Irreducibility of subjectivity (was Re: Levels of explanation (was Re: Determinism))

From: Robin Faichney (
Date: Wed Apr 25 2001 - 20:22:54 BST

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    Subject: Irreducibility of subjectivity (was Re: Levels of explanation (was Re: Determinism))
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    In-Reply-To: <[]>; from on Tue, Apr 24, 2001 at 09:43:48AM -0400
    From: Robin Faichney <>
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    On Tue, Apr 24, 2001 at 09:43:48AM -0400, Wade T.Smith wrote:
    > On 04/24/01 08:50, Robin Faichney said this-
    > >In fact, some people will insist that to suggest that subjectivity is
    > >irreducible is mysticism. I say they are wrong.
    > That does appear to be the main stumble/hurdle/disagreement between you
    > two worthy adversaries,

    That's funny. I think it's by far the most important point we agree on.

    > but, I must admit I'm not quite to the point of
    > understanding it, so, humor me.
    > Here, from the dictionary, 'subjectivity' -
    > 1.a. Proceeding from or taking place within a person's mind such as to be
    > unaffected by the external world. b. Particular to a given person;
    > personal.
    > 2. Moodily introspective.
    > 3. Existing only in the mind; illusory.
    > 4. Psychology. Existing only within the experiencer's mind.
    > - there is what looks like an obsolete meaning at #8 -
    > 8. Relating to the real nature of something; essential.
    > - that I think we are all ignoring.

    I think we should go on ignoring it.

    > I think, and hope, that you two are speaking about #3, and its extension
    > at #4.

    Nope. The mind/real world dichotomy is a false one. We only know
    the world through the mind. Which is not to say it doesn't "really"
    exist -- just that mind/world does not map onto appearance/reality. Your
    dictionary, probably like most or all others, follows common thinking and
    is wrong. "Subjective" means "associated with the subject", and (properly
    understood) has no implications as to false/real etc. Objectivity is
    built up out of many subjective impressions, and nothing else but
    subjective impressions. An individual impression might be misleading,
    but then so might the result of a scientific study. And in our personal
    lives, subjectivity is not only unavoidable, but very highly desirable --
    without it, there would be no desires, much less their fullfilment.

    > Robin thus says that the emergent phenomenon we call self (the engine of
    > subjectivity) is irreducible,

    No way, Jose. Subjectivity is irreducible. "Self" equivocates so that
    little if anything unqualified can be said about it.

    > and Joe says, from what I can figure out,
    > quite the same thing, in that the activity of 'mind' that has as its
    > vantage an 'I' (the engine of subjectivity) is not possible without the
    > complex of brain and body and experience that evolution has created for
    > it.

    Joe can speak for himself, but I'm struggling to see how these are "the
    same thing".

    > >From the little I know, we can minimalize this subjectivity (constrain
    > the experiences of the person, find animals that have rudimentary forms,
    > study the serendipitous accident victims with injured brains and sensory
    > systems, study the morphologically altered, etc.), or limit the response
    > area (through experiments with sensory deprivation or limited stimuli) to
    > discover patterns or models of behavior that we can apply to fully
    > activited persons.

    I'm having trouble understanding "minimalize this subjectivity". Of
    course, in science, we try to maximise objectivity, but you seem to mean
    something more.

    > And there are unethical ways to study these things as well.
    > If the self is the motion of a mound of grains at the (topologically
    > continuing) instant of its deconstructing, then, I for one, agree that,
    > at one level, it is not possible to look at anything but the movement of
    > this deconstruction, as the structure underneath must remain.

    I think you might be taking the tipping point too literally. Joe has
    been claiming it illustrates "top-down causation", but no one has
    suggested that it's a useful model for the mind. And there's a *very*
    big difference between deconstruction as in the collapse of a sand pile,
    and deconstruction as in either conceptual analysis or reductionism.

    > I'm not sure, though, that studying things such as animals and damaged
    > humans, is not a study of the reduction of this structure that could
    > yield (and has yielded) data capable of being expanded. This seems to me
    > to be the reason behind such studies, as they offer ethical means of
    > defining this structure without intentional damage.
    > So this engine of subjectivity will not run without all its cylinders,
    > but, there are badly performing engines.
    > I know that is not 'reducibility', but is it not _not_ irreducibility?

    Obviously, subjective phenomena can be studied (though not as
    straightforwardly as can objective ones). But what is irreducible is,
    for want of a better word, the "essence" of subjectivity. This is the
    incontrovertable fact that I'm not just a zombie or a replicant, typing
    blindly as neurons compute like the transistors on a silicon chip, but a
    person who feels quite strongly about these issues, and many others, who
    has an "inner life". It is absolutely impossible that any discovery of
    science could take that away. It cannot, logically, be delusion, because,
    as Joe says, without that "essential I" there is nothing to be deluded.

    Actually, of course, it's not quite that simple, otherwise I wouldn't
    have devoted a website and (bits of) 20 years of my life to trying
    to understand this and closely related issues, and I wouldn't have
    said things in the past that *seem* to contradict some of the things
    I just said there. But basically, at least as a starting point for
    discussion, I'm relatively happy with that paragraph as making the case
    that subjectivity is irreducible.

    Robin Faichney
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    (CAUTION: contains philosophy, may cause heads to spin)

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