Glocalism: Think Global, Act Local

The next E-Intentionality seminar will be held on April 22nd from 12:00 to 12:50 in Bramber House BH-253 (please note change of venue).  Simon Bowes will speak on “Glocalism: Think Global, Act Local”; abstract:

This talk will be about the much discussed tension between local and global properties of mental states. In particular it will investigate whether I can have my argumentative cake and eat it in terms of relying on local properties to solve the new riddle of induction, but global properties in arguing against reductionism in the mental causation debate.


Competition for a complete study in city planning for a fictive American city of 500,000 inhabitants, organised by the NCCP in spring 1913.  Entry no. 7 (F.A. Bourne, A.C. Comey, B.A. Haldeman and J. Nolan), in “Proceedings of the Fifth National Conference on City Planning. Chicago, Illinois, May 5-7, 1913” (Boston, MA, 1913), 212.

Audio (.mp3, 15MB)


6 thoughts on “Glocalism: Think Global, Act Local

  1. A very interesting talk from Simon Bowes. However, the lively discussion focussed mainly on the New Riddle of Induction (and “my” localist solution), so I was left unclear on how he proposed to square the circle by reconciling such localism with your “global”, holistic anti-reductionism. Simon, could you summarise your solution in a few sentences here?

    Concerning the discussion of the NRI itself, there were a few points from Simon McGregor and Chris Thornton (I’m not being formal, it’s just that there were two people named Simon and two named Chris at seminar) that I wanted to reproduce here and comment on.

    First, Simon M in effect offered his own solution to the NRI by putting pressure on the notion of observation (literally, “examination”) employed in the definition of grue (autocorrect is giving me a rough time with “grue”, I can tell you!):

    “The predicate “grue”… applies to all things examined before t just in case they are green but to other things just in case they are blue.” (Goodman, Fact, Fiction and Forecast, Chapter III, section 4).

    Simon M asked what was to be done with a photo a robot took of an emerald before time t, but which is being looked at by a human for the first time after time t. The general consensus in the room was that this would be a confirming instance of the generalisation “all emeralds are grue” because this would be a case of an emerald being grue. That is, the robot’s photograph would count as an observation of the (green) emerald before t. But if a robot’s photo counts as an observation, Simon M argued, shouldn’t any physical interaction count as being observed? And doesn’t that trivialise grue, as defined?

    Perhaps it does. But Goodman could simply define a new predicate, h-grue, that specifically uses the notion of being examined by a human, rather than the unrestricted notion of being examined, and the New Riddle remains.

    However, consideration of Simon M’s objection drew my attention to the fact that there is an ambiguity in Goodman’s temporal index: is t the time of the act of examining, or is it the time of the state of affairs being examined? Making this distinction shows how one might question the consensus mentioned above, and deny that Simon M’s robot case would count as an confirming instance of grue. If it is the time of the act of examining that is important, then this is not an instance of grue, since it is not a case where it was first examined before t and green, nor is it a case of being blue.

    Simon M also offered a criticism of “my” solution to the New Riddle (I am putting quotes around “my” because no doubt someone suggested this simple, obvious idea before I did). The solution diagnoses the source of the non-projectability of grue as being its temporal non-locality. That is, to determine whether grue applies, one cannot simply look at the local properties of a sample, one must also employ a calendar to determine the time of the examination: one cannot simply read its “pre-t” status off the local facts. But, Simon M observed, this would have the unfortunate consequence of rendering non-projectible whatever physical property (“degree of radioactivity”) is measured by a Geiger counter, since such counters work over a temporal interval.

    To overcome this objection, it might be tempting for me to make a distinction between human examination and the Geiger counter’s operation, saying that it is the counter which requires operation over a temporal interval; for me to use the Geinger counter is a local matter – I just look at the reading on the Geiger counter. But there are questions about who initiated the Geiger counter’s counting in the past, and why. Also, such a move would seem to allow a similar move to “save” grue: simply looking at a calendar is also a local matter (even if the conditions that make the calendar a reliable guide are non-local).

    I don’t have a worked out reply to this objection. All I can do here is air some intuitions about where a reply might be found. First, I suspect that the projectability of “degree of radioactivity” in the face of the non-projectability of “grue” might have something to do with the temporal continuity of the former in the face of the temporal discontinuity of the latter. I’m not sure how to flesh out this idea, but it has something to do with the idea that the smallest temporal window (one end of it fixed on what we are calling the moment of examination) already gives one some idea as to the degree of radioactivity of a sample, with a more and more precise measurement resulting from expanding (into the past) the temporal width of the examination window. There are no discontinuities (or at least, no radical ones) in the set of measurements one obtains in this manner. By contrast, the application of “grue” is a catastrophic affair. Consider first examining an emerald a hundred years after time t. The emerald is not grue. Nor is the same emerald true if it were first examined a few hundred milliseconds earlier. As we continue to go back in time, there is no change in grue status for years and decades of temporal window expansion, until suddenly – bang! – grue appears, never to leave again. The analogy is not exact, but it illustrates my intuitions on the matter.

    Perhaps more important is another point: it seems very likely to me that a Geiger counter is using readings across a temporal window as empirical evidence for the state of a sample at the end of that temporal window, a state which is manifested in physical variables at the time of examination. That state, for which the historical statistics are good evidence, is not itself a temporally non-local matter. By contrast, grueness is “brutely” temporally non-local. And it is this which makes “grue” non-projectible. If this is the proper reply to Simon M’s Geiger counter objection, then perhaps “my” condition of projectibility needs to re-stated so that non-projectability isn’t simply a matter of determining the applicability of the predicate being a non-local process, but rather a matter of the non-locality of the facts that ground correct application, or something like that.

    Chris T raised an objection that I’m not sure I understood, but it seemed to go something like this: Appeal to non-locality won’t work, since “green” is in the same boat as “grue” in that respect. When one applies “green” to something at t, one is committing it to being green in the future and having been green in the past. So the underlying, grounding facts for “green” would also be non-local, in the sense just employed above to characterise non-projectability.

    In the discussion I (surely borrowing someone else’s distinction) referred to this as a “thick” notion of green, in contrast to a “thin” notion of green which applies to something on the basis of how it looks now, without regard to whether it will continue to so look in the future, or whether it has in the past. In fact, it might be that the issue at hand could be expressed as the question: why are we justified in taking thin greenness of this emerald to be evidence of thick greenness of all emeralds, but not in taking the thin grueness of this emerald to be evidence of thick grueness of all emeralds?

    By the way, I found an EI discussion of grue dating back to 2008! Perhaps I’ll upload some of that discussion here.


    • In response to the above, Simon M sent the following:

      “Hi Ron,

      I think the notion of examination is more fundamentally problematic than your h-examination patch suggests. Consider a bag containing one blue marble and one green marble. The robot examines an emerald before time t, and adds another green or blue marble to the bag according to the emerald’s colour. Then, still before time t, a human draws a marble randomly from the bag. Clearly this provides some evidence about the emerald’s colour, but has the human h-examined the emerald? What if the human returns the marble to the bag and repeats the draw 1000 times?

      Let’s define a less ambiguous concept I’ll call e-grue (evidence grue): e-grue is the property of being (thick) green if evidence of its colour is h-observed before time t, and (thick) blue otherwise. (We’ll leave aside pathologies in which the human observes evidence at time t-1 but does not reason the consequences of that evidence through until time t+1.)

      More problematically, this formulation begs the question. Suppose I observe emerald A to be (thin) green, at time t-1. I later observe emerald B to be (thin) green at time t+1, and assume (let’s say rightly) that B is thick green. Is B e-grue or not? Well, the answer depends on whether observing emerald A to be (thin) green was evidence that emerald B is (thick) green – precisely the question we are trying to answer!


      He then added:

      “Hi Ron,

      I hope the following clarifies my e-grue argument.

      Suppose that I decide not to “examine” an emerald X, which is (thick) green, until time t+1, but that the definition of “examination” does not preclude obtaining some evidence at time t-1 that X is (thick) green.

      Any such definition of “examination” will make grue an empirically evidenceable property at time t-1:
      X will not be “examined” until time t+1, so to be grue it would have to be (thick) blue; and I received evidence at time t-1 that X is (thick) green, which is evidence that it is not grue.

      If the notion of examination *does* preclude obtaining (any) evidence about X’s colour, then we have the problem I described in the previous email.


      • Simon,

        Let’s look at the case where robotic classification on the basis of colour does not in itself count as “examination”. Call the generalisation we are discussing (“all emeralds are grue”) G. As I understand it, you try to construct a tension between, on the one hand, the evidence for G that a human may have via a robot’s classification of a not-examined-by-humans emerald as green before t, and, on the other hand, the evidence that the same human would have for not-G from their examination (the first ever by a human) of the same emerald as green after t. That is, even if a human were to receive, after t, the robot-acquired information concerning an otherwise unexamined-by-humans emerald being green before t, the emerald would have to be blue to count as being grue. This is meant to create a conflict.

        Before, I might have been tempted to say that there is a conflict, but that it doesn’t matter: the conflict only arises after t, and since t can be postponed to the arbitrary future, it can always be arranged so that we have a problem now, before t.

        But now I can see no conflict. Oliver Sharpe made this clear to me when I described to him your objection, so I will elaborate on his insight here. According to the confirmationist position that Goodman is attacking (and assuming for sake of argument), the information from the robot is not evidence for G, because it does not involve a case of an emerald being grue. Yes, it involves an emerald being green (being green before t even), but the whole point of grue is that it depends on examination (in this case, we are assuming, human examination) before t and greenness. But there is, by hypothesis, no case of that condition holding. An instance of an emerald being green before t is not in itself a confirming instance of G (although it is a confirming instance of G’: “All emeralds are green”). So there is no conflict: the human after t should classify the emerald as not-grue; there is not evidence to the contrary. So New Riddle withstands your attempt to dismantle it (even if it can be defeated by appealing to the locality of projectable predicates).


  2. Hi Ron,

    My argument was about evidence that a human does consider before time t. The question I posed is motivated not by robots but by information theory: assume all emeralds are known (somehow) to be individually either (thick) green or (thick) blue. Then it is possible to obtain non-decisive evidence about the emerald’s colour (e.g. using the bag-of-marbles method I described above).

    We can make this evidence as slender or as firm as we like, by varying the number of marbles in the bag and the number of times the human redraws from the bag. At what point in this process does the emerald count as having been “examined” by the human?

    This matters because:

    * Suppose “examination” is defined in a way that allows a human to have evidence (before time t) that an arbitrary emerald E is green, without examining E. Then, providing they can obtain evidence (before time t) that they will not examine E until after time t, they may legitimately conclude (again, before time t) that E is not grue.

    * Suppose, contrarily, “examination” is defined such that it is not possible for a human to have evidence (before time t) of an arbitrary emerald’s colour without examining it. Then the question becomes, does examining one emerald E1 entail that an arbitrary other emerald E2 has also thereby been examined?

    – If yes, then examining (before time t) just one green emerald is evidence that all emeralds are green. If we know that by examining one emerald we examine them all, it is also evidence that all emeralds are grue in consequence of being green.

    – If no, then examining E1 alone, and finding it to be green, must provide zero evidence that E2 is green (because the only way to get evidence about E2’s colour is, by definition of “examination”, to examine E2). But this is simply the old problem of induction; there is nothing new here.

    – If we don’t know, then “all emeralds are grue” is too ambiguous a statement to say what, if anything, counts as evidence for it.

    Warm regards,


    • Simon,

      You say:

      “Suppose “examination” is defined in a way that allows a human to have evidence (before time t) that an arbitrary emerald E is green, without examining E. Then, providing they can obtain evidence (before time t) that they will not examine E until after time t, they may legitimately conclude (again, before time t) that E is not grue.”

      My (Oli’s) point is that evidence that the emerald is green before time t is not evidence that the emerald is grue. Only evidence *that the emerald is green and first examined before t* counts as evidence that it is grue. But the information provided by the robot only concerns the colour, not the examination status.


  3. Simon Bowes adds:

    “Ok. That’s sorted then. Now, back to the question of my proposed patch to the potential tension in my wanting to rely on such localist arguments to solve the riddle of induction, but non-localist arguments against reduction. My solution is to stick strictly to a difference-making account of causation. What makes a difference in different contexts depends on the questions you are asking. Difference making accounts allow us to get the granularity right. Causal differences at the level of basic physical entities do not make a difference at the level of intentional explanation; whether the state in question is realised by something wet or dry makes no real difference. What makes a difference is the relationship of that state to others. E.g what makes a state a belief that there is water out there in the environment is the propensity of such states, when combined with thirst for water, to lead to behaviours that result in quenching. But in the case of colours, construed as being facts about the surface properties of physical entities viewed under ‘normal’ conditions, then local physical properties of the surface is all that can make a difference.

    Simon B”

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