Locke with flowersThe problem of qualia is in itself a very old one, but it is expressed in new terms.  My impression is that the actual word ‘qualia’ only began to be widely used (as a hot new concept) in the 1970s.  The question of whether the colours you experience in your mind are the same as the ones I experience in mine, on the other hand, goes back a long way. I’m not aware of any ancient discussions, though I should not be at all surprised to hear that there is one in, say, Sextus Empiricus (if you know one please mention it): I think the first serious philosophical exposition of the issue is Locke’s in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding:

“Neither would it carry any imputation of falsehood to our simple ideas, if by the different structure of our organs, it were so ordered, that the same object should produce in several men’s minds different ideas at the same time; e.g. If the idea, that a violet produced in one man’s mind by his eyes, were the same that a marigold produces in another man’s, and vice versa. For since this could never be known: because one man’s mind could not pass into another man’s body, to perceive, what appearances were produced by those organs; neither the ideas hereby, nor the names, would be at all confounded, or any falsehood be in either. For all things, that had the texture of a violet, producing constantly the idea, which he called blue, and those that had the texture of a marigold, producing constantly the idea, which he as constantly called yellow, whatever those appearances were in his mind; he would be able as regularly to distinguish things for his use by those appearances, and understand, and signify those distinctions, marked by the names blue and yellow, as if the appearances, or ideas in his mind, received from those two flowers, were exactly the same, with the ideas in other men’s minds.”

Interestingly, Locke chose colours which are (near enough) opposites on the spectrum; this inverted spectrum form of the case has been highly popular in recent decades.  It’s remarkable that Locke put the problem in this sophisticated form; he managed to leap to a twentieth-century outlook from a standing start, in a way. It’s also surprising that he got in so early: he was, after all, writing less than twenty years after the idea of the spectrum was first put forward by Isaac Newton. It’s not surprising that Locke should know about the spectrum; he was an enthusiastic supporter of Newton’s ideas, and somewhat distressed by his own inability to follow them in the original. Newton, no courter of popularity, deliberately expressed his theories in terms that were hard for the layman, and scientifically speaking, that’s what Locke was. Alas, it seems the gap between science and philosophy was already apparent even before science had properly achieved a separate existence: Newton would still have called himself a natural philosopher, I think, not a scientist.

It’s hard to be completely sure that Locke did deliberately pick colours that were opposite on the spectrum – he doesn’t say so, or call attention to their opposition (there might even be some room for debate about whether  ‘blue’ and ‘yellow are really opposite) but it does seem at least that he felt that strongly contrasting colours provided  a good example, and in that respect at least he anticipated many future discussions. The reason so many modern  theorists like the idea is that they believe a switch of non-opposite colour qualia would be detectable, because the spectrum would no longer be coherent, while inverting the whole thing preserves all the relationships intact and so leaves the change undetectable. Myself, I think this argument is a mistake, inadvertently transferring to qualia the spectral structure which actually belongs to the objective counterparts of colour qualia. The qualia themselves have to be completely indistinguishable, so it doesn’t matter whether we replace yellow qualia with violet or orange ones, or for that matter, with the quale of the smell of violets.

Strangely enough though Locke was not really interested in the problem; on the contrary, he set it out only because he was seeking to dismiss it as an irrelevance. His aim, in context, was to argue that simple perceptions cannot be wrong, and the possibility of inconsistent colour judgements – one person seeing blue where another saw yellow – seemed to provide a potential counter-argument which he needed to eliminate. If one person sees red where another sees green, surely at least one of them must be wrong? Locke’s strategy was to admit that different people might have different ideas for the same percept (nowadays we would probably refer to these subjective ideas of percepts as qualia), but to argue that it doesn’t matter because they will always agree about which colour is, in fact yellow, so it can’t properly be said that their ideas are wrong. Locke, we can say, was implicitly arguing that qualia are not worth worrying about, even for philosophical purposes.

This ‘so what?’ line of thought is still perfectly tenable. We could argue that two people looking at the same rose will not only agree that it is red, but also concur that they are both experiencing red qualia; so the fact that inwardly their experiences might differ is literally of no significance – obviously of no practical significance, but arguably also metaphysically nugatory. I don’t know of anyone who espouses this disengaged kind of scepticism, though; more normally people who think qualia don’t matter go on to argue that they don’t exist, either. Perhaps the importance we attach to the issue is a sign of how our attitudes to consciousness have changed: it was itself a matter of no great importance or interest to Locke.  I believe consciousness acquired new importance with the advent of serious computers, when it became necessary to find some quality  with which we could differentiate ourselves from machines. Subjective experience fit the bill nicely.

 

55 Comments

  1. 1. Arnold Trehub says:

    Peter: “I believe consciousness acquired new importance with the advent of serious computers, when it became necessary to find some quality with which we could differentiate ourselves from machines. Subjective experience fit the bill nicely.”

    Interesting thought. So what makes our experience subjective?

  2. 2. Erik says:

    Arnold, I think what makes our experience subjective is the fact that we are subjects.

  3. 3. micha says:

    I would think the Imagination (“phantasia” in the original Greek), in the classical sense, e.g. Aristotle’s, is more “the seat of qualia” than any resemblance to the modern usage. Aristo defines it as “that in virtue of which an image occurs in us” (De Anima iii 3, 428aa1-2).

  4. 4. Sci says:

    IIRC Democritus mentioned how the reduction of all things to atoms would leave the sensory qualities unexplained.

    Also, wasn’t it Descartes (or one of his contemporaries) who suggested that qualia were in the mind rather than in the world?

    Seems to me this issue of qualia came long before machines we’d consider to akin to human minds in any way.

  5. 5. John Gregg says:

    This post reflects the “wishful thinking” strawman argument used by all physicalists: we talk about qualia because it “became necessary” to distinguish ourselves from the machines we had invented. I agree that computer technology, and thinking about computation in a more abstract sense, had a lot to do with the explosion of interest in qualia recently, but not because we were all bummed out that we were nothing but machines. Once we could think about computation in a rigorous way, and had machines that we could (if only through extrapolation) envision doing a lot of what minds do, the aspects of minds that could not be accounted for thereby were highlighted in sharper relief than ever before.

    -John Gregg
    http://www.jrg3.net/mind/

  6. 6. micha says:

    Thinking about the classics some more… The word inFORMation comes from the assumption that the essence of thought was form-without-substance representations. The Latin word “informare” means to shape or to describe. Being informed about a table means having elements of the table’s form in one’s head.

    Maimonides has a long piece about God and unity of Knower, Knowing and Known, and I bet the Qalam and Scholastics have parallel writings. In Maimonidian thought, knowing about God is the only form of possible communion, since in this way elements of “the image of Our Likeness” — as Genesis puts it — are in the mind of the worshipper.

    The notion that there is a commonality between thinking about something and experiencing it seems again to be [much like?] qualia.

  7. 7. Sci says:

    @Micha: “The notion that there is a commonality between thinking about something and experiencing it seems again to be [much like?] qualia.”

    Good stuff. I also wonder what a historical examination of Eastern philosophy would yield with respect to the consideration of subjective experience in determining the nature of the mind.

    Beyond that, we’d probably also have to figure out when the sensory qualities were accepted as being in the mind rather than out in the world.

  8. 8. Vicente says:

    Qualia and consciousness in general, subjectivity…are usually approached from an epistemologic, or perceptual, even “informational” as Micha was pointing out, point of view. I believe this is not a very convenient start, because it eventually always leads to despair, when it is inexorably found that physics can’t account for the process.

    Why not then starting from an ontologic primary view. For example, what makes the difference between an object and a subject, that the latter can exist without the former, but not the other way round. It is not that I am informed about Micha’s table, I am creating the table as such, in my mind. If I were the last conscious entity in the Universe, I would continue to exist on my own conscious devices, but the moment I cease to exist the Universe will perish with me.
    This is the point, consciousness and qualia are the primary enablers of existence. The problem is that we cannot measure or analyse conscious experience with any scientific apparatus, and thus we cannot reverse the process, i.e. start from consciousness and explain the brain, we are forced to try to follow the opposite direction.

    The unity of object – subject pointed out by Micha, challenges a conscious state upon void. I somehow believe that pure conscious states self-focused could be possible. Or maybe there is a missing concept indispensable to solve this mind-matter conundrum.

  9. 9. Sci says:

    On the subject of qualia – I think Clifton gives a good argument for their importance in The Empirical Case Against Materialism:

    http://anti-matters.org/articles/126/public/126-192-1-PB.pdf

    This is not say he’s right about materialism likely being false, but he does a good job of showing why the Hard Problem is a problem.

  10. 10. Arnold Trehub says:

    I agree with how Clifton characterizes the “Hard “Problem”. It is consistent with what I have suggested. Compare the following statements:

    Clifton: “However, the qualitative characteristics of first-person conscious experience are empirically distinct from uncontroversially physical phenomena in being — at least on our present knowledge — thoroughly resistant to the kind of abstract, formal description to which the latter are always, to some degree, readily amenable.

    Trehub: “However, there is a peculiar difficulty in dealing with phenomenal consciousness as an object of scientific study because it requires us to systematically relate third
    person descriptions or measures of brain events to first person descriptions or measures of phenomenal content. We generally think of the former as objective descriptions and the latter as subjective descriptions. Because phenomenal
    descriptors and physical descriptors occupy separate descriptive domains, one cannot assert a formal identity when describing any instance of a subjective phenomenal aspect in terms of an instance of an objective physical aspect, in the language of science. We are forced into accepting some descriptive slack.” (From “A foundation for the scientific study of consciousness” in *The Unity of Mind, Brain and the World*. Pereira & Lehmann eds. Cambridge University Press, 2013.)

  11. 11. Robin Nixon says:

    If you use an underwater speaker at sufficient volume in a bath, hot tub or swimming pool, and with your head above the water you will not hear the music. But if you hold your fingers over the speaker you will most definitely feel the vibrations. Choose music with good bass for this to make it easier and you’ll feel the different notes. After some practice you’ll notice that your fingers seem to be ‘hearing’ those notes.

    It’s the same as being at a club with loud music. You can feel the bass vibrate in your abdomen. If you concentrate you can start to ‘hear’ that sound with your stomach too. When you are practiced enough, and if you can tell notes by pitch, you’ll even be able to identify the notes you ‘hear’ with your body. To me this indicates that all musical sounds are the same everywhere, and what you hear with your ears is the same as what you hear with any other body sense.

    Extrapolating from this I am currently of the opinion that therefore all colour experiences are the same for everyone (color blindness etc aside), and all qualia in general are actually phenomena of the universe that are there to be experienced. All the standard senses and more, are simply how matter interacts with other matter at certain scales and levels of vibration.

    Now, who is it that does the experiencing or, as Alan Watts would say, “Who am I that is asking who am I?” is the next question, and that’s the consciousness problem…

  12. 12. micha says:

    Mr Nixon: The feel of vibration is a significantly different quale than the sound of the same vibration. This is why we naturally consider hearing and touch to be distinct senses. They’re experienced differently and a quale is basically a unit of experience. What you’re describing appears to be more that someone with practice can extract the same information, the note (frequency) of a vibration, from two distinctly different qualia.

    If someone can obtain the same information from two very different qualia produced by two different kinds of sensory input, it should also be true that two people can extract the same information from analogous qualia that are the products of the same form of sensory input.

  13. 13. David Duffy says:

    Locke looks at, as so many after him have, at sight. It seems to me that if he had discussed smell, things would be more interesting. In the case of visual perception, there is so much going on that is “non-quale”. By contrast, it is quite easy to be a Mary with respect to a novel smell or taste (note how many different receptors there are, and how common it is to be completely unable to sense some compounds), and get into arguments with others “it reminds me of …”. The information conveyed by a pure scent or taste is almost purely quale – obviously perceiving relative concentrations of compounds in mixtures based on the variety is something we can test objectively and even agree upon.

  14. 14. Tom Clark says:

    Sci, many thanks for the Clifton reference, good stuff on the difficulty of establishing physical-phenomenal identities, including the “two descriptions” ploy. Does anyone know where he can be reached?

  15. 15. Charles Wolverton says:

    Arnold –

    (continuing from http://www.consciousentities.com/?p=1788, re comment 113)

    For a specific observer, a publicly expressed verbal representation, eg, uttering “red”, can have as referent a certain primitive phenomenal experience. But I see that as merely a learned association, which seems to make “description” a misleading label since the utterance conveys no information. A non-expressed verbal representation and a phenomenal experience are private, so again “description” seems a strange choice of label. So, although I agree with the substance of your comment, I still question calling the experience itself, or any utterance associated with it, a “1pp description”.

    On a more positive note (and relevant to this thread), how about this. Clifton speaks of a mathematical function that (I infer) transforms some measure of neural activity energy into an observable display. (I think a better word would be “transduction” – from the energy in the neural activity to that of some display technology.) Now assuming I have a roughly accurate view of your RS, in principle couldn’t an experimenter in principle detect the actual neural activity patterns (ie, not just energy but firing rates as well) in a region of a subject’s physical brain area that corresponds to some Z-plane of autaptic cells in the RS? (Nicolelis has done something like that for motor neurons in monkeys) If so, the experimenter could correlate such a pattern with a subject’s visual sensory excitation, in particular light from various monochromatic sources, and with the subject’s utterance of color words. Experimenters could then compare the activity patterns of different subjects. Whatever the process that results in a phenomenal experience of some color, it must take as input a neural activity pattern. And isn’t the only thing detected by I! such a pattern? No colors are present, right? If so, any difference in subjects’ phenomenal experiences of a color are at base differences in neural activity patterns. And such differences could be used to create a sort of distance measure. Then although one subject can’t have another subject’s phenomenal experience, there would be a quantitative indication of just how different the experiences are likely to be.

    Probably all wrong, but I’ll be interested in knowing why.

  16. 16. Arnold Trehub says:

    Charles, you wrote:

    “For a specific observer, a publicly expressed verbal representation, eg, uttering ‘red’, can have as referent a certain primitive phenomenal experience. But I see that as merely a learned association, which seems to make ‘description’ a misleading label since the utterance conveys no information.”

    I don’t follow your reasoning here. If “red” is the learned verbal label for a particular learned (internally stored) phenomenal experience, then the public or private utterance “red” will recall an internal representation/image of the phenomenal experience that originally evoked the image. This internal image is the referent of the word “red”, so the utterance describes/conveys the information embodied in the remembered phenomenal experience/image. See Fig. 6.5, here:

    http://people.umass.edu/trehub/thecognitivebrain/chapter6.pdf

    On the other hand, I think this observation of yours is sound:

    “Whatever the process that results in a phenomenal experience of some color, it must take as input a neural activity pattern. And isn’t the only thing detected by I! such a pattern? No colors are present, right? If so, any difference in subjects’ phenomenal experiences of a color are at base differences in neural activity patterns. And such differences could be used to create a sort of distance measure. Then although one subject can’t have another subject’s phenomenal experience, there would be a quantitative indication of just how different the experiences are likely to be.”

    I agree that if the measured neuronal activity patterns were of autaptic-cell activity on the Z-planes of retinoid space, this would be a principled measure of individual differences in the phenomenal experience of color.

    I wonder what you think about the SMTT findings[1] as empirical evidence for the claim that consciousness is constituted by the neuronal structure and dynamics of the retinoid mechanisms.

    1. For example, see:

    http://theassc.org/documents/evolutions_gift_subjectivity_and_the_phenomenal_world

  17. 17. Charles Wolverton says:

    Arnold –

    You’re focusing on the consumer of an utterance, I’m focusing on the producer. Let’s put it all together.

    A subject views a uniform color field and is asked “what do you see?”. In response, the subject utters a color word that she has learned to associate with the neural activity pattern consequent to the visual sensory stimulation attendant to the viewing. I speculate that the associated phenomenal experience (PE) is an added feature the function of which is as yet unknown. So, I don’t see the utterance as being in any sense a “description” of a PE. (My impression is that Tom Clark hypothesizes something along those lines since he argues that a PE is causally inert, at least as regards utterances.)

    But suppose that’s wrong and the color word is indeed associated with a PE. Then we have to consider what features of an utterance are required in order for it to be considered a description. Clifton addresses this and suggests that a description must be a mapping from the structure of an observed entity to another structure that preserves enough of the original structure to allow reconstruction of an approximate representation of the observed entity. That seems reasonable to me. Eg, one observing a line might describe the resulting PE as “the locus of points equidistant from one point on a plane and another directly below it”, and one hearing that description could draw a verticle line on a sheet of paper. But no such mapping is available for the PE consequent to viewing a uniform color field since the field has no structure.

    A consumer (hearer) of an uttered color word will experience aural sensory excitation that will result in some pattern of neural activity. It seems reasonable to assume that the hearer will have learned to associate that pattern with a PE. Although not being visually imaginative, I can’t be sure. When I think “red”, nothing happens. In any event, it seems reasonable to assume that the hearer’s PE consequent to hearing the color word will be quite similar to the PE the speaker associates with the color word. However, I take the point of inverted spectrum and related thought experiments to be that there’s no guarantee that it will be. So, the color word again seems to fail Clifton’s requirement for being a “description”.

    I assume that behind the attribution of “ineffable” to color qualia is the fact that when asked to describe a uniform color field, the best one can do is to utter a color word, and that such an utterance has been deemed inadequate as a “description”.

    As to the SMTT, I have enough trouble with questions much less challenging than what constitutes consciousness, so I don’t presume to offer opinions on that one.

  18. 18. Arnold Trehub says:

    Charles: “But no such mapping is available for the PE consequent to viewing a uniform color field since the field has no structure.”

    I disagree. All sensory stimuli have their unique neuronal structure. In the case of a uniform color field, the retinal ganglion cells that are activated by the particular pattern of cone color receptors in the eyes would project a distinctive afferent volley of visual-sensory activation. This clearly constitutes the brain structure that is available for the PE.

  19. 19. Charles Wolverton says:

    Arnold, I actually agree with all that. But just as you suggest, that structure is in the input to the process that causes the utterance of a color word or creates the PE that in turn causes the utterance, not in the utterance itself. The mapping from that array of active neurons to the utterance, whether direct or indirect via the PE, is an extreme case of data compression – from all the data necessary to identify each specific neuron and its detailed firing characteristics down to utterance of a single symbol, eg, “red”. (I assume something like this is the essence of Scott’s BBT.)

    I think this is the source of much of the confusion that surrounds this issue. Because the phenomenal experience is so familiar, even those who know better find it hard to escape the idea that something in the head is literally “seeing” a color patch rather than experiencing an array of firing neurons. If the neural activity detected by I! resulted in recitation of a list of specific neurons and their detailed firing characteristics, I’d agree that the recitation would constitute a “description”. But “red”? – not so much.

  20. 20. Vicente says:

    Arnold,

    All sensory stimuli have their unique neuronal structure

    Well, that depends on what you are referring to by “sensory stimuli”. The physical input? e.g. radiation patterns hitting on the retina, the retinal cells activation pattern? the signal travelling along the nerve?

    Consider that, for the same physical stimulii, different perceptions are possible depending on the bounday conditions. The “same red color” (which is a wrong concept per se ) will show differently depending on adjancent colors, in the same picture, or will turn to another color if the corresponding neurons are exhausted and the complementary color appears… most visual illusions and hallucinations result from these odd effects.

    Probably all “phenomenal experiences” have their own neuronal activity patterns (or not), depending on external stimulii and also internal conditions… very tricky.

    This is the point if we could produce a mapping between brain states and their corresponding phenomenal experiences with a great level of detail we could learn a lot about how the brain supports conscious processes. Unfortunately, brain states cannot be described with enough accuracy and resolution, and I haven’t got a clue how phenomenal experience could be described in such a way that allows the required quantitative cross correlations to set up the mapping. Definitely, your SMTT experiment is a first step in this direction.

  21. 21. Arnold Trehub says:

    Charles: “If the neural activity detected by I! resulted in recitation of a list of specific neurons and their detailed firing characteristics, I’d agree that the recitation would constitute a “description”. But “red”? – not so much.”

    This is the *complementarity* of consciousness as 1pp phenomenal/subjective experience, and as 3pp neuronal activity in the brain’s retinoid space. Like the complementarity of light as particle and light as wave. The description depends on how you measure the event.

  22. 22. Charles Wolverton says:

    In what sense is detection by I! 3pp?

    In any event, aren’t you ignoring the issue of what constitutes a meaningful “description”? One can describe – in the usual sense – the behavior of light as a particle and its behavior as a wave. But uttering “red” in response to light with a given spectral composition impinging on the retina seems to me much the same as blinking when light of a certain intensity does. If “red” is a description of the color of the light, is the blink a description of the intensity?

    As the old saw goes, you can call a tail a leg but a horse nonetheless has only four legs.

  23. 23. Arnold Trehub says:

    Charles: “In what sense is detection by I! 3pp?”

    When what has been subjectively detected and described (1pp) is overtly described/expressed in public, it is a 3pp description.

    Charles: “One can describe – in the usual sense – the behavior of light as a particle and its behavior as a wave.”

    How is the behavior of light as particle and as wave described “in the usual sense”? Light induces particular kinds of effects in specialized instruments which are subjectively (1pp) observed by N scientists who publically express their 1pp descriptions of what they observe. Agreed upon public descriptions of the “behavior” of light in the two-slit experiments (e.g.) are the 3pp descriptions of science. These experimental observations suggest that light can manifest itself as both particle and wave. In a similar fashion, the SMTT experiments suggest that consciousness can manifest itself as a particular kind of brain activity and as a particular kind of subjective experience.

  24. 24. Charles Wolverton says:

    Well, Arnold, it appears that “what we have here is failure to communicate” rather than disagreement. Every time you get into the specifics, I find that we are in agreement. In this case, it’s the idea that 3pp is concurrence among multiple observers’ I!s. As in the past, I think “3pp” is a misleading way of expressing that – at least it misled me – but now that I know what you mean by “3pp”, I can live with it.

    Getting back to the 1pp vs 3pp issue (which is really the subject-I! vs multiple-observer-I!s issue, right?), there is a quantitative difference between the descriptions. Presumably the subject I! and – assuming each has the ability in principle to measure individual neuronal activity – the observer I!s all have access to all aspects of the neural activity consequent to the subject’s viewing an image. The observer I!s can recite – ie, describe – that activity in detail, but the subject’s I! can’t form a detailed description of that activity because it can’t associate words with features of individual neuronal activity, rather it can only assign color words to clusters of similar neural activity. This seems to lead to the conclusion that if a PE is produced from a verbal description of the neuronal activity, it’s a significantly degraded representation of the activity. So, what would be gained by a subject’s using the PE in effecting an action instead of using the readily available more complete neural activity. Ie, why should the PE have any causal efficacy? Andy Clark addresses this question in this paper:

    http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/courses/consciousness/papers/clark.pdf

  25. 25. Arnold Trehub says:

    Charles: “So, what would be gained by a subject’s using the PE in effecting an action instead of using the readily available more complete neural activity. Ie, why should the PE have any causal efficacy?”

    The succinct answer is that our PE is the part of our complete neuronal activity that presents us with the world we live in, and in which we try to adapt and thrive. For example, see here:

    http://theassc.org/documents/evolutions_gift_subjectivity_and_the_phenomenal_world

  26. 26. Charles Wolverton says:

    The paper I cited by Andy Clark provides an answer to my question based on a modification of the two processing stream (dorsal and ventral) model of Milner and Goodale which assigns motor control and cognitive functions to those streams respectively and assumes a large degree of independence of each. Clark argues for a more cooperative interaction between them, which seems compatible with your answer to my question. Sounds good to me, so count me on-board.

  27. 27. Charles Wolverton says:

    Arnold –

    One last question. The “what it’s like crowd” speaks of “what it’s like to see red” or some slight variant on that. It seems to me more accurate to express that as “what it’s like to have the PE that one has learned to associate with the word ‘red'”. But as I understand the RS, what really happens is that I!, being interconnected with the Z-planes, detects a certain neural activity pattern consequent to visual sensory stimulation by red light (ie, light with specific spectral content). So, it seems that the expression should be further expanded to be something like “what it’s like for I! to detect the neural activity pattern consequent to visual sensory stimulation by red light”. But since I! is (I assume) just some neural structure, why would the process of detecting neural activity be like anything for it? One can rejoin that it’s the PE derived from the neural activity that gives rise to “what it’s like”, but then the question becomes “for whom or what?” Saying it’s “for the subject” seems a bit circular since, as I understand it, I! is the source of the subject’s sense of a self.

    Thoughts?

  28. 28. Arnold Trehub says:

    Charles: “But as I understand the RS, what really happens is that I!, being interconnected with the Z-planes, detects a certain neural activity pattern consequent to visual sensory stimulation by red light (ie, light with specific spectral content).”

    This is not quite what happens in the RS. There is a subtle but critical distinction between *detection* of a neuronal activity pattern and *consciously experiencing* a neuronal activity pattern. What really happens in retinoid space (RS) is that its neuronal excitation pattern is *consciously experienced* because it is represented as *something somewhere* in perspectival relation to I!. This primitive sense of *something somewhere* is the underlying descriptor of “what it is like” to be conscious. The parsing/detecting/recognizing/naming of any particular aspect of the RS plenum is performed by the pre-conscious cognitive mechanisms which can then project their outputs, recurrently, into egocentric RS space and elaborate the phenomenal content of “what it is like”.

  29. 29. Charles Wolverton says:

    Got it. Thanks.

  30. 30. Vicente says:

    Arnold,

    What really happens in retinoid space (RS) is that its neuronal excitation pattern is *consciously experienced* because it is represented as *something somewhere* in perspectival relation to I!. This primitive sense of *something somewhere* is the underlying descriptor of “what it is like” to be conscious.

    So, why is it that we can include in a physical/logic model of the RS all aspects of the RS but this one? why?

  31. 31. Arnold Trehub says:

    Vicente: “So, why is it that we can include in a physical/logic model of the RS all aspects of the RS but this one [a primitive sense of *something somewhere*]? why?”

    If I understand your question, I respond that because the neuronal structure and dynamics of retinoid space (RS) *constitutes* the primitive sense of *something somewhere* in perspectival relation to I! (subjectivity), it IS included in the “physical/logic” model of RS. If you ask *why* subjectivity is constituted by autaptic-cell activity in RS, I can only answer that this seems to be the way that nature works. Its like asking why is an oriented magnetic field is constituted/induced by electrons flowing in a coil wrapped around an iron core.

  32. 32. Vicente says:

    Arnold: Its like asking why is an oriented magnetic field is constituted/induced by electrons flowing in a coil wrapped around an iron core.

    Not at all, I can establish quantitative relations between the electrons motion along the coil and the magnetic field, at any point of space and time. There is actually a law for that !! I can define with precision what is a magnetic field, and I can measure the currents and the fields…I concede we could enter into philosophical issues, but at a much later stage in the chain of explanations, physics has as many riddles as consciousness, probably the mysteries of both are deeply connected, but they are tackled in different ways (for the moment).

    Are there any “units” to quantify the intensity of the sensation of “something somewhere”… could we estimate how much does each electron, or proton, or neutron? in the RS neuronal substrate, contribute to that sensation? or where is the sensation? floating around the electron, or attached to the nucleii?

    I will save you the effort to go through this argument again, but you will have to concede that comparing magnetic fields and the primitive sense of *something somewhere* is a bit too much.

    But my question was other, following your reasoning I could answer why we fail to understand the ultimate nature of physics, yes, what is a particle? or afield? But you have not explained, why you fail to include the “something somewhere” sensation into the RS physical model. Let’s do that first, include it in the model, and then we talk about the very nature of the sensation.

  33. 33. Erik says:

    “There is actually a law for that” – the physical laws describe *how* a phenomenon works, but not *why* they work the way they do.

  34. 34. Arnold Trehub says:

    Vicente,

    You have given some good reasons in support of the view that the science of physics is much more advanced than the science of consciousness. But as Erik says, you/physics can’t answer why an oriented magnetic field is constituted/induced by electrons flowing in a coil wrapped around an iron core.

  35. 35. micha says:

    Is it valid to say that magnetism is defined as the field that is the derivative of the field of electric charge, and therefore is you get electrical charge moving in a consistent way, you’ll get a magnetic field?

    My point being, sometimes it just boils down to words.

  36. 36. Sci says:

    Observing regularities, then extrapolating those regularities into supposed “laws of nature”…doesn’t that invalidate appeal to said laws as an explanation for anything?

  37. 37. Erik says:

    Asking ‘why’ implies that you expect there to be a reason – a purpose. Science doesn’t – can’t – investigate that sort of thing. All science can hope to do is describe the way the world is.

  38. 38. Vicente says:

    Arnold et al.

    Thank you for the comments but they apply to another question. As I said, I am not asking what is the sensation, or how does the RS produce the sensation.

    All your concerns can be raised once a concept is part of a physical model, not before. We can discuss if the laws of physics are just statistical observations, if they are permanent or evolve… or how does electrodynamics account for the fields measured by observers in motion, but all these questions make sense within the frame of a physical model… I am not considering teleologies (purposes)

    My question is: Why is it that the last bit (the goal in fact) of the RS theory, to explain consciousness, cannot be included in the physical model of the RS?

  39. 39. Arnold Trehub says:

    Vicente: “My question is: Why is it that the last bit (the goal in fact) of the RS theory, to explain consciousness, cannot be included in the physical model of the RS?”

    The goal of RS theory or any other cognitive goal is explained and included in my more inclusive biophysical model of the cognitive brain (MIT Press 1991). For example, see “Set-Point and Motive: The Formation and Resolution of Goals”, here:

    http://people.umass.edu/trehub/thecognitivebrain/chapter9.pdf

  40. 40. Sci says:

    A bit of humor on the subject of science & purpose:

    “Scientists animated by the purpose of proving that they are purposeless constitute an interesting subject for study.”
    -A.N. Whitehead

    “Materialism is the philosophy of the subject who forgets to take account of himself”
    – Arthur Schopenhauer

  41. 41. Vicente says:

    Arnold,

    Despite the text your referred, I’m afraid, is not directly related to my question, I’ll try to rephrase it, in order to adapt it to your essay’s terms.

    We’re clearly not facing a “secular goal”, but I can still consider that the unrest created by the ignorance of the answer to the consciousness riddle, creates a significant inner disequilibrium comparable to thirst, thirst for knowledge, for truth, that needs to be quenched (G1) (am I not a poet !)

    Here I come: Why there are no “affordances” to enable a “sequence of actions” aimed to include the “sensation of something somewhere” in the physical model of the RS, closing the theory, and provinding an incredible feedback input to the pleasure centres Pl (materialising the imagined goal)? what a high!

    Why are there no “affordances” for that?

  42. 42. Arnold Trehub says:

    Vicente: “We’re clearly not facing a “secular goal”, but I can still consider that the unrest created by the ignorance of the answer to the consciousness riddle, creates a significant inner disequilibrium comparable to thirst, thirst for knowledge, for truth, that needs to be quenched (G1) (am I not a poet !) … Why there are no “affordances” to enable a “sequence of actions” aimed to include the “sensation of something somewhere” in the physical model of the RS … Why are there no “affordances” for that?”

    You have the heart of a poet but you are too narrow in your view of a “secular goal” and the affordances that are related to these goals. The electrical engineer who designs a circuit diagram for a working radio receiver provides an artifact (the circuit diagram) as an *affordance* for listening to broadcasts of news, music, etc. The scientist who designs a theoretical model of a new sub-atomic particle that successfully predicts new empirical observations, provides an *affordance* (the theoretical model) for understanding a previously inexplicable phenomenon. So I claim that the theoretical model of the retinoid system similarly provides an affordance for understanding the “sensation of something somewhere”. This theoretical affordance also enables a sequence of actions leading to the goal of theory validation. This is exemplified in the SMTT experiments that actually induce a vivid conscious experience of an object (*something somewhere*) in the subject’s field of vision without the visual presence of the object (i.e., a hallucination). This finding, in turn, supports the validity of its related affordance; i.e., the retinoid model of consciousness.

  43. 43. Vicente says:

    Arnold,

    So I claim that the theoretical model of the retinoid system similarly provides an affordance for understanding the “sensation of something somewhere” [,in the future]

    Accepted. Now, why the theoretical model of the retinoid system (neither any other similar attempt) could build upon previously delivered “affordances”, in order to explicitely include the sensation (ultimate output of the model), into the model istself ?

    It is like if you were modeling a power station, but the concept of power was left outside the model.

  44. 44. Arnold Trehub says:

    Vicente: “Now, why the theoretical model of the retinoid system (neither any other similar attempt) could build upon previously delivered “affordances”, in order to explicitely include the sensation (ultimate output of the model), into the model istself?”

    Because any model is not the physical process that is modeled. The *concept* of consciousness *is* included in the retinoid model, just as the concept of power is included in a model of a power station. But a model of a power station will not light up your lamp.

  45. 45. Vicente says:

    Arnold, are you being serious?

    I am not asking why the RS model is not conscious itself.

    I am asking why there is not one single variable or paremeter in the whole model to represent the sensation, in the same fashion that the power station model includes variables to account for the power (in mathematical terms…).

    Don’t you really think it’s a bit funny.

  46. 46. Arnold Trehub says:

    Vicente,

    You don’t seem to understand that mathematics cannot explain consciousness because consciousness is not a variable or parameter in a formal physical-mathematical model. Conscious is a biological phenomenon and must be explained in terms of *biological mechanisms*.

  47. 47. Vicente says:

    Arnold,

    Nothing *IS* a variable in a formal model, but many systems can be represented by them. I seem to understand that I can model neurons and neuronal networks, and assign variables and parameters to every physical feature… from membrane permitivity to Ca++ concentration…. and simulate any biological mechanism, e.g. potential propagation along an axon, as long as it can be expressed in terms of physical magnitudes (all biological mechanisn can be). If someone is startled I can model the mechanism by which blood pressure is increased, or any other process taking place in the organism, but look, I can’t assign a variable to any aspect of conscious experience content of being startled….

    I am not even considering “explaining”, just modeling.

    The current materialistic frame is being as noxious for learning as the religious

  48. 48. Vicente says:

    establishment was in the past…

  49. 49. Arnold Trehub says:

    Vicente, your intuitions about any kind of mathematical model have to be cashed out in the successful prediction of relevant evidence, just as my circuit diagrams models do. The biophysical components of a complex biological mechanism can be mathematically modeled in a way that might satisfy you, but the structural organization of the whole system must be modeled differently (e.g., the DNA double helix). My approach is discussed in “A foundation for the scientific study of consciousness” on my Research Gate page.

  50. 50. Vicente says:

    Arnold, I think you are confusing the scope of a model, with the quality or the strategy of the modeling. Regarding the elaboration of predictions that can be validated, I completely agree, but again that’s a different issue.

    Let me insist, I am just considering the construction of the model i.e. identification of all involved variables and relations among them, nothing else, for the moment.

    I can make a model of human behaviour that predicts that power corrupts people and carry out an statistical validation of the model, fine, but it will not constitute a physical model of human behaviour….

    I love physics, and I have no problem to admit that human conscious experience is beyond physics, it’s not an intuition, it’s a fact, show me the variable…

  51. 51. Arnold Trehub says:

    Vicente, physics and the concept of a variable (V) are products of the conscious biological machinery of the human brain. You cannot model this source of the concept V as a variable.

  52. 52. Vicente says:

    Arnold, now we’ve got much closer in one single leap…

    So, if the human brain is nothing but that biological machinery why wouldn’t we model it as we do with the liver, a kidney or a intel i3 processor… the kidney’s product is urine, the brain product the “concept” of variable… or the feeling of something somewhere… “source of the concept” put that “just” in terms of a synaptical matrix…

    MERRY CHRISTMAS

  53. 53. Arnold Trehub says:

    Vicente,

    The synaptic matrix needs brain representations of the world in which it exists in order to learn and store a concept of a variable. It is patterns of autaptic-cell activity in retinoid space that constitute the essential phenomenal representations.

  54. 54. Robin Nixon says:

    One way to ‘prove’ an AI experiences qualia would be, for example, do deprive it of all information about color by training it only on monochrome images, and then to one day show it some colored pictures and see if it responds, “wow that is just so amazing!”, or words to that effect 🙂

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