Frames /sing


Zombies and Monsters of a Philosophy of Mind


This is the thing of significance. Behaviorism has fueled many of the third person approaches to consciousness, Dennett and Wittgenstein come to mind. Behaviorism is often countered by some kind of phenomenal approach to experience. The problem is that “phenomenal” descriptions are often linked to Lockean like empirical conceptions of knowledge, wherein what is experienced is somehow imagined to be a representation of “reality” which it “reflects” with more or less clarity, like a mirror. More sophisticated versions of this conception imagine that there is “Information” out there, and that it has to somehow be replicated, or represented “in here”.

What Davidson’s triangulation approach does is help unseat the Self-World binary which governed philosophy for so long. Philosophy, because it was an extension of religious attempts, one suspects, concentrated on connecting the soul-self-perception-knowledge-representation to the God-reality-world, as Rorty pointed out, in a metaphor of reflection. After the linguistic turn in philosophy, accelerated by Wittgenstein, primary attempts to connect internal states to external reality in any one-to-one fashion, became grafted onto the very process of languaging. This opened up the other (repressed) leg of the Triangle.

But there is something dissatisfying about Behaviorism. It is this third person account of what supposedly is going on “inside”. It is for this reason that a host of ghoulish philosophical thought experiments arise, a race of zombies, deceptive robots and swampmen. The reason for this reaction to behavioral accounts of consciousness are two fold, I believe. One is that they leave out a fundamental aspect of communication itself, and that is the feeling of communication, the very rich affective consquences of communicating with others. When issues of justifcation promote such an affectiveless picture of a process, something seems utterly wrong. This intuition really is the intuition which governs our capacity to interpret others in the first place. When the behavior of others clues us into thinking that they are not what we thought they were, alarm bells go off. When behavor alone seems to be key to justifying truths, the potenital for the same alarm bells sets them shaking, for such behavior could suddenly deviate without explanation or prediction. (This is not to say that Behaviorist arguments are wrong, but perhaps that they are incomplete.) The monsters of philosophical thought experiment are the expression of this potential sense of alarm. The other reason I suspect that monsters are conjured up when we start thinking of consciousness (or theories of meaning) in this different, Behaviorist way, is that such shifts in conception (for instance away from a one-to-one idea of what it means to know the world) promote new ways of interacting and valuing socially. That is, the essential conceptual barriors between ourselves and others, upon which much of our world is organized, are being challenged. And it is right that when a world is threatened that monsters arrive (in the world of philosophy they have appeared). The science fiction of thought experiment is really alerting us to the power of the fiction of new concepts, as they will determined our ways of relating to and valuing others, and the world. Monster is from the Latin monere “to warn”.

Now if someone were to say that behavior and affection are synonymous (as for instance a Spinozist account may allow), I believe that in trianguation what is necessary to complete the behavioral accounts of justification and the resultant theories of meaning and truth (be they Wittgensteinian or Davidsonian), is to understand that affection, that is the imitation of the affects of others, through the recognition of their behavioral responses to a shared environment, is the bodily ground for any conceptual capacity to interpret others. That is, in the kind of perceptual triangulation that Davidson brings to bear there must be a less-than-always-conscious causal realtion between the percieved affects of others, and our own affects, in order to give context for the meaning of our abstract descriptions of behavior itself.

In this way, the intuitional divide between behaviorism (with its cold capacity to allow even robots and zombies into our epistemic midst), and the various appeals to phenomenological experience (leaving behind their accompanied one-to-one representational conceptions of what knowledge is), is thus so to speak, filled in. Behavior is synonymous with affect, in the sense that there is no reading of behavior in triangulating concepts, I would think, without a corresponding causal affective response, one which, on the basis of com-passion creates a community of communications, at the level of the body itself. This does not mean that “qualia” as they are commonly argued for, “exist”.




One response to “Zombies and Monsters of a Philosophy of Mind

  1. Pingback: The Operated Jew and the Machine « Frames /sing

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