Friday, June 17, 2011

Mind-Dependent Composition

The Russellian view of the mind-body problem explains why experience has qualitative content: the natural world has qualities, and this fact poses no conflict with physics, because physics offers only a formal description of nature’s causal regularities. Our participation in the world acquaints us with these qualities (even if our knowledge is fallible about details). There is a further question, however, beyond this issue of “raw” qualitative content. Recently, in interesting comments on this old post, dnn8350 posed the question of why our experience features macroscopic objects/events and not just a flux of the micro-level entities which are fundamental in physics.*

Now, separately from philosophy of mind, metaphysicians also debate problems concerning the compositions of objects (mereology). Perhaps the problem of composition and the problem of why minds feature macroscopic clumps are related. Uriah Kriegel has a couple of papers which connect with these issues: he has a 2008 paper called “Composition as a Secondary Quality”, and now a draft of a forthcoming paper called “Kantian Monism”. The first paper addresses things from the point of view of ontological pluralism, and presents an argument that (very roughly) states that objects compose a larger composite object if it is the case that a subject would judge it to be so (I’m obviously glossing over many important details and conditions specified by Kriegel). In the new draft paper, Kriegel explores this view from the perspective of monism, and presents the case that the world decomposes into parts just in case it would appear that way to a subject in the world.

If mind-world interaction is responsible for the composition of objects (or decomposition of the world into parts), the task remains of filling in how this works, but perhaps there is a sense that we have combined two problems into one.

*I guess this question may also be related to the so-called binding problem of consciousness – that is the question of how our experience unifies various disparate sensory inputs – but I’m not sure.


dnn8350 said...

Hi Steve

After some assiduous Googling, I finally managed to find this paper online that fleshes out substantially the same argument pretty cogently, in my view:

At least I don't seem to be in a minority of one! I do agree with you that there is also a connection with fundamental notions in mereology.


Steve Esser said...

Thank you. I will give this a read.

Steve Esser said...

I agree with the paper's conclusion that objects (as well as meaning, information, and causation) aren't separable from consciousness.

After a short delay, I realized that I had read some of Riccardo Manzotti's work before. Here is his website.

Much of his work stresses the fact that consciousness has to do with processes, and that the processes involved clearly extend beyond the boundaries of the skull. Sometimes this "externalism" can be overemphasized: after all, alot of important work is done by the brain -- but it's still an important insight.

The paper you found doesn't appear on the list of online papers, but I think that's because it is a bit older (circa 1999).

Here is an article from Conscious Entities that discusses another paper and includes a response from Manzotti.