Friday, November 6, 2015

Embodied realism revisited

Mike D, over at the newly rejuvenated The A-unicornist has decided to engage my review--my original posts can be found here: Part I, II, and III--of the philosophy of embodied realism, as promulgated in Philosophy of the Flesh, that I wrote about six months ago—I guess better late than never. His three posts can be read here, here, and here. While I did plan on writing more reviews on embodied realism, I instead found that the common readers of my blog were not really interested in the material, and, moreover, after my last post—wherein I attempted to demonstrate that embodied realism was self-refuting—I felt that I had adequately cracked the foundation that embodied realism lays upon, and therefore not much more needed to be said. But Mike D doesn’t agree (shocker!), hence his review, and thus I feel the need to revisit this topic in order to dispel the fallacies in his thinking and arguments. Sit back and enjoy, preferably with a cup of coffee.

Correspondence Theory of Truth
My first post on embodied realism was an attempted defense of the correspondence theory of truth, in opposition to embodied realism which claimed that such a philosophy is false because it ignores our levels of embodiment and the corollaries therein. Those that read the post will remember that I carefully made my point that all that is required for the correspondence theory to be valid is for truth-bearers to correspond to truth-makers. This is important, because Mike makes a mistake right off the bat in his review by claiming, contrary to the very post he’s answering, that the theory claims that the concepts in our minds correspond directly to real things in the world.” Well, no, this is not what it says, or at least this is not how I articulated my position for reasons that I specifically outlined in the first post, based on the distinction between formal and virtual properties that adhere. So Mike is already misstating my position.

Now, this idea of correspondence is a crucial reason why the example of the reality of color is an example utilized by both Mike and I. As was highlighted before, color does not exist without human embodiment—that is without the subjectivity of the cognitive and visual human apparatus. But this does not mean that the reality of color is not objective, that is, it doesn’t mean that it can be said to objectively obtain in reality. As I said before, there is a difference between objective truth, and truth obtaining objectively. Color cannot obtain without an embodied observer, so it does not obtain objectively, but this does not mean that color does not exist in objective reality. To argue such is to engage in conflation. Now, Mike did engage this point of mine, and found my definition of “objective” wanting:
So what on Earth could Steven mean when he says that he agrees with the authors that color does not inhere in the world objectively, but then he says that it is objective "virtually"? Steven appears to be operating on an idiosyncratic and, frankly, ambiguous definition of "objective". Objectivity generally means that the truth of a proposition is not dependent on any subject.
Here’s what I mean, and it reflects back to what I said above. All that is required for a statement to be objectively true is for a truth-bearer to correspond to a truth-maker. That’s it. It is the correspondence that must be objective, and not the bearer or the maker. So, why is this a problem for Mike? Well, the embodiment of man only renders the truth-maker to be subjective, and not the correspondence itself. For instance, if I say “The grass is green”, you have three parts related to the truth of this statement. You have the truth-bearer in the statement itself, you have the truth-maker realized in the color obtaining subjectively, and you have the correspondence between the two. Notice that the correspondence is objective, even though the truth-maker is subjective. Thus, the truth “The grass is green” is still objectively true, even though we need to be embodied in order for color to obtain. Embodiment, then, simply does nothing to call the objectivity of truth into question here, and therefore Mike’s position here is false.

Mike then continues his point, predicated on the same misunderstandings he expounded above:
It's quite clear that color, as well as conceptual spaces like skies and gardens, cannot fit any common-usage definition of objectivity. Steven seems to think (as would be the case in the correspondence theory of truth) that embodiment serves to "obtain" objective truths. But this overlooks the fact that our minds actually create and impose conceptual structures onto the world. Colors, skies, and gardens are all examples of things that do not exist in the classical sense of objectivity, but rather are what Lakoff describes as "mutliplace interactional properties": phenomena that only exist as an emergent function of our neurocircuitry interacting with the world around us.

Again Mike is conflating objective truth with truth obtaining objectively. Color obtains subjectively, but it is an objective truth that it exists. To reiterate, the fact that our embodiment can create and impose conceptual structures onto the world only affects the truth-maker, and not the correspondence itself, and therefore this subjectivity does not affect the objectivity of the correspondence itself.  Mike seems to have not caught it when I made this point in my original post. Moreover, this all stems from his poor understanding of what the correspondence theory actually means and how I originally articulated it—as we saw above.

Mike then incorrectly sums up my position and draws (also incorrect) conclusions from it:
Looking back, Steven's argument is just all over the place. He defines a property inhering "virtually" in such a way that is all but indistinguishable from Lakoff's position, and even concedes that Scholastics like him do not think color exists objectively in the world, just as Lakoff argues. Except then he says it does, if by "objective" we mean "virtually objective", even though virtual inherence (as he's defined it) directly conflicts with classical objectivity. As it stands, Steven's objections so far are just a mess.
First off, Mike incorrectly articulates my position by claiming that I conceded that color does not exist objectively. I never said that. I said that color does not obtain objectively, and this again demonstrates that Mike has misunderstood my position. I believe that the statement “color exists” is objectively true, and my only qualification is that the nature of its obtainment is subjective. There is a difference between the two, and unfortunately it has evaded Mike’s comprehension.

Second, Mike claims that virtual inherence conflicts with classical objectivity. This is false once again. To reiterate again, classical objectivity only requires a correspondence between a truth-bearer and a truth-maker. And a property that inheres or obtains virtually does not call this requirement into question. It only entails, as I said above, that the truth-maker obtains subjectively, but this does not make the correspondence itself subjective. So, contrary to Mike, no assaults have been committed against classical objectivity, and correspondence theory remains intact.

However, we’re not finished here, and we can see that things are even worse for those who would attempt to dispel the correspondence theory. For think about what one is saying when they say the correspondence theory of truth is false—as Mike and Lakoff do. They are saying that the theory fails to adequately represent the way reality operates—and this relies on the very same theory of correspondence. Even the authors of Philosophy of the Flesh do this! In order to make the case against correspondence theory they tried to show that the levels of embodiment demonstrate that the correspondence of correspondence theory is not a neat one-to-one relation as is supposed, and therefore the theory is false. But by doing so the authors are utilizing the very theory they’re attempting to disprove! That is, they’re arguing that correspondence theory cannot be true, because it fails to accurately correspond to the way reality actually operates. Thus, not only has Mike’s case not been made, it’s not even possible to make it.

Levels of Embodiment
Mike then (still in his first post) transitions to a particular criticism I made, regarding the levels of embodiment. Let me re-expound my argument presently, because it will be momentarily seen that Mike completely misunderstands it.

Remember that the authors of Philosophy of the Flesh claimed that there are three distinct levels of our embodiment: the neural, phenomenological, and cognitive unconscious level. The authors then claimed that there can be no truth statements that are “level-independent,” that truths can only be stated at distinct levels and distinct vantage points and that one level cannot be erected over and against another. (This position always reminds me of Obi Wan Kenobi in return of the Jedi stating "What I told you was true, from a certain point of view." Who knew Kenobi was an embodied realist?) Going back to our discussion on color, the authors stated the following:
Both the phenomenology-first and science-first strategies are inadequate in one way or other. If we take the phenomenology-first strategy, we miss what we know scientifically is true about color. We get the scientific metaphysics of color wrong. Our “truth conditions” do not reflect what we know to be true. If we take the science-first strategy, we do violence to the normal meaning of the word and to what ordinary people mean by “truth.”
The authors are saying here that, with regard to color, we cannot simply erect the neural level of embodiment as the end-all-be-all of the color discussion by saying that, scientifically, color does not exist—because then we do damage to the phenomenological level wherein color indeed seems to exist. But neither can we erect the phenomenological level over above the other levels because then we do damage to what science actually tells us about the physics of color.

Here’s where my point came in. My point was that sometimes we have to erect one level above another, and that many times doing damage to one level of embodiment is allowed and is necessary—at least, if we want our predications to be coherent. A prime example that I highlighted in my post, is cases where we know, through science, that our immediate qualia—a part of our phenomenological level--is wrong, or deceiving. And here we should be able to truly say that our phenomenological level is wrong and inaccurate, and the only way we know this is through science. And therefore in these cases a “science-first” strategy is logical and necessary.

Now, here’s what Mike had to say regarding this point, and it’s not even in the ballpark of answering or contending with my point:
The authors are not asserting that the correspondence theory of truth assumes the phenomenological level to be true all the time — indeed as Steven notes, the authors point out that the correspondence theory fails to even acknowledge these different (and sometimes conflicting) levels of truth, and that is the central issue.
Mike is quite confused here. First, I’m attacking the position of embodied realism, as stated by the authors. So my point had nothing to do with claiming that the authors were “asserting that the correspondence theory of truth assumes the phenomenological level to be true all the time.” Again, my point was not predicated on the authors taking this position. Furthermore, correspondence theory was momentarily irrelevant to my point, so Mike’s mention of it is misplaced and confused.

The point that Mike missed was that, contrary to the author’s point above, our levels of embodiment can in fact be erected over one another and do damage to each other. The example I utilized to make my point was that of hallucinations. Why? Because on the phenomenological level, a hallucination is in fact experienced. It does constitute valid qualia. And therefore, on embodied realism, a hallucination is seen as “true” on that level. But scientifically and neurologically, we know that the object of the hallucination does not actually exist in objective reality. So, should we just sit on our hands and claim that a hallucination is “real” from the phenomenological level, but false from the neural level, because God forbid we let one of these levels make the decision for us? Of course not. A hallucination is simply a false perception, and that’s it. Science wins here. And therefore there is one level, in this instance, that is erected above the “truth” of another and subsequently renders it false.
But, Mike’s not having it:
The authors do not at any point either state or imply the ridiculous assertion that all phenomenological claims must be taken at face value (Steven said, "just because we perceive something does not mean it is there”, with which the authors would of course concur). And importantly, the authors do not assert that different levels of embodiment are equally true at all times.
Whoa there. First, I never claimed that the authors stated such. Mike has once again misunderstood my point. My point was not predicated on the proposition that all phenomenological claims must be taken at face value, or that the levels of embodiment are equally true at all times. Remember that the authors claimed that embodied realism requires us to jettison the belief that we can formulate a unique and complete description, on one level of embodiment, of a particular state of affairs. Therefore, my point, to reiterate it ad nauseum, is that in the case of hallucinations we can, and must, formulate a unique and complete description of the event based primarily on neuroscience and psychology, which necessarily does damage to the “truth” of the phenomenological level, and this contradicts the author’s claim that this should not be done.

But wait, Mike’s not done:
When one level of embodiment produces stable truths that contradict unstable truths of another, the level of embodiment producing stable truths is privileged. That is why we're skeptical of hallucinations of dead relatives: we know from neuroscience that people in certain conditions experience a wide variety of hallucinations that may or may not include deceased relatives. The results from neuroscience are replicable, stable truths; visitations from dead relatives are not. When multiple levels of embodiment produce stable truths — as in our study of the mind through neurobiology, neurocomputation, and cognition — they create an overlapping and complimentary understanding — the kind that allows to us to learn that the correspondence theory of truth is, in fact, wrong.
Big problems here. Mike is doing exactly what the authors say cannot be done, and is actually agreeing with me in the process. That is, Mike here is arguing for a science-first strategy and is arguing for the momentarily privileged status of the “truth” of the neural level, and is thereby doing damage to the “truth” of the phenomenological level. The results from neuroscience, while they might indeed be stable truths, are being erected as the end-all-be-all of the discussion, and are seen as giving us a complete description of the state of affairs of hallucination.

But Mike is even more confused than his oblivious agreement with my stance would indicate.  He claims that his argument works because in this instance you have “multiple levels” that produce stable truths, as opposed to just one level being erected over another. But this is blatantly false according to the levels promulgated by the authors of Philosophy of the Flesh that Mike reveres. The examples of disciplines that converge on these stable truths that Mike lists—e.g., neurocomputation, neurobiology etc.—are all subsumed under one level of embodiment, namely that of the neural level—again, according to Lakoff. So contrary to Mike, if these stable truths—which are subsumed under the neural level--can indeed call the phenomenological view into question, then you have the epitome of one level gaining a privileged status above the others—the very thing Lakoff said couldn’t and shouldn’t be done. So either Mike is right and his beloved Lakoff is wrong, or Lakoff is right and Mike obliviously agrees with me. Either way it’s a lose-lose for Mike.

So did Mike really demonstrate that my criticism of the levels of embodiment was wanting? Hardly. He only demonstrated that he has trouble comprehending both my position and Lakoff’s.

Embodied Truth
My second post dealt with the theory of truth put forward by Lakoff in the form of embodied truth. I began the post highlighting a remark the authors made on how we conceptualize truth, and Mike had a visceral reaction to it:
Steven is already so far off the mark here that I'm just gobsmacked. The authors are not claiming there are no objective truths, or that truths do not exist independently of us. They are certainly not arguing that something is, for example, "true for me" in the form of pure subjectivism. Rather, they're talking about how human beings conceptualize truth, and how shared truths become stable truths.
Is Mike right here? Actually I believe he is (partially), and I do believe that I misread or misunderstood what the authors were getting at. I conflated the psychology of how we conceptualize truth with embodied truth as a philosophical theory of truth. So Mike is correct in highlighting this mistake of mine. Fair enough.

However, if the whole notion of embodied truth is not a theory of truth per se, then how, on embodied realism do we actually ground truth? Well, remember that due to the different levels of embodiment, we can have distinct truths at different levels, but we can have no neutral viewpoint apart from these levels from which to make objective predications? But then, how do we arrive at truth? That is, how can we say X is the case, or is not the case?

Here’s where Mike and embodied realism misstep. I claimed in my original post that a theory of truth is not amendable to scientific results like that of embodied cognition. Why not, you ask? Because one first needs a theory of truth before one can engage in science. Science presupposes truth, not the other way around. Here’s how Mike responded when this was brought up:
But of course, the authors discuss at length the assumptions underpinning scientific realism to which they adhere. The results of embodied cognition do not, as Steven asserts, constitute an a priori theory of truth, but rather illuminate how human minds conceptualize, understand, and share truths. The authors state, "A person takes a sentence as 'true' of a situation if what he or she understands the sentence to be expressing accords with what he or she understand the situation to be."
Let the reader understand that Mike completely side-stepped the issue. I don’t recall any instance where I asserted that embodied cognition constitutes an a priori theory of truth—I don’t recall it because it never happened. However, this isn’t even the issue. The issue is that embodied cognition simply does not have the power to make any such comment on what truth is, or is not, since it presupposes truth in the first place. If B relies on A, then no corollary of B can call A into question. And this is the issue to which Mike is completely silent on.

Embodied realism has not, then, called correspondence theory into question (as we saw above) and it has given us no other theory to put in its place. How then can embodied realism call competing philosophical theories false?

Metaphysical realism
My last post on embodied realism dealt with its relinquishing of metaphysical realism, and why I believe this to be not only false, but self-refuting. For example, the authors claim that “[Embodied realism] denies that we can have objective and absolute knowledge of the world-in-itself… [and] denies on empirical grounds, that there exists one and only one correct description of the world[.] (p. 96) My claim was that this position can only be taken seriously if it is being objectively predicated of reality-in-itself. That is to say, this position is effectively saying that reality is such that X is the case—that is, that we cannot know reality-in-itself. But, this obviously entails that we know something about how reality objectively operates, otherwise the position is literally false.

But Mike is prepared to answer this claim:
When the authors say that there is no "purely objective" understanding of reality, they mean "objective" in the unembodied sense of classical scientific realism: the idea that our mind directly grasps objective truths, and that things like concepts, abstractions, metaphors, and logic are part of the rational structure of reality. The authors' thesis is that those phenomena are emergent properties of the embodied mind, so that while indeed we can safely and reasonably assume that we can attain knowledge of an objective external reality, we cannot do so in a manner that is itself untethered from the cognitive framework through which we necessarily view the world.
The problem here is that Mike’s qualifications of the author’s position do not actually rescue said position from incoherency. First, I was already aware of the author’s belief in attaining knowledge through “stable truths”. By “stable truths” the authors simply mean repeatable and reliable patterns. The problem is that this claim still undermines their position. Consider this question: Is the statement “stable truths can attain knowledge” itself a stable truth? I don’t see how, since this is not a proposition that is susceptible to the type of scientific investigation that yields repeatable and reliable patterns. And this is because one must first have a priori knowledge before one even engages in science, and therefore before one begins the search for stable truths. Therefore, knowledge is already presupposed by the search for stable truths and thus the latter cannot be defined in terms of the former. (We’ll get more into this below when we speak of metaphysical assumptions.)

But it’s even worse than this for the embodied realist. For how do Mike and the authors know stable truths can and do in fact attain the status of knowledge of reality? They already need beliefs about the nature of reality in order to predicate this statement. Since we are part of reality, we need to already believe things about the nature of reality in order to state our epistemic relationship to it.  And Mike can’t turn back to stable truths to ground this belief, since he would be arguing in a circle. Mike is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

 Thus we see that no matter how the embodied realist wants to jettison metaphysical realism, he will always return to it.

Metaphysical assumptions
Next Mike asks what I think is a very important and pertinent question:
The real conundrum is this: can cognitive science really say anything about how we fundamentally conceptualize reality, since science itself requires us to make philosophical assumptions?
He continues down the line:
It seems reasonable to conclude from his objections that Steven believes empirically-informed philosophical insights to be self-defeating — since those empirical results themselves rely on some set of philosophical assumptions in the first place. But as the authors have argued, only a minimal set of methodological assumptions is necessary for scientific inquiry to proceed. From those basic assumptions, we can gain insight into how our minds construct and interpret data, and we only need to make a very minimal few assumptions along the way.
A couple of things here. First, I in no way believe that empirically-informed philosophical insights are self-defeating. I only call empirically-informed insights self-defeating when they result in a reductio ad absurdum. That is to say, I find philosophical positions based on science to be self-refuting when they attempt to call into question the first principles that are necessary for knowledge and the intelligibility of the world, which is what science is predicated on in the first place.

And what exactly are these first principles, or assumptions, that are necessary for scientific inquiry? Well Mike, following Lakoff, lists the following:

•           Objective reality exists, and we can have stable knowledge of it
•           Other minds like our own exist
•           These minds can be studied empirically
•           The empirical results of those studies can be generalized to all human minds

While I (for the most part, and tentatively) agree with the assumptions listed here, they are by no means exhaustive. Before we do science there are still many more principles that need to be proposed. We need to assume that there exists causal regularity and uniformity in nature. We need to assume the validity of induction. We need to assume that things are intelligible in themselves. We need to assume the laws of logic. We need to assume a theory of truth. We need to assume, not that we can have stable knowledge of reality, but that we can predicate things of reality that accurately correspond to the way reality actually is.

Now why is the listing of all these assumptions important? Well, because if science presupposes these propositions, then no corollary of science can ever call these into question. You simply cannot pull the rug out from underneath yourself, and this is what Mike fails to comprehend, as is evident by these statements of his:
If we accept these assumptions — as most all of us do — then the philosophical implications of convergent empirical evidence across multiple scientific disciples cannot be ignored. When convergent scientific evidence informs us that most of our reasoning is unconscious and metaphorical, or that cognitive metaphors are crucially tied to our embodiment, we have to acknowledge that these results undermine classical conceptualizations of metaphor, reasoning, and indeed truth itself.
This is simply false. The philosophical implications of “convergent” empirical evidence can indeed be, and must be, ignored when they call into question the principles that science itself rests on. As I reiterated above, if B presupposes A then no corollary of B can ever call A into question. This is a logical necessity. And this is why Mike’s position, that of embodied realism, continually refutes itself, because it keeps trying to bite the hand that feeds it. You simply cannot kick out the foundation your position is resting upon and expect it to remain intact and coherent.

If you’ve made it this far I congratulate you. (To be honest, I barely made it this far.) We’ve witnessed a lot of things in this post. First, we’ve seen that Mike was quick to point out my supposed poor understanding of embodied realism, when in fact a lot of the time he could barely rearticulate my own criticisms, or his answers sidestepped them so far that they became irrelevant and peripheral to the discussion at hand. Second, we saw that Mike could not slay the correspondence theory of truth as he wanted to; neither could embodied realism replace it with any coherent theory of its own; neither could embodied realism’s levels of embodiment put the correspondence theory into question at all. Third, we saw that Mike’s attempt to save embodied realism’s “realism” through the use of “stable truths” did not work, and could not work even in principle. Lastly, we saw that the results of embodied cognition do not have the power to call our most basic metaphysical principles into question, and that when embodied realism attempts to utilize these results to call said principles into question, it ends in self-refutation.

So that’s it. I have nothing more to say. Embodied realism is false and self-refuting, and despite Mike’s efforts, it cannot be rescued from the depths of incoherency.

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