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A review of “The Making of a Philosopher.” – By Colin McGinn
It is quite a transition from the solitary reality of reading , study , contemplation, thinking and research with an end product of lose, revelation and discovery to the practical social world of often one plus one is two. It is often the search for enlightenment and discovery that leads us to the pinnacles of total ignorance and unsolvable mystery than the practice of what has been proved working. It seems philosophically and practically right to assume and expect the road to enlightenment and discovery only leads to a cascaded sequence of knowledge and ignorance, light and darkness, revelation, discovery and lose. With these expectations and more I often raise a book to read, listen to an audio or watch a scene despite the customary practice of listening to authority on a subject matter and accepting the practice of a professional. It seems and it is more than likely true that authority and professionalism that is not held to account even by the likes of me often go ashtray and may lead us on the path to nowhere.
Let it be known from the outset that I have no intention or interest to defy authority or denigrate professionalism neither do I claim any myself of professionalism or authority on the subject matter the author is celebrated and acknowledged for; yet still I feel I needed to say a word or two here and there on some of the more controversial points raised and some others I feel had some kind of circular reasoning and shadowy logical argument. It is clear and it is very much an established fact that philosophy encompassed the totality of what has thus far been known, is being known and will ever be known, what has been, what is and what will ever be; it is therefore inherently susceptible to vast variances in interpretation and understanding amongst those who made it their profession and practice. I have not read any of the professor’s works thus my knowledge of his philosophical outlook and the entirety of his work is very limited and I beg an apology for, and I promise to hunt and read them all. I wouldn’t call my review a critic of his book nor is it an acclaim, it is rather a preliminary inquisition in an effort to make sense of the essence and being of some of the fundamental issues of philosophy in the book as briefly as it is stated.
As it is clear that the book is not about philosophical issues or philosophy, but a biography of a philosopher and his making, it goes without saying that issues of philosophical importance and significance has populated its pages. It is as well clear that the philosopher has gone through the cascaded mountains of enlightenment and ignorance before he has reached his current pinnacle that I refuse to hold him to his earlier held points of views, but only to those he seems to have held on or has discovered. I feel it is incumbent upon me than bother with generalities of the book to come to the specific points and facts and arguments on which I find my misunderstandings and needed explanations and at other times, on what my possible other alternative views are based. I have often read biographies and almost always found that as much as the story is about a recent existence or a relatively recent reality, the story is often told from the early beginnings to the recent standing and reality.
As it is often difficult to build top to bottom we are almost always abruptly taken to a beginning in time and brought forward to a position and reality of the time of narration; May be backtracking step by step is simply incompatible with the general movement and growth of things in nature that the natural order of things are such that they move and develop in a uni-directional manner necessitating an instantaneous time travel to the beginnings of things and all, and then follow them from there along the path of time. In a way, maybe we simply are used to and have adapted to the logical and sequential incremental path of development or simply we are wired in the ways the rest of the Universe is wired, that we can only comprehend everything in a past to present to the future sequence that in all our narrations we often begin at the past beginnings of things and come to the present and forecast the future. It is no surprise therefore that we are taken to the early humble beginnings of the life of the professor in the earlier chapters of his book. Although it lays the basic foundations of his earlier formative ages quests and drives that led him to his later year philosophical adventures and per suite, I find no issues of philosophical significance beyond the normal and common early age inquisitions, search of direction and lose that we all pass through as a developmental stage in physical and spiritual life. It is though a break away from the most traditional ways of telling a biography that it is a story of the development of philosophy in a life of a person than it is a story of a person’s development in philosophy. In that sense there seems an inversion of tradition and a new approach and admirable as all new approaches and breakthroughs are.
That said, I somewhat find it troubling when the philosopher states “Thus it feels as if you are in a bar in New York talking to your friends, but actually you are stuck in a Vat somewhere in Cleveland hallucinating all these, What the scientists are doing is producing a mere simulation of the ordinary physical world-a virtual world of pure sense data.” I can always understand and feel it is not hard to either comprehend or visualize or even relate to an objective existence and reality engendering an objective data, yet further still an objective data engendering an extension of or over extension of an objective reality, but fail short of comprehending the possibility of a virtual reality produced pure sense data. I could be wrong and I stand corrected if I am, or could be excused for may be my naiveté or being un informed, but how could it be possible to produce a simulation of an objective reality of a pure sense data? Doesn’t Simulation by its very definition presuppose an objective data of the objective reality simulated? Would it be safe to assume that all the data about any objective reality are always or almost always incomplete, because reality is affected and effected by infinite and dynamic variables? Though the philosopher seems to agree that simulations are based on an objective data of the simulated, he fails to address the difference of the simulation to the simulated and misses the missing data of the simulated from the simulation due to the impossibility of finding all the data for all the variables and if found and known the impossibility of duplicating or in modern scientific terminology cloning it and them.
Then in his continuing statement he leaves me with a sort of philosophical penumbra when he states “If we can reproduce those signals (i.e. signals that comes to our senses from objective realities) without the aid of actual physical objects, then we can simulate experiences of objects without bothering with reality.” One fundamental fact of simulation to me is that it happens in a controlled environment i.e. known and possibly in finite variables and reality on the other hand is a phenomenon in a dynamic infinite variable environment. Pre supposing that The “If” is not possible, but best possible and there lies a difference between the possible and best possible, there for while knowledge based on existing reality by extension and deduction is possible, but not on no reality at all as suggested. If nothing else the data that reaches our senses are pieces of information at the least material representations of a reality in action or are about a material objective reality. I felt it might be very appropriate to quote some important recent scientific revelations that were published on one of the most recognized publications in the scientific communities, The Scientific American of Nov, 2006 Issue , that I felt is supportive of what I have questioned above.” Observing another person experiencing emotion can trigger a cognitive elaboration of that sensory information, which ultimately results in a logical conclusion about what the other is feeling.
It may also, however, result in direct mapping of the sensory information in to the motor structures that would produce the experience of that emotion in the observer.” It seems it is safe to assume and conclude that the human self in its hard form (i.e. the self not about the self) is a result of generations of common experience the information of which is encoded in our genes and the proteins that preceded our birth, our parents and may even that of our grandparents in the configurations of the pieces of information upon which our initial predecessors were built on. In a way at one level, beyond the basics of what we know today there could possibly be a match of some basic entities of all humans that matches independently of time, distance and condition? We only know what we know and leave what we don’t to the beautiful future to unravel it as it is endowed with that power. Whatever, the explanation given or remains, one thing seems rather clear here and that is the human brain acts and perceives the future and acts now only based on some past or present material common or individual experiences; that makes Now and about Now and what we do a three way union of then, now and the future, the future is what is in our mind what is and what was are what are objective realities out in the real world whether we are aware of them or not. What we do has its intent in the future and what we base our actions are from yester and our actions now. “Our common sense beliefs are not as rationally impregnable as we fondly supposed before we inquired in to their foundations.”
The quote above seems to suggest that our beliefs precede our inquiry in to the basis of their foundations, in a way like the information about ourselves precedes our selves so some of our beliefs may be passed on to us from our predecessors we might even take them for granted, yet their luck of seeming impregnability with rational at their initial inception, however short handed the rational seems at the time and condition is an impregnable rational on itself. The perceived irrationality, however, seems to emanate from the changed and ever changing conditions in time that simply fail to adequately account for. These inadequacies may not be limited to our beliefs alone; it as well extends to everything and every bit about our making leading us in the inquisitions of their foundations getting a little bit of spark here and now, a little bit of it there and then and a little bit time and again. Revelation by the way seems to happen upon our search and inquisition and rarely by mere coincidence if there is such a thing called coincidence. In our journey through time in space often times do all the pieces of information about a thing come complete; when they do it seems that we experience the thrill of revelation. Often our inquisition is nothing other than an inquisition about the missing piece in whatever form and shape. Be it in scientific experimentation and discovery or in the per suet of prayer and meditation or other forms of search, it is often about that material piece missing that gives rational about a reality we find ourselves in. Over all when we do inquire and we have been and we will always do, and we certainly find the real, material foundations for them and they don’t seem to be mere confabulations. In short I feel comfortable to say that reason fails to be a creator of reality but reality can always be reasoned. The power of reason can indeed reveal the hidden reality or truth, which otherwise could seem beyond the realm of cognition and understanding, but do not create a reality only in the space, time and condition of reason alone. Reason can indeed alter and shape reality and yes! Reason can push reality in to the fringes of its beginning and end as reason is by definition a logical construction of what was, what is, and what could be possible in the objective reality of space-time.
These are the foundations of reason and rationality. As much as it is clear to me and as much as I relate to the explanation given to meaning and what it entails, I somewhat feel that time, place, reference and condition are missed out of the play as determinant players in the onset to giving meaning to a described reality. John is not John because he is born to Marry and Uncle William and his long relationship to the name John, but because John was born to Uncle William and Aunt Marry had the long relationship, born at a particular time in space and nowhere else and at no other time in to a people of common cultural or other reference. Snow is white is so true in English and termed so by the English and buch chacha ducha in some other language is at the time the English was confronted with reality of snow were in the place they were at the time and by convention they agreed to call it so and compare its secondary characteristics to characteristics they had already come to an agreement on or the vice versa. May be white is white because it as well is complimented by another sense organ and that third organ refers to the white the same in any language. White is white because it reflects white light wave length light from any surface that is only white. The white light wave length is the same independently of language and that reference established it would make meaning easy and interpretable between languages. In the process of language it seems that our senses complement each other and often one or the other of the cognitive senses converges without regard to the variances in languages. Let us suppose we test lemon and at the same time feel that lemony odor. Lemony odor emanates from a known molecular formula that is going to reach any ones odor sensing organ it comes in contact with, that remains to be the same independently of all languages establishing a common reference from which meaning can be established. In some ways our sense organs are in constant interchange of information and establishing a common reference for everything and all that any one of our senses perceives.
A blind man and a seeing man if they find a lemon they can both establish a common reference and reach an agreement to whether they should call it lemon because the seeing man’s visual perception is complimented by the odor sensing organs and the blind man’s odor perception are often complimented by his sense of touching. An agreement that lemon is lemon can be reached among a blind a deaf, one without a tongue and a sense of smell for there is often an objective common reference from which the same meaning can be established. In a sense the blind man and the seeing man are equivalents of two people with different linguistic background yet are able to establish a common reference and draw meaning from whatever they encounter in time and place independently of their linguistic background. Truth is contingent upon establishment of common reference. “Fictional entities have no reality beyond the intentions of authors-they are invented and not discovered. That is why we call them fictions, and distinguish fiction from nonfiction in bookshops and libraries.” It sounds to me that it is the luck of having no reality the distinguishing factor for a fiction from a nonfiction, rather the luck of quantifiable and qualify able variables under the given paradigm and the availability of them in a nonfiction that is the cause for the great divide that is. Fictional entities are possible extensions of our present near or far past experiences, too small or too large, near future and to the farthest future possible without the burden of proof. Was it or was it not the existence of reality the driving force in to the unknowns to discover and unravel what otherwise is any existent? Is reality limited to our current perceptive and cognitive state? If so what is this search for the cosmic background radiation to look in to the beginnings of the universe about? If this background cosmic radiation the beginning, what lied in its background? Pure information?
If it is pure information does it have material content or is it material? What does it represent and what makes our neurons fire to perceive them if there exists no material essence that is received through one or some or all of our senses? If it is not what is it? To date history is testimony to how many of yester year fictions and fictional characters are realities? As such often times they might have even served as guiding lights in search for the discovery of reality. Could they even be the underlying realities of the overt and objective reality that is only revealed to the author’s intuitions without the burden of quantification and qualification? Even without how and why he gets to the conclusion and formulation them? I could only go so far and leave to every one’s intuitive mind to ponder about. “If I like the test of beetroot and you didn’t, it hardly makes sense to say that one of us is right about the testiness of beetroot and the other is not.” What is the self is very different from what is about the self and what is about the self is very different from what is about the not self. As what is the self is individually unique in the universe the same uniqueness is about the self follows, but what is about the other due to a common reference can be the same. Therefore testiness is as much about the not self as it about the self, but not about the us and them. As there is equivalency reference of particularity between us and them, me and him, while there lies no need for equivalency between the self and the not self. “Consider the taste of rotting meat to a vulture in contrast to how it would taste to a human. Color is like that; the color of an object is the color it appears to have to normal observers in normal conditions, but in the case of Martians what is normal for them isn’t normal for us. What we need to acknowledge here is that roses that to us are red are green for Martians, with no error on either side.”
Even relativity which gave us the relativistic way of perceiving and understanding any reality, gives way to absolute value when it comes to light and establish the fact that the speed of light as the absolute reference for everything and anything moving in this Universe. Whether we are on Mars or Mercury and whether we are Martians or Mercurians a light reflected from a green object will have the same wavelength and establishing the fact it is green independently of the observers, the term green though could have been different as it is a result of conventional agreement, thus could be expected to have been called green by Mercurians as it could have been agreed by Martians to be called red. “-but we always have to distinguish carefully between the external thing we are thinking about and the mental act of thinking about in a certain way. Sense is rather like visual perspective; we may see the same external object, but from different angles, so that it presents two different visual appearances to us; there is one object and two ways of apprehending it.” It is again the over emphasis on our visual and utter disregard to the rest of our sensual impacts if there are that prompted me to throw some questions and ponder about and let you do likewise.
Does the above sentence suppose that someone who is born blind and have not seen a day light in his life, yet think about something external? Or is he lacking an internal vision? If he had one what would be his internal vision like? Are all things we think about visually comparable? How are we to visualize thinking things about smell, pain, loss, test and the likes in the absence of an outer physical representation by us who are able to see leave alone the blind at birth? As stated it a duality of light, the light that comes out from and comes in to us, and a light that is within and can’t come in or come out of us as or yet still every perceptive act is ultimately reduced to a neuron bit and bite to the brain that it does matter much how it comes in. the odor, the visual, the sensual and the test before a final determination is made as to what it is and how it should be acted on, should be reduced to a neuronal bit and bite, which in this case should be the most common and fundamental language every part of the brain understands and communicates with.
This will have established as well the absolute reference for every part of the brain and the other brain as well for an effective communication and understanding. It is philosophy and we are to an extent permitted to stretch or over stretch reason, so, as much as it might sound far fetched to suggest this hypothesis, I make it without any burden of qualification and quantification, just for the sake of making it known that I was not satisfied with the explanation as given and to let you as well stretch your imaginations in to the fringes. In conclusion as we make great stride towards enlightenment and ignorance, we are making the limits even smaller and the gaps shorter by filling in the blanks to make every bit our knowledge complete and continues and merge science with philosophy and philosophy with science. Till such time that all the gaps are filled and limits cease to exist in the language of mathematics we shall try to fill in the gaps with philosophy and maintain our universe of continues and compete reality.
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