Archive for April, 2012

Experience isn’t subjective

April 27, 2012

This is the first post in a series deriving from a conversation with Frode on the 26th of April.

From Descartes to Nagel, there is an argument that consciousness is utterly subjective, that another person cannot feel my pain. A mild version of this argument is obviously true: you are not standing where I am standing, you do not see the coffee cup in front me in exactly the same way that I do. However, this mild argument for the exclusivity of consciousness isn’t particularly troubling. After all, I don’t see the world the same way as I did a minute ago as soon as I move from one location to another, or even turn my head. But there is a clear sense of continuity from one frame to another. Contrary to William James‘ intuition, we do not experience the world as a blooming buzzing confusion. One of the key insights of modern perceptual science is the continuity, coherence and stability of perceptual experience despite the dynamic character of the input to our senses.

Why is the transition from one organism to another in space any bigger than the transition within an organism in time? Unless you assume that the self is an impermeable entity, there is just as must reason to believe that my experience is continuous with yours as there is to believe that my experience is continuous with my own past experience.  Of course, one can never experience exactly what another person experiences, but that standard of exactness and certainty is too high a standard. As long as my experience is continuous with yours, your consciousness is accessible to me even if I don’t see the very same thing as you do.

Only if you believe, as Descartes probably did, that the self is impermeable and that the only form of valid knowledge is certain knowledge that we are stuck with the isolated subjectivity of consciousness. Knowledge of others’ experience that is continuous with their subjectivity rather than an exact replica of their experience is still enough for a science of experience.

 

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Rights and Responsibilities

April 25, 2012

Citizenship has always been about rights and responsibilities. When kings and Rajas were sovereign they had all the responsibilities, in theory anyway, and they had all the rights as well. The modern nation state is a descendant of the sovereign king; unsurprisingly, it holds most of the responsibilities and in return demands our allegiance. 

Calls for greater citizen rights are inevitable now that the state doesn’t have the immense information and material asymmetries that it did in an earlier era. But instead of demanding greater rights, what if citizens unilaterally started taking on more responsibilities? The British thought that Indians weren’t fit to rule themselves, which we now believe to be a rationalization of their own desire to colonize and rule. The Indian independence movement had to spend time convincing other Indians – and to a lesser extent the British rulers – that they were fit for Swaraj.

The Indian state still believes it is “Sarkar,” a sovereign power that sits on top of all of us.  If citizens started solving problems on their own, wouldn’t that be proof by demonstration that the state needs to share more power with citizens? Demands for Swaraj must be accompanied by public problem solving. 

Citizenship in the 21st century

April 23, 2012

Scientific and social structures are influenced by the technologies of the time. Modern democracy is unimaginable without print newspapers and other mass media. It isn’t surprising that the one way, creator to consumer nature of newspapers, radio and TV is mirrored by the one way, politician to citizen nature of modern democracy.

Social media is far more interactive and bidirectional. Everybody hopes that next revolution in democracy will be catalyzed by the mirroring of the social web. I am sure that’s a half truth, but the future will portray social media as a precursor to real democracy. Facebook will be seen by the next generation as a lucrative but ultimately unimportant way station toward world citizenship.  

Digital and Analog

April 21, 2012

Like the railroad and the United States in the nineteenth century, the internet is a geographical area revolutionized by a new technology. The progression of technology is the same in both cases:

  1. A new area is discovered.
  2. Survey and mapping is done.
  3. Communities are established.
  4. Community services are created.

The railroad clearly led to all four; the internet has only reached the third stage. The web started when the basic networking protocols were established and the first websites were created. Then came Yahoo and Google as surveyors, mapping out the newly created terrain, followed in the third stage by Facebook which started creating communities.

The next wave of the internet will involve creating community services: health, education, politics, entertainment located in the geography of the internet. 

The demand for community services will spill over from the world of information into the world of of matter, from the digital to the analog. The merger of the two – digital + analog = digpan – will increasingly be the story of the web.  

Digital and Analog

April 21, 2012

Like the railroad and the United States in the nineteenth century, the internet is a geographical area revolutionized by a new technology. The progression of technology is the same in both cases:

  1. A new area is discovered.
  2. Survey and mapping is done.
  3. Communities are established.
  4. Community services are created.

The railroad clearly led to all four; the internet has only reached the third stage. The web started when the basic networking protocols were established and the first websites were created. Then came Yahoo and Google as surveyors, mapping out the newly created terrain, followed in the third stage by Facebook which started creating communities.

The next wave of the internet will involve creating community services: health, education, politics, entertainment located in the geography of the internet. 

The demand for community services will spill over from the world of information into the world of of matter, from the digital to the analog. The merger of the two – digital + analog = digpan – will increasingly be the story of the web.