17 July 2006

Dreaming + Wittgenstein + Mental Processes

From the PI,

How does the philosophical problem about mental processes and states and about behaviorism arise?——the first step is the one that altogether escapes notice. We talk of processes and states and leave their nature undecided. Sometime perhaps we shall know more about them—we think. But that is just what commits us to a particular way of looking at the matter. For we have a definite concept of what it means to learn to know a process better. (The decisive movement in the conjuring trick has been made, and it was the very one that we thought quite innocent.)—and now the analogy which was to make us understand our thoughts falls to pieces. So we have to deny the yet uncomprehended process in the yet unexplored medium. And now it looks as if we had denied mental processes. And naturally we don’t want to deny them. (308)

I take this quote to mean that Wittgenstein thinks we can never know mental processes better--philosophically. (Philosophers of mind, the modern pseudo-scientific ones are damned.) I thought of this great passage (how droll is, "And naturally we don't want to deny them"?!) upon reading this article on dreaming. Here are the lines that made me think specifically of Wittgenstein,

Some scientists take the position that dreaming probably has no function. They feel that sleep, and within it REM sleep, have biological functions (though these are not totally established) and that dreaming is simply an epiphenomenon that is the mental activity that occurs during REM sleep. I do not believe this is the most fruitful approach to the study of dreaming. Would we be satisfied with the view that thinking has no function and is simply an epiphenomenon--the kind of mental activity that occurs when the brain is in the waking state?

What's wrong with seeing thought (or dreaming) as an epiphenomenon? This scientist states the Wittgenstinian point of view quite well--and in a way in which I'd never think. Thought is an epiphenomenon of action. Thought is an epiphenomenon of action. Wow! This is not to say that we cannot investigate thought. And by 'we' I mean scientists. This just has to do with Wittgenstein's much earlier (in the PI) writing about analyzable propositions and exactness.

--Stand here.


--Right there. Good.

And now I can take a photograph. Compare to thoughts.

--What are you thinking?

--How now? What do you mean? I'm thinking... well I wasn't thinking of just anything at that moment. Now I'm thinking about how annoying you are. I'm trying to study: Leave me alone.

Thought accompanies action--as it were after the fact: an epiphenomenon. This sounds to me perfectly right.