Monday, September 10, 2012
Notes on Nagel, Religious Experience and Subjectivity
When one makes a decision based on moral values, or decides that his life goes better when he goes to church, there is no science which will verify for him that those are right decisions- for him.
After the fact, perhaps we could plug him into the "happy meter" - some scientific criteria for measuring some kind of happiness level based on defined brain states, say for example- and show that he is provably more happy as defined by the criteria.
But that doesn't help him decide. And this also relates to the free will/determinism issue as well- no amount of scientific data about brain states will ever be able to take away the fact that I EXPERIENCE the quandary of making a choice in my life without the guidance of any possible scientific data, simply because choice is so complex and non-quantifiable, BESIDES the point that such matters are subjective to begin with and involve an entirely different point of view.
As far as subjectivity is concerned- but I think that you will find that any subjective statement, ie: any first person statement starting with the word "I" is not logically equivalent to any third person statement- a statement about other persons places or things. I take that as a fairly obvious fact, though I suppose I could be wrong.
For example the statement "I feel pain in my big toe" can be equivalent to "Bukowski says he feels pain in his big toe" but it cannot be made equivalent to the statement "The pain-o-meter shows pain impulses in Bukowski's big toe"
One is a statement about my feelings, the other is a statement about what the pain-o-meter shows. They do not contain the same information. They cannot be logically equivalent.
This I believe is essentially the point of Nagel's essay on "What it's like to be a Bat"
That is essentially why physicalism does not work- ie the belief that information about brain states is equivalent to subjective information about feelings.
It just isn't! The propositions are being made are not from the same point of view. It is similar to making an observation from above a pyramid saying "Pyramids are square" and saying from a certain point viewing a pyramid from the side, "Pyramids are triangular".
Both are true and both are incompatible logically- because both are made from different points of view.
I make statements about my feelings from inside of me- about my subjective experience. A scientist studying my subjective experience and brain states makes statements from outside of me by observing me. A first person statement is not a third person statement and the information in each is not identical to each other.
For similar reasons, statements about spiritual experiences have nothing to do with statements about objectively verifiable (scientifically verifiable) experiences or states of affairs. They are made from different points of view, similar to calling a pyramid a square from one point of view or a triangle from another.
A pyramid is both a square and a triangle at the same time- and a few other possible shapes- all depending on your point of view.