12. Kant's theory that knowledge of the external world is possible

13. The problem of solipsism persists

12. Kant's unique type of correspondence theory of truth could be the answer we are looking for; the world will correspond to our ideas, not vice-versa.

It may be well to insert here a commentary about the way a correspondence theory of knowledge could be established. Remember that our problem is that all that we are in contact with are our ideas. Moreover, we cannot get out of our theaters to check to see if the ideas match up with the real things in the world. Correspondence theory looks to be a dead end. Unless we do something like a philosopher named Immanuel Kant did. What he suggested was revolutionary. Rather than our ideas corresponding to the things in the external world, Kant suggested that the things of the world should correspond to our ideas. What!!??

OK. Here's how it works. Imagine an external world of who knows what --a whirlpool of energy, rays, particles, and so forth. Whatever we know about that world has to come through the senses. (Let's assume for the moment that there is an external world and that we have experiences of it.) But in order for anything to get through (in order for us to have ideas of the world at all), it must go through the "recoding" devices of our "experience system." (Please allow me to use cyber-talk for making my points clear; Kant's position is difficult to fathom.) Our experience system functions as a hardwired/software system that makes us experience things alike, for the most part. For example, any idea of an external material object will always appear on our screens as being in space and in time. I know this sounds hard to understand, so let me use an analogy.

Take me. I am nearsighted. If I were to take off my glasses, the world would appear to be a swirl of colors and lights; I wouldn't see any objects at all, just such-and-suches --mixtures of colors and blurs. In order for me to see any object I must put on my glasses. When I do, I see people, apples, garbage cans, cars, telephone poles --the world of objects. And, they have location; I can put the eaten apple in the garbage can. I can walk around the garbage can. I can get into my car. All of these actions are possible because I can see these things of the world --whatever they are-- as objects.

My glasses are between the things in themselves (Kant calls them noumena) and my ideas of them as objects. The glasses make it possible for me to experience the world as objects, not such and suches. My visual experience of the world as objects requires me to have my glasses on, otherwise, it is simply the case that my experiences of the world are nothing more than blurs -experiences without content. Without glasses, those experiences are not of objects, just blurs. My glasses are necessary for me to have experiences with content at all.

Consider another example. Say I have a document in WordPerfect and I want to make it into a Microsoft Word document. Well, the computer that I have has the hardware and the software to make the conversion. I have tried to make the transfer without the "decoding" devices and what comes out is either gibberish or an input/output system error warning. Without the hardware/software there would be no decoding of the information which the disk is trying to give to the computer. An original in WordPerfect cannot be read in Word unless it goes through the proper "decoding/encoding" processes. No software in your computer to do that, no transfer. Whatever the input is, if there is not the software to "interpret" it, nothing will appear on the screen.

Imagine that our minds have categories, templates (forms of intuition) or hardwired/software that do the same thing for all the senses similar to what glasses do for my vision; they make or transform the whirls and swirls the world consists of into objects of experience for our minds. Reality itself is a something which we cannot know directly; it consists of who-knows-what. But, whatever it is, it can affect the sensory mechanisms of our bodies. Our minds have decoding devices that make the input from sensations into something our minds can experience, namely objects, like apples, blue skies, tomatoes and so on. Without the preexisting software "in front of our minds" to decode the mishmash of input (similar to my glasses being in front of my eyes), we could never have experiences of objects. We could never have the idea of a red apple in our minds and say of that idea that, "The redness is a property of the apple." Without the preexisting software (Kant calls them "categories") we would have no experiences, save those like I have when I take off my glasses; in other words, without categories there would be blurs and movements of colors and ambiguous shapes appearing in our minds, but no OBJECTS. Kant's categories let us not only experience an apple in our minds, but has a template that enables us to regard the apple as a subject which has the property or predicate red belonging to it. We can experience an apple as a subject that has the property or predicate red. Animals may be able to have the sensation of a red apple, but cannot experience the apple as an object (a subject) that has redness as a property (a predicate). A yellow apple may not be an apple for an animal, but some entirely different fruit, whereas for us, a yellow apple is an apple that has a color different from what we would normally predicate of that subject. Kant's categories are necessary for us to have experience and knowledge of what we will call the world of objects at all; without the categories, knowledge, even experiences of the world as objects, is not possible.

Now, suppose that one "decoding/encoding" category is the category of cause and effect. That category allows minds to interpret sense data in a way that can lead to the identification or labeling of cause and effect of events (objects appearing in time). Further, suppose all minds are hardwired the same way. (We are all IBMs running Microsoft software, as it were.) Then, given input into the sensory system, we should all have more or less the same ideas in our heads. That doesn't mean that we have true ideas about what is out there in the real world, only that the ideas in our heads or on our screens CORRESPOND more or less to one another. You and I have the same objects in our minds; we both see a red apple on the table. Back to the sci-fi story of "A Finger in my I"; nothing about our world views or experiences of objects would break down into chaos because all the minds have the same categories and would not let clouds turn into cottage cheese. We will see clouds as clouds because our uniform software produces the same experiences for everyone. Because the identical software of our minds is hardwired into each and every mind, we have correspondingly similar ideas of the world. Again, we don't know that these ideas are true representations of the world, only that the ideas in my mind correspond to the ideas in your mind. Whatever it is out there doesn't matter. What matters is that we both have the same experience of a red apple on a table and that if you see me take it and hurl it against the wall, you can say that, "Roberts made the spot on the wall by hitting the wall with the apple." Other persons who saw me throw the apple could understand that statement because their software works the same way. All of our screens have corresponding ideas because they "develop" or process the incoming data in the same way. So, science is possible, for scientists deal with the objects in their minds which correspond to one another, for those objects are more or less the same and already are processed through the category cause/effect. Any person can look at the tomato throwing video and conclude that Roberts did it because all persons experience the video in the same manner through the categories. Having the category cause/effect makes it possible for anyone to judge that Roberts did the deed. Neat, huh? Kant's theory seems to solve our problem of skepticism. But, enough of a diversion. Back to Descartes.

We are well into Descartes' experiment and find ourselves in a terrible mess. What Descartes does to gloss over the problem of the realness of qualities like redness and sourness, as we have seen, is to rely on a PRAGMATIC criterion of truth; if the belief or proposition helps us to survive in the world, then it is, for all practical purposes, true. If an apple is seen to be red and tasty, then we will eat it. If it appears to be mushy and smelly, then we will not. We will not worry whether or not Kant's theory really helps us until we finish our experiment. Why? Because we must finish Descartes' experiment and when we consider where it has left us, a new problem emerges.

13. Even Kant's theory doesn't get rid of the problem of solipsism.

There is a peculiar word that appeared in the last story, 'solipsism.' SOLIPSISM is the theory that one's mind is the only entity in the world, or at least, the only entity it can know. Remember, Descartes has plunged us into the deepest doubt about things; we have doubted that there is an external world to our minds, and that includes our bodies. We, or better, you are left alone in you TV studio. Let's go even farther. Imagine not a TV studio, but only a screen with images on it; get rid of the studio, for it is spatial in nature. The screen is "free-floating" and is not anywhere at all. Now get rid of the screen and you are left with the images themselves. That is your mind as it is alone in its own thoughts. As far as you can tell, nothing else exists but those images or ideas; that's what you are. There is no way for you to tell if there are any other "suspended minds" because you can never get away from your own ideas; minds, not being anywhere, cannot come into contact with other minds. You see the bodies of other persons, but those are IDEAS in your mind OF other bodies, not minds. And we have already determined that it could be the case that there are no real bodies to match up to those ideas. Again, there is nothing else in the world, but you; you are the world.

14. The situation is desperate; you could be dreaming up the world you live in alone.

This is a desperate situation. Suppose you had to prove that there was at least one other thing in the world besides you. How would you do it? You couldn't say that there is a red tomato or other persons in the world because you have ideas of them in your mind (on your screen) for the reason that (as Descartes has made quite clear) we could be DREAMING or manufacturing the whole world of our ideas. Everything on your screen (tomatoes, birds, bodies of persons, mannequins, roadways and so on) could simply be dream ideas or fiction. Maybe an internal tape over which you have very little control generates the ideas on your screen. Not even Kant can help, for the mind could be productive of its own ideas in such a way that they were coherent with what other images (other people or other minds) would say ON YOUR SCREEN; there is no form of intuition or category for other minds since there may be no other minds. So, solipsism maintains a frightening proposition --you are it (the only thing that exists) and you are stuck in the ideas of your mind. You are the ideas and they are your prison.

15. There is hope; Descartes finds something that is absolutely certain when it is thought. The Cogito.

But, there is the hope of a way out. Descartes gives us that way. Remember, he got us into this mess. Let's see if he can get us out. Consider the next step in his thought experiment.


"I suppose, then, that all the things that I see are false; I persuade myself that nothing has ever existed of all that my fallacious memory represents to me. I consider that I possess no senses; I imagine that body, figure, extension, movement and place are but the fiction of my mind. What, then, can be esteemed as true? Perhaps nothing at all, unless that there is nothing in the world that is certain. But how can I know there is not something different from those things that I have just considered, of which one cannot have the slightest doubt: Is there not some God, or some other being by whatever name we call it, who puts these reflections into my mind? That is not necessary, for is it not possible that I am capable of producing them myself? I myself, am I not at least something? But I have already denied that I had senses and body. Yet I hesitate, for what follows from that? Am I so dependent on body and senses that I cannot exist without these? But I was persuaded that there were no minds, nor any bodies; was I not them likewise persuaded that I did not exist? Not at all; of a surety I myself did exist since I persuaded myself of something (or merely because I thought of something). But there is some deceiver or other, very powerful and very cunning, who ever employs his ingenuity in deceiving me. Then without doubt I exist also if he deceives me, and let him deceive me as much as he will, he can never cause me to be nothing so long as I think that I am something. So that after having reflected well and carefully examined all things, we must come to the definite conclusion that this proposition: I am, I exist, is necessarily true each time that I pronounce it, or that I mentally conceive it." (Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, Meditation II)

"Ah, ha!" we can "hear" Descartes thinking, "The first step to get out of solipsism is to find something that is absolutely certain, the TRUTH that we have been looking for. And that truth is that that a mind must exist when it is trying to doubt that it exists. Cogito ergo sum; I think, therefore I am."

Try Descartes' procedure; doubt that you are doubting. You can't do it. Examine carefully the process. Say to yourself and try to convince yourself that it is doubtful that you are doubting. No way. You cannot doubt that you are doubting when the very process of doubting itself affirms that you ARE doubting; you do exist. It must be absolutely clear to you that when you doubt, you ARE something that doubts. Descartes' experiment has provided us with something which is absolutely true or certain. You know that you exist each and every time you consider your thinking about that existence. This is the kind of certainty we wanted for knowledge or truth --an idea or proposition that is beyond the slightest doubt.

16. The problem of solipsism persists.

I know what you are ready to ask now, and it's a good question, "OK, it is absolutely true that when I think that I exist I do exist. So what? How does that help me with solipsism? I know that I exist, but the world, other persons and my body are still gone. Worse, is Descartes' proposition really ABSOLUTELY certain? What happens to me when I go to sleep and there is no doubting mind at all? Do I go out of existence? Looks like it. Moreover, when I wake up the next morning, can I be sure that I am the same thinking thing that went to sleep the night before. There is a messy problem of personal identity that emerges. Get your philosophical friend Descartes to do some fast intellectual hustling an get me out of this solipsism and I'm only a mind mess, now."

17. We need to look backward before we can go forward. The "mind-body problem."

Let's take a look backward before we go forward, for there is an interesting problem for Descartes worth examining here. It is the called the MIND-BODY PROBLEM. So far, we are idealist/solipsists. That is to say, that the only thing that we can say exists is our own minds (in the strict singular sense; your mind is the only thing that you can say exists). Descartes, as it turns out, was a dualist. He said, in the end, that both our minds and bodies are equally real, though entirely separate substances. (We'll find out later Descartes' theory on how we get our bodies, other persons and the rest of the world back.) But, right now, let's take a look at the way Descartes has set up the stage for figuring out what kind of existence our bodies have and what relation they have to our minds.

Minds and bodies are radically different in their natures. Let's just consider how extremely different they are. First, try this experiment: point to your mind. Is it in your head? In your body? In the room? In the world? Where is it? Looks like it has no place or position. Second, does it obey any physical or chemical laws? No, it has no energy/mass. In fact, the physical and chemical laws of nature do not apply to minds whatsoever. Third. Is your mind an object for experience by others? Can another mind experience your mind, your ideas? No. I've never seen any other mind save my own. Forth. My mind seems to come and go at will. My mind disappears when I go to sleep; it comes and goes like a ghost in the late evening and early morning. Five. My mind makes free-choices. I seem to be able to make free choices via the powers of my mind. By contrast, my body is locatable, resists other bodies, obeys physical and chemical laws to the point of being strictly determined by them, can be seen and manipulated by others and stays around even when my mind goes away, so to speak, to sleep. A mind is like a ghost while the body is like a machine. They have radically different characteristics.

So, what, or which is the real me, my body or my mind? What are the possible answers?

18. The problems involved in taking an idealist's position to solve the mind-body problem.

An idealist, as we have seen, will say that what is real, what exists, are minds. Bodies are but peculiar ideas minds have; bodies are reducible to ideas. But, if bodies are peculiar types of ideas, what are they ideas of? Answer. Inasmuch as we cannot experience anyone else's mind, we can only experience it as an idea of something external to us, as a body. Thus, when we experience other persons (other minds), the closest we can get to having their ideas is to have ideas about them as a bodily thing. Each of us knows that his/her mind exists, for he is in direct contact with it; there is indubitable evidence that one's own mind exists. So, if anything is real it is a mind. The problem of other minds, solipsism, is a big one for idealists, but it can be circumvented by the way mentioned --that we cannot experience directly another person's mind, but we know that they are there for we can experience them as a body. What would or could it be like to be in some other person's mind? Minds cannot experience other minds, but because we have ideas of other persons as bodies which speak to us and transfer their thoughts to us symbolically through language, we can be reasonably certain that there are other minds. Of course, more is needed to make this solution work.

Here's the problem. Suppose idealism is true. Suppose that you are worried that you are the only mind around. But, you say, "There must be other minds, because I have the ideas of speaking to people (speaking and interacting with their bodies) and such ideas or experiences should be evidence enough that there are other minds. Bodies are the way other minds are represented on my screen (to my mind); I could have no experience of another mind unless I somehow became it --which sounds impossible. So, the idea of a person's appearing as a body is fine." The problem is, are the other minds having sensations of you (as a body on their screens) at the same time? Imagine thousands of video theaters. They are all running individual shows, but somehow what appears on one screen is coordinated with all the others. How is this possible? The story "With a Finger in My I" maintains that it is because the minds somehow "agree" on general concepts about the bodily world and are all in the present moment of time; they not only have the same software, they are all running the programs in sync. However, when the timing and software break down, so does the harmony among what appears on the individual screens.

Some idealists, Berkeley to be noted, propose a Master video maker who makes all the theaters with similar software and coordinates all the shows in the individual theaters. In fact, each theater is an idea on the Master video maker's screen. Needless to say, the Master video maker is God. But, a new problem pops up for Berkeley, one which we will look at in the next chapter. You probably have already guessed its nature; if everything and everyone is in God's mind, everything IS God. There is but one being, God, who has many, many different kinds of ideas, some of which are human minds. Uh oh. How can there be distinct persons (you and me) if we are merely separate ideas in God's mind; we certainly couldn't be called autonomous individuals with free will, for how would our wills differ from God's? Moreover, if we had trouble with the concept of another mind coming into direct contact with our minds, how can God do so? Bodies can directly interact, but how can minds? What would it be like to be in another person's mind, especially God's? The concept of a world of minds only (idealism) has a real problem.

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