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Humans can apparently commit to beliefs that are ultimately contradictory or incompatible. For instance, the one person, unless they're shown a reason to think otherwise, could believe that both quantum mechanics and relativity correspond to reality. What I wanted to ask is -- the ability to hold contradictory beliefs might sometimes be an advantage; for instance, both lines of inquiry could be pursued simultaneously. Is this an advantage that only organic brains have? Is there any good reason a computer couldn't be designed to hold, and act on, contradictory beliefs?

Fantastic question. Just a brief reply (and only one mode of several possible replies). Suppose you take away the word "belief" from your question. That we can "hold" or "consider" contradictory thoughts or ideas is no big deal -- after all, whenever you decide which of multiple mutually exclusive beliefs to adopt, you continuously weigh all of them as you work your way to your decision. Having that capacity is all you really need to obtain (say) the specific benefit you mention (pursuing multiple lines of inquiry simultaneously). When does a "thought" become a "belief"? Well that's a super complicated question, particularly when you add in complicating factors such as the ability to believe "subconsciously" or implicitly. On top of that let's throw in some intellectual humility, which might take the form (say) of (always? regularly? occasionally?) being willing to revisit your beliefs, reconsider them, consider new opposing arguments and objections. Plus the fact that we may easily change our minds as...

I just heard that, in the case of Hilary Putnam's "Twin Earth" experiment, Tyler Burge argued that Oscar and Twin Oscar had different concepts in mind when talking about "water". This seems bizarre, doubly so if neither Oscar nor Twin Oscar are familiar with the chemical composition of the stuff they call "water". If they don't know the chemical composition of the stuff, and the chemical composition is the only different between the two substances (all mesoscopic properties are identical), how can their mental concepts of the stuff possibly be different?

Suppose we individuate concepts by "reference," so two mental states/thoughts are identical if they are about the same things, otherwise different. If (arguably) one twin's thoughts 'refer to' H2O and the other's 'refer to' XYZ, then they would count as different thoughts or concepts. What you are merely presuming is that the notion of 'concept' should be narrowly individuated (ie defined only in terms of what's 'in the head', so the two twins shoudl have the same concept). But that is the very thing that is explicitly being debated in the classic papers by Putnam, Burge, and all the rest ....! best, ap

How persuasive or otherwise do you find the dualist position on the mind-body relationship and, in your opinion, do you think it's possible for us to have an immortal 'soul'/mind?

Just a brief answer -- but to me (anyway) the idea of there being a property-dualism, closely related to a concept-dualism, is more plausible (and even more intelligible) than the idea of there being a substance-dualism, as implied by the phrasing of your question. Certain kinds of properties (such as being a sensation, or a thought, or some aspect of consciousness) may well be non-identifiable or non-reducible to standard physical properties (such as being a brain state/event/property) -- but to go from there to the conclusion that "there exist non-physical souls or minds" seems like a very large, hard to defend, and unnecessary leap .... (and then from there to "immortal" -- well that brings in a whole extra set of religion-related issues that probably are best left out of discussions of dualism itself, IMHO) .... As you probably know, the locus classicus of substance dualism is Descartes -- though my own feeling is that the substance part of it is a little overblown by his subsequent interpreters,...

What would a robot have to be able to do, or what would it have to be, for us to consider it a sentient being as opposed to a non-sentient automaton? Please note I am using the term "robot" here in a broad sense, including such obviously sentient (fictional) constructs such as C-3PO of Star Wars fame. I don't consider "robot" and "sentient being" to be mutually exclusive terms. I'm interested in what fundamentally distinguishes sentient beings from automatons that merely mimic sentience.

This is a great question, and one with a very long history. There's a key ambiguity in it though, that should be clarified at the start: 'what would it have to be for us to consider it sentient?' might be read metaphysically or epistemologically. To read it metaphysically is to ask what, in fact, is sufficient for the robot to be sentient; to read it epistemologically is to ask what evidence would be sufficient for us, or any third party, to judge that the robot is sentient. The difference is important because it might be that there is some essential feature to sentience, but it is not one which would ever allow us to judge with any confidence/reliability that some creature other than ourselves possesses it. .... That said, a good starting point for you would be Descartes's Discourse on Method, where he argues (in brief) that the possession of genuine linguistic competence and general rationality are marks of the 'mental', or of 'sentience' broadly construed; he holds that no purely...

If someone is believed to be insane, yet they are happy and are not dangerous to themselves or others, what right does anyone have to force them to be treated or hospitalized? To them we may all seem insane, so do they have the right to ask us to change? What if bringing them closer to our definition of sanity leads them to additional pain or difficulty in life-- is it just to rob them of their former happiness by forcing them to conform to our definitions of sanity?

Hm, good question. But does your question have an implicit premise -- that we do, or think we should, 'force' such people to change? When your conditions are truly met -- they're happy, not dangerous, and, presumably, adequately self-sufficient -- I'm not sure many people DO think we should treat them 'just for the sake of sanity' .... There's a nice novel called "Unless," by Carol Shields, that partly explores these themes -- a young woman suddenly decides to adopt a very alternative lifestyle and her very conventional mother can't help but think there must be something 'wrong' or 'mentally unstable' about her -- raises the question of when does 'difference' become 'illness' -- which I think is just underneath the surface of your question .... hope that helps-- best, ap
Hm, good question. But does your question have an implicit premise -- that we do, or think we should, 'force' such people to change? When your conditions are truly met -- they're happy, not dangerous, and, presumably, adequately self-sufficient -- I'm not sure many people DO think we should treat them 'just for the sake of sanity' .... There's a nice novel called "Unless," by Carol Shields, that partly explores these themes -- a young woman suddenly decides to adopt a very alternative lifestyle and her very conventional mother can't help but think there must be something 'wrong' or 'mentally unstable' about her -- raises the question of when does 'difference' become 'illness' -- which I think is just underneath the surface of your question .... hope that helps-- best, ap

Do people who are blind, deaf and mute since birth dream? If so how?

My first question wouldn't be how -- since it does seem to me that such people can clearly be 'conscious' in most senses of that word, and dreams often recreate (perhaps altered versions of) conscious experience -- but rather of what? But then again, presuably the answer is of material evident through their other functioning senses ..... Why wouldn't you accept that as an answer? Or are you imagining that a blind and deaf person lacks all conscious experience altogether? best, ap

If empirical evidence is the ultimate validation of reality, then what is the empirical evidence for existence of mind?

Couldn't "empirical evidence" include that of which we are aware, during consciousness? Is there a major problem in holding that we are aware of our "minds", or at least of our 'awareness', which is a mental state or property? And once you've admitted empirical evidence for the existence of your own mind, are there *serious* objections to granting the existence of others? Alternatively, can't we have empirical evidence that is not of the 'direct observation' variety? I see footprints in the sand and I infer that a person recently walked by, because a person walking by would be the best explanation of what i directly observe. Why not allow that 'other people having minds' might be the best explanation for what we do observe, namely the way others behave and speak etc.? best, ap

Hello philosophers, I have a question concerning experience. I have dreamt that I have had a French kiss. Although, I have never had such empirical experience in my real life. However, how have I managed to fell like it tastes in my dream? I mean, how have I managed to understand and feel the sense of it if I have never had it?

Hm, if you haven't *really* experienced it, then how do you know that what you dreamt was accurate? Moreover, even if you haven't had such a kiss exactly, isn't it possible that the specific sensory components of the kiss ARE all things you've experienced, if not exactly in that combination? (Why couldn't the mind rearrange sensory components to creat new overall arrangements -- as it does when we use our imaginations, say?) Most importantly, your question presumes we could never dream about something we haven't experienced while awake -- but why believe that, esp. when this very dream might well refute it? (No doubt your sensory organs have the capacity to detect far more tastes and smells and feels etc. than they ever in fact meet with during waking life; why can't the brain fire, during dreaming, so as to reflect those preivously unactivated capacities?) best, ap

Can madness be explained in terms of irrationality?

If so, then we are all mad -- for much empirical research demonstrates the endless ways in which all of us behave irrationally practically all the time ... (see best-selling work by Dan Arielly, for example!) ... And anyway, surely we are familiar with at least the literary/cinematic stereotype of the absolutely even-keeled, coldly rational/logical/calculating supervillain who is simply MAD in his desire to conquer the world etc.... I don't know if there ever have been individuals fitting that description but the sheer fact that it's conceivable suggests that we conceive of "madness" in terms other than "irrationality" .... And finally, perhaps, "irrationality" is a matter of how well the means we pursue are apt to obtain the ends we pursue -- but madness (at least in that stereotype case) is a function only of the status of the ends themselves .... so a mad "end" might be pursued very rationally, or a sane "end" might be pursued very irrationally .... hope that's useful! ap

Are there "authentic" desires that lie beneath socially formed desires? For example, two hundred years ago, most women probably did not want to live like today's women do. This is often assumed to be a product of cultural indoctrination; clearly, the average woman's opinions today are vastly different. Yet how are the opinions of today's women more authentic? How can we differentiate authentic from indoctrinated preferences?

Not just "indoctrinated" -- many these days will argue that much about our cognitive/mental lives is shaped by evolution, and surely "desires" would be prime candidates for such. If (say) having a certain set of desires or certain modes of desiring is ultimately "selected for" by evolution, would that make them more or less "authentic"? In fact presumably we can always, in principle, trace a causal chain explaining the origin either of individual desires or dispositions towards desiring -- so I'd guess that if you want to construct anything like a notion of "authentic" desires you'll have to decide whether simply being caused removes authenticity; or if not, which sorts of causes are consistent with being authentic and which not. (Actually a similar issue arises in free will discussions, where the concern is whether the fact that many/most/all of our thoughts and/or choices are caused is consistent with their remaining 'free' ....) hope that's useful. ap

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