About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Inverted qualia

A couple of months ago I attended a lecture by Saul Kripke at CUNY’s Graduate Center. Kripke is one of the most influential philosophers of the late 20th century, someone who you simply have to go see give a talk if you have the chance, on the sole basis of his legendary status. As in many such cases, it is not unlikely that one is going to be disappointed, given the extremely high expectations. Sure enough, Kripke was not at his best that day, and his legendary extemporaneous style of lecturing fell short of the mark, resulting in an interesting, but somewhat chaotic and hard to follow talk. Still, I’ve seen the genius at work. Which reminded me of the problem of inverted qualia, about which Kripke has an ongoing disagreement with other philosophers of mind, chiefly Colin McGinn.

What on earth are “qualia,” and what’s so problematic about having them inverted? Daniel Dennett famously said that qualia is “an unfamiliar term for something that could not be more familiar to each of us: the ways things seem to us” (think of colors, or sounds, or taste). He also added that qualia is “one of philosophy's most virulent memes,” and although I don’t buy into the whole memetics spiel, I must admit that he has a point.

The problem of inverted qualia goes back to John Locke, who asked us to imagine a situation in which we wake up one day and — without any physical change having occurred in the world or in our brain — we suddenly perceive colors in a different way: what used to be red now gives the sensation formerly known as green (and vice versa). Ok, one might say, cute little thought experiment, but who cares? We are supposed to care because the inverted qualia argument allegedly shows that secondary qualities (like colors), and particularly first person “phenomenological” experiences of said qualities, do not depend on a particular physical substrate in the brain, i.e. they have no physical basis.

What? Well, here is the actual formal argument, as far as it goes:

Premise 1: If X is possibly false, then X is not necessary.

P2: It is conceivable that the relationship between qualia and physical states of the brain be different from what it actually is.

P3: What is conceivable is possible.

Conclusion 1: Qualia are therefore not identical with brain states.

C2: Also, qualia are not physical.

Got that? That’s the beauty of analytic philosophy: its arguments can be expressed in a formal fashion, which is meant to make as clear as possible what one’s premises and conclusions are, so that others can fairly examine them and either accept them or knock them down one by one. (For comparison, try doing the same with anything by Derrida or Foucault, good luck.)

With the case in question, we could of course attack any or all premises. I am going to let P1 stand, because it does actually tell us that if something is logically possible then it is physically possible, and I do believe that the set of physical possibilities is nested within the set of logical ones (though one could of course argue that that depends on which type of logic one is using, etc.).

P2 is tricky: yes, it is conceivable that the relationship between qualia and physical states of the brain be different from what it actually is, all one has to imagine is different physical properties of light, or different chemicals perceiving light falling on our retinas, or a different type of signal transduction in the brain. But the crucial part of the inverted qualia argument is not just that the relationship between qualia and physical states could be different, it is that qualia could be inverted with no physical change at all with respect to the way things are at the moment. That, I maintain, is impossible. In other words, we certainly could have brains wired in a way so that what to other animals looks red would look green to us, but that can only be accomplished by a physical change in the way the brain works (indeed, we do have empirical examples of something like this: the bewildering phenomenon of synesthesia).

P3, as appealing as it superficially is, is also highly debatable. I can conceive, for instance, of a universe with different physical laws, like a different gravitational constant. But that doesn’t guarantee that such a universe is possible: there may be very good reasons, unknown to modern physicists, why such a universe could actually not come into existence. This is a fascinating area of inquiry, concerned with the relationship between logical and physical possibility. But it’s treacherous territory, and if I were a non-physicalist, I wouldn’t stake too much on it. (This is, of course, why I don’t buy David Chalmers’ silly arguments about zombies and the hard problem of consciousness.)

What about the conclusions, then? Obviously, all we need to do is to refute one of the three premises and we are done, the conclusions no longer follow. Still, I’ll probably buy into C1, if we modify it thus: qualia are not necessarily identical with the particular brain states we happen to have. Different brain states could generate the same qualia, depending on the complex pathways connecting the physical objects in the external world, their perceivable properties, and the evolutionary history and physical makeup of our own perceptual systems.

C2, on the other hand, I think is simply daft: qualia are not physical? Really? So why do we need physical objects, physical eyes, physical neurons, and so on, to perceive them? Alter any of the above, and our perception of qualia changes, a really strong reason to believe that qualia are in fact physical. (Similarly, the minimally reasonable position about consciousness is what some philosophers refer to as the “no ectoplasm clause”: however consciousness works, it’s grounded in a functional physical brain; take the brain away, you’ve got no more consciousness.)

So, whatever disagreement Kripke and McGinn are still having about inverted qualia, I doubt it matters in the long run: secondary qualities are better and better explained by neurobiology and cognitive science, and philosophers should make use of such explanations to inform the many interesting debates still open in philosophy of mind.


  1. Philosophers should make use of such explanations... but all too often they don't - something I have become fairly dismissive of. I call it 'channelling my inner Werner', in honour of Werner Callebaut who taught me not to put up with such tripe.

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  3. Interesting material, at least the chunk I can follow. Would you imagine Kripke has an opinion about whether the line drawn between physical and non-physical is a sharp one or blurry one?

    To keep the discussion simple let's call anything at all inside someone's brain physical and the memetic taxi waiting for a thought-passenger (or thought gasoline??) non-physical. And let's say he says above border is a sharp one. What would he then say about the process by which the physical turns into non-physical, when a thought is converted to an action which is sensed by another? Is that process itself a physical one? He'd probably say yes, as it is in the brain, right? But as it gets into that taxi taking a drive to the internet, radio waves, or another's psyche, I think we are talking about a conversion of matter to energy to information, and there has got to be some blurriness somewhere.

    That is why this physical vs. non-physical debate can't begin without a really sweet definition of physical. There really aren't any out there these days. Just take a shortcut and call matter and energy FORMS of information.

    Do this, and you get to talk about reputations and celestial mechanics, hydraulics and Biblical lore without the grinding noise made when you switch gears using terms like real and physical, etc...

    Massimo, even though we are still miles apart, this post makes it 2 instead of 5. I enjoy being your student, and know you are thinking about things as well.

    your friend

  4. I agree with most of that, however I think you are confusing correlation, causation and ontological identity. The brain is undoubtedly necessary to experience qualia; qualia are probably caused by physical events in the brain. But in what sense are they ontologically identical to brain states? They do not seem to share any of the same properties. Does it follow that because a brain and other physical attributes are necessary for language, emotion, and culture, that these things are purely physical?

    It may well be that they are, but:

    P1: Brains, objects etc are physical.

    P2: Perception is dependent on the presence of, and probably caused by brains, objects etc.

    C1: Perception is physical

    does not convince me. I think all of these stem from a prior conclusion, that everything is physical. Which, again, may be true, but it is not proved by your arguments.

  5. a couple things that confuse me…

    I don’t understand premise 1. X is not necessary for what? You mean it’s not necessarily true?

    So, Massimo’s saying that a sensible relationship between logical and physical possibility is incompatible with the hard problem of consciousness and that’s why he rejects it? I’m not sure what to make of that.

    Also, has anyone ever made any sense out of what “non-physical” could mean?

  6. Your reasoning is pretty meticulous and quite correct, for a physicalist. But your own conclusion creates its own problems.

    You're basically saying that qualia are not identical to brain states, yet they must be physical. In other words, there exists a physical component that isn't a part of the brain structure. So what is it? Where is it? Metaphysicists have their ass covered, because physics cannot investigate their claim, but it surely can investigate yours.

    It seems like your only way out is to ditch the concept of qualia altogether.

  7. Justin,

    my point is that the no-ectoplasm clause satisfies me, and that if one wants to be a non-physicalist, the burden of proof is on him to explain what he may even mean by that.


    no, I'm not saying that I reject the hard problem because of a sensible relation between logical and physical possibility, I'm saying that one needs much more than "conceivability" to even frame the hard problem in non-physical terms.


    I think qualia *are* instantiated by particular brain states, but they don't have to be instantiated by one and only one brain state, there can be (and likely there is) a many-to-many relationship. That still doesn't get a non-physicalist off the ground at all.

  8. P1: Aha! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modal_logic

    P3: Silliness. "My friend the Verbal Literalist clearly conceives that Moses came down from Sianai with some Tables of Law in the handwriting of Yhwh. Therefore..."?

    However, P2, C1-2:

    I for one can't clearly conceive how a zombie could behave like a human without experiencing his perceptions. I would rather say that the experience arises in the "sentient being" rather than his "brain"... shall we not say that a stomach-ache arises from the stomach? ...but that's a small point.

    If we agree with Dennett that qualia are ineffable, then it is difficult to understand how two of them could ever be compared, and there is a sense in which this is clearly true; no two experiences, by two people of the same situation or by one person on two different occasions, will be identical. "You can't step twice into the same river." In this sense they are directly related to the person's momentary physical/situational state at the time of perception, end of a not very interesting story.

    However, by eg "red" (the name-word): if we don't just mean the excitation of certain cone cells in the retina, which doesn't have much "feel" to it, we seem to mean a category of experiences; my perception of some red thing is "the same as" my or somebody else's perception of some other red thing. So "red the category" becomes a learned intersubjective object. We can save ourselves from Platonic Ideals by keeping in mind that we never encounter a raw category, but only instances which belong to the category.

    My notion of "red the category" is not necessarily functionally the same as someone else's notion; what I call "red", someone else might rather call purple or orange or pink, and my report of the color of some thing today might be different than what I said yesterday. So the category is somewhat a socially acquired reflex but precisely just my ineffable private possession in the same sense as the original raw feel; no need to attribute it to anything other than my momentary physical state.

    (The same thing can be said of intersubjective objects generally; we never meet them as free-floating thingamies, but only instantiated as physical objects/perceptions/situations. Compare Popper's "World 3"; can "Beethoven's Fifth Symphony" be said to have a unique qualium [correct singular?] by which it can be identified, like "red"? Matter of definition, I suppose....)

    Meanwhile, back at the topic of the day: as with the famous inverting-glasses experiment, in Locke's situation there would be a period of confusion (I imagine sick headaches) while relearning took place, following which normal relations with the world could be resumed, and I could once again agree with others that "blue" is what we call the color of the sky and indeed the sky is blue.

    Reminds me of "conversion experience", or a Khunian revolution.

  9. Blue:

    I hope that when you type "learned intersubjective object" you read it as "red is a normative concept" which pretty much fills in the rest of your comment. Of course, in order to do that we need to that Davidson trick of "the processes that generate thought necessarily generate language" and vice versa.

  10. Massimo,

    "I'm saying that one needs much more than "conceivability" to even frame the hard problem in non-physical terms"

    Wait, do you reject to the hard problem itself or to the hard problem when it is put into non-physical terms?

  11. Hey philosophers, how goes the discourse? Do or do you not have a working definition of 'physical'? Do you or do you not have a working definition of 'existence'. Just those two words. Without the definitions, what context do you share? Is it to be found anywhere on wikipedia?

    Do share, I will repay in kind.

  12. Kicking in the heads of atheists one at a time...


    PZ, I thought the Morris Police Department was going to save you from the wrath of God...

  13. someone,

    I think the hard problem is a matter for neuroscience to figure out, eventually, so yes I reject its non-physicalist terms because they seem to me to be an appeal to mysticism.

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  15. Look at this load of shit on wikipedia describing physicalism:

    "The ontology of physicalism ultimately includes whatever is described by physics — not just matter but energy, space, time, physical forces, structure, physical processes, information, state, etc. Because it claims that only physical things exist, physicalism is generally a form of monism."

    They threw in information because they had to placate actual 20th century scientists who have troubling conclusions concerning matter, but if information is included in the domain of the physical, then we have a free-for-all.

    That's good, so next question is - is anything excluded? If information is allowed, then all forms of information including mysticism, are allowed. I think the answer is that anything is possible once information is declared ascendant to matter.

    The hard problem is hard because it does not take relativity into account, meaning truth, even existence are subjective, not objective concepts.

    That is why monistic beliefs are also misunderstood. While it all is well and good to say we are part of a larger thing, and we are, we exist at many levels in the eyes of other objects, big and small. Each level has its own interests and objectives. So getting up to the god level, the 'monads' would have you believe in a single god. But they point to a collective consciousness the gods must also be part of. Also all well and good, but it does not help with our understanding of gods, whose everyday battles leave collective consciousness less relevant as we try to determine how our world works.

  16. I've seen this argument about "information" thrown around a lot in this context (not to mention of course discussions on intelligent design creationism), but I don't get it.

    In what sense is "information" not physical? Is it not exchanged and/or stored in matter and/or using energy? Then it's physical, no? What non-physical account of information can one possibly come up with?

  17. Information can also be said to be not physical because most do not equate ideas with physical objects

  18. Dave,

    no, that won't do. Ideas don't exist unless they are generated/stored in physical devices (brains, computers) and kept there through the use of energy. To say that ideas are non physical is either trivial or mystical mumbo jumbo unless, again, one can provide an account of what "non-physical" actually means.

  19. Massimo

    agreed - I don't know what non-physical means either.

    I have been trying to make the point in my posts that there is no difference between physical and non-physical. Everything out there is information, and transmitted information not understood by the receiver is indeed mumbo-jumbo.


  20. I believe the idea that there is no difference between physical and non-physical would be incoherent from a physicalist's perspective. (There's no difference between existence and non-existence? Whaaaa?)

    Leaving that aside for the moment as (possibly) only a semantic issue....

    If information transmission is equivalent to ordered energy exchange, then is it safe to say that from your perspective sentience is not a prerequisite of understanding? After all, planets and their primaries exchange gravitational information/energy continuously in an ordered way. A body of water receives information about the shape and momentum of a stone skipped across its surface and in turn transmits information about the water's surface cohesion, dynamic coefficient of friction, etc. Plants receive information from the sun in the form of light and coherently translate certain wavelengths of it into chemical energy. And so on. If this amounts to what you mean by understanding on the part of the receivers, then what is non-understood information (aka mumbo-jumbo)? If this is not what you mean by understanding, then what is?

  21. Ooops, 1st line of 3rd paragraph should read "equivalent to energy exchange" - scratch the "ordered".

    I'm wondering if we're headed into a discussion of entropy....

  22. perspicio,

    I'm not sure what your point is. Of course certain patterns of matter and energy become "information" only under certain circumstances. And yes, there has to be a living organism (not necessarily a conscious one) around for that to happen. So?

    All living beings gather and use "information" about their environment, whether they are sentient or not (think of a bacterium swimming away from a chemical gradient, or toward light, etc. -- are these qualia??).

    I don't see how this helps non-physicalism at all.

  23. matter, energy and your ideas are some of the ways information manifests itself.

    Using P's example as a riff, let's call the "rock skimming on water" Object A, "surrounding water" Object B, and 5 members of a photography club and their mascot dog Object C. Object A sends information to ObjB and ObjC. All information 'caught' but not comfortably processed by Objs B & C is misunderstood. I can tell you more about how ObjC would misunderstand things and less about about ObjB would misunderstand things because I am a human, but do not have enough grounding in geology or physics to come up with something off the top of my head to explain how the surrounding water could get confused about the rock.

  24. I think your reasoning is dead on. However lets try this question...

    How would the universe be different if qualia did not exist?

    The problem is subjective experience seems to be beyond the reach of science. That's why people keep reaching for a nonphysical, supernatural or magical answer.

  25. Massimo:
    What non-physical account of information can one possibly come up with?

    What would you say about categories, such as "red the category" above? A more focused example: "Beethoven's Fifth Symphony": imagine a copy of an MP3 file captured from a radio broadcast of a live performance. There isn't any problem about closure of causality, but what is it that is being moved along?

    It seems to me that once you have an encoding scheme (of which we have many), you have a new ontological category of "encoded things", which don't behave like physical objects.

    That Guy Montag:

    My reply to your post got forwarded to my gmail by the Google Blogger, but doesn't appear on the site. "Bugs, Captian Rico! We're a-burnen them!" Briefly:

    I stand on "learned intersubjective object". No idealized external standards ("norms"); no need to talk in detail about mental states ("concepts"). And qualia are neither linguistic nor thoughtful.


    Why not ordered energy exchange? Even Shannon's physicalist description of information quantity concerned selection of one ordering of energy from among some number of possibilities.

  26. Massimo,

    I should've been clear. I was responding specifically to the preceding post by DaveS, particularly with respect to the fact that, in his view, all matter and energy is information, while misunderstood information is a particular subset he's calling mumbo-jumbo. I didn't have a specific point; rather, I was just seeking a bit more developed explanation of his ideas.

    However, your comments do shed some additional light on the way you in particular are invoking the concept of information as well. On the basis of what you said, I'm not really sure whether, in your view, there is a particular reason why ordered energy/matter can only be considered information if a living organism responds to it, or whether that is simply part of how you are defining the term "information".


    If a rock hits me on the head, but I think it is a chunk of wood, is the information encoded in the physical event understood by my body in the same way that the skipping rock and the water understand each other's information about each other? And what would you then say about my mental misunderstanding of the event? Is the same information being understood incorrectly in this sense? This seems to imply that my mental self is a different object than my physical self. I'm not agreeing or disagreeing, I'm just trying to understand your view.

    Blue Ridge,

    Not ordered energy exchange because DaveS said that information misunderstood by the receiver is mumbo-jumbo. I think this implies a non-ordered exchange.

    This conversation seems a bit hazy to me, as it appears that different people are using terms in different ways.

  27. ppnl
    I do not think it would make sense to talk about a universe w/o qualia.

    Some of the systems in your body will understand that a rock hit it (skin abrasions etc..) Other systems in your body will understand a piece of wood hit it. due to the visual or tactile miscue. Staying within the 4 corners of your case there are no misunderstandings. "You (the composite of your systems) " were hit by both a piece of wood and a rock.

    I think the problem arises when 5 others observe you, all claiming you were hit by a rock. Reality is like history - it is written by observers. The 5 others have informed your reality, and you will correct your memory of the event, although your body gave you zippo in the way of new information.

    But if you had no reason to think otherwise, 'you' were hit by both objects.

    I am still trying to figure out why your existence poses a problem for physicalists, given that information has been defined as within the realm of the physical. Very confused, me.

  28. DaveS,

    I think information is a particular manifestation of matter/energy, not the other way around.


    I'm not sure what it means to say that subjective experience is "beyond" science. We have a pretty good understanding of what causes qualia, but by definition we cannot experience them if not in first person. So?

    Blue Ridge,

    I still don't get why a file of Beethoven's symphony is non-physical. A radio broadcast is a form of energy, right?


    the reason I don't think that the concept of information makes sense outside of living organisms is because I cannot make sense of a phrase like "the skipping rock and the water understand each other." They don't, they just interact with each other, there is no understanding.

  29. DaveS,

    I think I get what you're saying now, but I'm personally not drawn to take that ride. It seems like it involves the conflation of actual events with conceptualizations of those events by the human mind.


    I don't think the rock and the water understand each other either. However, even though I see nothing invalid about the way you are using the term, it seems to me that a concept of information that does not depend in any way on the attribute of understanding (but does involve relationships between phenomena) needn't be constrained to apply only to living organisms. Just to be clear, I'm not drawing any firm boundaries to say that information is or isn't something specific, since it's an abstract categorical concept of our own design, so we get to define it. However, removing the living organism constraint seems reasonable to me, provided the understanding component is disassociated as well. It would certainly be appropriate in my view to say that only a living organism can use information, but I see no problem with the idea that, for example, cosmic background radiation contains information about the history of the universe.

  30. perspicio,

    I see your point, but then you slide into too broad a definition of information: following what you say *anything* is potentially information.

  31. Massimo,

    I have no idea what you mean when you say we know what causes qualia.

    You seem to accept the possibility of zombies that act like us yet have no internal experiences. Well, you accept it in the sense that you cannot see and conflict with physical law. But then you say they would be strange.

    But how would they be strange? How would you tell them from us at all? How do I know that you are not such a creature?

    And information is a physical property of a system somewhat related to entropy. It has consequences for how a system behaves much like entropy has consequences for how a heat engine performs. People confuse information with knowledge or understanding. There really isn't much of a connection at all.

  32. ppnl,

    I most certainly do not accept zombie-like arguments:


    We understand how qualia are caused from both a physiological and an evolutionary points of view. We know a lot about the physiology of vision color, for instance. (And yes, that's not the same as *experiencing* qualia, but I find that objection rather silly.)

    If you equate information with entropy I suggest we stick to entropy, it's more value-neutral and not as likely to quickly lead to some mumbo-jumbo about non-physicality.

  33. Massimo:
    I still don't get why a file of Beethoven's symphony is non-physical. A radio broadcast is a form of energy, right?

    To be sure. The point is that if you look at it just from a physical point of view, the etheric wiggles of the radio broadcast don't have anything much in common with the ink dots of the printed score, or anomalies in the metallic coating on a CD, etc. The broadcast appears to have more in common with a broadcast of a Grateful Dead concert. If we like, we are entitled to ignore the sameness of the broadcast and the CD and concentrate on the sameness of the two broadcasts... that's how radios work. The sameness of all radio broadcasts can be justified on purely physical grounds, but I don't see how you can justify a musical understanding of these samenesses and differences without understanding the respective encoding schemes.

    So what is it that is "the same" under all encodings? ... Note that we can still recognize the Fifth even if it is played very badly, in the wrong key, scored for glockenspiel chorus, etc, so it isn't simply identity of the acoustic stream decoded to a canonical audible form. I don't see how 'The Symphony' can be held to be a physical object. Or a set of physical objects. But it certainly is something; It belongs to a non-physical intersubjective ontological category.

    I keep saying, whatever The Symphony is, we never encounter it except encoded in some physical object having a provenance derived in a completely causal fashion from LvB's pen.

    I just ran across this essay by John Searle (possibly the first thing of his that I think I understand): Why I am not a Property Dualist. Not exactly the same point under discussion here, but related in that The Symphony is a 'higher-level' intersubjective object that only appears when mediated by 'consciousness'.

    The property dualist and I are in agreement that consciousness is ontologically irreducible. The key points of disagreement are that I insist that from everything we know about the brain, consciousness is causally reducible to brain processes; and for that reason I deny that the ontological irreducibility of consciousness implies that consciousness is something ‘over and above’, something distinct from, its neurobiological base.

  34. ok, I will go with Searle here. Just as long as we don't confuse ontological statu for either physical existence or an excuse to talk about mystical stuff.

    (I mean "species" as a category of living organisms probably has its own ontological status, but that doesn't license any non-physicalism about biological species, right?)

    Of course, going back to your example of Beethoven's symphony, I would simply say that it is the processing of stimuli in our brains (another physical process!) that allows us to distinguish the Fifth from random radio waves. Once again, so?...

  35. Massimo,

    I don't think that everything can be considered information under this description. Only ordered energy qualifies. Also, in this context I think entropy and information are complementary concepts, not equivalent ones, since entropy refers to the disordered energy of a system.

    By ordered and disordered, I mean in a definitive state versus in an indefinitive state.

    When it comes to Beethoven's symphony, I'm dubious of the idea that it is something specific at all, other than an abstract concept. In fact, there are a great many concepts that could be labeled Beethoven's symphony, depending on who you ask. But the sheet music, the CD, the radio waves, etc. are not concepts; they are phenomena. To someone who has no such concept, none of these would be Beethoven's symphony. Unlike the parallel discussion of information taking place in this thread, these forms of ordered energy DO need to be understood in order to be properly termed "Beethoven's symphony." Concepts are not attributes of any phenomena other than the mind.

  36. Again I feel obliged to be clear in retrospect. Massimo, I was not offering a contrary view to your statements about the symphony. In fact, I'm pretty certain what I said was consistent with them.

  37. perspicio:

    It seems like it involves the conflation of actual events with conceptualizations of those events by the human mind.

    I'm not sure what 'actual events' means. I think the only thing that matters is a conceptualization of an event.

  38. DaveS,

    Without an actual event, what would there be to conceptualize about?

  39. perspicio:

    The receiver conceptualizes the information sent from some source that induces the receiver to think that an event has taken place.

  40. But there are ways of knowing that an event has taken place that do not involve conceptualization. Sensory awareness, for one. You don't need to conceptualize a rock flying toward your head to see it doing so. You don't need to conceptualize pain to feel it. These are events, and they matter. Conceptualization may (or may not) be a value-added process in this or other cases, but the idea that it is the only thing that matters is incorrect.

    Unless I am drastically misunderstanding you, your view applies the Peter Principle to the intellect, promoting it beyond the role for which its qualitites and attributes are well-suited.

  41. perspicio:

    there is a common thread in your post, and it comes out in the 2nd para. You are separating mind from body. I think it is wrong to do that.

    Pls do keep in mind when we use the word "you" it is a loaded word that means whatever we want it to mean in terms of mental vs. physical processes.

    Anyway, by way of reply. P1.S3: Yes you do, P1.S4: Yes you do P1.S5 I believe events are the sum of the sender, receiver, and transmitted information. I cannot prove this, it is just a way of looking at things. P1.S6 Conceptualization is a process that takes place in the rock travelling over the water at a much faster rate much faster than usual.

    P2: At the risk of offending silicon molecules used to transmit this message, I am demoting the intellect to the level of the rock

  42. Massimo:

    I think we have reached agreement. No 'mystical' stuff (whatever that would mean). "Non-physicalism about biological specices"... I guess you are talking about Creationism? My opinion is that darwinian evolution is adequate to explain speciation.

    ... it is the processing of stimuli in our brains (another physical process!) that allows us to distinguish the Fifth from random radio waves.

    Good point... saying that the Fifth or whatever is an "intersubjective object" implies that one can "subjectively" identify it... a suitably educated person has (includes? acquires?) a "Beethoven's Fifth detector" which responds to appropriate sensory stimulation, which exists at some similar "higher" ontological level as the object itself.

    I do think this notion of "higher level properties" is very important. Taking the canonical form of The Fifth to be an audio stream, it appears to be just one of a practical infinity of possible streams, in no way distinguished, and in that sense "unpredictable" from however complete knowledge of the behavior of chemical mixtures such as air. So the emergence of intersubjective objects (and corresponding detectors) allows the creation of a "non-physical" universe of discourse..."fictional", if you like... that isn't restricted to behaving "realistically". Like Mathematics. I think that must be where "values" come from.

    ...I'm dubious of the idea that it is something specific at all, other than an abstract concept. In fact, there are a great many concepts that could be labeled Beethoven's symphony, depending on who you ask. But the sheet music, the CD, the radio waves, etc. are not concepts; they are phenomena.

    Yes, instances of B's 5th are always "phenomena". I prefer "intersubjective object" to "abstract concept". "Concept" is dangerously close to a kind of "mental state": unnecessary, and excessively speculative. And there's nothing "abstract" about it. There are (always) borderline cases and undereducated guesses, but "we know what we mean".

    There aren't "a great many" Beethoven's Fifths... just the one that Beethoven wrote.

  43. Blue Ridge:

    Good stuff, especially 'intersubjective'. I would add that there are many infinite sets of B5 floating around, one set has been discussed, the set that travels over the airwaves or other public spaces. Another set is in your personal space, and that is the number of messages you can interpret as B5.

    Then you talk about reality, or at least I think you do, when you say Beethoven wrote one 5th Symphony.

    I know many people grounded and rooted in philosophy are getting tired of what they might call quantum claptrap and modern scientific speculation, but any number of Beethovens may have written or still be writing or will write this piece of music. It's science, man (or woman?). Just because it's new and bizarre, it should not be discounted.

    Moving back to the top of your post I understand why you and Massimo want to stay away from the mystical (which I believe in, and for which I have a fairly dry explanation) and non-physicalism (which makes no sense to me).

    Learning and classifying stuff is just another evolutionary process. First we had only Matter, the rest was hanging out somewhere in the Ether. Then we got to Matter and Energy (the rest was mumbo-jumbo) Now we have Matter, Energy, and Information. It is a recent development, and it is so because there is no other way to talk about the bits and pieces that we are made of. Energy just does not cut it for reasons that a quantum physicists can explain much more coherently than I can.

    Once one accepts the idea of information, and its quite the difficult thing to do, the next question is how does it work. We are forced to turn to the things we created - information systems, study them, draw conclusions and apply them to our own 'physical' world.

  44. Massimo,
    "P2: It is conceivable that the relationship between qualia and physical states of the brain be different from what it actually is."

    Doesn't this assertion beg the question, "What is actuality?" I seem to remember Descartes' meditations and Hume's "brain in a vat" theory explored the very question and I'm not sure that "actual reality" has been established. Discoveries in quantum physics has shown that our physical world is indeed much different than what has been generally accepted. Maybe our perceptions or "qualia" if you will, actually define reality. In other words the only reality that actually exists is the one contained within one's head!


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