There is an interesting discussion of this question in a recent paper by Jonathan Ichikawa. You can find a downloadable pre-publication version at http://philpapers.org/rec/ICHDAI Briefly, Ichikawa sees dreams as a form of imagination.
In philosophy there's supposed to be a "problem of other minds". But sometimes our own minds are problems.
Is it possible for others, say my friends and family, to know me "better" than I know myself? Might I have a sort of blind-spot where I'm (my self is) concerned that others are able to see more clearly?
It's a good question and the answer seems pretty plausibly to be yes. The impression that people have of themselves can often be off the mark, and that can be shown by how they actually behave. Someone who thinks he's generous might really be stingy, always finding excuses not to contribute his fair share. Someone who thinks she's not very smart might actually have a lot of insight, as those who know her can plainly see. And on it goes. We're complicated beings. There's no reason a priori to think that the part of our minds that tries to make sense of ourselves overall is likely to be especially good at it. No doubt there are some things about ourselves that we're in a better position than others to know, but when it comes to the larger patterns and dispositions that go into making us who we are, disinterested outsiders may well be in a better position than we are to get things right.
is Jungs' theory of synchronicity simply nonsense? I can make neither head nor tail of it. It is often quoted by 'new agers' as sign that we are all in a way "connected" (i.e networks for a higher consciousness, etc) and I feel that they have abused the original concept, but I myself can't even understand it.
Perhaps we might start with a distinction between two things the accusation of nonsense might mean. One is that it's patently false; the other is that there's no coherent idea. Your worry is pretty clearly the latter, and I'm sympathetic: whatever exactly Jung meant, it's hard to be sure that one has gotten hold of it. With that in mind, my sense is that there's an interesting idea behind the notion of synchronicity, though not one I'm inclined to believe. Insofar as I understand it, synchronicity is meaningful coincidence . More particularly, it's meaningful coincidence between an inner state of mind and an occurrence in the outer world. By saying that synchronicities are coincidences, Jung meant that neither of the events causes the other. By saying that the coincidence is meaningful, Jung seems to mean two things. The first, and more obvious, is that the outer event corresponds in a meaningful way to the inner state. In one of Jung's well-known examples, a patient is recounting a dream about a...
In terms of dreams, do humans have any insight as to what causes them? For example, if someone were to have a reoccurring dream, is there any humanly possible way of knowing why this is? Are they simply a reflection of daily life, an indicator as to what our future holds, or is it our brains way of forgetting that certain things ever happened?
Your question is an interesting one, but on one reading not one a philosopher has any particular claim to being able to answer. Whatever we know about the causes and function of dreams, we presumably know on the basis of empirical investigation—in psychology and/or neuroscience, most likely. That said, there are a few comments that don't seem out of place for a philosopher to make. It does seem possible that we might learn why people have recurring dreams. Careful collection of lots of cases might reveal some patterns, and those patterns might suggest hypotheses that we could actually test. (We might, for example, be able to predict when people are likely to have recurring dreams, or even learn how to induce them.) It's not utterly impossible that they predict the future, but if that calls for the future influencing the present, it flys in the face of a good deal of what we normally take ourselves to know about the world. And as for being a way for the brain to forget, we'd need a much more...
If mind is a special form of matter, doesn't it follow that all matter may possess a special form of mind, and that oak trees and lumps of coal have been quietly thinking all this time?
Or stones. They may be quietly thinking of Vienna. (Sorry; irresistible inside joke.) People who think the mind is material don't think there's some special kind of matter ("Mindium?") that has the power to think. They think that matter appropriately structured and in appropriate relationship with the environment allows organisms to have beliefs, feelings, etc. And "appropriately structured" is best illustrated by things like human brains. The matter in trees and lumps of coal doesn't have anything like the kind of structure that brains do. And so the reasons we have for thinking that purely physical things can have minds don't give us reason to think that just any old physical thing can think. A footnote: some people have suggested that there's a sort of primitive mental character associated with all matter. The view is called panpsychism . But even panpsychists would generally agree that complex mental processes depend on the right kinds of complex arrangements of matter.
Why are people so skeptical about the notion that a sufficiently advanced computer program could replicate human intelligence (meaning free will insofar as humans have it; motivation and creativity; comparable problem-solving and communicative capacities; etc.)?
If humans are intelligent in the way we are because of the way our brains are built, than a computer could be constructed that replicates the structure of our brains (incorporating fuzzy logic, neural networks, chemical analogs, etc). Worst comes to absolute worst, a sufficiently powerful molecular simulator could run a full simulation of a human brain or human body, down to each individual atom. So there doesn't seem to be anything inherent in the physicality of humans that makes it impossible to build machines with our intelligence, since we can replicate physical structures in machines easily enough.
If, however, humans are intelligent for reasons that do not have anything to do with the physical structure of our brains or bodies - if there...
My colleague and I disagree somewhat here, though perhaps on everything essential to your question, we agree. We all agree that in principle the right kind of "machine" could be every bit as conscious, free, etc.as you and I. And Prof. Nahmias may well be right when he says that if a robot of the C3PO sort acted enough like us, we'd have a very hard time not thinking of it as conscious. I even agree with my co-panelist that people's religious beliefs and the relatively crude character of our actual gadgets may be part of the reason why many people don't think a machine could be conscious. So where's the residual disagreement? It's on a point that may not be essential, given the way you pose your question. Prof. Nahmias thinks that replicating the functional character of the mind would give us reason enough to think the resulting thing was conscious. I'm not inclined to agree. But that has nothing to do with belief in souls (I don't believe in them and don't even think I have any serious idea...
'Normal' people don't do very bad things (murder, rape, etc), so if someone does something bad, can't we assume that the person is sick rather than evil?
Why is it that people with mental disabilities, people with addictions, etc. can use that as their excuse and usually get people to pity them while other "crazy" people don't get any pity whatsoever and instead get thrown into prison for the rest of their lives?
We need to be careful to avoid equivocating here. What we can safely say is that most people don't do very bad things; the people who do are in the tail of the statistical distribution. However, that isn't enough to count them as mentally ill or disabled. To come to that conclusion, we'd need to know whether the person was able to reason effectively, whether they have adequate impulse control, whether they're subject to delusion, and various other such things. The mentally ill, the addicted and people with various other mental disabilities are - as the word suggests - disabled. In one way or another, they aren't able to function as we are. If a person with severe dyslexia misread a set of instructions and the result was some misfortune, it would make sense to take that into account when deciding how much to blame them. What's easy for most of us (reading instructions) might be much harder for them, through no fault of their own. But if a person's frontal lobes don't work properly and they don't...
Much of the psychiatric literature refers to psychopathy as a "mental disorder". However, can't it be considered a natural part of the spectrum of human psychological characteristics? It has after all, evolved for a reason; traits such as a lack of: guilt, remorse, empathy and the ability to be superficially charming are beneficial in many areas such as politics and the corporate business world. So which is it; "mental disorder", or "natural evolutionary adaptation"?
I guess it's partly a matter of what we mean. We could decide that if there's an adaptive explanation for some trait, we won't call it a disorder. That said, the fact that there could be an adaptive explanation for a trait doesn't mean that there is and in particular, the fact that there could be an adaptive explanation for psychopathy doesn't mean there is, and we may well never know All that said, perhaps the real point here is that what we count as a "disorder" isn't just a matter of whether it makes the person who has it more likely to survive or reproduce. We might be able to make the case that on average, psychopathy doesn't contribute to reproductive fitness or other related matters. But even if it turned out that it actually does, we would most likely still classify psychopathy as a disorder. All of which tends to confirm the suspicion that diagnoses sometimes (often? always?) rest partly on value judgments. That raises some red flags, as the case of homosexuality...
If everything that physically exists is indeed the result of primordial coincidence, is there any way of statistically measuring the chances that human beings (in our present state of development and after hundreds of thousands of years of evolution) would be able to comprehend the origin and nature of the universe?
In other words, when I think about the organic lump of brain in my head understanding the universe, or anything at all, it seems absurdly unlikely. That lump of tissue seems to me more like a pancreas than than a super-computer, and I have a hard time understanding how organic tissue is able to reach conclusions about the universe or existence.
I think the simple answer is that any probabilities we come up with here are pretty much meaningless. Probability calculations ade only as good as the information we feed into them, and it's hard to see what a well-formed question would be like here - not least since it would require some way of quantifying how hard the universe is to understand. Perhaps there's some clever way to come up with a calculation, but let me turn to your other issue - the brain/pancreas thing. To my inexpert eye, brains and pancreases hace a certain superficial resemblance, but neuroscientists will be able to tell you in a good deal of detail why the brain is better suited to computing than the pancreas is. The real point here is that our casual impressions on such matters aren't really worth very much. After all, a casual look at my iPad makes it pretty mysterious that it could be used to write this response, but that's exaclry what it let me do.
Is it logically possible to have a dream within a dream? Or is there, as it were, only one "level" of dreaming?
A good question.One way of looking at it is to make a comparison with fictions within fiction -- say, the play-within-a-play that we have in Hamlet. The whole shebang is fiction: both the play-within-the-play and the play itself, but we can still sensibly ask what's true within the "fictional world" of Hamlet. (Philosophers have written a good deal on "truth in fiction," but the details needn't detain us.) Our question is about the inner structure or logic of the overarching fiction we call Hamlet. We can obviously say similar things about dreams. Dreams have (more or less coherent) plots or story lines, and the "logic" of those story lines is plausibly not so different from the "logic" of stories, plays and the like. It's clearly possible (and probably pretty common) to have a dream that includes "waking up" from a dream within the story line. There's only one real dreamer -- the flesh and blood person lying in the bed. But the story line of the dream includes a fictionalized (dreamatized?)...