Saturday, February 19, 2005

Is Connectedness Supplied by the Mind?

Kevin Kim of X-rated BigHominid fame comments on my last Composition/Identity post thusly:

Question: if connectedness is empirically undetectable, is it simply inferred? If true, this might imply that "connectedness" is a subjective human notion and not an objective reality. Is connectedness discovered or invented by the mind?

Let's say we're talking about a trailer truck, its parts all properly connected so that it's recognizably a truck. Its "truckness" (for lack of a better term) arises from the antecedent connectedness of the truck parts, right?But what is the truck from the point of view of, say, a rabbit*? Does the connectedness of the truck parts mean anything in lagomorphic phenomenology?

What if connectedness is simply a function of how a mind parses the things it perceives and conceives of?I don't mean to be flip, and far be it from me to presume to read a rabbit's mind (such as it is), but I think it's a legitimate question: what makes us think that "connectedness"-- whether we're talking about trucks or any other phenomena-- holds any objective reality? . . .

BV: Kevin raises a good question. What is the status of connectedness? Is it mind-independently real or is it a mental projection or mental addition to what is mind-independently real? Here is an excerpt from a paper in progress, "Against Buddhist Reductionism," that addresses this very question:

7. Can Mental Construction Account for Connectedness?

It is self-evident that a contingent whole such as a chariot is a connectedness of parts, and not a mere collection of (disconnected) parts. But we have just see that the ground of this connectedness cannot be internal to a whole either as a further part or as a set of monadic properties of its parts. Call the ground of connectedness the connector. If the connector is a special part in addition to the primary parts, then the problem arises as to what connects the connector to what it connects. That way lies Bradley’s regress. If, on the other hand, we think of the connector R as reducing to monadic properties of the primary parts, then, as we saw in section 5, no genuine reduction is achieved. I conclude from this that the reductionist, to remain a reductionist and thus to avoid saying that a whole and its parts are equally real, must appeal to something external to a contingent whole to account for the connectedness of parts that makes it a whole. There is need for an external unifier. Only with an external unifier or connector can a reductionist remain a reductionist in the teeth of the arguments I have presented. It is clear that a reductionist cannot say that a whole unifies itself – in the sense that it is a unity distinct from its parts – for the simple reason that this amounts to abandoning reductionism.

Siderits appears to provide two competing accounts of the difference between a chariot and the corresponding collection of unassembled chariot parts. One of them -- the foundationist account -- we have just criticized. The other appeals to the notion that "all aggregation involves mental construction." (Personal Identity and Buddhist Philosophy, Ashgate 2003, p. 7) Could mental aggregation be the ontological ground of connectedness? I submit that this notion of mental construction as the ground of connectedness is untenable.

Ask a simple question: Whose mind is doing the aggregating? Does the chariot-driver assemble his chariot by ‘thinking together’ its parts, starting at ontological rock-bottom with impartite parts? Must he continuously ‘think them together’ to maintain the chariot’s functionality? That would be absurd. The unity of parts that bestows upon them chariot-functionality is logically and ontologically antecedent to any act of mental constructing or aggregating by any individual. This is painfully obvious in the case of very small parts such as molecular and atomic parts. The charioteer can drive his chariot only because it is already (logically speaking) a full-fledged unity of parts. Furthermore, the mind that does the aggregating is itself a partite entity, and therefore one that cannot be ultimately real if Buddhist reductionism is true. If so, the aggregating mind M is itself in need of an aggregator to account for the difference between M and its parts. The appeal to partite minds as aggregators pretty clearly leads nowhere.

Is there another option? If it cannot be individual minds that do the aggregating, is it language that does it, or language together with social practices? Siderits points out that we have the name ‘chariot,’ but no name for the corresponding collection of disassembled parts. (7) He says that this is because we have an institutionalized use – as a means of transportation – for the assembled parts, but no such use for the parts in their disassembled state. Siderits claims that it is our "institutionally arranged interests" (8) that bring it about that we view the chariot parts as a "single entity" when in ultimate reality there is no single entity. The suggestion is that what makes the chariot a single entity, a unity of parts having chariot functionality, is something social or institutional or linguistic.

I would say, however, that this puts the cart (or the chariot!) before the horse. It is because the chariot is a "single entity" that we can ride it and to name it ‘chariot.’ Granted, it has a name because of its human usefulness, but it is humanly useful because of the functionality that derives from the antecedent connectedness of its parts. The connectedness, therefore, cannot derive from our applying of ‘chariot’ to a bunch of otherwise disconnected chariot parts. The connectedness whereby it is a single substantial entity is logically and ontologically prior to any mental act of constructing or any linguistic act of naming. This is not to say that the chariot is ultimately real; it is to say that the reality of the chariot is not a merely linguistically or mentally created reality. The chariot may not be ultimately real, but its reality is greater than that of any mentally constructed object.