Phun for Philosophers…

The pain and agony philosophers go through to really understand philosophical topics and issues is probably only paralleled by the agony of a mathematician trying to solve a proof that no one has yet solved. Think about it. That’s basically what philosophy is…trying to solve the epistemic underpinnings of our world that, still after thousands of years of brilliant people trying, no one has been able to do. This requires a lot of patience, hard work and agony.

I like what A. W. Carus says on the topic of learning/doing philosophy, “Patience is a primary virtue in philosophy. Genuine understanding is a rare and valuable commodity, not to be obtained on the cheap”. I think I would expand the scope of endeavours for which this assertion is true to include mastery of an art/instrument and probably just about any academic subject.
Enough blathering, I want to return to the original topic of this post…”phun for philosophers”. (I spelled “fun” “phun”…gosh, I’m soooooooo cleaver!) What constitutes phun for a philosopher? The same thing that constitutes fun for anybody heavily steeped in oceans of purely theoretical knowledge with no practical purpose…showing everybody that you are soooooooooooooo s-m-r-t and that you know things they don’t. For complete veracity (see! look at my fancy words! I can’t just say “truthfulness”, I have to conspicuously display, for all to see, my abnormally large….vocabulary), I would add that I enjoy expounding upon such topics in such a way as to make sure you definitely leave the conversation more confused then when we started. Then, and only then will I feel a warm glow inside me because I will know that all that time sitting at my desk while the other kids went partying on Friday night was worth it.
But, dju see…I’m not that kinda guy (ok, maybe a little bit…sometimes…). In order that you don’t feel left out I’m going to explain to you as clearly as I can that which you missed while having a great time with your friends tonight…
Before I start, and you get all excited that you’re about to learn some cutting edge philosophy (indeed it is, this theory came out this year! aren’t you excited!) you should know that I’m actually doing this as an exercise to ensure my own comprehension of the theory (of what I’ve read so far of the 600+ page book!) and to see if I can explain it is semi-lay terms (ha! lay terms! …but I’m going to try)
Tyler Burge’s Empirical Objective Representationalist Theory of Perception (scared yet?)

Preamble: In the 20th Century most modern philosophical problems have centred in one way or another on this basic epistemological (having to do with the nature of knowledge) problem: How do we acquire facts/beliefs about the external world? The obvious answer is–one of the ways– through our perceptual systems but this implies that we are not in direct contact with physical world. The typical account of how our perceptual system works is that we receive sensory input (light, sound, touch, etc..); it is received through the sensory organs, converted into electrochemical signals which are processed by the brain, which in turn creates a representation of the external physical world. This representation created by the brain may or may not resemble the particular qualities of objects in the physical world. We have no way of knowing because we only have access to the representation in our mind of the physical world, not the physical world itself. With out getting too off track, this is called the representationalist account of how we acquire information and beliefs about particulars in the physical world. There are other theories, but this one and it’s variations have dominated the last century.

The Two Main Current Representationalist Theories

Both theories can broadly be described as Compensatory Individual Representationalist theories. Lets take a look see at why! (wheee!)
Here’s a quick over-view of both theories. Both theories postulate objective empirical (to do with sensory input) representations (the finished product representation of the physical world we see in our mind) cannot occur without us having some sort of pre existing mental attributes to impose form on the incoming sense data. For example: for me to perceive “redness” I have to have a pre-existing psychological tool to recreate “redness” in my mind. In fact, in the first version of the theory, for every particular quality in the physical world (shape, texture, colour, etc..) I need pre existing psychological equipment that can recreate it in my mind (the representation). If I don’t have this psychological equipment, then I can’t recreate this quality in the representation.
The second version of the theory came in the second half of the 20th Century and it was in response to the obvious complexities and inherent problems with the first theory. Instead of saying we need a different pre-existing psychological structure for every particular quality encountered in the physical world, the theory was simplified: Instead of particulars, the mind will supply generals. That is to say, when all the sense data (particulars) come-a-flying down your neuro-pathways your mind will organize them and reconstruct them according to general principles found in the physical world (causation, constancy, differentiation, physical laws).
The upshot of both theories is that the mind supplies content to the representation. It is called a compensatory theory because it assumes there is an inherent insufficiency in our representational system and the qualities of the physical world for us to be able to represent directly. We need to compensate for this insufficiency by adding our own mental content to the raw sense data.
It is an individual theory because it is the individual that makes objectivity (the ability to accurately represent the physical world) possible by having the right psychological structures to allow for accurate representation of the sense data.
It is a representationalist theory because the physical qualities we perceive must be mirrored internally as a representation. I.e. you need internal mechanics/systems to recreate representationally the sense data; we don’t directly perceive the particulars of the physical world.

Holy Crap! It’s 5 in the morning…no wonder I can’t see straight. I thought it was cuz of something else… Ok, mull over this for a while and I’ll try to finish it before it finishes meeeeee! ahhh! But on a serious note (yes, folks it happens), I’d appreciate any feedback on my explanation so far. Since I want to be a philosophy instructor one day so I need to be able to break this shit down so my hommies and my peeps can dig what I’m hollering…about…y’all cool wit dat? yah! high five! Reality TV rulz!
Oh! and also any genuine questions about this topic I will gladly try to answer. It will help me better learn the material (which, quite honestly, is making my head hurt) and you’ll learn something to impress your friends with!

Thanks for reading e’rrbody!

4 thoughts on “Phun for Philosophers…

  1. Amikins: so if we go with the original representationalist theory, does it say that I have something in my brain that is preset to reflect things I see/experience in the world? But that's (Said with a French accent) impossible! If I read a comic book, backwards, about a boy made of rubber, who becomes a pirate, in a world of clown faced bad guys (bad pirates vs. good pirates) with a mix of old/new clothing styles etc. (The story of the manga 'One Piece'), then the theory is saying that somewhere in my brain I had that image preprogrammed? Wow, I must have a huge brain. (I haven't read your next post. Maybe it's all explained there)


  2. It's been a while since I've studied this but I think the original representationalist theory would say something like this: Every image on the page that you see has particular qualities (the shade of red a character's blood is, the particular shape of his body, etc…). For each of these particular qualities, you need some sort of psychological tool that can convert the light waves and subsequent electro-chemical signals into a perceptual representation (in your mind). The main problem with this theory is that, as you seem to point out, for every particular element we perceive, we need a corresponding particular psychological tool. The sheer number of particular psychological tools that this theory entails renders the theory implausible… I hope that answers your question…


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