Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Is Crazyism Obvious?

"Crazyism" about the metaphysics of mind, as I define it, is the view that something bizarre and undeserving of credence must be among the core truths about the mind. In my central article on the topic, I develop the view by defending two subordinate theses: universal bizarreness and universal dubiety.

Univeral bizarreness is the view that well-developed metaphysical approaches to the mind will inevitably conflict sharply with common sense. My defense of universal bizarreness turns on the failure of any contemporary or historical philosopher to develop a thoroughly commonsensical metaphysics of mind. That empirical fact about the history of philosophy is best explained, I think, by the incoherence of common sense in matters of mental metaphysics. If commonsense is incoherent, no broad-reaching coherent metaphysical system could respect it all.

Universal dubiety is the view that all of the broad approaches to the metaphysics of mind -- materialism, dualism, idealism, or some rejection or compromise alternative -- are dubious, none warranting credence much above 50%. My defense of universal dubiety turns on the apparent inability of any combination of empirical scientific, abstract theoretical, or commonsensical methods, in anything like their current state, to resolve fundamental metaphysical questions of this sort.

The most common objection I hear to crazyism is that it's obvious. I am somewhat puzzled by this objection!

Is it obvious that all coherent, well-developed approaches to the metaphysics of mind conflict with common sense? Perhaps that was Kant’s view, especially in the antimonies, but Kant’s view of the antimonies is not universally accepted. Scientifically oriented materialists often reject common sense, but doing so is entirely consistent with thinking that there might be a commonsensical way of to develop dualism. Also, it remains common argumentative practice in the metaphysics of mind to highlight sharp violations of common sense in views one opposes – idealism, panpsychism, Chinese-nation functionalism, eliminative materialism – as though the bizarreness of those views were a powerful consideration against them. This practice seems problematic if it is generally agreed that all well-developed metaphysical theories sharply violate common sense.

Is it obvious that no existing combination of methods could, within the next several decades – within our active philosophical lifetimes – appropriately push us to a warranted belief (or credence much above 50%) in materialism or whatever option might usurp materialism’s current popularity in the philosophical community? This doesn’t seem to be the attitude of most of my materialist friends. Indeed, even other skeptics about our ability to solve the mind-body problem, such as Colin McGinn and Noam Chomsky, seem to assume a broadly naturalistic, scientific perspective toward the world, excluding from outset such options as idealism and substance dualism.

Finally, it's odd that the supposed obviousness of crazyism is offered as an objection to my work on the topic. Even if the view I am espousing is just boringly obvious to well-informed philosophers, it might still be worth gathering and presenting the considerations in favor of it, if (as I believe), it hasn't properly been done before. But I am eagerly open to reading suggestions on this last point!


Howie Berman said...

So there's a weirdness about things mental just like there's a quantum weirdness?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...


Tony Dardis said...

Heliocentric cosmology was crazy in 1543, right?

Carl M. said...

Along Tony's lines, is panpsychism really a "crazy" view? It seems to me that it's a common view among children and in non-Westernized cultures.

Tony Dardis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ted Parent said...

Whether it's obvious may depend on what's included in the "commonsense view" of the mind. It *is* obvious that neuroscience reveals things that aren't commonsense (simply because commonsense had no prior opinion about, e.g., mirror neurons). So perhaps the claim is that facts about the mind probably *contradict* commonsense. But if commonsense has a relative dearth of opinion, I remain unsure what is "the commonsense view of the mind." Maybe I just need to read your article!

Arnold Trehub said...

The weirdness about things mental is a bit different from the weirdness about quantum events. None of us has direct experience of physical events at the subatomic level so we can accept that there may be funny goings on in an area that is always hidden from us. But each of us is intimately acquainted with our conscious experience and believe that we know best what it is like. The problem of *understanding* how the conscious mind works arises from the fact that brain events and phenomenal events occupy different domains of description.

A thought or an image is an experience of mind, but not an observable event in the brain from the first-person/subjective perspective (from within a brain), and the same thought or image can be an observable event in the brain from the third-person/objective perspective (from outside a brain). The claim that that a conscious experience is *constituted* by the activity of certain kinds of neurons in the brain seems incomprehensible to most people (an apparent difference in their very nature) for the very powerful reason that 1st-person descriptors and 3rd-person descriptors occupy separate descriptive domains. But there are intuitively analogous properties that can cross these two domains of understanding. This is why I proposed the principle of corresponding analogs as a guide to the scientific study of consciousness. A scientific theory of consciousness constructed within this framework will be judged on how well it is able to predict relevant empirical findings, not on whether it conforms to other common intuitions.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the comments, folks!

@ Tony: Yes, my view is that heliocentrism was crazy when Copernicus proposed it, became merely bizarre sometime around Kepler, and now is neither crazy nor bizarre. Philosophical views can undergo a similar evolution, perhaps atheism being one. (If your question was intended as an objection, I would appreciate if you could clarify how so.)

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Carl: I relativize "common sense" to cultures, so it's possible that there are some cultures in which panpsychism does not sharply conflict with common sense. However, here I would be careful about the possibility that verbal orthodoxy and lived belief diverge. Also, that's an interesting point about children. I'm not sure it is developmentally correct (although children do sometimes attribute mentality to objects that appear to move on their own, e.g., the sun, according to Piaget at least). But it does bring up the issue that I am implicitly relativizing common sense not just to culture but to *adult* believers within that culture.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

@ Ted: Yes, that's an important point. And I am explicit about it in my article -- but please don't apologize for not having read the 50-page thing. I'd have far fewer interesting interlocutors if I refused to engage with people who haven't read all the relevant bits of my corpus! My answer is that violating common sense requires that common sense be not merely neutral (e.g., the gravitational constant is such-and-such) or even somewhat negative (e.g., the Lakers will win the Championship next year) but strongly against (e.g., thermostats have conscious experience).

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

@ Arnold: I agree that the craziness of interpretations of QM is different in some important ways from the craziness of the metaphysics of mind -- though I also think that thinking about the craziness of QM interpretations is a nice way into thinking about how crazism could be true in an area of study.

I agree that common sense is highly problematic in the metaphysics of mind -- which is of course an important part of my point. However, I am less optimistic than you seem to be about the capacity of science to deliver the big metaphysical conclusion with compelling force. For example, do you think anything in your own theory provides compelling evidence against a broadly Berkeleyian or Kantian metaphysics? Even on narrower issues within materialism, I am quite pessimistic, as you might recall (e.g., about how sparse or abundant experience is in the animal kingdom).

Arnold Trehub said...

Eric: " For example, do you think anything in your own theory provides compelling evidence against a broadly Berkeleyian or Kantian metaphysics?"

The retinoid theory of consciousness alone cannot provide compelling evidence against an opposing metaphysics. But I believe that successful empirical tests of the theory do provide compelling evidence within the norms of science. The following experiment that I recently described on *Edge* is an example of the kind of evidence that an opposing view would be hard to dismiss:

1. Subjects sit in front of an opaque screen having a long vertical slit with a very narrow width, as an aperture in the middle of the screen. Directly behind the slit is a computer screen, on which any kind of figure can be displayed and set in motion. A triangular-shaped figure in a contour with a width much longer than its height is displayed on the computer. Subjects fixate the center of the aperture and report that they see two tiny line segments, one above the other on the vertical meridian. This perception corresponds to the actual stimulus falling on the retinas (the veridical optical projection of the state of the world as it appears to the observer).

2. The subject is given a control device which can set the triangle on the computer screen behind the aperture in horizontal reciprocating motion (horizontal oscillation) so that the triangle passes beyond the slit in a sequence of alternating directions. A clockwise turn of the controller increases the frequency of the horizontal oscillation. A counter-clockwise turn of the controller decreases the frequency of the oscillation. The subject starts the hidden triangle in motion and gradually increases its frequency of horizontal oscillation.

As soon as the figure is in motion, subjects report that they see, near the bottom of the slit, a tiny line segment which remains stable, and another line segment in vertical oscillation above it. As subjects continue to increase the frequency of horizontal oscillation of the almost completely occluded figure there is a profound change in their experience of the visual stimulus.

At an oscillation of ~ 2 cycles/sec (~ 250 ms/sweep), subjects report that they suddenly see a complete triangle moving horizontally back and forth instead of the vertically oscillating line segment they had previously seen. This perception of a complete triangle in horizontal motion is strikingly different from the tiny line segment oscillating up and down above a fixed line segment which is the real visual stimulus on the retinas.

As subjects increase the frequency of oscillation of the hidden figure, they observe that the length of the base of the perceived triangle decreases while its height remains constant. Using the rate controller, the subject reports that he can enlarge or reduce the base of the triangle he sees, by turning the knob counterclockwise (slower) or clockwise (faster).

3. The experimenter asks the subject to adjust the base of the perceived triangle so that the length of its base appears equal to its height.

As the experimenter varies the actual height of the hidden triangle, subjects successfully vary its oscillation rate to maintain approximate base-height equality, i.e. lowering its rate as its height increases, and increasing its rate as its height decreases.

It seems to me that this experiment demonstrates that consciousness can properly be understood as a complementary relationship between a specialized neuronal brain mechanism and subjective experience. Can we think of this assumption as justified on the same grounds as the two-slit experiment in physics justifies our understanding of light as a complementary relationship between particle and wave?

In this experiment a vivid conscious experience of a visual object was created and systematically modified in accordance with the causal properties of the retinoid model of consciousness when, in fact, no such object was present in the subject's visual field. What reasonable alternative explanation might be proposed for this striking finding?

Scott Bakker said...

The big problem, as you point out, is the opportunistic way we all resort to intuition. I've always been puzzled by the way my intuitions are so much more compelling than yours. It must be because they're true!

You thesis strikes so many as trivial simply because the discipline has chased everyone into their own particular crazy cul de sac. Everyone bites the 'crazy bullet' in some fashion or another, then proceeds to show how it's 'not so crazy after all' when you think about it in light of this or that.

Calling everyone crazy then seems to miss the point: the interesting fact is that we are not all crazy equally. My crazy (as I said), while genuinely crazy, is not crazy crazy, like your crazy...

Your point, which I took to be the dilemma of arbitrating between brands of crazy, begins sounding far, far too sane to not sound crazy.

In other words, I think you have too much fun in the paper to induce many to pause and ponder what really is a striking and profound disciplinary problem: How does one determine rightside up in a world gone upside down?

Maybe a shorter, more terse and staid reprise is in order?

Tony Dardis said...

@ Eric: no, not an objection. I like the idea that the "hard" problem is just that we don't know how it works. The true metaphysics is crazy, since we're currently not in a position to understand it. That view is not obvious, and is controversial, since all the dust about the hard problem assumes we have a good intellectual grip on our capacity for understanding.

Arnold Trehub said...

@Tony. You wrote:

"I like the idea that the "hard" problem is just that we don't know how it works."

I argue that the theoretical model described in *The Cognitive Brain* (1991), together with the evidence presented in *Space, self, and the theater of consciousness* (2007) and *Where Am I? Redux* (2013) do provide an explanation of how it works. What are your principled objections to the retinoid model of consciousness as a solution to the "hard" problem?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

@ Arnold: That's an interesting result, but it seems to me compatible with a variety of views -- for example a vehicle externalist view like Noe's or a purely brain-based view in which the cycling causes certain downstream effects in cortical areas which are the basis of consciousness.

@ Scott: Maybe briefer would be better. But I also think that much of the value of the paper comes from its broad historical sweep and the variety of angles and considerations -- the Reid and Descartes and Berkeley on the one hand and the experimental philosophy of intuition on the other hand and the weirdnesses I try to foist upon the materialist (USA consciousness, anaesthesia by genocide) on still another hand. (Yes I know that's too many hands.)

Arnold Trehub said...

Eric: "That's an interesting result, but it seems to me compatible with a variety of views -- for example a vehicle externalist view like Noe's or a purely brain-based view in which the cycling causes certain downstream effects in cortical areas which are the basis of consciousness."

On what principled grounds could these views predict the detailed conscious experience of a particular object out there in front of the subject when no such object is in the visual field? It seems to me that the "vehicle externalist view" or the "downstream effects" view would have to invoke a black box full of causal *magic* to explain this finding. Wouldn't such proposals be no more than hand waving? There is no competent causal mechanism in these "explanations".

Tony Dardis said...

Read the paper this morning: very nice! One small worry (related to the theme raised by Ted and Carl above). We might argue that common sense isn't relevant to metaphysics, and metaphysics of mind, at all, since common sense just isn't to be trusted. My version of "Type Q" materialism is that relatively theoretically sophisticated inquiry so far lacks the categories to generate a satisfactory metaphysics (metaphysics of mind) and so the truth is going to look crazy from the point of view of current thought. (@ Arnold I don't have a principled objection to your view, but I'll read up on it as soon as I can.)

Here is an objection, though, for Eric. Suppose it turns out that the conceptual thingie needed to make it all work is really just trivial. Someone figures it out, writes it down, everybody slaps their foreheads, "d'oh," and now we have a good total metaphysics. And suppose that this thingie is *not* such that "a majority of people without specialized training on the issue confidently, but perhaps implicitly, believe it to be false." Assuming that we can test people on whether they believe it, it turns out that a lot of people do believe it, but no-one has hitherto appreciated how it permits resolving all standing metaphysical puzzles. Then craziysm about metaphysics would be false.

Tony Dardis said...

Whoops: too strong to say common sense isn't relevant to metaphysics at all. Of course it is. Part of the data for metaphysical theorizing is that people are inclined to think that p is common sense.

Callan S. said...

Interesting ground.

I'm thinking if one simply had a random number generator actuating ones musculature, that'd fit being crazy - as in there is no reasoning, no path (certainly no survival path) in it.

One might argue that'd just be an epileptic style fit. But rather than singluar muscle firing you had instead discrete actions, like all the muscle firing of reaching for an object, hundreds/thousands of discrete actions hinging on a random number generator, that exits mere fit and into crazyness?

Perhaps another thing is the kludge effect of crazyness - for example, you can't see a random number generator going off in someones head. You can only guess. Therefor the idea of crazy is always stuck several feet short of the finishing line, for example. It can't actually get to the line and know - so it hovers around a distance away - it's an evaluation that always run a little short.

Overly influenced by Scott's blog, I'll say it seems a really interesting way to trigger a kludgey heuristic evaluation that lacks any caveats (ie, it's just obvious they are crazy - no nuance to the evaluation). A really easy way to trigger a mentally locked in state of simply being subject to heuristic/a subject of heuristic thinking (probably so locked in because evaluations of crazy always fall so short of the finish line/they can never see the random number generator. Given as much, the feeling of 'yur crazy' simply encompasses thought quite utterly, in a trade off of rejection of bad survival methods and never being able to really know. You kinda think of these people dismissing talking about how to identify crazy as being a problem, yet perhaps it's an awesome example!

I mean, I know of one method used to make test subjects relatively consistantly sad (they had a simulation where computer characters throw a ball to each other and the subject - but after awhile the computer characters cease throwing the ball to the test subject). Here you might have come across a way of consistantly triggering a very fixed thinking model in a test subject, that the subject thinks about almost exclusively! Could be a powerful find?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

@ Arnold: An argument for another day!

@ Tony: I agree that common sense is relevant but a frail ground. However, where I would disagree with Type Q materialists is in the thought that there is some other ground of materialism (science + logic + abstract theoretical virtue?) that compels that particular metaphysical answer. I agree that if the head-slapping scenario you imagine proves correct, then I'm wrong and crazyism is false. Seems unlikely to me, though!

@ Callan: I hadn't heard about that last study. Very cool! And yes, I'm in agreement with Scott that we're running basically on heuristics that have little reliable connection to the underlying metaphysical and psychological facts, and are better suited to the very different tasks of survival and social success.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read your entire paper, so perhaps you mention C.D. Broad as a crazyist forerunner, but in "The Mind and its Place in Nature", Broad appears to resort to crazyism to defend the weirdness of his brand of sense-data theory: "Any theory that can possibly fit the facts is certain to shock common-sense somewhere; and in the face of the facts we can only advise common-sense to follow the example of Judas Iscariot, and 'go out and hang itself'." (cited in Tyler Burge 2010, p. 125)

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the reference, anon! I haven't looked at Broad with this issue in mind. I should check it out. That sounds close to an endorsement of universal bizarreness. Do you think he also endorses the view that no one approach merits high credence?