11 December 2010


I am feeling very productive. I had to take my car in to be serviced this morning and I took Being and Nothingness with me and sat in the lounge at the garage and read. Admittedly, I only got through 4 pages in 2 hours, but I was sans dictionary, and he is still on the topic of consciousness.

The general gist of the bit I am reading is that he is trying to find a base for knowing things, which isn’t based on knowledge itself. The aim I think is to get out of that sticky situation imagined by Descartes – how do you know that this is not all a lie conjured up by some evil demon. Plus knowledge is always relative to the observer. If you and I both look at a quilt we both see it differently, we might have a different interpretation of the colours, you might see a pattern emerging from the blocks that I miss. If that is the case, how do we determine which is a true and accurate description of the quilt? How do we ever know if what we are seeing is accurate? Sartre’s answer, there is consciousness, and the being of consciousness is not founded in knowledge, so we are at least part of the way there.

I finished a load of blocks too, which I am happy about, though now I have to go cut out some more before I can do any more sewing.    


3 responses »

  1. Doesn’t mathematics get around the relativity of knowledge thing? I mean we might disagree about whether the quilt is large or small, or whether it is blue or green (in a classic example of this, the Welsh word glas means both blue and grey), but surely we can both agree that it is so many cm long and reflects certain specific wavelengths of light? Having first come to some common agreement about measurement units and so on first of course…

    • I’ve been thinking about this, about science and how it fits into the idea of relativity of knowledge, because of the idea that experiments should be able to be replicated. In some cases I think it helps but there are some problems. For a start if I am doubting the truth of my experience then I have to doubt the existence of others. At the very least I have to say that the experience of others is possibly as flawed as mine, we could all agree that something is X cm long and all be wrong.

      It also only helps when stuff is measurable, people usually use examples like colours in situations like that because its simple, but I guess because its simple its easily reducible to physics. How do we deal with more complex, less measurable things? I guess the wikileaks saga provides a brilliant example and gives us questions like what is heroic? what is contemptible? what is terrorism? what is rape? If we are trying to build a basis for accurate knowledge it needs to provide us a platform for the less measurable stuff as well as the measurable.

      Then, just because I can, I’ll throw in the quantum stuff. If the act of observing changes the outcome, do different observers produce different outcomes? (I have to profess my ignorance on that)

      • With regard to the quantum thing, then different observers have the capacity to produce different outcomes mostly only insofar as the process they are observing is random (assuming they are measuring the same thing using the same measurement technique). However over a series of repeated experiments the results will tend towards the ‘expected value’.

        There’s also a principle of quantum mechanics that states that all identical particles are indistinguishable.

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