knight 3This is the third in a series of four posts about key ideas from my book The Shadow of Consciousness; this one is about haecceity, or to coin a plainer term, thisness. There are strong links with the subject of the final post, which will be that ultimate mystery, reality.

Haecceity is my explanation for the oddity of subjective experience. A whole set of strange stories are supposed to persuade us that there is something in subjective experience which is inexpressible, outside of physics, and yet utterly vivid and undeniable. It’s about my inward experience of blue, which I can never prove is the same as yours; about what it is like to see red.

One of the best known thought experiments on this topic is the story of Mary the Colour Scientist. She has never seen colour, but knows everything there is to know about colour vision; when she sees a red rose for the first time, does she come to know something new? The presumed answer is yes: she now knows what it is like to see red things.

Another celebrated case asks whether I could have a ‘zombie’ twin, identical to me in every physical respect, who did not have these purely subjective aspects of experience – which are known as ‘qualia’, by the way. We’re allowed to be unsure whether zombie twin is possible, but expected to agree that he is at least conceivable; and that that’s enough to establish that there really is something extra going on, over and above the physics.

Most people, I think, accept that qualia do exist and do raise a problem, though some sceptics denounce the entire topic as more or less irretrievable nonsense. Qualia are certainly very odd; they have no causal effects, so nothing we say about them was caused by them: and they cannot be directly described. What we invariably have to do is refer to them by an objective counterpart: so we speak of the quale of hearing middle C, though middle C is in itself an irreproachably physical, describable thing (identifying the precisely correct physical counterpart for colour vision is actually rather complex, though I don’t think anyone denies that you can give a full physical account of colour vision).

I suggest we can draw two tentative conclusions about qualia. First, knowledge of qualia is like knowledge of riding a bike: it cannot be transferred in words. I can talk until I’m blue in the face about bike riding, and it may help a little, but in the end to get that knowledge you have to get on a bike. That’s because for bike riding it’s your muscles and some non-talking parts of your brain that need to learn about it; it’s a skill. We can’t say the same about qualia because experiencing them is not a skill we need to learn; but there is perhaps a common factor; you have to have really done it, you have to have been there.

Second, we cannot say anything about qualia except through their objective counterparts. This leaves a mystery about how many qualia there are. Is there a quale of scarlet and a quale of crimson? An indefinite number of red qualia? We can’t say, and since all hypotheses about the number of qualia are equally good, we ought to choose the least expensive under the terms of Occam’s Razor; the one with the fewest entities. It would follow from that that there is really only one universal quale; it provides the vivid liveliness while the objective aspects of the experience provide all the content.

So we have two provisional conclusions: all qualia are really the same thing conditioned differently by the objective features of the experience; and to know qualia you have to have ‘been there’, to have had real experience. I think it follows naturally from these two premises that qualia simply represent the particularity of experience; its haecceity. The aspect of experience which is not accounted for by any theory, including the theories of physics, is simply the actuality of experience. This is no discredit to theory: it is by definition about the general and the abstract and cannot possibly include the particular reality of any specific experience.

Does this help us with those two famous thought experiments? In Mary’s case it suggests that what she knows after seeing the rose is simply what a particular experience is like. That could never have been conveyed by theoretical knowledge. In the case of my zombie twin, the real turning point is when we’re asked to think whether he is conceivable; that transfers discussion to a conceptual, theoretical plane on which it is natural to suppose nothing has particularity.

Finally, I think this view explains why qualia are ineffable, why we can’t say anything directly about them. All speech is, as it were, second order: it’s about experiences, not the described experience itself. When we think of any objective aspect, we summon up the appropriate concepts and put them over in words; but when we attempt to convey the haecceity of an experience it drops out as soon as we move to a conceptual level. Description, for once, cannot capture what we want to convey.

There’s nothing in all this that suggests anything wrong or incomplete about physics; no need for any dualism or magic realm. In a lot of ways this is simply the sceptical case approached more cautiously and from a different angle. It does leave us with some mystery though: what is it for something to be particular; what is the nature of particularity? We’ve already said we can’t describe it effectively or reduce it theoretically, but surely there must be something we can do to apprehend it better? This is the problem of reality…

[Many thanks to Sergio for the kind review here. Many thanks also to the generous people who have given me good reviews on amazon.com; much appreciated!]

87 Comments

  1. 1. Emergent C says:

    Thank you. I’ve been trying to get to grips with hacceity for a while. I end up running a circular path and then doubting the validity of the question.

    I’ve been viewing hacceity as a thisness, distinct from quiddity, or a ‘thatness’. That is quiddity is the essence of something, whereas, hacceity is the property of being that particular essence of that something.

    Perhaps, hacceity is a sub-set of quiddity. There are many things that have four wheels, a steering wheel and engine – ‘car-ness’ [quiddity], but only one of these is my car [hacceity].

    What is it that bestows the passage from quiddity to hacceity? So many consciousnesses, but why am I this particular one. Why is my subjectivity, this subjectivity.

    Imagine all the requirements for, and properties of, an individual consciousness, with its own qualia, are present in the set of things C. On earth at the moment, there might then be 6 billion sets of C, that is, C subscript 1 to 6 billion. Each one of these sets has the quiddity of consciousness, but only one has the hacceity of my consciousness. What is this extra property that places ‘me’ in one C rather than an equal other?

    Hacceity appears to move through one’s changing mind over time, but not move sideways into other people at the same cross-section of time. This could, of course, be an erroneous conclusion – as each C has it’s own hacceity, so would you ever know if you had ‘been someone else’!

    From that last sentence, if each C has its own hacceity within the quiddity of all C’s, then this view runs a circular course and fails.

    I am, presumably, always ‘me’, as it’s not possible, as we know it, to have the subjective identity of qualia of someone else, since then you would, by definition, BE that someone else. I can see glimmers of an anthropic principle style of thinking here; all teleological?

    Mathematically, are ‘we’ not our own origin (0,0,0) from which all else is experienced? To be on the graph is to have the quiddity of consciousness. but what grants each of us the origin perspective? And why do I have this origin, since they are all the same?

    So, if the question of why am I THIS me (why this, thatness), is invalid – what is the real question? I dread the answer that, Dennett-like, the question is not to be asked or is just a paraphrase of the hard problem.

  2. 2. Emergent C says:

    Quick addendum:

    It could be said that for each C (the set of things that makes an individual consciousness), hacceity is an inherent part.

    That is, the quiddity of consciousness demands the quale of hacceity. Qualia (by definition part of the set C) must have hacceity for their existence.

    Can seeing exist unshackled from the see-er? Can hearing exist in isolation from the hearer? I think Peter touches on this when talking of ‘one quale’. If so, a set of universal quales exists which the quiddity of consciousness can access to crystallise a hacceity?

    This last thought would seem to fit with Chalmers idea of consciousness being a fundamental property within the universe. Perhaps, quales are fundamental too and interact with Phi (or whatever might bring about consciousness) to become our qualia. Shadows on the cave wall now?

  3. 3. kczat says:

    I don’t think I follow the claim that qualia “have no causal effects”. Your claim is that your zombie twin without qualia would also have written this post? Moreover, in a universe without any qualia, some zombies would still be trying to explain the mysteries of qualia even though there would be no such thing? I have to say I’m not very persuaded by that point of view.

  4. 4. Peter says:

    It’s not really my claim, it’s just part of the set-up, a consequence of them being over and above the physical account. If they had causal effects they’d be measurable and describable. We could check objectively whether what you experience subjectively when you see something red is or is not the same as what I experience.
    Yes, zombie twin, if he were possible, would talk about qualia just the way I do, even though he never had any.
    Granted it seems pretty strange and unsatisfactory, and people like Dennett denounce the whole business largely on these grounds. As I say, my own conclusion is close to scepticism; I don’t quite say that qualia don’t exist, but I think they’re not at all the kind of thing they’re normally taken to be.

  5. 5. kczat says:

    Wouldn’t you need to conclude from this reasoning that you can’t actually be certain that qualia exist since even your memory of experiencing them would be there even if you never did experience them?

    In that sense, I can see where Dennett is coming from. However, I think it’s crazy to dismiss qualia. In some sense, qualia are the only thing we really know does exist since that is all that we experience directly. We conjecture the outside world as an explanation for the causes of the qualia we experience.

    The point of view that makes the most sense to me is that qualia are physical but through laws (perhaps emergent laws) that are not yet understood.

  6. 6. Sci says:

    Since we don’t even – as the skeptic Massimo recently noted – even have a philosophical understanding of causality I’m fine with qualia not being amenable to physics.

    It’s not like we have an explanation for why there is enough regularity in the universe for people to suppose laws of physics exist or that they capture the whole of reality. As the physicist Lee Smolin recently noted in Time Reborn science cannot tell you about the inner essence of things, only their relation to the world. Part of that essence would arguably extend to the regularity we observe if we reject the nonsensical notion that the laws of physics exist in some Platonic realm. Qualia, as he notes, seems to be another aspect of the inner essence.

    On the subject of colorless rooms and zombies, I still think Clifton’s Empirical Case Against Materialism presents a much clearer demonstration of why qualia is such a problem for materialism without positing such sci-fi oddities.

  7. 7. Callan S. says:

    What if Mary instead studied knee jerk reactions, but had never had one? She knows all the mechanics of it – but when someone finally taps her on the knee, would we say she ‘knows’ what it’s like? Or would we say the knee jerk reaction is just a reaction and you don’t really know what that’s like perse, you just get dragged along with it?

    In terms of qualia and experience, lets say you press your finger onto a pin. Lets call this sense A.

    Now you might report ‘pain’ at this point.

    But here’s a question: Okay, so A: your finger has a number of nerves that are triggered by the penetration of the pin. And B: you’re sensing your finger sensing pain.

    But what about a second recursion? Sensing yourself doing B as B senses A?

    Would you talk about qualia if you could sense B in progress as much as you can sense A? Or would B seem to involve a qualia no more than A does?

  8. 8. Sergio Graziosi says:

    @kczat (#5) and Peter (#4)
    My understanding of Dennett and Peter’s positions is that they use entirely separate approaches to reach more or less the same conclusions. I would like to explore this idea further, so I’ll start with a mere sketch: if I know this place, the objections I’ll get should be inspiring.

    Dennett and his Zimboes.
    A Zimbo is exactly an hypothetical p-zombie (of any kind), my zombie twin (Zergio) who acts exactly like me, but lacks qualia (if Zergio is conceivable, qualia have to be a-causal). The only difference between standard p-zombies and Zimboes is that Dennett’s definition makes one requirement explicit: if Zirgio (my Zimbo twin) acts exactly like me, he will be able to talk about the experience of pain (why do we use “Red”? Experiences of pain and pleasure are so much harder to negate!). In fact, I can (like everyone I know) talk about a burning pain, a piercing pain, etcetera. Thus, Zirgio can do the same, and to do so, needs to recall his experience of this or that pain, and attempt to metaphorically/symbolically describe it (effing the effable: I really wanted to use this expression!).

    The result is twofold, from my point of view:
    1. Zirgio needs to experience something like pain (he needs to be convinced he does experience pain), and this z-pain needs to have the same effects that pain has on me. Thus, all hypothetical p-Zombies are impossible to distinguish from normal people (as per hypothesis).
    2. However, this passage explicitly hinges on “z-qualia need to have the same effects of our corresponding qualia”. Result: qualia have “some” causal effects, exactly as z-qualia (’cause they are the same thing). Thus Zombies are inconceivable, if you look at them just below the surface.
    Dennett then goes on rejecting the whole concept of qualia, because it is so closely tied with absurd ideas (non-causality, ineffability, etc.) that we should stop using the q word altogether.

    I never understood how people can keep talking about qualia a-causality after the Zimbo argument. (And surely: you talk about qualia, therefore they have causal effects) But hey, it doesn’t matter. Peter (pretends to accept/)accepts a-causality and runs with it, reducing it to “the particularity of experience”. This is a nice move, to me it segregates the a-causal side neatly. An experience has plenty of elements, some are effable (at least in theory), and therefore have causal powers. However the essence of “what is it like” is not effable, can be reduced to “the particularity of experience” (it’s just a rephrasing, after all) and may be lumped together in a single all-encompassing a-causal quale. This in turn moves the problem outside the field of consciousness as it leaves us with “the problem of reality”.

    Peter also hints at what I see as the final word in this regard: reality is unknowable (in full). To “know” is to have reality translated in appropriate symbols (into something that is at least potentially effable) and therefore something else has to remain unaccounted. Thus, we know why the problem of reality exists and why it can’t be solved (only approached), but now we can say that the ineffable side of “standard qualia” stems directly from this problem. If I’m reading Peter correctly, I have no problem with all this: it can be directly translated in the language of Cognitive Neuroscience because that approach assumes that minds shuffle symbols around. If they do, the ineffable side of experience is an unavoidable side effect. BBT in a nutshell (but I fear Scott may disagree!).

    Job done, we can stop obsessing about the whole malarkey, which is the meta-conclusion that Dennett reached as well (stop talking about Qualia and p-Zombies because they don’t make any sense).

    Peter, I hope I’m not stretching your take beyond recognition. I apologise for removing all the carefulness from you argument: I need to operate in this way in order to make “any concept” understandable to my own mind – at heart, I’m a simple-minded scientist, after all.

  9. 9. Jochen says:

    This is the part of your account I can most closely relate to, I think. It’s simple, but I think you put your finger on a very crucial, perhaps natural, and probably because of this, often overlooked assumption: that the description of physics our theories provide exhausts physical reality. At the risk of oversimplifying and/or stating the obvious, a picture of a tree, whether painted in oil or in words, is not a tree; and neither is a physical theory, an abstract formalism designed to model and predict physical systems, and, last but not least, to communicate our insights about the system (after all, we do want to write papers!), itself the physics it pertains to.

    I think connecting this to language is the right way to go: almost by definition, we can theorize and formalize exclusively about the, for want of a better word, effable properties of the world. Formalizing, abstraction and theory-building are plausibly derived from our capacity for language; but there’s no guarantee that everything in the natural world can be grasped with these tools, without this committing us in any way to dualism, mysticism, or similar -isms.

    But I do have a couple of questions. First of all, I don’t think I understand the ‘single quale’-account. It seems to me that the simplest account of Mary’s gaining something upon seeing red for the first time would be that she gains the quale of what it’s like to see red; if not, it seems for instance difficult to me why she couldn’t at least imagine what it’s like to see red, just like I can do without actually, at the moment, seeing red. The haecceity of the experience seems to have little to do with it, since I have (in some way) a red-experience without actually being in an instance of red-seeing.

    So, to me, the simplest account would be that the haecceity of the experience of actually seeing red for the first time adds something to her mental toolbox, perhaps the skill of imagining what it’s like to see red (though that’s probably too naive). There’s also some worries about qualia related to dream-states and other non-veridical experiences or experiences not related to anything existing in reality: how do non-real things have thisness?

    I’m also not sure about knowledge of the what-it’s-likeness of experience being analogous to the knowing-how of some skill: that a human being can’t learn to ride a bicycle from reading a book about it is really just an accident of biology. (Although the mathematician and physicist Theodor Kaluza is said to have learned how to swim from merely reading a book about it.) A robot, for example, wouldn’t be so handicapped if he read the code for some program to incorporate; but I’m less certain that a robot Mary could learn what it’s like to see red in any way other than having the experience itself.

  10. 10. Peter says:

    For the sake of clarity, I don’t in fact think myself that zombie twins are possible.

    Sergio, yes that’s about right, I think. I don’t know whether I’d say reality is unknowable, but it is inexpressible.

    surely: you talk about qualia, therefore they have causal effects

    Well, of course I see the problem, but then I can talk about Long John Silver and he doesn’t have any causal effects…!

    Jochen: the power of the imagination might be another whole topic, but it doesn’t seem to me that blind people could imagine seeing red so well that the actual experience, once their sight was restored, added nothing.

  11. 11. VicP says:

    Speech can only be about things because it is the aboutness we share through language and language is aboutness itself. Science is just a very advanced form of language.

  12. 12. Jochen says:

    surely: you talk about qualia, therefore they have causal effects

    Well, of course I see the problem, but then I can talk about Long John Silver and he doesn’t have any causal effects…!

    Isn’t this the sort of thing where a (type- or token-) identity theory comes in handy? If mental states are nothing but brain states, albeit in a sufficiently non-obvious—perhaps anomic, or in this context more often anomalous—way in order to allow for the conceivability of zombies—then they simply are the agents causally responsible for talk about qualia, even though this talk can be explained fully by appealing to physical cause-and-effect from sensory inputs to behavioural outputs, because that’s not two different things one is talking about.

    On your account, one could perhaps surmise that the thing responsible for the conscious experience accompanying some neural state is not different from that neural state, but is in fact the irreducible thisness of being in that state; this, I think, would be a link both sufficiently opaque to enable zombie-conceivability, since this thisness cannot be derived, but only experienced by actually being in the appropriate state, and sufficiently strong in order to make talk about qualia be meaningfully about qualia, since they are not different from—and in fact, in a certain sense the essence of—the brain state that is causally responsible for a certain behaviour hinting at the existence of qualia.

    But I think maybe your original intention, Peter, was to have the haecceity in your account attached to the things, or situations, that invoke qualia themselves, rather than to the neural/mental state accompanying these situations; thus, your account seems to me to be rather more externalistic than the one I just gave. I’m not sure if there might not be some Kantian worry about the knowability of the things themselves, versus the phenomena they give rise to, here, but then I suppose that just leads to the mystery of reality…

    Oh, and thanks for correcting my typo!

  13. 13. Sean C. says:

    So I’m a recent conscious entities convert from Bakkers website.

    I just started reading the book. Not far enough to shed light on the hard problem of qualia. First off that is the hard problem right.

    Second if I wrote a program that took in sensory information. And could tell itself meaningful stories of the world around it. Would its experience of qualia be significantly different from our difference in experience of Qualia. And if it is different. Doesn’t it still deserve compassion.

  14. 14. Sci says:

    @Sean C: Do you mean a physical replica of a brain made from non-biological materials or just some program running on a Turing machine?

    I’d say the former deserves the benefit of the doubt while the latter can be dismissed as a toy unless computationalists can solve the Hard Problems of Subjectivity and Intentionality.

  15. 15. Sean C. says:

    @Sci: I meant a program running on a turing machine. And I am assuming the program can generate meaningful material; relevant stories that it tells itself, stories that bring it closer to manipulating the environment it itself lives in. Whether it is trying to convince a person to fall in love, or get it’s battery back without the bomb attached to it, something of that level meaning.

    I think, and I don’t have a good grasp of the easy/hard problem polemic, what I am saying is that if we solved the easy problems, then wouldn’t its thoughts (stories) about it’s own experience deserve to be attended to.

    It is a quake like a duck argument.

  16. 16. Sci says:

    @Sean C: There’s a lot of back and forth in the last few posts about this, I can’t do justice to the pro-computational argument because for me it’s obviously false. There do seem to be some interesting arguments in favor of computationalism but I personally remain unconvinced.

    As the skeptic Massimo notes, while people can make bold claims about how the biological substrate of the brain is unnecessary so far the only place for consciousness accepted under science is in skulls containing brains. Until we solve the problems of subjectivity and intentionality we should not (IMO anyway) be too quick to confer these attributes of the mental to Turing Machines.

    I figure we should answer some basic biological questions and then, perhaps in a few decades, come back to the problems of consciousness.

  17. 17. VicP says:

    Peter: “There’s nothing in all this that suggests anything wrong or incomplete about physics; no need for any dualism or magic realm.”

    There is nothing wrong with physics except the bridge to chemical, biochemical and cellular biology. The mechanical explanation which suffices for chemistry may explain each biological cell metabolically as a closed system, but the missing forces may be the gap for neurons.

    “This” “That” also go with “What” “Where” “When” “Who” “How”

    Interestingly the “Who” is also what the owl says, or the symbol of philosophy. Who; denotes the perception of another agent. How; in English is the simple rearrangement of those letters. How; denotes scientific causation, as well as the fact that each and every agent has how built into him as we select the nerves that run through the spinal chord to move the body.

  18. 18. Tomas says:

    My current ontology is that reality is a structure that consists of relations and relata, and qualia are the relata, that is, things that have relations among them.

    The most fundamental relations are those of difference and sameness, or part and whole. All logically possible structures based on these fundamental relations are captured by set theory: the relation between a set and its members is a whole-part relation, and the relations of sameness and difference are expressed in the fact that members of a set have something in common (the same) based on which they are gathered into a set, and also something different from each other. Set theory is a theory of relations. All mathematics is based on set theory. And science focuses on relations too. Logical relations are relations among sets too. Causality is a special case of logical relations that involves the arrow of time, where consequences logically follow from causes.

    But if there are relations of sameness and difference then there must also be something that is same and something that is different. If there is a relation between part and whole then there must also be something that is a part and something that is a whole. This something is not a relation but a relatum. We may describe a relatum by its relations to other relata – which things it is different from, which things it is the same as, which things it is a part of, which things are its parts. But all these descriptions refer to things OTHER than the thing we are describing. They actually describe what the thing is NOT – they are negative descriptions of the thing. A description that says what the thing IS, a positive description, cannot be based on relations. Or, if you like, it can only be based on the “relation” of self-reference.

    Red is red. There is nothing else to be said about what red IS. But of course, we can also describe red by reference to what it is NOT – to tomatoes, cherries, blood, electromagnetic wavelengths, neuronal firings etc. The positive (non-relational) and negative (relational) definitions are linked, because they are integrated in one thing – redness.

  19. 19. Tomas says:

    @Emergent C:

    “Imagine all the requirements for, and properties of, an individual consciousness, with its own qualia, are present in the set of things C. On earth at the moment, there might then be 6 billion sets of C, that is, C subscript 1 to 6 billion. Each one of these sets has the quiddity of consciousness, but only one has the hacceity of my consciousness. What is this extra property that places ‘me’ in one C rather than an equal other?”

    Your unique property would be a unique position in spacetime in relation to the other Cs. This would enable you to perceive yourself as distinct from the others, in a particular spatiotemporal position relative to them.

  20. 20. Emergent C says:

    Tomas: “Your unique property would be a unique position in spacetime in relation to the other Cs. This would enable you to perceive yourself as distinct from the others, in a particular spatiotemporal position relative to them.”

    Thanks Thomas, I really enjoyed your post and nod towards set theory.

    I see haecceity as the “me-ness” that will stop if this body (now typing) is destroyed. The quiddity of consciousness would persist.

    If my space-time position grants that haeceity, that (0,0,0) or that ‘event’ point in Minkowski space, to the set of things C which is a consciousness, then the questions persists; why ‘this’ place in space-time?

    Alternatively, the notion arises that there is a co-tangent to a ‘point’ within a manifold of all that exists for our universe, which can bestow origin-status, or haecceity on any of the sets of consciousness within it.

    I think this then begs: can ‘we’ (that ‘subjectivity’ or true haecceity) ever ‘die’?

    The fact that ‘I’ exist ‘now’ with haecceity, to me, is extraordinary to an extreme degree. The existence of anything raised to the power of the existence of me raised to the power of haecceity then to the likelihood of it being within this fraction of universal ‘time’ can only be answered with some kind of anthropic viewpoint. For wherever ‘my’ haecceity is not, the manifold of everything, including a vector for time, is irrelevant. That hypervolume does not contain me, but is not a haecceity of experiencing death with a watch on. Therefore, you could pass through every point within this volume an infinite number of times, but only when it come to ‘me’ will I be conscious. We should experience this as seemless, persistent haecceity.

    If haecceity exists, maybe within a cotangent bundle to the manifold containing all that is required for a set C, then if a vector allows persistence of haecceity as we age, then perpendicular vectors could allow persistent haecceity eg. throughout all other possible sets of C.

    I wonder whether set theory of differential geometry is best for hosting a model of this scenario?

    It’s not easy to set this out via text like this.

  21. 21. Emergent C says:

    correction ‘…set theory OR differential geometry…’

  22. 22. Arnold Trehub says:

    @ Emergent: “If my space-time position grants that haeceity, that (0,0,0) or that ‘event’ point in Minkowski space, to the set of things C which is a consciousness, then the questions persists; why ‘this’ place in space-time?”

    This is a biological question, not a mathematical one. An answer is proposed in “Where Am I? Redux”, here:

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/236952250_Where_Am_I_Redux

  23. 23. Emergent C says:

    Arnold – thank you. Very interesting indeed.

    The question remains for me. Any model, mathematical or other that could help with this would be great.

    Why THIS volumetric surround, created by THIS retinoid system, creating THIS centred sense of self amongst many similar centred selves.

  24. 24. Arnold Trehub says:

    Emergent,

    Your retinoid space around your self-locus (I!) is the only world space with which you are perspectively acquainted. The same is true for me and every other conscious creature.
    So each has a unique perspective on the world formed by the evolutionary emergence of brains with the neuronal mechanism of consciousness.

  25. 25. Emergent C says:

    Arnold – I’m happy with your proposition. I’m saying something that does not challenge this.

    I can’t get into the main body of your paper. Is retinoid space conceptual or is it a neuroanatomical/ neurophysiological assembly?

    Greenfield posits it’s the fleeting waves of activation of neuronal assemblies that act as physiological correlates of consciousness.

  26. 26. Arnold Trehub says:

    Emergent,

    Retinoid space is my theoretical model of a putative neurophysiological mechanism/assembly in all conscious brains. I have detailed the minimal neuronal structure and dynamics of the retinoid system, including retinoid space, in *The Cognitive Brain* (MIT Press 1991). You can see a summary of this mechanism in my paper “Space, self, and the theater of consciousness” on my Research Gate page.

  27. 27. Tom Clark says:

    Emergent C, I’m not sure I completely grasp the import of your “why this?” question, but you might find this article on death and subjectivity of interest since it suggests there’s a kind of generic continuity of consciousness that we should anticipate at death:
    http://www.naturalism.org/death.htm

    Re the inexpressibility of qualia, seems to me it’s a function of the fact that in modeling the world (whether subjectively or intersubjectively), there has to be a bottom-level set of elements which themselves can’t be broken apart, otherwise the model becomes unstable. A representational system can’t be indefinitely recursive in its representational work, otherwise it’s doomed. Some things about it have to be cognitively impenetrable to itself. Since they aren’t decomposable, basic qualia (e.g., red) aren’t describable in themselves, as essences – that’s what it is to be a quality.

    So we actually don’t and can’t know anything about basic qualities of experience apart from their relations; we can only recognize and name them on that basis (one of Tomas’s points above). They aren’t objects of knowledge, but elements deployed in a conscious subject’s knowing, representing, describing. They are, in fact, arbitrary. As of course are the signs and symbols we use in intersubjective, conceptual and mathematical descriptions of reality. And as Peter suggests, in these descriptions qualia simply drop out. So we don’t find qualia in intersubjective accounts of the world.

    As for things in themselves (many nice remarks above, thanks!), the epistemological project of knowing assumes there is a model-independent reality to which the model corresponds. But since knowledge is always in terms of representations (qualitative or conceptual/mathematical), we’re never presented with any essence of the thing-in-itself reality (cf. Hawking and Mlodinov’s model-dependent realism – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Model-dependent_realism). Of necessity, reality always appears to knowers dressed up in descriptions, never undressed, so to speak. But we can’t escape the idea that something model-independent is out there, waiting to be grokked in its true nature.

  28. 28. Emergent C says:

    Arnold – thank you, I found a copy of your paper.

    A few Q. if I may:

    By retinoid system, you mean the (I recall rudimentary bits) retina, optic nerve, LGN, some subcortical afferents and the radiation to occipital cortex? The visual system essentially?

    Sight is so overwhelmingly a huge source of afferent information for us, but why is this system, in principle, favoured over others? Wouldn’t this mean a congenitally blind person has a strikingly different self-locus (which they may have, I don’t know – even fMRI studies are not going to answer that). Maybe psychometric tests on such people would be interesting.

    In some animals, and with neuroanatomical vestigial hints at earlier phyllogeny in our rhinencephalon, smell has pre-eminence. This could model a similar world, of depth (3D equivalent).

    The neurophysiology espoused is presumably similar to Greenfield’s neuronal assemblies but there is a specific selection of host for self-locus, only in the visual system?

    Is a theatre-of-consciousness notion, not an invidious approach these days (Multiple drafts etc)?

    Please forgive me if I’ve misunderstood.

  29. 29. Emergent C says:

    Tom – thanks! I’ve not seen that before. I’m thrilled to have just read your paper.

    The Death, Nothingness and Subjectivity paper is exactly what I’ve been thinking in relation to the ‘experience’ of death. Death, and fear of death, do seem to have the meme of belief in ‘eternal darkness’, or ‘that good night’ – that is a positive experience of nothingness somehow – which surely, death cannot be by definition!

    Death cannot be an experience – ‘where we are not’ an infinity of time can flash by in an instant. All we can experience is positive experience – life.

    A corollary to this might be, that if consciousness (and haecceity) is possible at all, and if we’ve ‘lived’ once, then it seems fair odds that ‘we’ might have the experience of continual life; seemless consciousness. Maybe as another person, or at another time (trying to marry it up with a little physics as an experiment: just change any vector in the manifold).

    I think my quest for haecceity is a secular quest for a soul in some respects. I’m looking for the persistence of a certain subjectivity, not ‘me’, but some claim to another ‘haecceity’ at another space-time.

    If we believe that the roll of time is an illusion, time is a static entity, a dimension within a manifold of possibility-space, then this could broaden the picture creatively. It could give a whole new take on ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’!

  30. 30. Emergent C says:

    My thoughts have traveled much along similar lines to Tom, and I’ve been through a spell of fearing eternal consciousness.

    Haecceity, for me, is an attempt to find the essence of the difference between one subjectivity and another.

    What would be the experience I would have if I were in an aeroplane that crashed at 500mph? It could be that since ‘I’ was not there once it crashed, I was not anywhere. If not anywhere, I wouldn’t know or experience this. Could it be that the next experience I had was completion of my journey without a crash? In a quantum universe, this might make sense.

    And what at the end of a long life? Another ‘person’ but continuity of subjectivity?

    I’m looking for that essence which bestows the subjectivity that I so clearly have now. I wonder whether this thing exists as a separate fundamental property from consciousness itself.

  31. 31. Arnold Trehub says:

    Emergent,

    Retinoid space contains representations from all sensory modalities, not only the visual modality. I think you will get a better grasp of the model if you look at “Evolution’s Gift: Subjectivity and the Phenomenal World” and “A Foundation for the Scientific Study of Consciousness” on my Research Gate page.

  32. 32. Tomas says:

    @Emergent C

    “If my space-time position grants that haeceity, that (0,0,0) or that ‘event’ point in Minkowski space, to the set of things C which is a consciousness, then the questions persists; why ‘this’ place in space-time?”

    I think all logical possibilities exist, simply by virtue of being logically consistent, by virtue of being possibilities. Logical consistency = existence. (It is of course an important question in what sense or context a possibility exists, but this question seems secondary from the basic existential viewpoint.) You are one of possibilities. To ask why you are you is like asking why number 5 is number 5 (instead of being number 6, or a triangle, for instance). Sorry if I misunderstood the question.

    “I see haecceity as the “me-ness” that will stop if this body (now typing) is destroyed. The quiddity of consciousness would persist.”

    It seems to me you see haecceity (individual consciousness) as an instantiation/exemplification of quiddity (general consciousness), like for example a red ball is an instantiation of redness. I am struggling with understanding general (uninstantiated) properties; I don’t know how to imagine them. For example, if I try to imagine redness it is always a particular red object, even if it is just pure red space. Or if I try to imagine what number 2 is, I always imagine a pair of particular objects. So I don’t know what to think of general consciousness either, it might be something quite different than what we normally understand as consciousness (in individuated form) and perhaps it doesn’t even exist in any other way than in its particular instantiations.

  33. 33. Emergent C says:

    Arnold.

    I’ve read your paper “Evolution’s Gift: Subjectivity and the Phenomenal World”. It would be interesting to have a discussion over a cup of tea, though time and distance are likely against us.

    Is the paper referred to in the Penrose and Hameroff book, C. and the U.? I’ve a couple of Penrose books (really like them), but not that one.

  34. 34. Emergent C says:

    Tomas, yes, there’s something about ‘logical consistency=existence’. As you say, it still leaves many questions, but it’s a start.

    I think my line of questioning is hard to explain. I’m pursuing it because it throws up some interesting perspectives, and I haven’t been able to show it’s a ‘category error’ or wrong question. It can sound solipsistic too, but I believe it is not.

    I’m really interested in what it is that is capable of experience? Is it many things that come and go, or is subjective experience as fundamental a property as consciousness (Chalmers and others). Is consciousness and subjective experience a tightly-locked bundle; indivisible? Can a molecule of qualia be broken into atoms of consciousness and atoms of subjectivity? Is qualia an atom? Is consciousness with subjectivity atomistic?

    Am I guilt of a left-hemisphere metaphor error – wrongfully extracting of a part from the whole and losing its meaning, then processing it, and putting it back to no avail?

    Am I taking a particle view of a wave of consciousness?

    Another way, is to ask what continuities of subjective consciousness are there? For instance, there appears to be one along an axis of time.

    I’m trying to describe my quest by throwing questions and ideas out, around the target, as the target is hard to clinch in an unambiguous question.

  35. 35. Emergent C says:

    BTW – I read the article on dividing qualia, and agree that our definition of qualia really means that it cannot be broken down; not according to our experience. But who knows – maybe our ‘qualia’ is a first century ‘atom’ which could not be broken down by definition then. Who would have thought ‘universe’, would have suffered a similar change in meaning from everything, to one ‘everything’ amongst other possible ‘everythings’.

  36. 36. Arnold Trehub says:

    Emergent,

    “Evolution’s Gift: Subjectivity and the Phenomenal World” is included as a chapter in the Penrose and Hameroff book.

  37. 37. Scott Bakker says:

    Peter: I’m curious as what you think of this: https://rsbakker.wordpress.com/2015/02/07/introspection-explained/

    Aren’t we talking about the same thing, only you from the standpoint of peculiar properties, and me from the standpoint of cognitive limitations?

    Sergio: The ineffability of experience as an unavoidable side-effect is a great nut-shell for BBT. Once you accept that all cognition is bounded, it simply follows that metacognition is radically bounded. We should expect radical losses in dimensionality and ‘cognitive degrees of freedom’ when it comes to our brain’s attempts to solve its own operations. On my account, it makes no more sense to ask what qualia ‘are’ than it does to ask what letters ‘mean.’

    I find Dennett’s arguments as forceful as you, but he suffers the abductive bind that dialectically hobbles all eliminativists. Since almost all naturalistic argumentation on these topics is abductive, attempts to provide ‘best explanations’ of our pretheoretical intuitions regarding X, Dennett will always seem to be ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ or ‘changing the subject.’ The fact is, there’s two different consciousnesses that need to be explained here, the consciousness we actually have, and the consciousness we appear to have. Short some way of explaining the latter, short of having some abductive horse in the race, the eliminativist is stranded at the dialectical crossroads. This is where BBT comes in, I think, as a best explanation for the vexing appearance of consciousness.

    Tom: “Some things about it have to be cognitively impenetrable to itself. Since they aren’t decomposable, basic qualia (e.g., red) aren’t describable in themselves, as essences – that’s what it is to be a quality.”

    Now if only I could convince you to apply the same reasoning to representations!

    Sci: That’s one of Massimo’s weaker canards, if you ask me. The point isn’t to get rid of unexplained explainers (I’m not what such a discourse would look like), but make them do real work. The fact that decisive second-order knowledge of causality escapes us is neither here nor there when it comes to the issue of naturalization.

  38. 38. VicP says:

    Scott and other scientific and creative people:

    You will find this fascinating. Panel includes artists, mathematician, psychologist and two neuroscientists including Douglas Fields. Worth listening to entire thing. Discussion begins after about ten minutes.

    Gets more technical at 30 minutes and Fields discusses glial cells which communicate ‘non-electrically’. However non-electrically does not mean you can’t discount the other forces of nature. Also may want to think about heuristics as you listen later on in his discussion.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbE_jVT1NiY

    The entire notion of the glial cells being separated from the neurons makes you wonder of Einstein’s notion of space being bent or intercepted by an object. Note I said ‘wonder of’, not wonder about. Did Albert flip intentionality?

  39. 39. Sci says:

    @Bakker: Fair enough on Massimo, though his note about causality was really part of what I see as his overall message urging us to wait on the science before making philosophical leaps.

    That said, I do think there is something which smells of intellectual dishonesty when he claims the final naturalist picture will be reconcilable with some kind positive, life-affirming humanism. But then as you’ve noted he’s not alone in that – Dennet plays the same PR game.

  40. 40. Matt K says:

    Thank you for this article. You have given me much to think about.

    I’m not even an amateur philosopher by any means, but I’ve always noticed that there is always some sort of wall that I always hit when trying to describe that strange line between the subconscious and conscious experience. Perhaps that wall has been haecceity.

  41. 41. Sergio Graziosi says:

    @Peter #10:
    I don’t suppose we are willing to (re)visit the “what is knowledge” rabbit-hole, so I guess we can settle for a (possibly provisional) agreement. I can’t let Long John Silver alone, though. If we start with a naturalistic/physicalist assumption (or aim), Long John Silver does exist, not as a person in flesh and blood, but as a concept in our minds, and therefore ex-hypothesis as some kind of physical phenomenon, presumably within our brains, in the form of a neuro-something. Realising this doesn’t help much as it leaves with the question of how the mental image relates to its physical form, and where we should place the causal power: does it sit in the mind or brain? I’m solidly with Arnold’s dual-aspect monism on this one, but until the physical side is identified and understood the matter remains speculative, so there is little progress to be made in this direction (for now).

    However, the above does have some implications for the illusionist/eliminativist camp (below).

    @Scott #37: Glad to hear I wasn’t misrepresenting your views. I have no sympathies for declaring mental phenomena “illusions”, I don’t mind saying “they are not what they seem to be” but I find the illusion term far too strong in practice. It backfires rhetorically, in nasty and deeply unhelpful ways (I may be rephrasing your “the eliminativist is stranded at the dialectical crossroads” here, or maybe not, I’m afraid your language keeps baffling me). That’s probably why it took me an awful long time to place Metzinger in my radar. Long John Silver might be a borderline example, but I see a very clear parallel: he may not be an actual person, so one would be tempted to conclude that his existence is “illusory”, because after all he doesn’t exist as a person. However, concluding that Long John Silver doesn’t exist, without the “as a person” qualification, is just plain wrong, and would lead us to conclude that we can reason, talk and guide our actions on the basis of stuff that don’t exist and doesn’t have causal powers. Consciousness, qualia, phenomenal experience, intentionality, even free will, all exist in more or less the same way that Long John Silver does. I’m pretty sure that Dennett and other eliminativists know all this very well and would agree with the above, but the fact remains that once their position gets reported or summarised the delicate qualifications tend to crumble and get substituted with plenty of straw. I have my own post on “Reductionism generates illusionary illusions” (provisional title) in my pipeline, I hope I’ll remember to let you know when it’s out.

    More in general, the final piece of this bit of scaffolding is perfectly summarised by Tom (#27)

    seems to me it’s a function of the fact that in modeling the world (whether subjectively or intersubjectively), there has to be a bottom-level set of elements which themselves can’t be broken apart, otherwise the model becomes unstable. A representational system can’t be indefinitely recursive in its representational work, otherwise it’s doomed.

    (Note: in computational(!) terms, “doomed” becomes “never halts” ;-), and the model doesn’t become unstable, it never gets a chance to be built)
    What really bugs me is that I genuinely fail to understand why this needs to be remarked over and over. For me, whoever wants to uphold the Hardness of the Hard Problem needs to refute the above, but I’ve never found anything that does try (or that looks like a serious attempt to my biased eyes) – All: do provide examples in case I’m just ignorant!

    On the other hand, those that wish to downplay the Hardness, just need to point to the same argument, and say: therefore the Hard problem happens, it has to be there. Why people jump to the “it’s an illusion” conclusions, and generate one more explananda is beyond me.

    @Sci #7:

    I figure we should answer some basic biological questions and then, perhaps in a few decades, come back to the problems of consciousness.

    I’m slowly figuring out where you stand (I hope I am!). Yes, basic biological answers have to be the driving force to brig us forward. However, progress in basic neuroscience is hindered by a chronic lack of suitable theories. This is why I’m interested in the subject: the first step has to be theoretical, we need something that can provide a decent attacking point for basic science to start ordering/interpreting the gargantuan amount of “natural-history-like” data that is being accumulated. I believe I’ve said this before: it’s a chicken and egg problem.

    Oh well, there is some order in the rant above, I hope you guys can discern it, apologies if not.

  42. 42. Tomas says:

    @Tom Clark

    “Re the inexpressibility of qualia, seems to me it’s a function of the fact that in modeling the world (whether subjectively or intersubjectively), there has to be a bottom-level set of elements which themselves can’t be broken apart, otherwise the model becomes unstable. A representational system can’t be indefinitely recursive in its representational work, otherwise it’s doomed.”

    I wonder, when the representational system hits its bottom level below which it cannot further analyze, how does the system know what quale to assign there? For example, how does it know whether to assign red rather than blue when it cannot go further to discern a difference between a structure associated with red and a structure associated with blue?

  43. 43. Arnold Trehub says:

    Sergio: “… the first step has to be theoretical, we need something that can provide a decent attacking point for basic science to start ordering/interpreting the gargantuan amount of “natural-history-like” data that is being accumulated. I believe I’ve said this before: it’s a chicken and egg problem.”

    Why wouldn’t you accept the retinoid theory of consciousness as a promising “first step”. It has been modeled in detailed neuronal mechanisms which have explained/predicted many previously unexplained conscious experiences.

  44. 44. Sci says:

    @Sergio: “However, progress in basic neuroscience is hindered by a chronic lack of suitable theories…the first step has to be theoretical, we need something that can provide a decent attacking point for basic science to start ordering/interpreting the gargantuan amount of “natural-history-like” data that is being accumulated.”

    Ah, I can see that being a hindrance in some respects. Perhaps Arnold is correct and we can advance with partial explanations, but when the debate turns to philosophy it increasingly makes me wonder if understanding some smaller aspect of consciousness (such as how we end up experiencing smells) might make the difference.

    Perhaps something coming out of recent examination of “quantum biology” will make a difference. A lot of the research remains inconclusive if not outright controversial, but ideally it might prune away some of the existing proposals.

    @Arnold:

    Beyond the retinoid theory, what other theories do you see as being viable alternatives? How do we select which theories should be given some priority and how do we go about pruning the tree, so to speak? Or is this pruning idea simply not a viable route in your opinion?

  45. 45. Peter says:

    If we start with a naturalistic/physicalist assumption (or aim), Long John Silver does exist, not as a person in flesh and blood, but as a concept in our minds…

    But I’m not talking about the concept of LJS, any more than I’m now addressing my remarks to the concept of Sergio. I’m talking about the wily old pirate. You really think I can’t refer to LJS? I can make the true observation that LJS had a wooden leg. If I’m perforce talking about a concept, that’s false, because no concept ever had a wooden leg. Don’t even think about saying that concepts can have conceptual wooden legs…!

  46. 46. Sean C. says:

    @ Peter: haecceity; so is it like the “planck unit of measure” for cognitive science?

  47. 47. Peter says:

    Scott; I don’t know; I don’t think so, but then from your point of view I think I wouldn’t think so…

    I hope that’s not completely unintelligible.

  48. 48. Peter says:

    …is it like the “Planck unit of measure” for cognitive science?
    You’re kind of beyond my physics repertoire, I think!

  49. 49. Sean C. says:

    Now worries…in string theory it is the smallest unit of (theoretically) measurable time/distance.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_length

    Maybe I am way off base.

    Scott, Peter. a particularity of cognitive science, The particular would be the stuff just beyond cognitive limitation. I’m really just guessing though… any illuminations appreciated.

  50. 50. Peter says:

    Ah, I see – the objective physical properties are all accessible, but the “thing in itself” that has the haecceity is beyond the cognitive limitation? I think that is sort of right but it goes a step beyond where I’ve got to.

  51. 51. Sergio Graziosi says:

    @Arnold #43

    Why wouldn’t you accept the retinoid theory of consciousness as a promising “first step”[?]

    You’ve cornered me here! I’m not sure how to truthfully answer, in part because of sheer ignorance (as I’ve written a few weeks back, I would need to refresh my memory on the details of retinoid theory [RT]), in part because I don’t think I can honestly say “I don’t accept the retinoid theory of consciousness as a promising first step”.

    I’ll be a bit more specific, then, and will not use any sugar-coating, apologies for the directness. I do think that RT is promising, I think most of your metaphysical/philosophical positions are essentially correct (along with Metzinger, Revonsuo, Scott himself, Blackmore and others). I do have some worries on the importance of space and vision and on the level of details that RT proposes in terms of neural networks. It is easy to expect that some form of self-sustained activity (your autaptic neurons) is necessary to sustain cognitive functions (short-term memory in primis), but finding evidence that such neurons exist is not going to convince me that “therefore the only possible explanation is that the brain is organised in layers of retinoid registries“.
    Furthermore, there is a problem with positing the existence of class cells as there most likely would need to be far too many (in order to accommodate all classes), so I would be inclined to expect to find “class network patterns” that recruit different subsets of neurons for different classes. But this is wild speculation, my main point is that from mostly agreeable theoretical and very abstract considerations RT jumps directly to the neural network details, and I think it tries to describe too much too soon.
    First of all, we are still busy finding out all the different kinds of neurons and synapses, not to mention who-connects-with-who (and can’t even start thinking of generating decent accounts of how connections change, while they change a lot), but we know that it is dynamic and terribly complicated. If, on the contrary, the neural network organisation was following the pattern proposed by RT, I would expect that we would have found plenty of more detailed supporting evidence by now.

    So, forgive me for being very blunt, but my own egocentric assessment of RT is: the philosophical side is OK, follows the path I wish to pursue, and is not unique to RT. However, RT has failed to generate enough consensus on the purely theoretical side, and this may be because some more heavy philosophical lifting is necessary (and the chicken and egg problem doesn’t help, so this consideration is weak and circumstantial). What is unique (or looks unique to me) to RT is the kind of neural network organisation it proposes, and I’m not ready to buy it; I just don’t think it will be able to account for all the monstrous complexity that we are (still busy) finding.
    In short, the unique side of RT looks wishful to me, the more convincing side is not unique, and I still think it would benefit from a couple of additional developments.
    Following this (brutal) line of thought, I should conclude that RT is interesting but a dead end nevertheless. However, I don’t think this is my final conclusion: I think RT combines plenty of useful concepts, and therefore I’m happy to say that is a promising first step. Having said that, I immediately wish to move on and proceed with step 2, but I do think that doing so would mean to change RT beyond recognition.

    As I’ve said on top: it’s complicated. You may well conclude that I’m confused and that I refuse to commit to one theory or the other. This is most likely true; furthermore, as I have my own theory to propose, it would be an easy-to-explain self-serving strategy (I dismiss existing theories because I want to promote my own). I hope this isn’t the case, but I’m happy to admit that it looks that way, and therefore it probably is.

  52. 52. Sergio Graziosi says:

    @Sci #44

    when the debate turns to philosophy it increasingly makes me wonder if understanding some smaller aspect of consciousness (such as how we end up experiencing smells) might make the difference

    I have the same feeling: the philosophical side won’t be easily moved by biological details that are far away form the central problem. Moreover, I see my own version of the Hard Problem (“why would any mechanism produce phenomenal experience?”) as philosophical. Whatever the answer, it requires argumentation, hoping that mere observations will provide an not-debatable solution is wishful thinking, the matter is too horribly confusing from the start.

    Also:

    Perhaps something coming out of recent examination of “quantum biology” will make a difference. A lot of the research remains inconclusive if not outright controversial, but ideally it might prune away some of the existing proposals.

    I presume you refer to the idea that quantum effects play a role in the Key and Lock mechanism that initiate olfactory transduction (activate the cascade that makes an olfactory receptor fire). If that’s the case, I don’t see why we would hope that such a mechanism would tell us anything about consciousness at all. I could in theory change the original olfactory cell with an artificial chemical receptor and produce the same effects. The transduction mechanism at the receptor level tells us exactly nothing about how phenomenal experience may come into existence. Of course, this may be my own bias: unlike you, I find Orch-OR to be manifestly unable to explain anything at all, I also think it is biologically implausible, but that merely counts as a hunch: I may be very wrong, and be justified only by the fact that I’ve received a formal ‘biology’ education (and that therefore I find it difficult to see the merits of unorthodox approaches).

  53. 53. Sergio Graziosi says:

    @Peter #45
    Nice! 🙂

    I’m tempted to go and visit that other over-crowded rabbit hole: what is an illusion? But you are forbidding me to do so, as the conclusion would be the one you want me not to even think.

    The point I was trying to make doesn’t need much speleology, though: many of us do think we have qualia (I do, I do think there is something it is like to be me). Thus, what we need to explain is what causes these thoughts, with the reasonable expectation that we may well find it appropriate to call whatever we’ll find either qualia or something that generates qualia. In both cases, this something will have causal powers, making talk of a-causality so manifestly moot that it never ceases to astonish me.

    In other words, qualia are either directly causal or they are a direct side effect of something else, an epiphenomenon of sorts. That’s fine, but taking the second possibility as necessarily true, and then concentrating solely on the mystery it entails is predictably fruitless: if qualia are indeed a causal dead end, the only way we can hope to understand them better is by looking at what causes them (as otherwise we can only speculate and will never have any hope of finding empirical confirmation of our speculations).

  54. 54. Sci says:

    @Sergio: Oh I agree Orch-OR doesn’t actually solve the Hard Problem, nor would any discovery from quantum biology. However I do think could aid us in solving the easy part of the Hard Problem: What properties of the brain’s composition and structure allow us to have consciousness?

    Obviously having that knowledge isn’t the final answer, as the question of how(or perhaps if) any inert matter could produce mental phenomena remains, but it seems a necessary bridge to cross.

    Basically my hope is quantum biology *might* help prune away the number of possible theories as to the necessary physical workings needed for mental phenomena. My hope is that there are other discoveries which could cut down the number of potentially viable theories.

    Personally as fascinating as philosophy is the debate in that arena seems to be at an impasse.

  55. 55. Arnold Trehub says:

    Sci: “How do we select which theories should be given some priority and how do we go about pruning the tree, so to speak?”

    Consider the situation depicted in the link below. In the critical SMTT experiment, the subject experiences a dot that is oscillating vertically suddenly change into a vivid hallucination of a complete triangle that is oscillating horizontally. This critical experimental result is explained/predicted by the properties of the retinoid model of consciousness. Would it be too draconian to suggest that we should prune any theoretical model of consciousness that cannot provide a principled explanation for the crucial findings in the SMTT experiments?

    https://www.researchgate.net/file.PostFileLoader.html?id=5540e7bacf57d714698b4595&key=15a3e8ca-6472-4282-a3a2-34caa9855cd3

  56. 56. Arnold Trehub says:

    Sergio: “What is unique (or looks unique to me) to RT is the kind of neural network organisation it proposes, and I’m not ready to buy it; I just don’t think it will be able to account for all the monstrous complexity that we are (still busy) finding.”

    This is just the point. There is a vast domain of neuronal complexity in the brain and a theoretical model is supposed to constrain our search space to just those minimal neuronal mechanisms that can explain/predict conscious phenomena that we could not previously explain. So the main objective is to be able to show by natural observation (e.g., the moon illusion, size constancy) and experimental tests (e.g., SMTT, phi phenomena) that the proposed model successfully explains/predicts relevant conscious experiences. The challenge is for alternative theories to do the job as well or better.

  57. 57. Sergio Graziosi says:

    @Arnold #56
    That’s agreed (fully and without reservations). I’ve just lazily explained my reservations, because you’ve cornered me and I’m not officially in the game, so I can afford showing my hand (and reveal that I hardly hold any card at all).
    If I had something that was even remotely comparable to RT (in sophistication, maturity, level of detail, empirical backing, etc) I would be boasting it all over the place.

  58. 58. Tom Clark says:

    @ Tomas in 42

    “when the representational system hits its bottom level below which it cannot further analyze, how does the system know what quale to assign there?”

    One possibility: a particular phenomenal hue (e.g., basic blue, basic red) corresponds to the cluster of specific values of each component dimension of neurally instantiated hue state space, and its relations to its cousins are fixed by the relative proximity or remoteness to other hues along these dimensions. Its stability – the reliable re-occurrence or moment-to-moment sameness of a phenomenal hue or other quale – is plausibly a function of the physical and functional stability of our sensory coding apparatus and the world it represents. As a non-conceptual sensory representation, it constitutes information fed to the sorts of categorizing, higher-level belief systems that constitute concept-based cognition (from http://www.naturalism.org/kto.htm#Essence)

    @ Scott in 37:

    “Now if only I could convince you to apply the same reasoning to representations!”

    On how the recursive limits of representation – a certain sort of blindness – might entail the existence of qualities for the system, have a look at http://www.naturalism.org/kto.htm#Limits

    And Scott, I’d like to hear how you distinguish between “the consciousness we actually have, and the consciousness we appear to have.”

    @ Sergio in 41:

    “What really bugs me is that I genuinely fail to understand why this [the point that there has to be a bottom-level set of representational elements which themselves can’t be broken apart] needs to be remarked over and over.”

    I don’t see this point being made that often, but it might, as you suggest, be one key to solving the hard problem as you characterize it in #52: “why would any mechanism produce phenomenal experience?” I appreciate your qualia realism (their non-illusoriness).

  59. 59. Tomas says:

    @ Tom Clark

    “One possibility: a particular phenomenal hue (e.g., basic blue, basic red) corresponds to the cluster of specific values of each component dimension of neurally instantiated hue state space”

    So, there is a neural structure. Why should there be a non-structural representation of this structure? Couldn’t the representation be purely structural as well, like a string of zeroes and ones (groups of firing and non-firing neurons)?

    And if there is indeed a non-structural representation of the neural structure, couldn’t it be the neural thing-in-itself? We would have access to such a thing-in-itself because we ARE this thing-in-itself.

  60. 60. Tomas says:

    @ Peter 45

    “Don’t even think about saying that concepts can have conceptual wooden legs…!”

    Why not? We talk about Long John Silver as an entity that only exists in the context of a novel. So his wooden leg only exists in the context of the novel as well. Concepts can have an internal structure and LJS’s wooden leg is part of the structure of the concept of LJS.

  61. 61. Sean C. says:

    I don’t want to give the impression I am speaking for Bakker. As is most likely understood I am a little out of depth in this conversation. But I find it fascinating. I am trying to write a machine that makes meaningful stories with a large community of people. So it has been on my mind.

  62. 62. Peter says:

    Come on, concepts with wooden legs?

    Do you really think I’m unable to refer to things that don’t exist?

  63. 63. Tomas says:

    Peter, what is existence? For me it is logical consistency.

  64. 64. Sean C. says:

    My experience hasn’t been consistent all the time…

  65. 65. Callan S. says:

    I think there’s some recursitory issue with ‘long john silver’. There is no ‘it’ to be having a causal effect or structure. What you do have is two or more people drawing on their history and summoning an image to mind that they think matches the words the other person has spoken. The issue being they are all so busy trying to match their vision with each other, that task distracts them from what they are actually doing. Thus you get a reference to ‘long john silver’ ‘existing’ or having effects. To tie it in better to the whole subject, one might consider the evocation of the words ‘subjective experience’ or ‘conciousness’ in perhaps the exact same way.

  66. 66. Sci says:

    @Arnold: Sadly the link you put up gives me a 404 error.

    On whether explaining SMTT is the right requirement, I guess you’d have to provide an argument as to why this should be the correct deciding factor for a theory to be considered acceptable? What if a theory cannot yet explain a SMTT illusion, but provides an explanation for some other set of extant findings?

    If you explain all this your work, feel free to tell me to run off and read your papers. I’ve begun but I’ve so many papers and books in the pile it might take me awhile.

  67. 67. Sci says:

    Goff apparently does some shoring up of the Knowledge and Conceivability Arguments:

    http://www.philipgoffphilosophy.com/uploads/1/4/4/4/14443634/chapter_4_-_the_knowledge_argument_1.pdf

    http://www.philipgoffphilosophy.com/uploads/1/4/4/4/14443634/chapter_5_-_the_conceivability_argument.pdf

    Haven’t gotten that far myself but more philosophically advanced readers might find it worthwhile.

  68. 68. Tomas says:

    @ Sean C. 64

    “My experience hasn’t been consistent all the time…”

    If it was truly inconsistent then it was impossible.

  69. 69. Jochen says:

    Another problem with letting Long John Silver be a concept, wooden legs or not, is that then the assertion ‘Long John Silver doesn’t exist’ seems meaningless: if LJS is a concept, then the sentence asserts the nonexistence of that concept, but for the conceptualist, in order for the sentence to have meaning, the concept of LJS needs to exist. Yet everybody understands what I mean by saying that (although why that’s the case is not an easy question, but I think Quine’s ‘On What There Is’ provides as definitive a solution to that problem one coule hope for). Furthermore, I’m clearly not thereby asserting the nonexistence of some concept!

  70. 70. Sergio Graziosi says:

    @Tom #58
    Thanks, you got me there. It is not the case that the point I’m pushing has been popping out everywhere and with regular (high) frequency. I happen to see it (in a delusional(!)) everywhere because (despite my best efforts) I end up visiting mostly the virtual places where the point is being made (here, naturalism.org, Scott’s, etc). My remark was thus wrong: the point is out there, but it’s not mainstream at all.

    I still have to wonder: how do we make it known enough so that people will either have to argument against it (and preserve the hardness of the hard problem) or concede the point and move on (the easy problems are hard enough, after all)?

  71. 71. Peter says:

    Tomas,

    That doesn’t make much sense to me, I’m afraid. I think of logical consistency as a property of premises and the like, so I’m not altogether clear how you’re applying it to things. If you mean things which are logically possible – things whose existence doesn’t imply a contradiction – the you seem to be saying that everything which is logically possible in fact exists. That’s obviously untrue (no naturally purple lemons); and if that isn’t enough it’s gravely problematic. Two things may each be logically possible in themselves without both being logically possible at the same time.
    But you may well mean something quite different

  72. 72. Tomas says:

    Peter,

    I don’t really see a difference between logical possibility and consistency because logical possibility only seems to make sense in some context that is defined by axioms, and so what is logically possible must also be logically consistent with the axioms of the context in which it exists. Specification of the context is crucial. If purple lemons don’t exist in the context of our planet and time then I say they are logically impossible (in this context). You may say “but if the conditions on our planet were different then purple lemons might be possible here – so they ARE possible”, however, in that case we would be talking about a different context (where conditions on our planet are different).

    Or if two things are not possible at the same time, that means they are not possible in a context where they would exist at the same time, for example dry earth and thriving fish. They don’t exist in such a context. In separate contexts though these two things may be possible and thus exist (fish in water, and dry earth away from water).

  73. 73. Sean C. says:

    Tomas, At least it sounds like you don’t spend much time asking yourself ‘what if things had been better’ questions. I give props to that.

  74. 74. Tom Clark says:

    Better late than never? Anyway, in response to Tomas in #59:

    “So, there is a neural structure. Why should there be a non-structural representation of this structure? Couldn’t the representation be purely structural as well, like a string of zeroes and ones (groups of firing and non-firing neurons)?”

    Well, for there to be structure, there have to be elements that get structured that themselves can’t be deconstructed. Phenomenal qualities appear to us as exactly such things: irreducible elements that get systematically structured as we model the world in our experience.

    “And if there is indeed a non-structural representation of the neural structure, couldn’t it be the neural thing-in-itself? We would have access to such a thing-in-itself because we ARE this thing-in-itself.”

    I wouldn’t say that qualia are themselves representations of a neural structure, rather I suggest they are how the content of neurally-instantiated representational structure ends up appearing to the system which consists of the structure. So there’s an instantiation requirement that restricts the existence of (the reality of) qualia to be only for the system. I wouldn’t put this in terms of our accessing a thing-in-itself (I don’t think that ever happens, even when we are that thing), but rather in terms of needing a level of non-deconstructable, cognitively impenetrable representational elements when modeling the world to guide behavior.

  75. 75. Sergio Graziosi says:

    @Scott #37 and All (as an add-on to #41)
    Just a short one to say that I’ve finally taken courage and published
    “Sources of error: the illusory illusions of reductionism”.
    Making explicit the reasons why the “illusion” term usually gets on my nerves.

    Feedback is most welcome, as always.

  76. 76. John Davey says:

    Peter


    “Qualia are certainly very odd; they have no causal effects”

    Isn’t this supposition ? The definitiveness of this statement suggests a level of neuroscience which just isn’t there.

    J

  77. 77. John Davey says:

    The zombie question is as daft as asking “imagine if there was a person like me in every way, except he had no body..”. We wouldn’t take it seriously, so why the suggestion that somebody can be like you if he doesn’t have your mental life ? The mental life of Homo Sapiens is what distinguishes the species after all.

    The qualia scientist tale reflects deeper on reality I think of the situation : humans (particularly mathematicians and computer scientists) confuse models of reality with actual reality. To be fair to physicists, they don’t suffer from this disorder as much. They know there is a world of stuff out there and they know broadly it can be mapped by the use of mathematical techniques. But that’s where the scope of mathematical techniques ends – there’s no deeper reality. Computer Scientists and mathematicians just see the algebra – the equations – and think “that’s the story !” when it isn’t – it’s just the latest approximation using the techniques of maths.

    Thus it’s no surprise when mary knows about colour systems but has yet to experience colour. Equally it’s no surprise when a Met Office scientist predicts a hurricane using a computer program but neither experiences or feels a hurricane when it happens, nor does the program generate the winds, the matter in motion, the energy, the actual stuff ..


    I suggest we can draw two tentative conclusions about qualia. First, knowledge of qualia is like knowledge of riding a bike: it cannot be transferred in words

    Not a limitation. Although consciousness deniers claim it is of course. But there are several ideas – time and space for instance – that cannot be conveyed in words. How do you “define” time and space except other than tautologically ? But nobody would claim that the lack of explicability of time and space invalidates physics.

    Consciousness itself is also such an idea – its either within your cognitive scope or it’s not. If there’s one thing a group of non-conscious zombies wouldn’t talk about, it’s consciousness. They wouldn’t know what it was or meant, the same as a human wouldn’t know what it feels like to navigate like a pigeon, using the magnetic field of the earth.

    J

  78. 78. John Davey says:

    peter


    “There’s nothing in all this that suggests anything wrong or incomplete about physics”

    It most certainly does – IF the claim of physics is to be a universal model capable of predicting all phenomena. If not, then fine.

    J

  79. 79. Peter says:

    Isn’t this supposition ?

    No, I take it to be pretty much true by definition. Qualia are the elements of experience not accounted for by physics; if they had causal effects they’d be part of physics, or to put it another way, thos things wouldn’t properly be qualia.

  80. 80. Peter says:

    I agree that the zombie hypothesis doesn’t really make sense, but the question of whether the zombie twin shares my mental life is complicated; I’m inclined to think he could share some aspects of it.
    I don’t think people claim the existence of qualia invalidates physics, it’s just supposed to point to something more outside the scope of physics.

  81. 81. Peter says:

    Yes: I don’t think poor over-worked physics ever claimed to explain everything, only the physical world. I know there are some over-enthusiastic materialists (*looks nervously over his shoulder*)who will, for example, insist that ideas, say, are physical, or if not physical then non-existent.

  82. 82. John Davey says:


    “No, I take it to be pretty much true by definition. Qualia are the elements of experience not accounted for by physics; if they had causal effects they’d be part of physics, or to put it another way, thos things wouldn’t properly be qualia.”

    But physics is not a static discipline, nor is it a branch of mathematics. Just because it isn’t currently accounted for by physics doesn’t mean to say it always won’t be : neither is physics anything other than a human technique, and to decide that a general philosophical principal like a ’cause’ must have an account in physics is to attribute far too much scope to physics which remains subject to the whim of human competence.

  83. 83. John Davey says:


    “I agree that the zombie hypothesis doesn’t really make sense, but the question of whether the zombie twin shares my mental life is complicated; I’m inclined to think he could share some aspects of it.”

    It seems to me he wouldn’t share any of it. He would have a ‘memory’ for want of a better word but without a human mind in which to inhabit, these ‘memories’ are just bits of text.

  84. 84. John Davey says:


    “Yes: I don’t think poor over-worked physics ever claimed to explain everything, only the physical world. I know there are some over-enthusiastic materialists (*looks nervously over his shoulder*)who will, for example, insist that ideas, say, are physical, or if not physical then non-existent.”

    Even physicists can’t decide what is physical ! A better comparison is natural mental experiences versus derived concepts from the interplay of human refelction. A shipping forecast is (by nature) not physical (or natural, or phenomenal, or whatever) but a pain in the finger is. It is neither derived nor representable but is absolute in shape. Just because it is not material should not mean it can’t be described as physical.

  85. 85. Howard Berman says:

    So many of our experiences are about other people. How do we have haecceity about other minds?

  86. 86. arnold says:

    Enjoin oneself to Be present in an unknown life…

  87. 87. Peter says:

    Hm, well, Howard all of reality has haecceity – the quality of being inexplicably particular – so I’d say we observe it in others. But we only experience it directly, from the inside, in our own case.

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