Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spinoza on the Composite Self

It can seem surprising the degree to which our conscious experience is opaque as to what causes and/or composes it.  The revelations of neuroscience come only from third person investigation.  Even on its own first-person "turf", introspection has been shown to be a poor guide to analyzing our mental states, perceptions and memories.  The mind-body problem in philosophy is of course the story of the inability of the mind to perceive how nature constitutes it.

The fact that the brain/body is very much a composite system seems to be the reason for some of the difficulty.  Reading Spinoza's Ethics recently, it was interesting for me to see that he grasped this point in the 17th century.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Philosophers Discussing Food! Upcoming Event

Mark your calendars -
The Greater Philadelphia Philosophy Consortium presents its annual Public Issues Forum:

 “The Future of Food”

Saturday, March 27, 2010, 1:00 to 5:30 P.M.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Books Unblogged: Spinoza Edition

Here are some books I enjoyed reading in recent months (which in a parallel blogging universe I discuss in greater detail.)

1. A Spinoza Reader (edited and translated by Edwin Curley).

I wanted to read Spinoza’s Ethics; this volume also contains some excerpts from other writings and correspondence. Among philosophers, Spinoza is comparatively easy to read. While his idea to write the Ethics in a Euclidean format was quixotic, it makes the discussion straightforward to follow and subsequently reference.

I like Spinoza’s metaphysics very much, so I’m inclined to say he was “way ahead of his time.” (Good SEP articles on Spinoza here and here). In any case, I think he’s right that the most viable view of God is as a maximal conception of Nature. We live in a finite locale within God’s infinite expanse. On the other hand, Spinoza failed to find an explanation for contingency and so endorsed necessitarianism (but see also here): ignorance is his explanation for our intuition of contingency (I’d like to travel in time and see what he would have made of quantum mechanics and the idea of objective indeterminism). I think his views about mind (thought and extension are two coequal aspects of the same reality) still make plenty of sense in today’s philosophical landscape. The latter parts of the Ethics get a little long-winded and pedantic, but include a variety of practical tidbits of wisdom about human psychology and how to live one’s life that will reward a re-reading.

It’s a wonderful world we live in where you can find multiple well-written popular books about Spinoza, too. I enjoyed

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Quantum Interactions Create Space-time

The notion that spacetime is an emergent phenomenon is, by my reckoning, being proposed by an increasing number of thinkers. Physicists and philosophers working in quantum gravity and quantum foundations are turning to the idea that the spacetime of relativity is not fundamental, but rather something which arises from a more fundamental world of quantum mechanical systems and their interactions.

I just saw a reference to one such argument which was made a few years ago in an article by Avshalom C. Elitzur and Shahar Dolev called “Quantum Phenomena Within a New Theory of Time”. This was published in the 2005 collection Quo Vadis Quantum Mechanics?, Avshalom C. Elitzur, Shahar Dolev, Nancy Kolenda, Eds.

Elitzur and Dolev examine several puzzles over the nature of time in quantum mechanics and are led to the hypothesis that quantum interactions (measurements) themselves are responsible for the creation of spacetime.

A couple of quotes from section 17.10, titled “An Outline of the Spacetime Dynamics Theory”: