Meta rules for ZANZU

April 16, 2017 § 1 Comment

The “Postmodern Oedipus”  Vladimir Tasić holds “has a formalist daddy and an intuitionist mommy”.

Mathematics and the Roots of Postmodern Thought is a clever book which links debates in postmodern theory around différance to debates in philosophy of mathematics about the continuum.

I’d like to reproduce my favorite bit here as I hope to establish a loose analogy with another matter. Tasić asks us to consider a fictional psychiatrist casebook (Based on Saul Kirpke’s Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language).

“An unemployed mathematical subject, Sue, is to be tested as part of a job application. One of the questions on the test is, “What is the next number in the sequence 2 , 4 , 6 , . , . ?” The administrator of the test, the human resources manager named Hank, is convinced that the correct answer is 8. For Hank, “clearly,” the three numbers mark the beginning of the sequence of even positive integers, which is the sequence of values of the function F(n) = 2n.”

Now sue answers 10 which is correct according to the rule

Based on the accessible information about the rule—the first three instances of its application—there is no reason to believe that the we are dealing with rule F rather than rule G, even though G gives the “bizarre” answer 10.


Sue argues not only that 10 is just as reasonable a reply as the “expected” 8, but also that, say, 13 is equally justifiable. Based on the accessible information, Sue playfully maintains that the rule she was supposed to grasp could have been thought to be

The lateral thinking Sue exhibits would hardly be an asset for the job of a teller, for which she was overqualified in the first place. Hank thanks her, rejects her as unsuitable, and writes “not a team player” in her file, thereby making sure that she never gets a job anywhere in the banking sector

This outcome makes her doubt everything as

Psychologists who constructed the test must have had a reason to think that there is something in her mind that would make that justification accessible to her.

by way of some further deliberation of the sequence problem Sue comes to the conclusion that:

following a rule can be justified only by invoking a meta-rule on how to follow the rule, and then a meta-meta rule on how to follow the meta-rule, and so on. If we are to avoid an infinite regress of ever higher rules, this must stop at some point. Then this ultimate rule can be challenged, just like the original one was.

Here my thoughts wandered off not to Xanadu where Kubla Khan did
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea

But to ZANZU, a sexual education website targeting migrants which was launched by the German Federal Centre for Health Education (BZgA) in late February 2016 as a means to aid integration and avoid Cologne type mass sexual assault events.


This was seen unsurprisingly by far-right commentators as a promotion of interracial sex. Some even predicted an upsurge in sex crimes, through a not so inconsistent reasoning that if the target audience is assumed barbaric enough not to know the immorality of misdeeds the webpage hopes to discourage, then it is outlandish to assume that they will interpret the guidelines in the manner intended.

Besides denial, an argument for withholding severity in dealing with carnal violations committed by members of the recent asylum wave (that of the last 3 years), is to paint the figure of migrant, as one with no or limited agency whose acts of transgression are a function of ignorance, confusion or trauma.

But if so, how then is it hoped that watching the graphics on ZANZU the confusion would not double in these assumed naive folk. Could they not get the impression that it is in fact expected of them to fornicate. The elderly among say the 95,020 Pakistanis who sought asylum in EU in this period (to pick a random nationality whose distance from Syrian civil war should make the argument for PTSD less convincing) and who might have been happy to forgo such delights may even find ZANZU stimulating enough to exchange part of their savings for viagra pills. After all a good manual calls an ardent learner to seek an instance to test his aptitude vis–à–vis its instructions.

Not finding too many willing and consenting partners may not be to follow Tasić’s explication of Sue’s failure a good enough meta rule to justify one interpretation versus another.

So ZANZU seems to require the Soldiers of Odin or their German variants of which I am sure there are many as an ultimate meta rule which one would only challenge at great risk.


Post- Wolbachia

March 22, 2017 § Leave a comment

Today morning I had time for a quick perusal, of Ed Yong’s “I Contain Multitudes”. Page 77/78 gives account of bacteria which manipulate the sex lives of their hosts, the author’s favorite microbe Wolbachia, seems everywhere.

Richard Stouthammer discoverer of a group of asexual female wasps which reproduce by cloning themselves treats them with antibiotcis, this hinders the work of Wolbachia and the males suddenly reappear and both sexes start to mate again. Thierry Rigaud finds that Wolbachia transform male woodlice into females by interfering with the production of male hormones.

The simplicity of this switch, a conjuring of a gender in and out of play, reminded me of a conversation I had nine years ago with a Finnish woman. In condescending tones, she lectured my third world brain about the superiority of a scheme underway in the Nordic preschools.

Girls in Kindergarten she proudly stated, are encouraged to break toys, shout and scream at top of their lungs and to dare rudeness, whereas boys are instructed to caress each other, and play with soft objects. All this to liberate the coming generation of stereotypical gendered behaviors.

I asked her to remind me, which were the cultures in which boys are encouraged to break stuff, for I come from a patriarchal culture and all my recollections are of punishments. Boys who’d for no reason break stuff or senselessly shout, will invite a severity of reaction beyond the imagination of civilized Nordic. Her response was that I cannot understand her as I have never taken courses in gender studies. I was not then aware of the Nordic Gender Equality paradox. That despite many decades of policies introduced to facilitate advancement of women, and eradication of bias in selection, a far fewer percentage of women compared to patriarchal Bangladesh or Iran opt to study for and then work in male careers such as engineering. That is, when given the freedom and social safety net to choose, their choices are far more feminine than in the absence of such measures.

All good and well for skepticism, but Wolbachia made me wonder about a future wherein the ideological kin of Ina (the aforementioned Finn) succeed in devising just such a means of implementing their desired epi-eugenics. How dissatisfied can they be with the result?

Because on that οὐ-plateau, the program ought to yield women which do not resemble anything that goes by that name today and possibly men which have been so Wolbach-ed as to not be worth measuring up to.

A Hegelian draft runs over, Herrschaft und Knechtschaft redux. Surely, to quote the likes of Roger Scruton, if the argument for equality has merit, it does so because it protects difference rather than, obliterate that for whose justice one strives.

Does not the notion of feminine in its distinction deserve protection and respect, from the pedagogic manipulations of such ideologues. Or must it be subsumed under a hoped for, future hermaphrodite ideal.

Reading a few more lines from Ed Yong, one learns that Wolbachia was found by Greg Hurst to be killing male embryos of magnificent blue-moon butterfly, so that the females outnumbered the males by hundred to one.

Why are the males targeted so? Is the bacterium hoping to become the education minister of a Nordic nation?

The answer:
Wolbachia can only pass to the next generation of hosts in eggs; sperm are too small to contain it. Females are its ticket to the future; males are an evolutionary dead end. So it has found many ways of screwing over the male hosts to expand its pool of female ones. It Kills them, as in Hurst’s butterflies. It feminises them as Rigaud’s woodlice.It eliminates the need for them entirely by allowing females to reproduce asexually, as in Stouthamer’s wasps.

…Where Wolbachia does allow males to survive, it still manipulates them. It often changes their sperm so that they cannot successfully fertilize eggs unless the eggs are infected with the same strain of Wolbachia. From the female perspective, this incompatibility means that infected females (which can mate with whomever they like) gain a competitive advantage over uninfected females (which can only mate with uninfected males)…”

This is food for great sci-fi, Post-Wolbachia un-infected males can only mate with un-infected females, a race which can only be won by the rise of Trump the pussygrabber 🙂

Xenomelia, Wherefrom the Phallus

January 12, 2017 § Leave a comment

What good are explanations of mental illness based entirely on the speech and utterances of the patient? A short encounter with a person, who in not too clear terms spoke of a Lacanian practice she was involved in, made me want to compile a list of howlers. The sort produced by the hermeneutics which operates in such practice. Wherein subjects who are presumably constituted by the interpellative structure of speech, address themselves to discourse of the other, whose desire is signified by a/the phallus.

V.S. Ramachandran, Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at UC San Diego, has been a prominent popularizer of the wonders of neurosciences. Many a lay tube viewer has first learned of Synesthesia, Capgras Symptom and the phenomena of Phantom Limbs through talks by him. His later appearances unfortunately seem to show him in poor health.

In the following lecture titled “Embodied Souls -Lessons from Neurology” part of UC Berkley’s Foerester Lectures he adds Xenomelia to his set list of neurological curiosities.

A psychological disorder in which an otherwise healthy individual feels one or more limbs of it’s body do not belong to itself. This is followed by a desire to have the limb amputated.

A phrenological guess Ramachandram says would posit that the limb in question lacks a proper representation in the brain. So it was expected that when poked, the portion of the limb which the patient desires to be removed should show diminished galvanic skin response. It showed instead an increased response.

It has been known through the study of patients with neurological lesions that damage to the right hemisphere, and particularly to the right parietal lobe, can lead to a variety of disorders of body image

Ramachandran goes on to explain (here I provide the wording not from the talk but that available from a paper by Paul D McGeoch, David Brang, Tao Song, Roland R Lee, Mingxiong Huang & V S Ramachandran on Xenomilia) that: Anatomically the right Superior Parietal Lobule (SPL) is particularly well placed to combine disparate sensory inputs to construct a dynamic body image as it receives inputs from, the dorsal visual stream, S1, S2, the premotor cortex and M1.

So the hypothesis that cortical representation in the right SPL fails to represent a particular limb was tested. A statistically significant reduction in MEG activity in the right SPL following tactile stimulation of the subjects’ affected legs was seen as support for the hypothesis.

In the cases studied the visual and somatosensory cortices are intact, so the individuals with xenomelia could still see and feel the affected limb; however, insufficient corresponding representation of the affected limb in the right SPL, seems to create  a conflict where sufferers failed to incorporate (the tactile sensations)  into their body image.This discrepancy is seen as explanation for the significantly heightened change in skin conductance response (a marker of sympathetic activity) to touch below the desired line of amputation.

One wonders wherein could Lacanians import the phallic signifier, destined to designate meaning effects.

Believe it or not says Ramachandran, there did exist a psychoanalytic explanation for cases were patients wanted an arm removed. It asserted that the subject wanted to amputate the arm to create a giant stump which resembles a giant penis.

# Besides the plain absurdity, there is something very upsetting about this intrusion. I felt a similar violation of senses whilst reading Deleuze and the Genesis of Representation by Joe Hughes a year before coming across Ramachandran’s talk. So I’d like to describe the occasion in order to better understand the nature of it.

Joe Hughes has written two amazingly clear books on Deleuze, so good that in fact on each start I had the sense, that finally am about to penetrate the thought of the esteemed Frenchman. 

But then the invasion of master signifier took place, already on page 32, in the midst of what appeared to be an account of bestowal of meaning by the mind (i.e. the process by which a series of mental acts give form or animate sensuous data) or as the title would have it the genesis of representation.

A series of passive synthesis are hypothesized or imagined by Deleuze by which sense is created from what is labelled primary order (sensation at the level of unindividuated bodies).

It is unclear on what basis this schema is asserted, not accounts of developmental psychology or neurophysiology?!! 

Hughes does explain its connection to similar schemata by Husserl and Kant. So one has a sense that it may not be fully absurd. But paradoxes abound in the new schema such as there being an ego present in the primary depths. To imagine an ego (the notorious BwO)  in an as yet un-constituted body is truly psychedelic.

During what is labelled the conjunctive passive synthesis of partial surfaces (apparently a term denoting an assemblage of the ego and the image it contemplates) Joe Hughes explains that “The image of phallus gathers together all partial surfaces into one complete surface.”

what? please?

This strange news is followed by this passage from Deleuze’s Logic of Sense:

The phallus should not penetrate, but rather, like a plowshare applied to thin fertile earth, it should trace a line at the surface. This line emanating from the genital zone, is the line which ties together all the erogenous zone thus ensuring their connection

A footnote informs us that in the page previous to the one from which this passage was taken Deleuze had asserted ‘…the direct and global function of integration or of general coordination is normally vested in the genital zone’

The novelty of this discovery is astounding, I was or am still under the impression that human brain is the organ burdened with those duties. Not so for one in Paris in 1969.

But is it the phallus or its image which is involved in sense creation? Joe Hughes takes further trouble to translate the savage psychedelic dream into the following phenomenological account.

“In pregenital sexuality, the ego moved from the direct fragmented contemplation of its object to the contemplation of an image which stood for the object that had affected it. In genital sexuality these images of its affections  have been coordinated and put in relation to one another by virtue of a second kind of image: the phallus. ”  

How can images of affectation come together by virtue of another image?

Why are the terms pregenital and genital sexuality used for the two passive synthesis by which sensuous data are organized? If say one wants to give an account of processing sounds from an orchestra, why would one characterize a gradual process of sense making as stages of increasing erogenous coordination. Unless organs such as the outer ear and the inner ear are to be relabeled or imagined as a sort of scrotum or a kind of clitoris.

Even absent the hideous genital element, a more fundamental question for any such phenomenological project that seeks to explain the genesis of sense and  representation is perhaps: How is access to a passive realm possible?

There is no reason to expect the mechanism by which appearances are produced, to be apparent. Since a ‘Deleuze’ is not as a ‘Ramachandran’ tracing excitation and correlating trends in them to defects in functions which have accompanying phenomenal aspects, what licenses the former to posit say three rather than seven passive synthesis or absurdities such as larval subjects and an ego of the passive depths?

Shikand Gumani ( Doubt spelling )

November 9, 2016 § Leave a comment

The syllogistic simplicity of Anselm’s proof for God’s existence did not offer much amusement when I first encountered it. Perhaps a certain religiosity in early life does not allow for creative enough tweaking of such arguments. It’s either reverence or rejection when it comes to such presentations.I knew that Russell had a kind word on Anselm, but had forgotten what it was.

Mario Bunge in a super-concise chapter on common philosophical confusions regarding existence in a book titled Evaluating Philosophies performs a reformulation of Anselm’s Proof as follows:


Bunge suggests we admit the Existence of God which the first premise presupposes for arguments sake and tweak the other premise, add instead the ontological postulate that everything real is imperfect. That if something is perfect then it is ideal like Pythagoras’ theorem.  Conjunction of both postulates implies unreality of God.

Shikand Gumani Vazar or the Doubt spelling exposition is a 9th century Zoroastrian work of theology and polemic written by Mardan-Farrukh who prided himself on the fact that his faith was not inherited but arrived at after travels as far as India and a comparative study of all religions.

Zoroastrianism he believes is not a world religion because religions are based on certain fundamental assumptions which, of their nature, do not admit of logical proof, one of these being the unity of the creative principle. But Evil  is a fact not a privation. God accordingly did not bungle creation or repent it as Yahweh habitually does, he devised it as a trap in which to ensnare his co-existent enemy, He foresaw that Ahriman would temporarily corrupt his whole creation including Man, his masterpiece. But through Man’s cooperation Evil is utterly overthrown.

Its not an Anselm variety of proof, but lets us list the main tenants of Mardan-Farrukh’s argument :

  1. God is good
  2. If it is admitted that God is good, then it necessarily follows that evil (Ahriman) cannot proceed from him so should be an independent principle
  3. Since God by definition is rational and omniscient, his creation must have a rational motive, which is to repel injury that God might suffer from Ahriman’s malice

In quick comparison with the parameters of Anselm’s proof one notices that both the material and the spiritual world of which the material is a reflection, are imperfect. So no-thing need be real by virtue of perfection, as dichotomy is the way of the cosmos. The third line of thought does not follow from the first two.

The first premise defined God as good. Now if that is admitted or rather we admit some “good ideal” neither omniscience or rationality or the power to create are entailed by the premise.

To paraphrase Terry Eagleton “To say of the world that it is “created” is for classical theology to say that it is pointless. Like God, and like humanity, it exists purely of its own delight. God created the world just for the hell of it, as a quick look around will doubtless confirm. Creation is a scandal to the sharp-faced stockbrokers for whom everything must have a point”.

It is not clear which classical theology holds just that. Eagleton is known for his Thomist streak and in his description of evil employs the same thesis. Hence the demonic/ evil  is mysterious because it appears to be without cause, “unmotivated, it is done for its own sake or just for the hell of it”.

If we take these as declarations of a desire,  we’d have to conclude that Mardan-Farrukh wanted the universe to have been the work of rational force with whom to align. No super-relaxed scholasticism for him but instead an urgent  variety of , Nihil est sine ratione, that too a divine and benign ratio, which seeks to trap Ahriman/Evil for which all creation is created. Wonder if Russell would have been as impressed by this as he was by Anselm, but there is some consistency and plenty of room for tweaking.

Unintended Residue

May 11, 2016 § Leave a comment

I have just learned of the word tasseomancy. It is a practice I care little for.What is attempted in this post bears some resemblance to it. Lets see how wrong it can turn out?

Chancellor Angela Merkel at a press conference in the fall of 2015 was asked:

A minute ago you were mentioning the responsibility we all have in terms of how we should all deal with all this refugee chaos. But one of our responsibilities is to protect our own citizens in Europe. ….where now even more people with an Islamic background come into our country. … there is a great fear here in Europe because Islamization seems to proceed and grow stronger. So I’m asking you, how do you want to protect Europe, and in that regard, how do you propose to protect our own culture from this?

To which she responded by first noting the unfortunate contribution of volunteers from Europe to conflicts in the middle east, because of which “we can’t just sit here and say this is a phenomenon that has nothing to do with us”. Secondly she emphasized that ‘Cultures and societies that are shaped by fear will, without a doubt, ..not get a grip on the future”  to this she added a third point that given Germany already has 4 million Muslims its not debatable if Islam belongs to the culture.

However she augmented it all with the following thought:

I see there are these worries, but I have to say that, we all have these chances and all these liberties to practice our own religion as well, insofar as we are practicing it and believe in it. So if I am lacking in something in that, I am not suggesting that someone who practices Islam is at fault for that.
We should have the courage as Christians to enter a dialogue then, and while we are talking about tradition, maybe please go to church every once in a while or become a tad more versed in the Bible and maybe be able to just explain a painting in the church or at least be able to explain what the meaning of Pentecost is. So there I just have to say that a lot of people’s knowledge about the Christian Occident leaves a lot to be desired. But then to come back and complain about how Muslims know more about the Quran than they do about the Bible, I find that very curious.

The transcription of this last bit may perhaps not be like coffee grounds at the bottom of a cup. But one divines a wish therein, that Europeans may indeed wake up and “go to church every once in a while” or “become a tad more versed in the Bible”.

In quite a few criticisms of this episode, questions were raised about the assumption on Merkel’s part that the questioner was a Christian, albeit one who could improve his immunity by more frequent visits to church. Or in other words how and why does Merkel equate what the questioner calls “…our own culture” with the church?

Is there no alternative to the challenge posed by migrants than the meaning of Pentecost? How about Werner Herzog, Einstürzende Neubauten or W. G. Sebald?

But if this dream were to come true; wherein as a reaction to the influx, Europe sees a religious awakening , which party stands to get the votes of the born again? If a Christian party then surely not CDU, that too with her at the helm, after having caused this crisis? Is she perhaps opting to play the middle term (meson) in a dialectic?

Here now lets turn to another cup. This one is a passage from Houellebecq’s “La Possibilité d’une île

“…;the Islamic fundamentalists, who appeared in the 2000s had suffered more or less the same fate as the punks. At first they had been made obsolete by the appearance of polite, gentle and pious Muslims from Tabligh movement – a kind of equivalent of New Wave, to continue the analogy; the girls at this time still wore the veil, but it was pretty decorated with lace and see-through material, rather like an erotic accessory, in fact. And of course, subsequently the phenomenon had progressively died out: the expensively built mosques were deserted, and the Arab immigrant girls were once again available in the sexual marketplace , like everyone else.”

Granted this book was written much before the current migrant crisis and Houellebecq has since dealt with related issues and phenomena in more detail, yet there is an uncanny convergence between what is left in this cup and the German Chancellor’s dream.

A threat is seen in one instance as a chance to affirm a value system whilst in the other nihilism foresees the exhaustion and withering of that same threat by what it sees to be the inner logic of the system, a Europe of exchange, a market place, where all has its equivalent.


Allegory of chastity – Hans Memling



Banality of concern

December 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

Do obtuse formulations add much to an assertion? It is not uncommon to hear from supporters of such practice that, the difficulty the reader faces in getting through, forces a pause in the flow of thought, thereby affording a chance for novel truths to be glimpsed.

Lets take the following passage from Heidegger, (by no means one of his worst) in which the ontological characteristics of the surrounding world are investigated.One such characteristic is apparency (Vorschein):

We are beginning to get a clearer idea of what was indicated by apparency: what concerned being-in-the-world ordinarily dwells upon are not discrete, occurring things, but rather significations [Verweisungen] – the ´from here – to there´ within the context of concerned ´in order to´.

Therefore it is in these significations that the original ontological structure of the encountered world lies. These significations are the way in which the encounter with the world shows itself.

Significations (something is useful for, of importance to, produced from) are a ´signifying about´in the sense that what the signification is about, ´the signified´[Be-deutete], is itself to be found in the signifying. This signifying signification is originally directed at concerned engagement with the world [besorgenden Umgang].

The influence of Jakob von Uexküll on Heidegger is known, which helps in interpreting the above incoherent mess as an attempt to draw from Uexküll’s concept of an umwelt composed of biosemiotic carriers of significance. A tick’s umwelt for instance can be seen as made up of the following:

(1) The odor of butyric acid, which emanates from the sebaceous follicles of all mammals, (2) The temperature of 37 degrees celsius (corresponding to the blood of all mammals), (3) The hairy topography of mammals

The significations to which Heidegger refers and which constitute the apparency of the encountered world for humans, must then be analogs of the above listed items.

My mind raced to juxtapose against all this, a recent formulation by Daniel Dennett, from a talk he gave in Royal Institute where he explored steps towards a unified theory of information:

..Information not as representation but as a difference in the world that can be exploited by natural selection to create a difference in lineage.

Now besides its concise aspect in comparison with the obscene Heideggerese, individual agency is erased in the formulation, even the exploitation is discerned/considered on a systemic scale.  So a concerned engagement [besorgenden Umgang] need not essentially be viewed in and from that narrative mode (i.e human dasein‘s), the exploitation of differences or significations [Verweisungen], is attributed to natural selection.

What is apparent to dasein or a specie are the differences in the world which it has evolved to detect ´in order to´ …???  Nothing is specified in Heidegger, beyond the statement that a fundamental aspect of being in the world is encountering a landscape of significations, whose significance is rooted in our care or concern for ??? ..

for  what

??? … for what it may

The evolutionary viewpoint while not necessarily reducing all concerned engagement to the goal of creating a difference in lineage, sees it as primary. All other concern are higher order phenoma.

To the best of my understanding Heidegger’s concerned engagement [besorgenden Umgang] is just a tendency unspecified, …it can become engaged in anything, …whilst a distinction is there between an authentic vs inauthentic being-in-the-world [In-der-Welt-sein].

In the authentic being-in-the-world one’s own most potentiality of being [das eigenste Seinkönnen] is discovered via being-toward-death [Sein-zum-Tode], while the the rest of the herd remain immersed in average everydayness [Alltäglichkeit].

There is a mystified assertion of freedom in Heidegger which made me recall the following line from a recent talk by Raymond Tallis:

To have woken up to evolutionary process is in some sense to have woken out of it

But its a bit too simple, as none of this awakening seems capable of reversing macro trends such as the so called MacCready effect which Dennett quotes as follows:

According to calculations by Paul MacCready, at the dawn of human agriculture 10,000 years ago, the worldwide human population plus their livestock and pets was ~0.1% of the terrestrial vertebrate biomass. Today, he calculates, it is 98%! (Most of that is cattle.)

But can positing a concern/care such as one encounters in Heidegger serve as a thinking tool? Let us consider the following few instances of its use in Der Begriff der Zeit (an early work presented as the first draft of being and time) :

  • When anxious about something one is not oriented towards the object of concern but towards the concern itself (P54)
  • In its coming, death is entirely indeterminate, albeit certain. Concern covers up this indeterminacy with what it still intends to do. (P41)
  • Being ahead of itself, concern has placed something in the realm of care (P52)
  • Because the being-together that has passed away is already embedded unobtrusively in contemporary interpretedness, it is possible for concern to uncover it as that which has been.(P77)

But what is revealed by this reification of concern?

… let us replace for the word concern in the instances above respectively, “intensional state of the organism”, “fear”, “rage” & “curiosity”:

  • When anxious about something one is not oriented towards the object of concern but towards the intensional state of the organism itself
  • In its coming, death is entirely indeterminate, albeit certain. Fear covers up this indeterminacy with what it still intends to do.
  • Being ahead of itself, rage has placed something in the realm of care
  • Because the being-together that has passed away is already embedded unobtrusively in contemporary interpretedness, it is possible for curiosity to uncover it as that which has been.

These sentences make some sense on their own, which correlates a little with that of the original. But such ease of substitution should apply to any term whose usage is extended beyond what it commonly denotes. Since the content of a concept diminishes as its extension increases, one is left with concept of “concern/care” which vanishes by such standing for a multitude of states and affects.


Be it Resolved

November 25, 2015 § 2 Comments

Molyneux’s problem (from now on MP) & Frank Jackson’s Mary’s Room (from now on KA) seem to trigger a variety of reflection whose initial appeal seem to be a function of an error they share.

Or perhaps the error lies in the intuition which judges them to be analogous?

The intuitive link for me, was established on hearing Oliver Sacks’ account of Stereo Sue. Before indulging in the details of that case and Sacks’ own contribution to the MP, lets just spell/state in a simple scheme what appears to be common to MP & KA:

State A of System + Property to which System was blind  ->  Judgment as to accompanying phenomenological & behavioral aspects of state A’ -> Judgement as to causal role of such aspects

Property added in Oliver Sacks’ Stereo Sue was Stereo vision …Did she learn something new? Yes

So what of MP & KA?

The first of these two was framed On Saturday 7 July 1688 by William Molyneux
in the following letter to John Locke:

A Problem Proposed to the Author of the Essai Philosophique concernant L’Entendement

A Man, being born blind, and having a Globe and a Cube, nigh of the same bignes, Committed into his Hands, and being taught or Told, which is Called the Globe, and which the Cube, so as easily to distinguish them by his Touch or Feeling; Then both being taken from Him, and Laid on a Table, Let us Suppose his Sight Restored to Him; Whether he Could, by his Sight, and before he touch them, know which is the Globe and which the Cube? Or Whether he Could know by his Sight, before he stretch’d out his Hand, whether he Could not Reach them, tho they were Removed 20 or 1000 feet from Him?

If the Learned and Ingenious Author of the Forementiond Treatise think this Problem Worth his Consideration and Answer, He may at any time Direct it to One that Much Esteems him, and is,

His Humble Servant
William Molyneux
High Ormonds Gate in Dublin. Ireland

The results of Project Prakash carried by MIT, publicised in 2011, seem to have answered MP. Five congenitally blind patients of a mature enough age to make reliable discriminations were treated. After sight restoration they failed to match visually an object to a haptically sensed sample.

John Locke was right in his response the brain cannot immediately make sense of what the eyes are taking in, and the blind man cannot distinguish the two objects.

The response seems in line with Stereo Sue, and interestingly also with a story , Oliver Sacks wrote in 1993 for the New Yorker about Virgil, a man with limited to no vision as a child who had developed cataracts at the age of six. After his cataracts were removed, fifty years later, Virgil had trouble adjusting. (For example, he could not always distinguish the letter “A” from the letter “H” and, when given Molyneux’s test, could not tell a square he felt from a square he saw.)

These results seem also enough to erase/solve KA , or rather expose it as flawed. Frank Jackson himself has rejected the argument …but not in quite the manner which seems evident (to me!). Lets consider this summary of KA:

Mary is a brilliant scientist who is, for whatever reason, forced to investigate the world from a black and white room via a black and white television monitor. She specializes in the neurophysiology of vision and acquires, let us suppose, all the physical information there is to obtain about what goes on when we see ripe tomatoes, or the sky, and use terms like ‘red’, ‘blue’, and so on. She discovers, for example, just which wavelength combinations from the sky stimulate the retina, and exactly how this produces via the central nervous system the contraction of the vocal chords and expulsion of air from the lungs that results in the uttering of the sentence ‘The sky is blue’.… What will happen when Mary is released from her black and white room or is given a color television monitor? Will she learn anything or not? It seems just obvious that she will learn something about the world and our visual experience of it. But then is it inescapable that her previous knowledge was incomplete. But she had all the physical information. Ergo there is more to have than that, and Physicalism is false.

The famous Mary locked in her monochromatic lab is surely not blind, but given that per findings of Project Prakash there is no innate conception of space common to both sight and touch, what allows for framing a hypothetical wherein a complete conception of color minus the respective sensory input is possible ???

…Perhaps Ramachandran’s colorblind synesthetes? …mmm … …but lets bracket that for now for an attack on the conception of Mary’s accumulation of physical knowledge as a sort of filling up of a hard disk which does not alter the processor, the surrogate for the “I”.

Here I would like to insert two statements/lines from Eric Kandel

  • The “I” is not a camera ..

& the more famous one which he usually repeats in most his open lectures

  • In so far as you learn anything …you walk out of this lecture with a different brain
    than you came in


  • If people go and see this movie and they remember it the next day it is because there is an alteration in the gene expression in their brain

So where is there room for a non physicalist interpretation of Mary’s acquisition, after exiting the monochromatic lab?

Mary’s brain changes with knowledge acquisition. So too when it is exposed to the actual rays of colored light.

In whatever way the brain (or the cognitive/neural system) is altered by processing light of a wavelength to which it has not been exposed before, it would be in a new physical state A’, with blindness to property in question removed.

This exposure is a physical fact, there may be accompanying qualia, but so what.

Does Mary learn something new? If the alteration in the gene expression in Mary’s Brain accompanying the experience of colored light (novel stimuli processed) and its related memory be labelled a state of additional knowledge, which it is, then of course.

Moreover when is Mary not changing? physically changing

The case of colorblind synesthetes brings one to Daniel Dennett’s response to Frank Jackson’s article titled Epiphenomenal” qualia?

If indeed Mary knew everything – and here Dennet imagines rightly the complete state of knowledge to correspond to a state of the system (…a brain) which has a conception of color red albeit produced without exposure -a complete education should induce or create the brain state corresponding to that of a subject exposed to the light of that wavelength and should have the accompanying memory/altered gene expression. Hence it would learn nothing new.