Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Two common intuitions

Here are two very common intuitions in the philosophy of mind:

  1. Our experiences of the same things are approximately qualitatively the same: your perceptual experiences of white, or squareness, or the beat of a drum are approximately like mine.

  2. It is metaphysically possible to remap all of one’s qualia, so that one could have had all the color perceptions in one’s life rotated by 120 degrees, say.

I find myself somewhat sceptical of each. Moreover, each claim makes the other less likely, so the probability that both are true is less than the product of the probabilities of each.

Of the two claims, the first seems fairly plausible to me, because I am attracted to the idea that the qualitative properties of my perceptions arise from typical interconnections (including, but perhaps not limited to, inferential ones) between them, and we all have roughly the same ones. But this line of thought, while supporting (1) also supports the denial of (2).

Moreover, our use of the same word “red” for your and my experiences of red tomatoes suggests that (1) is a part of our ordinary pre-theoretic beliefs. And I am inclined to trust our ordinary pre-theoretic beliefs.

On the other hand, it could turn out that (1) is false because it could turn out that how red things look is partly a function of features of brain organization that differ from individual to individual (and in the same individual over time). If so, then we might want to disambiguate ordinary language’s “looks the same” relation to mean either having the same qualitative experience or having an experience with the same representative content, so that we could continue to say that when you and I are looking at a red tomato, it looks the same to us in the representative but not qualitative sense.

But in any case all this is deeply mysterious stuff. I am strongly inclined to the idea that we should try to figure out the best theory of mind and perception we can, and then use that to figure out if (1) and (2) are true, rather than using (1) and (2) as constraints.


Luke Hill said...

Hey Alex! This is kind of unrelated, but where can I learn about the usage of stuff like "P(R | G)" Like what is that? Thanks! Also, interesting post.

Alexander R Pruss said...

If you have access, this might help:

You can write Alan Hajek for a copy if you don't have access, and he is a really nice guy so he will probably send it to you.

Luke Hill said...


RunDec said...

"Moreover, each claim makes the other less likely, so the probability that both are true is less than the product of the probabilities of each."

That's not true, I think, at least with what is the basic intuition behind 2.

I accept both 1 and 2; by 2 what I understand is that the connections between qualia and the physical events are contingent such that we could, say, have inverted spectrum scenarios. But the fact that an inverted scenario could be the case does not mean that we do not, in fact, share roughly the same qualitative experiences.

There could be another possible world in which we all have roughly the same experience of blue when we look at an apple. This is the main thrust behind 2, I think, and it is compatible with 1.

I don't see how inverted spectrum scenarios or the contingency of psychophysical connections would be incompatible with our having approximately the same qualitative experiences

Alexander R Pruss said...

There are reasons for accepting 1 that make 2 less likely. There are also reasons for accepting 2 that make 1 neither more nor less likely. If that's all the data we have, then we should say that there seems to be something of a negative correlation between 1 and 2.