Naivism and Realism

Lots of people think naive realism is important. But is it important because it’s naive or because it’s realist? Part of that answer depends on whether or not naivism is preferable to realism. If it is, although one might be more important for other reasons, there will be resistance to it because we prefer the other.

We can distinguish between naive realism and naivism:

Naive realism concerns the view that what seems to be real is real.

For example: if, on visually experiencing a coloured round object (such as a red balloon) that seems to be real, then naive realism is the position that, indeed, this apparently real and red balloon is a real and red balloon.

Naivism is more general: it is the view that what seems to be x is x. 

For example: if, on visually experiencing a coloured round object (such as a red balloon) that seems to be imaginary, then naivism is the position that, indeed, this apparently imaginary and red balloon is an imaginary red balloon.

That is, along with naive realism, one can also have naive idealism: what seems to be mind-dependent is mind-dependent.

One question such a categorisation raises is: Which is true of our experience? When it comes to our experience, is everything apparent to us (everything in our phenomenology) also apparently real? If so, then naive realism and naivism are the same.

However, I don’t think this can be right. Lots of theorists of experience — phenomenologists such as Husserl or Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre (thinking of his book Imagination) — think that some experiences are appearances of only imaginary things. If one is naive about this, then one holds that such things ARE imaginary — because that is how they seem.

Imagination isn’t the only possible case of non-perceptual experience. There is memory experience — which, whatever else it seems to be, doesn’t seem to be perception (unlike memory hallucination).  There is recent interest in cognitive phenomenology –that there is a phenomenal character or experience to some instances of thought, an experience which cannot be reduced to other forms (such as perception, memory or imagination.

If that’s right, then there are at least three forms of experience and appearing that are not perceptual (for now, I don’t have an opinion, not having considered the arguments).

Another question is raised out of that point: A naive theory is that you take appearances to correspond or, if you can, be identical to how things are. A realist theory is that you take things to be real (independent of human thought and experience). It is possible they can come into conflict. So, which is more important?

First, clarify how they could come into conflict. If they can’t, then the question of importance is less important; you’ll never have to choose.

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Changing the Past: If You Want to, You Can’t

Note:

(a) This is an adaptation of my opening talk for an exhibition by artist Sinead MacDonald this time last year in the Draoicht Art Centre. 

(b) This is about time travel. This is a warning in case you think that is fanciful, and fanciful things don’t interest you.

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Many people want to change something in their past. Some of these things – for example, earthquakes – couldn’t be avoided, and so the desire is futile. But others seem tied to our decisions and choices. Let us say you have a time machine. If you could, wouldn’t you want to go back and, at least, try to change some of your decisions and choices — make the other decision, bring about the other outcome? I certainly would; my regrets are not too few to mention.

This seems to be the idea of many people (at least, in the US, and there’s little reason to think it varies in other cultures). Research by the Pew Institute asked the American public what futuristic invention would they most like. 9% of respondents said they would like a time machine. And, according to the show This American Life, most people would like a time machine because they could then go back and change things. For example, a lot of respondents said they would then go back and kill Hitler before he rose to power.

So, it is a common belief that, if you could travel in time, you could also change the past. And this is a trope in lots of time travel stories: Back to the Future, Looper, Primer (although, not Bill & Ted, or Interstellar, or Twelve Monkeys).

However, there is a problem commonly raised about changing the past. At least in some circumstances, you can run into The Grandfather Paradox.

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