December 14, 2009

Babble, Feelings, and Other Minds

Disclaimer: This post was inspired by listening to Wonderwall by Oasis while sitting in the Rochester International Airport.

I've gotten to thinking on the other minds problem. It's just what it sounds like; how can any individual deduce that other people really have minds and aren't just cleverly-disguised Borg? Oh no, you can't!

The line "I don't believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now" got me thinking about mental states... and the possibility of dualism (that the mind is a separate substance from the body and yet can act upon physical things: you can think that you want to do X, and then you make your body do X).

My question is, is it possible for someone else to feel the way I do about X? EXACTLY the same way?
Unfortunately, to determine this, we would probably have to get very specific about the different attitudes that people can have towards things. It's my intuitive opinion that there are infinitely many. You can keep making them up. eg. the feeling that they should be pushed off of a platform above a working giant blender, vs. the feeling of wanting to do that to the person oneself, vs. the feeling that a specific other person should do it, etc, etc. By fiddling with the details there are just way too many potential attitudes!

Now, just because there are an infinite variety of ways to feel, that does not mean in itself that multiple people cannot have the same one. It just makes it harder to figure out who has which attitudes. Most people don't think about their feelings about all sorts of things, and therefore would not be able to be specific enough about their attitude regarding a particular thing.

There are also personal differences in how people choose to express their attitudes, such that even if two people had the same feeling, they may describe it different ways. If this is the case, then how should we decide to condense these descriptions so that we might have a manageable number of attitudes, or even specific kinds of attitudes.

This is clearly an epistemic problem. We can't know whether people have differing or similar attitudes regarding X because of a problem of variety, and in attempting to solve that problem, we encounter another one, of types.

My conclusion: I don't believe that anybody would describe their feelings the same way I do AND have the same mental states about X if X is something that we are both well informed about. Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit Google Bookmark

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