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Topic subjectRE: Wow oh wow
Topic URLhttp://board.okayplayer.com/okp.php?az=show_topic&forum=22&topic_id=21933&mesg_id=21996
21996, RE: Wow oh wow
Posted by murph25, Fri Aug-25-00 11:50 PM
Let me attempt to answer some of these questions.

>There have, of
>course, been a number of
>philosophers whose basic premise is
>that we define our world
>by language (wasn't it Wittgenstein
>who said that the only
>proper name for anything is
>"this"?), and I think there's
>an element of truth in
>that, but I'm willing to
>believe that, despite the fact
>that all of my experience
>is a mind construct, I
>am not the totality of

I have known a lot of individuals with disabilities who have had limited or negligible language abilities. Clearly, if they cannot communicate linguistically (or even understand language receptively), they must have other ways of organizing their world. I think that their existence is a valid one, and their lives are as valuable as any college graduate's. So, I guess this agrees with what you say. We must acknowledge there is more than language (or thought) to justify our existence.

>If we don't have absolute
>control over our behavior, and
>it's affected in part by
>our environment such that we're
>different people in different environments,
>then is there any validity
>in an idea of the
>self as a separate and
>distinct entity? There's nothing
>behind the behavior, no observer,
>no witness, no control, no
>constancy? Does anything exist
>outside of this fluid, ever-changing
>stage on which lives are
>played out?

We do not behave in a vacuum. All behavior occurs within a context - social, physical, internal. I would argue that no, we cannot exist as "separate and distinct entities". We are bound to this reality, this environment, this context. We may experience the world as "perception", but I think it's out there - why else would I keep stubbing my toe, right? An individual CANNOT exist outside of the context of our reality here on this planet.

As for whether we have any "control", I'd say no. I think we like to believe that we control our behavior, but that's really illusion. As a scientist, I've never seen any proof that we have some external "control" over our behavior beyond the physical stuff of our bodies and brains. Our brain functions in complicated ways, but the biology of it doesn't seem to invite the idea of a singular "pilot" driving us and engaging in all the behaviors we do. And I don't think its necessary to assume one exists.

>And if not, then it's pretty
>much all an illusion, right?
> Any of us could
>be hallucinating this whole thing?...
> You sure you're a
>Skinnerian? Sounds pretty darn
>Buddhist to me.

I wouldn't argue that reality itself is illusion. Just the feeling of a "self" that controls our behavior. For me, reality is primary, and our relationship to it or perception of it changes through time and experience. I'm willing to give other people the benefit of the doubt, and assume they actually exist. But, to the Buddhist's credit, they are correct that even Behaviorists like me base our understanding of the world on fallible human perceptions. Science is constrained by our capacity to percieve the reality in which we exist. That's one reason that technology has changed the face of science so drastically in the last 100 years. But even with the most powerful telescope, there's still a human eye doing the looking.

>And on time -- I can
>understand that scientific method in
>general has to rely on
>certain conventions (including time and
>space and Euclidean geometry and
>all that) but there are
>points at which it breaks
>down, even in science, right?
> Because if time were
>some sort of Ultimate Truth,
>it would be the same
>for everyone and everywhere, right?

I would argue time IS fairly constant for us. We have a lot of different systems for measuring it, and certainly our subjective perception of time can vary, but I think time does come close to a Truth for us. Of course, scientists used to hold on to the belief that the sun revolved around the earth (for example). The rejection of such assumptions, and the resultant "paradigm shifts" mark some of the most significant advances in human history. Time and space are the building blocks of all scientific understandings of the world. I think when somebody comes up with a better way of understanding time and space, there is likely to be a big paradigm shift, but I doubt that will happen in my lifetime.

One way in which scientists try to deal with the subjectivity of time is that its measurement is mechanized, and always demands multiple observers. Any attempt to measure or define events that take place over time needs to be duplicated, confirmed, and validated by other scientists - otherwise you're just a crackpot. If two independent observers watched you spend 5 minutes on a stove, and 5 minutes on a couch with a pretty girl, they could probably come to an agreement on how much time passed in each case, even if your perception was entirely different. I'd tend to believe the observers.

>Seriously, though, if time is an
>absolute, what time is it
>on the sun?

I don't think a concept of time as an "absolute" is necessary. Einstein's ideas touch on the maleability of time, but are not particularly relevant to the human experience of time. He says that as something approaches the speed of light, the laws of time and space change somewhat. Quantum physicists believe that some subatomic particles may move at speeds so high that they actually do defy the normal laws of physics. However, as biological entities on this planet, we will never experience the speeds at which Einstein's new laws come into play. If we did approach these speeds, we would be killed.

>Or does scientific method only apply
>on Earth? And if
>that's the case, who are
>the astronauts when they're in

Astronauts in space are again not travelling at anything close enough to light speed for the laws of time and space to be affected per Einstein's theories. Our ability to communicate with astronauts indicates that time exists in orbit, and on the moon. The fact that we can communicate predictably via satellite relays with space craft sent further into the galaxy indicates that even there, time still exists. The way we measure time is very Earth-centric, because frankly that's where most of us keep all our stuff.

Also, I agree Skinner had some wacky ideas. But he had some great ones too. He's not my ONLY academic hero, but he is ONE of them. He's kind of a misunderstood figure. And he has the same birthday as me (weird, huh).