The use of neuroscientific data to help resolve phenomenological questions is proving a common theme in much contemporary thinking about the mind. How rich are the contents of visual perception? Does vision only tell us about shapes and colours, or does it also represent higher categories like lemon or umbrella?

— David Papineau

The most controversy David Papineau quotes that are easy to memorize and remember

I say that there is nothing deficient about our current theoretical grasp of mind-brain identities. The problem is only that they are counter-intuitive.

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On the methodological issue, I think that would be hopeless to try to adjudicate between my view and orthodoxy by appeal to phenomenological introspection. We need to know about brain mechanisms.

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I realize that I won't have quite enough time to understand everything - but that hasn't stopped me wanting to understand as much as I can.

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This doesn't show that there is anything wrong with our theoretical understanding, any more than the intuition that the Earth is at rest shows that there must be something theoretically wrong with Copernicanism, or the intuition that time is moving shows that there is something theoretically wrong with the block universe 'B series' view of change.

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I don't think that we are capable of anything like this many possible colour responses. Instead I argue that the perception of colour differences between two surfaces viewed side-by-side is a gestalt phenomenon.

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Of course our genes will make some capacities very much easier to learn than others, and of course our genes themselves are not learned. But the point remains that genes themselves are not cognitive capacities, and that anything worth calling a cognitive capacity will depend to some degree on learning and so not be innate.

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Philosophers sometimes also use 'reductionist' more strictly, to mean 'type-identities' between mental and physical categories, and to exclude 'non-reductive physicalisms' like metaphysical functionalism.

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I favour an interpretation of quantum mechanics (the 'Everett interpretation') according to which reality branches in any chancy quantum situation. On this view, Schrödinger's set-up will give rise to in two future branches of reality, one with a live cat, and one with a dead cat - and the talk of '50% chances' just indicates that the two branches are both equally real futures of the cat that originally entered the box.

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I don't have much use for the concept of innateness.

The everyday concept incorporates a number of different notions that can come apart in in many ways, and as a result encourages a range of dangerously fallacious inferences.

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Natural selection has ensured that each species achieves the requisite effect somehow, but it doesn't care, so to speak, how the trick is done.

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The 'phenomenal concept' issue is rather different, I think.

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. Is there a way of thinking about seeing something red, say, that you get from having had those experiences, and so isn't available to a blind person?

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My first degree was in mathematics. That was great, but it didn't help with many of the things that puzzled me. I became a philosopher because I wanted to understand everything, especially those things that didn't make sense. And that has continued to be my philosophical motivation. That's 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.

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About David Papineau

Quotes 32 sayings
Profession Philosopher
Birthday September 30, 1947

Nearly everybody nowadays accepts the 'causal completeness of physics' - every physical event (or at least its probability) has a full physical cause. This leaves no room for non-physical things to make a causal difference to physical effects. But it would be absurd to deny that thoughts and feelings (and population movements and economic depressions . . .) cause physical effects. So they must be physical things.

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A certain kind of methodologically-minded philosopher of science is quick to read off metaphysical conclusions from features of scientific practice. Chemists don't derive their laws from fundamental physics, so reductive physicalism must be false. Biologists refer to natural numbers in some of their explanations, so numbers must exist. I think that this kind of thing makes for bad philosophy.

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If there is such a simple argument for physicalism, how come everybody hasn't always been a physicalist? That's a good question, and there is a good answer. The 'causal completeness of physics' wasn't widely accepted until recently.

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If neuroscientific research shows that those mechanisms only contain comparative information about colour differences, and have 'thrown away' more fine-grained information about the absolute colours of single surfaces, then that would support my position, in a way that just introspecting our colour experiences can't.

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After all, in supporting phenomenal concepts I am in a sense siding with introspection against the more behaviourist Wittgensteinians. But even so I don't think that introspection is powerful enough to resolve the specific issue about how many colours you can see.

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Even if no learning to speak of was involved in locking my mental term onto doorknobs, it is odd to say that therefore my possession of a doorknob concept is innate, just as it is odd to say that my head-injury-caused singing is innate.

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The orthodox view of colour experience assumes that, when we see a colour difference between two surfaces viewed side-by-side, this is because we have different responses to each of the two surfaces viewed singly. Since we can detect colour differences between something like ten million different surfaces, this implies that we are capable of ten million colour responses to surfaces viewed singly.

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I think my view is rather more radical than Pete Mandik's.

Both of us want to show that colour perception doesn't transcend what can be conceptualized, but I don't think he goes so far as to deny that it doesn't involve different responses to all the discriminable surfaces.

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I think that there are non-physical laws all right: genuine (if not strict) laws written in the language of biology, economics, and so on. But I don't regard that as a contentious issue. Even reductionists about chemistry will think that there are special chemical laws whose formulation makes essential use of chemical terminology.

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The relevant features of scientific practice often have mundane explanations which don't point to any deep metaphysical moral. (Thus it would simply be messy and pointless for the chemists to essay physical reductions, or for the biologists to offer number-free explanations. It's a weird kind of science-worship that views these practical considerations as clues to the nature of reality.)

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I don't think that we can figure out what is going on in conscious colour perception just by phenomenological introspection. We need to know about brain mechanisms as well. We need to figure out what information is present in the mechanisms that constitute conscious colour perception.

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I rather incline towards 'conceptualism', in line with my view of colour perception - I don't think that we can represent objects and properties for which we have no concepts, not even in perceptual experience. In this sense I differ from those who defend 'non-conceptual content' like Michael Tye and Chris Peacocke.

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In truth a clear-headed physicalist shouldn't be thinking any of these dualist thoughts. If pains are one and the same as C-fibres firing, then there really isn't any possibility of having 'one' without the 'other'. Once you properly appreciates physicalism, this dissociation should cease to appear possible - C-fibres with pains should strike you as no more possible than squares without rectangles.

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Schrödinger's cat has a 50% quantum chance of coming out of the box alive and a 50% quantum chance of coming out dead. If you got in the box with it, the same would apply to you. So you really don't want to do that.

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I'm not so sure that I am a reductionist in the strict type-identity sense.

The issues here are messy. But I certainly a reductionist in the more general sense which is opposed to eliminativism and dualism.

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I do have quite a lot of sympathy for Fodor's picture of concepts as information-free atomic entities which get locked onto their referents causally, and to that extent they needn't involve anything much in the way of learning. But even so it seems perverse to call them 'innate'. Here we see again the oddity of treating 'not learned' as sufficient for innate.

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There is a brain mechanism that works to identify colour differences directly, without first identifying the absolute colour of each surface. So on my view there is no reason to suppose anything like ten million colour responses to surface viewed singly.

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Everybody agrees that a future in which you are dead is a very bad thing, and that it isn't made any better by your not being around to notice how bad it is.

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Again, when we view a scene fleetingly, do we consciously see all the details even though we don't retain them, or do we not see them in the first place? Neurological information is crucial to deciding these questions. After all, they are so interesting precisely because unaided introspection cannot resolve them. Rather we need to know what is going on in the brain activities that constitute visual awareness.

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