It has been a while since i saw the guy and the girl on the tram. This time i only caught the end of their conversation before they got up abruptly and left.
“So there can only be one observer in a coherent system of knowledge” said the girl with the orange hair.
“All particulars must be either observed or not observed, but never both. And to say what kind of knowledge we have of a something, it is essential that we know if it is observed, and to discover this we must have a single clearly defined observer.”
“Is this because you have been reading about Schrodinger’s cat?” asked her friend.
“No it’s not just that. The cat helps. I mean, the alive/dead state of the cat wave form collapses when it is observed. We know that. But it is the same with anything. The moon doesn’t even exist when i look away.”
“How can that be?”
“Well there are two ways. Firstly, because the collapse of the wave form. But more importantly, it all goes back to how i know anything.”
“You see, in the beginning, when i was a baby, there was just a stream of sense data. It was sense data and the knowledge, the only piece of knowledge i think we have, of existing. It’s not even knowledge, just a sort of being, it comes before thought. It comes before observation. Because this stream of sense data.. it’s like the number plane, it just keeps coming. And at some point, i suppose, we are able to say ‘well that’s different’. We notice something has changed. And that probably is our first observation. So it goes “i exist ===> i observe (a change). The opposite way to Descartes actually.”
“And this sort of thing must go on for a while, and all the while importantly the tape is running, so we are recording somehow, we have memory. And then we notice something and we realise that have noticed it before and that’s the first ‘ah’ moment. It’s importantly different to just floating on the stream. Maybe it happens in the first few days when we notice the pattern of our mother’s heart beat and everything swelling with it. So it’s our first pattern recognition event. And it’s our first real knowledge.”
“But we are making a leap already,without even noticing it, we are leaping into knowledge of the future. For we are going to assume, something having occurred before, and it happening again, we are going to be ready for it to happen in the future. We don’t know, of course, this is the problem of induction. There is no certainty. We cannot even know, it is the first fear perhaps, that our mother’s own heart beat won’t even continue. It seems regular, it seems to always be going on and on. We don’t know. Although in time, in the mind of a tiny baby in the womb, perhaps it comes to be taken for granted. And so we come to rely on patterns and we start to map out the future from the past.”
“And then there is the great event, that first death which we all experienced. The heartbeat ends, the darkness is blown away, the cold rushes in, and we are born. What a bittersweet thing, to lose that heartbeat, and yet discover that we still have one of our own. What can be left to discover after that…”
There was a sudden jolt and everyone on the tram was knocked over, the girl dropped some books, which spilled over the floor. I dropped a coffee i was holding and after i finished apologising to the old lady with the dog, i noticed that her friend had already helped her to put them back in her bag. Then it was her stop and they both got off.
I saw them again the next day though, and they still seemed to be talking about induction. This time the boy was talking.
“All observations are based on the knowledge that ‘I am observing’ which is derived from those first few months of life. It is all built up from the earliest beginnings, with thoughts such as “when I open my eyes, the light arrives”. All this knowledge is inductive, we still haven’t got any further than that first step of noticing the stream of sense data. We just have a steadily growing bank of past experience to draw more complicated reference to. It is impossible to get past the supposition…”
The girl interrupted.
“But the stream is still there, the sense data. And this is the important thing, this is the only thing that is real. Everything else has been built up out of nothing. And so this is why unobserved entities simply can’t exist. They have no reason to exist. There is no grounds for them to exist. The cat doesn’t even exist until it is observed.”
“what about other minds then?” asked the boy
The girl thought for a minute and then replied.
“Consciousness is not an observed entity. Consciousness shares its character with that first thought, “I exist”. So the grounds for the existence of other minds is stronger than for other sense data. It is like discovering our own reflection in something. Other minds are not ordinary matter.”
They walked away then and i have not seen them again since.