picture
Individual

Inebriate simian

Sill
Wednesday as I’m getting ready to leave I notice that the keys aren’t in the door. I look for them in the usual nearby places. There they aren’t. It occurs to me that I have been known to leave them hanging on the outside of the door. I look: aha keys. But since they’re outside, or so I say to myself, I still must find another key to open the door and retrieve them.
So I start looking again, cursing whoever removed the extras from the vase they’d been sitting in for six months (unless I removed them). Finally it dawns on me that if my keys are outside, and there are no others, then the door is not locked. Sheepishly (if it’s possible to be sheepish when alone) I pull the door open and grab them.
Sometimes I’m inclined to agree with those who call the mind a “drunken monkey”. Of all things we know, or think we ought to know, the mind best of all; and yet much of our mental discourse just happens, as events “outside” the mind just happen—events we neither control nor regard ourselves as being in any special position to know. Importance and availability make for fascination; opacity in the determination of thoughts makes for mystery. A mystery independent of “hard questions” and “explanatory gaps”, though perhaps referable to them. (It’s independent because even a dualist of the Cartesian sort might believe, as Malebranche did, that the nature of the mind is not known to us.)
In the present instance an “obvious” inference (if the keys are on the outside of the door, the door’s not locked), one that at other times I perform smoothly, as if automatically, was blocked. It was blocked, I think, because before I discovered that the keys were outside I had already invoked the “other key” model or procedure. In that model the presence or absence of keys outside the door does not figure. It’s not irrelevant, of course. If the keys are outside, then in all likelihood the door isn’t locked, and there’s no reason to invoke the “other key” model. But the model itself takes no account of goings on outside. The absence of keys outside is presumed by it (or more precisely, by the invoking of it), for the reason just mentioned. But neither “keys outside” nor “no keys outside” is in the model (whether “in” means “represented in” or something else I’m not sure).
The only volition at work was something like “I’m going now”. After that, everything just happened, though it remained under my control. I could have interrupted the procedure had there been reason to—if I’d heard that one of the cats was in pain, for example. In particular, being blocked from making the obvious inference just happened; I felt, when I finally straightened things out, as if I had momentarily become stupid (locally or punctually stupid). Not the remorse that would follow upon a bad decision, but shame or that attenuated version of shame we call sheepishness.
There’s no moral to this story. Only two demimorals. One is not to leave your keys hanging outside the door all night. (But you probably knew that.)
The other is that real-life judging and believing is almost always mingled with wanting and feeling. I wanted to leave, I felt consternation at the absence of the keys, and therefore invoked the “other key” procedure for solving the problem; that in turn hindered me from drawing an otherwise obvious conclusion, so that even though I held it true that my keys are outside the door and that if my keys are outside the door, the door is probably not locked, I did not conclude that the door is probably not locked (where the “probability” in question is high enough that were I to judge that the door is probably not locked, it would then be most reasonable to try opening the door, as I of course did once I made the obvious inference). In short, explaining what I knew and why, recourse must be had to purposes and to what I’ve been calling models.
There is such a thing as idle curiosity and the idle satisfaction of it, the sheer pleasure of finding things out. That, it seems to me, comes closest to the situation imagined in certain puzzle cases. But in general wanting to know is propter quid, to some end, and knowing is accompanied by satisfaction.

LinkOctober 24, 2004 in Metaphysics & Epistemology · Philosophy of Philosophy