Pan-ism

June 11, 2013

Pan-blahism is the move to universalize some aspect of reality. Panpsychism is the obvious example, wherein everything is said to have mental properties (or be mind).

Perhaps it’s part of my procrastinatory ennui (and reading a bunch of philosophy, much of it I find unbearable in some deep way that’s hard to articulate), but I’m finding myself attracted to some pan-isms or, at least, some worries about pan-isms.

For example, all this problem/hard problem of consciousness stuff makes me wonder not “how can consciousness arise from physical stuff” but “why are there non-conscious things”? I know there are conscious things (e.g., me, at least for the moment). I’m pretty sure there are non-conscious things (e.g., me, somewhat later (if not in sleep, then in death), or the armchair on which I sit). But given that there are conscious things, why are there non-conscious things? Why is consciousness so hard to pop out?

Now, on one level, this is easily dispensed with: Brains have a lots of properties not found easily elsewhere in nature (or at least not in current chairs), so why feel there’s any special problem with consciousness (or qualia)? That sounds ok, but probably only if you don’t find consciousness mysterious in the first place. There does seem to be a problem with separability: It does seem  that consciousness is not necessarily tied to brain stuff, but then why should it be tied to complex functional organisations? Indeed, we can impose functional organisation (in our minds) on anything (draw a flow chart on the whiteboard and you have, in some sense, that functional organization imposed on the whiteboard, or, perhaps, on the white board and some hardware (say me) to run it on).

Well, I’m not going to argue all this, since it’s probably nonsense and a competent, au courant philosophy could, I’m sure, easily point out the nonsense and gross ignorance of this little meander. (But would that mean I’d lose the dispute? What would compel me to accept that my nonsense was nonsense? I mean, aside from being weary.)

So I turn to my other panism: pandialetheism. (I got here by reading Greg Littmann and Keith Simmons’ paper, which is pretty good in that Simmons way; note I was taught by Keith and overlapped a bit with Greg.) Dialetheism is the doctrine that there are true contradictions.  It’s usually the case that some contradictions are held to be not true and dialetheisim (and SCREW YOU Priest for this term!) usually hangs out with paraconsistent (i.e., non-explosive/inconsistency tolerant) logic.

But, meh. If I’m going to accept true contradictions, why should I give up good old fashioned classical logic? Let every contradiction be true and every statement contradictory! Take that Priest, you fuddy duddy logical conservative, you!

Well that sounds fun. And it is fun! Except, if I’m going to string the fun along, I have to come up with some sort of defence of this view. I suspect that I need a “climb the ladder” sort of defence ala Tractatus 6.54:

My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them—as steps—to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)

Except I think we need to kick away the ladder while we’re climbing up it.

So, first question: Can we be a Pandialetheist? Is there a coherent view here?

Let’s start with a slightly relaxed view: There are contradictory formulae in first order logic. First order logic is explosive. So the deductive closure of P & ~P is going to be every WFF in FOL. This is not mysterious.

So, what can be my relationship to such a formula or to its deductive closure?

Clearly I can believe a contradiction at least for certain notions of belief. After all, I believe that other people believe contradictions (though perhaps not self-contradictions), indeed, most people, esp. philosophers, believe this and spend a lot of time trying to show this. But perhaps this belief isn’t a robust believing, e.g., I don’t realize that I’m committed  to a contradiction. Hence by showing me that my beliefs are contradictory, you force me to give something up or at least to go paraconsistent (i.e., I can try to isolate my contradiction).

There’s a lot of work being done by the idea that by bringing me to a certain sort of awareness about my contradictory belief something magical happens, the magic of rational rejection of contradiction. Or perhaps the rational acceptance that the contradiction isn’t true.

That the contradiction is false doesn’t prevent me from believing it. If anything is true, it’s that we all have a ton of false beliefs. Indeed, perhaps all my beliefs are false. But if all my beliefs can’t be false, why can’t they be false due to the fact that all propositions are false. I.e., there are no true propositions to believe?

I’m not sure if I have to yield to the thicker notions of belief. I just happen to have a relation to a set of propositions. Those propositions are expressed in FOL. This relation is such that if I am in that relation to a set of FOL formulae, then I am also in that relation (or a slightly weaker one) to the deductive closure of those formulae.

On this model, with some minor assumptions, we all believe everything. (But are we committed to everything?)

With weariness, I accept that this won’t do. It’s not enough that we have to be, in principle, able to have people with different beliefs, but, in fact, it’s going to be annoying to claim that people don’t have different beliefs. It’d be fun to claim that everyone agrees with me because everyone believes everything, but not all that much fun.

The usual (is it usual? it feels right to say “the usual” without any check that it is, in fact, usual) move is to add some thicker sorts of relations to the mix. E.g., “Yes, you have this ‘belief set’, but you aren’t committed to it.” or “You don’t really believe everything in your belief set.” We can even get trickier.

Let my set of “asserted” beliefs be B. By normal epistemic commitment, if I believe B then I’m at least “committed” to the consequences of B (Cn(B)). Let’s stipulate that everyone has at least on contradiction in their B. So we all have the same commitments (i.e., Cn(A & ~ A)) but we don’t have the same Bs! So, we can still make sense of our varying beliefs even though we all have precisely the same epistemic commitments.

Now we have a kind of game we play. We all pretend that our Bs are consistent. Disputation is basically grabbing some subset of our Bs and trying to force a contradiction. This is bad, because skilled disputers should be able to hide their contradictions from each other. If someone manages to flush out one of our contradictions, we pay the forefit by giving up one of the contraries. But that’s ok, we have plenty more contradictions in our head.

This doesn’t quite get me up to true contradictions. For that I need some semantics and probably some ontology. But…does it matter? I’m still committed to all contradictions and, ordinarily, that means I’m committed to them being true. The phenomenon is established (i.e., all contradictions are true, or, at least, we’re all committed to that), and the theory will have to follow.


Here I want to go a bit meta: Is this a reasonable bit of philosophy, or not? The logicy part, to the degree there is any, seems fine. I’m not making use of anything complicated. Indeed, I deliberately avoided anything logically complicated. The key question is whether I’m right about “belief” and “epistemic commitment”, and even there, I did the classic “thick and thin” move. The empirical bit (we all believe contradictions) isn’t really needed as I’m making a conceptual argument about what could be (could we all have contraries in our Bs? C’mon! Of course we can! Or if we can’t, we can construct minds so that they do.)

This sort of stuff is not so hard for me to generate. I can make it a bit harder by related work. I could dig out a bunch of relevant papers and “engage” in the arguments. Perhaps someone out there has advanced a similar line.

Is this nonsense only if I lack the confidence to believe it’s not? Is this argument a sort of Tinker Bell that needs my to clap sufficiently loudly to live and glow with the bright spark of profundity?

I’m certainly feeling that, at the moment. I suspect this is why I spiraled out in philosophy. This doesn’t necessarily make philosophy bogus. Lots of fields require some intellectual chuzpah, perhaps all of them.

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