Impressions and Links
from the workshop:
''Constructing The World''.

- Author, David J. Chalmers, meets critics -

Poppelsdorfer Schloss. Bonn. May 24-26, 2013

In late May 2013, I had the great pleasure of taking part in the workshop ''David Chalmers, Constructing the World. Author meets critics''.
The workshop was organized by the Emma Noether Research group ''Understanding and the A Priori'' and took place in the Stucksaal, Poppelsdorfer Schloss, Bonn.

Not all workshops have a great title, but this one certainly had.
Surely, it can hardly get any better than ''Constructing the World''...
So, when I first learned about it, I knew that I had to participate...
(Even though I was probably the only one there not with a professional background in philosophy...).

As further incentive to go, the workshop promised 3 days of front row seats to debates on central areas of philosophy,
including philosophy of language, consciousness, knowledge and reality.
Again, it could hardly be any better than this
(So, off I went to Bonn, after one of the organizers had promised me
that there would also be room for ''non-professional philosophers'', just wanting a ''listening role''...).

In the end, it turned out to be 3 marvellous days in the Poppelsdorfer Stucksaal.
With many great talks, and many clever insights and comments.

Not exactly easy stuff to make a short (internet homepage) summary of though.
Nevertheless, I took a few notes (which can be seen below), which might convey some impressions from the workshop....
A Youtube Video, where David Chalmers gives a short presentation of ''Constructing the World'' (see section 3),
might also give some ideas.

1. Der Logische Aufbau der Welt.

Poppelsdorfer Schloss. The workshop was held in the Kurfursten Stucksaal in the left end of the building.

In the introduction to the book David Chalmers writes (p. xvii):
The title of the book is a homage to Carnap's 1928 book Der Logische Aufbau der Welt, usually translated as either The Logical Construction of the World or The Logical Structure of the World.
The title (Like Carnap's) should be heard as self-consciously absurd.
I am not really constructing the world. But one can see the current book as trying to carry off a version of Carnap's project in the Aufbau: Roughly, constructing a blueprint for a blueprint, by providing a vocabulary in which such a blueprint can be given.
More specificly, the aim is to specify the structure of the world in the form of certain truths from which all truths can be arrived...
* Carnap originally wanted to call the book ''The logical constructs of concepts''.
But that was too boring a title. Still, he should have stuck with the original title, because he doesn't construct the physical world. That is completely postulation...

Obviously, such ideas have been around for a long time.
In his 1814 Philosophical Essay on Probability, Pierre-Simon Laplace wrote:
An intellect which a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future, just like the past, would be present before its eyes.
According to Chalmers, Laplaces thesis says that the world is in a certain sense comprehensible.
Given some basic truths, the rest of the truths can be determined.
It is all about a certain philosophical optimism....(!)
Conditional on knowledge of certain fundamental truths and ideal reasoning, everything can be known.
In his manuscript "De Alphabeto Cogitationum Humanarum" Leibniz suggest that there is a level of concepts so simple that they make up an alphabet from which all thoughts can be composed:

The alphabet of human thoughts is a primitive catalog of concepts, that is, of those that cannot reduce to any clearer definitions.
Chalmers goes on (p.2) to talk about contemporary cognitive science:
The linguist Anna Wierzbicka, for example, has argued that every expression in every human language can be analyzed in terms of a limited number of ''semantic primes'' that occur in every language.
Her 2009 book ''Experience, Evidence and Sense'' listed the following 63 primes:
Substantives: I, you, someone, something, people, body.
Relation substantives: Kind, part.
Determines: This, the same, other/else.
Quantifiers: One, two, some, all, much/many.
Evaluators: Good, bad.
Descriptors: Big, small.
Mental predicates: Think, know, want, feel, see, hear.
Speech: Say, words, true.
Actions and events: Do, happen, move, touch.
Existence, possession: To be (somewhere), there is, to have, to be.
Life and death: Live, die.
Time: When/time. now, before, after, a long time, a short time. for some time, in a moment.
Space: Where, place, here, above, below, far. near, side, inside.
Logic: Not, maybe, can, because, if.
Augmentors: Very,more.
Similiarity: Like.
Carnap introduces a similar construction (see section 3):
- Carnap defines qualia in terms of phenomenal similarity.
- He defines spacetime in terms of qualia.
- He defines other minds in terms of behavior.
- He defines culture in terms of behavior and other minds.
The Aufbau is widely held to be a failure. It is also widely held that no project like it can succeed [p. 7].
Knowability and skepticism: In the Aufbau, Carnap uses his construction to argue that there is no question, whose answer is in principle unattainable by science. This is a version of the notorious Knowability Thesis in epistemology...
This thesis is now widely rejected, for both formal and intutive reasons [p. 26].
But, in the book, ''Constructing the World'', Chalmers argues that it is possible to revive Carnaps framework (with some alterations).
And that: ''Understanding the construction of concepts - may help us to understand the contruction of the world''
(see section 3).

2. Workshop debate.

2.1. Cosmoscope.

The Cosmoscope, one of those really cool tools philosophers have, caused a lot of controversy / debate.

Imagine a virtual reality device for storing and making available all the information we can think of.
I.e. imagine a Cosmoscope, a sort of Google Cosmos
(a holographic tool that can zoom in and display information about matter in all regions of spacetime):

- (Where) you can know everything in the domain of ordinary truths. E.g.:
- Who was Jack the Ripper? Zoom in and find the answer...
- Who wins the World Cup in 2014 in Rio (in the future)? Zoom in and find the answer...

In particular it contains:
(i) A supercomputer to store the information and to perform any necessary calculations;
(ii) Tools that use P to zoom in on arbitrary regions of the world, and to deliver information about the distribution of matter in those regions;
(iii) A virtual reality device to produce direct knowledge of any phenomenal states described in Q;
(iv) A ''you are here'' marker to convey the information in I; and
(v) Simulation devices that deliver information about counterfactuals, exhibiting the physical and phenomenal states that will be produced under various counterfactual circumstances specified in PQI above.
The Cosmoscope Argument [p. 114 -120].
A really cool device for philosophical purposes:
Say a subject utters S. They could then in principle use a Cosmoscope to investigate the truth of S. One could use this to come to know very many ordinary truths: Who shot Kennedy, did a comet kill the dinosaurs, is there life on other planets?
But, obviously, there are problems. According to Chalmers:
This might require a supercomputer with infinite storage, at least if our universe is infinite. It seems likely that a physical Cosmoscope that accurately describes our world (Infinite capacity, infinitary reasoning) could not exist in our world...
Another worry about a complete Cosmoscope in empirical mode is that it must enable one to monitor one's own current and future states, leading to potential paradoxes.
Youtube: David Chalmers on the Cosmoscope.

Again, (thinking is) how much of this (if anything) is really (logically) possible, and with what limitations?

2.2. Delicacy and irregularities of arguments.

Mark Wilson was not entirely convinced:
We lose almost all sense of the applicational struggles we face in real life employments, if we too readily idealize away our inherent epistemological limitations through appeals to cosmoscopes, carnapian tests and ''pie in the sky''- bayesianism.
(It) Under-estimates the delicacy and irregularities of arguments.
In science: We now say that Laplace confused determinism with predictability.
Mark Wilson ended his talk by saying that ''Nothing is that easy'',
where David Chalmers replied ''That is your answer to every question''.

For us in the cheap seats, the exchange was most entertaining.

Michael De (Utrect) continued with a ''a challenge to the compactness part of the scrutability thesis'':

''Brute facts (moral, social, tensed truths, intermediate truths - concerning persistance, the open future - ) all add up in the base.
So things end up not being very compact.

It is not all that impressive to be able to conctruct half the world, if you start out with almost all of the world (in the base).
Not much Aufbau in that.

Mark Richard (Harvard) had some very clever comments about belief revision:
Quine's view in 2D, spelled out:
1. There is not a single rational way to respond to experience, recalcitrant or otherwise.
2. Pragmatic factors determine the choice among strategies for belief revision.
3. So, Bayesianism is at best a first approximation to the right story about confirmation and rational belief revision.
Take home:
What is rational to think is a joint function of the variety of ways we can see to make sense of the evidence and practical contraints on theorizing given interests and abilities. Whatever view of meaning we adopt should reflect this. Quine's view accomodates this better than the rigid Bayesianism needed to get Chalmers' project going.

2.3. Philosophy in the Sommer Speisesaal des Kurfursten.

Other distinguished speakers followed with other brilliant talks. It was really 3 great workshop days.

Philosophy is really:
1. Love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline.
2. Investigation of the nature, causes, or principles of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods.
We did become a little wiser on epistemology:
Epistemology (Episteme, meaning ''knowledge, understanding'', and logos, meaning ''study of'') is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge. It questions what knowledge is, how it is acquired, and the possible extent to which a given subject or entity can be known. Much of the debate in this field has focused on analyzing the nature of knowledge and how it relates to connected notions such as truth, belief, and justification.
Perhaps, it all fitted nicely within the tradition of ''analytic philosophy'':
- A broad philosophical tradition characterized by an emphasis on clarity and argument (often achieved via modern formal logic and analysis of language) and a respect for the natural sciences.
(Sometimes: The more specific set of developments of early 20th-century philosophy. E.g. the work of Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, G. E. Moore, Gottlob Frege, and logical positivists).
(And) It certainly fitted within the tradition of ''metaphysics'':
Metaphysics is a traditional branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined.
Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:
1. What is there?
2. What is it like?
Constructing the World.
David Chalmers Workshop.
24 - 26 May 2013, Bonn.
3 days in the
Speisesaal des Kurfursten.
Poppelsdorfer Schloss, Bonn.

2.4. Free will.

Obviously, the workshop also had a great workshop dinner.
During the dinner I had the good fortune of sitting next to Nathan Wildman and Beate Sachsenweger.

(Perhaps) Not surprisingly, the subject of free will came up.

Nathan thought that in the end it is all rhetoric and suggested this approach on meeting a person that does not believe in free will:
Ask him, if he came to this conclusion rationally?

With this follow up:
- If he says ''Yes'' -> But there are no decisions along the way?
- If he says  ''No'' -> Makes his argumentation nonsense!

2.5. Neural correlates and concepts.

In a workshop break, I asked Chalmers
''If concepts are not really based on neural correlates.
(Neural) Activation patterns that we can build on to make more complex concepts
'' ?
Here, it turned out (according to Chalmers) that I should really have been present at the Rio conference on Phenomenal concepts, back in January 2013. Where such questions were dealt with to some depth.
Another workshop participant felt sorry for me (that I had not been in Rio) and thought that the question might have been answered in Chalmers ''The Conscious Mind'' or in ''The Character of Consciousness''.

Indeed, that is what a guy needs to do: Travel and Read more ...

3. Presenting the ideas as ''Psycho Ontology''.

On Youtube there is a Chalmers video about ''Psycho Ontology'',
which turns out to deal with subject matters closely related to ideas presented in the ''Constructing the World'' book
(See Youtube Video: Psycho Ontology. Constructing the World).

In the video, Chalmers roughly sets:
Psycho = Concepts
Ontology = Fundamental structure of reality.

And then goes on to address these three questions:
  i) What is the fundamental structure of our concepts?
 ii) What are the conceptually fundamental features of reality?
iii) How does our concepts help determine the metaphysically fundamental features of reality?

Themes we of course also find in the ''Constructing the World'' book.

The historical background for these ideas are also dealt with pretty neatly in the video.
E.g. What is the structure of concepts? One possibility is that concepts can be made from simpler concepts:
For all our complex ideas are ultimately resolvable into simple ideas, of which they are compounded and originally made up, though perhaps their immediate ingredients, as I may say so, are also complex ideas.

John Locke, 1690.
Centuries later, the ''Definability Thesis'' states:
There is a compact class of primitive expressions such that all expressions are definable in terms of expressions in that class.
A program, which is associated with people like Bertrand Russell.

And, finally, in 1928 we have ''Der Logische Aufbau der Welt''by Rudolf Carnap.
Where Carnap proposes a single nonlogical primitive - ''Recollected phenomenal similarity''.
Where all other expressions can de defined in terms of these primitives.

The Video gives this overview of Carnap's construction of the world:
- Carnap defines qualia in terms of phenomenal similarity.
- He defines spacetime in terms of qualia.
- He defines other minds in terms of behavior.
- He defines culture in terms of behavior and other minds.
Over the years, Carnaps ideas have received a lot of criticism.
Indeed, many considers the approach a noble failure.

Still, (in the video, like in the book ''Constructing the World''), Chalmers argues
that it is possible to revive Carnaps framework (with some alterations), and that:
''Understanding the construction of concepts - may help us to understand the contruction of the world''.

4. Bonn.

4.1. Ode an die Freude.

After the workshop I took a look at the city of Bonn:
Home of Beethoven.
Indeed, all an Ode an die Freude.

4.2. Bonn, Buddhism and more.

In a bookstore, I spotted a few good buddhist quotes:
Just as a picture is drawn by an artist, surroundings are created by the activities of the mind.
While the surroundings created by the Buddha are pure and free from defilement, those created by ordinary people are not.
Both life and death arises from the mind and exist within the mind.
Hence, when the mind that concerns itself with life and death passes on, the world of life and death passes with it.
The five faculties of power are:
First, the faith to believe. Second, the will to make the endeavor. Third, the faculty of alertness. Fourth, the ability to concentrate ones mind. And fifth, the ability to maintain a clear vision.
These are the five faculties necessary to obtain enlightenment.
A german book (that I looked in) also had a few quotable lines:
Der alter ist unwichtig, es andert sich doch jeden tag.
Zwichen dich und deinem Ziel steht nur einem person: Du.
Der wille in dir.
Indeed, life is philosophy or philosophy is life.


Simon Laub

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