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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

UC Philosophy Professor Releases New Book | University of Cincinnati

"Former business consultant and UC Philosophy Department chairman Tom Polger's new book examines the nature of realizations and perceptions." notes University of Cincinnati.

The Multiple Realization Book

There’s the old joke about a Fortune 500 company that was hiring a new CPA: the successful candidate was the one who, when asked by the hiring manager what 2 plus 2 equaled, leaned in and whispered, “Whaddya want it to equal?”

“There’s something smart about the employee who says to the boss, ’What answer do you want?’,” University of Cincinnati Philosophy Chair Tom Polger acknowledged. “But there’s something dangerous in that, too.”


An example, he said, might be air traffic controllers. A controller watching a clear radar screen might, under a boss’s pressure to bring the last remaining plane in for the night, give that aircraft clearance to land. But how many planes are on the runway when he gives the go ahead?

There’s clearly a need there for deeper inquiry, and less tolerance for questionable interpretations of “truth.”

“If Big Brother can make you have their answer to a math equation, they can make you believe their answer to anything,” Polger cautioned. “This is part of the underpinning of democracy. We live in a democracy where the majority make a lot of the decisions. The idea behind the Bill of Rights is that the majority could be wrong.”

And this is where the value of philosophical inquiry comes in. Philosophy is valuable, according to Polger, because it studies the “how” and “why” of thought itself.


Photo: Tom Polger
Photo: Lawrence Shapiro
His newest publication, The Multiple Realization Book (co-authored with University of Wisconsin-Madison philosophy professor Dr. Lawrence Shapiro), certainly seems to examine — perhaps challenge — the notion that various modes of human inquiry are truly discrete.

“The area that I work in is an intersection of several areas of philosophy. I think that human beings think about what their minds are like, about what it is to have a mind, thoughts, beliefs,” Polger said. “We have sensations and we’re fascinated by them. But they’re mysterious.”

Just where do human forms of perception end and objective states begin? It’s a big question, and to illustrate his point, Polger cited the example of “pain.” It is, to some degree, a mystery whether the physical “pain” we humans feel is only perceptible to life forms that, as we do, possess nervous systems operating by electro-chemical means.

“Is it neurons that are important?,” he asked. “Is it electro-chemical signals that are important? is it grey matter like that in the human brains that is important?”

But, Polger and his colleague ask, could “pain” be realized by other beings or things, in other ways?

Would, for example, an artificial intelligence like IBM’s Watson feel some manner of “pain” if one damaged a portion of its electrical pathways? Do plants register the concept of “pain” when we pick healthy leaves? Or, do viruses perceive “pain” when their replication cycles are pharmacologically inhibited?


Those questions are generated from the same line of inquiry that has generated the multiple realization hypothesis — chiefly, that concepts, sensations, or thoughts the human brain manifests might have analogues. “Pain” might be realized by humans, plants and computers, but in unique ways determined by strikingly different means.

Another way of thinking about it, Polger said, might be to think about hardware and software. Realizations, he explained, are somewhat like software. Similar core programming might form the base code of a handheld calculator program, a PC program and a smartphone app, but the hardware constructions of those devices differ, so the functionality of programs will naturally be different.

Confused? You’re not alone. This is high concept stuff — not the purvey of casual investigators, or even of journalists. But that’s the value in these lines of inquiry, and in the study of philosophy. “Philosophy is distinguished in part by asking questions that are ‘bigger’ than other disciplines,” Polger suggested.

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Source: University of Cincinnati


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