Still-life paintings from a new perspective: how does fruit ripen over time?
A depiction of a time lapse represented in 3 dimensions, from the perspective of 4 dimensions, on a mostly 2 dimensional plane.
Frank Jackson’s famous thought experiment about qualia asks whether there are subjective facts about the colour red that are distinct from the physical facts produced through scientific inquiry (Jackson 291). The story involves an individual named Mary who grew up in a black-and-white room and has never seen any colours, but has studied everything there is to know about “redness” and how the brain processes light. As a neuroscientist, her studies have provided her with a robust theoretical understanding of colour perception without ever having experienced colour herself, leading us to wonder whether she learns anything new about the colour red after she sees red for the first time. The claim Jackson is interested in making is that there is no information about the experiences of others that Mary had not learned about while in her room. If Mary were to be released only to “realize how impoverished her conception of the mental life of others has been all along” Jackson suggests this generates a problem for physicalism (292).
William Lycan believes Mary would learn something new upon leaving the room because she is now presented with a new form of representation, namely, one produced by the act of introspection (Lycan 389). Building on Nagel’s ideas about what-it-is-like to experience things from a certain perspective, Lycan suggests the mind presents objects or features of the environment in a “special, uniquely internal point of view” (Lycan 390). More interestingly, Lycan goes on to suggest that the contents of these introspective representations are “non-physical pieces of information” (Lycan 391). This is because these internal representations are not synonymous with English words, or any other natural language words, because the internal monitors present within our bodies do not rely on linguistics. What I am assuming he means by this is that although we may use language for inner speech or verbalized thought, representations for qualia or phenomenal experiences such as redness or pain do not use language, but are intrinsic to the body and are relatively ineffable (Dennett 385). Lycan also suggests that these representations are non-physical because neuroscience is unable to provide information on introspective content, and as such, Mary could only represent other people’s experiences of red from a public, neuroscientific perspective (Lycan 393).
While this thought-experiment might pose problems for certain physicalist views, our general understanding of the world at this point in time can start to account for why Mary learns something new upon leaving the room. As she learns about how her own body generates experiences of red from a first-person perspective, she is now able to understand how others must use these internal representations as well. Since neuroscience is only interested in the functional organization of the brain and nervous system, Mary does not know how red appears to subjects engaging with particular wavelengths of light. Prior to her release, Mary could theoretically understand how individuals shop for tomatoes, but without the ability to see red, how this selection process is experienced from an individual’s perspective is still a mystery to her. The inner, subjective details of how people generally go about searching for the ideal tomato were previously off-limits, as her abilities to discriminate colours had yet to be developed. As such, Mary’s understanding of what redness means, especially when fruit shopping, would have been incomplete. Her own, internalized associative network of red objects and their commonalities would be absent or piecemeal, therefore limiting her understanding of how we collectively think about and interact with redness or red objects.
Dennett, Daniel C. ‘Quining Qualia’. Consciousness in Modern Science, Oxford University Press, 1988, pp. 381–414.
Jackson, Frank. ‘What Mary Didn’t Know’. The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 83, no. 5, JSTOR, 1986, pp. 291–95.
Lycan, William G. ‘Perspectival Representation and the Knowledge Argument’. Consciousness: New Philosophical Perspectives, OUP Oxford, 2003, p. 384.
I recognize this post will seem a bit tin-foily but I think it’s time we start acknowledging the consequences of a disrupted global supply chain. Perhaps things won’t get as bad as I am predicting but I think the underlying message will be relevant at some point. Ultimately, the standard of living we grew up taking for granted is about to change to some degree.
The majority of foods we consume and enjoy are dependent on global industries which are currently altering production and transportation protocols as demand and supply continue to change. Regardless of whether shortages arise due to nations restricting exports or locusts ravaging farmlands, it seems likely that by midsummer we will lose access to a variety of foods. Today, we see restaurants only offering take-away or delivery options in an attempt to find a balance between remaining open and upholding distancing measures. Grocery stores are either running out of products or limiting which items they order, as I hear shelves tend to be more empty these days. Before long, the service workers who prepare this food are likely to disappear too, as they themselves become sick or simply refuse to continue to put themselves at risk. Facilities where ready-made meals are prepared may also see a shortage of workers, limiting options for those who do not prepare their own food. We will be required to make everything ourselves, and before you call my a whiny millenial, remember that this is just the beginning. Processed foods will be next, including frozen meals, baked goods, canned soups and sauces, cookies, chips, crackers; anything that is not considered an ingredient. Eventually, however, personnel involved with all levels of the supply chain will be impacted in some way, leading to shortages of produce, dairy, and meat. I have been working on this post for a few weeks, and recently the talk of meat shortages has only increased. While we may not see wide-scale shortages until the end of the year, the decline in numbers of human workers is approaching and it will impact access to most foods.
While you may be able to survive a year without a decent burrito, these effects are not short-term as the entire world is in the midst of readjusting. You may have heard the stories of vegetables rotting in the fields or milk being dumped, but what you may not realize is these were ingredients for future foods too. The downstream effects will be a reduction in selection, and by selection I’m not talking about brands but categorical options. The only milk you may have access to is homogenized milk and cream; no skim, no 2%, and certainly no 1%. If you’re lactose intolerant, you may only be able to buy soy beverage given the recent nature of the American agricultural economy. Unilever or Kraft may have to cut production of certain items given these shortages, and suddenly we are in the midst of a type of food shortage in a time where emotional eating is at its height.
When you no longer have access to the things you love, the things that comfort you, what will you do? There are other forms of escapism and sugar comes in many forms, but we take variety for granted. We have become dependent on satisfying our appetites to some degree, regardless of whether it’s through alcohol, sugar, fat, or caffeine. We cope by consuming these substances and take pleasure in their effects, but there may also be other associations with these foods which contributes to societal well-being. Families and mealtimes go hand-in-hand all over the world, and it is difficult to determine how changes to supply chains will impact social relations.
Another option for coping is through various forms of media, as it entertains us and distracts our minds from the horror of reality. The problem arises from the tight coupling of food and visual media, irrespective of advertising. Since food is a cultural activity enabled by peak globalism, and a source of human happiness, we may suffer if this shared experience has been diminished to some degree. This may become especially apparent if images of our favourite foods are continuously popping up in our attempts to distract ourselves. Currently, social media posts include pictures of homemade creations or recommended recipes, and scrolling through staged photos may enrage us if we can’t have what we are seeing. It will remind us of a time when we had it all but didn’t even know it.
Until then, we will begin to value normalcy as type of currency, where our motivations aim to meet a luxurious set of basic needs. First-world lifestyles are built on options and variety in the things we consume, from Netflix shows to vegetarian alternatives. Notions of scarcity in a postmodern society seem ironic because it implies a reduction in standard of living, not necessarily a threat to survival. As we take our current way of life for granted, the more we put ourselves at cognitive and emotional risk. We have to acknowledge our personal dependency on this consumeristic environment we grew up assuming was normal. This has produced a level of entitlement which is about to be threatened or at least thrust into the spotlight, and perhaps leading to a reduction in emotional well-being. Some are frustrated by the actions of those who believe their freedoms are being restricted, and those protesting lock down orders inspire others to demand things “return to normal.” I don’t see it happening. Will this lead to societal unrest, especially as unemployment numbers grow? Of course it’s difficult to determine how society will adjust to this new normal, but I don’t like the way things are going today. Throw a change of available coping mechanisms into the mix and ask yourself, how are we going to handle this adjustment to a new normal? Maybe we won’t feel it until this time next year, but I believe our collective emotional well-being is about to deteriorate, for a number of reasons.
When learning about theatre back in high school, my drama teacher mentioned comedy arises from two basic principles:
1. It’s funny because it’s not me
2. It’s funny because it’s true
This has probably been said at one point, but I would like to offer a third principle for consideration:
3. It’s funny because it’s me
Why is this different than the second principle? While there may be some overlap, we often think of ourselves as separate from typical functions which determine truth values. Sure, we are able to run through a list of propositions about ourselves and can evaluate them like any other, but there is something more at play here.
Sometimes our feelings hint at things we aren’t ready to confront. Are you able to look yourself in the mirror and say “it is true that I am ___?” Maybe for certain characteristics this is easy, but others may be more difficult to admit. Our laughter, however, suggests we have understood some property about the world, and may be able to relate it to other things, perhaps to ourselves and others, in ways that are less explicit or unarticulated. We may feel amused for several reasons, one of which may include a certain level of meta-analysis. Perhaps deep down we are aware of one character trait we are not proud of but are able to recognize in a moment of leisure. This openness to information may allow ourselves to acknowledge aspects of our life or personality which we typically tend to hide or fix. Humour, especially reflexive humour, which turns the examination process back to oneself, can be therapeutic insofar as it allows us to understand ourselves without feeling the pressure to do anything about it. The first step to change is the recognition that something exists or must be better understood, and in this way, humour cracks the door to look at aspects of ourselves we wish to turn away from. The pleasure which accompanies laughter and humour allows us to relax and see through feelings of embarrassment or defensiveness.
Internet memes provide us with a way to laugh at ourselves and share our vulnerabilities with others. They serve as a reminder that we are human with troubles, flaws, and fears, but they also remind us that we are not alone. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our work, goals, and expectations as we compare ourselves with others and their accomplishments. As much as these aspects of life are important to some degree, we must always remember that the image others present to us is just a segment of their reality. Humour, especially when shared with others, reminds us to breathe; life is more than a to-do list of tasks.
There is a rich body of philosophical literature on humour that I have not yet had the pleasure of reading, but one day I will. As much as I would like to work on adding more to my Philosophy of Memes page, it’s a slow process because I should be focusing on school work! Until then, these considerations will be relatively uninformed and personal, and I look forward to rereading and laughing at my ramblings in 20 years from now.
Today is March 15, 2020 and this is just the beginning for North America. Luckily, I was given the green light to remain at home before the university moved online but I still don’t know whether I am carrying the virus or not, just like every other student. Even if symptoms don’t emerge in the next week, it is difficult to believe that I won’t become sick one day. While chances are low for my cohort, I’m not going to assume I am safe. At least now my worries are justified; two weeks ago I felt like I was losing my mind. To some degree I still feel this way, but the widespread lock-downs in Europe suggest M and I were on the right track this whole time. We wish we were wrong though.
I feel like I have a lot to say about this but the words won’t come. At this point, only music can describe how I’m feeling. Sorry, I don’t have a piece list yet, but I will sooner or later. Right now, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else but the virus and its impact. The struggle arises from attempts to cling to the old reality, the one where I was going to graduate in June or July, where I was going to see my grandparents again. The new reality, however, is very uncertain.
But you didn’t come here to hear about my feelings, I’m sure you’re here for my naive philosophical perspectives. Well, I’m going to give you all I got, and I think the only effective approach right now is through critical thinking and inquiry. Get ready, this is going to be a fucking bumpy ride.
Before we continue, make a promise to yourself right now: you will be honest with yourself to yourself. The only thing that might get you through this is your mindset. Granted, I am not a real philosopher, nor a therapist, nor a doctor, nor a leader. Take everything I say with a grain of salt, but I would like to offer some recommendations for others. Do not run from your mind. Listen to your thoughts, write them down, and counter them when appropriate. Find creative ways to keep yourself sane that does not involve television, internet, or Netflix. If you continue to lie to yourself, you put your life at risk.
The US is headed toward mass upheaval and violence. I don’t know about Canada, but I am becoming increasingly worried. They’re not acting because a) it’s technically too late and b) when it wasn’t, it didn’t seem appropriate. The minute this thing hit Iran the world should have halted all air travel, but isn’t that just the most hilarious wishful thinking. We are too entrenched in our economic system to do the right thing, and many have and will continue to suffer. You will be one of them unless you wake up right now and start identifying your priorities and the steps you ought to be taking to protect them.
In case you are still sceptical, let’s start brainstorming all the ways we are in existential trouble:
- Potentially 14 days of asymptomatic transmission
- Doesn’t play nicely with preexisting conditions
- American healthcare systems + the overall health of the population
- Just-in-time manufacturing, shipping, and selling
- Dependency on other nations for producing materials or consumer goods, especially medicines
- Cheap Saudi oil is undercutting Western outputs; Alberta is screwed
- Russian soft power = disinformation
- China’s influence in the UN Security Council and therefore the WHO
This is likely just the tip of the iceberg. Feel free to email me if you have a particularly hot take you’d like to add, and I will be sure to credit you.
Please be aware: the longer you wait to face this thing, the harder the slap on the face will be. Please also be aware that just because you’re ready to die, other’s aren’t ready for you to die. If you decide to give up, you’ll simply outsource the pain onto others. Never underestimate the impact you’ve made in someone’s life.
Dr. Vervaeke, I might never get the chance to mail you that card I wanted to. In case you ever read this, I want to thank you for your wisdom. In class years ago, you said the philosophy department at the University of Guelph was “going through a renaissance” and if you had never said that, I might not have ended up here. You introduced me to Diogenes and shed so much light on my theory of consciousness. Thank you, I hope we meet again. Your perspectives have made a huge difference for me and countless others I’m sure. Come to think of it, I could write acknowledgements for all my professors actually. If I get sick, I probably will.
Over the next couple of weeks, more people will be complaining about a lack of transparency, but turn the question back toward yourself. What are you failing to be transparent about? Why? Can you remedy it or will it cause the house of cards to fall? If this is the case, how many cards have you been stacking, and for how long? You can avoid these questions for now, but are you sure they won’t resurface when your body is incapacitated and your mind is free to roam?
I should be working on a rough draft of a paper right now but I can’t. I’m waiting for the bottom to fall out, for the riots to start, for the news of a dead family member. I know I’m early, this won’t be happening until April, so it will be a long and painful wait. I want to let go of our old reality so my mind can be congruent with the current, but when so many people are in denial it is difficult to do so. Additionally, this transition is slower than the speed of a thought, and like a tsunami, we’ll see it approaching long before the consequences impact our lives.
So how are we to deal with this anxiety? Breathing exercises aren’t enough, stashes of toilet paper can only quell your feelings to a certain degree, and optimism is like credit card debt. I stand and stare out the window at the river beneath me, wishing time would flow as fast as the current so I can be in a new place where things make more sense. That future, though, is going to be a nightmare, so as much as epistemic comfort is desired, it will come at a cost. The realization that those in power could have done more, that their money could have gone farther, that wrong decisions were made. Anxiety will harden into depression, depression will blister into rage, and rage will sublimate into regret. Be careful of your thoughts and behaviours over the next coming weeks, they will have a profound impact on your life and the lives of others.
Email me if you want to talk. A person I love dearly once said “the only thing we really have at the end of the day are other people” and we are about to lose a lot of them.
My peers within the department often joke about life after university, considering the whole world seems to scoff at those interested in pursuing arts and humanities (A&H) degrees. This opinion piece by Laplace, however, is an important reminder of the value of our discipline, regardless of how much money we end up making in the future. As institutional funding is reallocated to support students pursuing more profitable degrees like computer science and engineering, A&H departments are likely to suffer, unable to hire new faculty and limiting course selection for example. Unless philosophers can market their skills to assist with projects from a variety of sectors, I don’t see how society will continue to support our endeavours, perspectives and concerns. Although notions of “anti-elitism” seem to continue to grow in the United States, perhaps Canada will challenge my pessimistic attitudes on this subject and find innovative ways to support their A&H graduates, but we will see. This suggests philosophers may need to do their own advocacy demonstrating the financial value of creativity and scepticism, especially within business, science, and technology. Consider this entry as my early attempts at convincing you, dear reader, that philosophy is much more than writing about central figures such as Kant, Aristotle, or Frege.
Although Laplane discusses many important points throughout, the end of the article is quite interesting as it suggests ways to foster the relationship between science and philosophy. Now, I’m not quite sure who said this to me, but they presented the idea that philosophy and science are able to discuss the same topic in different ways. While science may prefer ‘what’ questions, philosophy tends to ask ‘why’ and perhaps even ‘how’ concepts, principles, or processes emerge. Though this generalization may oversimplify the relationship between the two, I merely wanted to point out their approximate differences. Laplane herself states “…we see philosophy and science as located on a continuum.” (3950) which suggests both an overlap and a distinction in the questions each discipline asks. It is important to remember the common ground, in addition to the diversity in perspectives, between science and philosophy as we consider new ways to unite these two fields of inquiry.
While I agree with all six recommendations on page 3951, the fourth and fifth stood out to me as the most important especially when it comes to developing this program in the future. The marriage of science and philosophy can only be as good as its thinkers, where education serves a central role for this relationship to be harmonious and fruitful. From primary school to post secondary, it will become increasingly important to teach both arts and sciences of various types to foster the integration of the two. I say ‘arts’ rather than ‘philosophy’ because developing a love for the arts may inspire individuals in ways philosophy is unable. Artistic expression, regardless of medium, allows one to improve their sense of self, and when combined with educational goals, is likely to facilitate personal and professional growth more effectively than either alone. Whether it is sculpting, poetry, or dance, artistic expression provides mechanisms for new approaches within the sciences as one remains in touch with their creative side. Although it might be difficult to understand how theatre may inspire work in civil engineering, the human brain is quite powerful in its abilities to “fill in the blanks” and synthesize concepts, if the opportunity arises. Most exciting of all is how access to information via the internet and online relationships can further assist individuals in their efforts.
Returning to philosophy though, Laplane makes an important point about why philosophical inquiry is so appropriate for science. On page 3950 after the excerpt mentioned above, she states:
“Philosophy and science share the tools of logic, conceptual analysis, and rigorous argumentation. Yet philosophers can operate these tools with degrees of thoroughness, freedom, and theoretical abstraction that practicing researchers often cannot afford in their daily activities.”
It is exactly this freedom which inspired me to move away from studying psychology to studying philosophy of mind. Of course, too much of a good thing can lead one astray, which is why empirical evidence and the methodologies which produce it must never be overlooked by philosophers. The ability to defer to experts is a powerful bidirectional tool which carries so much potential for the future, and maybe one day those interested in A&H subjects will find their niche within capitalistic economies.
Laplane, Lucie, et al. “Opinion: Why science needs philosophy.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116.10 (2019): 3948-3952.
If you aren’t familiar with the issues surrounding personal data collection by corporate tech giants and online privacy, I recommend you flip through Amnesty International’s publication Surveillance Giants: How the Business Model of Google and Facebook Threatens Human Rights. I would also suggest reading A Contextual Approach to Privacy Online by Helen Nissenbaum if you are interested in further discussions on the future of data collection. Actually, even if you are familiar with these issues, read them anyway because they are very interesting and you may learn something new.
Both articles offer interesting suggestions for governments and corporations to ensure online privacy is protected, and it is clear top-down approaches are necessary for upholding human rights. Substantial effort will be required for full corporate compliance however, as both law and computer systems need updating to better respect user data. While these measures ensure ethical responsibilities are directed to the appropriate parties, a complementary bottom-up approach may be required as well. There is great potential for change if citizens were to engage with this issue and help one another better understand the importance of privacy. A democratic strategy for protecting online human rights is possible, but it seems quite demanding considering this work is ideally performed voluntarily. Additionally, I fear putting this approach into practice is an uphill epistemic battle; many individuals aren’t overly bothered by surveillance. Since the issue is complex and technological, it is difficult to understand resulting in little concern due to the lack of perceived threat. Thus, there will always be a market for the Internet of Things. Moreover, advertising revenue provides little incentive for corporations to respect user data, unless a vocal group of protesters is able to substantially threaten their public image. Enacting regulatory laws may be effective for addressing human rights issues but the conflict between governments and companies is likely to continue under the status quo. Consumers who enjoy these platforms and products face a moral dilemma: is this acceptable if society and democracy is negatively impacted? Can ethical considerations regarding economic externalities help answer this question? If not, are there other analogous ethical theories which may be appropriate for questions regarding the responsibilities of citizens? If activists and ethicists are interested in organizing information and materials for empowering voters and consumers, these challenges will need practical and digestible answers.
Amnesty International. Surveillance Giants: How the Business Model of Google and Facebook Threatens Human Rights. Research article, amnesty.org/en/documents/pol30/1404/2019/en/, 2019.
Nissenbaum, Helen. “A contextual approach to privacy online.” Daedalus 140.4 (2011): 32-48.