properties can be distinguished from one another because they occupy different places. But this principle applies to things that are located in space and, as a result, things can be spoken about in terms of NUMERICAL IDENTITY. As what we are trying to do is determine whether disembodied minds are amenable to the concept of numerical identity, we can’t apply a principle that applies to things that can be spoken about in terms of numerical identity.

Ask Jesse to explain the difference between qualitative and numerical identity.

Anonymous said...

Insight into schizophrenia is best approached by an examination of paraphrenics: e.g, narcissists, megalomaniacs. In these cases, there is the sense of a qualitative self that one is and another, cognitive, or numerical of you like, sense, of that self that is the object of adoration (cf. pride or self-love). In other words, the self, rather than being completed by another and sublimated in the process, is, rather, appended to and may display a distinct variety of modes of character and disposition. In schizophrenia, the qualitative self is repressed and new identities are invented in an effort to keep it that way.

Anonymous said...

A humorous example of narcissism and megalomania is given in the film "Blazing Saddles" when Harvey Korman throws a fit because he can't find his rubber duck which has become a part of himself at bathtime. Dialectical materialists and crit theorists derogatorily extend this idea of an attachment to material things, as qualities about ourselves, as a fetish. What I believe happens is that the enervating and demoralizing effects of artificial society throw a wrench at much hope for a simple life, our finer qualities can't seem to find just expression, so we devolve into a sort of to-do list over cognitive, rather than spiritual, self-improvement. (cf. authenticity)

Michael Dean Hebert said...

Wow, thanks for all the comments everyone. I don't have time to respond/comment on everyone's post, so let me try to just respond to a few different points.

Jesse, in response to your very first question, I just took your lead in stipulating that there were two token experiences occurring at the same time. In your first example "throbbing pain" and "visual image" are both stipulated to be occurring at t1. I then stipulate that at t1 there are two token experiences of the type "aha! I think therefore I am." There is certainly an issue of how one might come to identify the disembodied experiences (in the same mind or not) happening simultaneously, but for the sake of argument let's just stipulate this is the case. I take it this is basically the same stipulation you were making in your example.

In response to your second question, for my examples purposes I'm not sure there is a relevant difference between an ocurrent belief (as opposed to dispositional) and an occurrent feeling. Both are 'live' or 'on-going' experiences in the stream of consciousness, and if we can identify a type of experience in the stream of consciousness that can only be experienced one token at a time in a stream, then we have a potential candidate for individuation in the cases where there are two occurring at the same time. When I originally had this idea I was thinking of the cogito as an occurrent belief, but I think it might be fine to also use the "aha" moment that might be attached to actively thinking the cogito.

Will and Chase, thanks for the input, you're exactly on target with what I had in mind. Will, I like the way you state it a bit more broadly than the cogito and just in terms of self-conscious experience.

To the last Anon post starting with the considerations of the 6 disembodied experiences, thanks for commenting. I agree that it would be very difficult to identify experiences like this (in fact, I don't think it's possible at all), but if we stipulate that they're there then we might at least have grounds for individuation. Admittedly, without a means for identification, this conclusion is pretty neutered.

I definitely get the point about qualitative verse numerical identity, and I tried to capture this distinction (however inadequately) with my discussion of type verse token experiences. The Identity of Indiscernibles is not as uncontroversial as the Indiscernibility of Identicals. I take both of them to be true, but if I was to try and maintain my objection, I could plausibly deny the former (I wouldn't be the first!). In this case I'd be claiming that the six experiences are qualitatively identical, numerically distinct, and that they lack spatial relations. This is clearly very weird, and I don't really assert it myself, but it seems like a possible line of argumentation someone could develop.

Again I seem to be arguing against conclusions I like, I should really stop that. Thanks again, Anon. Your comments are instructive.

I might sum up my thoughts by saying that I see no means to identifying disembodied minds. This is enough to convince me we should leave disembodied minds out of our ontology, even if I'm unconvinced we might be able to individuate them if they were to be identified.

Anonymous said...

Just an aside on qualitative identity. That the passions can mix, to the extent of opposites, is distinct and separable from qualia such as the color blue. That love and hatred, fear and hope, pity and envy, etc. may co-exist is very different than a particular object being either blue, orange, or purple (i.e., 1, 2 or 3).

Anonymous said...

I too am delighted to see all the comments on this difficult topic. The point we were making in the first part of the paper was:

If conscious states are taken to be substances, (as Hume thinks), and can exist alone in the world without the need of anything else, then we are hard put to attach or separate these floating non-spatial experiences into different or the same minds. The first part of the paper investigated whether there is anything INTRINSIC to experiences that would allow doing this. That is, the question to be investigated is whether there is any way that experiences IN THEMSELVES are incompatible with one another so that they can’t be had by the same mind. (If so, we would be forced to admit that there could be at least two disembodied minds.)

Of course, the argument in this part of the paper is that any two experiences can conceivably be had by the same mind and that there is nothing in the intrinsic nature of experiences that makes any one experience incompatible with any other experience (so that both can be experienced in one mind). Now, the issue being discussed in this blog is whether one mind can have two identical experiences at the same time (note that it doesn’t have to be some fancy cogito experience, it can be a sharp pain in the left elbow). Even though this may be unusual, there isn’t any reason why this can’t be imagined. Think of someone with two pain receptor centers in her brain, both picking up a synaptic message originating from a pin stuck in her left elbow. Each pain center in the brain receives the message (“pain in left elbow”) that gives rise to two sensations of pain. The person would have two experiences of a sensation of pain in the left elbow!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I have to stop this thought, that Hume thought consciousness was a substance. Au contraire. (g)

"For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception. When my perceptions are remov'd for any time, as by sound sleep [or general anesthesia]; so long am I insensible of myself, and may truly be said not to exist. And were all my perceptions remov'd by death, and cou'd I neither think, nor feel, nor see, nor love, nor hate after the dissolution of my body, I shou'd be entirely annihilated, nor do I conceive what is farther requisite to make me a perfect non-entity. If any one upon serious and unprejudic'd reflexion, thinks he has a different notion of himself, I must confess I can reason no longer with him. All I can allow him is, the he may be in the right as well as I, and that we are essentially different in this particular. He may, perhaps, perceive something simple and continu'd, which he calls himself, tho' I am certain there is no such principle in me.
But setting aside some metaphysicians of this kind, I may venture to affirm of the rest of mankind, that they are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement. Our eyes cannot turn in their sockets without varying our perceptions. Our thought is still more variable than our sight; and all our other senses and faculties contribute to this change; nor is there any single power of the soul which remains unalterably the same perhaps for one moment. The mind is a kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make their appearance; pass, re-pass, glide-away, and mingle in an infinte variety of postures and situations. There is properly no simplicity in it at one time, nor identity in different; whatever natural propensity we may have to imagine that simplicity and identity. The comparison of the theatre must not mislead us. They are the successive perceptions only, that constitute the mind; nor have we the most distant notion of the place, where these scenes are represented, or of the materials, of which it is compos'd."

- Hume's Treatise, Book I, The Understanding

Anonymous said...

I curious how far you intend to take this substantive treatment of consciousness. With regard to identity, imagine two ships, traveling side by side, at 10 knots, that exchange their parts, plank by plank, until one is compleatly composed of the other. Which ship is which?

Andrew Josten said...

I don’t know how good of a grasp I have on the Steinberg’s article – it didn’t help that we didn’t get into the specifics of their arguments very much. But I need to do some commenting so here it goes. The question is “What would be sufficient evidence that there are multiple disembodied minds represented in the diagram with 3 times and 2 experiences being had at each time?” Michael is suggesting that a sufficient piece of evidence would be that at a single time, two experiences of the understanding of the cogito are being had. It seems that Michael’s point is that if these are two distinct experiences, two instances of the understanding of the cogito, then they must occur in separate minds. One reason to think this might be that understandings of the cogito and minds must be one to one. This one to one relation might be because thinking the cogito or understanding the cogito is something one mind can only do about itself once at any given time.
We might then ask if this is a special characteristic of the cogito. What if we stipulated that instead of two experiences of the cogito being had at t, two of the same type of some other experience are being had? What if we say that two experiences of a completely black visual impression are being had? Are experiences of a completely black visual impression one to one with minds? Can one mind have two completely black visual impressions at the same time? I am inclined to say no. I am taking experiencing a completely black visual impression to mean having an experience such that every part of one’s visual impression is black. You might say that every screen your mind’s eye sees turns black. It seems that if there are two experiences of a completely black visual impression at a single time, there have to be two minds. The alternative is that one mind would say to itself “One experience I am having is that my entire visual impression is black. The other experience I am having is that my entire visual impression is black.” How would these experiences be two separate experiences if they occur in the same mind? There seems to be just one visual experience going on – one experience of blackness. To call this two experiences doesn’t seem to make sense. I don’t know how you would distinguish one from the other.
So it looks like maybe the stipulation of any two numerically distinct but qualitatively identical experiences would serve as evidence for multiple minds. Maybe stipulating two such experiences is begging the question. But if identical but separate experiences are a way of individuating minds, two cogito experiences might not be special in their ability to individuate. I still get the feeling that two cogito experiences might be somehow more useful in individuating minds but I’m not sure why.

Anonymous said...

An interesting comment, but you are wrong about this. If a black visual impression is a self-contained experience, then there is no reason that one mind cannot have two of these at the same time. An example would be having two sets of eyes connected to two areas in the visual cortex, each giving rise to a black visual impression at the same time.

Natalie N said...

Your example of throbbing pain and visual image does not require that a mind be disembodied because these are in relation to different parts of the self. Therefore, they do not preclude one another. It seems that in order to make your two sets of eyes example to be applied to token experiences of the mind, it would require that there would be two minds realizing their existence. It seems logical that one mind could have two token experiences at once, but it cannot have an epiphany experience twice, because the first precludes the second. Descartes argument cites that the mind is a non-extended thing that has the distinguishing attributes of consciousness and self-awareness. I think the requirement of extension from Stainberg and Steinberg seems to conclude than you can't be aware of a self if there is no extended self since it can't be differentiated from others. Likewise, consciousness has to be attached to experience, and you can't have experience without a material world that can be observed, and you can be observed within.