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Physical David Papineau Interviewed by Richard Marshall

Physical David Papineau Interviewed by Richard Marshall

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Published by: Francisco Nascimento on Oct 09, 2013
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David Papineau interviewed by Richard Marshall.

[Photo; Steve Pyke] David Papineau is still roving in the deep philosophical waters even though he knows that heʼll never know everything. He keeps writing hard core books about his philosophical thoughts covering things such as physicalism and how come everyone isnʼt a physicalist, substance and property dualism and Kripkeʼs worry that the mind brain identity is just contingent. He wonders why philosophers think thereʼs something wrong with just knowing the facts. He thinks about the nature of colour experiences, representation, and avoids mixing up methodological issues with metaphysical ones. He thinks about the significance of Schrodingerʼs

3:AM: What made you become a philosopher? Has it been worth it? David Papineau: My first degree was in mathematics. or moral properties. And that has continued to be my philosophical motivation. Note how this argument only bites for those things that do have physical effects. That was great.about whether there are any special laws that are not reducible to physics and about the usefulness of ʻhistorical kinds. (I now realize that I wonʼt have quite enough time to understand everything—but that hasnʼt stopped me wanting to understand as much as I can. So they must be physical things. The ʻcausal completeness of physicsʼ wasnʼt widely accepted until recently. You might want to ask—if there is such a simple argument for physicalism.cat. have no physical effects. then this argument gives us no immediate reason to say that they too must be physical. If numbers say. .ʼ This is a deep water big beast from the philosophical depths: banginʼ. especially those things that didnʼt make sense. You think that modern science makes some species of physicalism an irresistible position donʼt you? Can you explain what your arguments are? DP: Itʼs simple enough. Nearly everybody nowadays accepts the ʻcausal completeness of physicsʼ—every physical event (or at least its probability) has a full physical cause. I became a philosopher because I wanted to understand everything. and there is a good answer. A century ago mainstream .) 3:AM: You are an ontological naturalist. Has it been worth it? Absolutely. how come everybody hasnʼt always been a physicalist? Thatʼs a good question. But it would be absurd to deny that thoughts and feelings (and population movements and economic depressions . Thatʼs one reason I have such a roving philosophical eye— once I have figured out a philosophical topic to my satisfaction. I find myself moving on to new problems. but it didnʼt help with many of the things that puzzled me.) cause physical effects. This leaves no room for non-physical things to make a causal difference to physical effects. .

in order to produce the physical effects that they do. biological and social phenomena must themselves be physical. Davidson. At which point a whole pile of smart philosophers (Feigl. Philosophers sometimes also use ʻreductionistʼ more strictly. It was only in the middle of the last century that science finally concluded that there are no such non-physical forces. 3:AM: This is not an eliminativist position regarding the mind but is reductionist isnʼt it? DP: Yes—at least in the sense in which ʻreductionistʼ simply means neither eliminativist nor dualism.science was still quite happy to countenance vital and mental powers which had a ʻdownwardsʼ causal influence on the physical realm in a straightforwardly interactionist way. Putnam. Smart. Lewis) quickly pointed out that mental. to mean ʻtype-identitiesʼ between mental and .

for example. But so is property dualism. But I certainly a reductionist in the more general sense which is opposed to eliminativism and dualism. How do you respond to that sort of challenge? DP: Well. then I ought no longer to have any room for the thought that ʻtheyʼ might come apart. This seems to me an absurd misreading of Kripke. and to exclude ʻnon-reductive physicalismsʼ like metaphysical functionalism. Iʼm having dinner with him on Saturday and will press him about it. 3:AM: Tim Crane. the causal argument I gave above doesnʼt just imply that there canʼt be a non-physical mental substance. note that Iʼm here reading Kripke quite differently from the widespread ʻtwo-dimensionalistʼ reading which takes him to be saying that the problem for physicalists is simply that mind-brain identities are a posteriori. He maintains that. (For the experts. if I really believed that pains are C-fibres.) 3:AM: Kripke has anti-materialist arguments at the end of his Naming and Necessity and you think heʼs wondering how mind brain identity seems false even to people like yourself doesnʼt he? How do you handle his challenge? DP: Kripke says that physicalists like me canʼt explain the ʻapparent contingencyʼ of mind-brain identities. but also that there canʼt be non-physical mental properties. I have no good way of constructing a possible world. but in terms of how they feel. since pains arenʼt identified via some contingent description.physical categories. 3:AM: Substance dualism is a target of this approach isnʼt it? DP: Yes. Iʼm not so sure that I am a reductionist in the strict type-identity sense. where C-fibres are present yet pains absent.) My response to Kripke is simply to point out that mind-brain identity claims . might happily concede the arguments about substance dualism but not concede that this means no species of dualism canʼt be sustained. The issues here are messy. so to speak. (Tim is always a bit cagey about exactly what he thinks at this particular point. His argument is that.

And that is why I go on half-thinking at an intuitive level that there is a possible world with C-fibres and no pains. Once you properly appreciates physicalism. (If pains are extra dualist states ʻgeneratedʼ by brain states. So of course I intuitively think that they might come apart in other possible worlds. even if they contingently co-occur in the actual world. any more than the intuition that the Earth is at rest shows that there must be something theoretically wrong with Copernicanism. then it immediately follows that those brain states could occur without the conscious states. This is a very straightforward response to Kripke. then there really isnʼt any possibility of having ʻoneʼ without the ʻotherʼ. Rather it is simply a manifestation of the psychological difficulty of fully embracing physicalism in the first place. in a world with different laws of nature. This whole literature is motivated by the idea that there is something deficient about our current theoretical understanding of the mind-brain relation. From my perspective.are very counter-intuitive. I simply havenʼt fully freed myself from the dualist intuition that even in the actual world pains involve something more than from C-fibres. I say that there is nothing deficient about our current theoretical grasp of mind-brain identities. this dissociation should cease to appear possible—C-fibres with pains should strike you as no more possible than squares without rectangles. then. The problem is only that they are counter-intuitive. This doesnʼt show that there is anything wrong with our theoretical understanding. courtesy of the contingent laws of nature operating in this world. one that cuts through the huge literature on the ʻexplanatory gapʼ and two-dimensional semantics. They continue to seem incredible even to committed physicalists like myself.) In truth. a clear-headed physicalist shouldnʼt be thinking any of these dualist thoughts. If pains are one and the same as Cfibres firing. Kripkeʼs ʻintuition of contingencyʼ isnʼt a thought that physicalists are somehow required to continue respecting even after they have embraced their physicalism. or the intuition that time is moving shows that there is something theoretically wrong with the block universe ʻB seriesʼ view of . and that therefore we need some different and deeper perspective that will somehow render mind-brain identities transparently true. as Kripke points out.

you deny that we can . there remains the question of why we should find mind-brain identities so persistently counter-intuitive. by developmental psychologists and theorists of religion among others. seems to run through a lot of current philosophical debate. and so on. under the heading of ʻintuitive dualismʼ. 3:AM: While we are on conscious experience. Whatʼs wrong with just knowing the facts?) Of course.change. (A hankering for ʻtransparent understandingʼ. and there are a number of plausible explanations. It is rather shocking that so few of the many philosophers working on ʻthe explanatory gapʼ are familiar with this empirical literature. Indeed this is a topic that is quite extensively discussed outside philosophy. if they are true. ʻhaving things revealed as they areʼ. I donʼt get it. ʻgrasp of naturesʼ. But this is a simple psychological question.

3:AM: So why does phenomenological scrutiny not help? Does this relate your enthusiasm for phenomenal concepts? Youʼve written about Wittgensteinʼs Private Language Argument and argued that phenomenal concepts are inconsistent with Wittgenstein. The orthodox view of colour experience assumes that. and then argue that phenomenological scrutiny isnʼt going to help decide which is right. when we see a colour difference between two surfaces viewed side-by-side. On the methodological issue.really see a million colours. This is territory that Pete Mandik is also looking into isnʼt it? You offer an alternative to the orthodox view. I think my view is rather more radical than Pete Mandikʼs. without first identifying the absolute colour of each surface. There is a brain mechanism that works to identify colour differences directly. Instead I argue that the perception of colour differences between two surfaces viewed side-by-side is a gestalt phenomenon. I donʼt think that we are capable of anything like this many possible colour responses. this is because we have different responses to each of the two surfaces viewed singly. Iʼm not sure how closely it relates to my previous work. So on my view there is no reason to suppose anything like ten million colour responses to surface viewed singly. I think that would be hopeless to try to adjudicate between my view and orthodoxy by appeal to phenomenological introspection. So who wins—Wittgensteinʼs argument or phenomenal concepts? Or both? . We need to know about brain mechanisms. So first could you set out the two views? DP: Colour experience is a new topic for me. Both of us want to show that colour perception doesnʼt transcend what can be conceptualized. this implies that we are capable of ten million colour responses to surfaces viewed singly. Since we can detect colour differences between something like ten million different surfaces. but I donʼt think he goes so far as to deny that it doesnʼt involve different responses to all the discriminable surfaces.

We need to know about brain mechanisms as well. do we consciously see all the details even though we donʼt retain them. that you get from having had those experiences. say. or does it also represent higher categories like lemon or umbrella? Again. Still. or do we not see them in the first place? Neurological . 3:AM: So what approach do you recommend? DP: As I said. in a way that just introspecting our colour experiences canʼt. and that this is bad for Wittgenstein. After all. when we view a scene fleetingly. in supporting phenomenal concepts I am in a sense siding with introspection against the more behaviourist Wittgensteinians. I think. Is there a way of thinking about seeing something red. and have ʻthrown awayʼ more fine-grained information about the absolute colours of single surfaces. How rich are the contents of visual perception? Does vision only tell us about shapes and colours. Here the question is whether there are concepts of experiences that are made available to subjects solely in virtue of their having had those experiences themselves. as I said. then that would support my position. and so isnʼt available to a blind person? Many contemporary philosophers would say ʻyesʼ. this issue about phenomenal concepts is different from your previous question of whether we can decide the structure of colour perception by phenomenological introspection. I donʼt think that we can figure out what is going on in conscious colour perception just by phenomenological introspection. despite the fact that such concepts seem to conflict with Wittgensteinʼs private language argument. The use of neuroscientific data to help resolve phenomenological questions is proving a common theme in much contemporary thinking about the mind. I have written a paper arguing that phenomenal concepts do indeed conflict with the private language argument. We need to figure out what information is present in the mechanisms that constitute conscious colour perception.DP: The ʻphenomenal conceptʼ issue is rather different. If neuroscientific research shows that those mechanisms only contain comparative information about colour differences. But even so I donʼt think that introspection is powerful enough to resolve the specific issue about how many colours you can see.

And then we use the neuroscience to tell us what information is present in those brain activities. First we use uncontroversial aspects of introspective phenomenology to figure out which brain activities are in general responsible for visual phenomenology and other features of consciousness. Of course. since the initial identification of ʻthe brain activities that constitute visual awarenessʼ must depend on correlating brain processes with phenomenological reports. we couldnʼt get started on this kind of analysis in the first place. without any appeal to introspective phenomenology at all. they are so interesting precisely because unaided introspection cannot resolve them. After all.information is crucial to deciding these questions. But we can engage in a kind of useful bootstrapping here. Rather we need to know what is going on in the brain activities that constitute visual awareness. and so to decide the trickier questions about the structure of .

and also why this is not a methodology issue but a metaphysical one? DP: A certain kind of methodologically-minded philosopher of science is quick to read off metaphysical conclusions from features of scientific practice. by contrast. We start and end with phenomenological data. 3:AM: Does this relate to your anti-conceptualism about psychological representation? Donʼt you want to defend your views about psychological representation as scientific reductions. I have written a lot. but we couldnʼt have completed our inferential journey without the detour through brain science. But this local semantic question isnʼt something that I have written about much. Chemists donʼt derive their laws from fundamental physics. in the sense that I think that the philosophical task (as always) is to come up with a synthetic theory that fits the empirical evidence. mostly under the heading of ʻteleosemanticsʼ. On the general meta-semantic question. apart from my recent interest in colour vision. and not to analyse our a priori concept of representation or anything like that. 3:AM: You also look forward to reducing causality to probabilities as part of this same approach donʼt you? And an issue here is avoiding mixing metaphysics with methodology. And here—though this is an entirely distinct issue—I am very much inclined to be anti-conceptualist.consciousness. not even in perceptual experience. I rather incline towards ʻconceptualismʼ. Can you explain this. rather than as results of conceptual analysis? DP: I think it helps to distinguish the local semantic question about the specific representational contents of perception—what things do perceptual states represent?—from the more general meta-semantic question of the nature of representation—what it is for psychological states to have representational contents at all? On the former question. in line with my view of colour perception—I donʼt think that we can represent objects and properties for which we have no concepts. so . In this sense I differ from those who defend ʻnonconceptual contentʼ like Michael Tye and Chris Peacocke.

there is a possible set of probabilistic relationships that entails that arrangement.) have observed that in practice causes are never inferred from probabilistic patterns alone. economics. When scientists do infer new causal conclusions from probabilistic information. . Biologists refer to natural numbers in some of their explanations. The funny thing is that recent methodological work on causation itself opens the way to a successful metaphysical reduction of causes to probabilistic generalizations. (Thus it would simply be messy and pointless for the chemists to essay physical reductions. rather than trying to work everything out from first principles every time. methodological philosophers working on causal inference in practical areas of science (epidemiology. and I have written a couple of articles in the same strain. I am thinking of ʻBayesian Netsʼ. agriculture. it is always against a rich background of prior causal assumptions. no causes outʼ is a practical precept. The metaphysical question is whether causal relations can be reduced to non-causal general regularities in some Humean style (though the modern Humean will work with probabilistic generalizations rather than deterministic ones).ʼ) And many philosophers of science then move quickly from this practical methodological observation to the metaphysical conclusion that causation must somehow transcend any Humean pattern of probabilistic generalizations. The Bayesian Nets literature shows that. (ʻNo causes in. or for the biologists to offer number-free explanations. .reductive physicalism must be false. for any arrangement of causes. Now. But as far as I know we are the only two people who read the Bayesian Nets stuff in this way. no causes out. there are obvious practical reasons for using prior causal knowledge to help identify new causes. But this is not a good inference. (ʻNo causes in. Even if causation is at bottom constituted by patterns of probabilistic generalizations. I think that this kind of thing makes for bad philosophy. so numbers must exist.) Dan Hausman has written a terrific book—Causal Asymmetry—building a reductive account of causation on this basis. not a principled constraint. . Itʼs a weird kind of science-worship that views these practical considerations as clues to the nature of reality. The relevant features of scientific practice often have mundane explanations which donʼt point to any deep metaphysical moral.) Recent work on causation is a case in point. .

) There may be good objections to the Everett interpretation. if it were true. But whatʼs so bad about that. And so they think that if scientific practice treats causes as irreducible. For on the Everett interpretation you would be sure to come out of the box alive. I suspect. Everybody agrees that a future in which you are dead is a very bad thing. Itʼs their metaphysical aspirations that irk me. On this view. is that nearly everybody else who works on Bayesian nets is a methodologist rather than a metaphysician. Still. one with a live cat. then you would have no reason not to get in the box with the cat. much more interested in the way science proceeds than in the nature of reality.The reason. If you got in the box with it. it is a bad idea to run metaphysics together with methodology in this way. but this isnʼt one. some philosophers have tried to make trouble for this interpretation by arguing that. So you really donʼt want to do that. and one with a dead cat—and the talk of ʻ50% chancesʼ just indicates that the two branches are both equally real futures of the cat that originally entered the box. then thatʼs good enough for them. and that it isnʼt made any better by your not being around to notice how . the same would apply to you. Iʼve nothing against philosophers who are interested in the practicalities of science per se. 3:AM: Why donʼt you want to get into the box with Schrodingerʼs cat and what is the significance of this thought experiment? DP: Schrödingerʼs cat has a 50% quantum chance of coming out of the box alive and a 50% quantum chance of coming out dead. and that you survive happily in the only future that you will experience? This is a terrible argument (and not made any better by David Lewis defending it at length in his last published paper—see my ʻDavid Lewis and Schrödingerʼs Catʼ. I favour an interpretation of quantum mechanics (the ʻEverett interpretationʼ) according to which reality branches in any chancy quantum situation. Now. True thereʼd also be a future in which you come out dead. given that you wonʼt be there to experience it. as I said. Schrödingerʼs set-up will give rise to in two future branches of reality.

given that presumably when we were evolving our minds we didnʼt have doorknobs? DP: I donʼt have much use for the concept of innateness. alongside the one where you are alive. The everyday . 3:AM: It seems to many people thinking about such matters that many of our complex cognitive capacities are innate. say. you really donʼt want to do that. Doing so will cause the universe to contain a future where you are dead.bad it is. Since a future where you are dead is a very bad thing. and observe that it follows that itʼs a bad idea to get in the box with the cat. but that raises the issue about how they could be? How could we have evolved an innate capacity to recognize doorknobs. Everettians will simply agree with this. rather than leaving it as a universe where you are alive in all futures.

but caused by that bang on the head last week?) Even if we go with the idea of innate as ʻnot learnedʼ. instead of allowing information from the environment to play at least some part in shaping it. or biology and psychology. Do you think there can be special sciences? DP: No. Of course our genes will make some capacities very much easier to learn than others. and so on. I do have quite a lot of sympathy for Fodorʼs picture of concepts as information-free atomic entities which get locked onto their referents causally. But even so it seems perverse to call them ʻinnateʼ. just because it wasnʼt learned. and to that extent they neednʼt involve anything much in the way of learning.concept incorporates a number of different notions that can come apart in in many ways. so to speak. just as it is odd to say that my head-injurycaused singing is innate. I doubt that anything worth calling a cognitive capacity will come out as innate. But the point remains that genes themselves are not cognitive capacities. Here we see again the oddity of treating ʻnot learnedʼ as sufficient for innate. Even if no learning to speak of was involved in locking my mental term onto doorknobs. Nor is it easy to tidy up the concept. But this really only works as a necessary condition. Even reductionists about . Fodor writes about these as ʻspecial sciencesʼ. and of course our genes themselves are not learned. This is because it seems unlikely that evolution would ever bother to write the whole of any cognitive capacity into the genes. and that anything worth calling a cognitive capacity will depend to some degree on learning and so not be innate. But a non-physicalist will say that there are non-physical laws – such as laws in economics. and as a result encourages a range of dangerously fallacious inferences. I guess the best move is to try to equate innate with ʻnot learnedʼ. (Is my newfound ability to sing innate. I think that there are non-physical laws all right: genuine (if not strict) laws written in the language of biology. 3:AM: As a physicalist youʼll say that all laws are physical laws I guess. economics. It looks a bit dotty as a sufficient condition. Having said that. it is odd to say that therefore my possession of a doorknob concept is innate. But I donʼt regard that as a contentious issue.

Millikan observes that some categories—chemical compounds. These are ʻhistorical kindsʼ. the same second word.chemistry will think that there are special chemical laws whose formulation makes essential use of chemical terminology. but I have always thought that there are issues here. Each individual version of the Nuer belief system contains the same tenet about twins. It has always puzzled me. For example. I now think that many generalizations of interest in the special sciences . . and so on. if what is going on at the physical level is so different in each case? In a number of papers I have explored the idea that natural selection might fill the gap. but the mechanisms vary (songs. even though that mechanism will be different in different cases. Why should we always get the same results in the same circumstances. and so on. Natural selection has ensured that each species achieves the requisite effect somehow. all the many copies of the Bible have the same first word. along with Jaegwon Kim and Ned Block. clouds. odours. if physicalism is true (as Fodor agrees) yet the special laws are ʻvariably realizedʼ by different physical processes in different cases (as Fodor insists). Fodor says yes. Sometimes selection processes can ensure that there is always some mechanism to produce such-and-such an effect in such-andsuch circumstances. especially in the case of people learning skills and other social behaviours (individual learning is a kind of selection process). But other categories enter into a range of generalizations because they are all copied from a common source. . stars– enter into a range of generalizations because their instances have a common physical essence. All territorial birds have some way of discouraging conspecific invaders. that there should be genuine lawlike patterns at the special level. so to speak. But more recently I have become interested in another possible source of variably realized special science laws.). The idea is inspired by Ruth Millikanʼs notion of a ʻhistorical kindʼ. . but it doesnʼt care. displays. how the trick is done. I still think that this story works in some cases. These are ʻeternal kindsʼ. The contentious issue is whether there are any special laws that arenʼt reducible to physics. about ancestral spirits.

and the difference between necessity and a priority—that just werenʼt there when I started doing philosophy. And. The subject of cognitive architecture as we know it scarcely existed before The Modularity of Mind. now a postdoc in Helsinki. I havenʼt written anything on this yet. Everybody knows that this is a terrific book. Entities share properties not because of any common physical basis. or the physically different Nuer brains). has some very nice papers on the subject. I donʼt mean the ʻfictionalismʼ about numbers. but his book also holds many lessons for those contemporary philosophers of mind and language who bandy ʻpropositionsʼ about so freely without stopping to wonder what difference they can possibly make . 3:AM: And finally are there five books (other than your own) you could recommend to the readers here at 3ammagazine to help them further delve into your philosophical world? DP: Saul Kripke. How can references to abstract objects be important for understanding the concrete world? Field explores this question in connection with the physical applicability of mathematics. Kripke persuaded us of both of these ideas pretty much single-handedly. Jerry Fodor. these generalizations may well be variably realized at the physical level (think of all the physically different versions of the Bible. But his earlier work set the agenda for many philosophers of mind working in the naturalist tradition. I wish more philosophers worried about the topic of this book. Naming and Necessity. but my ex-student Marion Godman.have this kind of basis. but it may not be obvious to younger philosophers how much it reshaped the philosophical landscape when it came out. because of this. The Modularity of Mind. Hartry Field. culminating in the embarrassment of his recent What Darwin Got Wrong. Fodor has become increasingly opinionated and eccentric. and subsequent views on this topic still define themselves against that book. and Iʼm kicking myself for having missed it all these years. It is an obvious idea. when you think of it. It contains two ideas—externalism about representation. but rather the general puzzle about the relationship between abstract objects and the concrete world. and they now inform all serious philosophical writing. but because of copying mechanisms. Science without Numbers.

Holton distinguishes two notions of ʻweakness of willʼ—acting against your better judgement. April 8th. Darwinian Populations. ʻheredityʼ and ʻreproductionʼ. The book explores the latter idea. ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER Richard Marshall is still biding his time. 2013. and uses a wide range of empirical studies to cast new light on such topics as will-power. such as ʻorganismʼ. temptation. Wanting Willing Waiting. Share on facebook Share on gmail Share on twitter Share on email More Sharing Services First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday. This book focuses on concepts that are generally taken for granted in philosophic thinking about natural selection. addiction and free will. Richard Holton. By challenging these notions Godfrey-Smith brings out what is and isnʼt essential to natural selection and opens up a fascinating range of new issues in the philosophy of biology. . Let me finish with more two recent books that I learnt much from.to concrete reality. and failing to stick to your resolutions—and shows that they are quite different. Peter Godfrey-Smith.

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