Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ethics and advertising


On Wed, Oct 20, 2010 09:11:03
Emmanuel asked this question:

Dr I am Emmanuel a student at a university pursuing a Bachelors in Business Administration. I need your assistance on some questions such as:

Provide philosophical arguments to the ethical questions which arise when considering modern advertising techniques:

1. What responsibility, if any, does a company have for honestly educating the consumer about its product?

2. Should advertisers be allowed to suggest that a product will make a person more sexy/ interesting/ beautiful/ successful etc?

3. Is it ethical to use celebrities to sell products they probably don’t even use themselves?

4. Is it the buyer’s responsibility to be aware of these strategies and not allow adverts to manipulate their emotions?


This question was sent as a personal email rather than submitted to Ask a Philosopher. I'm guessing that Emmanuel found my article Ethics and Advertising. I don't give private advice because that's too close to helping students cheat with their homework. All answers to questions submitted to Ask a Philosopher are published on the internet.

These are very good questions, which you won't find the answers to in my article. I was more concerned to set limits to what ethics can reasonably demand from advertisers, rather than put forward specific principles governing the ethics of advertising. However, it seems to me that the questions Emmanuel raises don't require any special expertise in business ethics. They are a matter of plain common sense.

What responsibility, if any, does a company have for honestly educating the consumer about its product? Let's imagine a case where you are marketing a very nice product, which has some features not found in any of the competing products in the marketplace. You go to an advertising agency, who discuss your 'unique selling point' (USP), and possible ways of presenting this in TV adverts, billboard advertising etc.

However, you know, and your advertising agency knows that there is a better product available from a rival company. You've done extensive secret testing and their product beats yours every time. Yes, your product has features the rival product doesn't have, but that is more than offset by the fact that these features are mostly eye candy and not very useful. Is it unethical to tell consumers that yours is the best available?

I am told that in Germany it is actually against the law to state in an advert that your product is the best unless you can prove that it is. Elsewhere, such as the UK where the rules are a bit more relaxed, saying that a product is 'the best' isn't considered as potentially misleading information. Whereas if you say that your toilet cleaner kills 99% of germs when it only kills 75% then you are breaking the Trade Descriptions Act.

'We think it's the best,' is a way of saying, 'We believe in our product, we stand behind it.' To me, that is a perfectly reasonable attitude.

Do you have an ethical obligation to tell your potential customers that the rival product is better, according to your own tests? Absolutely not. You are ethically (and in many cases legally) obliged to ensure that your product is fit for purpose, not dangerous to use, and not misleadingly described. On the other hand, a sufficiently resourceful and creative advertising agency can make the most of the fact that you are not the leading brand. 'We're Number Two But We Try Harder,' was the famous Avis advert which won them an increased slice of the car hire market against their leading rivals, Herz.

I would love to see an advert which said, 'Product X is Better But Ours Has More Eye Candy!'

Should advertisers be allowed to suggest that a product will make a person more sexy/ interesting/ beautiful/ successful etc? My answer to this would be, Yes, if it's true. If the product in question really does make you more sexy, for example, then you have every right to tell consumers that it does.

But how could this be measured? 'In a survey of a randomly chosen sample of consumers, users of laptop A were considered more sexy than users of laptop B.' Well, an advertiser would never say this, just like that. But they would imply it. The finesse here (as I argue in Ethics and Advertising) is to realize that the advertising campaign in itself can give the product the power to make you more feel, or appear sexy. The money invested in the campaign adds to the value of the product, not by making it more useful, but by making the users of the product feel or appear more sexy, or cool, or whatever.

I suspect that behind this question is a puritanical attitude that hates the glitz and the glamour of today's marketplace. A car is just a useful machine from getting you from A to B. A laptop is just a useful device for sending emails and browsing the internet. As if!

I know that there will be some who are unsatisfied with my defence of the glitz and glamour. Do we really want to live in a tinsel world far removed from reality? — How close to reality do you want to be? I don't want my face rubbed in the dirt. Don't take away my dreams, the world can be a hard place. But I understand that there's a happy medium. Use value is an important consideration, of course it is. Just don't get puritanical on me.

Is it ethical to use celebrities to sell products they probably don’t even use themselves? This is a sneaky question, because of the use of the qualifier 'probably'. We have to look at two different cases:

The first case is where a celebrity states that they use a product, and that they like it and they endorse it. If they are lying, if they don't use the product, then that is unethical, because it is unethical to lie. There's no argument here. However, in the real world things are not quite so black and white. Consider the immensely lucrative field of sports endorsements. A leading tennis player uses Wilson tennis rackets. But this isn't a Wilson that they purchased in a local store. The racket has been finely adjusted and tweaked. To buy something like that in a shop would cost you thousands. But surely you'd have to be an idiot to think that you could win Wimbledon with a racket you got from the local sports shop!

The second case is where celebrities appear in adverts but don't explicitly endorse the product. Rather, the product gains glamour through the association. Here, again, I think that most viewers of the advert are not taken in. Having said that, you have to consider things from the point of view of the celebrity. Would you, a famous film actor for example, appear in an advert for a product that you considered junk, which had the potential to harm your image? It is not unreasonable to infer some degree of endorsement, even if this isn't explicitly stated.

Is it the buyer’s responsibility to be aware of these strategies and not allow adverts to manipulate their emotions? If you are able to prevent anyone ever manipulating your emotions then you are a better man than me. Of course our emotions get manipulated, and often we willingly allow this to happen. I don't like it when an advert makes me feel bad, yet if it is an advert, say, for the charity NSPCC which campaigns against child abuse then, then I know that I ought to feel bad about the things the adverts depict. On the other hand, if an advert makes me feel good that's a gift for free, and I haven't even bought the product! Before buying it I will consider the practicalities, of course, but in my eyes its value is already enhanced. That's how human emotions work.

Consumers are not puppets, we do succeed in resisting what we see as irresponsible or shameless manipulation of our emotions. It is in the advertiser's own interest not to go too far in this respect, but to remain within the bounds of good taste. Campaigns backfire badly when advertising executives get this wrong.

Yes, emphatically, the buyer has responsibilities. The responsibility doesn't all lie with the seller or advertiser. But there are different cases to consider. If your marketing campaign is aimed at younger persons, especially children, then different rules apply than if it is aimed at adults. It's a matter of common sense.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The dark side of life


On Thur, Oct 14, 2010 at 08:01:45
Aviral asked this question:

Is it not that thinking deeply is in some way equivalent to thinking negatively. If it is not so why were some great preachers so moved by seeing the dark side of life. Was their thinking not negative initially. Was it awareness or a sort of fear to face the same things later in their life. Was it the fear that made them discard this materialistic world.

I'm not sure I fully understand Aviral's question. 'A sort of fear to face the same things later in their life' — what does that mean? But you could read the question as a response to an earlier post of mine, Human test tubes:

Actually, I rather like looking into the abyss. When I cast my eyes around this dingy world, the tawdry sideshows that human beings call 'culture', the abyss is the only thing with any real depth. Anxiety is the only real human emotion. (I think Freud said that.) But philosophy isn't just about plumbing the dizzy depths. It's about remembering and focusing. About being present. It can sometimes be a pleasurable activity (especially if you have a taste for Schadenfreude) but it's not something you do for pleasure.

'Tawdry sideshows' is a phrase suggested by a topic I was looking at around about this time last year, Poshlust and moral incontinence. The problem with diagnosing poshlust is that such diagnoses so easily become examples of the very thing they deprecate.

I could talk about Freud. Or a thinker I know a bit more about (because it's my field) Schopenhauer. Now there's a gloomy philosopher for you. But, actually, Schopenhauer is the best example of a Western philosopher I can think of for whom philosophy is a kind of eschatology, not in the Christianizing sense but much closer to Buddhism and the idea that this world is an illusion created by our slavery to desire. All one needs to do, in order to end the suffering, is to free oneself of desire. For Schopenhauer, the magic key is art. For Buddhism, there's the practice of meditation.

I'm putting this in a deliberately crass way, because it really doesn't interest me. The best example of this line of thought is something I remember from Colin Wilson's new Preface, written many years later, to his first book The Outsider (1956). As a young man, determined to lose your virginity, nothing seems more wonderful and desirable than the sexual act. Finally, you succeed in getting some hapless girl into bed. And afterwards you lie there thinking, 'Is that it?'

The existential sentiment is expressed perfectly in the Lieber and Stoller song, Is That All There Is?. (Google the title to find the lyrics.) That thought is the beginning of philosophy.

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

— Dying soliloquy of the android Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) in Blade Runner

In the end, everything goes. But isn't that a good thing? Isn't that what a good Buddhist wants? To achieve a state which is not death, but the nearest damn thing to it. Nietzsche and Freud saw through that.

This leaves me feeling a bit sick. That's not my shade of black. My black is much closer to a Nietzschean black. But even Nietzsche is ultimately too religious for my taste. I'm trying to think of a philosopher who epitomizes the contemptuous rejection of 'all things white and wonderful'. Can't think of any. Most of the thinkers who venture to the dark side, in whatever way they do it, secretly hanker after the colour white.

Maybe Stirner. Why do anarchists like the colour black? Does anyone know? (This article has some suggestions.)

I once wrote something about philosophy and the colour black in my Glass House Philosopher notebook (Notebook 1, page 51), accompanied by the soundtrack to Escape From New York. Was I just being cute? Or did I see something — out of the corner of my eye? The hero of the hour is Descartes in his Meditations on First Philosophy: 'Black is the prevailing colour of this all-time classic.'

You can discount Descartes' ostensive religious aim in proving the existence of the soul. Locked up in his stove room, his aim is to find one nugget of absolute, indisputable truth. Even an all-powerful evil demon couldn't persuade me of my own non-existence.

It's the problem, but also the cure. It's what gets you into the existential predicament (see my post on Camus on absurdity). But it's also the solution, because if you make sufficient effort in directing your gaze inwards, you see through it. If nothing has meaning then everything has meaning. 'The world of the happy man is a different one from that of the unhappy man' (Ludwig Wittgenstein Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 6.43). But it isn't. Not really. There is only the world ('all that is the case'). The rest (which 'cannot be said') is just your mood. Snap out of it!

And when you have snapped out of it, you will find that nothing remains to be done except to pursue the question of what is. Everything else is a distraction (which is why one needs the dark).

I very rarely read fiction. The last novel I remember reading from cover to cover was a pulp karate novel, a clichéd story about a young man, lost and confused, who comes upon a group of dedicated karate students. He joins them and learns the true meaning of pain. Forget your Bruce Lees. The aim of karate is the brutal refashioning of the human body into a blunt weapon, which you learn to wield with exquisite grace and speed. You smash your forearm to pulp until it becomes sufficiently hardened to block any blow without flinching.

(A neighbour who once did karate — I think he was the one who lent me the book — told me that karate practitioners have terrible problems with piles. All those body hardening exercises are at the expense of weakening the pelvic floor. They should go to maternity classes.)

Think of philosophy as karate for the mind. You learn to surmount every kind of mental pain. The mind is refashioned into a weapon whose only purpose is seeking out the truth, aletheia. Emotions, moods, desires are all distractions. Philosophers like the dark side because they love to tempt themselves, test themselves. I understand this gung ho attitude but at the same time something about it also repels me. Perhaps for that reason I will never be a true philosopher.

As Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood) once famously said, 'A man's got to know his limitations.' Do you feel lucky, punk?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What any god can do or know


On Tues, Oct 12, 2010 at 03:18:29
Crystal asked this question:

Does God know what it's like to be a bat?

On Tues, Oct 5, 2010 at 18:53:14
Marl asked this question:

My question here is, Can God himself reverse history so I can change something in the past? Also I have some reasons to go against but also to go with the theory that maybe he can reverse history.

A. Reasons against the theory:

1. God makes it clear that we make mistakes and must learn from them.

2. God is not a genie in a magic lamp.

3. God cannot reverse history because he does not have the power.

4. God would not do this for one person and not the whole world.

5. God would not reverse history because it would wind back everything that had happened to everyone else and take their free will away.

6. God does not need to reverse history.

B. Responses to A:

1. We have the right to make heaven on Earth. If all time in history is the same, we can go back to make it as we want to correct our mistakes.

2. Nothing else we know can make us able to change history so God is the only thing that can. We do not need to ask for money because we can get it but [without God] we can't reverse history and change it.

3. If God has no control over reversing history, then he cannot do everything. If God made the universe, he can do what he wants with it, anyway, how big a thing is reversing history? why should reversing history be hard?

4. But if God has done it, nobody will ever know.

5. If you changed something in history, it would not take everybody else's free will away because they could react how they wanted to what had been done.

6. God can do what he likes but if you do need to reverse history, he's the only thing that can.


I love the question that Crystal has asked, but Marl has to be given credit for attempting an answer his question — something that we advise anyone submitting questions to Ask a Philosopher to try do do.

Before we get started, there's an excellent discussion of changing the past in Michael Dummett's article 'Bringing About the Past' reprinted in Richard Gale Ed. The Philosophy of Time Macmillan 1968 pp 252-274. Crystal's question is prompted by Thomas Nagel's famous piece, 'What Is It Like to Be a Bat?' Philosophical Review 1974 pp 435-450, reprinted in many anthologies.

I don't recall that Nagel brings up the question whether God can know what it is like to be a bat; he argues that we can't, and therefore a basic assumption of physicalism is brought under strong pressure. Dummett in his long and intricate discussion considers as one of his examples asking God to make something have happened in the past, praying 'that the announcer has made a mistake in not including my son's name on the list of survivors'. That is something we seem to have no difficulty in imagining, and yet which seems to imply God's power to bring about something in the past.

What is the point of all this? Especially if you're an atheist, why get so het up about what God can do or not do? As a principled non-believer, my justification would be that considering what God can know or do, or, better, what any god (with a small 'g') can know or do, we are using a kind of shorthand for considering fundamental questions of epistemology and ontology.

Let's start from that premise. There are very good reasons (in my view) for holding that no god exists. But if he (or she, or it) did, what knowledge or powers could conceivably be attributed to such an entity?

The crux of Nagel's argument in 'What Is It Like to Be a Bat?' is that we can't conceive of what bat awareness or consciousness is like because there is too wide a gulf between human perception (through sight, hearing etc.) and bat perception (through sonar). It is crucial to his argument that the issue we are considering is knowing what something is like. I know what eating pineapple ice cream is like, even though I have never tasted pineapple ice cream, because I have eaten ice cream many times and I have also tasted pineapple. It doesn't require a great mental feat to put the two together. But no amount of mental gymnastics will bring me to the point of appreciating how the world 'appears' from the point of view of a bat. You can make up anything you like (as a novelist writing a story whose main characters are bats would) but in this case it is pure fantasy.

But God (or 'any god') isn't confined to our forms of human perception. He (or she or it etc.) doesn't need eyes to see or ears to hear. Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason speculates that God does not acquire knowledge by subsuming 'intuitions' under 'concepts', because He has a form of knowing which is directly intuitive. He grasps each and every thing in its very existential essence. There is no logical or perceptual gap, as is the case for created beings such as ourselves.

Consider this analogy: in order to determine the current state of my Apple Power Macintosh G3 (soon to be replaced, I hope, by a G5), I need to look at the screen. Whatever is going on inside the grey box, information written to RAM or onto disk, or the instructions being processed by the CPU, is something to which I can have no direct access. There is software (the MacsBug debugger, as my G3 crashes rather often) which can give some information about this, and display the information on the screen. But would it be possible (leaving aside the question of the immense amount of time needed, given that thousands of instructions are being executed every second) to display all the information?

There does seem a logical problem here, which one can illustrate with the somewhat simpler example of HTML code. One of my pages, Today's Note consists of a representation of a Unix screen, running the text editor Pico. This is in fact the method I use to update that page. I don't upload the page using an FTP program. I write directly onto it using my text editor. On your monitor you will see representations of the HTML code which has been used to create this effect. What you don't see is the extra code which is needed to represent the code. (You can check this for yourself by going to 'View → Page Source'.) In principle, it would be impossible to show everything using HTML. I could add even more extra code to represent the 'extra code' but then this new extra code would not appear on the screen.

All human knowledge is in a sense 'representative' knowledge. There is a space, a gap, between knower and known. Even when we have so-called 'direct' knowledge through action (the sense of touch, or awareness of making an effort, or the proprioceptive feedback which enables us to know how our limbs are moving) this knowledge is immediate and non-representative only when described from the point of view of the agent. I may know that I am moving my fingers as I type this, but what is going on beneath the skin, in my muscles and sinews, is out of my immediate ken. Even if I lacked all senses other than the sense of touch (as in the Helen Keller story) I still need language and concepts, to represent the knowledge gained through 'direct' action.

This leads to a rather simple (possibly too simple) characterization of the difference between human knowledge and God's knowledge. God doesn't know the world and His creatures by means of representations (bringing intuitions under concepts). He knows them directly, just as they are. According to Descartes, He is their creator and sustainer for every moment that they continue in existence.

It follows that there isn't a synapse or a cell or a molecule in the body of a flying bat that that God doesn't 'know'. Nor is God confined to only knowing about the world on the very lowest level. He can abstract. He can consider the bat as a collection of molecules, or cells, or organs, or as a discrete entity in relation to its environment. But I don't think that this is enough for knowing what it is like to be a bat. God knows too much — not least, that he is God.

In Western philosophy, Spinoza is the philosopher who has come closest to solving this conundrum. The bat is just a 'mode' of God. It no independent existence from God, the only true 'substance'. God 'knows' himself as the bat, but the bat, from its point of view doesn't know this and necessarily cannot know this (otherwise it would be God). Spinoza, through the medium of his finely wrought philosophy, knows and yet doesn't know that he is God.

For making this claim, Spinoza incurred the charge of pantheism, and his insistence on arguing the case at every opportunity got him excommunicated from the Amsterdam Jewish community. But we're not concerned with the finer points of theology. Our question is what any god could know. The question of what kind of god would be worthy of adoration or worship is something which does not the least bit interest me.

I said that this was the best case for explaining the possibility of God's knowledge of what it is like to be a bat. But I don't think it is good enough. It depends, ultimately, on a fudge. If God 'knows' everything only in Spinoza's sense, because God just is everything, then I have lost my grasp of what 'know' means. Even if we assume that God's knowledge is 'intuitive' (in Kant's sense) and non-representational, we still need conceptual room for God as a self-conscious entity, which Spinoza does not seem to provide.

In other words, if God just is the universe, seen under the aspect of unity, then the term 'God' reduces to a mere 'something concerning which nothing can be said'. To talk about God is just to talk about the universe.

Let's now look at the case of changing the past. Dummett notes in his article that the possibility of praying to God in order to change the past is unacceptable to orthodox Jewish theology. I didn't know that. You learn something new every day. But are the orthodox Rabbis right?

I remember the day when I received my A-level examination results, which would determine whether or not I went to university (I'm keeping this simple for the sake of the example). Suppose I did believe in God. I have no difficulty in imagining that I might pray to God that I passed, and that God heard me and granted my request. I'm sure many people have done this.

One easy get-out would be to say that God exists outside of time, and therefore knows my prayer 'before' I made it. So no funny backwards causation is involved. But this solves the problem of how God can change the past by effectively destroying the difference between past, present and future. I no longer know what 'cause' means in this scenaro. So let's stick with a world in time, and a God who is also in time and not looking down on the universe sub specie aeternitatis.

What did God have to do, in the exam results example? The slip of paper inside the envelope with 'failed' written on it had to change to 'passed'. All the steps which led up to the typing of that word (and my marks or grades) had to alter also, right back to the point where some examiner was marking my script, and indeed before that to when I was actually sitting in the exam making a total mess my (say) Pure and Applied Mathematics paper. But how could I have written a good paper, if I hadn't revised? How could I have revised, when most of my time was spent going to parties and getting stoned?

I can totally see how Marl would object that this is a serious encroachment into my free will, not to mention the other difficulties.

But we're looking for a logical objection, if there is any. The question of whether or not you would like the kind of God who would do this, or consider them 'worthy of adoration or worship' is neither here nor there.

Dummett's case rests largely on a single observation: If I know that it was the case that P (e.g. that it was the case that I failed) then I can't, by any action including prayer intend to bring it about that not-P (e.g. to bring it about that I passed). It's a logical contradiction. In fact, it is more or less the same logical contradiction which vitiates time travel (as traditionally conceived — see my Afterword to David Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself).

Okay, but let's look at this from another angle. Where is the past? The past is gone, its water under the bridge. (John Donne: 'Tell me where all past yeares are, Or who cleft the divel's foote'.) But where we are, always, is on the bridge of the present. We can remember, infer from evidence, hypothesize more or less accurately about 'what happened', but always with the proviso that we could be wrong, that is to say, there is no logical contradiction in the idea that the most vivid memory of something that happened only ten seconds ago could be false.

As long as I don't know what's inside the envelope, the question whether I passed or failed is up for grabs, at least by me (as indeed is the question whether my maths teacher knows, whether the secretary at the examining board knows etc.). It's not that difficult to think in this way of the past as something malleable, or flexible, not fixed and final. From my perspective, at least, there is just me and God and the world which God partially reveals to me and partially conceals. That's all 'the world' is — from my perspective.

This sounds rather like anti-realism about the past (which Dummett defends in another article, 'On the Reality of the Past' in Truth and Other Enigmas Duckworth 1978 pp 358-374). But there is just one rather important difference: it is essential, in order to make sense of exam results example that one is only considering my perspective (or our perspective if a group of persons is praying together) not human knowledge generally, not 'what can be known' of the past, but only what I (or you and I) can know.

As Marl has seen, if God changes the past, as such, He changes it for everyone, not just for me. Whereas, if all God changes is 'my past' or 'our past' then we have left behind the very idea that there is such a thing as the past. This is just a little too close to Solipsism for comfort. (If you can be a quasi-solipsist about 'we'.)

Ultimately, as I have indicated, the question whether God can know what it is like to be a bat, or whether God can change the past isn't about theology. It is about the nature of the universe and our knowledge of it. But one thing it does show is that as a theologian you can't make assumptions about God's powers without at the same time making fairly hefty commitments to your epistemology and metaphysics.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Being in two places at one time


On Sat, Oct 2, 2010 at 14:35:32
Farnaz asked this question:

Hello!

Is it possible that a person can be in different places at the same time?

Kind regards,

Farnaz


The ability to be (or, alternatively, 'appear' — that's one of the questions we have to decide) at two different places at the same time is known as bilocation. This cropped up in a story I once wrote:

The giant out door auditorium was filled to capacity. Overhead, robot drinks and ice cream vendors darted about amongst the hovering TV cameras. On the podium a man in a blue tunic had just started to speak. Distorted images of his friendly features loomed on scores of giant video screens.

'...Some of you might remember me from the old television series, Star Trek. For the benefit of those who haven't seen any of the episodes, my name is Captain Kirk. And yes, I am a real Star Ship Captain. The series is substantially based on true events, though of course we had to simplify things to fit each story into a fifty minute slot. Followers of the series will be glad to hear that all your favourite characters are here. You might even get the chance to meet some of them. You will all have met Mr Spock of course...'

Captain Kirk's words were almost drowned in wild cheering. He paused to salute his Science Officer, who was seated behind the podium. Spock stood up briefly to take a stiff bow.

'...Like the rest of us here today, Spock has para-psychic powers. In his case it is the relatively rare but extremely useful gift of bilocation, the ability to appear in several different places at one and the same time. Some of the Catholic Saints were able to bilocate, I believe.

'Well that is by the way. The main question that seems to be on everyone's lips is, 'Where is Heaven?' That's a little difficult to explain. But if you give me a few minutes, I'll do my best to fill you in. Mr Spock has written a useful little book for those of you who've done a bit of maths and physics, complete with equations and flow diagrams, but I shall just try to keep things simple.'

Kirk paused for a few moments to collect his thoughts. The famous smile beamed down from scores of video screens. One thing you knew for sure. The maths and physics weren't above his head.

The Possible World Machine Unit 12: Space Hopper
Downloadable from www.philosophypathways.com/download.html

In the story, a group of persecuted telepaths escape to an alternative universe existing in a different space from our actual universe (but not in a different time). The idea was to test Kant's claim that there necessarily can exist only one space using a thought experiment which doesn't rely, as Anthony Quinton's does, on a subject falling asleep and appearing to 'dream' of a life which is no less coherent than his 'waking' experience (Anthony Quinton 'Spaces and Times' Philosophy 37, pp 130-147 1962).

In my tale, there is said to be a fully scientific explanation of how there came to be two spaces. It's the 'simplest explanation' of the data. (There was a 'cataclysmic explosion', and a fragment of space 'split off' from the universe to form a space of its own.) There's no reason, in principle, why experimental evidence couldn't lead us to conclude that Kant was wrong about there being one space, just as Quantum Mechanics has shown that he was wrong about the a priori truth of determinism.

I don't know if that's acceptable as a response to Kant. It amounts to little more than stating the very thing that Kant denies. Unlike the case of QM, we don't have the least bit of scientific evidence for multiple spaces (ignoring things like the many-worlds interpretation of QM which seems to be a different thing entirely). It is pure speculation about what we would conclude if such alleged evidence turned up. In this case, we really need to consider the argument Kant gives (in the first part of Critique of Pure Reason), and whether the argument is in fact logically sound. (Many commentators agree — e.g. P.F. Strawson in Bounds of Sense [1966] — that Kant's argument for the necessity of determinism is over-ambitious: the most he can claim is that experience should exhibit sufficient regularity to enable us to make reliable predictions.)

If there were overwhelming logical objections to the very idea of a person being located at different places at the same time, then no amount of empirical 'evidence' would be sufficient to persuade us otherwise. We would have no choice but to offer an alternative explanation. However, it is worth pointing out, that at least some of the things said about the bilocating Catholic Saints can be understood in the weaker sense of the individual in question appearing to observers at a place (as a realistic apparition) as opposed to actually being there in the flesh.

But is genuine bilocation — actually being in two different places at the same time — such a nonsensical idea?

Before we can even consider that question, we have to address the prior question of what it is to be located at a space. For trees and rocks, or planets and stars, there is a simple and conclusive test. Spatial position is one of the criteria (or, indeed, the main criterion) for identity. If an object, say, a paperweight is seen at two places at the same time, then we have two exactly similar paperweights, not one paperweight. If I scratch the paperweight on my desk, and an identical scratch mark simultaneously appears on the matching paperweight on my coffee table, or if smashing one paperweight with a hammer immediately results in the destruction of the other, then the conclusion would be that some kind of unknown causal influence has occurred, not that this is proof that the 'two' paperweights were in fact one and the same object or entity.

Of course we are free to call the matching paperweights by a single name, describe it as an extended 'object'. This might even be a useful thing to do. (We might want to distinguish superficially matching paperweights from genuine pairs which exhibit this remarkable property.)

With persons, on the other hand, an entirely new factor is brought into play. Persons have a point of view. If I have a twin on Twin Earth — or for that matter Doncaster — even if the same things appear to happen to my twin as happen to me and at the very same time, we are not the same person. I have my point of view and my twin has his point of view.

The problem with this intuition, as Daniel Dennett entertainingly shows in his piece 'Where Am I?' (originally in Brainstorms 1978, reproduced in Dennett and Hofstadter Eds. The Mind's I 1981 pp 217-229) is that if we assume the materialist hypothesis that the mind is a kind of program which 'runs' on the brain, then there are various science fiction scenarios where we simply don't know how to answer the question, 'where I am'.

I'm not going to pursue Dennett's idea of brains being simulated by computer programs. If the self is a program, and a program is (as it necessarily must be) a kind of thing, a set of instructions which can be written in any language, realized on any suitable hardware (or 'wetware'), if that's all it is, then it's hardly surprising that you can't 'find' the location of the self, or even decide whether you are dealing with one self or more than one self. The 'GK program' would be like Windows XP.

So I'm going to assume we don't know whether or not you could 'write' the program for GK. In other words, I'm assuming that you can be a materialist without being committed to Dennett's version of materialism.

The US flying drone which destroyed the alleged Al-Qaeda cell last Saturday was 'flown' by a GI operative sitting comfortably at a laptop. In World War II, the Japanese kamikaze gave their lives to achieve the same objective. But what exactly is the difference between being there, at the moment the high explosive detonates, and not being there?

Let's notch this up a bit. Instead of a metal and plastic flying drone, let's have a fully functioning robot which reproduces my bodily movements via a broadband radio connection. To make this really effective, I need the ability to feel when my robot is damaged. This is a very expensive piece of equipment, what better way to protect it than to give the operator a suitable jab of pain? As my robot engages in battle (presumably with other robots) I have the most vivid sense of 'being there'. Only, I am not there. It's just an illusion, isn't it?

Let's say that as a result of carelessness or lack of sufficient fighting skill, my robot gets destroyed, and I feel the pain of its destruction. After receiving a severe dressing down from my commanding officer, I'm issued with another robot with the warning not to let this happen again, or else. This time, I will not only feel the pain, I will receive the same injuries, in the same body parts that my robot receives. If it dies, then I die.

Remember that my robot doesn't have a brain, or a computer simulating my thought processes. It is just a sophisticated drone. And yet, in this extreme case, wouldn't it be correct to say that where my robot is — where the action is happening — there I am also?

If I put my hand into a fire, then the fire doesn't only burn my hand, it burns me. Whereas a drone under my control is just like an extended artificial hand. What puts me there, in the flames, is nothing other than the fact that it is my life that is at stake. I am where my vulnerable parts are.

It helps to have 'eyes' and 'ears' where your vulnerable parts are located otherwise you will injure yourself too easily. But merely having eyes and ears at a location (as in the case of the Al-Qaeda drone) isn't sufficient for being there.

If Dennett is right about the possibility of a brain program, then human beings do not, in principle, have any vulnerable parts. As noted above, the self program can be endlessly reproduced. On the other hand, if Dennett is wrong, and brain function cannot be duplicated in a program (more precisely, by a Turing Machine) then the living human body which I call 'mine', or at least that part of me (say the brain) whose destruction would lead to my death, is necessarily where I am.

I have noted that 'genuine' bilocation must be more than just appearing in a place. The appearance must correspond to reality. As we have also seen, it must be more than my manipulating a robot or simulacrum of me at that place, because the destruction of the robot or simulacrum does not entail my destruction. To be in a place is to risk death at that place. If I can do this in two or more places simultaneously, then I can bilocate, but not otherwise.