Jeremy Pierce: July 2012 Archives

Perception

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I just saw the pilot for Perception. I like the idea that they're trying to portray a schizophrenic crime-solver sympathetically, in the mold of Monk for OCD but without the comedic elements. It's intriguing enough to want to see the other episodes that have aired. I like the main character and several supporting cast members. There was a nice moment during his neuroscience class when he presented an argument for skepticism pretty much the way a philosopher would, a reminder schizophrenic author Philip K. Dick had skeptical philosophical themes in his writing, partly from his neurological condition and the impossibility to detect from within a hallucinatory experience that it is not reality, since it appears just as real as anything else. This is what schizophrenia really is like for many who experience it. I liked that he has to have a handler who lives with him and follows him around on campus to tell him when someone he's interacting with is real or not. (But they don't raise the question, at least yet, of what happens if he hallucinates the handler's response to his questions.)

But two things bothered me. One is that they're trying to portray a schizophrenic's hallucinations as his subconscious mind trying to make sense of things his conscious mind can't make sense of. I know it's popular to emphasize the increased abilities that sometimes come with a disability, and these increased abilities are genuinely present in some cases with some disabilities (sometimes often present, sometimes very rarely). This is true with diminished senses and increased other senses, and it's true of some increased cognitive abilities for some with autism, But this looks like a wholly-concocted special ability for schizophrenia, which as far as I've been able to discern is not a "different" neurological condition with some pros and many cons but is in fact simply a mental illness, with no pros. I may be wrong about that, and experts can feel free to correct me if I am, but I've never even heard of something like this, and it does an injustice to what is good in the neurodiversity movement to pretend there are good elements to a condition where there aren't any, while bolstering what's insidious about that movement by acting like every neurological condition has to have positive features, when that's hardly the truth.

But there was one scene that struck me as being even more ridiculous, and I very nearly stopped the episode and refused to give the show another chance. I stuck it out, and I do intend to watch more episodes, but if they keep this sort of thing up I may not continue. They had a character who was aphasic, which is a varied condition involving brain damage and various linguistic inabilities. Sometimes it's extreme enough to involve a total inability to recognize others' attempts to communicate with language, and this character had that kind of aphasia. But apparently in the Perception universe people with extreme aphasia can tell when someone is lying, even though they have no idea what they're saying, and they find it extremely humorous. So this character was basically a human lie detector who never knew what the lies being spoken were (and may not have even known they were lies, just the the non-verbals involved, or something about the pattern of sounds maybe, was very, very funny.

Not only is this totally absurd, but they even had to bring out the tired example of Bush's 16-words State of the Union moment, where the political left successfully recast his accurate reporting of the conclusions of British intelligence about Saddam Hussein's attempt to get uranium from the West African nation of Niger as an outright lie by Bush. Factcheck.org argued that Bush had indeed not lied, even if something he had said was wrong, and that there was even evidence (which I consider much stronger than they seem to take it to be) to suggest that Saddam Hussein had made such an attempt (from the very reports of Joe Wilson, who was one of most prominent accusers of Bush as a liar). Putting this example next to Bill Clinton's moments of denying his affair with Monica Lewinski is pretty low, especially at a time when there's no political gain to be had by continuing this false narrative about Bush as a liar.

I was hoping that a show intending to portray a schizophrenic genius crime solver would provide a nice guide to what schizophrenia is really like, without the fantasy elements they seem to want to add. It doesn't help that they're immune to critical evaluation of what their political group-think partners tell them. That doesn't give me as high hopes as I'd had when I first heard of the show, but I will continue to give it

This is the 59th post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. The last post looked at the final view of what I consider the standard accounts of personal identity (the dualist, psychological, bodily, and brain views). As I said at the end of the last post, it's pretty common for people to look at all the difficulties raised against those views and then opt for something more unconventional. The next few posts will look at three such unconventional views: temporal parts (or four-dimensionalism), conventionalism, and nihilism.

The temporal parts view is sometimes called four-dimensionalism, because it takes persisting objects to be spread out across time rather than being wholly present at a time. The three-dimensionalist view takes me to be fully present at every moment of my existence. It's not as if there are parts of me at past and future times, with just some small part of me here right now. I'm fully present at this moment. I was fully present at each past moment of my existence, and I will be fully present at each future moment of my existence. Three-dimensionalists call this kind of persistence through time endurance.

Four-dimensionalism, on the other hand, takes us to be spread out across time, and at each moment it's only the part of me at that time that's present. My current temporal part is here now, and I have past and future temporal parts. All my spatial parts are here right now (at least all the ones that parts of me at this time). But I have temporal parts in the past and future. The whole object across time that is me is called a space-time worm (taking the analogy from a worm composed of segments as its spatial parts). The shorter segments are called stages of that worm, with the smallest stages perhaps being instantaneous stages, which would be infinite in number if time is infinitely divisible. Four-dimensionalists call this kind of persistence through time perdurance.

Although it might not be the most intuitive view to think of me as spread out across time, we do think four-dimensionally about some things, in particular events. Take an event like a baseball game. It is composed of temporal parts. We call them innings. Each inning has two temporal parts (except sometimes the last inning of the game), the top and bottom. A presidential race is an event that is composed of several phases, the primary stage, the general election campaign, and the election day itself. Each of those sub-events is a stage of the entire four-dimensional event that we call an election season. We could say the same thing of any event, such as the War of 1812, the Reformation, an episode of your favorite TV show, or my composing of this post for my blog. Each event has parts that occur for part of the period of time that the event is going on. The four-dimensionalist is just saying that we are also composed of temporal parts in a similar way. There is a part of me that corresponds to the event of my pre-natal existence. Another part of me corresponds to the event of my time in middle school. Another, longer, part of me corresponds to my entire childhood. Another part of me is the instantaneous stage of me at the very instant this post will be online. Another part of me corresponds to my entire adulthood (much of which, I expect, has not occurred yet).

One of the strongest arguments for four-dimensionalism is that it can so easily handle a lot of the problem cases for persistence across time. Take the splitting cases from previous posts. Lieutenant William Riker undergoes a transporter accident and ends up rematerializing both on the planet (as the man who later comes to be called Lieutenant Tom Riker) and on the ship (as the man who later gets promoted to become Commander Will Riker). With three-dimensionalism, you can say that the original becomes one of the two future guys, but the other one is not the original (but it seems arbitrary to pick one over the other), or you can say that the original dies in this case (which is odd if you think either one would be the original without the existence of the other). What you can't say is that both are the original, unless you insist that they are the same guy, who now has two sets of experiences and hates himself, but he's fully present hating himself and fully present being hated by himself, and the instance of himself who is fully present doing the hating is not the instance of himself who is fully present being hated. You might be able to tell a story to make all that work (I think it takes adopting something unconventional, but I don't think it's necessarily incoherent), but it seems strange to say such odd things just to maintain a picture of enduring people.

The four-dimensionalist can say something much more straightforward. There are two space-time worms. One worm starts with Lt. Riker before the transporter accident and runs through Commander Will Riker. The other starts with Lt. Riker before the accident and runs through Tom Riker. These two worms share all the initial stages, the same way two roads the merge share a stage while they run together while remaining two roads. The shared-stage gut at the outset can truly say that he will become Tom Riker and Commander Will Riker, because at that stage it is true that the stage is related in the right way to both future guys. He is a stage of both worms.

Similar things can be said about split-brain fission cases. To use Ted Sider's example, Ted's two brain hemispheres get split and transplanted into two different bodies. Call one Ed and the other Fred. Just as in the Riker case, the 4Der can say that Fred has the right relation to both Ed and Fred so that he can say that he will be Ed and will be Fred, without Ed being Fred. That's only because Ted is a part of a worm that Ed is a part of while also being part of a worm that Fred is part of, while Ed and Fred are never parts of the same worm.

There are a number of other problem cases that four-dimensionalism can handle very well. A lump of clay becomes a statue and then gets melted down again into clay. Is the lump of clay just the same thing as the statue? Well, the lump has a longer existence, so they can't be the same thing. One 3D approach is to take the lump to compose the statue, but that means two things are coinciding in the same place at the same time, made out of the same stuff. If you don't like coincident but distinct objects, four-dimensionalism can handle the problem. The lump is just a longer object in time, and the statue is a temporal part of it. There is only one instantaneous object there at any stage of its existence. It is always part of the lump-worm, and for part of its existence it's also part of the statue-worm. But never are there two 3D objects in the same place at the same time.

Another case is the cat who loses a tail. Call the cat Tibbles. Presumably an object exists before the tail is amputated that is all of the cat except the tail. Call that Tib. Tib is part of Tibbles. Tibbles has a tail, and that tail is not part of Tib. If the tail comes off, then do Tibbles and Tib merge? But they weren't the same object before. How can they be the same object now? Presumably Tib doesn't go out of existence merely because this extra thing, a tail, is no longer attached to it. But  Tibbles doesn't cease to exist. Tibbles just now doesn't have a tail. So are Tib and Tibbles two objects in the same place at the same time? Or should we deny that Tibbles has a part that is all of it but a tail? None of these options seems entirely satisfactory. But with temporal parts, the problem goes away easily. There's a Tibbles-worm and a Tib-worm. The Tibbles-worm is the whole cat across time, which has a tail and then doesn't. The Tib-worm is the cat-minus-the-tail before the amputation and the cat afterward. The worms merge. Tibbles and Tib do not share stages before the tail's loss, and they share stages afterward. The solution is the same as with splitting cases, except that the common stages are earlier rather than later.

The four-dimensionalist can say the same thing about the ancient case of the Ship of Theseus. Theseus hires a master shipbuilder to keep his ship in good shape. The shipbuilder repairs the ship as needed, saving all the parts he removes. When he has enough pieces, he begins putting them back together into ship form. Once all the original pieces are removed, he has a fully-constructed ship that he thinks is the original Ship of Theseus. But Theseus has had a ship all along that hasn't stopped existing just because parts have been removed. Which ship is the original? The temporal parts theorist insists that there are two ships across time, and each shares an initial stage with the other. The original-parts ship is a divided object that is disassembled for much of its existence, eventually coming back together. The continuous-ship ship is a ship the whole way through but changes its parts as it goes. Both ships exist, and both are ships (at least part of the time). Both can claim, in different senses, to be the Ship of Theseus. But there are really two worms here, and they both have the original ship-stage as their earliest stage. So it's another case of fission, like the above cases of the transporter accident and brain-hemisphere transplants.

The downside of four-dimensionalism is that it does seem to go against how we ordinarily see ourselves. I see myself as a wholly-present being who endures through time, and there aren't parts of me at other times that aren't here now. If four-dimensionalism is true, then that conception of myself is inaccurate. It's certainly possible for philosophy to clarify better ways of thinking about ourselves than we might have otherwise had, but how willing you are to accept such revisions to our thinking might depend on how well you think more intuitive approaches can handle the objections and whether you think other revisionist views can handle the problems better. Next up will be the conventionalist approach, which revises our conception of ourselves in a different way (although there are people who think both approaches are independently correct).

I noticed something odd yesterday in the transcript for NPR's Political Junkie. At the beginning of every week's episode, they play a bunch of clips from famous politicians. Here is the list from the transcript:

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

VICE PRESIDENT WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?

SENATOR BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

SENATOR LLOYD BENTSON: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Oops.

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)

Two things are strange. The first is that Sarah Palin is listed with no honorific title, as all the men who are listed are given. The second is that Howard Dean isn't listed at all for his scream. The second might be because whoever did the transcript amazingly doesn't know about Dean's famous "I have a scream" moment. I'm not sure. But everyone else has names listed, and the only one with a name listed who is just listed by name is Governor Sarah Palin. The other governor, Rick Perry, is listed as Governor Rick Perry. Palin is just Sarah Palin, as if her achievement of being governor is not important in her case. The senators, presidents, and vice-president all have their titles. But Sarah Palin is just Sarah Palin.

Is that implicit sexism on the part of whoever does the transcript? Is it part of a more specific bias against conservative women? Is it simply bias against Palin herself? I'm not sure we should speculate on exactly what leads the trasncriptionist to discount the title of her elected office, but it's certainly irresponsible, and this is not something limited to just this week's transcript. The last few weeks do it this way. I checked randomly in a number of other Wednesdays to see if it's consistent. The first older one I tried just listed her as Palin, while the others had full names and titles. But this does seem to be a common feature of their weekly transcript. Most of them had just the pattern I see in this week's transcript, and the fact that the higher-ups don't seem to notice it over a lengthy period of time, and presumably no one has pointed it out to them, or they would have done something about it, suggests that the implicit bias at work here is more than just one person's.

[I did find one in 2010 that lists Howard Dean. Interestingly, it lists him as Mr. Howard Dean, despite his being both a former governor and a medical doctor. Sarah Palin is listed as Ms. Sarah Palin in that one. This is before Rick Perry was added, so there are no governors in the lineup except Palin and Dean. Nevertheless, it's still odd that she would be listed as Ms. and Dean as Mr., when the others are all listed as senators, presidents, and vice-president.

I also found one that did get Palin right, calling her a former governor. Some of the formers are formers in that one. Some of them are not. That's odd, but it's the only one I found that didn't fit the pattern at all, suggesting someone else did that transcript. But the next week gets rid of the formers and still lists titles for Dean and Palin. So it's not a completely consistent pattern, but it does seem to me to be much more often than an occasional mistake.]

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