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When might this technology be available?

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fraggle said:

The same is true of other forms of artistic work. A simple example is music. I remember a friend of mine who was learning to play guitar telling me how he could hear the tune in his head, he just didn't have the skill to properly play it! But who knows if it would have been any good anyway? The division is more clear-cut in music: there's the skill of playing an instrument and the skill of being a composer. Even if you could somehow make a machine that would do one for you, it still won't do the other.

I love these kinds of thread. "In my mind I'm a creative genius but I have no talent!"

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Reaper978 said:

If projecting someone's thoughts (or indeed, even understanding them) is so impossible, how is it that I can see my own thoughts and understand them so perfectly?

As schwerpunk says, it would be a little off-key to say that you see your thoughts, but in any case the issue that you raise is a good one.

It's a matter of epistemology (broadly, theory of, and theorising about, knowledge), and it turns a on distinction between first and third-person epistemic perspectives. These matters are incredibly complicated, but here are some words:

It's reasonably uncontroversial that subject's stand in a privileged epistemic position vis-a-vis certain of their own psychological states and episodes. That's is, in cases of certain ubiquitous sorts, subject's are in much better position to know certain things about how things are with them psychologically, or consciously - how they're thinking, or, more generally, experiencing - than an observer, someone other than themselves, would be. That's not to say that there aren't personal-level psychological events that subject's are not aware off, nor that subject's can't go wrong in their judgements about how things are with themselves - just that, in many cases, there's marked contrast between the subject's epistemic position vis-a-vis certain of their own psychological states and episodes, and the epistemic position of others vis-a-vis the same states and episodes.

This reflects an interesting distinction in kinds of access that each us has to certain goings on within our own minds. For any conscious psychological episode that I undergo - any mental event which passes through my stream consciousness - I occupy a perspective on that episode which (a) no-one else occupies and (b) puts me in a position to know certain things about it, simply through being aware of it from that perspective. Again, that's not to say that I'll always exploit the fact that I'm in this position, and acquire this knowledge about how things are with me, from the first person perspective - it's perfectly possible that my ability to do this can be impeded (I might be too drunk, or otherwise distracted, to attend to these things). Still, the fact remains that subject's occupy a first person perspective on certain of their mental states and episodes, through which they're acquainted with them, and which - should they exploit it - provides a powerful source of self-knowledge, that's distinct from other sources like sensory perception, and testimony.

Edit: I should add that, akin to the case of thought below, there's plausibly a constitutive connection here between a subject's being aware of a mental episode in this first-person way, and that episode's being their's, and so if a subject is aware of mental episode in this way, then it follows that it's their's - that they are undergoing it.

In the particular case of thought, there's very plausibly a constitutive connection between a subject's being aware of a thought from this perspective, and its being their thought - that is, if a subject is aware of a thought in this first-person way, then it follows that they are the thinker, or the producer, of that thought. There are plausibly two aspects to this awareness that we have of our own thoughts: a subject is aware of both the thought, and of the mental action of producing the thought (indeed, the fact that we are the authours of our own thoughts is, arguably, written into the character of our awareness of them, although that's not to say that it's always present - it's possible that a dissociation here accounts for some of the pathologies associated with schizophrenia).

So, arguably, the fact that that you're aware of your own thoughts, and that you understand them in the way that you do, simply reflects the fact that since you are the subject that produces those thoughts, you occupy a privileged epistemic perspective on them. Moreover, since the capacity to produce thoughts of certain sorts rides in tandem with a capacity to understand thoughts of those sorts, the fact that you produce them guarantees that you understand them (though, that doesn't preclude your failing to grasp their full significance, nor from 'essaying' thoughts that you do not understand).

Now, contrast this with the case of examining the results of a brain scan, or - better - watching a live representation of the neurological events occurring in someone's brain. While I think there's no arguing with the claim that these events underpin psychological activity, as I mentioned earlier, the relationship between these two things is pretty unclear. But let's suppose (and really I think this is mistaken) that consciously occurring thoughts and experiences are identical to certain neurological events in the brain, and so we can legitimately say that when we look at the live feed from the brain, we're literally looking at the thoughts that the subject is thinking (again, I think this is a mistake, but bracket that). Still, the perspective that we had on them would not be the same as the perspective that their subject had - we would not be aware of them, in the way that we're typically aware of our own thoughts; we would not thereby occupy a first person perspective on them. So, we're denied the kinds of epistemic advantages that one has by occupying that kind of perspective on a thought.

Of course, by looking at the scan, we could still learn plenty of things about the thoughts - certainly, about the physical attributes that they bear, but it's a task of translation to move from what we know about this, to a judgement about the content of those thoughts - about what the subject is thinking. But contrast this with the subject's situation: since they occupy a first person perspective on them, they're aware of what they're thinking, and they don't need to translate any information about what's going on in their brain in order to acquire this knowledge, yet the latter is something that we must do if we're to move from brain scans to knowledge of the thoughts of others.

So anyway, tl:dr: the privileged access that you have to your own mind is perfectly consistent with the absence of such access from a third person perspective.

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Use3D said:

I love these kinds of thread. "In my mind I'm a creative genius but I have no talent!"

I've been an artist for two decades and still can't draw the stuff I see in my head to anything other than a small degree of accuracy.

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GoatLord said:

I've been an artist for two decades and still can't draw the stuff I see in my head to anything other than a small degree of accuracy.

That's basically how it is for me with music. I definitely can't draw the things I see in my head. And ideas come and go so swiftly, getting them all down in time before I forget the idea is a challenge.

Anyway, after a long time away from such things, I'm going to try music composition again. I find that such endeavors are quite tedious, however.

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