frankish-illusionConsciousness – it’s all been a terrible mistake. In a really cracking issue of the JCS (possibly the best I’ve read) Keith Frankish sets out and defends the thesis of illusionism, with a splendid array of responses from supporters and others.

How can consciousness be an illusion? Surely an illusion is itself a conscious state – a deceptive one – so that the reality of consciousness is a precondition of anything being an illusion? Illusionism, of course, is not talking about the practical, content-bearing kind of consciousness, but about phenomenal consciousness, qualia, the subjective side, what it is like to see something. Illusionism denies that our experiences have the phenomenal aspect they seem to have; it is in essence a sceptical case about phenomenal experience. It aims to replace the question of what phenomenal experience is, with the question of why people have the illusion of phenomenal experience.

In one way I wonder whether it isn’t better to stick with raw scepticism than frame the whole thing in terms of an illusion. There is a danger that the illusion itself becomes a new topic and inadvertently builds the confusion further. One reason the whole issue is so difficult is that it’s hard to see one’s way through the dense thicket of clarifications thrown up by philosophers, all demanding to be addressed and straightened out. There’s something to be said for the bracing elegance of the two-word formulation of scepticism offered by Dennett (who provides a robustly supportive response to illusionism here, as being the default case) – ‘What qualia?’. Perhaps we should just listen to the ‘tales of the qualophiles’ – there is something it is like, Mary knows something new, I could have a zombie twin – and just say a plain ‘no’ to all of them. If we do that, the champions of phenomenal experience have nothing to offer; all they can do is, as Pete Mandik puts it here, gesture towards phenomenal properties. (My imagination whimpers in fear at being asked to construe the space in which one might gesture towards phenomenal qualities, let alone the ineffable limb with which the movement might be performed; it insists that we fall back on Mandik’s other description; that phenomenalists can only invite an act of inner ostension.)

Eric Schwitzgebel relies on something like this gesturing in his espousal of definition by example as a means of getting the innocent conception of phenomenal experience he wants without embracing the dubious aspects. Mandik amusingly and cogently assails the scepticism of the illusionist case from an even more radical scepticism – meta-illusionism. Sceptics argue that phenomenalism can’t be specified meaningfully (we just circle around a small group of phrases and words that provide a set of synonyms with no definition outside the loop) , but if that’s true how do we even start talking about it? Whereof we cannot speak…

Introspection is certainly the name of the game, and Susan Blackmore has a nifty argument here; perhaps it’s the very act of introspecting that creates the phenomenal qualities? Her delusionism tells us we are wrong to think that there is a continuous stream of conscious experience going on in the absence of introspection, but stops short of outright scepticism about the phenomenal. I’m not sure. William James told us that introspection must be retrospection – we can only mentally examine the thought we just had, not the one we are having now – and it seems odd to me to think that a remembered state could be given a phenomenal aspect after the fact. Easier, surely, to consider that the whole business is consistently illusory?

Philip Goff is perhaps the toughest critic of illusionism; if we weren’t in the grip of scientism, he says, we should have no difficulty in seeing that the causal role of brain activity also has a categorical nature which is the inward, phenomenal aspect. If this view is incoherent or untenable in any way, we’re owed a decent argument as to why.

Myself I think Frankish is broadly on the right track. He sets out three ways we might approach phenomenal experience. One is to accept its reality and look for an explanation that significantly modifies our understanding of the world. Second, we look for an explanation that reconciles it with our current understanding, finding explanations within the world of physics of which we already have a general understanding. Third, we dismiss it as an illusion. I think we could add ‘approach zero’: we accept the reality of phenomenal experience and just regard it as inexplicable. This sounds like mysterianism – but mysterians think the world itself makes sense; we just don’t have the brains to see it. Option zero says there is actual irreducible mystery in the real world. This conclusion is surely thoroughly repugnant to most philosophers, who aspire to clear answers even if they don’t achieve them; but I think it is hard to avoid unless we take the sceptical route. Phenomenal experience is on most mainstream accounts something over and above the physical account just by definition. A physical explanation is automatically ruled out; even if good candidates are put forward, we can always retreat and say that they explain some aspects of experience, but not the ineffable one we are after. I submit that in fact this same strategy of retreat means that there cannot be any satisfactory rational account of phenomenal experience, because it can always be asserted that something ineffable is missing.

I say philosophers will find this repugnant, but I can sense some amiable theologians sidling up to me. Those light-weight would-be scientists can’t deal with mystery and the ineffable, they say, but hey, come with us for a bit…

Regular readers may possibly remember that I think that the phenomenal aspect of experience is actually just its reality; that the particularity or haecceity of real experience is puzzling to those who think that theory must accommodate everything. That reality is itself mysterious in some sense, though: not easily accounted for and not susceptible to satisfactory explanation either by induction or deduction. It may be that to understand that in full we have to give up on these more advanced mental tools and fall back on the basic faculty of recognition, the basis of all our thinking in my view and the capacity of which both deduction and induction are specialised forms. That implies that we might have to stop applying logic and science and just contemplate reality; I suppose that might mean in turn that meditation and the mystic tradition of some religions is not exactly a rejection of philosophy as understood in the West, but a legitimate extension of the same enquiry.

Yeah, but no; I may be irredeemably Western and wedded to scientism, but rightly or wrongly, meditation doesn’t scratch my epistemic itch. Illusionism may not offer quite the right answer, but for me it is definitely asking the right questions.

72 Comments

  1. 1. Mike Holliday says:

    I’m about a third of the way through it, and I must say I share your enthusiasm – this promises to be the best, most thought-provoking issue of JCS that I’ve read in a long, long time. Hopefully I’ll have more to say when I’ve finished …

  2. 2. SelfAwarePatterns says:

    Although agreeing with the illusionists ontologically, I’ve historically been reluctant to use the phrase “is an illusion”. Yes, it is usually meant to say that the thing under discussion isn’t what it appears to be, but people most often read it as an assertion that the thing doesn’t exist. When people perceive that’s being said about consciousness, they tend to stop listening.

    On the other hand, after perusing some of these papers, including Dennett’s magical show analogy and Frankish’s responses to the dissenters, I’m starting to reconsider. Calling phenomenal consciousness an illusion is provocative, edgy, and requires further explanation once uttered, but it communicates the basic position quickly and forcefully.

    People may still stop listening, but then that might just be sooner in the conversation than it otherwise would have been.

  3. 3. Arnold Trehub says:

    It seems straight forward to me. The properties of the world that we experience as being OUT THERE are really IN HERE in our brain. This is the fudamental illusion.

  4. 4. Paul Torek says:

    Correction: Second, we look for an ontological account but NOT an intuitive explanation, that reconciles it … within the world of physics of which we already have a general understanding. By “not intuitive” I mean that it does not suddenly become clear that, when you have physical quality P or functional quality F then obviously you will have red experiences. It just becomes more and more supported empirically.

    I like Schwitzgebel’s approach, as featured on his website. I can’t access content on JCS, but the abstract is congruent with his usual, and everything it says is – well – obvious.

  5. 5. Jochen says:

    phenomenalists can only invite an act of inner ostension

    I like this formulation, but part of me wonders if it doesn’t highlight that we’re putting Descartes before the horse here (sorry). I mean, most philosophers don’t have a problem with acts of ‘outer ostension’, so to speak—after all, Cartesian skepticism isn’t really viewed as a live option, but, at best, a threat to defend against. So, why is there so much more skepticism regarding inner ostension?

    In particular, as Arnold Winkelried rightly points out, if anything, the objects of outer ostension are a step further removed from our epistemic grasp than those of inner ostension. Yet, we tend to view those as, in some sense, less difficult, presenting less philosophical problems, and thus, rely on them the most for creating a framework to fit the world. We take the so-called ‘objective’ elements of the world for granted, and use them to derive a particular worldview—these days, dominated, or at least, shaped by scientific methodology, whatever one may mean by that exactly—and the fact that our subjective experience does not fit easily with this worldview causes us to doubt them, consider them ‘illusory’.

    But really, all our objective data comes to us via subjective mediation—in a literal sense: all scientific data is really just a set of subject-object correlations—hearing a detector click, seeing a particular graphic build up on a monitor, and so on. It’s only upon taking the subjective aspect for granted that these become objective elements of the real world—i.e. it’s only if we assume that we’re not misled by an evil demon that hearing the click of the detector actually pertains to, say, detecting an electron. All observation is theory-laden, and the first theory we implicitly apply is that we can trust these subjective appearances. So it seems a little odd that we then turn the tools derived by trusting our subjective experience around to cast doubt upon them.

    In other words, maybe the problem isn’t really with our subjective experience, but rather, with the picture of objective reality we develop and then use to cast doubt on the subjective. Perhaps we need to solve the problem of the outer world first, before we can really turn to the interior.

  6. 6. Tom Clark says:

    Not yet having seen the issue (clearly a must read), I wonder if the following objections to illusionism come up:

    – The characteristics of having the illusion of experience end up being just the characteristics of experience, so need explaining just like experience did.

    – Presumably only certain sorts of brain processes give rise to or otherwise entail the existence of the illusion of experience for the system. So what is it about these processes that give rise to it? This is the same question that was originally posed about experience.

    I’m suggesting that the claim that experience is an illusion raises the same explanatory demands as for consciousness itself.

  7. 7. VicP says:

    Even people with damaged or limited sensory apparatus can still capture and function in this reality, so what we call mind is something that captures experience from the senses or mind may be just more structure in the brain that we have limited model for structure right now. Better put, mind is an overall sense or capturing sense of our senses.

    As a child 50 years ago it was common sense to name the Five Senses as seeing, hearing, taste, smell and touch but those common sense senses are all formed by the outer physical reality impinging on our sensory mechanisms. Those physical stimuli are the forces of nature which our senses transform into subjective sensory experience. Whether secondary, subjective or illusionary, WE are made from those same forces of nature but fail to grasp biologically how this is done, so we hence the gaps.

  8. 8. SelfAwarePatterns says:

    Tom,
    I think what is making me reconsider the illusion label is that it changes the expectations for the explanation. Rather than explaining the qualities of experience, we only need to explain why we *think* it has those qualities. It’s a subtle but crucial difference. On a previous thread, I said that we have to be willing to ask what experience actually is, but that question inherently implies that experience isn’t what it seems to be.

    For me, and I suspect you as well, that seems obvious. But it’s become increasingly apparent to me that it isn’t for many people. It may be that using the “illusion” label makes that point more clear.

  9. 9. Arnold Trehub says:

    Tom: “– Presumably only certain sorts of brain processes give rise to or otherwise entail the existence of the illusion of experience for the system. So what is it about these processes that give rise to it?”

    The neuronal structure and dynamics of the retinoid system give rise to the illusion. It gives us a brain representation of our volumetric surround from a fixed point of perspectival origin — our self locus. The SMTT experiments provide convincing empirical evidence for the validity of the retinoid model of subjectivity/ consciousness.

  10. 10. Tom Clark says:

    SAP: “Rather than explaining the qualities of experience, we only need to explain why we *think* it has those qualities.”

    To (mistakenly) suppose something is qualitative, or to mistakenly think that we have qualia, we necessarily have to know what qualities are, and indeed we do: things like pain, red, etc. So it seems to me that illusionism depends on being acquainted with qualities, otherwise we wouldn’t know what was being referred to as being an illusion. Can we account for our acquaintance with qualities purely in terms of non-qualitative goings-on? That seems to me to be the burden of illusionism.

    Arnold, it sounds like you’re just transferring your explanation of consciousness over into an explanation of the illusion of consciousness. Have you given up on the reality of consciousness?

  11. 11. VicP says:

    Tom: Those qualia simply are us. We have a communicative reporting system which allow us to objectively convey subjective experience, but why should the objective descriptions be any different than astrophysics which describe planetary motion in terms of gravity? But nobody needs to know “what its like to be” a planet?

    We take brain science very personally but the real gap is our ignorance of structures.

    Could a layman explain how a radio actually works if he had no knowledge of electronics? Which includes knowledge of electronic components, circuits, circuits which form sub functions and how the sub functions integrate? He would be just as stranded with “radioishness”

  12. 12. SelfAwarePatterns says:

    Tom,
    I think it’s important to understand that the illusion is not supposed to be a mistake we make. On the contrary, it appears to be a crucial survival adaptation, a simplified, somewhat cartoonish, yet effective model of what is happening. Dennett uses the example of simple graphical user interface for a computer. The graphics are not the reality. They are a cartoonish representation of that reality. Yet they allow us to work with the computer.

    “Can we account for our acquaintance with qualities purely in terms of non-qualitative goings-on?”
    It seems like this is a burden for any naturalist explanation. Can we avoid it without going into what Frankish calls “radical realism”, notions such as substance dualism, quantum consciousness, or some other exotic explanations?

  13. 13. Arnold Trehub says:

    Tom, our illusion is not an illusion of consciousness. It is the illusion of directly experiencing the world around us instead of the world inside of our brain.

  14. 14. vicp says:

    Watch more videos on iai.tv

    Very relevant video.

    Mary Midgley’s final words that there is no adequate neuroscientific explanation for thinking underscores IMHO that there is no equivalent explanation for language since they are almost the same.

    I would say: Science itself is language and little wonder for the conundrum. The final explanations still require deeper theorization of how evolution put this all together from the more basic subsystems on up to the objectification and language/reporting systems.

    We often think of acting and theater as unique artforms but all of our objectification systems teach us social acting from the time your mom taught you to shut your mouth in certain situations.

    “All The World Is A Stage”

  15. 15. Jochen says:

    Arnold Winkelried

    Whoops, mixed up my Arnolds there. I meant Arnold Trehub, of course. Sorry.

  16. 16. Jochen says:

    Dennett uses the example of simple graphical user interface for a computer.

    I think such analogies are really more of a hindrance than they are helpful. They invite thinking that the user interface is, in some sense, meaningful in itself—but they’re not. The meaning always comes from the user, from their capacity of interpretation, of forming meaningful associations between the graphical output and elements of their experience. It’s like a page of text: it doesn’t have any inherent meaning—there is no process that takes as input only this text, and then tells you what it’s about. Only an entity speaking the right language can decipher its meaning, and the only examples of such entities we have are conscious ones; and indeed, it at least seems as if consciousness (or intentionality) is a necessary component of this process.

    Now, this might not be the case: it might be that the understanding of a text’s meaning can be accomplished without any recourse to mental attributes. But those claiming that this is the case need to produce at least some sort of plausible mechanism by which this occurs, before we can really take such metaphors seriously.

  17. 17. David Duffy says:

    I don’t know exactly what part of our phenomenal experience that illusionism is supposed to explain. Our different sensory and internal channels (eg feeling of knowledge, assessment of one’s attentional status) have to be consistently differentiated somehow, and so marked in some way, given that their outputs can be shared around different regions. Dreaming is a particularly useful phenomenon to study. One successfully report different amounts of information about these experiences depending on one’s objectively measurable state of consciousness: neuroimaging of lucid dreaming shows quite different patterns of activation compared to ordinary dreaming; we can also decode the different regional origins of the internally generated experiences of dream, so we can cross check with reports (Horikawa et al 2013 and similar). And psychophysics shows the intensity of the quale is straightforward, even for really abstract qualia such as numerosity, where our reporting accuracy closely matches that seen in other animals. So it’s not much of a jump to think that the consistent reported and experienced quality isn’t also just a real property of the CNS. It’s just to me the nature of quality as experienced is a pretty trivial or arbitrary outcome of a particular pattern of development (I’ll return again to my example of a 20-30 dimensional olfactory space reducing inputs from many more distinct classes of receptor).

    An interesting paper, not directly on consciousness:
    https://arxiv.org/pdf/1607.01029.pdf

  18. 18. Callan S. says:

    Does Kieth propose a substitute? For example, if we’re feeling logs or leather fans or snakes, does he propose an elephant as a substitute for all those things (so to speak)?

  19. 19. Peter says:

    Tom,

    I think you’ve got the germ of an argument for the existence of God there…

    “To (mistakenly) suppose something is divine or to mistakenly think that there is a God, we necessarily have to know what divinity is, and indeed we do: things like omnipotence, being eternal, etc. So it seems to me that atheism depends on being acquainted with divinity, otherwise we wouldn’t know what was being referred to as being an illusion. Can we account for our acquaintance with divinity purely in terms of non-divine goings-on? That seems to me to be the burden of atheism.”

    😉

  20. 20. Peter says:

    David,

    I think you’re construing qualia as functional psychological entities. That’s not how they’re being construed here; if they played any role in mental processing my zombie twin would not behave exactly the way I do.

  21. 21. Peter says:

    Callan,

    Why would he want a substitute? He still has the information content of experience, he’s just denying that there’s really any separate inscrutable phenomenal stuff going on.

  22. 22. VicP says:

    Sorry Peter but I am just not having a difficult time with this. From the sensorimotor perspective brains do an outstanding job at navigating the landscape so the skeptic’s case is easily dispelled. From the pansychist perspective biological organisms do the same exact thing which physical particles do, which is interact with their direct environment. Major difference is that biology builds a model of reality.

    Seems like the added factor is imagination in the higher mammals or I just don’t navigate this room, but also have a map and mental model of the other rooms and spaces.

    Just seems with philosophy it becomes imagination run wild since we have no handle yet on how neurons build and store these models.

  23. 23. Tom Clark says:

    David Duffy: “So it’s not much of a jump to think that the consistent reported and experienced quality isn’t also just a real property of the CNS. It’s just to me the nature of quality as experienced is a pretty trivial or arbitrary outcome of a particular pattern of development (I’ll return again to my example of a 20-30 dimensional olfactory space reducing inputs from many more distinct classes of receptor).”

    I’m wondering if there are any accounts on offer of how qualities end up being properties or outcomes of a particular pattern of development, or is it just a brute fact about such patterns?

  24. 24. Arnold Trehub says:

    VicP: “Just seems with philosophy it becomes imagination run wild since we have no handle yet on how neurons build and store these models.”

    The neuronal mechanisms detailed in *The Cognitive Brain* (MIT press 1991) enable us to build and store these models.

  25. 25. Jayarava says:

    The good thing about illusionists is that you can punch them in the face with impunity. If they complain that it hurt, you can patiently explain that according to their theory, pain is an illusion, so they should just get over it. The procedure can be repeated as necessary.

  26. 26. Callan S. says:

    SAP #12.

    Yes, it always surprises me how people don’t look for a way that ‘pain’ isn’t known. Phantom pain, for example. Like the icons on the computer are rough correlations of a mechanical process, it could be said all pains are phantom pains. It’s just that most roughly correlate to what an organism needs (not to happen) to survive.

    Peter,

    Probably because his argument will be undermined by keeping that ‘information’ part. Someone will ask ‘What is information?’ and from there, taking up the non naturalised element Kieth has kept, will argue back all the other phenomenal stuff. Ironically they’ll use the questions that ‘information’ begs in order to re establish phenomenal experience. You’ll see a piece come out by some known philosopher to that effect in about a month or two (taking Chritsmas delays into account)

  27. 27. Arnold Trehub says:

    Pain is not an illusion. It is a subjective/phenomenal experience.

  28. 28. David Duffy says:

    Peter commented “if they played any role in mental processing my zombie twin would not behave exactly the way I do” – I’m not sure if you’re being ironic or irenic. I’ll have you know that *my* zombie twin suffers from many obvious problems, both physical and mental.

    “If a Zombie behaves in a certain manner, what may we conclude the consciousness accompanying its behavior to be like? …At the outset of our discussion…we are obliged to acknowledge that all psychic interpretation of Zombie behavior must be on the analogy of Human experience. We do not know the meaning of such terms as perception, pleasure, fear, anger, visual sensation, etc., except as these processes form a part of the contents of our own minds. Whether we will or no, we must be anthropomorphic in the notions we form of what takes place in the mind of a Zombie.”
    (After Washburn 1908)

  29. 29. Peter says:

    David,

    It’s fine to refuse the zombie twin thought-experiment (I rather recommend it); but then I think you have to reject phenomenal experience too, at least in the qualic sense. If you carry on talking about it nevertheless, I think you’re inevitably talking about something else defined somewhat differently. Maybe that’s an interesting conversation, but I think it’s not then surprising that having rejected the explanandum you don’t see what illusionism seeks to explain.

  30. 30. john davey says:

    Peter


    “There is a danger that the illusion itself becomes a new topic and inadvertently builds the confusion

    Exactly ! It doesn’t address the question, it moves it. The question is no longer “what causes consciousness” to “what is that causes the illusion of consciousness”.

    That is of course after we’ve started asking questions about exactly how meaningful it is to even suggest that somethig like consciousness could be an ‘illusion’.

    For a start, an illusion is not a standalone term. It is a comparator. An illusion must look like something to be an illusion in the first place. So if consciousness is an ‘illusion’, it can only be an ‘illusion’ of consciousness. Otherwise, what else is it an illusion of ? You can’t have an illusion of the irreducible. By describing something as an ‘illusion’ of consciousness, you are actually declaiming (correctly) that there is a bona fide phenomena to mimic in the first place. The argument is actually an unintentional acclamation of the fatuosness and – frankly – stupidity or fraud – of consciousness denial.

    And that’s before we even start to talk about the hubris of an idea that a phenomena that can’t be explained by current science must be some kind of magic. It is reminiscent of the egomaniac physicists who – failing to ‘unify’ quantum physics and relativity suddenly claim that God, or a God-like being, is the only rational explanation for the universe because clever people like them cant think of a better way.


    “Phenomenal experience is on most mainstream accounts something over and above the physical account just by definition.”

    Phenomenal experience is not “over and above” physical accounts, it just isn’t currently explained by them. And maybe – looking at the very closed sementic loop of mathematical physics, it may never be. But that doesn’t make it ‘unreal’, or less phenomenal in any way. It still requires scientific investigation and hypotheses.

    J

  31. 31. vicp says:

    The response of simple one cell organisms and plants to simple stimuli like sugar molecules or light would not be considered responses to illusions, but for our level the word illusion carries heavy baggage wrt the visual system, our most complex sensory system. Philosophy itself has the thousands year old problems of visual muddles which end in thought experiments like inverted qualia, Mary in a room… Even if these are complex stimuli that our higher senses present to us, our response system can be very basic like instant sweating if we see something threatening. Philosophical argument itself does not cut to such a fundamental level. Seems when we are not pinning down what sense is playing in the discussion that it is more of a case of confusionism.

  32. 32. David Duffy says:

    “you have to reject phenomenal experience too, at least in the qualic sense”: I’m a bit dull, I’m afraid. If I have temporary synaesthesia, surely it only the quality that leads me to say something is a bit funny. And if I have been synasthetic all my life, I can still ascertain that my subjective experiences must be different from yours to a given stimulus. “Qualia discriminate that sensation is X rather than all other infinite possibilities” in a perceptual space whose dimensionality we can estimate. I see qualia being a bit like the god of the gaps – first we exclude intensity – even though that is just as mysterious when you think about it; then we’ll exclude qualities that modern neuroscience point out are results of very high level processing (eg numerosity, facial emotion or gender, “pop-out” attentional effects, metacognitive sensations) but are just unitary in terms of conscious discernment; and perceptual learning too eg “r” and “l” for untrained Japanese adults are consciously indistinguishable – are we allowed to acquire qualia by practicing?

  33. 33. Peter says:

    Jayarava: Keith says (on Twitter) :

    Qualia deniers do not deny that pains are real or undesirable, and hitting them would not be an effective refutation of their view.

  34. 34. john davey says:

    Peter

    Qualia deniers do not deny that pains are real or undesirable, and hitting them would not be an effective refutation of their view.

    He does deny they don’t exist : or rather, that they don’t really exist. It’s a) a lot of incoherent gumph suggesting that a binary state (ie existence) can have intermediate values, or b) a restatement of the Schrodinger Cat hypothesis for consciousness, cunningly qualified. I’ll go for a). Mr Frankish thinks he’s permitted to smoke his pipe after acquiring the same.

    I think it’s possibly the least attractive epistemological theory I’ve come across yet. It’s more or less the equivalent of solipsism, only more dishonest. It’s assertion is full of hubris : just because there isn’t an explanation – yet – it must be a trick.

    It’s simpler than that – that there just just isn’t an explanation for consciousness means no more than just that – there is no explanation – yet. Furthermore there may never be one. So what ?There will probably never be an explanation for the reason why time and space have the semantic qualities they do. I don’t see people rushing to the desperation handbook and dredging the mire because of that. There are all kinds of things that, on the face of it, look like they will always defy ‘explanation’ (for which read ‘mathematical theory’). Why all the attention on consciousness instead of space, time and the perpetually irreducible matter ?

    But then, time, space and matter are the irreducible, irrational vectors of the discipline of physics. That act, it would appear, cleans up these vague concepts and puts them beyond reproach. But there isn’t an ounce of rationality to that thinking. It is irrational, unscientific and driven by a twisted political and cultural agenda that has managed to totally get confused between consciousness and religion.

    J

  35. 35. Arnold Trehub says:

    John,

    Yes. I cannot understand why it is so difficult for others to grasp the point you emphasize.

  36. 36. Mike Holliday says:

    I’ve now finished this special issue of JCS. Yes, excellent all round – even those commentators that I’m not inclined to agree with!

    However, I don’t concur with the accusation of “scientism” that the likes of Balog and Goff make against Frankish’s target article. I wouldn’t dispute that scientism or rationalism are dangers that philosophers are susceptible to – but there are strong, prima facie reasons to think that conscious experience is something that the brains of complex organisms just *do*. And if that points to experiences being intentional objects – as Frankish suggests – rather than the instantiation of qualitative properties, then this seems a reasonable approach to explore. To claim that to do so is the result of an “emotional response to the success of science”, “irrational”, and the result of “the visceral impact of technology” – as Phil Goff claims – seems rather silly.

    The key question that Frankish is asking is this: Do experiences actually *have* qualitative properties? Or do they simply *seem* to have qualitative properties? I cannot see that this denies the explanandum – the existence of experiences; it is simply saying that the explanandum may not in fact be the sort of thing we initially take it to be. For example, even Chalmers’ own starting point assumes nothing about the intrinsic or ineffable nature of these aspects of experience (see his definitions of phenomenal properties in “The Conscious Mind”, p. 359, and “The Character of Consciousness”, pp. 104-105). So Frankish is not suggesting that we are actually philosophical zombies, that all is dark inside. As he says, “zombies are presented as creatures very different from ourselves — ones with no inner life, whose experience is completely blindsighted”.

    However, these numerous references by Frankish to our “inner lives” and “inner world” raise an interesting issue, because he claims that his problem with mainstream physicalist views is the existence of the so-called explanatory gaps, which prevent any reductive explanation. Yet one might think that there must necessarily be an explanatory gap between objective, physical facts and facts concerning our “inner lives”: after all, it’s *my* inner life, not yours, so there can’t be any *objective* fact – i.e. a fact capable of being evaluated by any (suitably competent) observer – about what’s going on in my inner life. It’s not as if we have a viewpoint on some “objective realm”, separate from another realm which is accessible only from a privileged first-person viewpoint; rather, the objective viewpoint is a *generalization* of the first-person viewpoint which requires inter-subject agreement. Now this type of inter-subject agreement does not seem possible in respect of our inner lives: each experience is only had by a single person, and facts about them are therefore not cognitively available to anyone other than the individual who is having the relevant experience. All we can have in these instances is inter-subject agreement on the behaviour of people who are subject to certain types of stimuli, including their expressed judgements about how their experiences seem to them – as Dennett has long pointed out. So one cannot reduce the facts about one’s “inner life” to objective, scientific facts: there will always be an explanatory gap.

    Now I don’t myself see this as a problem, since I take it as saying nothing significant about the nature of conscious experience. It’s an epistemological fact deriving from the development of interiority and exteriority in complex organisms. It has nothing to do with the supposed qualitative nature of our experiences. (Indeed, it’s the conflation of these two aspects of consciousness that gives rise to the hard problem in the first place, IMO – we identify an explanatory gap and attribute it to the qualitative nature of experiences, whereas it’s actually an artifact of having the first-person, interior viewpoint that’s inherent in being a complex organism.) But I do find it curious, in light of this, that Frankish says that he’s driven to reject mainstream physicalist accounts, and accept illusionism, by the existence of those self-same explanatory gaps.

  37. 37. Tom Clark says:

    Thanks Mike (36). If Frankish isn’t denying we have experiences, but only that they have qualities, what is it about experiences that makes them *seem* qualitative? Put another way, what is distinctive about experiences (which Frankish says are real, like pain) such that we know we are conscious? What are the properties of experiences, the episodes that comprise our inner lives, if they aren’t qualitative? (still need to get my hands on this JCS issue!)

  38. 38. Mike Holliday says:

    I think what Frankish is saying, Tom (37), is that we’re never going to answer that question if we keep on believing that what we have to do is explain these mysterious *qualitative* aspects of experiences. He’s very dismissive of the “phenomenal concept strategy”, for example, because it accepts those qualities as real. If we instead work on the basis that our brains (and perceptual systems, etc) make it *seem* that our inner lives instantiate qualitative properties, then we may get somewhere.

    Some may worry that he wants to define “conscious experience” in functional terms. I don’t have a problem with that, although I’d prefer to use the phrase “functionally characterized”, reserving the word “functional” for descriptions in wholly third-person terms – see my comments in (36).

  39. 39. Arnold Trehub says:

    Production and Control of a Hallucination: The SMTT Experiment.

    Institutions: University of Massachusetts Amherst

    Goal: Seeing-more-than-is-there (SMTT) involves normal visual perception and the paradoxical creation of a publicly shared hallucinatory experience, together with the phenomenal experience of the sudden disappearance of a continuing retinal stimulus. My current project is providing an explanation of these experimental results in terms of the operating principles of our putative retinoid mechanisms. For more about the retinoid model see “Space, self, and the theater of consciousness” on my RG page.

    Two questions are raised by the SMTT findings:
    1. Why are the dots and the slit no longer perceived as soon as the hallucinated triangle appears? 2. Why does the subject who controls the public hallucination feel that he is controlling the shape and rate of the laterally oscillating hallucinated figure instead of the vertical oscillation of the invisible dot that he actually controls? The vertically oscillating dot and the stable dot stimulate the retina and retinoid space throughout the experiment, so they are registered as a conscious event. At an oscillation rate 4 cycles/sec, the dots and slit are no longer perceived and are replaced by a vivid conscious experience (a hallucination) of a laterally oscillating triangle. (Note: For each complete cycle of the hallucinated triangle, the dot oscillates 2 cycles). Even though the vertically oscillating dot and the stable dot below it disappear, they continue to stimulate the retinas and must be registered on a Z-plane in retinoid space in order to sustain the hallucination of a laterally oscillating triangle (Fig. 1).
    react-text: 354 So the question arises: Why do the dots disappear if their representation in retinoid space, according to the retinoid theory, indicates that they are part of our conscious experience? The explanation:? At an oscillation 4 cycles/sec, the hallucinated triangle occupies Z-plane f and occludes the slit and the dots, which are now represented on Z-plane b (b = background). The occluded slit and dots (b behind f) thus disappear (Fig. 2). We are no longer aware of the dots even though they are part of our conscious content in retinoid space. Notice that this implies that retinoid space holds conscious events of which we are not aware, as well as conscious events of which we are aware. So we are never aware of all the conscious content in retinoid space, and we are never able to report all of the content of our conscious experience. This is consistent with Block’s contention that phenomenal consciousness overflows access consciousness (perception), and leads to the conclusion that the ability to report an experience cannot be the only criterion of having a conscious experience. Production and Control of a Hallucination: The SMTT Experiment.

    Institutions: University of Massachusetts Amherst

    Goal: Seeing-more-than-is-there (SMTT) involves normal visual perception and the paradoxical creation of a publicly shared hallucinatory experience, together with the phenomenal experience of the sudden disappearance of a continuing retinal stimulus. My current project is providing an explanation of these experimental results in terms of the operating principles of our putative retinoid mechanisms. For more about the retinoid model see “Space, self, and the theater of consciousness” on my RG page.

    Two questions are raised by the SMTT findings:
    1. Why are the dots and the slit no longer perceived as soon as the hallucinated triangle appears? 2. Why does the subject who controls the public hallucination feel that he is controlling the shape and rate of the laterally oscillating hallucinated figure instead of the vertical oscillation of the invisible dot that he actually controls? The vertically oscillating dot and the stable dot stimulate the retina and retinoid space throughout the experiment, so they are registered as a conscious event. At an oscillation rate 4 cycles/sec, the dots and slit are no longer perceived and are replaced by a vivid conscious experience (a hallucination) of a laterally oscillating triangle. (Note: For each complete cycle of the hallucinated triangle, the dot oscillates 2 cycles). Even though the vertically oscillating dot and the stable dot below it disappear, they continue to stimulate the retinas and must be registered on a Z-plane in retinoid space in order to sustain the hallucination of a laterally oscillating triangle (Fig. 1).
    react-text: 354 So the question arises: Why do the dots disappear if their representation in retinoid space, according to the retinoid theory, indicates that they are part of our conscious experience? The explanation:? At an oscillation 4 cycles/sec, the hallucinated triangle occupies Z-plane f and occludes the slit and the dots, which are now represented on Z-plane b (b = background). The occluded slit and dots (b behind f) thus disappear (Fig. 2). We are no longer aware of the dots even though they are part of our conscious content in retinoid space. Notice that this implies that retinoid space holds conscious events of which we are not aware, as well as conscious events of which we are aware. So we are never aware of all the conscious content in retinoid space, and we are never able to report all of the content of our conscious experience. This is consistent with Block’s contention that phenomenal consciousness overflows access consciousness (perception), and leads to the conclusion that the ability to report an experience cannot be the only criterion of having a conscious experience.

    pdf SMTT Fig. 1 Schematic.pdf
    22.90 KiBDownload
    pdf SMTT Foreground-Back pdf.pdf
    11.04 KiBDownload
    pdf SMTT Fig. 1 Schematic.pdf
    22.90 KiBDownload
    pdf SMTT Foreground-Back pdf.pdf
    11.04 KiBDownload

  40. 40. Arnold Trehub says:

    @ Mike,

    My previous comment was to be addressed to you. Sorry for the double entry.

  41. 41. Callan S. says:

    With the story of the blind men touching an elephant and declaring it a tree from it’s legs or a leathery fan from it’s ears, if the elephant stood on one and the blind man cried out a tree is standing on him, what would anyone call that? An illusion? It’s not a tree standing on him, after all.

    So is pain necessarily the thing you take it to be, or perhaps part of some larger creature you’re not aware of? And if it is part of a larger creature/organic process, is it fair to call it an illusion?

  42. 42. Tom Clark says:

    Here’s Katalin Balog saying what I was trying to get at in #10 above (“it seems to me that illusionism depends on being acquainted with qualities, otherwise we wouldn’t know what was being referred to as being an illusion”):

    “I suspect that there is a tacit appeal to qualia in illusionism which makes it initially plausible. Because in reality we are all acquainted with qualia, we don’t get worried about the idea that introspective representations can refer to them. But when we realize what the account says, namely that nothing has qualia, it should really strike us as utterly miraculous that, if the account was true, we could refer to them.”

    http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~kbalog/Web%20publications/Frankish-Illusionism.pdf

    A few other replies to Frankish that I’ve found online:

    http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~eschwitz/SchwitzPapers/DefiningConsciousness-160712.pdf

    http://www.jamestartaglia.com/publications/Illusionism.pdf

    https://philpapers.org/archive/GOFIRA.pdf (P. Goff)

    http://humphrey.org.uk/papers/2016Illusionism.pdf

    https://jaygarfield.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/illusionism-and-givenness2.pdf

  43. 43. Peter says:

    Tom,
    I don’t see a problem with referring to things that don’t exist – we do it all the time. Perhaps she means there’s a problem with how we could perceive something that doesn’t exist – but then that’s what calling them an illusion is all about. I might be missing the point.

    Eric Schwitzgebel seems to make rather heavy weather of understanding what the thesis is (might it be because he saw earlier drafts>). Frankish does set it out in terms in the published version and even lists people he regards as allies to help situate his view, so it seems clear enough to me. Again I might be missing some of the subtleties.

  44. 44. Tom Clark says:

    Peter, I agree we can refer to things that don’t exist. But I’d suggest that there seem to be qualities because something very much like qualities is uncontroversially apparent to us in experience. We know what’s being referred to by qualia because we’re acquainted with something that at least seems qualitative (e.g., Dennett goes to great lengths in Quining Qualia to say why the apparent characteristics of qualia don’t actually qualify them as such). So the illusion is identified as being a possibility since we have the idea of the qualitative from our experience, not from any theoretical or abstract or deductive considerations, which would have to be the case if qualities, or something that very much seems like qualities, didn’t exist. And I would add: for something to seem qualitative (which experience does, after all) it must have qualitative properties. But I might be missing the point too!

  45. 45. Mike Holliday says:

    The point that Tom is making in (44) appears to be the same as Balog when she says in her commentary: “our phenomenal concepts are simple and direct in a way that precludes construction from other, bona fide referring concepts” (p. 48). Let’s take an example – suppose I look at a clear sky and acknowledge that there is a “sky-blueish” aspect to the experience that I’m having. We can scarcely deny that there is some phenomenon here which requires an explanation, even if we might disagree on what the explanation actually is. And it appears to be difficult to say anything about that aspect other than to indicate its sky-blueish nature … doesn’t it?

    Well … actually, no. There’s quite a lot that I can say about it, so long as I keep within the first-person perspective, or what Frankish refers to as our “inner life”. I can say that an area of my visual field is filled in a distinguishable manner, which I recognize as that which I term “sky-blue”. I can also say that, if I compare it in my mind’s eye with other distinguishable ways in which my visual field might be filled, then there’s nothing of what I term “red” or “green” about it, that it appears to be not as deeply saturated as what I term “navy blue”, and that it is quite light in the same way that what I term “yellow” is – in other words, I can discriminate the relational properties that “sky-blue” has with respect to other areas of colour space.

    Now is there also, *in addition* to those facts concerning the sky-blueish aspect of my experience, the instantiation of a directly apprehended quality of “sky-blueish”? Balog seems to think so, as does Tom, but I don’t see why this is necessarily the case – in fact it would seem to be an assumption which cannot be justified solely on the basis of the phenomenology. After all, those facts that I’ve noted above would appear to constitute, at least as a first approximation, the criteria by which I apply my concept of “sky-bluish” to my own experiences – if they are true, then “sky-blueish” it is! (What else could it possibly be?)

    So I’d agree with Frankish when he says in his reply to commentators: “Balog argues that … phenomenal concepts … are simple and direct ones, with no compositional structure. I suspect this is wrong and that the apparent simplicity of phenomenal concepts belies a lot of structure. … Balog may say that it is our direct acquaintance with phenomenal properties that gives content to our phenomenal concepts. But this is not a genuinely explanatory move, since the acquaintance relation itself is wholly unexplained (if anything, it is the assumption of acquaintance that is illicit in this context).” (pp. 280-281)

  46. 46. Tom Clark says:

    Thanks Mike. You say:

    “…I can discriminate the relational properties that ‘sky-blue’ has with respect to other areas of colour space. Now is there also, *in addition* to those facts concerning the sky-blueish aspect of my experience, the instantiation of a directly apprehended quality of ‘sky-blueish’? Balog seems to think so, as does Tom, but I don’t see why this is necessarily the case.”

    I agree that qualitative aspects of experience (e.g., sky-bluish) are defined contrastively, and that this is all we can say about them, such that there are no private facts about such aspects, only shared third-person facts about their relations. As I put it “Killing the Observer” (JCS, 2005, link below):

    “Apart from being able to specify its relations to its hue cousins, I don’t perceptually cognize the particular look of blue as a specifiable private fact since I don’t have the representational capacity to do so. Its ineffability, unspecifiability, and seeming intrinsicality as being that color are entailments of my representational limitations.”

    But this doesn’t abrogate the fact that qualitative aspects appear as basic, irreducible constituents of my experience, and appear in particular ineffable ways. That is, I disagree that “those [relational] facts that I’ve noted above would appear to constitute, at least as a first approximation, the criteria by which I apply my concept of ‘sky-bluish’ to my own experiences.” I can recognize sky-bluish quite readily independently of those facts, even though I can’t say anything about sky-bluish except by appeal to its relations to other qualitative aspects of my experience (except to point at the sky and say “that’s sky blue”).

    As to the acquaintance relation, there doesn’t seem to be any intermediary between me and my experience; that is, I consist of it as a conscious subject. I don’t observe or inspect experience, so when introspecting I simply pay more attention to (and so can report on) aspects of experience (e.g., the way the sky looks) that I already consist of subjectively. My subjectively consisting of experience is closely correlated with my objectively consisting of a brain in a body, and it’s the relation between the subjective and objective me’s that’s at issue in explaining consciousness.

    http://www.naturalism.org/philosophy/consciousness/killing-the-observer#toc–the-limits-of-representation-ZtKEhTR8

  47. 47. Mike Holliday says:

    Thanks for those comments, Tom. There’s a lot that we agree on, I think – yet there’s clearly a major difference between us and I’m having considerable difficulty understanding just what it is.

    What’s particularly puzzling about your comments in (46) is that where I talked about “recognising” an experience as being of a certain type, and “discriminating” its relational aspects, you have interpreted my comments in purely objective, third-person terms. This is despite the fact that (i) I’ve made it very clear that I accept that there is an epistemic gap between first-person and third-person descriptions, and (ii) I explicitly introduced my comments in (45) by saying that there’s rather a lot we can say about the qualitative aspect of experiences “so long as I keep within the first-person perspective, or what Frankish refers to as our inner life”.

    Perhaps what’s causing the problem here is that you might think that there are no aspects of our “inner lives” other than ineffable, qualitative “feels”; and that *first-person* descriptions of our mental activities in terms of “recognising”, or “discriminating”, or “being attentive”, or any other functionally-characterised terms, are therefore illicit. (I say “functionally-characterised”, since “functional” is normally defined in purely objective, third-person terms.)

    If that’s what you think, then I’d have to disagree. For example, I can straightforwardly ascertain whether or not I’m currently being attentive from my own inner life. I don’t necessarily need to take a video recording of myself, and then observe my behaviour (just like anybody else could) and conclude “Yes, I was indeed being attentive”. And you yourself used functionally-characterised terms when you referred to our inner lives, e.g. “I can recognize sky-bluish quite readily independently of [third-person] facts” or “when introspecting I simply pay more attention to … aspects of experience”.

    One comment with which I do agree is that “I don’t observe or inspect experience”. This is the sort of point which I was trying to make about the qualitative aspect of an experience: there is not a “phenomenal quality”, *which I then recognize*, and in connection with which I can discriminate relationships to other phenomenal qualities. Instead, we can consider the recognition, and the discrimination of relation aspects, as *constituting* the putative quality. So there are only our interior mental processes – not our mental processes *and* phenomenal qualities.

  48. 48. Tom Clark says:

    Mike (47), I agree that there’s more to our inner lives than qualitative feels, such as how they relate to one another and things that you mention such as recognizing them, being attentive to them, etc. But we differ, since you say that there are no phenomenal qualities that we recognize, compare, attend to, etc.; rather there are only interior mental processes which you say constitute *putative* qualities. That is, there are no qualitative relata on your view, just various processes that make it seem as if there are relata (so the qualities are merely putative). We agree that we aren’t in an observational relation to experience, but disagree about whether experience is qualitative. Not sure of how to resolve this difference.

    You say that “…I accept that there is an epistemic gap between first-person and third-person descriptions…” I’m not sure what these descriptions are supposed to be of. Could you clarify, perhaps with an example? Thanks!

  49. 49. john davey says:

    Peter

    “I don’t see a problem with referring to things that don’t exist”

    You never see something that ‘doesn’t exist’. Ever. You may be mistaken about the external circumstances that caused what you see, but what you see is what you see.

    An illusion of sight(which is what they generally are) is not a failing of the senses : it is a failing of theory. You are never “mistaken” about what you see : you may be mistaken however, about what the image corresponds to. So if we see the sun setting in the west, we may thing it has gone into the ground. The image is consistent with the theory, but the theory is wrong, not the image.

    There has been a lomg campaign by John Searle to overcome a long-held confusion about what it means to “see”. An old mistake, hatched centuries ago, was that we “see” an image inside our head. A big mistake, in that it suggests we have a head that can “see” already inside our head, that views an image like a person watching a cinema. It’s a huge fallacy. “Seeing” is the process of image production. When we are cross-eyed and look at an object, we don’t see an illusion : we see the object twice. We may be mistaken into thinking that there may two objects that correspond to the image, but the illusion is not the image : it’s the theory.

    In this case Frankish is falling for this ancient fallacy, by assuming that you don’t “see” directly – you have a sense perception system already in your head that perceives senses on top of what’s already there. Total hokum. You can’t “perceive” an illusion of consciousness : you produce mental phenomena and that’s it. There’s nothing to “see” inside the head. The mental phenomena IS the seeing.

    It’s astonishing that this old fallacy is still kicking about. Hopefully one day it will be kicked into the long grass and forgotten (along with solipsism and illusionism)

    J

  50. 50. Peter says:

    I think you’re might be committing Frankish to various views he isn’t necessarily committed to. Can’t we suppose he means that qualia exist only as illusions?

  51. 51. Callan S. says:

    Never mistaken about what you see?

  52. 52. Mike Holliday says:

    Tom: Re. your comments in (48) about qualities vs. putative qualities. I agree that there is (say) some blueish aspect to the experience I’m having, as a “bare explanandum” – i.e. without thereby committing myself to the ontological status of that aspect of my experience, or as to whether or not it’s intrinsic, or incorrigibly knowable, etc. So I don’t “deny the phenomena”.

    However, I don’t accept that there are *intrinsic* phenomenal properties, i.e. qualitative properties that are not determined by anything outside themselves, such as whatever else is going on in our inner lives. If there were such properties, then it would seem logically possible for my experience to have the intrinsic property of “blueish”, yet for me to recognise it as the colour I think of as “red” and for me to discriminate its relational properties with respect to other colours I experience as those which “red” has for me.

    So whereas you think that there are phenomenal qualities such as “blueish” and *also* general mental activities such as “recognising”, I think that there’s just specific mental activities such as “recognising blueish”. You note that we don’t observe or inspect our experiences, and I say that we don’t recognize or discriminate them either. To believe otherwise would seem to reintroduce the subject-object dichotomy within our own interior mental worlds. But experiences aren’t objects. So I take it that there are just our own mental activities, such as “recognizing bluish”, and that any purported intrinsic property of “blueish” is a hypostatization of such activities. (So is there *really* a quality, or not? Well, consider a piece of string: is there *really* something that we call “the end of the string”? Or is there just a piece of string?)

    You also asked about first and third-person descriptions. I thought we were clear on that, but let me clarify with a couple of examples. Suppose I am facing a crowd of people and I start waving my arm about. Each of the people in the crowd can see me waving my arm, and therefore the phrase “Mike is waving his arm about” can be a third-person description of what is occurring, since it is capable of being agreed upon (in principle) by anyone in the crowd. However, I myself am aware that my arm is moving, even if maybe I can’t see it (perhaps because my eyes are shut or I’m looking the other way), since I have proprioceptive feedback from my arm and can sense changes in tactile sensations as my arm moves against my clothing. So *I* can say or think “I feel my arm moving” – and that is a first-person description. (Of course, the third-person description is in turn based upon the separate first-person descriptions of each of the people in the crowd – “I can see Mike’s arm waving”.)

    As an example involving a mental activity, take the case of paying attention. I am aware as to whether or not I am paying attention, as one of the mental activities that is part of my inner life; (although I can be wrong – I may believe that I’m paying attention to a boring lecture, but then realise that I can’t recall what has just been discussed and that my mind was actually wandering). So if I say “I AM paying attention”, then that can be a first-person description of one of my own mental activities. There is also a purely functional use of the word “attention”, which is based solely on third-person facts that can be agreed upon by any competent, suitably-placed observer – particularly facts relating to my behaviour: e.g. that I am gazing intently at the speaker, am not in conversation on my mobile phone, can subsequently recall the details of the lecture, asked the lecturer a pertinent question, and so on. So the phrase “Mike is paying attention” is a third-person description based upon those types of observable behaviour. (I prefer the term “first-person” rather than “subjective” because some people use “subjective” to refer to the qualitative aspects of experience; also, using “third-person” instead of “objective” brings out the point that objective facts are based upon *inter-subject* agreement.)

    Finally, I said: “I accept that there is an epistemic gap between first-person descriptions and third-person descriptions”, the reason being the interiority, or “privacy”, of conscious experience. So in the first example, the establishment by inter-subject agreement that “Mike is waving his arm around” cannot a priori entail “I, Mike, see my arm waving about” or “I, Mike, feel my arm moving”. But – and I think that this is the important point – this explanation of the epistemic gap has nothing to do with the qualitative aspects of our experiences … be they qualities or putative qualities.

    Hopefully that helps. (Pretty soon I’ll need to take a break from the discussion until the New Year, as we have family arriving on the 24th.)

  53. 53. Tom Clark says:

    Mike, I appreciate your patient explications in 52, can’t ask for more than that. A few thoughts, and no worries about any holiday interruptions.

    What the first and third-person descriptions describe in your examples are behavior (waving an arm) and mental activity (paying attention). And the descriptions end up the same since evidence from both perspectives converges on the fact that you’re waving your arm/paying attention. It’s just that in the first-person case the evidence can include sensory input such as proprioceptive feedback or mental episodes such as judgments about mental states, neither of which are available to outside observers. So the perspectival difference (the gap you mention) is a matter of whether or not one is the person exhibiting the behavior or mental activity. Everyone might be in a position to have the experience of seeing my arm move, but only I can have the experience of proprioceptive feedback related to that movement. As you say, however, intersubjective agreement about my behavior is based on each observer’s first-person perspective report that they see my arm moving, that is, that they are having the experience of seeing it move. So as I think we agree, consciousness doesn’t drop out of the third-person perspective, rather it’s glossed over: generally we just report what happens in the world, leaving unstated that we know this via our own private experience.

    As for the qualitative aspects of experience (e.g., blueish), I’m not wedded to the idea of intrinsic properties, only that these aspects present themselves in experience as monadic (e.g., I can’t discriminate any color variation in a particular patch of blue sky as I gaze steadily at it). That presentation could well be, as you say, the result of our mental activities, not a further thing that we inspect. Yet I can discriminate, recognize, and report the experience of the patch of sky as being blueish and admitting of no further discriminable qualitative variation. So even though experiences, as we agree, aren’t objects that we inspect, we can still discriminate among their qualitative aspects, just as we can recognize when we’re paying attention.

    Of course, to repeat a point made above, we don’t usually talk about discriminating among experiential qualities, but rather about discriminating among objects represented in terms of qualities, e.g., the blue sky. In any case, I’m not yet persuaded that the qualitative aspects of experience that we discriminate objects by are illusory, even though such aspects aren’t objects.

  54. 54. john davey says:

    Peter


    I think you’re might be committing Frankish to various views he isn’t necessarily committed to. Can’t we suppose he means that qualia exist only as illusions?

    Illusions of what ? What is the deception in relation to ? Another, more “real” mental phenomena called “real consciousness” ?

    The senses can’t be deceived : they are what they are. Is a caucasian skin “deceived” into believing the sun is shining when it sits under a sun-ray lamp ? No – it still tans though. It still reacts to external events. Other people may nonetheless think that the sun caused the tan though, so they would be deceived by the sun lamp, not the skin.

    The senses are in the same position as the skin. It makes sense in colloquial language to say the “senses are deceived” but in reality what we mean when we say this is that the thoery of the external world that created this sense information isn’t right.

    Nobody with a formal education feels they are seeing an illusion when the sun sets : they know it is due to the Earth’s rotation. Uneducated people will think see an illusion though, because may they think the sun is sinking into the Earth. Same visual sense information, yet in one case there is an illusion and in the other case there isn’t.

    J

  55. 55. john davey says:

    Callan


    “Never mistaken about what you see?”

    No – and the video proves it. When the image is distant, I see Marilyn Monroe. When it is near, I see Einstein. I’m not mistaken about what I see in either case. I may be mistaken about what is causing those images though. I’m expecting the causes to be a certain way, and may well be surprised when they’re not : that is illusion. Totally subjective, in the ‘opinion’ sense of the word, that is.

    If that video is of a genuinely consistent image, then I would possibly be mistaken into thinking that it was two different images. Initially we have a classic illusion in which my theory of the world – that there must be two separate images – does not tally with reality. My theory is wrong, and that’s because my ‘basic operating theory’ assumes one image externally per image in the head. In this case, its wrong.

    On the other hand, if I’m aware – as I am – that the brain imposes structure on things, and that the same image in distant and close focus may well produce different images in the brain, the element of novelty and surprise somewhat disappears and it becomes difficult to argue that what I’m looking at is an “illusion”. The more I look at it, the more normal it will become, the less surprise, the less illusion.

    This has created a line of business of course. Magicians get substantially less thrill from their illusions than their audiences. But they still produce those mismatches of expectation that people enjoy watching – in the opinion-type-related subjective sense. There is no merit in regarding the idea of an ‘illusion’ as epistemoelogically meaningful.

    J

  56. 56. Peter says:

    John,

    Your view is that we perceive what we perceive, and that illusions are not defective perception, but false beliefs about the nature of what we’ve perceived?

    Well then, Frankish says we perceive a red rose and that we have the false belief that the red colour has an ineffable phenomenal aspect.

    I can’t see how he is committed to defending mthe view of perception and illusion you’re rejecting.

  57. 57. john davey says:

    Peter


    “Your view is that we perceive what we perceive, and that illusions are not defective perception, but false beliefs about the nature of what we’ve perceived?”

    Yes


    “Well then, Frankish says we perceive a red rose and that we have the false belief that the red colour has an ineffable phenomenal aspect.”

    OK. Red is red is red is red .. that is a property of the senses. “Red” has no origin in belief and has no relative reference points in my theories of the world. It is an isolated aspect of consciousness. Where is the illusion ? What am I being deceived about ?

    It seems to me that a phrase such as “ineffable phenomenal aspect” is an accurate descriptive term of sense data. It is not a statement of belief. It is not “up for grabs”. To suggest it is is to make a mockery of just about every statement you can make about the world, to deny the value of sense data altogether. “Space” has a phenomenal aspectual shape, an ineffable quality. Is experience of space an illusion ?

    I can of course say the opposite to the obvious and declare by fiat that “it’s not true. It just appears that way”. Well, that’s enough. The senses areappearance. No more,no less. Still no illusion.

    And if it isn’t ineffable/irreducible – the effate and reduce ‘red’ please Mr Frankish. I’d love to hear it.

    Sense data is sense data and cannot be deceived. If Frankish is saying that consciousness itself arises of out of theory – out of a theoretical or knowledge-based relationship with the world, then I think that is just plain wrong. Consciousness is as the senses – neither right nor wrong. It just “is” as a buddhist might say.

    I just don’t see the point at which any sense datum can fall foul of theoretical constructs, which is the suggestion.

    J

  58. 58. john davey says:

    Peter

    I’ve tried to be a bit more charitable to Frankish and I still don’t see the illusion. An illusion is an unexpected sequence of sense data : where sense data does not conform to our expectations. An illusion is based upon the consistent existence of persistent sense data. In that sense it is impossible to describe a belief that sense data is “wrong” as an illusion : it must be a delusion, a fundamental flaw in logic, in our theories of the world.

    If your representation of his opinion is correct, then there is still no illusion. There is no unexpected sense data : rather he seems to making the claim that we do not possess the ability to accurately analyse our own sense data. He is claiming delusion, not lusion.

    It seems to me that such a claim creates a mass of questions that goes to the heart of our ability to know anything. It is also – of course – a massive and fundamental claim about the operation of the brain, which should be based upon a solid bed of neuroscientific and psychological experimental data. But hey, this is cogntive science, and no-one ever bothers with trifles like that, so Frankish is taking no more liberties than the industry norm.

    JBD

  59. 59. Tom Clark says:

    Since Frankish denies there are phenomenal qualities, then isn’t he also denying that we experience physical objects as being colored, having tactile characteristics, and tasting and smelling certain ways? It sure seems like physical objects have these qualitative characteristics, but on his view they don’t. So when I refer to that red apple over there, I’m actually operating under a systematic illusion. What’s really going on isn’t that the apple is red, rather I mistakenly judge that it appears to be red. There are no qualities in the world or anywhere, only the illusory appearance of qualities in my inner life as I represent the world.

    Realists about color argue that, au contraire, the apple really is red – its redness is one of its properties, not a property of the mind; thus it’s being red is not an illusory appearance. But of course the only way we originally know about this putatively real redness is through our experience, in which case, on Frankish’s view, why should we trust the judgment that the apple really is red? Realists about qualia like me would say we’re under no illusion about the reality of red-as-experienced, so at least the question of color realism can arise for us: is the apple *itself* really red? But on Frankish’s view, that question can’t arise: the apple is definitely not red since we don’t even experience it as red. Nevertheless, we’ll go on talking as if these qualitative descriptions of physical objects are picking out real properties. It’s amazing the cognitive work illusions can do!

  60. 60. Charles Wolverton says:

    Arnold –

    I assume that in order for an SMTT subject to “see a triangle” (ie, create on the RS f-plane a triangular pattern of autaptic cells exhibiting the same pattern – or very similar patterns – of activity, the subject must have in the past been exposed to one or more triangular shapes. I further assume that the subject must be literate, in particular capable of either naming the oscillating figure “triangle” or describing it accurately enough for an experimenter to be confident that it is indeed a triangle that is being “seen” by the subject. Do either experimental results or the functioning of the RS confirm or refute these assumptions?

    When a subject “sees a red surface” in the FOV, I assume that in one or more RS z-planes there is a field of autaptic cells each of which is responding to retinal stimulation by exhibiting the same pattern (or very similar patterns) of activity, a pattern that the subject has learned to associate with the word “red”. In which case it would seem that what I take to be the referent of the phrase “phenomenal experience of red” is essentially the occurrence in the subject’s brain of that field of uniform cell activity, not something like “a qualitative patch of color in the mind’s eye”. Such an occurrence seems “irreducible” and “ineffable” only because a subject doesn’t have introspective access to the details of that activity (BBT?) whereas 3pp observers do, at least in principle. If that’s right, it would seem that phrases like “phenomenal experience of red” and “red qualia” are seriously misleading. What say you?

  61. 61. Mike Holliday says:

    Tom (53): “I’m not wedded to the idea of intrinsic properties, only that these aspects present themselves in experience as monadic (e.g., I can’t discriminate any color variation in a particular patch of blue sky as I gaze steadily at it). That presentation could well be, as you say, the result of our mental activities, not a further thing that we inspect. Yet I can discriminate, recognize, and report the experience of the patch of sky as being blueish and admitting of no further discriminable qualitative variation. … I’m not yet persuaded that the qualitative aspects of experience that we discriminate objects by are illusory, even though such aspects aren’t objects.”

    The “illusion” that Frankish refers to is our belief that, in addition to all those things which you mention – such as the experience’s monadic nature, and our ability to recognize, discriminate, and report on the experience – there is *also* some simple qualitative “feel”. Here’s what I think is his best summary of his position: “[T]he basic illusionist claim [is] that introspection delivers a partial, distorted of view of our experiences, misrepresenting complex physical features as simple phenomenal ones. Sensory states have complex chemical and biological properties, representational content, and cognitive, motivational, and emotional effects. We can introspectively recognize these states when they occur in us, but introspection doesn’t represent all their detail. Rather, it bundles it all together, representing it as a simple, intrinsic phenomenal feel” (p. 18).

    The key point here is that we apprehend as simple something that is actually complex. This is why Frankish refers to an “illusion”, commenting that the apprehension of a feel is akin to the effects produced by a skilled magician – in this case, the brain. Hence, it is similar to an *illusion*, rather than to an hallucination or a delusion (p. 274). So the monadic nature of a visual experience might be accounted for by reference to the effect of eye saccades, change identification, and so on (this is my comment, not Frankish’s).

    It seems to me that the critical question that Frankish is posing is this: what do we take the explanandum to be? Is it that the experience has some simple feel? Or is it our *apprehension* of the experience as having a qualitative aspect? If we adopt the former as explanandum, then (Frankish maintains) we have to accept the existence of the well-known epistemic gaps. The purpose of his article (which I can’t really do justice to in a few short paragraphs) is to make the case for taking the latter approach. He argues that this is a more promising route for a scientific explanation of conscious experience than, for example, affirming dualism and fundamental psycho-physical laws (e.g. Chalmers), or accepting qualitative properties and therefore the existence of an explanatory gap between such properties and physical or functional properties (e.g. the “phenomenal concept strategy”).

    To the objection that there is here no gap here between appearance and reality, his response (pp. 32-34) is that on the usual understanding of phenomenal properties there is indeed a gap, because there seeming to be a simple feel is not the same as infallibly introspecting a phenomenal property. Of course, *subjectively* there is no difference, but this is perfectly compatible with illusionism (p. 34).

  62. 62. Tom Clark says:

    Thanks Mike for these clarifications, and a happy new year to you, Peter, and all the gang at CE, for whom I’m very grateful.

    That the brain doesn’t represent its sensory states as what they physically and functionally are, but rather “bundles it all together, representing it as a simple, intrinsic phenomenal feel” seems plausible, but the question is whether the resulting representation actually presents itself as qualitative. Frankish says no. Experiences are just physical goings-on that engender the false judgment that there exist qualities.

    These false judgments – that there seem to be myriads of different qualities – are central to our pre-scientific characterization of physical objects: the apple appears to be red, tastes a certain way, has a certain texture, sounds a certain crunchy way when we bite off a piece, etc. Such characteristics aren’t found in scientific descriptions, which traffic only in quantifiable parameters such as mass, dimensions, chemical composition, location, wavelengths, frequency, pressure, etc. So on illusionism there’s still a contrast between the (purportedly false) qualitative descriptions derived from experience and (true) scientific descriptions. There’s still a distinction to be drawn between our first person, conscious take on reality and what science provides. That distinction arises due to the existence of the illusion of qualities as generated by certain representational processes.

    But of course qualities don’t *seem* illusory – as mere mistaken apprehensions of experience – but rather present themselves as the untranscendable basic elements of experiences which then drive judgments about what objects look, feel, taste, smell and sound like. If indeed all this is a matter of misrepresentation, then it still practically speaking amounts to an untranscendable subjective qualitative representational reality that science leaves behind in its objective characterization of the world. On illusionism, pains, tastes, smells, colors, and other sensory qualities still survive subjectively as seemings, as (false) appearances, and the project becomes of explaining why only certain sorts of cognitive goings-on result in the illusion of qualia. Since I’m a realist about qualia (I think they are real appearances, not seeming appearances), I suspect the explanation of the illusion of qualia will end up being the explanation of qualia themselves (thus closing the explanatory gap), but not as a distinct metaphysical kind, but as necessary result of being a representational system at our level of recursive complexity.

    Btw, I thought Tartaglia’s paper was fascinating, have ordered his book. His non-physicalist illusionism, as far as I understand it, seems to explore some new (to me) territory.

    http://www.jamestartaglia.com/publications/Illusionism.pdf

  63. 63. Mike Holliday says:

    DRAFT COMMENTS

    Thanks for (62), Tom; I think I’ve now got a better understanding of just what your view is.

    It seems that there are three positions that we might adopt with respect to the supposed qualitative aspects of experiences: (i) They are *intrinsic* qualitative properties, in the sense that the relevant property is not fully determined by other properties, processes, or whatever; (ii) They are non-intrinsic qualitative properties; or (iii) They are not qualitative properties at all, but only seem to be qualitative.

    Your stance, as I understand it, is that you are hopeful that (ii) might turn out to be correct, in which case the properties’ non-intrinsic nature should enable us to explain *why* experiences have qualitative aspects – probably due to their acting as representations of various properties of the world. You rule out (iii) because, as you put it, there is for us an untranscendable qualitative reality. This implies that if (ii) were *not* the case, then we would have no alternative but to opt for (i) and perhaps some form of naturalistic dualism. But I have one question: why do you say “I suspect that the explanation of the illusion of qualia will end up being the explanation of qualia themselves (*thus closing the explanatory gap*)” – surely on your own account the gap is unclosable?

    Frankish, on the other hand, opts for (iii) since, as I explained in my previous post, he believes that retaining a qualitative element in the explanandum rules out any explanation of experience because of the existence of the well-known epistemic gaps. And given his comments about “diet qualia” and suchlike, he may also think that (ii) is either incoherent or collapses into (i) or (iii).

    So what’s my own position? Well I rule out intrinsic properties, and therefore (i), for a host of reasons. I’m also an agnostic as to whether there’s really a substantive difference between (ii) and (iii). However, I’m more inclined to accept (ii) than is Frankish, but that’s because I don’t believe that the epistemic gaps have anything to do with the qualitative aspects of experiences. The reasons I think this are twofold. Firstly, as we discussed, there is a good reason to think that there must indeed be an epistemic gap between the third-person facts of science and first-person facts concerning our inner lives – but this gap has nothing to do with the qualitative aspects of experiences per se, and is explainable in terms of (very roughly) the development of interiority in complex organisms. Secondly, the gaps concern our epistemic activities – explanation, conceivability, etc. – and what’s important here is our *concepts* of the qualitative aspects of experiences, or more precisely the nature of the criteria by which we apply our concepts (which is the sort of thing that Chalmers summarises in terms of an epistemic, or primary, intension). Now it seems to me entirely plausible that the *criteria* by which we apply our qualitative concepts to our experiences are expressible in non-qualitative terms, and that they relate to our inner mental processes. Think about what would have to be the case for you to say that your concept of “sky blue” applied to your experience, rather than (e.g.) your concept of “red” – it would all be concerned with your inner mental activities. If you could you recognise the colour as that which you term “sky blue”, were able to judge that it is lighter than “navy blue”, etc., how could you *not* say that your concept of “sky blue” applied to your experience? In which case, those activities provide the criteria by which you apply your concept of “sky blue”, and there is no epistemic gap between facts concerning those inner mental activities and facts concerning phenomenal properties.

    For this reason, I do not accept that that there is any explanatory gap that is due to the qualitative aspects of experiences. There *is* a gap, but it arises because of the inter-subject agreement that is needed for objective facts, and is consistently *misattributed* to the qualitative aspects of experiences. I think I’d summarise my position by saying that the qualitative aspects of experience *seem* to be intrinsic, but they aren’t; and they *seem* to create epistemic gaps, but they don’t.

    So I think, Tom, that we both end up in a similar place but for different reasons. BTW, my comments concerning the epistemic gaps derive from a long – 27,000 words! – paper critiquing Chalmers. However, I’ve now managed to distil the essentials down to just 500 words:
    http://www.holli.co.uk/resolve.htm

    Also – you’re right about the commentaries on Frankish’s article. There were some very interesting points in there, and I should revisit them.

  64. 64. john davey says:

    Mike


    “We can introspectively recognize these states when they occur in us, but introspection doesn’t represent all their detail.”

    I think Frankish is a believer of the head-inside-the-head. Introspection is distinguished from experience when on fact it’s the same thing.

    It’s a bit clearer in this quote which makes his indirection fallacy more clear:-


    [T]he basic illusionist claim [is] that introspection delivers a partial, distorted of view of our experiences, misrepresenting complex physical features as simple phenomenal ones.”

    Introspection IS the experience, not ‘a view’ of it. Our sensory experiences are the same the “view” of them, so they can’t be deluded.

    If that’s what he’s saying, although like most cognitive scientists Mr Frankish is opaque, in the remorseless pursuit of unaccountability that characterizes his “discipline”

    J

  65. 65. Mike Holliday says:

    John (64): I don’t really see Frankish as someone who thinks in terms of a “head-inside-the-head”.

    Firstly: introspection is the examination and consideration of one’s inner mental processes – experiences, emotions, etc. And considering, or thinking about, a particular experience is certainly not the same as actually having that experience. It’s a separate mental process. Of course, if someone conceived of a visual experience (say) as a sort of object *which we then view*, then I’d agree with you – but that isn’t the same as examining and considering the experience, which is a cognitive matter.

    So what Frankish appears to be saying in those bits that I quoted is that the way we *think* about our experiences contributes to our misrepresenting them as simple when they’re actually complex. That may be right or it may be wrong, but I don’t think that it’s evidence that he’s believer of a “head-inside-the-head” as you put it.

    The second reason why I don’t think that he believes in a “head-inside-the-head” is that he is, on his own admission, heavily influenced by the work of Dan Dennett. In fact, Dennett enthusiastically comments on Frankish’s target article in JCS. And if there is one philosopher who has relentlessly argued against the notion of a “Cartesian Theatre” in the brain where experience all comes together for some sort of homunculus, then it’s Dennett. So Frankish would be the last person I’d expect to believe in that sort of notion!

    This still leaves the question as to whether there’s really a substantive difference between (i) an experience having a blue quality, and (ii) the experience only *seeming* to have a blue quality. Again, Frankish may be wrong to think there *is* a substantive difference, but that doesn’t mean that he thinks there is a homunculus inside the brain which has a view on our experiences.

  66. 66. Tom Clark says:

    Hi Mike (63),

    Thanks as always for the further elaborations of your view, which I see is very well developed and merits close inspection in evaluating Chalmer’s position (which is not mine, except we are both realists about qualia). Just to get back to you on a couple of things:

    “But I have one question: why do you [as a qualia realist] say “I suspect that the explanation of the illusion of qualia will end up being the explanation of qualia themselves (*thus closing the explanatory gap*)” – surely on your own account the gap is unclosable?”

    For some reason yet to be understood, only particular sorts of physically instantiated representational goings-on are accompanied by the existence of (real, not illusory) phenomenal subjective states. It’s possible that we might at some point come up with an explanation of why that’s the case, and indeed I’ve suggested some possible elements of such an explanation in part 5 of The appearance of reality. So I don’t see that the explanatory gap is a priori unclosable. What isn’t going to happen imo is that we’ll find qualia to be some sort of separate non-physical ontological kind, nor will we discover them to be a further physical kind that’s somehow produced by the brain or is fundamental to nature (ala panpsychism); nor are they likely to turn out to be the intrinsic, essential nature of certain physical states ala Russellian monism (knowers can’t access intrinsic, in-itself reality, only represent reality). Rather, I’d hazard the hypothesis that of necessity qualia end up existing as subjective representational realities for systems that instantiate certain sorts of world-representing functions, as obscure as that may sound.

    Re epistemic gaps, we have experiences on the one hand and our concepts of them on the other, just as we distinguish between cats and the concept CAT. Our general everyday concept of experiences is that they are qualitative and subjective (private, interior), whereas our scientific concepts of physical objects include neither qualities nor subjectivity, only quantitatively varying parameters. So naturally when we physically specify the neural processes associated with experience there’s nothing qualitative or private in the vicinity, so in knowing that specification there’s no access to any qualitative specification, no way to deduce one from the other. This seems to me just another way of pointing to the *explanatory* gap: we can’t (yet) see how objective physical states could give rise to, or just be, subjective qualitative states.

    Since experiences are private, we can’t compare qualities across persons, so we’ll never be in a position to deduce how red is for me and know for sure it’s like that for you. So there isn’t, as Chalmers seems to think in his paper Phenomenal Concepts and the Explanatory Gap (http://consc.net/papers/pceg.html ), “a truth about what it is like for ordinary people to see red things.” There are no objective non-relational facts about qualities (e.g., about how red looks in itself), only objective (intersubjective) facts about their relations. But, we might at some point be able to deduce, on the basis of a theory, that it feels *some* way, that is, that certain goings-on necessarily result in a qualitative state for the subject. This would be to close the explanatory gap insofar as experiences involve subjective qualities, even though we can’t ever specify those qualities apart from their relations. There are no specifiable private first-person phenomenal facts, as argued in Killing the Observer.

    I’m intrigued by your saying in your precis against Chalmers (URL below) that “…it is not just exteriority which is intimately linked with the emergence of interiority – so is *ontology itself*. Objects and properties as such – carved out, as it were, from the rest of the universe – cannot be thought of as existing without some form of interiority which distinguishes them.” This seems to get at the notion that reality is only known in terms of representations which themselves constitute an untranscendable *representational* reality. In our case as individuals this is the interior representational reality of being a conscious subject that has untranscendable experiences in terms of which objects and properties are distinguished. For science the untranscendable representational reality is that it can’t transcend concepts and quantities.

    Now reading Tartaglia’s book, the section on consciousness, which has things in common with what you say above I think, quite fascinating.

    http://www.holli.co.uk/PoM-Precis.pdf

  67. 67. john davey says:

    Mike

    I think initially I thought that what he was saying was what you have just said .. but it made no sense.

    There is no necessity for introspection to have an experience. You experience something – a truck driving over your toe causing pain, for example, without any ‘introspection’ taking place, for instance. You might reflect on it, but you don’t have to. But you do have to experience pain when a truck drives over your toe.

    So if inotrospection is peripheral to experience, and not connected to it, what is Frankish’s point exactly ? That our experiences may/may not be genuine but our ability to think about them is faulty ?

    He either means a) that we ‘introspect’ all the time and never experience, b) that we experience but cannot make sense of it afterwards or c) he has a head-inside-the-head.

    a) seems to me a complete dead end. All that says to me (and this is the problem with illsionism) is we need an account of how introspection generates that which we experience as mental phenomena, ‘illusion’ or otherwise
    b) seems a dead end too. That we experience something – say a pain – and then, in a blink of an eye, using the same organ, the brain, it becomes incoherent and lacks correspondence is complete nonsense. Its less useful and a bit more silly than solipsism.
    c) seems to me to be the only thing he can mean.

    If he’s a fan of Dennett, that might explain a bit. Dennett writes frequently with the intentional vagueness of a man avoiding accountability, like a civil servant.

    JBD

  68. 68. Mike Holliday says:

    Tom (66): “There are no specifiable private first-person phenomenal facts, as argued in Killing the Observer.”

    Oh! I had thought that this was something which you no longer believed to be correct. I had wrongly assumed this, based on your comments about (i) being a phenomenal realist, and (ii) agreeing that experiences are only *correlated* with brains states (not identical to them) and are qualitative in nature. But I can now understand why you say that an explanation of how it is that certain types of representational organisms have subjective, qualitative states would indeed close the explanatory gap: there would be no further facts concerning *specific* phenomenal qualities that would need to be explained.

    Having looked again at the ‘The unspecifiability of private facts’ section of ‘Killing the Observer’ I don’t think there’s anything there that I’d strongly disagree with. Yet it still seems to me that if I accept that my experience has a bluish aspect, whereas another of my experiences might have a reddish aspect, then there *is* a fact of the matter about which aspect my current experience has (although not an *objective* fact, for sure) – it’s blueish (and not reddish)!

    So I think you’re actually very close to Frankish. Both of you believe that if we accept that there are facts about qualitative phenomenal properties, then there is a danger of unclosable epistemic gaps. Frankish tries to evade those gaps by saying there are actually no such qualities, whereas you say there *are* such qualities but there are no *facts* about them. In connection with this, I was struck by the similarity between these two passages:

    Keith Frankish: “Phenomenal properties must not merely cause representations of phenomenality but have some genuinely ‘feely’ aspect to them. And it is unclear what this could be. What phenomenal residue is left, once features such as privacy, intrinsicality, and ineffability have been stripped away?” (‘Illusionism as a Theory of Consciousness’, p. 26)

    Tom Clark: “If a purported fact (‘my blue is like *this*’) delivers no informational content to its possessor, then one wonders if it’s a fact at all. Is a fact that delivers no content and no knowledge indeed a fact?” (‘Killing the Observer’, p.44) (BTW – if there’s a quality about which there can be no facts, is there really a quality there at all?)

    Thanks for the heads up about Tartaglia’s book. You’re right – there are similarities, although I wouldn’t necessarily agree with some of the things that Tartaglia says in his commentary on Frankish. I should get hold of his book, which does look interesting … if only I can find the time to read it!

  69. 69. Charles Wolverton says:

    Mike –

    Despite your regularly injecting the phrase “bluish aspect” (et al) into your very interesting comments, I remain unable to unpack its meaning. There is unquestionably a publicly distinguishable difference between the neural activity consequent to visual sensory stimulation by light in the “blue” and “red” parts of the spectral power distribution, and therefore presumably a privately distinguishable difference in any attendant phenomenal experience (PE). And a language-capable subject may respond to the former stimulation by uttering “blue” (or equivalent). But I don’t know how to get from that idea to the idea that a subject’s PE can have a tinted “aspect”. Are you just using such phrases as shorthand for my wordy description of the scenario?

    there *is* a fact of the matter about which aspect my current experience has (although not an *objective* fact) … it’s blueish

    Similarly, altho there is a public “fact” about the neural activity itself – it has such-and-such measurable characteristics – I can’t quite grasp the concept of a private “fact”. And the concept of a “bluish” one seems completely illusive. Can you elaborate?

  70. 70. Mike Holliday says:

    Charles:

    The reason I’ve adopted phrases such as “blueish aspect” is this: I wanted a way to refer to what some people describe as the qualitative properties of an experience that does *not* make any implicit assumption as to what those putative properties actually *are*. I’m therefore deliberately trying to avoid using phrases such as “qualia” or “phenomenal blueness”, etc.

    But I’m also trying to avoid “denying the manifest”, as Chalmers would put it, which would be to claim that there’s actually *nothing* blue at all about my experience, or that I don’t even have experiences.

    So I’m taking it that when I look at the clear sky there’s some difference about the experience I’m then having compared to when I look at the grass – namely, that there’s a “blueish aspect” to the first experience and a “greenish aspect” to the second experience. That way of putting it is intended to be neutral between various opinions as to what that aspect actually is, such as: (i) it’s an *intrinsic* phenomenal property belonging to my experience (e.g. Chalmers); (ii) it’s a non-intrinsic phenomenal property belonging to my experience (e.g. Tom Clark, I think); (iii) that my experiences only *seem* to have those subjective qualities (e.g. Frankish); (iv) it’s my judgement as to how things seem for me (e.g. Dennett, maybe); or (v) it’s certain states or processes of my brain, such as the occurrence of a particular field of uniform cell activity (e.g. Charles Wolverton).

    As to the status of “private facts”, I agree that there’s no *objective* fact about any such aspect of my experience – there can’t be, for the reasons Tom Clark and I have discussed. Yet there *is* a difference between what seems to be happening with me when I look at the sky compared to what’s happening with me when I look at the grass, and personally I’d call that a fact. But if you want to object that a fact is something that’s capable of being objectively agreed or verified by suitably situated observers, or something like that – then that’s fine. In that case there’s no possibility of any private fact concerning my experiences; but it’s still true that the difference between those two experiences is something which might require an explanation. And that’s all I’m trying to do, really, by using phrases such as “blueish aspect” – identify what needs to be explained without thereby begging the question as to what the explanation *is*.

    So what’s my own view? Well, at bottom I don’t think that there’s anything except the goings on in my brain. But I’m quite happy to acknowledge that there’s something to be explained. I’m simply using phrases such as “blueish aspect” to identify just what it is we want to explain.

  71. 71. Charles Wolverton says:

    Mike –

    As I suspected, our disconnect is mostly just a matter of vocabulary. For example, I agree that the phenomenal experience (PE) – however one understands that term – consequent to visual sensory stimulation by a “blue” sky must in most people be distinguishable from the PE consequent to stimulation by “green” grass. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to respond to those experiences by uttering different color names.

    But I have a problem with:

    I’m also trying to avoid … [the]claim that there’s actually *nothing* blue at all about my experience

    A sky is blue only in the sense of its being the source of visual sensory stimulation the spectral power density of which is concentrated in the part of the visible spectrum we call “blue”. A PE can’t be blue in that sense: no light emanates from the PE and there are no visual sensors in the brain to be stimulated. There may be an association between the color name “blue” and either the neural activity that a PE accompanies (or arguably the PE itself, which I doubt). But that’s the only thing that could be called “something blue about the PE”, and I’d call that an abuse of language.

    I have similar problems with the various “opinions as to what that aspect actually is”. In the absence of a fairly detailed explanation of how a PE might be effected, it isn’t clear to me what assumed difference the intrinsic/non-intrinsic distinction is meant to capture. How might one decide which of those words applies?

    I’m inclined to dismiss descriptions of PE as “illusory” or only “seeming” to be a certain way for the same reasons given above re “blue” PEs. I’m not even sure what it would mean for a subject to be fooled into thinking she’s having a PE but isn’t. In any event, as is asked in each CE blog page’s header, who/what is being fooled?

    As for my position, I assume PE is the result of a brain process (what else?) which takes brain states as input, and in trying to imagine what the process might be like I use Arnold’s Retinoid System (to the extent that I understand it) as a model. I speculate that the process is highly dependent on linguistic ability, which if true would suggest that prelinguals don’t have PE, at least not in the way we linguals do. But I’d be hard pressed to offer any more specifics.

  72. 72. Cathy Reason says:

    “Experiences don’t have qualities, they only seem to have them…”

    This whole thesis depends on an exploitable confusion in the meaning of the word “seem”. It would be reasonable to say “experience may not have the qualities it is assumed to have”. It is not reasonable to say “experience may not have the qualities it is experienced as having”.

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