The third reading from Russell is here. I have skipped two sections for the sake of time.
In one, Russell discusses how modern science conceives of reality as fundamentally
motion through space. In the other, Russell addresses the philosophy (popular at the time
but much less so now) of idealism which claims that reality is fundamentally mental
rather than physical.
I would like to also address one point Russell makes in distinguishing between physical reality
and our sensation of that reality. It is all very well to say, "Yes, I accept the fact that
hardness depends upon subjectivity..." but it is more difficult to really internalize this
principle. We are so accustomed to saying, "This shirt is red" or "That flower is yellow" that
we actually believe that objects do have colors when in fact the entire phenomena of color is
completely within our brains. Nothing in the world is colored. No musical instrument produces
a tone. No food has a taste or texture. It is one thing to accept these rationally, but another
thing to sit down and focus intensely on the idea that you never experience anything about the
external universe but only what is happening between your temples. If you try this, you may
find it to be a very strange experience. I also think this is the first step in solving the
problem of qualia, nowhere near a complete solution, but a step in the right direction.
In 600 words, answer these questions relating to the above third reading.
1. If you take a walk through the woods and look around, what knowledge do you have by acquaintance
and what knowledge do you have by description? What would life be like with only knowledge by
2. We can conceive of the sun, we can generate the concept of "the sun" through some mental machinery.
We seem to be also able to conceive of ourselves, you can generate the concept of "me" through what
may be the same mental machinery. Suppose I could somehow perform brain surgery that would leave the
first ability but remove the second. You could conceive of everything but yourself. What would this
existence be like for you? Would you still be "conscious"?
3. In a similar line of thought, if a computer can store a model of its current state in a small chip,
is it conscious? Slightly conscious?
4. When we see the sun, we are aware of the sun and we seem to have the ability to be "aware we are
aware of the sun". Can we be "aware we are aware we are aware of the sun"? Can we be "aware we are
aware we are aware we are aware of the sun"? Is there any limit to these extensions and, if so, why?
5. I will later provide the reading in which Russell addresses what he calls universals, but think of this
for yourself first: How do we learn universals like whiteness, brotherhood, diversity? How do we
"understand" what these words "mean"? What would thought and communication be like without universals?