Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Live blogging the Critique of Pure Reason: synthetic unity of apperceptions and conceptual processing of data

Some of what Kant says is so much easier to understand now that we live in a digital age where music, video, and words, can be broken down into ones and zeroes, then reconstituted. One of the things that Kant argues is that for the mind to be able to do anything useful with the data that it receives empirically it has to artificially unite disparate features into wholes. Think about it this way: you hear a sound, and on one level the sound is very basic, high pitched, low pitched, consonant, dissonant, but in order to really understand what you're perceiving the mind has to take the different features of the sound that it picks up on and categorize them as a discrete object having certain characteristics. These characteristics are linked not just to basic features but to things we've perceived previously. So for example, the sound of keys hitting a keyboard. On the one hand I could say that this thing is a sharp sound, that it's brief, but for me to really do anything with it my mind has to look at the context and synthesize the sound into an artificial object that's then labeled "keyboard sounds". Once the "keyboard sounds" object is created I can then say "The keyboard sound is loud", "The keyboard sound is annoying", "The keyboard sound is louder on this keyboard than on other keyboards". The "object" in these cases has become the logical subject of the sentences.

In fact, if you really wanted to push it you could easily say that in order to talk about the keyboard sound all you need to do is to say "That sound", but in saying "that sound" you're already taking s bunch of data and summing it up into one concept, a concept that can then be analyzed and manipulated. Once you say "that sound" you can make logical statements like "that sound is x" or "that sound is not x", or "that sound is x and is also y", or "that sound is x and is also not y". These operations can be combined with each other to make more complex statements. "that sound is loud", "that sound occurs (is) when I press a key", "when I press a key harder the sound is louder", "therefore, the sound's volume can be said to be related to how hard I press the key".

Of course the concepts "key" "press" "I" and "hard", as well as "loud" and the modifications "harder" and "louder", are also synthetic concepts, concepts that are formed from our minds classifying raw data into certain categories.

For Kant, all usable data is data that has been synthesized (or combined) into concepts, but those concepts in their nature are all similar in that all of them can be related to each other in some way, at least theoretically. When we think about things in the world there's a certain fluidity. We can think about the most diverse things and try to relate them to one another without there being serious problems. The problems that come come from the characteristics of whatever it is that we're talking about. You can try to relate anything to anything, make potential connections between any subject and any other subject. I can say that "The red shirt runs fast backwards on the moon" and if you think about it you can probably try to imagine in your mind a disembodied shirt going backwards on the moon, even though it's not real and is in fact impossible. You try to put the logic together to make it possible. Kant's point is that if there wasn't a certain commonality between all concepts, all aggregations of data that the mind labels, we wouldn't even be able to get to that point.

You could say that all data in concepts is organized by structures, and all of these structures are constructed according to a system that makes them similar enough to each other that they can interact meaningfully with each other, that they're in the same universal type of format.

Interestingly enough, if this wasn't the case, if we had different formats for different concepts of data floating around in our heads it would be difficult to interact with complex objects. Say you had an apple, and the shape and color information was in a different format from the tase and sound information. It would be hard to relate the shape and color of the experience of biting into an apple to the taste and sound of it if the information was in different formats, yet we're able to associate all of them together with no problem.

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