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Philosophical Papers --- 8/29/2019

The Possibility of Reflexive Science

What if we interpreted physics and the data of physics through what we know about sensation and perception based upon neuroscientific, sense organ (psychophysics), and cognitive science information about how we perceive the physical world?  Do we arrive at some sort of Kantian solution?  In some sense this is science applied to itself, i.e., reflexive science.

The physicist is not concerned with the brain processes which produces physics and physical propositions, but the reflexive scientist needs to be.  The physicist wishes his science to remain objective, however a closer examination indicates it is really inter-subjective (e.g. the repeatability of experiments as part of the verification of a scientific discovery), and hence contains a subjective component.  Hence, the reflexive scientist is concerned with the subjective and inter-subjective aspects of the “objectivity” of science especially the physical sciences.

The Scientific Account of How We Have Knowledge of the External World (ala Quinean Epistemology Naturalized)

Note as Scientific American pointed out there is a controversy between two approaches in science similar to the same controversy in Philosophy.  In Science we have bottom up explanations of perception (more of a passive account of the senses and brain perceiving the external world and more of a top down approach, or cognitivist approach of the brain and mental processes structuring our perceptual experience).  In philosophy of perception, you have the passive bottom up approach with the empiricists and phenomenologists, and the top down approach with Philosophers like Kant.  Really, the same controversy in both science and philosophy (why not?, science came from philosophy).

The Objectification of the Subjective

This is the approach by psychophysics and neurophysiology and science in general.  The problem is they never seem to be able to give an objective account of subjective experience. Perhaps this is also the bottom up passive model of perception in science.

What is Objectivity?

In science objectivity is claimed for something that appears to be true regardless of the subject (true for all subjects).  Objectivity in science is first based upon observation (observations that are repeatable for different subjects, i.e., experimental verification, i.e., the inter-subjective aspect of science).  But what is observation?  It is data given to us through our senses.  In science our sense data observations may come from instruments which are engineered to collect data from things we cannot observe or sense immediately (e.g., radio telescopes). From a series of observations (which are repeatable across subjects and hence verifiable) we induce certain rules, or if the rule appears to be the case without any observed exception, laws (in physics this invariance is often expressed as mathematical propositions).  But the point is even the most “objective” science such as physics depends upon data from our senses.  Isn’t it appropriate then that even with an “objective” science such as physics we try to understand scientifically the nature and basis of our observation sensations, i.e., our sensory apparatae and how we construct observations from sensations?  I.e., a reflection must be made between “objective” sciences like physics and the science of sensation and perception to give a complete account of the basis of our physical theories.  I.e., reflexive science.  Certainly, we cannot know how the universe is without SUBJECTS perceiving it.  This relates to the notion of the noumena by Kant, that the universe as it is in itself is beyond our senses and hence unknowable (which is opposed to phenomena, which literally from ancient Greek means ‘that which is appearing’).  Certainly, we know a lot about how the universe works in physics or is it that we just know a lot about how we as human subjects experience the (physical) universe?  Certainly, Kant’s point implies that there could be much to the universe, even the physical universe, that we do not experience and cannot know.  I am a big proponent of this, that ultimately the way the universe is is beyond our senses (our sensory experience) and is hence unknown and unknowable. We don’t know and cannot know (due to knowledge arising from the senses) how the universe ultimately is.  Confounding problems like the physical basis of consciousness might be clear to us if we could see beyond our senses but may be unknowable from the sensory basis of science.  We can experience consciousness and subjectivity directly, but we cannot ironically explain it from the part of our consciousness which is sensation.  So, science, in some sense, is the organization and explanation of that which appears (of phenomena) and not insight into the ultimate nature of the universe (consistent with Kant’s view of science).  The explanation of that which appears naturally, as we can create artificial appearances as well.

A qualification should be made about “appearances,” which indicates some non-reality and mere visuality, which is not what is meant here.  The phenomena is the totality of our sensory experience.  I.e., we may see an object but also touch it (sense of touch) and notice it is hard and move it and see how it behaves.  This is all part of what Kant means by “phenomena” or “phenomenal experience” or “appearances.”  He is merely making the point that we are captors of our own sensory experience hence the phenomena (that which is shown or appears), from which we make all empirical (scientific) judgements.  Our subjective experience is not all sensory as we have immediate access to our subjective states such as cognitions and memories as well.  Sensory is how we experience the outer world not completely how we experience the inner world (although internalized representations of the outer world may be a part of this inner world).  E.g. even dreams and imaginations are types of cognitions that use images that are internalized from much of our outer sensory experience e.g. of the previous day.  As Kant puts it in the beginning of the Critique of Pure Reason, “There can be no doubt that all our knowledge begins with experience. … But, though all our knowledge begins with experience it does not follow that it all arises our of experience.”  And then in typical Kantian search for sure and universal knowledge he states “Experience tells us indeed what is, but not that it must necessarily be so and cannot be otherwise.”  He goes on to state that universal truths which cannot be otherwise (necessity) cannot come from experience which is all contingent but must come from some other mental source (the mind’s apprehension of universal truths).

The Psychophysical Explanation of Time versus the Kantian Explanation

Psychophysics agrees with Kant that time perception is not like other sensory perception in the sense that there are no sensory organs taking in stimuli which give a sense of time, i.e., there is no time sense organ.  However, psychophysics does experiments to test time perception in subjects.  These experiments are of the nature of given certain events within a duration how long does the subject sense that the duration is.  Very inductive.  Most but not all subjects may consider a duration longer when more events occur within it (this can be tested) or when the duration involves a complex novel task as opposed to a routine known task.  What is really being tested and “explained” here?  It seems to be very weak knowledge.  We are trying to form a theory of subjective time perception by inducing from subjective reports of durations based upon presenting different cases of durations with different contents.  The result is an induction which is a generality across subjects, certainly not categorical.  Kant was asking the question of “what is time” and attempting to give a categorical answer, whereas psychophysics is asking the question “are there any commonalities in how subjects experience durations or time.”  These are very different approaches to the question of what is time.  Kant was concerned with time as a categorical subjective (mental)precondition to experience, i.e., that we cannot have an experience that does not occur within time.  Kant considers time an inner sense, consistent with psychophysics, as there is no sense organ involved.  Kant makes the point that time is not event dependent (as the psychophysics experiments presuppose), as we can experience duration even in the absence of events.  Kant is concerned with what is true about time for ALL subjects (categorical) whereas psychophysics gathers data about generalities of the perception of for example durations in most subjects.  The empiricists seem to say (verify this I have forgotten my philosophy) that time is just the perception of the succession of events (that we see and hear etc..). Kant is categorically (so to speak) denying this, saying that time is a precondition of experience and exists even without perceiving events. 

The Subjectification of the Objective

This is something like the Kantian approach.  Perhaps this is the top down active model (cognitivist) of perception in science as well.

The Objectivication of the Subjective

Neuroscience attempts to explain the subjective flow of consciousness as objective neurophysiological events.

Subjective-Objective Correlations

Not identities or complete explanations but correlations.  This is done for example in physiological psychology studies.

Whatever the case there seems to be this seemingly insurmountable impasse between the subjective and the objective even in modern knowledge!

The Impasse Between the Subjective and the Objective

In some sense this so far inability to show how the subjective is just the objective or to explain the subjective as a set of objective events is the greatest problem, and so far, failure of science.  All of what we are is in some sense the subjective and inter-subjective (of what we suppose of other minds through verbal reports).  Our life is full of the subjective:  poetry, music, literature, psychological and psychiatric counselling is all about our subjective states and experience, (and the intersubjective) conversations, politics, social events, are all part of the richness of our subjective (and intersubjective) experience.  Yet we don’t have an objective of scientific explanation of how any of this subjectivity is created by the brain (something that can be studied objectively),or the dualist explanation that subjectivity and consciousness RESIDE in the brain. We suppose somehow it is, but we don’t know how it is.  When we try to correlate the subjective with the objective we rely on verbal reports (always the problem of non-verifiability and veracity) that are temporally correlated with objective events, such as the Penfield experiments of electrostimulation of areas of the memory cortex in neurosurgery patients who were awake (some neurosurgery is done with patients that are awake) who would verbally report what they were experiencing when an area of their memory cortex was stimulated (note these patients were conscious of both the memory and being in the operating room at the same time).  Psychophysiology experiments are similar in that a subject may be given a specific mental task to perform while it is noted which areas of the brain are active (light up with a tracer) as a temporal correlation.  Here we suppose the subjective state of the subject by the mental task they are given but we don’t really know it unless they give a verbal report (subject to veracity and non-verifiability).  We know that subjective experience is in part (perhaps a large part) dependent on the brain from dysfunction studies (although in some dysfunction cases neuroplasticity intervenes to recover complete or partial functionality), still this doesn’t tell us how the brain produces consciousness or subjective experience.  And in brain injury or dysfunction cases we know that the subject continues, in most cases, to have subjectivity and experience a sense of self (cases of multiple personalities?) and consciousness even though in an impaired way. 

Kant’s Mental (Subjective A Priori) Preconditions of Experience and Consequential Account of Science and Modern Science’s Account of How We Experience the External and Internal World (e.g. memories, cognitions) and What Science is.

Connection to a Kantian solution.  One thing about Kant’s apriori characterization of science (here I believe he means physical science) is that it is structured around a priori propositions, i.e., facts about our intuitions of time and space and movement (the physical world) which cannot be otherwise (i.e., are necessary).  I.e., it is not possible that not.

Kant’s account of perception of objects as intuitions of space and time:  RELATED TO:  psychophysical and neurophysiological modern account (relate and think about)

Kant’s outer intuition of space and inner intuition of time as how we experience objects.  Relate this to the modern psychophysical account of how we experience objects (information about how the senses transduce external stimuli into neurophysiological events and how the brain perceives objects.  I think part of the problem in the modern account is we get up to regions in the brain lighting up but we don’t know how this is a subjective experience of perceiving an object.  Kant is not approaching the problem empirically as modern science does but as a mental exercise looking at the form of his own process of perceiving objects.  We are at an impasse in science, we can only study the mind so far objectively and then we are left to subjective exercises like Philosophy, subject reports of patients in psychiatry and psychological counseling, and fictional representations of subjective experience through Literature (which can be some type of the study of the mind as well --- my father’s approach). 

Copyright Eric Wasiolek 8/29/2019

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