Knowledge of the 'External' World

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Reply Mon 16 Nov, 2009 11:32 pm
What is meant by the phrase 'external world?'

What is the epistemological basis for this external world?

If we define the external world as 'that which exists independently of our experience/knowledge of it,' then to what are we referring when we use the phrase?

Those inclined to think scientifically/empirically would contend that the world that exists external to our experience consists of trees, rocks, chickens, molecules of O2, Helium atoms, algae, etc. In short, this is a conception of the external world as 'real things.'

I would contend that the world described above, consisting of all those and other 'real things,' is not in fact external, and does not fit the criteria of the definition I offered; i.e. the world of 'real things' does not exist independently of our experience/knowledge of it.

If we can discuss the contents of this world, if we can describe the things in it, such as a tree e.g., then those things by definition must exist internally, i.e. within our experience; how could we discuss them if we weren't aware of them; and if we're aware of them, they aren't external to our awareness.

Perhaps they also exist external to our experience, but we cannot know whether or not that is the case and, furthermore, even if those 'real things' do exist external to our experience of them, when we say 'tree' or 'rock' or some other word for a 'real thing,' we aren't referring to that possibly existent external thing, but rather to a set of experienced phenomena, considered as one, under a certaine name. E.g. when I say, 'the tree is over there' I am really referring to the set of phenomena (brown, green, rough feeling, woody smell, a certain sound when I hit it, etc.), not to whatever may exist beyond that set of experienced phenomena - how could I refer to that thing which is beyond the experience? How could I refer to something of which I have no knowledge or awareness?

Given the definition I've proposed for 'external world,' does anyone agree with the contention that the world of 'real things' (trees, rocks, etc) is the external world? Does anyone agree with my contrary contention, i.e. that the scientific world of 'real things' is in fact within experience, and that the external world (assuming there is one) cannot, by definition, be known, discussed, or described?

Anxious to hear your responses,
Thanks
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 17 Nov, 2009 08:22 am
@BrightNoon,
BrightNoon;103981 wrote:
What is meant by the phrase 'external world?'

What is the epistemological basis for this external world?

If we define the external world as 'that which exists independently of our experience/knowledge of it,' then to what are we referring when we use the phrase?



Anxious to hear your responses,
Thanks


We are referring to what is the best explanation of our subjective experiences. For instance, the best explanation of my experience of seeing a cat on the mat is that there is a cat on the mat that I am seeing. Have you any explanation as good?
 
jgweed
 
Reply Tue 17 Nov, 2009 10:31 am
@BrightNoon,
But don't we normally make a distinction about external and internal "existence" and are we not using existence in two very different ways. At least we cannot quite bring ourselves to say that objects "exist" in our head in the same way that an object "exists" in the world.

In everyday life, we have no problem accepting the existence of the object-on-the-table-that-makes-coffee, and don't we seem to understand that there is a physical object with colour and dimensions and shape ("external existence"), and that if we put coffee in the filter and pour in water, and turn it on that we will get hot coffee in its pot ("internal meaning)? In that case, the object is neither external nor internal, but a combination of both, and both "contribute" to its being what it is.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 17 Nov, 2009 11:03 am
@jgweed,
jgweed;104073 wrote:
But don't we normally make a distinction about external and internal "existence" and are we not using existence in two very different ways. At least we cannot quite bring ourselves to say that objects "exist" in our head in the same way that an object "exists" in the world.

In everyday life, we have no problem accepting the existence of the object-on-the-table-that-makes-coffee, and don't we seem to understand that there is a physical object with colour and dimensions and shape ("external existence"), and that if we put coffee in the filter and pour in water, and turn it on that we will get hot coffee in its pot ("internal meaning)? In that case, the object is neither external nor internal, but a combination of both, and both "contribute" to its being what it is.


I am not clear what you are saying. "A combination of both..." what?
 
BrightNoon
 
Reply Tue 17 Nov, 2009 12:24 pm
@jgweed,
jgweed;104073 wrote:
But don't we normally make a distinction about external and internal "existence" and are we not using existence in two very different ways. At least we cannot quite bring ourselves to say that objects "exist" in our head in the same way that an object "exists" in the world.


Certainly, an object existing in the external world, putting aide for the moment in what way it exists, or what its nature is, does not exist in the same way as an 'object' within experience, i.e. a set of experienced phenomena under a single name: e.g coffee pot.

Quote:
there is a physical object with colour and dimensions and shape ("external existence")


But if this physical object is defined by color, dimension, shape, and perhaps other sensation-based terms (plastic-smell, smooth-feeling e.g.), and nothing else (nothing which isn't sensation-based), then how can we say it has 'external existence?' If every aspect of its existence is sensation-based, then doesn't it exist in the world of experience, and not in the external world? If there is a 'real' coffee pot 'beneath' that set of sensations collectively labelled 'coffee pot,' very well, but we aren't referring to that 'real thing,' are we? Is it possible to refer to something of which we have no knowledge? If 'coffee pot' refers to that 'real thing' and not the set of phenomena, then it seems to me that it refers to nothing, in the same way that 'goobersmoosh' refers to nothing because we don't know what a goobersmoosh is. We don't know what a 'real thing' is, and we cannot describe it at all, or say it has this or that property or characterstic - as, if we can ascribe a property to it (a certain color e.g.), then it is not a 'real thing' existing externally, it is rather a set of experienced phenomena. So, the coffee pot, insofar as we know what a coffee pot is, is not an external object, but rather an object of experience.

Quote:
and that if we put coffee in the filter and pour in water, and turn it on that we will get hot coffee in its pot ("internal meaning)


What is the expectation, 'if we put coffee and water into the coffee pot, coffee will be produced?' I would call that a concept or a thought. Whatever you like to call it though, doesn't it exist within experience? Certainly, who would contend that an expectation exists in the external world, independently of a consciousness? So I agree with you that this aspect of the coffee pot (the idea of its functionality) cannot be ascribed to the 'real thing,' but only to the set of phenomena, and indeed it itself is an experienced phenomenon: a concept.

So, where is the 'real thing?' Where is anything existing in the external world? I contend that its nowhere, at least as far as we can know. We can talk about 'real things' and assume constantly that the objects of our experience (sets of phenomena under a single name) correspond to 'real things,' but we don't actually know what a 'real thing' is. We know only our own idea of the 'real thing' not the actual 'real thing,' if indeed it exists at all. By that I mean only that we know of the set of phenomena collectively labelled X, and we know of the idea of ours that there is something 'beneath' X which is the 'real' basis for the properties we see in X, but we do not actually know anything about the 'real X,' or even if such a thing exists at all.



kennethamy;104046 wrote:
We are referring to what is the best explanation of our subjective experiences. For instance, the best explanation of my experience of seeing a cat on the mat is that there is a cat on the mat that I am seeing. Have you any explanation as good?


That is not an explanation at all. No one doubts that in ordinary life, and for practical purposes, you are seeing a cat on the mat. The question is, what is the nature of that cat? What do you mean by 'cat?' Are you referring to the set of phenomena within experience collectively labelled 'cat' (furry, orange, four legs, cat-smell, etc.), or are you refering to the 'real cat' which exists 'beneath' and is the cause of those experienced properties? Clearly, people think they are referring to a 'real cat,' they don't think they are refering only to a set of experienced phenomena, but that may not be the case.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 17 Nov, 2009 08:35 pm
@BrightNoon,
BrightNoon;104096 wrote:
Certainly, an object existing in the external world, putting aide for the moment in what way it exists, or what its nature is, does not exist in the same way as an 'object' within experience, i.e. a set of experienced phenomena under a single name: e.g coffee pot.



But if this physical object is defined by color, dimension, shape, and perhaps other sensation-based terms (plastic-smell, smooth-feeling e.g.), and nothing else (nothing which isn't sensation-based), then how can we say it has 'external existence?' If every aspect of its existence is sensation-based, then doesn't it exist in the world of experience, and not in the external world? If there is a 'real' coffee pot 'beneath' that set of sensations collectively labelled 'coffee pot,' very well, but we aren't referring to that 'real thing,' are we? Is it possible to refer to something of which we have no knowledge? If 'coffee pot' refers to that 'real thing' and not the set of phenomena, then it seems to me that it refers to nothing, in the same way that 'goobersmoosh' refers to nothing because we don't know what a goobersmoosh is. We don't know what a 'real thing' is, and we cannot describe it at all, or say it has this or that property or characterstic - as, if we can ascribe a property to it (a certain color e.g.), then it is not a 'real thing' existing externally, it is rather a set of experienced phenomena. So, the coffee pot, insofar as we know what a coffee pot is, is not an external object, but rather an object of experience.



What is the expectation, 'if we put coffee and water into the coffee pot, coffee will be produced?' I would call that a concept or a thought. Whatever you like to call it though, doesn't it exist within experience? Certainly, who would contend that an expectation exists in the external world, independently of a consciousness? So I agree with you that this aspect of the coffee pot (the idea of its functionality) cannot be ascribed to the 'real thing,' but only to the set of phenomena, and indeed it itself is an experienced phenomenon: a concept.

So, where is the 'real thing?' Where is anything existing in the external world? I contend that its nowhere, at least as far as we can know. We can talk about 'real things' and assume constantly that the objects of our experience (sets of phenomena under a single name) correspond to 'real things,' but we don't actually know what a 'real thing' is. We know only our own idea of the 'real thing' not the actual 'real thing,' if indeed it exists at all. By that I mean only that we know of the set of phenomena collectively labelled X, and we know of the idea of ours that there is something 'beneath' X which is the 'real' basis for the properties we see in X, but we do not actually know anything about the 'real X,' or even if such a thing exists at all.





That is not an explanation at all. No one doubts that in ordinary life, and for practical purposes, you are seeing a cat on the mat. The question is, what is the nature of that cat? What do you mean by 'cat?' Are you referring to the set of phenomena within experience collectively labelled 'cat' (furry, orange, four legs, cat-smell, etc.), or are you refering to the 'real cat' which exists 'beneath' and is the cause of those experienced properties? Clearly, people think they are referring to a 'real cat,' they don't think they are refering only to a set of experienced phenomena, but that may not be the case.


But you do doubt that the cat is something in the external world so that even if if were not observed it would still exist. What, then, explains why it exists even when not observed? Of course, if I am hallucinating the cat, then I am not referring to a real cat. But suppose I am not hallucinating (and there is no reason to think I am). In that case, there is a cat. If when hallucinating there is no real cat then, of course, if I am not hallucinating, then there is a real cat. Or, do you believe that I am always hallucinating?
 
fast
 
Reply Wed 18 Nov, 2009 02:16 pm
@BrightNoon,
[QUOTE=BrightNoon;103981]What is meant by the phrase 'external world?' [/QUOTE]That which continues to exist when minds do not. The external world is as opposed to what is internal to the mind. Examples of objects external to my mind include such things as my cat, oak trees, and the planet Earth. Internal objects refers to things said to be in the mind as if it were an actual place. Examples include your concept of what a cat is, my idea of what an oak tree is, and our thoughts on how the Earth formed.

[quote]I would contend that the world described above, consisting of all those and other 'real things,' is not in fact external, and does not fit the criteria of the definition I offered; i.e. the world of 'real things' does not exist independently of our experience/knowledge of it. [/QUOTE]Sure they do. If all human life were to cease, my cat would get hungry. No one would know we used to call it a cat, but the objects that we are referring to by use of our words would continue to exist in the form they do.[/SIZE]

[quote]If we can discuss the contents of this world, if we can describe the things in it, such as a tree e.g., then those things by definition must exist internally, i.e. within our experience; how could we discuss them if we weren't aware of them; and if we're aware of them, they aren't external to our awareness. [/QUOTE]Awareness isn't a condition of existing. For example, I discovered a rock that I did not know existed, but it did exist. If it didn't, I wouldn't have discovered it.[/SIZE]

[quote]Perhaps they also exist external to our experience, but we cannot know whether or not that is the case [/QUOTE]Knowledge that something exists isn't a requirement for it to be true that something exists. Knowledge that something exists implies that something exists, but that something exists doesn't imply that we know it does.[/SIZE]

[quote]and, furthermore, even if those 'real things' do exist external to our experience of them, when we say 'tree' or 'rock' or some other word for a 'real thing,' we aren't referring to that possibly existent external thing, [/QUOTE]Possibly existent external thing?[/SIZE]

[quote]but rather to a set of experienced phenomena, considered as one, under a certaine name. E.g. when I say, 'the tree is over there' I am really referring to the set of phenomena (brown, green, rough feeling, woody smell, a certain sound when I hit it, etc.), not to whatever may exist beyond that set of experienced phenomena - how could I refer to that thing which is beyond the experience? How could I refer to something of which I have no knowledge or awareness?[/quote]
We can use words to refer to what we observe, yet what we could have observed had we existed (supposing we didn't exist, of course) would have nevertheless existed for the discovering.
 
paulhanke
 
Reply Wed 18 Nov, 2009 04:48 pm
@BrightNoon,
... I think it is uncontroversial that the scientific world is grounded in phenomenal experience (that is what observation is, after all) ... I think it is also uncontroversial that phenomenal experience is limited by the body's senses ... so the world of human qualia - of trees qua trees and rocks qua rocks - is indeed human phenomenal experience ... but the fact is that there are regularities within human phenomenal experience that can lead one to predict something that is beyond human phenomenal experience, build a prosthetic sense to detect it, and verify the prediction ... that you can also turn such a prosthetic sense on a tree qua tree to discover a tree qua cells or a tree qua molecules ... that you can then reverse such discoveries to predict that if you take a number of things that are phenomenally experienced one way and combine/refine/etc. them it will result in a new thing that is phenomenally experienced in an entirely different way (say, H and O, and through a process of combustion produce H2O) ... these all would appear to be good epistemological justifications to claim that one "knows" (in the "justified true belief" sense) that there is an external world beyond what has been / can be phenomenally experienced, yes? ...
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Wed 18 Nov, 2009 06:35 pm
@paulhanke,
paulhanke;104386 wrote:
... I think it is uncontroversial that the scientific world is grounded in phenomenal experience (that is what observation is, after all) ... I think it is also uncontroversial that phenomenal experience is limited by the body's senses ... so the world of human qualia - of trees qua trees and rocks qua rocks - is indeed human phenomenal experience ...


But trees and rocks cannot consist of human experience (if that is what you are saying-it is hard to tell). Since:

1. Trees and rocks are what cause people to have experiences of trees and rocks, and the cause cannot be identical with the effect. And,
2. We know that there were trees and rocks before there were human beings to have experiences of trees and rocks. And we know that because we know that Earth is much older that any sentient beings, let alone people.
 
paulhanke
 
Reply Wed 18 Nov, 2009 07:16 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;104397 wrote:
1. Trees and rocks are what cause people to have experiences of trees and rocks, and the cause cannot be identical with the effect.


... I think one of the things BrightNoon is asking for is an epistemological justification for just such a statement as this ... that is, what we call a tree is qualia (smooth green, rough brown, tall, etc.) - what justification is there to believe that this qualia is anything more than pure qualia? ... what justification is there to believe that this qualia is instead derivative of our being situated within a larger world? ...
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Wed 18 Nov, 2009 07:26 pm
@paulhanke,
paulhanke;104407 wrote:
... I think one of the things BrightNoon is asking for is an epistemological justification for just such a statement as this ... that is, what we call a tree is qualia (smooth green, rough brown, tall, etc.) - what justification is there to believe that this qualia is anything more than pure qualia? ... what justification is there to believe that this qualia is instead derivative of our being situated within larger world? ...


Well, as I have asked before, what explanation is there for our having these qualia (as you call them) except that there are material objects that cause us to have them? Or do you believe they have no cause? Our commonsense explanation of "qualia" without there being any objects that cause us to have the qualia is that they are hallucinations. Pink elephants and the like. But we distinguish between hallucinations and actual perceptions just by holding that the latter are caused by material objects, but that the former are not. So, the next question is how would you and Bright Noon distinguish between hallucinations and perceptions of the world? Or, would you not make such a distinction. Would you both say that the world is really an hallucination? These are questions which must inevitably be raised when you take the position that there is no external world. 1. Where do our perceptions come from? 2. What is the difference between an hallucination and reality?
 
paulhanke
 
Reply Wed 18 Nov, 2009 07:50 pm
@kennethamy,
... sounds like you have a pretty clear gist of BrightNoon's OP now Smile ... for the record, there is no "both" here ... where BrightNoon says "Does anyone agree with my contrary contention, i.e. that the scientific world of 'real things' is in fact within experience, and that the external world (assuming there is one) cannot, by definition, be known, discussed, or described?" I would rather say "The world of trees qua trees is experience, and that science provides us with a justification for believing that there is an external world by allowing us to peer (both theoretically and prosthetically) beyond the phenomenal treeness of trees." ...
 
Kielicious
 
Reply Wed 18 Nov, 2009 08:28 pm
@kennethamy,
Knowledge from the external world comes to 'us' (the individual) as follows:

Source --> Medium --> Mind

Information is sent from a source, passing through the medium of our senses, and is finally represented by our minds. Does this mean we have access to 'objective' reality? No it doesnt. Mainly because the information received from the source passing through a medium can 'misrepresent' the information gathered from the source. We know this from not only the fact that different mediums promote different perceptions, but also from our own constant mediums (i.e. illusions). So does this imply that everybody's perception of reality is equally valid? It should comes as no surprise: no, of course not. I tend to think this is mind-numbingly basic so I wont waste my time with a response of explaining why (not to mention I hold the same amount of respect towards everyone on this forum), but if needed, and some still dont understand, it can certainly be done.

Now, what does the solipsistic scenario say? Basically, its as circular as you can get. There is no Source or Medium, but only Mind. Existence necessarily begins and ends with the individual, and this poses major problems for the solipsist. For when pressed of where the information is coming from that allows such vivid expressions of 'reality' it should come as no surprise that the solipsist cannot, and does not, avoid being entirely egocentric (1). It's nice to know all the great masterpieces of art, music, drama, video, speech, etc. -every act in the history of not only humanity, but reality itself, is taken credit entirely by the solipsist. I hope this comes as much of an insult to me, as it does to you. Without continuing for too long about how absurd solipsism is (believe me I can go on for awhile) I will end with the solipsists, themselves, to contradict their own worldview. Because of course the solipsist doesnt think any of this, of course they believe in other minds and an external world, because why else do they also look both ways when crossing a street? why else are they talking about this to other people? and why are they going to respond to this post? because they dont actually believe in what they are asserting.

It must be noted that this topic is about 'proving' the existence of the external world and it can certainly be said that I didnt show any 'evidence' in support, but didnt I... (*reductio ad absurdum*) I was also aware that any 'evidence' shown would be rejected by the solipsist so I went this route instead.


1. Solipsism inherently denies an external world, link, hence the topic. So if the solipsist replies with a 'matrix-like' reality or brains in vats, then the immediate argument that disqualifies that is how do we know when we are in 'true' reality? Ex: Neo could have still been in the matrix after he was 'unplugged'. So either we accept that the information we receive is coming from 'true' reality or we go back forever in an infinite series of matrix-like possibilities. Not to mention that matrix's and brains in vats scenarios imply an external world, thus contradicting solipsism's stance.
 
l0ck
 
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 02:36 am
@BrightNoon,
i think you hit the nail on the head, im happy with the original definition you gave..

'that which exists independently of our experience/knowledge of it,'

its easy to imagine that, our environment is literally everything we do not know.. all matter being condensed quality awaiting our discovery and absorption.. we take in those infinite qualities from our finite environment and internalize them and formulate and create and re-create the environment as we become more and more aware of quality that surrounds us.. and the finite realm gets re-arranged and re-created by our hunger for more qualities, we take in a new quality, and it leads us to another, we can start with any one quality and proceed to the next, its a network of knowledge that is shaped very much like a plant or tree and we all start out on different 'limbs' and begin proceeding down the network of discovery collectively.. we are separated from the environment in order to differentiate it, because differentiation is what allows us to discover quality.. we learn by opposition and reason of apparent absence.. its like a egg, and we will eat it all until its gone and becomes us and in turn gets re-created by us.. our creativity is then expressed as we gain more and more qualities from the environment, and the environment in turn gets re-arranged by us, only leading us to more quality.. its a self-created process..

look at how, over time, we have become increasingly faster at creating.. this is because our population increases, and our qualitative absorption rate therefore increases.. our own creations make it increasingly easier to absorb and release energy and quality from the mass that surrounds us.. we become aware, faster..

so yes, its easy to grasp a concept that all things are apart of one thing, and find yourself feeling very 'internal' about your 'externalized' world of information that surrounds you.. Bolzano pointed out over 150 years ago that just one infinite aspect of existence is enough to prove that the whole is infinite, and there are tons of infinite aspects of existence.. and then of course there was george cantor who, again, pushed this idea further down the 'tree', discovering his amazing concept of aleph-powers of infinity.. and yes, its true that quality exists in our minds and all your sensual data gets assembled there in the form of quality, that is to say, even seeing or hearing is thinking, so even taking this empirical approach can lead you to feel the same way at this point in our state of awareness..

its easy to see how this is a double sided coin.. by being separated, we realize we are not separated.. by being constrained we learn what freedom is, by learning the concept of dark we discover the concept of light.. its all a very paradoxical process.. limited by our perception.. but we are a self-created species, we self-generate, self-improve, self-purge, self-create, ect.. its the evolutionary process.. however we are very unaware, hints the existence of our environment, as nothing gets expressed without absolute purpose.. where there is no light, life does not form eyes to anticipate it.. IE purpose..

the environment still exists at this point, there are still things you and I are not aware of nor apart of in any terms of awareness, and therefore it has purpose to remain 'external', and im getting hungry.. lets eat.. eggs anyone?
 
BrightNoon
 
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 04:42 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;104194 wrote:
What, then, explains why it exists even when not observed?


It doesn't, that's the whole point! But let me qualify that statement. If we assume that there is an external world, full of 'real things' that correspond to the objects of experience (the sets of phenomena under single names, e.g. 'cat'), then we can rightly say that the 'real cat' exists even when we are not observing it. However, the 'cat' (i.e. the set of experienced phenomena under that name) does not exist when unobserved. By definition, if you are not experiencing the set of phenomena labelled 'cat,' then that set of phenomena is not being experienced, and does not at that time exist, as surely experience cannot exist independently of experience. So again, when not being observed by a person, the 'real cat' does exist (assuming there are 'real things' at all), but the 'cat' (set experienced phenomena) does not.

We assume commonly in everyday life that the 'cat' (the set of experienced phenomena) exists even when unobserved, but that is certainly not true, as I said, by definition. But by saying 'the cat exists even when unobserved' in daily life, neither do we mean to refer to the theoretical 'real cat.' So, what we mean commonly by saying 'the cat exists even when not being observed' is that, if we look back in the direction of the cat, we will see it. And that information is highly useful, but has nothing to do with the actual existence of the cat when unobserved.

Quote:
Of course, if I am hallucinating the cat, then I am not referring to a real cat. But suppose I am not hallucinating (and there is no reason to think I am). In that case, there is a cat. If when hallucinating there is no real cat then, of course, if I am not hallucinating, then there is a real cat. Or, do you believe that I am always hallucinating?


I believe that there is no difference, from within the first person perspective (i.e. absent third person verification) between a hallucination and an 'accurate' experience.

fast;104355 wrote:
Awareness isn't a condition of existing.


I think you have gotten to the root of the opposition to my concept. Yes, awareness of something is not neccessarily a condition of the existence of that something. But awareness of something is always and absolutely a condition of knowing that that something exists. And that is the issue! This is epistemology, not ontology. It's not about what may or may not exist, it's about what we know exists, and how we know it. Of course, this provide a basis for ontology - as, how can we say that X exists unless we are aware that X exists? If we do not have to know that something exists in order to claim truthfully that it does exist, then the statement 'there are men living on Mars' can without objection be called a true statement.


paulhanke;104386 wrote:
... I think it is uncontroversial that the scientific world is grounded in phenomenal experience (that is what observation is, after all) ... I think it is also uncontroversial that phenomenal experience is limited by the body's senses ... so the world of human qualia - of trees qua trees and rocks qua rocks - is indeed human phenomenal experience ... but the fact is that there are regularities within human phenomenal experience that can lead one to predict something that is beyond human phenomenal experience, build a prosthetic sense to detect it, and verify the prediction ... that you can also turn such a prosthetic sense on a tree qua tree to discover a tree qua cells or a tree qua molecules ... that you can then reverse such discoveries to predict that if you take a number of things that are phenomenally experienced one way and combine/refine/etc. them it will result in a new thing that is phenomenally experienced in an entirely different way (say, H and O, and through a process of combustion produce H2O) ... these all would appear to be good epistemological justifications to claim that one "knows" (in the "justified true belief" sense) that there is an external world beyond what has been / can be phenomenally experienced, yes? ...


I totally agree. There is every reason to assume that an external world exists. I contend only that:

1. The claim that an external world exists is, however self-evidently true it may seem, still an assumption.

2. The world of trees, rocks, and planets (which I usually call the 'scientific/empiric world') is NOT the external world, assuming the latter exists. The empiric world consists of things defined by sensation-derived characteristics. E.g. 'Tree,' defined and definable ONLY in terms of sensation-derived characteristics (woody, brown, tall, etc), does not exist except in experience. While we assume a 'real tree' exists beneath and is the cause of those experienced phenomena collectively labelled 'tree,' that 'real thing' is not known, and it is not what we are referring to when talking about a tree. If we say 'the tree is brown,' we clearly are referring to the experiential tree, as it is defined by such characteristics, and not to the 'real tree,' which, by definition, is not defined by experienced phenomena such as 'brown.'

So again, I don't deny the existence of an external world. I demand only that the claim that such does exist be ackowledged as the assumption it is and, furthermore, that the empiric world exists within experience and therefore is not that external world.

kennethamy;104411 wrote:
Well, as I have asked before, what explanation is there for our having these qualia (as you call them) except that there are material objects that cause us to have them?


But what is a 'material object?' If you mean, something external to experience of which we have and can, by definition, have no knowledge, then I agree totally, though the existent at all of those things is an assumption. On the other hand, if by 'material object' you mean something like a rock or a tree, which can be described as being brown, hard, fiberous, etc., then no, those things cannot be the cause of the qualia - those 'things' are nothing but the label for a set of phenomena observed to occur together. So, if you mean the latter by 'material object,' what you are really saying is that qualia are the cause of qualia, which makes even less sense that saying there is no cause.

[/quote]Or do you believe they have no cause? Our commonsense explanation of "qualia" without there being any objects that cause us to have the qualia is that they are hallucinations. Pink elephants and the like. But we distinguish between hallucinations and actual perceptions just by holding that the latter are caused by material objects, but that the former are not. So, the next question is how would you and Bright Noon distinguish between hallucinations and perceptions of the world? Or, would you not make such a distinction. Would you both say that the world is really an hallucination?[/quote]

I could say the world is 'real' or a 'hallucination,' as it makes no difference. So no, I don't distinguish between the two for the first person perspective. See my comments on this issue above.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 06:43 am
@paulhanke,
paulhanke;104414 wrote:
... I would rather say "The world of trees qua trees is experience, and that science provides us with a justification for believing that there is an external world by allowing us to peer (both theoretically and prosthetically) beyond the phenomenal treeness of trees." ...


But how could that be, since it implies that there would be no trees unless there was experience of trees, and we know that is false? Trees exist whether or not they are experienced. Of course, we may not know they exist unlesss they are experienced, but that is something quite different, and needs discussion separately. But (as fast pointed out) we need not know something exists for it to exist. And one reason we know that they exist independently of being experienced is that we know that they existed a long time before any people existed. That the existence of material objects predates the existence of people. And there are other good reason too. But it is not hard to tell whether you think that there are trees independently of experience or not? Bright Noon certainly does not. And I thought you agreed with him. But now you tell me that science allows us to "peer" (whatever that means) "beyond the phenomenal treeness of trees". I am not sure since all of this is couched in "philosophese", but you seem to be saying that there are trees that cause our experiences of trees, and I thought you had denied that along with Bright Noon. Are there trees independently of our experiences or not?

---------- Post added 11-19-2009 at 08:05 AM ----------

BrightNoon;104443 wrote:

I believe that there is no difference, from within the first person perspective (i.e. absent third person verification) between a hallucination and an 'accurate' experience.





I totally agree. There is every reason to assume that an external world exists. I contend only that:

1. The claim that an external world exists is, however self-evidently true it may seem, still an assumption.

2. The world of trees, rocks, and planets (which I usually call the 'scientific/empiric world') is NOT the external world, assuming the latter exists. The empiric world consists of things defined by sensation-derived characteristics. E.g. 'Tree,' defined and definable ONLY in terms of sensation-derived characteristics (woody, brown, tall, etc), does not exist except in experience. While we assume a 'real tree' exists beneath and is the cause of those experienced phenomena collectively labelled 'tree,' that 'real thing' is not known, and it is not what we are referring to when talking about a tree. If we say 'the tree is brown,' we clearly are referring to the experiential tree, as it is defined by such characteristics, and not to the 'real tree,' which, by definition, is not defined by experienced phenomena such as 'brown.'

So again, I don't deny the existence of an external world. I demand only that the claim that such does exist be ackowledged as the assumption it is and, furthermore, that the empiric world exists within experience and therefore is not that external world.




I could say the world is 'real' or a 'hallucination,' as it makes no difference. So no, I don't distinguish between the two for the first person perspective. See my comments on this issue above.


It isn't true that we cannot distinguish, even from what you call "the first person perspective" between an hallucination and the real thing. An experienced traveler in the desert may very well know that the "oasis" he seems to see is really a mirage, for he knows that mirages very often appear at this place in the desert. And it may appear that a stick half-immersed in water is a bent stick (although not really, for sticks half-immersed in water don't really look very much like bent sticks) but I know very well that the stick is not bent. For one thing, I can see the water. But even if it were true that we are always fooled by hallucinations (which I repeat is not true) that would not mean that there was no difference between hallucinations and the real article. That would be like saying that since we are fooled by counterfeit money, there is no difference between counterfeit and genuine money.

If you think there is every reason to believe that an external world exists, then why do you think it is an "assumption" that an external world exists? As you used the term, "assumption" I thought you meant that an assumption was something for which we have no good reason. But now you say that although we have (I take it you mean, good reason) to believe the external world exists, you insist it is an assumption. But now, I do not know why you call it an assumption. If you just mean, as you may mean, that it is an inference from what we directly perceive, I understand what you mean, although I disagree with you about that too.
 
paulhanke
 
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 01:31 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;104458 wrote:
I am not sure since all of this is couched in "philosophese", but you seem to be saying that there are trees that cause our experiences of trees, and I thought you had denied that along with Bright Noon. Are there trees independently of our experiences or not?


... I am saying that science gives us justification to believe that there are things in the external world that are the cause of the experience we call "tree" ... however, that experience is made up of qualia such as "green" ... and science also tells us that "green" does not exist in the external world - in the external world, there is (as far as science can peer into it) electromagnetic radiation of a certain wavelength, but there is no "green" ... "green" is human qualia that arises only when humans come into contact with electromagnetic radiation of a certain wavelength ... so if the experience we call "tree" is made up of qualia that have no existence independent of us, then the experience we call "tree" also has no existence independent of us ... but that in no way implies that the external world does not exist without humans - it merely means that human experience does not exist without humans Smile ... so getting back to your question, "Are there trees independently of our experiences or not?", the answer really boils down to how you choose define "tree" ... if you define "tree" by how we experience it (e.g., smooth green leaves, rough brown bark), then by definition trees do not exist independently of our experience (which is BrightNoon's starting point for asking his question) ... if you instead define "tree" as that which is the external cause of the experience of a tree, then yes, trees exist independently of our experience ... it is this latter definition I was shooting for with my "philosophese" - but again, it is science that provides a justification for believing that this latter definition is accurate (by showing us that there is much more to a tree than just the phenomenal experience of it) ...

 
BrightNoon
 
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 02:00 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;104458 wrote:
It isn't true that we cannot distinguish, even from what you call "the first person perspective" between an hallucination and the real thing. An experienced traveler in the desert may very well know that the "oasis" he seems to see is really a mirage, for he knows that mirages very often appear at this place in the desert.


We can indeed distinguish between a hallucination and 'the real thing' from a first person perspective in the sense you have described above. However, that is not what I meant by 'from a first person perspective.' This desert traveller is not able to make his distinction and judge the mirage as a mirage by virtue of his own perception alone, but rather by virtue of some knowledge which he can only have acquired from another person, or from past experience of his own. The point I should like to make is that, in any given moment, any given experience, as such, without reference to any others, is the same whether it is an hallucination or a 'true' experience. Imagine a person who suddenly appeared in the world, with no memories or knowledge, and he is alone. Is it possible for him to distinguish between a mirage and an acual oasis? No, it is not.

This might seem pedantic, but it really is important. No experience, per se, can be known to be either a hallucination or a true experience, so that any given person can learn to distinguish between a hallucination and a true experience only by comparing the experience in question to either a previous experience of his own, or to the experience of another person as it's recounted to him. Would you agree? Consider that the previous experience of the person, or the experience of the other person also cannot be judged real or hallucinatory except by reference to yet another, and so on ad infinitum. Would you agree? So I ask, how then, if none of these experience individually can be determined to be real or hallucinatory, can the sum of them be used to make that determination? In other words, how does a collection of experiences that may or may not be hallucinations lead to the certainty that one or several of them are not hallucinations? The obvious answer is that, if several of them agree, then those are real, while the minority that do not are in fact hallucinations. Doesn't this already assume that there is in fact a constant, real world, existing beyond experience, to which we have access through experience? Yes, it does, doesn't it? But that is impossible, if there is a constant external world, it cannnot, by definition, be known to us through experience. My point is that, while we might verify that a particular experience is in concord with many others and therefore determine that it is valid and not hallucinatory, that does mean that this experience is of something real; it means only what we've already said: i.e. that it is in agreement with many others. I contend that, while the fact that many human experiences from different persons can be compared and used to generate a vision of the 'objective world,' that is not proof of the existence of an external world synonymous with this 'objective world,' but rather of the similiarity between persons.

Quote:
If you think there is every reason to believe that an external world exists, then why do you think it is an "assumption" that an external world exists?


Because I cannot prove that such a world exists, in the same way that I can prove that my own experience exists. Therefore, that it exists is an assumption. Again, not an unfounded assumption, but still an assumption. A similiar assumption would be that the sun will rise tommorow. I have every reason to believe it will, but it is an assumption. I cannot know for a fact that it will come up tommorow. And remember, this is epistemology, so that distinction, between proved fact and assumption, makes a difference.
 
l0ck
 
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 04:14 pm
@BrightNoon,
There's no undeniable conclusive evidence that anything really exists independently of the mind. To prove, is essentially a intuitive process and the imaginative power of the instinctive mind provides a necessary supplement to all scientific knowledge. We can ultimately provide a infinite number of empirical evidences and propositions to support any theory, since they all lend a hand at describing the other, and are essentially linked and discovered through one another. It is this pattern, this gestalt program of the mind, that forms our discovery around us, we automatically search for that which we are not aware of, it is projected into our realities, and learn by that act of opposition and differentiation.

A physical theory is only a simple device used for calculating.. And nothing more.. All numbers are of human creation and as such nothing matters except that the results of the calculations square with observations, which depend on our particular observer. Also, a physical theory deals with appearances and does not or should not pretend to represent total reality, as one infinite aspect of existence is enough to prove that the entire thing is of infinite proportions. Science and physical theory do not address themselves to things in themselves (noumena) but only to things as they appear to human minds (phenomena). Thus, all theories have literally zero probability, whatever the evidence and all theories are equally improbable and equally unprovable. Why? Because phenomena do not exist in themselves, but only in relation to the mind, with which they are, therefore, con-formative. Therefore, all bodies and objects, together with the space in which they occupy, must be held to be nothing but mere representations in us, and exist nowhere else than merely in our thoughts.

In fact, there is no definite line to be drawn between the empirical and the conceptual as we think what we create and we create what we think. Seeing is thinking.

All knowledge of facts, realities and experiences is of propositional knowledge and everything we know about our human species is of propositional knowledge and all knowledge is of propositional knowledge. Propositions lead to more propositions and propositions arrive from other propositions. Propositions should be looked at as effective or ineffective, not true nor false. Once the whole truth is achieved, by converting and absorbing our environment into our minds, then the system will return to its original shape of definite absolute and infinite proportions, as there is no purpose for externalized shape after this point.

Is science important? Of course it is. Is mysticism important? Of course it is. The point of the post is not to discourage exploration, in fact its the opposite. It is all of absolute importance, hints its expression. Paradigmic growth and expansion is what is achieved as well as what is responsible for all the logics that seamlessly form the whole truth, the absolute truth, and all must be explored. To limit yourself to a single form of perspective is to instill an act of ignorance upon yourself and hide from the whole truth. Existence is a puzzle, and requires an artifact to solve, those artifacts are the many paradigmic approaches and perspectives we may embrace if we so choose. To limit yourself to true and false, or a single-paradigmic approach is to ignore so much more, and face it, its a old idea, and its what your taught in public institutional programs (bangs head against wall). As sovereign beings we have the choice. Nothing is to be ignored. All has absolute purpose. In set theory, the infinite whole is infinitely present in each of its parts or sub-sets, that means everything, even though it appears to be separated, it is not. The best environment for the generation of propositions is one of complete openness and freedom. There needs to be a complete lack of pre-conceptions and constraints (thank you public education system). Apart from the absolute proposition or whole truth, no one proposition or paradigm or perspective can adequately comprehend all aspects of existence, instead a multi-paradigmic approach is necessary in order to arrive at the entire, whole, absolute truth.

 
hue-man
 
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 05:24 pm
@BrightNoon,
BrightNoon;103981 wrote:
What is meant by the phrase 'external world?'

What is the epistemological basis for this external world?

If we define the external world as 'that which exists independently of our experience/knowledge of it,' then to what are we referring when we use the phrase?

Those inclined to think scientifically/empirically would contend that the world that exists external to our experience consists of trees, rocks, chickens, molecules of O2, Helium atoms, algae, etc. In short, this is a conception of the external world as 'real things.'

I would contend that the world described above, consisting of all those and other 'real things,' is not in fact external, and does not fit the criteria of the definition I offered; i.e. the world of 'real things' does not exist independently of our experience/knowledge of it.

If we can discuss the contents of this world, if we can describe the things in it, such as a tree e.g., then those things by definition must exist internally, i.e. within our experience; how could we discuss them if we weren't aware of them; and if we're aware of them, they aren't external to our awareness.

Perhaps they also exist external to our experience, but we cannot know whether or not that is the case and, furthermore, even if those 'real things' do exist external to our experience of them, when we say 'tree' or 'rock' or some other word for a 'real thing,' we aren't referring to that possibly existent external thing, but rather to a set of experienced phenomena, considered as one, under a certaine name. E.g. when I say, 'the tree is over there' I am really referring to the set of phenomena (brown, green, rough feeling, woody smell, a certain sound when I hit it, etc.), not to whatever may exist beyond that set of experienced phenomena - how could I refer to that thing which is beyond the experience? How could I refer to something of which I have no knowledge or awareness?

Given the definition I've proposed for 'external world,' does anyone agree with the contention that the world of 'real things' (trees, rocks, etc) is the external world? Does anyone agree with my contrary contention, i.e. that the scientific world of 'real things' is in fact within experience, and that the external world (assuming there is one) cannot, by definition, be known, discussed, or described?

Anxious to hear your responses,
Thanks


Indeed it is true that we cannot know the external world outside of our experience because it takes experience to know things. From my understanding, the external world is that which exists independent of our experience. The belief in an external world which has an existence independent of the mind is based on our empirical study of physical phenomena. It is logically consistent and parsimonious to conclude that realism is the adequate explanation for our sense experience.
 
 

 
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