[Michael is a PhD student at The University of Adelaide (Australia). His thesis explores evolutionary psychology from a much neglected empiricist perspective, arguing against the dominant nativist paradigm. He argues against the existence of specialised modules for things like language acquisition and moral sense, and tries to ground cognitive function in connectionist computational models (also a much neglected approach, nowadays). Jesse Prinz and Kim Sterelny are major influences.]
One of the main tasks of philosophers is to solve what are sometimes called “location problems.” We start with a conception of reality that we’re happy with, namely the description of the world that comes out of physics. This conception is both strongly supported by empirical evidence, and conceptually very clear. The problem is that it’s hard to square many aspects of our everyday experience with it. How is it — for instance — that morality, or meaning, or mathematics can exist in a purely physical world? In come the philosophers (hopefully to make matters better rather than worse) to try to “locate” these things into whatever conception of the world we’re happy with. To solve a location problem is to understand how it is that the thing we’re trying to locate — be it moral properties or anything in our manifest experience — fits conceptually into our picture of the physical world.
[Editor's note: for a different perspective on Mary and the zombies, see this recent RS post by Massimo]
Isn't the problem of how a brain carries out "introspection" as hard as solving "the problem of consciousness"?ReplyDelete
Philip, that's probably right. Introspection could just be one problem of many that come under the banner of "the problem of consciousness". To see how difficult the problem is, just try giving a definition of "introspection"!Delete
The best I'm able to do is by analogy with code reflection (in the sense of computer code): Introspection is brain code that is created to inspect other brain code. (It is something our brains can do, but perhaps not other animals'.)Delete
Philip, I like the approach, but will it be sufficient to answer the hard philosophical questions? Is introspection a reliable source of information? Can we be very accurate in introspecting our mental states? What's the relation between introspection, self-deception and delusion?Delete
Thinking of brain code that implements "self-deception" and "delusion", "Bush's brain" was the first thing I thought of.Delete
I can imagine a humanlike zombie, that's no problem. I can imagine that the zombie speaks about a property P in his head but it's false. Then, I can imagine that we add the property P to the zombie and that nothing in the zombies behaviour changes.ReplyDelete
But there's one very important difference; When we add property P to the zombie it will suddenly speak true statements about P, and the only reason is that we made it that way. If we had added the property X instead, then the zombie would still speak about P and it would be false. This is coherent and easy to imagine, it's just like this computer program:
print "P equals 1";
then we change it to this:
P = 1;
print "P equals 1";
P = 2;
print "P equals 1";
The variable P is completely irrational and does not change the programs behaviour, just like the zombie example.
What I can't imagine is a world where phenomenal consciousness is an irrational property like that. I guess it's my lack of imagination that make me believe that phenomenal consciousness have a causal effect.
Daniel, I like the analogy with the computer program. As it happens, there does seem to be similar problems in locating the semantic properties of syntactically defined computer programs.Delete
Couldn't we think of the problem this way. I look at a red apple and come to the judgment, "I'm having a red experience right now." You look at the exact same red apple, and token the exact same judgment in your head, but you're having what would be to me a green experience. This could be a case of identical syntactic structures having differing semantic properties, to relate it back to the computer program analogy.
I'm going to continue with the analogy with program language semantics, as I feel it's very appropriate to this discussion.Delete
"[T]here does seem to be similar problems in locating the semantic properties of syntactically defined computer programs. This could be a case of identical syntactic structures having differing semantic properties..." The difference between computer programs and the brain is that there is one and only one semantics for the syntactic structure of the human brain: physical reality.
That may just be trivially true. How is then that such syntactic structures get to be about physical reality? How is it that think about non-existent objects, or that we misrepresent the world?Delete
Why do you make the distinction between thinking of existent versus "non-existent" objects? What makes that an interesting difference? How do you define an "existent object"?Delete
Above you say that physical reality is the semantics for the human brain. This would imply that we can only think about the contents of physical reality. Why is it then that we can think about things which are not contained within physical reality, such as unicorns and Sherlock Holmes?Delete
Unicorns and Sherlock Holmes are contained in physical reality! They are structures in and functions of neural firing, structures in and functions of words in books, structures in and functions of electrical impulses hitting LCD screens. There is a causal chain and a mapping relationship between all of those things.Delete
The only difference between unicorns and horses is an additional set of structures made of physical atoms and forces.
Michael, the "I'm having a red experience right now" example you speak of suggests a slightly different computational metaphor to me than the one Daniel is describing -- it sounds more like an enumerated constant. It's very common for programmers to do something like this:Delete
RED = 1
GREEN = 2
APPLE.color = RED
if APPLE.color == RED:
print "APPLE is RED"
else if APPLE.color == GREEN:
print "APPLE is GREEN"
The values of RED, and GREEN should never change once they're set -- but they don't mean anything except in relation to one another. So if you were to change the values and recompile the program -- say you were to set RED = 2 and GREEN = 1 -- the program's behavior wouldn't change in any substantive way. Both programs would report that a red APPLE is red. But if you were to record the exact memory contents of the computer as it runs the original program, and then compare them to the the memory contents of the computer as it runs the modified program, you'd see a few small differences.
That seems to me to be a better computational analogy for the difference you describe. And I feel that it might change the nature of this conversation, since the difference between these programs is no longer the difference between a program that states a true fact and a program that states a false one. Both make true statements about a red APPLE; the difference is how they get to that true statement.
Scott: Exactly. Category theory adopts this principle; objects are "equivalent up to isomorphism". The values for RED and GREEN can be anything, as long as they are disjoint. The importance of RED vs GREEN is their difference in structure, not their specific instantiation.Delete
Not sure I understand the zombie argument. Can someone help me out?ReplyDelete
It is suggested that the zombie "will be behaviourally identical to ourselves, with all the same abilities to discuss the existence of consciousness, make the same verbal reports, discriminate between stimuli in the same way, and so forth."
As has been said, "a difference that makes no difference IS no difference". So, I'm asking, in what way is the zombie different? What exactly does it MEAN to say the zombie has no consciousness? How can we tell? What would be the acid test?
Are we asking here if it is possible to have some real difference that we are NOT able to determine by testing?
Tom, I take a good acid test here to be conceivability! One thing that definitely makes consciousness a profoundly hard problem is that there doesn't seem to be any empirical experiments you can use to test various hypotheses you may have.Delete
When you ask what does it mean to say that a zombie has no consciousness, no answer can be given in terms of something empirically verifiable. In fact, considerations of the inverted spectrum were one of the main examples that led people to doubt the verificationist theory of meaning. It's perfectly intelligible to say that today I have a red experience when looking at a particular apple, and tomorrow I have a green experience when looking at the very same apple.
"When you ask what does it mean to say that a zombie has no consciousness, no answer can be given in terms of something empirically verifiable."Delete
You've already said that consciousness is defined in terms of phenomenal properties, and that physicalist ("dispositional") descriptions don't include phenomenal properties. So haven't you simply defined away the ability to describe a conscious experience in terms of something empirically verifiable (something with dispositional properties)?
"It's perfectly intelligible to say that today I have a red experience when looking at a particular apple, and tomorrow I have a green experience when looking at the very same apple."
If we lacked a description of the physical process of combustion, it would be perfectly intelligible to imagine a universe in which gasoline was physically identical but did not combust.
What's more telling (to me, at least), is that we *don't* live in a world in which the same apple is a different color to us every day. There is a causal continuity between the "physical" world and the "phenomenal" one such that we are usually able to find a physical source for changes in how we perceive.
Asher, in a way I suppose I have defined away the ability to describe conscious experience in terms of something empirically verifiable, but I don't think this is cheating for several reasons: (i) because this is the correct way of describing the properties involved; (ii) even if (i) is true, there may be some unobvious way of bridging the gap between the physical and the phenomenal.Delete
I don't find your analogy with combustion very convincing because if we lacked a description of combustion, we wouldn't know what we were conceiving of without such a description.
As for the inverted spectrum, what's important is not what is actually the case, but rather, what's possible. If the inverted spectrum is possible, then the physical doesn't necessitate the phenomenal. I agree that we can always find a physical source for changes in the way we perceive, since perception is a causal process.
Asher: “You've already said that consciousness is defined in terms of phenomenal properties, and that physicalist (‘dispositional’) descriptions don't include phenomenal properties. So haven't you simply defined away the ability to describe a conscious experience in terms of something empirically verifiable (something with dispositional properties)?”Delete
I think by “defined” Michael means “characterized”. Chalmers does exactly the same: he says that for a reductive explanation of something we need to “characterize” it in an appropriate form before we proceed to an analysis and reduction, but then when discussing conscious experience he says it’s “defined” in phenomenal terms, which gives the impression he’s just excluded a solution by definition. In fact, neither Michael nor Chalmers give an argument as to exactly why you can’t characterize a phenomenal experience or property in functional (plus maybe relational) terms; the nearest Chalmers gets is to say “To analyze consciousness in terms of some functional notion is either to change the subject or to define away the problem. One might as well define ‘world peace’ as ‘a ham sandwich’” (The Conscious Mind, p. 105), i.e. he just takes it for granted it can’t be done.
And of course if you could actually characterize a phenomenal experience in functional terms, then the zombie and knowledge arguments would fail because they depend on the conceptual gap between functional and phenomenal concepts (as Chalmers admits).
"And of course if you could actually characterize a phenomenal experience in functional terms"Delete
I guess that's where my problem really is. I'm not seeing why we'd want or expect a characterization of a phenomenal experience. At most, I'd want an explanation of why brain activity gives rise to phenomenal experience.
We don't find it problematic to describe how the eyeball receives light, how it is converted to nervous system activity, how objects and motion are detected and summarized, how two images are combined to create the perception of depth, etc., etc. At the end, we say we "understand" how vision works, and we don't find it particularly mysterious.
We also don't become puzzled by the problem of "locating where vision takes place". Yet it has the same sort of issues we come across in talking about phenomenal experience. If you call vision a process that involves the external world, light, eyeballs, nerve fiber and brains, someone can always say, "but you *see* things in your dreams even though your eyeballs aren't receiving light from the external world". The answer to that is by no means simple, but it's not considered mysterious or non-physical. Parts of the brain that process visual information can be activated when we're not receiving light through our eyeballs.
If a sensory system is physical and non-mysterious, what happens when we view consciousness as a sensory system that receives input from the brain itself (rather than eyeballs or fingers) and activates the brain itself (rather than muscle fiber)?
"I don't find your analogy with combustion very convincing because if we lacked a description of combustion, we wouldn't know what we were conceiving of without such a description."Delete
I wasn't thinking of a situation where we *completely* lacked a description -- just one in which we lacked a full scientific theory of the physical process. Imagine we lived in a world where we had some scientific instruments that told us about the structure of substances, but we didn't know why some substances explode when you increase their temperature.
In such a world we might have philosophers saying that combustion was "non-physical". And they might create thought experiments in which we are to imagine a reality in which gasoline was "physically identical", yet increasing its temperature did not result in an explosion. And we might have scientists saying, "if combustion is non-physical, how does it interact with the physical gasoline?" Etc., etc.
Such a thing would be easy to imagine, precisely *because* we didn't have a full physical theory.
I admit that consciousness is a weirder problem, because we have a way of "observing" our own brain activity without instruments or (possibly) external sensory systems.
"I agree that we can always find a physical source for changes in the way we perceive, since perception is a causal process."
You seem to be saying that causal processes are physical. So to be non-physical, phenomenal experience would have to be non-causal?
To me, it looks like it comes down to the fact that we're usually happy with an explanation if it fully models a causal process; but when we want an explanation of phenomenal experience, a causal explanation for some reason is not enough for us.
"When we dream, we have rich experiences independently of any sort of embodiment or behaviour"ReplyDelete
This doesn't sit well with me. There is activity going on in the brain, which is part of the body. Why isn't that considered "embodiment"? The brain is doing stuff while we are dreaming that it does not do when we aren't. Why is this not "behaviour"?
Asher, I suppose the word "embodiment" is used in a more narrow sense by philosophers and psychologists. It seems to me that the relevant sense of embodiment here is something like "sensorimotor control over our bodies". Since we're paralysed during dreaming, Revonsuo uses the phenomenon of dreaming to argue that consciousness is spatially located in the brain, contra people who identify consciousness with sensorimotor control, verbal reports, and the external world.Delete
Lots of compelling material here! But I have to admit I had a hard time developing a clear sense of what you're getting at by the end. For example, you say this:ReplyDelete
"It’s possible that perception tells us only about the dispositional nature of the physical world, and that introspection tells us about the intrinsic nature of the physical world. This gives us some insight into why it is that we can’t locate phenomenal (non-dispositional) properties in physical (dispositional) properties, and why it is that the zombie and Mary thought experiments are coherent."
To me this reads like a claim that phenomenal properties (might) arise from introspection. But perhaps I've misunderstood, because that's a very startling claim to me; one of the phenomenal properties of seeing red, at least for me, is that seeing red seems to precede any introspective or reflective activity on my part. Now, it's possible that I'm mistaken on that count, but if so, doesn't that mean that the experience of seeing red is at least partially illusory? And wouldn't that be evidence in favor of some kind of eliminativism? But I can't tell if that's what you intend (because you're making a fundamentally eliminative argument, viz. consciousness can't be located and so doesn't really exist) or if that goes against what you intend (because you're explicitly defending the existence of a nonlocal consciousness, or because you wish to remain agnostic about existence and are only defending nonlocality).
I also felt unsatisfied by your response to the epistemological-premises, metaphysical conclusion objection to the knowledge argument. You say:
"It has been said that the knowledge argument starts from epistemological premises and finishes at a metaphysical conclusion: premises about what Mary knows, and a conclusion about what’s not physical. Some people have argued that this inference is invalid. I think this response is mistaken. If you know that the metal bar in front of you is one meter long, then it follows that the metal bar is one meter long."
I would find this line of reasoning worth considering if, in coming to know what it is like to see red, Mary also came to know that the experience of seeing red is nonphysical. But I don't think that's necessarily true. Or in any case, I certainly don't receive any indication, upon seeing red, that my experience of seeing red is nonphysical. (My natural instinct would be to say "Quite the contrary! Seeing red is one of the most obviously physical experiences I have.") The only reason that Mary's new knowledge might count as knowledge that the experience of seeing red is nonphysical is that we've stipulated that she already has all physical knowledge. But that premise may not be sound!
So I don't think the fact that Mary learns something is proof that the experience of seeing red is nonphysical; I think it's proof that either (1) the experience of seeing red is nonphysical, or (2) the experience of seeing red is an illusion -- or (3) the initial premise that Mary knew all the physical facts about red was itself faulty. Of these three conclusions, I think (3) is the most acceptable -- especially given all the background assumptions this argument requires about what counts as physical knowledge. And note that (3) is an epistemological conclusion rather than a metaphysical one!
Still, I must say that I'm intrigued by the general thrust of your argument.
Scott, thanks for the comment. You make lots of interesting points, and I'm not sure if I'll be able to address all of them.Delete
Firstly, I want to say that you've pointed out a really interesting and difficult aspect of the location problem for consciousness. Given that it doesn't seem possible to locate phenomenal properties in the physical world, perhaps we should say that phenomenal properties don't exist. I think a lot of misguided philosophers go down that path. I think a much more appropriate solution would be to reconceive the physical world so that we can locate phenomenal properties. But more optimistic philosophers will leave both as they are, and look for ways to bridge the gap between the two.
"To me this reads like a claim that phenomenal properties (might) arise from introspection. But perhaps I've misunderstood, because that's a very startling claim to me"
That certainly would be a very startling claim! I don't want to say that phenomenal properties arise from introspection because it seems to me that most of our conscious experiences occur when we're not introspecting, and that far from all experiences are reportable. I think introspection is merely a particular way of knowing about the world, and it's a way of knowing that works quite differently to perception.
"I would find this line of reasoning worth considering if, in coming to know what it is like to see red, Mary also came to know that the experience of seeing red is nonphysical."
The knowledge that phenomenal redness is nonphysical is known purely inferentially. Phenomenal redness is not a member of the set of all physical facts, and is therefore not itself a physical fact. Simple tokens of knowledge don't carry with them flags that say "nonphysical" - this would be an instance of second-order knowledge.
"I think it's proof that either (1) the experience of seeing red is nonphysical, or (2) the experience of seeing red is an illusion -- or (3) the initial premise that Mary knew all the physical facts about red was itself faulty."
I think this disjunction is pretty exhaustive. The Mary argument gives prima facie justification for (1). Lots of philosophers assert (2), but in response I'd give them an epic incredulous stare. I think (3) needs independent support, which I doubt can be given, since the Mary argument is coherently described (pre-release, at minimum). There is no a priori reason why someone could not know all the relevant physics and physiology, and then use that knowledge to reason perfectly to conclusions about the mind. Given that there is no contradiction in Mary knowing all of the physical facts to begin with, I don't find (3) very plausible.
Thanks for the comments, and I'm glad you found the blog interesting.
"I think a much more appropriate solution would be to reconceive the physical world so that we can locate phenomenal properties."Delete
Can you expand on this a little? Do you mean a reconception that allows us to explain or describe phenomenal properties in physical theories?
I'm especially confused by the use of the word "nonphysical". I understand "the set of all physical facts" to be a description of what's going on in the brain at the level of some physical theory. Do you consider it conceivable that without incorporating phenomenal language, a physical theory could explain why phenomenal experience arises out of purely physical brain processes? Or do you feel that phenomenal descriptions have a place in physical theories? Neither?
I'm reminded of this quote from John Dupré at Exeter, who was reviewing Nagel's Mind and Cosmos:
"Reductionism can be understood as a metaphysical thesis, typically based on an argument that if there is only material stuff in the world (no spooky stuff), then the properties of stuff must ultimately explain everything. This is a controversial thesis, much debated by philosophers. But what the last 50 years of work in the philosophy of science has established is that this kind of reductionism has little relevance to science. Even if it turned out that most scientists believed something like this (which I find incredible) this would be a psychological oddity, not a deep insight about science. A more sensible materialism goes no further than the rejection of spooky stuff: whatever kinds of stuff there may turn out to be and whatever they turn out to do, they are, as long as this turning out is empirically grounded, ipso facto not spooky. Such a materialism is quite untouched by Nagel’s arguments."
Thanks for the thoughtful reply. You're not the first person to tell me that the third conclusion carries the highest burden of proof, but I appreciate your willingness to offer some justification for that position.Delete
I'm still a little uncertain of what you say, though. This might be splitting hairs, but consider this -- you say: "there is no a priori reason why someone could not know all the relevant physics and physiology, and then use that knowledge to reason perfectly to conclusions about the mind." I don't disagree; but there's a difference between that and being able to reason perfectly to all true conclusions about the mind (at least as far as the color red is concerned) -- which is what the argument seems to require. That seems like a fairly strong claim to me.
And consider this point: what exactly would we know if we had perfect knowledge of all relevant physical facts about, say, a billiard table? We would have a certain kind of knowledge: we would know the final configuration that the table would take if one of the balls were struck from such an angle with so much force. But we would not know that the table was in fact in that configuration; quite the contrary! Only if that ball were actually struck would we then know that the table had assumed this new configuration.
Taking up a simpler example, to get my precise meaning across, there's a clear difference between knowing what it would be like if the tree in my backyard were cut down, and knowing that the tree in my backyard has been cut down. I see a similarity between that second kind of knowledge and the kind of knowledge that Mary gains when she sees red for the first time. What if our everyday language has fooled us into thinking that phenomenal properties have to do with knowing what it would be like if X, whereas in fact, they have more in common with knowing that X -- a kind of knowledge that can clearly never be had until X is indeed the case.
Asher, you've raised some good points. By "nonphysical" properties I mean properties of the world that aren't told to us by physics. Physics only tells us about dispositional properties, so by "nonphysical" I mean intrinsic properties that underlie such dispositional properties. I admit this is confusing since intrinsic properties can rightly be called "physical".Delete
My view is that the most promising way of understanding consciousness is by expanding physical theory to include reference to the phenomenal. Instead of only talking about the dispositional properties of matter, we will need to find some way (assuming it is possible) of talking about the intrinsic nature of matter also.
Nagel's Mind and Cosmos is an excellent example of how reasoning can go dreadfully wrong. Regarding Dupré's interesting quote, it seems to me that scientists have a methodological commitment to materialism, but definitely not reductionism (see e.g. Bechtel and Craver for discussion on this point). Scientists working in areas such as biology and psychology don't give lawful explanations, as you find in physics. Instead, they give mechanistic explanations that describe causal relations that produce some object of explanation, such as blood circulation or memory consolidation.
"...perhaps we should say that phenomenal properties don't exist. I think a lot of misguided philosophers go down that path."Delete
What arguments do you have that these philosophers are misguided? I assume you would advance an argument something like Chalmers' that it is "just obvious" that phenomenal properties exist and therefore just a bald denial of plain facts to say they may not. But as has been discussed ad nauseum between Chalmers and Dennett, this intuition isn't really possible to defend beyond just plain assertion.
On the other hand, neuroscientists have already shown that the usual folk conception of consciousness is dissociable in some ways. Therefore, it's at least worth questioning whether your concept of phenomenal properties should be taken too seriously without some serious consideration. Certainly you can't just call people misguided without argument.
"I think a much more appropriate solution would be to reconceive the physical world so that we can locate phenomenal properties."
Like Scott, I am not sure what you mean by this. Can you expand on what this might look like? Further, there must be a powerful reason to propose that we reformulate the physical world. If you could show for certain that your definition of phenomenal properties exist, then perhaps that would be such a reason.
"Physics only tells us about dispositional properties, so by "nonphysical" I mean intrinsic properties that underlie such dispositional properties. I admit this is confusing since intrinsic properties can rightly be called "physical"."Delete
Yeah, this is definitely very confusing to me. To me, "dispositional" means that something has the regular tendency to behave in a particular way. And to "behave" means to have causal efficacy with respect to other things. If intrinsic properties "underlie" dispositional ones, does that mean that intrinsic properties *cause* dispositional ones? If so, they're just dispositional properties. If not - if they have no causal efficacy of their own - then they're not properties at all, because they don't *do* anything.
A third possibility is that intrinsic properties have a different *kind* of causal structure than dispositional ones. Kind of like Aristotle's "formal" causes (an intrinsic cause is a "constraint" that limits what dispositional causes are possible). Or teleological ones (which might explain why people as diverse as Nagel and Terrence Deacon are attracted to them).
Anyway, I think a key to your project will be to clearly define intrinsic properties and how they differ from dispositional ones.
How would you deal with the fact that plain molecules can interfere with the representational as well as the phenomenal experiences of the brain? If you drink too much wine, your experience of yourself will alter as you get more confidence (or more likely rude and obnoxious). There are also drugs that treat depressions (or recreational drugs that alter your experience of colours and sounds). I think that both examples show that simple organic molecules can definitely alter the experience of "what it is like to be yourself". If you would occlude the carotid artery you would evidently lose consciousness. If you would do this, not for the whole brain, but for smaller regions, and lets say you would deprive a region of oxygen that incorporates information of other brain regions (a high-level region). Would it not be possible to find such a region (or regions) that is in the end responsible for the conscious experience? And wouldn't that clearly show that our experience of consciousness and what it feels like to be you is located in the physical world (albeit as the result of brain area activity). Or would the emergent activity of that region fall outside your definition of being grounded in the physical world?
Kurt, I think representation is a purely physical process, so I accept that molecular interactions intervene in representational systems. Such representational systems are necessary but not sufficient for consciousness, so it follows that differences in representation will lead to differences in experiences, without the latter being reducible to the former.Delete
As for regions of the brain, no one region of the brain is entirely responsible for any cognitive function. In my opinion, consciousness emerges (in some radical sense), from interactions between a huge number of subsystems in the brain, that are distributed throughout the brain.
"no one region of the brain is entirely responsible for any cognitive function"Delete
That seems far too strong a claim. Define your functions narrowly enough, or your regions widely enough, and it will inevitably fail.
I think I wanted to emphasise the "entirely" part. For example, Broca's area is sometimes called the language centre of the brain. However, there's no agreement on where exactly Broca's area is, and even so, there haven't been anywhere enough cross-cultural fMRI scans on Broca's area to know.Delete
after re-reading your text and the replies here I see that I misunderstood your description of the “physical world”. I thought that the purpose of your text was to place consciousness in an immaterial world (which explains my emphasis on the trivial observation that very simple material causes can have a profound effect on consciousness). Now I suppose that the location problem is about locating the concept of consciousness in our worldview that is provided by physics (I have an interest in philosophy (especially of biology, since that is my profession), but only recreational, so please correct me if I am wrong on). The claim of “non-reducibility” or the inability to locate consciousness in our conception of reality (provided by physics) is of course more digestible for me as a scientist and I entirely agree with that, to a point that I think this is actually a rather trivial observation. Let me explain my reservations:
-First of all, what is essentially the physical world? You say that it is the conception of reality that comes out of physics. This would be an extremely crude and over-deterministic view of reality. Later on you mention that representation is a purely physical process, so in this worldview you implicitly included not only physics, but also chemistry, cell-biology, neurobiology etc. All of these sciences are not reducible to physics and I think you would agree that there is a more than subtle difference between a concept of reality by physics and by science. If you use the former definition of physical world, than your statement becomes trivial. If you include the latter, I think in the end it will present you with a problem that requires you to ask if consciousness can be located in our current neurobiological (and at this point limited) view of the brain. So my first point is that I think your definition of physical world is one that is shared by very few scientists. I think it would be more correct to explicitly include all sciences, of which we know that they are hierarchical and that the higher hierarchies cannot be reduced to lower hierarchies and certainly not to physics ultimately.
-Second, I think it is very difficult to claim that representation is a purely physical process. If you mention that seeing things can be pretty well explained I think that you would have a hard time explaining them with physics. OK, we have a pretty good ID on how receptors in the eye are activated by light. But from there on, our description becomes purely cell- and neuro-biological. The brain not only registers visual inputs but also deforms it in the process of extracting relevant information (already a seed for phenomenal experiences?). There are circuits for detecting boundaries (which are exagerated), for detecting movement, filtering non-relevant inputs… There are higher level circuits for incorporating 2D information into a 3D representation, there are even higher levels for detecting familiar shapes. These are fed by and feed our memory. A good reaction requires being aware of your current position in your environment, which is done by recreating a mental representation in your brain, and of course also input from the cerebellum, and in the end you have to calculate if your planned action is realistic based on previous experiences. A realistic account of representation is therefore best explained by neuro-biology. You say that mental representation explains behavior. So if I extrapolate your thesis correctly, you also claim that behavior is physical? But you not only need neuro-biology to explain behavior, you also need the personal history of an organism to account for their behavior, which becomes causally very complex. Behaviour is largely experiental.
-Third, I think the boundary between what you call phenomenally, or “what is it likeness” is not that clear at all. In my view (and I think most neuro-biologists would agree), consciousness is an emergent neuro-biological phenomenon that occurs in animals that have sufficient levels of mental abilities for
high-level information processing that allows them to be aware of their existence (hereby focusing on the emergent aspect, I assume that you have problems with the exact formulation). I think that a naturalistic account of consciousness therefore indicates that representation is prerequisite for your phenomenal form of consciousness (as physical objects are a prerequisite for chemistry etc). The exact border between representational properties (which require a decent level of wiring in the brain) and phenomenal properties (which require an additional capability) is therefore difficult (but probably not abritrary).
-How do you support the claim that consciousness is defined phenomenally? Do you claim that in the end science has no grasp whatsoever on the problem of consciousness. I also do not think that your conception of consciousness is that clear.
-Fourth, I think that the problems with the definitions of experience more likely reflect different angles on the problem, and that problems occur if you want to push an overzealous and narrow explanation of experience. Yes, experience should be considered in terms of experiental terms, but these experiental terms are (maybe largely) neuro-biological (psychological…) and I do not see why they would conflict with a decent description of the “physical world”. Experience is partially a sensorimotor function, we sometimes have (too much) verbal reports of our experiences and there is a representational relation most of the time. But this all happens inside our brain and dreaming can be a (maybe functionless) residual activity of higher level regions that are active without primary input from lower level regions. So I assume that a brain-centered view of experience is the most accurate and I do not see why this cannot be coherent with other forms of explanation, let alone provide conclusive evidence for the non-localisation of consciousness in the “physical world”.
-Fifth: the thought experiments. As a biologist I cannot conceive a zombie that reacts exactly the same on every stimulus (the brain wired the same?) and does not have a form of consciousness. Scientifically, this seems a strange argument for me and conclusions from this experiment reflect in my opinion more a lack of decent understanding of the problem and a lack of proper definitions. But then again, I never liked zombies. Reality is coherent, our representations of it much less. As for Mary with her complete understanding of the “physical world”, her knowledge is by definition incomplete (as is science) and I cannot understand why her factual knowledge of abstractions of reality from here memory (from reading science books) would relate to the activity of visual circuits. These “facts” have no correlation in her brain whatsoever. Sure she will have new experiences and learn new things, but then again: whats the problem?
-Sixth: “physicalism says that complete physical knowledge is complete knowledge simpliciter”. I do not know of any colleagues that claim such a thing. First of all, complete physical knowledge is impossible and second; would you have it, it will leave you with many uncertainties in individual cases.
In the end, I get the feeling that we are roughly talking about the same, but I cannot adhere to your definition of physicalism, a definition that together with the difficulties of defining and describing consciousness, is probably the cause of the ongoing debate. I am very (too?) pragmatical when defining incomplete knowledge, since it is probably our lack of specific knowledge (and logic pushed too far) that creates ambiguities.
Thank you for this Kurt. Much to think and follow-up on!Delete
You have placed before us a zombie that acts intelligently without being conscious of its intelligence. Yet it is intelligently and thus cognizantly aware that its responding to a conscious human. So this zombie is neither conscious of, or aware of, the fact that it's using an intelligence that can't be used without the capacity to be aware that it's using it. Shouldn't a thought experiment involve at least some theoretically possible alternatives for examination?
Baron, I would disagree with the way you've characterised some of these matters. I think conscious experience is something very different to awareness, or being "conscious of" something. Zombies are certainly aware of their own intelligence, and know about there own beliefs and desires, because both us and zombies share the exact same representational framework. To make a simplified example, the representational framework that our brains implement could be a "language of thought" defined purely syntactically. Both us and zombies process symbols in exactly the same way in the language of thought, but our symbols have different content in some cases.Delete
As for possible alternatives, I think this is very important, but for reasons of space I couldn't include any. For alternative views, I'd strongly recommend the Australian philosopher Daniel Stoljar, who's influenced my thought on consciousness very deeply.
Michael, the dictionary definition of consciousness is clear:Delete
the state of being awake and aware of one's surroundings: she failed to regain consciousness and died two days later.
• the awareness or perception of something by a person: her acute consciousness of Mike's presence.
• the fact of awareness by the mind of itself and the world: consciousness emerges from the operations of the brain.
So if the zombie is aware of its own intelligence, it's conscious of it. And while many of our words have several meanings, every meaning we ascribe to consciousness includes awareness.
And so if conscious experience is NOT very different from awareness, is awareness very different from consciousness?
knowledge or perception of a situation or fact: we need to raise public awareness of the issue. there is a lack of awareness of the risks.
• concern about and well-informed interest in a particular situation or development: a growing environmental awareness. his political awareness developed.
Nope, not very different at all. And I don't think a redefinition of difference will help you all that much here either.
Baron, one thing that definitely makes some of these matters difficult is that it's very difficult to isolate the target of our inquiry. The word "consciousness" is used in many, many different ways in everyday speech, but there's one notion that I want to focus in on. It's our vivid inner experience, what it's like to feel the redness of red, or the saltiness of salt.Delete
There have been some really good discussions of the distinction between phenomenal experience, which is what I'm interested in, and other forms of "consciousness". Here's the classic paper by Nagel: http://organizations.utep.edu/portals/1475/nagel_bat.pdf. And the influential papers by Chalmers http://consc.net/papers/facing.pdf and Block http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/faculty/block/papers/1995_Function.pdf
What it's like to feel the sensation of a color or a taste is really not a question of what consciousness consists of, or where we feel it or don't, or why it's there. You might have a question of why it lets you feel something differently from the way your neighbor does, assuming you've determined that it does, or have simply determined that some like the feeling more or less than others. But the question of what consciousness is or comes from and the type of entity that will or will not have it, or have use for it, is not addressed at all by your attempts to distinguish one of its experiences from the other.Delete
If you are really serious about examining that aspect of the subject, check out the writings on anticipation by Rosen and Naden here: http://www.anteinstitute.org/
But considering that my next to last comment was not published, I don't anticipate that the latest I've just made will show up either. Or this one.Delete
Think of how a hole in a boat allows water to enter it, but it does not create the water. A really uniformed ladybug could run around thinking the boat is creating the water, but a bird flying above sees that the water pre-existed the entrance into the boat. Consciousness is like this water, flowing into beings, filtered through locally created attributes.ReplyDelete
A local physical process creates the conditions for consciousness to appear (such as brain, body, mind) but the physical processes do not create the consciousness.
In my understanding, it is only by abstraction can we imagine consciousness to exist physically, but we can confirm that physical processes allow consciousness to develop (flow) into states of self-knowledge.
After all my introspection, I take consciousness to be the capacity to have a coherent and continuous experience. So the evidence of consciousness is always phenomenal, but the existence of consciousness is always a non-phenomenal discernment.
If consciousness is defined as simply the capacity to experience a continuous existence, we sidestep all the issues of location, by centering our view on a subjective viewpoint of self-knowledge. We look right at the hole in the boat, and if we really look, we cannot find the source of the water. That is because the source of consciousness pre-exists our experience of it.
It kind of boils down to: Is evidence of ones existence (self-knowledge) phenomenal or non-phenomenal? If we say it is phenomenal, that is fine, but we limit our discussion to flesh and blood. If we say it is phenomenal and non-phenomenal, we open up the view to the higher dimensions of spacetime & the spirit.
What's wrong with zombie argument isn't that it's logically impossible. Of course it is logically coherent, and so is an acausal universe. It's just plain physically impossible.ReplyDelete
If zombies exist, then those who are not zombies must be running two algorithms inside their heads that are completely separate from each other, and yet somehow identical. So when I say I am aware that I am aware, I'm not saying that because I am aware that I am aware, but because there's a crazy part in me that talks nonsense about an awareness it never experienced. But somehow this crazy part expresses what the actually aware part of me feel exactly the way it feels.
Brainoil, firstly I'd like to say that a physically identically universe can't be acausal, because change can't occur without causation, and our universe clearly changes. What perhaps could happen is that god could "change" things acausally, but then we're not talking about a physically identical universe at all.Delete
As for your second point, I think it's really important to make distinction between awareness and conscious experience. Awareness (and awareness of awareness) only require a representational framework implemented in the brain (something that is perfectly physical). Conscious experience is very difference, and not that we're not aware of many of our experiences (e.g. we can't report them all).
Why can't change occur without causation? Change without causation would just mean that certain changes occur as brute facts, without anything 'making' those changes occur.Delete
I agree with your conclusion, but not with your way of arguing for it. The reason causal relations aren't a problem for physicalism is that we can unproblematically build them into the physical supervenience base. Causality seems 'physicslike' in a way that phenomenal experience does not. When we build causal laws into the supervenience base we use to evaluate high-level phenomena and see whether they're reducible, causality itself gets grouped with electrons and gravity (as physicsy givens), not with wombats and consciousness (as required targets for reduction).
I agree that it's perfectly coherent to suppose that change can occur as a brute fact, but this would be a very strange world where these changes are unintelligible, and it doesn't seem to me that such a world could be physically identical to this one.Delete
However, I probably wouldn't agree with the second part. It's ironic that we're discussing whether causation is a problem for physicalism since the main argument that's given in favour of physicalism is the causal closure of the physical domain. I think a David Lewis style Humean approach is the right one here, where you don't say that causation is itself a part of the fabric of reality, but instead supervenes on the physical. When you get away from the domain of physics, into the special sciences, existences come to be defined by the causal powers. For example, we can say that beliefs exist because they have novel causal powers, and that beliefs themselves are individuated by their causal powers.
I don't know what you mean by "fabric of reality". I have no experience that indicates to me that some fundamental things are more fabricy than others. Humeanism has always seemed explanatorily unparsimonious to me, and I see no reason to assume it or its negation here. Which things we call "physical" is mostly just linguistic convention, and as long as for present purposes we are consistent and don't let language use take the place of our initial intuitions, we'll be fine. Since building physical causal relations, laws of natures, universals, etc. into our supervenience base clarifies how hard the hard problem is (without making it any easier to solve), I'm happy to include all of those things in our supervenience base for the purpose of evaluating whether consciousness logically supervenes on the 'physical world'.Delete
Arguments about whether causality is 'really truly physical' are mostly just linguistic. After all, our idea of 'physical', although important, is fairly gerrymandered and strange to begin with; all we need of it for practical purposes is a clear recognition that it would be profoundly weird and world-view-upsetting if things like koalas and anger turned out to be just as indispensable to physics as things like electrons. Debates about the physicality of causality, inasmuch as they're of philosophical interest at all, can be set aside in philosophy of mind and reserved for arcane metaphysics and philosophy-of-physics debates.
What I said was that an acausal universe is logically possible. You've admitted as much in your reply to Robby. Yes, change cannot occur without causation. But that's only in this universe. It's perfectly logically possible that it occurs as a brute fact, as Robby has pointed out.
However, it is physically very unlikely, as you yourself has written. My point was, I can say the same about zombies. They are logically possible. But physically pretty much impossible.
I'm a little confused as to what is your definition of consciousness. My definition is it is the state of being aware that you are aware. But even if we define consciousness as the ability experience phenomenal properties, the problem doesn't go away. When you say "I see red", you do not say that because you see red, but because a crazy part of you that never really "saw" red talks nonsense.
Chalmers has already claimed that zombies are physically impossible. His view is merely that they're logically possible. He thinks that in the real world, non-physical laws of nature make it inevitable that beings like us will be conscious. So in effect he thinks that when we imagine a zombie world, we imagine a world with different (or wholly absent) psychophysical bridge laws. This is coherent, but requires a very different nomic architecture.Delete
>what is your definition of consciousness. My definition is it is the state of being aware that you are aware.
That's neither necessary nor sufficient for phenomenal consciousness. It's not necessary, because phenomenal consciousness is merely 'feeling some way' or 'having something it's like to be you'. For instance, rocks aren't phenomenally conscious (pace physicalists), because if you were a rock you'd have no inner life, no raw feels. Whereas it may be that a duck is phenomenally conscious, because even if ducks aren't self-aware and don't reason or notice things about themselves, they may still undergo raw first-person experiences like pain.
It's also not sufficient, because 'awareness' (even in a more stripped-down sense) might mean a certain functional, informational state. See Chalmers' 'The Conscious Mind' (1996) for a discussion of the distinction between functional and phenomenal mental states.
"Whereas it may be that a duck is phenomenally conscious, because even if ducks aren't self-aware and don't reason or notice things about themselves, they may still undergo raw first-person experiences like pain."Delete
Do established facts have any place in your philosophizing? Such as the evidence we've acquired that ducks needed to be self aware before they evolved the relatively intelligent functional ability to generate the feeling of pain. Or do you think pain is a universally phenomenal property?
What is the value of a raw first person experience in any case that does not appear to be about the entity that experiences it?
In Chalmer's case, it's this gap from "they're [zombies] logically possible" and "in the real world, non-physical laws of nature make it inevitable that beings like us will be conscious" that I disagree with. Essentially what he's saying is that the mere logical possibility of zombies constitutes a sound refutation of Physicalism. That's nonsense. As I mentioned earlier, an acausal universe is perfectly logically coherent. Is that a sound refutation of causality.
It's like those old arguments for the existence of god. But the mere fact that you can conceive of something is not proof of anything.
What does it take for philosophical zombies to exist? A philosophical zombie would say "I see red". But he's not seeing red. He just has a magical mechanism that makes him pretend that he's seeing red. He'd say "life sucks". But life doesn't suck for him. He just has a magical mechanism that helps him to say stuff like that.
Then what about his identical twin who is not a zombie? He has that magical mechanism too. But he has another magical mechanism that somehow actually see red. At best, this second magical mechanism is epiphenomenal. So if you want to see green, you cannot do that. You can see green only if the first magical mechanism that can pretend stuff decided to pretend that it's seeing green.
Then, since this second magical mechanism is logically possible, a third and fourth magical mechanisms are also possible.
If that is a refutation of Physicalism, I'd just become a zombie.
So ducks experience pain, but not aware that they are experiencing pain? In that case it is perfectly okay to kill and eat ducks. If the nerves are there and yet the duck isn't aware that it's experiencing pain, killing a particular duck is the same as killing a cow, from that duck's perspective since it's not its pain.
Just to clarify, the point of the last part of my last comment was that the way you're defining consciousness, is not how it is conventionally defined. A related concept is sentience. Eastern philosophers usually believe that non-human animals are sentient. Even mosquitoes are sentient according to them. This is not generally accepted in the West.Delete
In any case, whatever the definition of consciousness, it still doesn't make philosophical zombies physically possible, and though they are logically possible, it takes a lot of work to make them coherent. Therefore, it's hardly a sound refutation of Physicalism.
>Essentially what he's saying is that the mere logical possibility of zombies constitutes a sound refutation of Physicalism.Delete
What he's saying is logically true. Read 'The Conscious Mind' (1996) and you'll have a much better understanding of what's being debated. The doctrine we're discussing under the name 'physicalism' is the doctrine that the actual facts logically supervene on the actual physical facts, or (more minimally, but sufficient for our purposes) the actual distribution of properties logically supervenes on the actual distribution of physical properties.
>As I mentioned earlier, an acausal universe is perfectly logically coherent. Is that a sound refutation of causality.
No, but it would be a sound refutation of physicalism, if it were obvious that causality were not itself a physical phenomenon. Causality is about what actual relations are instantiated in our world, whereas physicalism is a subtler doctrine about whether non-physical facts are 'further facts', not fixed or necessitated by the physical ones. So talking in modal terms is appropriate here; indeed, it is nearly indispensable.
>But the mere fact that you can conceive of something is not proof of anything.
Facts can always prove other facts. Our imaginative abilities are a part of the real world, in addition to being an indispensable part of how we come to know how the real world works. So the claim 'Proofs involving conceivability yield no conclusions' is clearly false. If you meant something more precise than that, you'll have to explain what that is. The reason the arguments for God don't work isn't because conceivability instantly blows up any arguments it appears in; it's because they were unsound. (For instance, the ontological argument commits the fallacy of equivocation.)
>A philosophical zombie would say "I see red". But he's not seeing red. He just has a magical mechanism that makes him pretend that he's seeing red.
It's called a brain. You have one too. Since when are brains 'magical'?
>Then, since this second magical mechanism is logically possible, a third and fourth magical mechanisms are also possible.
It sounded for a minute like you were starting to grok the argument, but then you slid into this sloppiness. Going out of your way to be uncharitable in how you characterize opponent's arguments, rather than taking the time to steel-man them before you refute them, is a pretty reliable way to miss the point... You seem to be circling around a Moorean argument like 'Well, I don't know what's wrong with Chalmers' argument, but I'm so sure physicalism is true that it doesn't matter; there's got to be something wrong at some point, and that's good enough for me.' Except you're trying to put more content into the objection than that, and you're not doing so very consistently.
>So ducks experience pain, but not aware that they are experiencing pain?Delete
Three mistakes here:
1. Nobody claimed that ducks aren't phenomenally conscious. I merely used them as an example of an entity we aren't sure is phenomenally conscious.
2. You're still confusing 'awareness' with 'phenomenal consciousness'. So you missed the whole point of the distinction I drew in citing ducks in the first place. The right way to put it, if you think ducks aren't phenomenally conscious, is: Ducks undergo functional pain states (or functionally pain-like states), but not phenomenal pain.
(Imagine, for instance, a robot that convincingly acts like a human but doesn't actually have inner subjective experiences like we do. If you think that's a coherent notion, then you're already most of the way to accepting Chalmers' premises.)
3. You're assuming, unargued, that it's only phenomenal properties that could be of moral relevance to us. As an eliminative physicalist, I must violently disagree! That said, I agree your view is prima-facie intuitive; we overrely on implicit dualisms in a variety of domains, including ethics.
>the point of the last part of my last comment was that the way you're defining consciousness, is not how it is conventionally defined.
There is no conventional definition of 'consciousness'. What there are are a variety of different things different people talk about under that name. The point of my post was to differentiate the concept of consciousness that's relevant to this discussion (phenomenal consciousness) from the many other concepts of consciousness.
>whatever the definition of consciousness, it still doesn't make philosophical zombies physically possible,
Nobody (except eliminativists like me) thinks zombies are physically possible. Chalmers strongly asserts that they are physically impossible.
>and though they are logically possible, it takes a lot of work to make them coherent.
If you accept that they're logically possible, and you're not an eliminativist, then you've already rejected physicalism. You just don't know it yet, because you grew attached to the label 'physicalism' before you knew what it stood for. That said, it sounds like you're still confused, because you think that something can be logically possible without necessarily being 'coherent' (whatever you mean by that). Surely only coherent scenarios are possible.
Note that Robby had no answer to the objection that "ducks needed to be self aware before they evolved the relatively intelligent functional ability to generate the feeling of pain."Delete
He also had no answer as to whether or not he thinks "pain is a universally phenomenal property"?
Baron: That's because you haven't presented your argument in a way that makes sense yet.Delete
1. Intelligence is a measure of goal-oriented reasoning and action. Phenomenal pain is not an example of 'intelligence'.
2. You haven't defined what you mean by 'self aware'.
3. You haven't specified whether by 'the feeling of pain' you mean a certain behavioral-representational state you're picking out from the third person, or a certain apparent quale you're ostending in your subjective awareness. Chalmers already thinks zombies have functional and behavioral analogs of pain, so if your argument only intersects with that conception of pain, it has no relevance to the hard problem debate.
4. Your question "Or do you think pain is a universally phenomenal property?" doesn't make sense. Remember, I'm an eliminativist. I recognize functional pain (or functionally pain-like states), and affirm it; I also recognize phenomenal pain, and deny that it occurs. The 'universally' in your question is opaque, and it's also unclear whether you're asking a semantic question ('what do you personally mean by "pain"?') or a metaphysical question ('do organisms experience phenomenal pain?').
5. Your question "What is the value of a raw first person experience in any case that does not appear to be about the entity that experiences it?" is also too unclear to be of value. Which "entity" are you talking about? Chalmers would claim that ducks, if phenomenally conscious, are entities that are partly physical and partly phenomenal.
Also, given your unwillingness to do the research needed to understand the position you're arguing against or to rigorously formulate your own position, I don't think it's reasonable to begin your blurbs with veiled personal attacks like "Do established facts have any place in your philosophizing?". Particularly given that your example of an "established fact" is a wholly uncited and only barely coherent "the evidence we've acquired that ducks needed to be self aware before they evolved the relatively intelligent functional ability to generate the feeling of pain".
Wow, talk about ways to duck some simple questions.Delete
"1. Intelligence is a measure of goal-oriented reasoning and action. Phenomenal pain is not an example of 'intelligence'."
No, that's not what intelligence is, since you'd have no ability to either have or conceive of a goal without some aspect or version of intelligence, and in addition can never act with any purpose if there's no intelligence that the very notion of a purpose will require.
As to my supposed unwillingness to do research, I should point out that the research by the newer breed of evolutionary scientists (and philosophers) has been done that you, as an apparent evolutionary neoDarwinist, have been unwilling to either look at, or logically examine if you did.
The rest of your response consists of either blind denial or the excuse that since you're an eliminativist, you're not required to even think about the question as it stands. But I do agree that to such as you the questions posed are barely coherent. But even the "barely" parts have stumped you for an answer.
I forgot to note that since it is an established fact that "the evidence we've acquired that ducks needed to be self aware before they evolved the relatively intelligent functional ability to generate the feeling of pain," I thought I was presenting the rather obvious as a counterargument.Delete
And of course an attack on your argumentative style can be taken as personal because your style is to do what you've just done, to obfuscate.
Baron, those responses aren't intellectually honest. Surely you can tell that not a single one of those accusations or paraphrases fairly portrays what I said. This isn't a highly personal issue for either one of us, so why are you succumbing to such aggressive impatience? You won't learn anything, much less win any converts to the 'it's a pseudoproblem' side, by abandoning the path of trying to understand other people's views, steel-man their arguments, or, y'know.... ask questions. Give more signs of good faith, and spend a minute or two meditating before composing your response, and you may be surprised by how much you gain from exchanges like this.Delete
Intellectually honest? If that's supposed to mean unfairness, I suppose when you're so sure of your correctness, you'd assume any criticism is intrinsically unfair.Delete
But then look at this as an example of what you continue to throw out:
"In light of our status as computing machines evolved from so much pondscum, we should be extremely wary of leaping to assume at the very beginning that we're infallible about anything."
That's so wrong on many levels it's exasperating. Yet when such mistakes are repeatedly brought to your attention, you chatter blithely on as if there's nothing that it's you that needs to learn.
This kind of statement is not only factually inaccurate but a fallible argument for the human fallibility that you wish to demonstrate. And trite to the max as well.
Who has recently leapt to assume that we're infallible about anything to begin with? Except perhaps you, leaping in to prove you're infallible about infallibility.
Now I suppose you'll complain that I haven't explained, researched, or cited references concerning the many levels that you're wrong on. But if you tried to discover that for yourself, you might be the one to acquire learning.
What he's saying is logically true. Read 'The Conscious Mind' (1996)
Please don't do that. Don't just say go read the book. At least point to a relevant excerpt.
No, but it would be a sound refutation of physicalism, if it were obvious that causality were not itself a physical phenomenon.
Exactly. Similarly, zombie world would be a sound refutation of physicalism if it were obvious that phenomenal experiences are not physical. Is it that obvious to you?
Facts can always prove other facts. Our imaginative abilities are a part of the real world, in addition to being an indispensable part of how we come to know how the real world works.
Facts always prove other facts. The question is, what facts do they prove. The fact that you can conceive of something is proof of lot of facts about your brain (which is part of the real world). But it isn't always a proof about the world outside your brain. For example, you can conceive of a universe where your girlfriend is cheating on you. Not only this universe is logically coherent, it is consistent with the real world you are living in. For example, you think that the reason you have no evidence for your girlfriend cheating on you is because she's hiding it very well. It's logically coherent, and plausible. Now the question is, does this say anything about your real girlfriend?
It's called a brain. You have one too. Since when are brains 'magical'?
In Chalmers universe, they are. The zombie has a brain. It has eyes and neurons and all that. But it doesn't see red. When it says "I see red", it just talking nonsense. When it says "this song is fantastic", it's just talking nonsense. But by some weird brain mechanism, the zombie is capable of pretending that it's actually seeing red. Now how do you say "this song is great", when you aren't actually even hearing the song? In the case of a cellphone, it is the human that says it. In the case of a robot, it's the human programmer that says it. In the case of a zombie, the zombie brain does it, but how? Perhaps by using a giant database where all the responses to all situations are written. So basically, when I say Chalmers views are logically coherent, I'm not saying that I think it is possible to conceive a world identical to ours but people are all zombies. I mean that if we had giant databases for brains, where every single thing we do is stored, then it's possible to conceive a zombie world that is identical to that.
It sounded for a minute like you were starting to grok the argument, but then you slid into this sloppiness.
Be that as it may, what prevents you from thinking that there could be multiple number of souls viewing the world through the same brain? There's nothing to stop that. I'm not being uncharitable. I'm simply pointing out a possibility.
Nobody claimed that ducks aren't phenomenally conscious.Delete
Neither did I. I merely object to the use of word "conscious" there. If you are able to feel pain, and yet not aware that it is you who is feeling that pain, you are not conscious, in my view, because there is no you.
The right way to put it, if you think ducks aren't phenomenally conscious
I don't think ducks aren't phenomenally conscious. I only object to the use word "conscious" there, as explained above. It's obvious that ducks feel pain. For example, a fetus maybe able to feel pain. But whether it's conscious is another question.
(Imagine, for instance, a robot that convincingly acts like a human but doesn't actually have inner subjective experiences like we do. If you think that's a coherent notion, then you're already most of the way to accepting Chalmers' premises.)
The only way this could actually happen, is if the robot has a Giant Look Up Table that is bigger than the universe. It needs all possible inputs and outputs of a human brain stored in there. There is no way to go from this practically impossible giant creature, to a zombie who is identical to us. There cannot be a zombie which has a brain identical to you, not even logically. When I say Chalmer's view is logically coherent, I mean that it's logically coherent if the two worlds we are discussing are worlds where everyone has a giant lookup table (or a magical structure) for a brain.
You're assuming, unargued, that it's only phenomenal properties that could be of moral relevance to us.
I won't kill the duck because I'm not quite sure whether they are conscious or not. According to Baron, they are. But if they aren't even aware that they are there, and it them who are feeling the pain, I have no problem in killing the duck. Same goes for unborn fetuses.
If you accept that they're logically possible, and you're not an eliminativist, then you've already rejected physicalism...because you think that something can be logically possible without necessarily being 'coherent
If it wasn't clear, here by coherent and possible, I mean the same thing. My point was, in order to make the zombie world logically possible, you need to do a lot of work, like replacing human brains with a giant lookup table or a magical structure.
Also, the mere inconceivability is not proof of anything about the real world outside your brain unless supported by further facts. As mentioned earlier, your girlfriend cheating on you is conceivable. But that doesn't say anything about your real girlfriend cheating on you.
In fact, the more I think about this, the more I'm compelled to think that even a giant look up table like the one I mentioned would be conscious. So I guess it would really have to be a magical mechanism that'd make zombies logically possible.Delete
"I won't kill the duck because I'm not quite sure whether they are conscious or not. According to Baron, they are."Delete
It's logically improbable (if not impossible) that they aren't conscious. They aren't all that consciously smart of course. The domesticated ones at least don't seem to realize that they presently exist (and some quite comfortably) because we plan to eat them. And since we would appear to have given them life for that purpose, it would seem somehow immoral not to kill them.
Because if we stopped doing so for some odd humanitarian reasons, the ducks and their progeny would cease to enjoy their lives of comfort and return to their more naturally selected prey versus predator existence.
And as needy humans the bulk of us would still, if at all possible, eat them.
>Please don't do that. Don't just say go read the book. At least point to a relevant excerpt.Delete
It's a useful book, and a fun read! It raises, and clearly explains, most of the interesting objections to dualism itself. But I can give you page numbers, sure. Try pp. 71-81.
>Similarly, zombie world would be a sound refutation of physicalism if it were obvious that phenomenal experiences are not physical. Is it that obvious to you?
You're confusing 'physical' with 'physicalist' / 'physicalistically acceptable'. 'Physical' in the relevant sense just picks out the posits of physics, and things that are relevantly similar to the stuff of physics (quarks, leptons, bosons, spacetime, etc.). Causality is plausibly 'physical' in that narrow sense, whereas macro-phenomena like consciousness, wombats, hurricanes, economic systems, and mountain ranges are not. Physicalism says, not that everything is physical in that narrow sense, but that everything logically supervenes on the physical, i.e., that logically nothing can change while the physical is held constant, hence that the facts overall are fully explicable in terms of, and are completely fixed by, the physical. If you also want to use 'physical' in a broader sense to refer to anything that logically supervenes on physicsy things (i.e., anything that a physicalist can countenance), that's fine, but only if you don't confuse yourself by switching back and forth between the two meanings.
>The fact that you can conceive of something is proof of lot of facts about your brain (which is part of the real world). But it isn't always a proof about the world outside your brain.
Sure, but remember that we aren't talking about the world outside our brains. We're talking about consciousness, which is, like imagination, in our heads.
>For example, you can conceive of a universe where your girlfriend is cheating on you. Not only this universe is logically coherent, it is consistent with the real world you are living in. For example, you think that the reason you have no evidence for your girlfriend cheating on you is because she's hiding it very well. It's logically coherent, and plausible. Now the question is, does this say anything about your real girlfriend?
In a sense, yes. It tells us that my girlfriend is logically compatible with cheating. That's not a very interesting fact, and it's a very minimal one. But 'physicalism' is a pretty maximal claim, and it can be refuted even by extremely minimal facts about logical supervenience. That's where you're getting tripped up: Physicalism is not an everyday, ordinary doctrine. It's high metaphysics.
>Be that as it may, what prevents you from thinking that there could be multiple number of souls viewing the world through the same brain?
Nothing, but there's no reason to believe in such souls. Chalmers believes in parsimony just as much as any other philosopher does.
>I merely object to the use of word "conscious" there. If you are able to feel pain, and yet not aware that it is you who is feeling that pain, you are not conscious, in my view, because there is no you.Delete
I can't take this objection to heart, because you haven't first taken the time to understand how 'consciousness' is used by others (e.g., in the hard problem literature), and because it's extraordinarily unlikely that you have a clear concept of what a 'you' is. You're replacing a fairly rigorous and well-explicated concept with a bit of fluff about 'the self'. But there are thousands of different concepts of what 'the self' could be. And there's an obvious sense in which if something feels pain it's conscious, no matter how selfy its representational states otherwise are. Whether it has a 'self' is irrelevant; it's an organism, and we can speak of an organism as conscious even if we don't consider it a person, or a self, or anything of the sort.
>For example, a fetus maybe able to feel pain. But whether it's conscious is another question.
Not in the sense of 'conscious' being used by everyone else in this discussion and by everyone working in the hard-problem literature.
>The only way this could actually happen, is if the robot has a Giant Look Up Table that is bigger than the universe.
And what's your proof of that? How do you know that something much simpler and more mundane couldn't replicate your behavior without replicating your inner life? We already know of plenty of examples in everyday life where people can pretend to be feeling one way, whereas internally they're another way. We already know of plenty of examples where people are tricked into thinking that some automoton has experiences, whereas in fact it is just going through a set of extremely simple behaviors, in no way requiring us to posit a Giant Look-up Table! (Consider, also, blindsight.) So your claim that there is some secret impossibility in the idea is one of the most extraordinarily strong ones that has ever been made, and will require at least some argument!
>But if they aren't even aware that they are there, and it them who are feeling the pain, I have no problem in killing the duck. Same goes for unborn fetuses.
There's a subtly monstrous attitude lurking here. I've had fever dreams where I was having perfectly real, perfectly vivid experiences, but had no distinct sense of self. Would it have been moral to kill or torture me at that time, just because there was no higher-order representation or self-awareness accompanying my phenomenally conscious affective states? Your uncritical acceptance of the notion that 'self' is even a coherent concept, much less one of basic importance in our psychology, has brought you perilously close to endorsing a holocaust of moral asymmetry. Methinks at least a little more examination of your assumptions is warranted before you finish making that leap to dismissing the import of pain, pleasure, etc....
>If it wasn't clear, here by coherent and possible, I mean the same thing.
That's even less clear. Not only is it nonstandard, but you haven't explained what that 'same thing' is.
>My point was, in order to make the zombie world logically possible, you need to do a lot of work, like replacing human brains with a giant lookup table or a magical structure.
That's not what a 'zombie' is. A zombie isn't some object that has no phenomenal properties. It's a functional and physical duplicate of a human that has no phenomenal properties. So at this point it sounds like you're claiming to have some proof of a logical incoherence in the idea of such duplicates. What proof do you have in mind?
But I can give you page numbers, sure. Try pp. 71-81.Delete
I'll do that. I think I have an old copy with me.
You're confusing 'physical' with 'physicalist' / 'physicalistically acceptable'. 'Physical' in the relevant sense just picks out the posits of physics, and things that are relevantly similar to the stuff of physics (quarks, leptons, bosons, spacetime, etc.).
I cannot see how this definition of "physical" helps you in proving that Physicalism is false. So I'll rephrase my question. Is it so obvious to you that consciousness cannot be fully explained in terms of physical things?
Sure, but remember that we aren't talking about the world outside our brains.
I didn't say our brain. I said your brain. My brain is part of the outside universe in this case.
In a sense, yes. It tells us that my girlfriend is logically compatible with cheating. That's not a very interesting fact, and it's a very minimal one.
Actually I'd give you that. That's true.
But 'physicalism' is a pretty maximal claim, and it can be refuted even by extremely minimal facts about logical supervenience.
This conversation with you has now almost convinced me that Chalmer's zombies are not logically possible at all, even with modifications, contrary to what I originally thought. I'll get to that.
Nothing, but there's no reason to believe in such souls.
What reason there is to believe there's one soul? It's even more parsimonious.
Whether it has a 'self' is irrelevant; it's an organism, and we can speak of an organism as conscious even if we don't consider it a person, or a self, or anything of the sort.
So suppose there's an organism that can feel only a tiny bit of pain, and nothing else. This pain is so insignificant, and the organism that's feeling it doesn't even know that it's feeling it. This organism could be one with just one or two cells. You'd call this thing conscious?
Are you also pro-life?
And what's your proof of that? How do you know that something much simpler and more mundane couldn't replicate your behavior without replicating your inner life?
Do you know of any other way it can be done?
The only way I knew to do this was by using a Giant Look Up Table. But now I realize that it'd be wrong to think the Giant Look Up Table wouldn't be conscious if it was acting like a human. It's a Chinese Room. I briefly fell into the trap of thinking "oh, come on, a giant look up table cannot be conscious, right???????".
We already know of plenty of examples in everyday life where people can pretend to be feeling one way, whereas internally they're another way.
No we don't. This should be obvious. We only know of people who seems to be feeling one way, whereas internally they are only pretending to be feeling that way.
We already know of plenty of examples where people are tricked into thinking that some automoton has experiences, whereas in fact it is just going through a set of extremely simple behaviors
Well, if it looks like an ant, acts like an ant, it is an ant. Your intuitions are playing tricks on you, just like the Giant Lookup Table played a trick on me.
it have been moral to kill or torture me at that time, just because there was no higher-order representation or self-awareness accompanying my phenomenally conscious affective states?
If you were on a hospital bed, without self-awareness, and would never ever get up and be normal, I'd probably euthanize you, if it were up to me. What'd you do?
That's even less clear. Not only is it nonstandard, but you haven't explained what that 'same thing' is.
It means the same thing as in, if you have a set of statements, they are logically possible if you can find a model which makes all those statements true.
So at this point it sounds like you're claiming to have some proof of a logical incoherence in the idea of such duplicates. What proof do you have in mind?Delete
Yes. It can't be done. The zombie would be conscious. I don't know how to convince you of this. If I can do that, I'd be able to also convince you that a Chinese Room understands Chinese. The best I can do is refer you to the best arguments for it. But you may have already read them.
But let me try. A philosophical zombie is identical in every way to a philosophical non-zombie as far as their anatomy and behaviors are concerned. As per Dennett "If, ex hypothesi, zombies are behaviorally indistinguishable from us normal folk, then they are really behaviorally indistinguishable! They say just what we say, they understand what they say (or, not to beg any questions, they understandz what they say), they believez what we believe, right down to having beliefsz that perfectly mirror all our beliefs about inverted spectra, "qualia," and every other possible topic of human reflection and conversation."
It starts sounding ridiculous right from there. How can one be said to be having no inner life, if it even has beliefz about qualia? The zombie thinkz it has consciousness, and says so and yet somehow it's just wrong. But how?
Think about a moment when you think "I think I am conscious". Say the sound of those words are represented somewhere in your brain. The zombie does that too.
Now it is also possible for you to think that "I'm not the one who is doing the thinking, I'm just listening". You are the inner listener; the soul. The funny thing is, zombie doez this too. So the zombie too catchez his soul in the act of listening.
So my point is, what's the difference between the zombie, and the non-zombie. They are both alike, right down to the part of catching their soul in the act of listening.
In fact, I ought to thank you. This conversation has taught me that zombies are just not possible, even logically, not even with magic.
>What reason there is to believe there's one soul? It's even more parsimonious.Delete
Parsimony is about favoring theories that predict the same data using fewer posits. Chalmers would say that doubting we have even one mind amounts to a failure to account for (or even acknowledge) the data, not an application of parsimony to choose between theories that are equally explanatory. Our mental life is a datum, not a theoretical construct.
>This pain is so insignificant, and the organism that's feeling it doesn't even know that it's feeling it. This organism could be one with just one or two cells. You'd call this thing conscious?
Yes. I don't even see why this is a difficult question. Any property will have simple limiting cases like this.
>Are you also pro-life?
Your suggestion seems to be that embryos can feel pain. But we have no reason to believe that's true, even on a very rudimentary level. We aren't even completely sure that newborn infants can feel pain, though that's much more likely.
Also, if embryos were conscious, that wouldn't entail that we should be pro-life. We deliberately kill conscious things all the time.
>No we don't. This should be obvious. We only know of people who seems to be feeling one way, whereas internally they are only pretending to be feeling that way.
That's not any different from what I said.
>Well, if it looks like an ant, acts like an ant, it is an ant. Your intuitions are playing tricks on you
How do you know? Where's your evidence? Which intuitions are the source of the problem, and by what mechanism are they producing this error?
>If you were on a hospital bed, without self-awareness, and would never ever get up and be normal, I'd probably euthanize you, if it were up to me.
I think we should cease this line of conversation. Death threats are completely unnecessary here, and I think you're threatening sentient beings like me with death and torture only unintentionally, because you're philosophically confused about this issue. In the future, I hope you'll be a bit more thoughtful and consider whether (a) I would have desired to be euthanized should I go into a coma; (b) my family and friends would be benefited or harmed by my death; and (c) my experiential state is affectively positive, negative, or null. You've acknowledged that a being without 'self-awareness' (whatever that is; as far as I can tell, I spend most of my day not being self-aware!) can still feel pain, so you must also acknowledge that it can feel pleasure. For all you know, the vegetative state in question would then be one of profound bliss. You should at least entertain such possibilities before deciding that your confidence in your moral and metaphysical speculations is sufficient to justify wagering it on killing or torturing sentient, experiencing beings.
>I don't know how to convince you of this. If I can do that, I'd be able to also convince you that a Chinese Room understands Chinese.Delete
There's no reason to think a room couldn't understand Chinese. Equally, I see no reason to think that a zombie couldn't exist. They both seem conceivable, and there seems to be no secret logical contradiction within either. As you would put it, there are models of both scenarios.
>It starts sounding ridiculous right from there. How can one be said to be having no inner life, if it even has beliefz about qualia? The zombie thinkz it has consciousness, and says so and yet somehow it's just wrong. But how?
Same way anyone's wrong about anything; their beliefs don't match up to reality. I get things wrong about my inner life routinely. Zombies just get one more thing wrong about themselves than I do about myself. Incidentally, Chalmers would agree with you that zombies probably don't have full-fledged beliefs about qualia, though they have something functionally similar.
>So my point is, what's the difference between the zombie, and the non-zombie. They are both alike, right down to the part of catching their soul in the act of listening.
Yes, but one is directly epistemically acquainted with a rich phenomenal manifold. The other is not. The fact that this manifold has no causal effects on one's subsequent behavior doesn't change whether it is manifestly present.
Mind you, I'm an eliminativist. I agree all this is crazy. But I don't think it's a trivial task to show why it's crazy. Appealing to the paradox of phenomenal judgment, as you do, is a good start, but it certainly doesn't establish what you need, which is an impossibility proof for zombies. I, in comparison, have a relatively easy task; I don't need to prove that zombies are impossible, just that they're possibly actual. Then it's off to the races with inductive evidence for and against eliminative physicalism.
Following up on the "brain code" approach I wrote about above, the paper "Inner Sense" (faculty.philosophy.umd.edu/pcarruthers) talks about the "I-code" (introspective code) concept from the book "Simulating Minds" by Alvin Goldman (fas-philosophy.rutgers.edu/goldman).ReplyDelete
introspective code: Inner sense involves a "transduction" process that takes first-order neural states and produces a second-order representation in a "proprietary" code.
Looking at brain I-code as a form of reflective computer code* seems to me like the best approach to begin to model consciousness.
* "Procedural reflection in programming languages"
Brian Cantwell Smith
Great post. Great post. Strange not seeing any references to Chalmers' work except in commentsReplyDelete
ReasonableApe has nailed it. A definition of physicalism without taking into account observers and information is useless if we are serious about philosophical progress
Yes, it certainly was a bit slack of me to not mention Chalmers (and Stoljar). I definitely agree with your second point, but perhaps I'd simply say "phenomenal properties" instead of observers and information.Delete
As this is a post about consciousness, agreed - couching information in phenomenological terms makes more sense, but (1) 'consciousness' is too hard to spell and (2) the problem of consciousness is really a problem about physical stuff (3) consciousness is usually ascribed to a small class of entities said to be 'living' and (3) never mind, 'phenomenon' is also pretty hard to spellDelete
The issue I grapple with these days is twofold (a) so suppose everyone agrees that 'matter' is nothing but information seen and maybe by other objects, still have to explain those objects in non-informational terms otherwise you do not get a simple story to tell. In other words - even if you believe it, can't get away with saying everything is information as that's no different than saying everything is made out of atoms or some such physical thing. I know some can say we are all part of one big clump of junk but that's not helpful either. (b) Suppose in 1000 years a god drops out of the sky, sets us straight on a bunch of science, lore, and the meaning of life, etc.... you still have the problem of the mystery of information transmission. You will never know how it works in the most general case, you will just become a bit smarter about the workings of everyday life.
It gets so bad trying to square philosophy of information with the stuff of science that I'm forced to study semiotics. While I love these 1930s Continental Marxists because they stood for change, I wish it was more about the science of information and less about linguistics as applied to 'non-language text' whatever that means. In other words more Peirce, less Saussiere. Maybe Floridi understands this shit - will reach out to him.
But in terms of offering something positive, maybe one can say that information is passed by virtue of similar characteristics shared by Sender and Receiver - that existence of such characteristics dictates information passage, and so the term passage could be a misnomer that relies too much on temporality, and more likely a line connecting the two objects makes more sense. Not referring to a channel either, not a channel by which information is transmitted, I'm talking about the actual information 'flow' may (actually must) be considered as real as sending and receiving objects
This is going nowhere - apologies for wasting your time, but hope it was entertaining.
This comment has been removed by the author.Delete
Why are the prospects of reducing phenomenal consciousness to physical information any more promising than the prospects of reducing phenomenal consciousness to atoms and void? It seems to me that the same problems arise, for the same reasons. The only difference is that 'information' sounds kinda cognitionish, and people often equivocate between its definitions, so it's sometimes less obvious why the explanatory gap will persist on information-theoretic accounts.Delete
Apologies Saussure not Saussiere. Because, Robby if I understand your question, it is more about our beliefs than what is really happening. Your classical physicalist is a dualist, who ultimately believes in a strong distinction between what is 'real' and what is 'imaginary' But if it can be proven that there is no such thing as physical stuff, then all bets are off and what is imaginary is quite real, but only in the head lets say of a single person. With the diminishing of classical borders mandated by laws of locality and common-sense temporal flow, a consciousness model may then be drawn that is indeed quite similar to a monistic model of matter i.e. we are all just part of one 'physical', and I use the word loosely, piece of junk.Delete
Anyway, the explanatory gap is once you are right with information is that you still have to create structures (coffee cups, morals, jokes, anything you like) and the stories behind their origin and current behavior will remain mysterious if only info theory alone is used, without a 'historical' account of both the objects and nature of the relationships or informational flow between. I guess I'm saying that you will always have questions about the technical implementation once you understand the theory.
I know there are a lot of rationalists who read this blog. Have been studying a bit about rationality, and have to say that anti-realists could make use of some of its tenets that do not posit external, unknowable realities.
Define what you mean by 'information'. It sounds to me like it differs quite radically from e.g. Shannon information. Deeming Shannon information fundamental doesn't mean that 'imaginary stuff is real too' or 'there is no physical-mental distinction'; all it means is that degrees of difference are fundamental to Nature's workings. Replacing 'x has property y' with 'x is different from z' doesn't obviously help at all with the hard problem of consciousness. It's still mysterious that in addition to ordinary physical information, there's also phenomenal information.Delete
It's less mysterious if you're willing to consider that physical information has phenomenal properties of meaningfulness, and that all entities of the universe are to some extent aware of what they and other entities might mean - in other words aware that all have the potential to impart strategic information. This is essentially what anticipatory functioning requires. Elementary particles for example will anticipate the strategies required for molecular bonding with a variety of different elements or molecular forms. But if their anticipatory strategies have not evolved for those purposes, the entities don't bond and don't know how to bond.Delete
Yes it is quite different. Shannon information focuses on transmission and reception. To me information is the basic unit of stuff, where stuff is anything that has meaning to an observer. A subset of information can be said to be made of physical things, but when we get down to Planck sizes we have a hard time refuting crystal clear and cold evidence that the ontological has taken a turn for the epistemic. To me the reality of a coffee cup is that you and I simply agree the cup, but I say the reality of the cup is just another opinion, albeit one with solid physical evidence. But by virtue of you and I agreeing the cup, and having no reason at all to deny it, we say it exists. But in truth, it simply exists as information for you and I, (and of course other entities who drink stuff) The reason it is information and not a freaking cup is that its only a cup for those who interact with it via information passage. Everything, but everything about that cup exists only as information for entities that are not that cup.Delete
Baron: But Shannon information doesn't have a property of 'meaningfulness' in the ordinary, everyday sense. Intentionality as ordinary humans think of it involves mind-bearing agents linking arbitrary symbols to referents. That may be an *example* of Shannon information, but the reverse isn't true. That is, not all Shannon information is an instance of human-style communication or reference. I think the confusion here has two sources:Delete
First, 'information' is a misleadingly anthropocentric word for what Shannon information really is. Because it sounds anthropocentric, it seems to have a better promise for accounting for the human world than do atoms and void. But this is a terminological facade. We could speak of quantum mechanics in anthropomorphic terms too, but this would at most only be disguising the problem, not solving it. Does calling bottom quarks 'beauty quarks' help explain aesthetic value?
Second, a lot of philosophers of information are very interested, not in explaining or reducing everyday intentionality, but in replacing it with something simple and elegant and information-theoretic. In effect, a lot of information theorists are eliminativists about 'meaning' in the ordinary sense, and think we should instead speak of something that has a very simple definition, devoid of reference to our biological or psychological peculiarities as a species. As a consequence of this simple definition, 'meaning(*)' on this new conception is ubiquitous; tree rings are 'meaningful(*)' in exactly the same sense as human musings and pop songs. And that may be a very good thing; maybe this is a more fruitful way of thinking about human behavior, and about the world in general. But we shouldn't forget that it's a bait-and-switch, that we're replacing a complex human-specific behavior with a much more general feature of the natural world, rather than going to the trouble of actually explaining in full detail the one in terms of the other.
The successes of information-theoretic explanations of human behavior and psychology (the representational part) help explain why some people are similarly confident about explaining phenomenal consciousness in terms of Shannon information. The problem is threefold: First, inasmuch as the successes in representation are more eliminative than reductive, they will be inapplicable here to people who consider eliminativism about the phenomenal a non-starter. Second, representation and phenomenal consciousness are very different problems, and reducing one doesn't help reduce the other. And third, it's not obvious why any particular string of 0s and 1s should suffice for consciousness, any more than it's obvious why any particular configuration of atoms would.
But I suspect that neither of your views is best associated with mainstream philosophy of information. Baron's view sounds like panpsychism (which is just as compatible with other ontologies as with information-ontology, and for that matter which information-theoretic approaches to the hard problem are free to reject), and Dave's view sounds like phenomenalism or pseudo-Nietzschean postmodernism mixed up with a dash of vaguely quantum woo. Associating idealizing views like these with 'information' rhetoric is misleading, and trades mainly on the fact that 'information' sounds science-ish, fundamental-ish, and anthropic-ish even though in reality no argument has been given for how these three can coexist in substance.
The cup exists as an informationally constructed entity but doesn't transmit any communicative signals. In other words it doesn't 'inform' you actively even though you are at the same time passively informed by it. The informational meaning is produced by the logical function of an observer that is capable of drawing inference. All philisophical rationalization not withstanding.Delete
And Robby, my view may "sound like panpsychism." but only if you need to put labels on a concept to understand it. Or to misunderstand it. Try thinking without reference to labels and voila, perhaps a new idea pops up.Delete
And information theory, if you still need to label it, is not confined to Shannon information silliness. If I understand it at all correctly, Shannon information is solely concerned with the improbability or complexity of a string of characters rather than its patterning or significance.
And I thought the discussion here was meant to be empirically significant as well.
Baron P - How do you know this? If you speed up the average life of a coffee cup (1 to 35 years??) into a 60-second film, can you say for sure you won't see signs of communication? Do something similar with rocks over eons and you see them reacting to their environment.Delete
Robby: I'm quite sympathetic to many Q-woo-ers as well as postmodernists, but more because I share their tendency towards crackpottery. But I'm more of a centrist when it comes to old fashioned science on one side and cosmic consilience on the other. Both sides have many important things to say, as well as being full of BS. Also I've never read Nietzsche, but will take a look. Have been ranting a lot this weekend, so excuse the incoherence. Will take a closer look at your stuff, which has already impressed.
Yes, Dave, the cup will react to its environment in ways that only a cup that struggles to maintain its form must do. Is there information being transmitted in the process? Undoubtedly. But I doubt that the cup has any inkling that it could possibly communicate to its makers or its users as to how it feels to operate as a cup. I'll grant however that it was made to let us know there are ways that, to continue as a useful cup, it should not be mistreated.Delete
No problem, Baron P. It may be as simple as mapping all the 'use cases' of person - thing interactions, and all such relationships could be considered communication. Of course that not how we commonly define it, but you lose the temporal issues that way.Delete
Thanks for an interesting post with which I sympathize in many respects.
Seems to me there's a fairly straightforward sense in which consciousness can't be located in the physical world, which is that experiences aren't observable even though their neural correlates in principle are. No one gets to see/observe/measure my pain qua pain or my sensation of red. Experiences are privately undergone by individual subjects; they aren't potentially observable public objects, so in this rather basic sense they don't qualify as physical. Even as a conscious subject I'm not in an observational relationship to my experiences, rather I consist of them. On this point and its implications for mental causation see "Respecting privacy" at http://www.naturalism.org/privacy.htm
The upshot is I'm not sure that we can reconceive or expand the public, objective ontology of physicalism to incorporate phenomenal properties as properties of the objective world as modeled by science, e.g., as the intrinsic nature of the physical. Rather, experiences will always be subjective, private properties of individual representational systems such as ourselves that meet certain requirements.
I think there are some considerations coming from representationalism that might suggest why such systems will perforce be subjects of experiences. Not that experience is caused or produced in any standard physicalist sense, but that complex, behavior-controlling representational systems need a basic, irreducible, cognitively impenetrable representational vocabulary that tracks the world, a vocabulary that necessarily ends up as qualitative for the system and the system alone, about which see http://www.naturalism.org/appearance.htm
"Even as a conscious subject I'm not in an observational relationship to my experiences, rather I consist of them."Delete
Why does it always seem to be either/or with the subject of consciousness? You can, and must, observe your experiences as you "experience" them, especially when all we have to learn from is experience. So is learning a physical effect of experience? It is if you physically consist of it, but just the thought of physically consisting of experience is rather silly, since you might just as well say you physically consist of physical consistence.
1. "It seems to me that experience adds no substantial content to the representational aspect of a dream."
What do you mean by "substantial"? I agree with your claim that the phenomenal doesn't help us explain representation in general (and vice versa), but are you here making the stronger claim that the phenomenal is dispensable to our representations altogether? I think most Chalmersians find it very dubious to suppose that zombies have precisely the same representational states that we do, especially when they're doing philosophy of mind. At a bare minimum, I can use demonstratives to pick out a red quale, whereas Zombie Robby can do no such thing.
2. "Given this predicament, we can either reconceive what it is to be a phenomenal property, or we can reconceive the physical world."
You leave out an important third option: Eliminativism. If moral properties, mathematical objects, non-actual worlds, etc. seem to be irreducible on any reasonable conception, and if we are sufficiently committed to some physicalism-style doctrine, then we may conclude that the objects in question simply don't exist. This is particularly easy to do given that on most plausible theories, moral, mathematical, and merely possible objects are causally inert with respect to our world. And, given the Zombie thought experiment, this inertness holds for the phenomenal as well. As Chalmers noted, if you think your phenomenal judgments have any causal relation to the phenomenal itself, you are mistaken. If our judgments (as functional states) are right, they are right only by coincidence.
This obviously doesn't prove that there are no phenomenal properties, but it does suggest that we should take the possibility more seriously, no? Such a view allows us to take both physicalism and the arguments for dualism at face value, and simply perform a modus tollens in place of the dualist's or idealist's modus ponens. The challenge for the eliminativist will then be to explain why the phenomenal seems introspectively manifest, and to ground fields like epistemology and ethics without appeal to the phenomenal.
Hi Robby, thanks for the questions, and can I commend you on your blogs at Secular Alliance.Delete
1. I was unclear what I meant by "substantial". What I meant was that the phenomenal content of dreams adds no causal efficacy to our knowledge of dreams. The force of my point can be put like this, "Why can't dreams be unconscious?" It seems to me that if dreams were unconscious, the exact same fitness would be conferred onto organisms.
As for the representational contents of our zombie twins, I do agree that there would be differences in certain cases between us and them. Certain representations of ours will be true when theirs will be false. My concept RED may pick out phenomenal redness, whereas my invert's concept RED may pick out phenomenal greenness, for example. As for your point about demonstratives, I imagine that we may need some sort of error theory that gives a special explanation of Zombie Robby may be doing something meaningful, but always getting it wrong.
2. I left out eliminativism because I don't take it seriously at all. Our knowledge of the phenomenal is the most certain, manifest and important knowledge we have, and to deny it would be absolutely crazy. I think it's Galen Strawson who said that denying the existence of experience is the craziest idea in all of human history, and I definitely agree with him. Furthermore, I can explain why it is that certain people deny the existence of experience, because of certain theoretical commitments or because they're in the grip of a picture, and this explanation would add epistemic credence to my view.
If some aspect of the manifest doesn't seem to locate in the physical world, we had better make sure we are conceiving of that aspect correctly. I think this is the reason that so many people eliminate moral properties, mathematical properties, modal properties and the like from their ontology, because they haven't correctly conceived of the properties in question. Take the very famous example of the Australian philosopher John Mackie (an excellent philosopher, by the way), who argued that moral properties don't exist because we can't locate them in the physical world. Mackie argued that the correct way to conceive of moral properties was the exact same way that G.E. Moore did, as irreducible sui generis properties. I think this is the wrong way to conceive of moral properties, and this is evident in the fact that when confronted with moral decision making, most people are sensitive to facts about things like pain, pleasure, autonomy, cooperation, and other perfectly natural properties.
Glad you enjoyed the posts! I thought the second one was a particularly good conversation-starter, and I hope it gets shared some more, especially in light of the new ethnic/racial issues raised by the Chechen bombers.Delete
> As for the representational contents of our zombie twins, I do agree that there would be differences in certain cases between us and them. Certain representations of ours will be true when theirs will be false.
I'm saying their representations would sometimes differ from us in content (and in truth-conditions), not just in truth-value. For instance, when Zombie Chalmers says "red qualia", his statements don't mean the same as (Angelic) Chalmers' qualilalia; they may be completely meaningless, or they may just mean something very different. Our actual instantiation of phenomenal properties plays an important role in fixing the content of our thoughts, words, and concepts about the phenomenal.
That's why it's commonly thought that Mary couldn't even think about redness, prior to experiencing it herself. Zombie Mary would be face the same plight, but permanently.
> I left out eliminativism because I don't take it seriously at all. Our knowledge of the phenomenal is the most certain, manifest and important knowledge we have, and to deny it would be absolutely crazy.
I'm familiar with this argument against eliminativism, and with many others. I think that this is much too quick. Reductive physicalism is, if anything, even crazier, since we have such knock-down arguments against it. In contrast, all we have regarding eliminativism is a somewhat mysterious brute intuition 'But, well, I just can't be wrong about that! I just can't!'. Non-question-beggingly arguing for such, or even explaining in what this unique epistemic infallibility consists, is surprisingly difficult!
I'd say that all of the options on the table are crazy, just to different degrees; if panpsychism is the least crazy, it's still pretty out there. Dismissing one of the three main options right off the bat is very dangerous when we're in a situation in which all of the options are clearly unacceptable by any ordinary standards. If one of the three options is extra unacceptable, that should be established through argument, not through silent dismissal. In particular, inasmuch as reductionism is demonstrably false but physicalism has any initial appeal, eliminativism must have some leftover initial appeal, since for physicalism the only two options are to either reduce consciousness or to eliminate it.
> I think it's Galen Strawson who said that denying the existence of experience is the craziest idea in all of human history, and I definitely agree with him.
I don't know, I think I could come up with 5 or 10 crazier ideas if you gave me a few minutes. :)
Eliminativism seems crazy because you and I are working in the intellectual tradition of Descartes, and of the phenomenologists who followed him. Cartesian phenomenology is at the core of a lot of the philosophical method, as practiced today; and it's perhaps most of what distinguishes philosophy from mainstream science. The assumption of broadly Cartesian phenomenology is that we have infallible, incorrigible, non-inferential access to a solid core of manifest facts. Our subsequent inferences can be wrong, because they are, as it were, hidden behind a screen; but our knowledge of the contents of the screen (which are assumed without argument to be phenomenal) is inerrant, because the movie screen itself isn't 'hidden behind' anything.
Why is it a non-starter to simply reject this Cartesian Theater analogy, and leave open the bare epistemic possibility of more radical error?
In light of our status as computing machines evolved from so much pondscum, we should be extremely wary of leaping to assume at the very beginning that we're infallible about anything. Perhaps we are, but it will take a lot of theoretical work to establish how an epistemic status of this sort is even neurologically possible, much less actual. This is particularly difficult if we don't presuppose dualism at the outset; and if we do presuppose dualism, then we certainly can't use this as a principled way of rejecting eliminativism!Delete
> Furthermore, I can explain why it is that certain people deny the existence of experience, because of certain theoretical commitments or because they're in the grip of a picture, and this explanation would add epistemic credence to my view.
Why does understanding why people disagree with you help show that those people are wrong? If you're "in the grip of" a picture, but that picture is completely accurate, then what's the harm? I agree some people adhere to eliminative views for bad theoretical reasons, but there are also good theoretical reasons -- in large part, the same theoretical reasons that make us think physicalism is desirable or plausible in the first place. Such reasons may be defeatable, but they aren't absurd (even if eliminativism itself is).
> so many people eliminate moral properties, mathematical properties, modal properties and the like from their ontology, because they haven't correctly conceived of the properties in question.
Why is it a desideratum of a theory to reconceive our nouns and adjectives until we finally settle on a tortured meaning for our words that makes them denote? If it takes that much effort to make our sentences come out true, one must start to wonder why we're struggling to pretend our words don't mean what they initially seemed to, when we could just admit that they're false but useful.
In many ways, it's a very good thing that causally inert moral properties, mathematical objects, and possible worlds don't exist as the objects for our everyday discourse, since our inability to access those things would then force us to adopt a pervasive skepticism about whether we're correctly describing those intangibles. If there are no transcendent objects for our moral, mathematical, or modal talk, then we can focus on evaluating these theories in terms of the everyday facts (real-world preferences, social conventions, arrangements of physical objects, limitations on our knowledge...) that make them useful ways of speaking at all.
> I think this is the wrong way to conceive of moral properties, and this is evident in the fact that when confronted with moral decision making, most people are sensitive to facts about things like pain, pleasure, autonomy, cooperation, and other perfectly natural properties.
Instead of saying 'they misconceived of moral properties', I'd prefer to say 'they fixated on refuting X-properties, whereas the properties that are interesting and important for actual moral practice are Y-properties'. Their refutation was correct, but of no practical import; learning that there are no abstract objects or transcendent moral facts wouldn't trouble any working topologist or animal rights activist. I fully agree with you that we can just said aside transcendent X-properties (whether those are the 'real' moral ones are not) and focus on our world's distribution of Y-properties, i.e., on human mental states like desire, joy, outrage, and awe. Whether those are 'moral' facts (in addition to being ordinary naturalistic facts) is a merely terminological issue, and those aren't the transcendent facts I was talking about when I drew my analogy.
Similarly, I'm happy to grant that we have mental states, including doxastic and perceptual states -- at least inasmuch as you think zombies would have such states. (For I think we are all phenomenal zombies, systematically self-deceived in the same way you admit zombies would be.)Delete
If some kind of access-consciousness were all a person meant by 'phenomenal consciousness', I'd be happy to grant it too. But I see no reason to cause undue confusion by actively trying to redefine 'phenomenal property' in terms of these functional states, when it's clear that what I'd really be doing either way would be eliminating phenomenal properties as ordinarily conceived. There's no substantive difference between asserting that phenomenal consciousness is an illusion and asserting that 'phenomenal consciousness' is real but deliberately redefining it to denote a transparently functional, neural process. I favor the former approach only because it's more honest and clear.
I agree with much of what you’ve said about the representational contents of phenomenal beliefs. There’s a lot that could be said about content determination and truth-conditional semantics (and indeed two-dimensional semantics), so let’s put that to one side.Delete
> I'm familiar with this argument against eliminativism, and with many others. I think that this is much too quick.
I think the eliminativist has owes us an explanation as to how it is that we can be so profoundly wrong about our own experience, and furthermore, how we can do without the concept of the phenomenal. No eliminativist has done this. Dennett has provided many ingenious arguments for eliminativism, but I don’t think any have been convincing. It seems to me that Dennett has provided the best arguments for eliminativism, and given that they’re unconvincing, how seriously should we take eliminativism?
On the other hand, there are many different concepts associated with the phenomenal, such as the unity of consciousness. It is often said that we have a sort of incorrigible knowledge of this unity of consciousness, of which we can report all of its contents. I’m perfectly happy to reject this intuitive view, partly for empirical reasons, no matter how obvious it may seem to us.
I’m uncomfortable with the idea of infallible knowledge, but I would have to say that we have infallible knowledge of the fact that we are experiencing subjects. We cannot doubt that we have certain phenomenal experiences, even though we can doubt that these are veridical experiences of an external world.
> Eliminativism seems crazy because you and I are working in the intellectual tradition of Descartes, and of the phenomenologists who followed him… The assumption of broadly Cartesian phenomenology is that we have infallible, incorrigible, non-inferential access to a solid core of manifest facts.Delete
Eliminativism is crazy because it is! We ought to stop and consider eliminativist arguments, and given that we have, we are justified in calling them crazy!
I’m not sure if I want to say that I’m working in the intellectual traditional of Descartes. We make them pretty scientistic here at The University of Adelaide. On our off days, we’re either pragmatists or Wittgensteinians.
For a really interesting perspective on the Cartesian Theatre, have a look at this paper: http://www.adelaide.edu.au/directory/gerard.obrien?dsn=directory.file;field=data;id=12820;m=view
> Why does understanding why people disagree with you help show that those people are wrong?Delete
Let me make an analogy. I think that moral reasoning bottoms out in facts about pain and pleasure. This seems to be common sense, but there have been whole traditions that have been against this view, namely the stoics the puritans. Say I give a compelling argument for why the pain in my foot gives you a reason to give me an aspirin. If I was talking to a puritan, they would say that they don’t at all see why pain gives them a reason to do anything. Pain is a natural fact just like the desire for revenge is a natural fact. So, it would seem that we have a brute disagreement. Given this disagreement, how could I be justified in my view? The answer is that I could reassess the basis for my own view, and give an explanation of the disagreement, thereby justifying me in holding on to my position.
The same is true for eliminativism about consciousness. I believe that phenomenal experience exists because it certainly seems to exist, independently of considerations about its intentionality and the reliability of introspection. Why does Dennett say that phenomenal experience doesn’t exist? Because he has a commitment to giving an elegant physicalist explanation of the mind, where folk concepts of the mind are given no credence whatsoever over scientific concepts. I can agree with philosophers like Dennett that the concepts of belief and desire don’t exist as the folk conceive of them. On the balance of consideration, I am much more justified in believing in the existence of phenomenal experience than I am not. This doesn’t prove that my opponent is wrong, but it does justify my position.
> Why is it a desideratum of a theory to reconceive our nouns and adjectives until we finally settle on a tortured meaning for our words that makes them denote?
This is a very interesting question. My blog on consciousness is strongly influenced by what’s called “The Canberra Plan”, which is basically the process of explication the folk intuitions and concepts regarding certain problematic areas, say consciousness or morality, and to locate those concepts in the physical world using conceptual analysis. Many of my empirically minded colleagues are sceptical of this method, as folk intuitions may not be worthwhile objects of inquiry or that conceptual analysis may not be a reliable philosophical method.
I take myself to be having a middle-ground approach, where folk intuitions and concepts are an important starting place, and that conceptual analysis has an indispensible role in solving location problems. But at the same time, empirical methods are indispensible, and folk concepts have to mature to be consistent with empirical knowledge, and to be consistent with each other.
Concepts that we want to locate in the physical world need to strongly resemble folk concepts to be legitimate objects of enquiry. However, there may be cases where we need to argue that the folk concept has some maturation to go through. For example, if it’s true that the folk concept of free will is libertarian free will, it seems legitimate to me that we can argue that the folk concept of free will ought to be reconceived to be compatibilist free will. This can be justified on the grounds that the folk concept is possibly incoherent, equivocates in certain situations between the libertarian concept and the compatibilist concept, and so forth.
> Instead of saying 'they misconceived of moral properties', I'd prefer to say 'they fixated on refuting X-properties, whereas the properties that are interesting and important for actual moral practice are Y-properties'.Delete
I think this is the wrong way to read someone like John Mackie, and to draw this trivial conclusion that doesn’t do justice to his arguments at all. Indeed, Mackie dedicates a great deal of careful and rigorous argumentation that the Moorean conception of moral properties is the correct characterisation of moral properties – that it is exactly what the folk mean by moral properties in actual moral practice. In think people like Frank Jackson have shown this to be wrong, and that, for example, the folk concept of “morally wrong” can be given an analytic definition in terms of natural properties.
> For I think we are all phenomenal zombies, systematically self-deceived in the same way you admit zombies would be.
Surprise, surprise, I think this view is profoundly problematic. I think after a sufficiently long conversation, we could sort these matters out. We may have to delve very deeply into an issue known as “Externalism and Self-Knowledge”. That is, how can we square externalist, empirically-based, non-Cartesian reasoning with our capacity for knowledge?
(Some interesting views can be found here: http://jordifernandez.weebly.com/research.html)
>I think the eliminativist [...] owes us an explanation as to how it is that we can be so profoundly wrong about our own experience, and furthermore, how we can do without the concept of the phenomenal.Delete
I very strongly agree! I think you're asking three questions here:
1. How is it that our being zombies is even an open epistemic possibility for us? Doesn't the manifest fact of our moment-to-moment experience in itself rationally force us to assign probability 0 to the 'we're zombies' hypothesis?
2. What cognitive or neural mechanism could produce an illusion as grand as 'we have phenomenal properties'? What, metaphysically, is responsible for the illusion?
3. Without phenomenal properties, how can we make sense of epistemology, ethics, semantics, psychology, etc.?
These are all very large and challenging questions. If you just want my bumper-sticker responses for the moment:
1. I agree the phenomenal prima facie seems self-evident. But I don't think self-evidence is itself self-evident. The Cartesian notion that our experience is indubitable itself requires positive arguments, and the defender of this epistemic thesis must explain metaphysically how it could come to pass that evolved beings like us could become inerrant on any question of fact, and on this one in particular.
2. This is a difficult question. I part ways with most eliminativists first in that I think the idea of 'phenomenal properties' makes sense, and second in that I think that our perception-like awareness of our own cognition really does represent us as having phenomenal properties. But I think this representation is nonveridical. I think phenomenal properties are persistent quasi-perceptual intentional objects of self-monitoring meta-representations, but (like any intentional objects) need not actually occur, and in our own case (given the plausibility of physicalism) probably never do occur. In effect, I'm claiming that pseudophenomenality (which reliably disposes us to think we have bona fide phenomenality) is a pervasive higher-order perception-like illusion, analogous to first-order perceptual errors like optical illusions.
I don't think that this eliminative thesis prima facie seems true, based on introspection alone. Indeed, I think it's outright bizarre. (Possibly even more bizarre than panpsychism!) But I think we have very good theoretical reasons for taking it seriously as a hypothesis, because it is falsifiable, because it attempts to explain our phenomenal intuitions as opposed to merely dismissing them or taking them as brute facts, and because it allows us to retain physicalism.
3. I don't think any important, independently attractive doctrines depend on realism about the phenomenal. In other words, I have a very charitable view of the legitimacy of zombies' institutions and doctrines.
>No eliminativist has done this.
I agree! Indeed, this is a lot of what I'm working on changing as we speak. I predict that within a few years, eliminative theories will be major contenders in philosophy of mind, as physicalists increasingly recognize the hopelessness of reductionism and dualists increasingly recognize just how difficult it is to cash out the epistemology and metaphysics of phenomenal knowledge-by-acquaintance. But for now, that's just a promissory note. So I don't hold it against you that you neglected eliminativism; I just think you and others should start shifting in this (quite natural) attitude.
>Dennett has provided many ingenious arguments for eliminativismDelete
I disagree. Dennett's arguments regarding the hard problem are mostly terrible, either irrelevant or just confused. It's not even clear that Dennett is an eliminativist about phenomenal properties. The way he talks, it seems more like he's an eliminativist about perception; he denies the everyday distinction between propositional mental states (desires, beliefs, concerns, etc.) and nonpropositional ones (smells, pains, episodic memories, etc.). Since he reduces our mental life, in effect, to sentence-like judgments, he has a relatively easy time trying to explain the qualia-judgments as they relate to, e.g., visual-environment-judgments.
But, importantly, his view neither entails true eliminativism (what if there's something it's like to entertain a belief?) nor is entailed by it. I myself see no reason at all to deny that we have non-propositional mental states; it's not as though the existence of visual perception, modulo phenomenal consciousness itself, raises a distinct hard problem. What I reject is simply phenomenal consciousness, whether sensory, somatic, mnemonic, intuitional, discursive, or volitional.
In many ways I think Dennett is the worst proponent of 'eliminativism'', or of eliminativism-esque views. At least, he's the worst in terms of presenting and analyzing hard-problem-related arguments. He's a superb rhetor and visionary in many ways.
>I would have to say that we have infallible knowledge of the fact that we are experiencing subjects. We cannot doubt that we have certain phenomenal experiences, even though we can doubt that these are veridical experiences of an external world.
Well, I do doubt that we have phenomenal experiences. So, assuming I'm not lying (or meta-deluded?), it seems that such doubt is indeed possible. So perhaps what you mean is that rational doubt about the phenomenal isn't possible.
I agree that that's how things initially seem. But why is that the case? What, neurologically, is responsible for our inerrant grasp on our own phenomenally consciousness? In some ways Chalmersian dualism, rather than offering a solution, makes the problem even more serious, in light of the Paradox of Phenomenal Judgment. Until we have a clearer idea of what phenomenal acquaintance consists in, I don't think we can honestly say that we really in fact are infallible about this topic. Even if there is some kind of pre-doxastic certainty we're in possession of, it seems to slip through our fingers every time we reach the stage of explicit judgments about our consciousness, so that at the doxastic stage we've lost whatever grasp we had on certitude.
>I’m not sure if I want to say that I’m working in the intellectual traditional of Descartes. We make them pretty scientistic here at The University of Adelaide. On our off days, we’re either pragmatists or Wittgensteinians.
I don't think you're Cartesian in a narrow sense, but I think in a broad sense nearly all philosophers accept without doubt a certain notion of phenomenological self-evidence that's clearest in Descartes. Steven Hales notes that the idea has precursors in Augustine and Duns Scotus: http://departments.bloomu.edu/philosophy/pages/content/hales/articlepdf/certainty.pdf
Pragmatism as I understand it is anti-metaphysical, but Wittgenstein (at least early Wittgenstein) is in many ways Schopenhauerian, and Schopenhauer I consider in some ways to be the logical culmination of Cartesian dualism (by way of Kant). I don't expect him to have completely shrugged off Descartes. (I don't think even I have completely shrugged off Descartes; if I had, my own view might not seem so strange to me.)
I should also mention that I don't consider it a slur to be Cartesian. Descartes-style phenomenology is an extremely rich and active research program.
>Why does Dennett say that phenomenal experience doesn’t exist? Because he has a commitment to giving an elegant physicalist explanation of the mind, where folk concepts of the mind are given no credence whatsoever over scientific concepts.Delete
I reject Dennett's arguments, in particular his question-begging appeal to heterophenomenology. I think our ordinary introspection does give very strong warrant to dualism (or, more specifically, to phenomenal realism). But I don't think this warrant is infinite; it could in principle be defeated, if the case for some alternative view were strong enough. I weigh this introspective warrant against the theoretical appeal of physicalism, and I conclude that the latter is stronger than the former. I think the dualist and I can then carry on a productive discussion about how and why I've allocated credence to introspection and to physicalism (and the grounds for trusting each). It's not obvious to me that we would hit unwavering axiomatic rock-bottom before either of us had significantly revised his or her levels of confidence. I think a lot more needs to be written explicitly arguing for or against eliminativism before the question is so open-and-shut.
I don't understand why some form of dual aspect monism doesn't get more respect in the west. Both eliminative materialism and panpsychism seem to me to require extreme assumptions. The world has to be either purely physical or pure consciousness.Delete
Yet what does purely physical even mean when there is no accepted interpretation of quantum physics which also reveals itself in dual aspects depending upon how we design our physical experiments. On global scales the physical matter we know about represents about 5% the total mass. We fill in the gaps with dark matter and dark energy. I am not putting down physics which is elegant and a continually dissolving unknowns opening up more wonder.
I don't believe however there is some fixed concept of physicalism that all our epistemic theories must conform to. I think the assumption of something like pure consciousness is a similar leap. We don't have choose all or nothing between physicalism and phenomenal conscious experience or between pure objectivity and pure subjectivity. Why can we not instead search out the ways in which they best compliment each other in the progression of knowledge?
It doesn't sound like you understand what panpsychism is at this point. Panpsychism is not the doctrine that the word is 'pure consciousness'; that sounds more like subjective idealism. I suspect if you looked into the views in the neighborhood of panpsychism, you'd find that the stuff you're advocating, insofar as it can be fleshed out and precisely specified, is already very much on the minds of dualists (or quasi-dualists) like Chalmers. Here's a great introductory paper: http://consc.net/papers/panpsychism.pdfDelete
'Dual aspect' isn't really a coherent theory. It's more of a family of slogans. It's not clear that there's any precise distinction between dual-aspect theories and run-of-the-mill property dualism, for instance; why aren't the two property kinds the dualists appeal to automatically 'aspects'? Just what is an 'aspect'? If aspects aren't 'real', then we seem to end up with neutral monism, with both the mental and the physical eliminated. (And that's bizarre, and hard to make sense of.) Whereas if they are real, we still seem to have made no progress on explaining the relation between mind and matter.
>Yet what does purely physical even mean when there is no accepted interpretation of quantum physics
Appealing to QM interpretation problems is irrelevant here; you could just as easily have noted that we don't have a complete physics yet period, and yet we don't think that future modest enrichments of the ontology of physics will violate physicalism. This already suggests that we need a somewhat generic concept of 'the physical' to accommodate possible future advances in physics. The trick is to not make this concept so vague in the process that it trivializes questions like 'is mind reducible to physics?'. It sounds to me like you're recommending we commit a rhetorical conflation of just that sort. But doing so doesn't actually help us explain anything; at most it just attempts to soothe us into giving up on explanation.
>On global scales the physical matter we know about represents about 5% the total mass.
Yes, but the physics of ordinary life is completely understood: http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2013/01/04/the-world-of-everyday-experience-in-one-equation/ . The things we don't understand are relevant to certain cosmological phenomena, and to the beginning of the universe, but they aren't directly affecting our daily goings-on. There's no room for new physics that's to play a significant role, for instance, in human brain functioning. (Which is a lot of why Chalmers sounds so much like an epiphenomenalist.)
>I don't believe however there is some fixed concept of physicalism that all our epistemic theories must conform to.
I agree with you and Chalmers that physicalism isn't a hard constraint on good science. You can be a good scientist and a dualist; you can even be a good scientist and hypothesize about dualism, making testable predictions. (In some ways I respect interactionists a lot more than epiphenomenalists, even though their view is almost impossible to reasonably defend, precisely because they have a more scientific attitude toward their posit.)
The status of physicalism is not a scientific sine-qua-non; it's an empirical hypothesis, a case of induction from all the other phenomena that initially seemed mysterious but turned out to be ultimately physical (in a broad enough sense to include physical universals, causal laws, fundamental particles, fields, spacetime, etc., but not the moral, the mental, the mathematical, the magical, or the macroscopic). Those who take this inductive evidence very seriously, such as myself, are physicalists. There are also other good arguments for physicalism, e.g., Occamite and Copernican principles, and concerns with the causal closure of the physical.
I appreciate the panpsychism link and will check it out when have the chance. By 'pure consciousness' I was referring to approaches taken by Whitehead and Buddhism. I understand it has a broader reach (Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Strawson etc..). Please excuse my lack of clarity as I could certainly do for more study here. I am sure it is apparent that I am not a professional (or student) philosopher which is why I generally try to pose my posts as questions. The written word is also not my most fluent medium of communication. Were I to try compose in the volume you have posted here in the last few days I would be busy for a month.Delete
I do try my best to inform and improve myself across many disciplines as my capabilities allow. These disciplines include the empirical sciences, but also non-conceptual practices like mindfulness introspection and physical endurance training where phenomological experience is important.
I consider myself a naturalist. I am always motivated to better understand what can objectively be explained and recognize this as an important constraint on the ways that subjective experience can mislead us. I also believe however that it is a mistake commit ourselves to just one approach or one source of 'truth'. I feel that subjective experience is inseparable from our capacity to objectively interpret empirical findings, that in effect each of these aspects both constrain and support each other.
I am open to the possibility that it may simply be that is my lack philosophical fluency that is impeding me from seeing what advantage the eliminatist approach might provide. Can you describe to me how this approach helps you better interpret your experience? thanks
>By 'pure consciousness' I was referring to approaches taken by Whitehead and Buddhism.Delete
That doesn't help much. Buddhists have adopted hundreds of thousands of approaches. Some are idealistic (Yogacara), but not all are.
>I consider myself a naturalist.
I'm not sure what 'naturalism' means. If you just mean that you like science, then yeah, so do I.
>I am open to the possibility that it may simply be that is my lack philosophical fluency that is impeding me from seeing what advantage the eliminatist approach might provide. Can you describe to me how this approach helps you better interpret your experience?
It helps me better understand two things: 1. How reliable cognition arises, and 2. how humans metaphysically 'fit in' to the rest of Nature.
1: On a generally Cartesian view, our experience is reliable in large part because there's some mysterious, metaphysically and epistemically intimate relation we have to our own experiences that makes our self-monitoring infallible in certain respects. We can then use this as a sound foundation upon which to build more speculative, inference-dependent hypotheses.
My view is that this is a bad presupposition. Even if panpsychism were true, our cognition, our kind of epistemology, would be a latecomer to the scene, a sloppy, kludgey, complicated hodgepodge of overlapping self- and environment-monitoring processes. To expect anything inerrant to arise from that is very dubious. It's more reasonable to think that although we do get things right a lot of the time, our faculties are all fallible, and certain persistent illusions that have no net evolutionary cost might crop up and perpetuate themselves even for 'immediate-seeming' cognitions, like our phenomenal self-representations. From this non-Cartesian perspective, our introspective acts are useful and relevant evidence, but none of them have an infinite evidential weight, so it is in principle possible for any of them to be undermined or overturned by the rest of the evidence. We should strive to bring our intuitions and theories into reflective equilibrium, not build a castle in the sand out of a set of totally unquestioned, experientially 'self-evident' axioms.
Our cognition is (frequently) reliable not because we have a magical intrinsic ineffable grasp on a manifest phenomenal manifold — though admittedly it initially seems that way — but because we'e calculating machines that have been selected by our environments for accuracy on survival-and-reproduction-relevant tasks.
From this perspective, given the great arguments against reductionism and the good arguments for physicalism, eliminativism is a plausible hypothesis, even though it strongly contradicts our prima facie self-models.
2: Understanding ourselves as continuous at every level with the rest of nature forces us to question a lot of unhealthy dualisms that I think have cropped up throughout the rest of philosophy. Although Eliezer Yudkowsky isn't an eliminativist, he puts my view into words very eloquently here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/k2/a_priori/ . In addition to epistemology, I think reconceiving ourselves as fully physical beings existing on an organizational continuum with all other existent things promises to improve and sharpen our conceptions of ethics and semantics.
Another question I would ask is how you can be so sure that there is no room for any new interpretations about current physics knowledge regarding human brain functioning? There is now evidence that quantum effects appear to be relevant to some biological processes like photosynthesis when this was completely discounted a few years ago.
I read Sean Carroll's blog regularly and remember the post you linked. I believe there is also quite a bit of controversy regarding emergence and fundamental physics as prior posts from Massimo on this blog have pointed out. If you assume that in principle current knowledge of fundamental physics explains emergence than the point holds, but this seem like a tautological assumption to me.
"but because we're calculating machines that have been selected by our environments for accuracy on survival-and-reproduction-relevant tasks."
If that were so, why are you so sure that you can see yourself as an exception?
Or isn't it also an established fact that we've almost all evolved to be an exception where our most primitive thinking processes are concerned. Scientists should serve as a good example of that if not philosophers.
But as now seems usual, you have erroneously assumed that our thinking processes (which were always more than merely calculative) have been selected by our environments to begin with. It's now appearing probable by scientific rather than philosophical discovery that we as living creatures have "selected" not just our intelligence but the nature of that function that is most fitting to our environment - the same environments which we have also learned to fit to our intelligence.
Yet you and Michael both seem to have reverted to the exercise of an archaic practice where, rather than vice versa, the facts were made to fit "intelligent" philosophy.
I took a quick look at the Chalmers panpsychism link. Chalmers still seems to be assuming conscious at a very fundamental level.Delete
“I will understand panpsychism as the thesis that some fundamental physical entities are conscious: that is,
that there is something it is like to be a quark or a photon or a member of some other fundamental
Granting my lack of familiarity with his full argument this still seems pretty extreme to me. I will read more later.
I am still not sure why eliminativism is neccesary to provide:
1. How reliable cognition arises, and 2. how humans metaphysically 'fit in' to the rest of Nature.
Introspection is most definitely flawed likely for the reasons you suggest. But I think we need to respect phenomenal experience if we are to minimize the way those flaws inform the cognitive process. It seems to me if we deny phenomenal experience exists we have little hope in reducing it's flaws. Forgive me again if my I am simply misunderstanding what your elminativism leads to in practice, and thanks for your attempts to explain.
I must be doing something wrong, every time I try the conceivability argument, I can't see how to separate out the phenomenology of consciousness from the behaviours of individuals. I could perhaps see its merits when contemplating some human actions like a flight response, and could perhaps even see that conversation could in theory happen without conscious intent. But I really can't conceive of any creature able to converse on philosophical zombies while being philosophical zombies. I just don't get it.ReplyDelete
Perhaps think of it from the perspective of the problem of other minds. How do you know that the people around you have minds? After all, you have no direct access to their minds. You infer it from their behaviour. But there is no logical entailment from their behaviour to their mind. In a sense, for all you know, their behaviour could be the result of complex information processing in their brain that is not accompanied by conscious experience.Delete
What is this, the "anything is possible" argument? How about trying the "everything isn't probable" argument. That's more in an eliminative materialism vein, even though it requires a bit more argumentative discipline to deal with.Delete
It is strange to posit there is an x that is real (R) but not physical (not-P): R(x) ∧ not-P(x). It would be odd if x = 'consciousness' would be the only one such thing. I can't think of any other x. Why should consciousness be so special?ReplyDelete
I think consciousness is special because everything can be defined by its functional and structural properties, except for consciousness. Think about anything, from carburettors, to beliefs and desires. Each are defined by the causal relations they enter into. Consciousness is defined independently of whatever causal relations it may enter into. Red experiences have an intrinsic quality that exists independently of whether or not I report that experience or allow that experience to produce some other behaviour.Delete
There are also many other things that one could say. Physical phenomena are objective, whereas consciousness is subjective. Physical phenomena are knowable from many perspective, whereas consciousness is only knowable from one perspective. Physical phenomena are describable, whereas consciousness is not describable.
It seems the idea of causality keeps entering the discussion. Jenann Ismael has an interesting new paper on this issue that leans on Judea Pearls 'interventionist account'. She points out (qouting David Bohm) that with dynamical laws modeling whole systems causality dissapears. Yet we need causality locally when information is incomplete so that we can predict the future. As she puts it:Delete
'Wide-scope models don’t override, displace, or compete with narrow- scope models. Models that draw the line between fixed and variable structure in different places complement one another, revealing different aspects of the world’s modal substructure.'
I think when it comes to conceptions the best we can do is to make use of the the ways objectivity and subjectivity complement each other.
Drat, I've arrived too late to the party. But my problem with your thesis is also my problem with all of the thought experiments you use to support yourself. Namely, you assert, at the beginning of the whole project that there is something that cannot be explained by physicalism and then you proceed to arrive at your starting point.ReplyDelete
Nagel asserts that there IS SOMETHING it is like to be a bat. I don't think he's succeeded in proving his point at all. After all, there also IS SOMETHING it is like to be a dead bat. There IS SOMETHING it is like to be a stone. To give a name to the magical thing you are trying to conjure doesn't mean it really exists. Call it quallia or phenomenology, or subjective or point-of-view. The naming doesn't actually make it a SOMETHING THAT IS. I could just as easily come up with DEADBATNESS to describe the something it is like to be a dead bat. I am not saying bat's don't have subjective experiences. I am saying that to elevate a bat's subjective experience to an actual THING is the sleight of hand that smuggles in your conclusion. My point is that what Nagel, Chalmers and Jackson fail to prove is that their special something isn't just a more universal, almost geometric thing. Pick any point in space. You have just privileged it. You have just defined it. It's not a condition of consciousness or even life per se. It is a condition of having been singled out, and made the subject of a definition. Can you explain how the SOMETHING-THAT-IS, is more than this?
You either haven't understand Nagel's point, or you're pretending not to have understood it because you don't like the conclusions he draws from it. Your objection seems to slide between three different confusions:Delete
1. 'Something it is like' here means 'some way it subjectively feels'; it doesn't just mean that the thing in question has properties. So the division between things with subjective states, and things with other kinds of states, doesn't appear arbitrary.
2. You allege that some sort of wordplay is going on, but you give no explanation of how that wordplay is supposed to work. I can give special names to lots of things, and in none of those cases does it seem to thereby become irreducible. So why is this appearance so powerful in the case of the phenomenal? If the phenomenal isn't a 'thing', then what is it, and why does this more correct conception help us become any less confused about the relation between ordinary experience and the transexperiential world?
3. You suggest that privileging consciousness as a distinct 'thing' is like privileging a particular point of space as a distinct 'thing'. Just as we can't explain one point of space in terms of the rest of space, we can't explain consciousness in terms of the rest of the world, because consciousness just is a part of the rest of the world. Here, if I'm understanding your point right, you're neglecting that we in fact can explain why certain points of space exist. But even if we couldn't, that would show that there are some irreducible brute physical facts; the problem with consciousness isn't just that it seems to be an irreducible brute fact, but that it seems to be an irreducible brute fact that isn't physical. Hence it seems more problematic if we can never reduce consciousness than if we can never reduce gravitation.
I'm not pretending. But I also think I am understanding. It lands on my ear as an empty argument. And the hollow sound is identical with Mary's Room and P Zombies.Delete
1) I don't think the word "feel" gets you much here. Can you explain the difference between "the something it is like to be a bat" and "the something it is like to be a dead bat." I doubt you can. And I doubt Nagel can. And so there's the rub. It is the "problem of other minds" as variously argued by philosophers. Somehow Nagel has gotten away with turning that problem into the Archimedean point from which he argues. At any rate, it's the opposite of solid ground.
2. I think the burden of proof rests with the people who want to suggest there are "things" like consciousness and qualia that are different from things like "in the middle" "far from" or even "shadow" or Dennet's wonderful "center of gravity." . These are all equally explainable by physicalism. I know you keep asserting that it doesn't feel like a full explanation, but then that might be you putting too high of an expectation of satisfaction from any sort of explanation. I'm guessing you haven't spent much time in hard sciences, where you get familiar with how unsatisfying even our most solid concepts are to our human brains. If you lower your standards of satisfaction a little, you will find that consciousness is, in fact, as well explained by physicalism as is anything else. We just have so much invested in our point of view that we tend to reject anything as unseemly as a description of it.
No one seriously argues that there aren't feelings and subjective experiences. We just don't think they are extra special things. And we aren't swayed by the paltry proof of something not being "conclusively ruled out" in the case of p Zombies. We are also very dubious of thought experiments about consciousness the require first and foremost a flight of fancy. For instance the suggestion that Mary has some sort of supernatural gift of understanding that includes all the physical facts but none of the experiential ones. Talk about stacking the deck! I find it as difficult to imagine what it is like to be Mary as it is to imagine being a bat.
3. I'll kind of covered this above. Let me try to be succinct. Many things can seem irreducible. This doesn't mean they are.
We CAN explain why we have privileged a particular point in space. We pointed to it. We arbitrarily chose it to be significant. That is the essential act of consciousness. It starts on a cellular level with a semi permeable membrane and goes all the way up to a nervous system that is very interested in this confederacy of meat over all other things. It isn't, however, anything more than an arbitrary preference for this point of view, this perspective. It is indeed special and irreducible in the sense of a preference and specificity. It isn't, however, a brute fact that stands apart from the very workable explanation we have about how this arrangement and preference came about.
Consciousness may seem non-physical, just as the earth can seem not to turn. But we can explain why we don't feel the motion of the earth. It's not a satisfying explanation but it is correct. It will never feel correct, because we don't feel the earth turn. That's also a fact. It's a fact of perception that is explainable as a point of view error. Qua a point of view error, it is irreducible. As a physical description it is complete and irrefutable.
I would be uneasy, if I were you, in what amounts to an "argument from ignorance." (I don't mean you are ignorant, to be clear, just that your arguments in total add up to that.)
> Can you explain the difference between "the something it is like to be a bat" and "the something it is like to be a dead bat." I doubt you can.Delete
There's nothing it's like to be a dead bat, so that there's a difference is obvious. Perhaps you misstated the question.
> And so there's the rub.
Not much of a rub, if you ask me.
> It is the "problem of other minds" as variously argued by philosophers. Somehow Nagel has gotten away with turning that problem into the Archimedean point from which he argues.
"Somehow"? If you don't understand, it would be more productive for you to ask questions, rather than to pontificate about how silly you find a discussion you haven't yet thought your way into.
> I think the burden of proof rests with the people who want to suggest there are "things" like consciousness and qualia that are different from things like "in the middle" "far from" or even "shadow" or Dennet's wonderful "center of gravity." . These are all equally explainable by physicalism.
I don't know what argumentative work you think is being done by putting words in scare quotes, but in philosophy and science we like to make our arguments explicit. How do you know that phenomenal consciousness is explicable in terms of the physical?
> If you lower your standards of satisfaction a little, you will find that consciousness is, in fact, as well explained by physicalism as is anything else.
No matter how low I make my standards, as long as they remain above zero, phenomenal consciousness does not equalize to the same level as, e.g., liquidity, or static electricity, or parenthood. If you don't understand why, ask for some readings.
> No one seriously argues that there aren't feelings and subjective experiences.
False. I myself am an eliminative physicalist.
> And we aren't swayed by the paltry proof of something not being "conclusively ruled out" in the case of p Zombies.Delete
It sounds like you don't understand the argument. It's bad form, and epistemically unhygienic, to rush to conclusions on unusual doctrines and arguments you haven't explored in much detail.
> For instance the suggestion that Mary has some sort of supernatural gift of understanding that includes all the physical facts but none of the experiential ones. Talk about stacking the deck!
None of those is an accurate description of the Mary thought experiment, so again it sounds like you haven't taken the time to think hard about this view, even sufficiently to formulate it. (The problem words here are "supernatural", "none", and "experiential".)
> Many things can seem irreducible. This doesn't mean they are.
Sure. But nothing else seems irreducible in the way that, or for the reasons that, phenomenal consciousness does. So to explain (away) the appearance of irreducibility here, some actual argument is needed. What's yours?
> We arbitrarily chose it to be significant. That is the essential act of consciousness.
The "essential act of consciousness"? Sounds like woo-woo to me. Don't just adopt the trappings or idiom of science; let's see some actual rigor and detail here!
> It starts on a cellular level with a semi permeable membrane and goes all the way up to a nervous system that is very interested in this confederacy of meat over all other things. It isn't, however, anything more than an arbitrary preference for this point of view, this perspective.
Sounds like panpsychism to me. Panpsychism, the only tenable scientific view? I remain very skeptical.
> Consciousness may seem non-physical, just as the earth can seem not to turn. But we can explain why we don't feel the motion of the earth. It's not a satisfying explanation but it is correct.
It's perfectly satisfying to me. Where's your corresponding explanation of phenomenal states, then?
My objection isn't that you've given a counter-intuitive response to the hard problem. (I'm an eliminativist, for god's sake. Counter-intuitiveness is my game.) It's that you've given no response at all.
Robby - do you think some things are conscious and other things are not? I'd be interested in understanding how you or Michael might draw the line in excluding low-functioning cellular or machine life.Delete
Yes, I understand why you would characterize my response to the hard problem as a non-response. Why? Because I don't think the hard problem is hard at all. I don't think that's because I am poorly read as you uncharitably imply. I purposely don't employ the jargon, because the jargon has its own conclusion baked in. Here is what I think is going on.Delete
Chalmers: science may possibly be able to explain everything except the thing that science cannot explain. The hard problem for science is that it can't explain the thing it can't explain.
I don't buy this. It sounds like a word game. And there a ton of things that science will never be able to explain. Most of them are not real and most of them are not important.
Well if you think science can explain the thing it can't explain, how do you think science explains it?
It may never explain it or it may. The real question is how do we know if the thing science cannot explain is a) worth explaining or b) anything at all except an artifact of a brain doing brain stuff.
Well you FEEL it. And you're pretty sure other living things FEEL it, so it must be real.
There are a lot of things brains do that we know are not real. Why do you privilege this thing with being real and important?
This thing is really important, because a complete description of the world must include an explanation of this thing.
But by your definition, a complete description of the world cannot explain this thing. You haven't even convinced me that it's even a thing.
QED! There is a thing that we feel that is defined as real and important.
Chalmers: God you are such a moron. OK, imagine that there is a girl who knows everything about the world except the thing that science cannot explain. What is missing from her complete understanding of the world?
The thing that is defined as essential for a complete understanding of the world and is also defined as being beyond the bounds of science?
How dare you engage in Straw-Man rhetoric. We know it's real because we feel it and we are pretty sure other creatures feel it. Haven't you read your Nagel? Look imagine there were creatures that were scientifically indistinguishable from you or me except they lack the thing that science cannot explain and that is essential for a complete understanding of the world. Can you imagine this?
Almost. I think I might, but I don't trust my own brain that much. I find it tricks me daily. It looked and felt to me like the sun came up today, when we all know that's not what happened.
Aha! The fact that you can possibly conceive of a creature like the one I suggest proves that science will never ever be able to explain the thing that it can't explain.
Not buying it. Your whole argument rests on feelings and thought experiments that require us to project our feelings into other beings and to imagine states of being that are, from the outset, uncanny and contrived. Do you have anything more to go on than this?
Dolt. I'll send you some links, but you aren't smart enough to understand them.
ON DEADBATNESS AND PANSYCHISMDelete
You got my argument correctly, but you dismissed it too quickly. I am asserting that the special thing about being a bat is not life-related. I am asserting that it is more fundamental than that. It is perspectival. It is a point of view. When you say subjective, I say "yawn" because I believe that subjectivity isn't even feeling related, it isn't even neuron related. Subjective is simply an arbitrary preference for one locus over another. That is the "something" that Nagel mistakes for an important something. I think it's so mundane, in fact, that not only can a semi-permeable membrane do it, but all points in space have equal claim to it. I balk at the word "pansychism" (my quotes aren't "scare" quotes, they are "grammatical" quotes). I don't make the supernatural claim that thought is at the fundamental level of being. Rather, I make the naturalistic claim that, if there is thought in the world, and there sure seems to be, the world must have in it the potential for thought. Similarly, if subjectivity is in the world, then it must be of the world too. It's the opposite of woo, it is naturalism. But you are right that most people who talk in these terms are making a woo-like argument. I'm not. I'm trying to de-mystify the crux of the qualia, phenomenal state argument.
Robbie, having read your comments here and on Massimo’s earlier post, and finding myself almost, but not quite, agreeing with you, can you clarify something? By phenomenal properties as ordinarily conceived, I take it that you’re referring to properties of experiences that are (in some way or other) intrinsically phenomenal and to which we have a form of direct access and knowledge?ReplyDelete
The reason I ask is that Chalmers denies that his arguments against the possibility of materialism are based on assumptions about the existence of *intrinsic* phenomenal properties or direct phenomenal concepts. His definition of qualia in The Conscious Mind is "those properties of mental states that type those states by what it is like to have them" (note on p. 359), which is pretty minimal IMO. If that’s the definition of “phenomenal properties” that Chalmers is working with (no matter what its faults or how poorly he keeps to it), would you say that *those* sorts of properties don’t exist?
I think it's natural to think of phenomenal properties as experiential, intrinsic, epistemically evident, quasiperceptually manifest, qualitatively 'rich' states of subjects. I'm open to treating 'intrinsic' as a plausible view of the phenomenal, rather than as a part of the definition. But I think good arguments can be made for it, from a Chalmersian perspective. For instance, an inverted zombie argument:Delete
1. If a subject's property is extrinsic, then it is logically impossible to hold that property constant while completely changing the subject's environment.
2. It is logically possible for 'what it's like' to be the same between two subjects with completely different environments.
3. Therefore phenomenal properties are not extrinsic.
I think that all these concepts of the phenomenal hang together and support each other very nicely. Doubting just one aspect of that world-view (e.g., intrinsicality) is difficult to do while retaining confidence in the rest of the view, and asserting extrinsicality doesn't seem to get us any closer to resolving or dissolving the hard problem.
Thanks, Robbie. That reply, and looking back again at the previous discussion, makes things a lot clearer. You mentioned earlier that one way you might define “qualia” is as the posits of theories such as Chalmers’, e.g. “introspectively vivid, autonomous, transparent, primitive, ineffable, monadic objects of direct acquaintance” (your description, rather than Chalmers'). Compare *that* description to Chalmers’ own definition of qualia as he starts his argument in The Conscious Mind: “those properties of mental states that type those states by what it is like to have them”. It seems to me that the mental states which you acknowledge we *do* have – e.g. it seeming as though there’s a red ball in front of me – meet Chalmers’ own criterion for qualia. (There’s some similarity here to the comments which Tom Clark made to you in the earlier discussion.)Delete
My point here really relates to Chalmers' arguments (especially that in “Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness”, rather than the thought experiments involving zombies etc., which Chalmers himself acknowledges depend upon general issues concerning function and structure, and the nature of explanation). The relatively minimal definition of qualia which I quoted above is the one which supports his suggestion that some materialists “deny the manifest” – which was Michael’s reaction to your suggestion that he should consider eliminativism as a possibility. Denying qualia in *that* sense would be like saying there’s no difference in my mental state, in how it seems to me, when I look at a blue object compared to how it seems to me when I look at a red object or when I’m unconscious.
But then I don’t see how Chalmers can use that minimal definition as the starting point for his argument against the possibility of materialism; he surely needs something like the more substantive definition which you gave. However, it doesn’t seem to be denying the manifest to claim that there aren’t “introspectively vivid, autonomous, transparent, primitive, ineffable, monadic objects of direct acquaintance”. (Or at least, if it is, then I may well join you in denying it as well ...)
>It seems to me that the mental states which you acknowledge we *do* have – e.g. it seeming as though there’s a red ball in front of me – meet Chalmers’ own criterion for qualia.Delete
Possibly, Mike. I acknowledge that our brains exhibit self-monitoring functional states, including joy, pain, and color vision, or functional analogs thereof. If those are by definition 'ways it's like to be something', then, sure, I accept such things. But I think it's clear from how Chalmersians, many other dualists and idealists, and most of the people in dialogue with Chalmers (e.g., Type-B materialists) all talk, that by phenomenal properties they have in mind something that isn't trivially or obviously shared in common between us and zombies. My view is already strange, so I prefer not to violate this established convention about what a 'phenomenal property' is when doing so could lead to even more misunderstandings about what I'm asserting.
Strictly speaking, I don't think Chalmers has a fully worked out definition of 'phenomenal'. I think he has a network of intuitions about them, but at its core his concept of the phenomenal is ostensive. (He doesn't think zombies have the same concept of phenomenality as we do.) In that light, the reason I'm an eliminativist is most fundamentally that I think his acts of ostension are failing to pick anything out in this case. There's something that quasiperceptually seems present in our stream of (access-)consciousness, and seems to (perhaps 'manifestly' or obviously!) satisfy the dualist's intuitions about irreducibility and ineffability and what-have-you, that isn't really there.
P.S. I don't think I've defended my view sufficiently here for it to be reasonable to agree with me quite yet. At most, if I've done a very good job, I've given some suggestive sketches of why my view might not be completely batshit crazy. (Which is an important start to any Copernican revolution!)Delete
Mike, you may have fallen into a Homunculus trap in saying "we" have direct "access" to "phenomenal properties". There is no "we" "accessing" anything, merely the phenomenal properties after completion of processing in the brain (200 ms after stimulation)with thoughts attending those properties. The thoughts also arise automatically and immediately once processing is completed in the brain(which splits the phenomenals into commonalities - as thoughts).Delete
There is no "we", merely the immediate perceptions with attending thoughts from further splitting of the perceptual properties (visions, sounds, tastes, touches, etc) in cortices shared between sites of our anatomy (eyes, ears, nose, skin etc). Factual perceptions are processed in specific cortices and those properties extend to shared cortices of thought in the brain - the entire process takes at least 200 ms.
Consequently, there is no Homunculus perceiving our phenomenal properties or our thought properties. There is only the completion of our awareness (those perceptions and thoughts as an experience of consciousness after finalization of processing in the brain). "We" actually "are" those phenomena & thoughts upon completion of processing - it happens automatically, rather than being "accessed" by a Homunculus brain or other types of Homunculus. Read my free book at thehumandesign.net
Bobby, your theory is no batsht crazy, but you are pushing sht up hill. Have a read of the middle chapters of my book (above).Delete
For those interested in making conscious robots, see papers by Bruce MacLennan of the Emergent Computation Project, UT Knoxville: "Consciousness is a prerequisite for implementing intelligent, autonomous robots." (Maybe when we finally create a conscious robot we can ask him/her his/her opinion!)ReplyDelete
Philosophy equals physicsReplyDelete
Energy equals mass
Mind equals body
Truth equals is
One equals all
And C or Nature is truly immeasurable,
Measure is the flaw.
"Why the problem of consciousness won’t go away"ReplyDelete
Conscience is not a problem when One becomes conscious of Oneself.
Equal is the Way.
The entire piece crashes on the rocks of the inherent subjectivity of experience (phenomenal & representational - or feelings & thoughts in my terms). Of course consciousness is inaccessible to the extrnal physical world, and will always remain so. The only way in is from the outside in a physical explanation, and that is not "consciosunes" (the indivdual subjective experience itself).ReplyDelete
Otherwise, the piece jumbles up some concepts I made clear in my recent book The Human design, An Introduction to the Design in Nature. Perhaps the writer read my book, sent as a PDF to him along with others at Adelaide University, as he tries to bridge concepts from my book using philosophical jargon I avoid. Anyway, you can get a better idea of the issues by reading the middle two chapters of my book, downloadable free as a PDF at my site thehumandesign.net
Hi Michael - First off, let me again congratulate you for a well-written guest post on such an influential blog. I'm not an academic philosopher and I haven't found the mind-body problem to be exceptionally interesting in the past so I haven't read much of the literature on it. But this post and (some of) the ongoing commentary have sucked me into reading/ skimming through Nagel, Chalmers, Stoljar, and Dennett again. So really, goal accomplished for you I think. :-)ReplyDelete
I run an Evolutionary Philosophy site so I've been a confirmed physicalist for some time now, but I'm always open to hearing an argument for the fittest idea. I'll try not to be too redundant here, but I wanted to share why I'm not swayed by the phenomenologist / dualist argument so you (and I) can both think further about improving our arguments in the future. Let's start with my agreement with Massimo's post about the thought experiments. He said:
>> The (apparent) force of (this) hypothetical situation relies on an equivocation about the word “fact.” Mary had studied all the scientific facts about how the brain works, but those facts do not equate with having the first person experience of actually seeing color, just like I can study all the facts involved in, say, learning how to swim, and yet feel surprised by my body’s reactions the first time I actually touch the water and begin to swim.
I would like to echo that and extend it. In your piece, I saw a couple examples of what seemed to me were this equivocation:
>> Phenomenal properties (or simply experiences) are defined by what it’s like to have those properties. There is something it’s like to experience the redness of red, to have a visual experience of a yellow lemon, to feel pain, and to hear the music of Beethoven. ... Our phenomenal experience of lemons and other such things is essentially defined by what it’s like to have those experiences... Function and structure only gives rise to more function and structure, and what it’s like to have an experience can only be understood in terms of what it’s like to have an experience.
I, like Massimo, see this equivocation of feelings with facts as a real sticking point in accepting your argument. Thinking that, I then examine your following statement:
>>There is no a priori reason why someone could not know all the relevant physics and physiology, and then use that knowledge to reason perfectly to conclusions about the mind.ReplyDelete
To me, there is an a priori reason. Our knowledge comes from physical experiences plus introspective thinking about those experiences. Without having had the physical experience, our brains cannot *fully know* an experience (about color in Mary's example) through purely mental processes. There is an epistemic opacity here that is the exact point of Nagel's Bat article. Take that example and invert it though. If I tell you I have prepared a peanut butter and mustard sandwich for you, you can imagine what having the experience of eating that sandwich will feel like before you actually do (so you can avoid it). But only because you have tasted the component elements separately in the past. (Especially if you are an American like me and have eaten loads of peanut butter.) This is what chefs do all the time - they imagine new combinations of past *feelings*. If I told you, however, that I had made you a peanut butter and fox nose sandwich, you would not be able to fully imagine the experience of eating this sandwich (at least I hope not). So, in this world, Mary could not know *all* there is to know about red. The epistemic opacity of not being able to know *all* there is to know about seeing red is precisely because it is a physical experience and our knowledge comes from physical experiences plus introspective thinking about them. The fact that Mary *has* learned something new is not evidence of a phenomenon located outside of the physical world, it is evidence to me of the physical nature of the world and our physical limitations of knowing about that world.
The problem still persists of your opening question:
>> How is it — for instance — that morality, or meaning, or mathematics can exist in a purely physical world?
Can't we just say that phenomenal properties do exist in the world, but only in the form of our brains' patten recognition and symbolic thinking abilities? That these arise from our need to simplify the diversity of the world's details into graspable mental concepts such as chair, tree, cat, etc.? A good magazine article from neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky about the neurological bases for this symbolic thinking is here: http://is.gd/Uhi28l
In contrast, regarding your arguments that these phenomenal experiences are non-physical, I find them to be fallacies of arguments from (our collective) ignorance. See below for examples (using all caps to insert my questions where necessary - I'm not really e-shouting):
>>Our phenomenal experience of lemons and other such things is essentially defined by what it’s like to have those experiences, and those experiences can’t be defined in terms of any causal role the experience may happen to accompany. (CAN'T THEY? FOREVER AND EVER?)ReplyDelete
>> The zombie argument asks us to conceive of a physical duplicate of ourselves, thus preserving all the same dispositional properties, but who is lacking consciousness. Our zombie’s representational faculties are identical, so it will be behaviourally identical to ourselves, with all the same abilities to discuss the existence of consciousness, make the same verbal reports, discriminate between stimuli in the same way, and so forth. Is such a scenario coherent? If it is (WHICH YOU HAVEN'T ESTABLISHED), then physicalism is false (I'M NOT CONVINCED), as physicalism says that consciousness is to be located in the dispositional properties of the world.
>>When we conceive of their (*THERE ;-) being no phenomenal properties, but the very same dispositional properties, we will never detect incoherence because phenomenal properties are defined by what it’s like, and dispositional properties are defined by their causal and spatial relations. So it would seem that such considerations tell us that we can’t locate consciousness in the physical world. (SO BECAUSE SCIENCE HASN'T *YET* ESTABLISHED THE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN PHYSICAL STATES AND CONSCIOUSNESS, WE CAN CONCEIVE THAT THIS ZOMBIE SCENARIO IS POSSIBLE? I CAN'T CONCEIVE THAT. WE'RE MUTUALLY IGNORANT.)
To close, in a universe where only natural - no supernatural - phenomena are detected, I think physicalism remains the working hypothesis. The burden of proof that there exists something in some location outside of this natural world is on the phenomenologists. So far, I'm not swayed by their arguments. Do mine sway you?
The iron clad distinction between the subjective experience & objective world enables the conundrum of Free Will. The objective world is deterministic, while the subjective experience of the individual within that objective world appears to have Free Will. This is only possible if the subjective construct of experience is free of the deterministic constraints of the objective world - which it is to a large degree from our choices in decisions arrived at by human intelligence. We condition ourselves to behave freely from our comprehensive intelligence within the world, but can only do so if we have no fixed "location" or "relation" to the objective world determining what we do.ReplyDelete
Can you get that any goofier? Or hasn't that been predetermined?Delete
Where can I get more information about this work and perspective that Michael Lopresto proffers? I've come back to this essay a few times over the past little while, after reading the likes of Dennett, Tim Wilson etc., and find it quite reasonable! Any recommended books, blogs websites, etc.?ReplyDelete