angelanddevilTom Clark has an interesting paper on Experience and Autonomy: Why Consciousness Does and Doesn’t Matter, due to appear as a chapter in Exploring the Illusion of Free Will and Responsibility (if your heart sinks at the idea of discussing free will one more time, don’t despair: this is not the same old stuff).

In essence Clark wants to propose a naturalised conception of free will and responsibility and he seeks to dispel three particular worries about the role of consciousness; that it might be an epiphenomenon, a passenger along for the ride with no real control; that conscious processes are not in charge, but are subject to manipulation and direction by unconscious ones; and that our conception of ourselves as folk-dualist agents, able to step outside the processes of physical causation but still able to intervene in them effectively, is threatened. He makes it clear that he is championing phenomenal consciousness, that is, the consciousness which provides real if private experiences in our minds; not the sort of cognitive rational processing that an unfeeling zombie would do equally well. I think he succeeds in being clear about this, though it’s a bit of a challenge because phenomenal consciousness is typically discussed in the context of perception, while rational decision-making tends to be seen in the context of the ‘easy problem’ – zombies can make the same decisions as us and even give the same rationales. When we talk about phenomenal consciousness being relevant to our decisions, I take it we mean something like our being able to sincerely claim that we ‘thought about’ a given decision in the sense that we had actual experience of relevant thoughts passing through our minds. A zombie twin would make identical claims but the claims would, unknown to the zombie, be false, a rather disturbing idea.

I won’t consider all of Clark’s arguments (which I am generally in sympathy with), but there are a few nice ones which I found thought-provoking. On epiphenomenalism, Clark has a neat manoeuvre. A commonly used example of an epiphenomenon, first proposed by Huxley, is the whistle on a steam locomotive; the boiler, the pistons, and the wheels all play a part in the causal story which culminates in the engine moving down the track; the whistle is there too, but not part of that story. Now discussion has sometimes been handicapped by the existence of two different conceptions of epiphenomenalism; a rigorous one in which there really must be no causal effects at all, and a looser one in which there may be some causal effects but only ones that are irrelevant, subliminal, or otherwise ignorable. I tend towards the rigorous conception myself, and have consequently argued in the past that the whistle on a steam engine is not really a good example. Blowing the whistle lets steam out of the boiler which does have real effects. Typically they may be small, but in principle a long enough blast can stop a train altogether.

But Clark reverses that unexpectedly. He argues that in order to be considered an epiphenomenon an entity has to be the sort of thing that might have had a causal role in the process. So the whistle is a good example; but because consciousness is outside the third-person account of things altogether, it isn’t even a candidate to be an epiphenomenon! Although that inverts my own outlook, I think it’s a pretty neat piece of footwork. If I wanted a come-back I think I would let Clark have his version of epiphenomenalism and define a new kind, x-epiphenomenalism, which doesn’t require an entity to be the kind of thing that could have a causal role; I’d then argue that consciousness being x-epiphenomenal is just as worrying as the old problem. No doubt Clark in turn might come back and argue that all kinds of unworrying things were going to turn out to be x-epiphenomenal on that basis, and so on; however, since I don’t have any great desire to defend epiphenomenalism I won’t even start down that road.

On the second worry Clark gives a sensible response to the issues raised by the research of Libet and others which suggest our decisions are determined internally before they ever enter our consciousness; but I was especially struck by his arguments on the potential influence of unconscious factors which form an important part of his wider case. There is a vast weight of scientific evidence to show that often enough our choices are influenced or even determined by unconscious factors we’re not aware of; Clark gives a few examples but there are many more. Perhaps consciousness is not the chief executive of our minds after all, just the PR department?

Clark nibbles the bullet a bit here, accepting that unconscious influence does happen, but arguing that when we are aware of say, ethnic bias or other factors, we can consciously fight against it and second-guess our unworthier unconscious impulses. I like the idea that it’s when we battle our own primitive inclinations that we become most truly ourselves; but the issues get pretty complicated.

As a side issue, Clark’s examples all suppose that more or less wicked unconscious biases are to be defeated by a more ethical conscious conception of ourself (rather reminiscent of those cartoon disputes between an angel on the character’s right shoulder and a devil on the left); but it ain’t necessarily so. What if my conscious mind rules out on principled but sectarian grounds a marriage to someone I sincerely love with my unconscious inclinations? I’m not clear that the sectarian is to be considered the representative of virtue (or of my essential personal agency) more than the lover.

That’s not the point at all, of course: Clark is not arguing that consciousness is always right, only that it has a genuine role. However, the position is never going to be clear. Suppose I am inclined to vote against candidate N, who has a big nose. I tell myself I should vote for him because it’s the schnozz that is putting me off. Oh no, I tell myself, it’s his policies I don’t like, not his nose at all. Ah, but you would think that, I tell myself, you’re bound to be unaware of the bias, so you need to aim off a bit. How much do \I aim off, though – am I to vote for all big-nosed candidates regardless? Surely I might also have legitimate grounds for disliking them? And does that ‘aiming off’ really give my consciousness a proper role or merely defer to some external set of rules?

Worse yet, as I leave the polling station it suddenly occurs to me that the truth is, the nose had nothing to do with it; I really voted for N because I’m biased in favour of white middle-aged males; my unconscious fabricated the stuff about the nose to give me a plausible cover story while achieving its own ends. Or did it? Because the influences I’m fighting are unconscious, how will I ever know what they really are, and if I don’t know, doesn’t the claimed role of consciousness become merely a matter of faith? It could always turn out that if I really knew what was going on, I’d see my consciousness was having its strings pulled all the time. Consciousness can present a rationale which it claims was effective, but it could do that to begin with; it never knew the rationale was really a mask for unconscious machinations.

The last of the three worries tackled by Clark is not strictly a philosophical or scientific one; we might well say that if people’s folk-dualist ideas are threatened, so much the worse for them. There is, however, some evidence that undiluted materialism does induce what Clark calls a “puppet” outlook in which people’s sense of moral responsibility is weakened and their behaviour worsened. Clark provides rational answers but his views tend to put him in the position of conceding that something has indeed been lost. Consciousness does and doesn’t matter. I don’t think anything worth having can be lost by getting closer to the truth and I don’t think a properly materialist outlook is necessarily morally corrosive – even in a small degree. I think what we’re really lacking for the moment is a sufficiently inspiring, cogent, and understood naturalised ethics to go with our naturalised view of the mind. There’s much to be done on that, but it’s far from hopeless (as I expect Clark might agree).

There’s much more in the paper than I have touched on here; I recommend a look at it.

37 Comments

  1. 1. haig says:

    Just read the paper and am delighted to see so many of my own contentions on display in his thoughts, though with some quibbles.

    Peter> “He argues that in order to be considered an epiphenomenon an entity has to be the sort of thing that might have had a causal role in the process…but because consciousness is outside the third-person account of things altogether, it isn’t even a candidate to be an epiphenomenon!”

    Though I’m against epiphenomenalism, I can’t say this particular argument is too convincing. Consciousness, as in subjective experience, is not *completely* outside third-person accounts. In my framework consciousness does play a causal role in behavior to the extent that a conscious agent and his p-zombie would act very differently, which is why zombie arguments, for me, are non-starters. You cannot propose a zombie that is exactly the same as a conscious entity except for not experiencing consciousness and then state they will behave exactly the same while the zombie doesn’t have qualia or subjectivity. It is a nice intuition pump, but it is wrong. This is why conscious experience is not *completely* outside third-person accounts, when we’re able to show which behaviors absolutely rely on subjective experience, we can test to see if entities perform that behavior, which is a third-person verification of a first-person subjective experience as proposed by Dennett’s heterophenomenology.

    Peter> “Perhaps consciousness is not the chief executive of our minds after all, just the PR department? Clark nibbles the bullet a bit here, accepting that unconscious influence does happen, but arguing that when we are aware of say, ethnic bias or other factors, we can consciously fight against it and second-guess our unworthier unconscious impulses.”

    From a process philosopher’s perspective, this is already understood. The unconscious influences are controlled by a more evolutionary developed controller, just like an operating system controlling the instruction-set of a CPU. Your current conscious awareness is not controlled by the unconscious, it is the controller sitting atop those processes trying to tame and shape them.

    Peter> “Because the influences I’m fighting are unconscious, how will I ever know what they really are, and if I don’t know, doesn’t the claimed role of consciousness become merely a matter of faith?”

    Again, using heterophenomenology or introspection you can find some reasons for why you make certain judgements or experience certain emotions from certain stimuli. Our unconscious thoughts don’t stay hidden, they bubble up into our awareness and our actions, and those can be scrutinized.

    Peter> “I don’t think anything worth having can be lost by getting closer to the truth and I don’t think a properly materialist outlook is necessarily morally corrosive – even in a small degree. I think what we’re really lacking for the moment is a sufficiently inspiring, cogent, and understood naturalised ethics to go with our naturalised view of the mind.”

    Absolutely.

  2. 2. Vicente says:

    Well, it is an interesting way of rewording a lot oriental doctrines.

    But, as long materialist and naturalist foundations are there nothing changes. Agency is not explained, and randomness a la C.S. Peirce reigns. For what reason some individuals strive to increase their conscious awareness and protect themselves from manipulation, while others don’t, by chance… their neurophysiological states driven by boundary constraints (random to a large extent) determine that path. Why would conscious states be different from unconscious ones from a materialistic perspective. Epiphenomenalism is irrelevant for the moment since don’t have a clear concept of what consciousness is, this is to me the difference with the train whistle.

    The point about naturalised ethics is that it should address ACTIONS and BEHAVIOURS not individuals, not people. But, in order to judge, we need a set of criteria. To classify an action as good or bad, you have to set a GLOBAL PURPOSE to contrast upon it. Again, a teleonomy is needed for ethics. Now, all actions alligned with that purpose are good, the rest are bad or neutral. For example, all sentient beings true happiness is the goal, then all actions contributing to this goal are good (of course, a definition of true happiness is needed in the first place).

    Actually one of the main conclusions of materialism and naturalism is that the self, the ego, does not exist, and from this fact you could derive a whole ethics body.

    I hear a lot that people are accountable but not responsible, funny language trick. Let’s talk about actions and behaviours, and the process by which choices are made.

    As said before, materialism and naturalism leave no room for autonomous agency. Now, add a bit of randomness and all you can do is to hope to strike lottery.

    Tom, do you believe that behaviours resulting form conscious control are more likely to produce happiness, and that usually unconscious responses lead to suffering? If this is the case, why this bias? why is the subconscious playing against us in so many cases (not all)? Is it a problem of evolutionary obsolescence?

  3. 3. Peter says:

    haig, don’t our unconscious thoughts stay hidden?

  4. 4. haig says:

    @Peter

    Depends on how you define thought. Most of the brain is busy doing things completely isolated from our conscious awareness, but I wouldn’t call the visual cortex’s edge detection a thought. However, in the Freudian sense of unconscious thought, those base desires and default reactions to stimuli which underly our reasoned awareness, we surely can see their affects on our behavior and learn more about them, if not directly then at least by what they influence.

  5. 5. scott bakker says:

    Here’s an observation you don’t see that often: The *problem* of free will is so direct that teenagers regularly grasp it without a single philosophy class, and yet it takes years of specialized training to follow, let alone make a case for resolving that problem.

    And another: The human capacity to rationalize something they cherish is well-nigh bottomless.

    Here’s a theory: The human brain cannot solve the inverse problem of itself, and so must rely on heuristics, ways to solve issues of behavioural provenance in a manner that neglects the natural facts of provenance. ‘Free will’ is one of those heuristics. Since it constitutes a way to understand behavioural provenance *absent* information regarding its biomechanistic provenance, it is incompatible with reflection on that information. It was nothing but a rule of thumb to begin with.

    And the rub: It takes years of specialized training to understand this! But it does have the virtue of explaining the force of that teenage ‘incompatibility intuition.’

  6. 6. Charlie Chapple says:

    While ethics and free will can often be a head ache, this theory is fairly creative and feels fresh. It doesn’t really say anything about an actual ethical code, but instead proposes a hypothesis of how ethical decisions might work in our head. I like the image of the interplay between consciousness and the subconscious.

    My question is, would it be more appropriate to say ‘conscious decisions’ or ‘critical decisions’? Or are all conscious decisions inherently ethical? I’m probably splitting semantic hairs here.

  7. 7. Tom Clark says:

    Peter,

    Many thanks for posting on “Experience and autonomy” and for the kind words, glad you found it to your liking. Just picking up on a couple of points in your generous commentary, you say

    “Because the influences I’m fighting are unconscious, how will I ever know what they really are, and if I don’t know, doesn’t the claimed role of consciousness become merely a matter of faith? It could always turn out that if I really knew what was going on, I’d see my consciousness was having its strings pulled all the time. Consciousness can present a rationale which it claims was effective, but it could do that to begin with; it never knew the rationale was really a mask for unconscious machinations.”

    This is kind of a radical skepticism which although perhaps technically possible I don’t think we can or need take seriously as a real possibility. We perforce have to have reasonably stable, if defeasible, conclusions as to what the case is about our motivations, and those are based on what we consciously perceive to be the case, including our behavior (which may give us clues about heretofore unconscious influences) and the reasons we give to others and the feedback they give us. There could in theory be a set of governing unconscious motivations or influences consistent with my behavior which have little or nothing to do with my consciously avowed intentions, plans, values, etc., but to justify fears that there really was such a set, you’d need evidence for it. And if evidence accrues, then of course I can take steps to counteract their influence. So I don’t think that rationally we should be worried about radical skepticism concerning the deliverances of conscious processes concerning our motivations, or that our reliance on what those processes reveal to us is just a matter of faith, especially when vetted by the collective observations of our peers. There really is no alternative but to take consciously considered evidence as dispositive!

    “Clark provides rational answers but his views tend to put him in the position of conceding that something has indeed been lost.”

    Hmmm…not sure what this something is. As I point out, soul control (libertarian, contra-causal free will) is not worth wanting so the way consciousness doesn’t matter here is not something we need to regret. We don’t need to be immaterial conscious controllers exempt from determinism in some respect to have freedom, dignity and autonomy and to behave morally.

    I hope to respond to others’ comments in due course, appreciate everyone’s feedback. Thanks Peter!

  8. 8. Tom Clark says:

    Haig:

    I’m glad you found the paper mostly congenial to your way of thinking and I appreciate your replies to Peter re the status of conscious control. On a point of disagreement, you say

    “…when we’re able to show which behaviors absolutely rely on subjective experience, we can test to see if entities perform that behavior, which is a third-person verification of a first-person subjective experience as proposed by Dennett’s heterophenomenology.”

    I’m wondering if you could give an example in which behavior absolutely relies on subjective experience (that is, in which experience, above and beyond what the brain is doing, is necessary to account for the behavior) and how experience adds to what the brain is doing in behavior control. Of course if you think experience *just is* what the brain is doing in certain respects, then of course it contributes to behavior control.

    Vicente:

    “Why would conscious states be different from unconscious ones from a materialistic perspective.“

    Conscious processes (the neural goings-on associated with having conscious experience) are different from unconscious processes in the sorts of cognitive functions they enable, see http://www.naturalism.org/kto.htm#Neuroscience and http://www.unicog.org/publications/DehaeneChangeux_ReviewConsciousness_Neuron2011.pdf

    “Actually one of the main conclusions of materialism and naturalism is that the self, the ego, does not exist, and from this fact you could derive a whole ethics body.”

    Yes, under naturalism there’s no immaterial conscious controller independent of the brain such as a soul, and this has ramifications for beliefs, attitudes and policies premised on soul control (libertarian, contra-causal free will). Giving up the idea we could have done otherwise in actual situations has progressive ethical implications, see for instancehttp://www.naturalism.org/progressivepolitics.htm . But under naturalism there’s still a robust constructed psychological self that remains primary in our experience (http://www.naturalism.org/medicalization.htm#construction ) and the individual doesn’t disappear as a locus of behavior control, http://www.naturalism.org/demoralization.htm . So I disagree that “materialism and naturalism leave no room for autonomous agency” or a self.

    “Tom, do you believe that behaviours resulting from conscious control are more likely to produce happiness, and that usually unconscious responses lead to suffering? If this is the case, why this bias? Why is the subconscious playing against us in so many cases (not all)? Is it a problem of evolutionary obsolescence?”

    The behaviors resulting from conscious control are obviously essential to our getting by in the world at our level of sophistication, but they don’t necessarily produce happiness, only survival, if we’re lucky. Unconscious processes can sometimes subvert our conscious intentions but they are part of who we are for what I imagine were good evolutionary reasons. Our survival, and thus happiness in whatever measure we can find it, might depend in part on learning what our unconscious processes and susceptibilities to unconscious influences are and bringing them under greater conscious control.

    Scott:

    “The human brain cannot solve the inverse problem of itself, and so must rely on heuristics, ways to solve issues of behavioural provenance in a manner that neglects the natural facts of provenance. ‘Free will’ is one of those heuristics. Since it constitutes a way to understand behavioural provenance *absent* information regarding its biomechanistic provenance, it is incompatible with reflection on that information. It was nothing but a rule of thumb to begin with.”

    If I understand you correctly you’re saying we attribute soul control (libertarian, contra-causal free will) to ourselves because we’re ignorant of the neuro-biological determinants of behavior. So yes, as we come to realize that we are meat machines, this puts pressure on the idea of soul control. But of course it isn’t as if understanding the “biomechanistic provenance” of behavior undermines our status as rational beings that have conscious purposes. We might well be deterministic mechanisms, but we’re still reflective and reasons-responsive, which permits a huge range of behavioral flexibility that we like to exercise freely and voluntarily, given the opportunity. And we still have conscious experience, the subjective source of meaning and ethical concern.

    Charlie:

    “My question is, would it be more appropriate to say ‘conscious decisions’ or ‘critical decisions’? Or are all conscious decisions inherently ethical? I’m probably splitting semantic hairs here.”

    I don’t think there’s any ethical stance by which we could construe all conscious decisions as ethical. But conscious processes allow for critical evaluation of action (e.g., thinking about the consequences of a choice for others) which can play a big role in getting us to behave ethically when in fact we do so.

  9. 9. scott bakker says:

    Tom: We have our ordinary ways of talking about ourselves which happens to include terms like ‘choice’ and ‘reason’ and ‘responsibility,’ certainly. But the issue here – the issue you argue – is theoretical, not everyday and implicit. The question, it seems to me, is one of how far we can trust our metacognitive intuitions to guide our second-order theoretical accounts of these usages. The answer cannot be ‘utterly’ or even ‘more or less,’ since the free-will debate is a philosophical mire if there ever was one! We are at sea.

    The problem I have with Dennettian tacks such as yours is the way they opportunistically play both sides of the first-order/second-order metacognitive fence. So sure, we use the term ‘reasons’ all the time, but this in no way warrants inferring the reliability of our metacognitive attempts to understand ‘what reasons are’ via ‘reflection,’ a faculty we have every reason to think lacks access to anything approaching the information required to answer this question with any sort of reliability whatsoever. So then, why worry about making our intuitive second-order guesswork ‘fit’ with what the science is showing, especially knowing that the information scarcity is such that ambiguities can be gamed any which way – *that there is no end to possible compatibilisms*? Why not just stick with what the science is showing when it comes to theoretical questions?

    Do you think ‘free-will’ is anything more than a heuristic, which is to say, a way to make sense of things absent certain kinds of information? And if it is a heuristic predicated on the absence of information, why should we retain it once the missing information finally becomes available?

  10. 10. haig says:

    @Tom

    > “I’m wondering if you could give an example in which behavior absolutely relies on subjective experience…”

    I still think Penrose’s example of mathematical creativity is a good one, though for reasons slightly different than the ones he exactly argues for. Also, Antonio Damasio’s book Descarte’s Error covers how reasoning is predicated by emotion, and emotion is the quintessential example of subjective experience.

  11. 11. Tom Clark says:

    Scott:

    “Do you think ‘free-will’ is anything more than a heuristic, which is to say, a way to make sense of things absent certain kinds of information? And if it is a heuristic predicated on the absence of information, why should we retain it once the missing information finally becomes available?”

    For compatibilists, acting freely simply consists of such things as acting voluntarily, sanely, being reasons-responsive and uncoerced, so when they talk about having free will it refers to a perfectly reasonable, real phenomenon. For them, filling in the missing information (sticking with science, as you suggest) wouldn’t undercut having free will in this sense, so they want to retain the expression. But of course the contra-causal connotations of “free will” are widespread, which makes use of the term problematic. At the Moving Naturalism Forward meeting, many of the participants judged – against Dennett’s compatibilism – that we should stop using the term given its dualist baggage, and instead talk about voluntary action, and I agree. But I doubt that will happen.

    Haig:

    Certainly we experience emotional states as driving our behavior (I smile because I feel happy), and attest to that subjective fact, but the neural story of how the smile is generated is all that’s available to science. From a 3rd person observational perspective, emotions and other phenomenal states are nowhere to be found, only the neural processes and behavior that correlate with them, so they don’t and can’t play a role in explaining the smile from that perspective. Or so I think at any rate.

  12. 12. haig says:

    @Tom

    You’re right, of course, in stressing the opaque nature of subjective experience from a 3rd person objective analysis, and that science only ever sees neural correlates of behavior. However, my argument isn’t whether science can explain the phenomenology of the experiences themselves, it is more of an operationalist attempt at verifying that a particular agent is actually having those experiences. The point is to show that certain behaviors cannot occur at all without presupposing the subjective experiences that go along with them, if we observe those behaviors, then we must assume the agent is having those experiences as well.

    A smile is not a good example, there is nothing preventing the creation of an automaton that can emulate the facial expressions of different affects. My examples, though, are cases where the emulation of certain behaviors by a zombie automaton, which does not experience the required phenomenology, are provably impossible. In a sense, this really is just a reinterpretation of the Turing Test, except it does not make the error, which computational theories of mind do, that the behaviors explain the internal cognition, it only shows that they are indeed occurring.

  13. 13. Arnold Trehub says:

    Tom: “From a 3rd person observational perspective, emotions and other phenomenal states are nowhere to be found, only the neural processes and behavior that correlate with them, so they don’t and can’t play a role in explaining the smile from that perspective. Or so I think at any rate.”

    Isn’t this the case for all deep theoretical concepts in science? We cannot observe the subatomic particles that are assumed to exist; we only observe the systematic effects that they cause — for example, tracks in a bubble chamber. Why should phenomenal states be treated differently?

  14. 14. Tom Clark says:

    Haig:

    “My examples, though, are cases where the emulation of certain behaviors by a zombie automaton, which does not experience the required phenomenology, are provably impossible.”

    So you’re saying it’s impossible for a cognitive system to do what we do in certain respects and not have conscious experience. Or as you put it: “… certain behaviors cannot occur at all without presupposing the subjective experiences that go along with them, if we observe those behaviors, then we must assume the agent is having those experiences as well.”

    We have lots of evidence that experience and certain sorts of higher level cognitively complex behavior (neural and otherwise) are strongly correlated (see http://www.naturalism.org/kto.htm#Neuroscience and http://www.unicog.org/publications/DehaeneChangeux_ReviewConsciousness_Neuron2011.pdf ), but it seems to me it hasn’t yet been shown that experience is *necessitated* by such behavior. Could you show, using an example, of why it’s impossible that experience would be absent given certain behaviors?

    I think that the current evidence supports the claim that zombies are nomologically impossible, but they are nonetheless conceivable and logically possible because we don’t yet have a clear account of why experience is necessarily entailed, if indeed it is, by instantiating certain cognitive functions (although as people here know I have my guesses about the nature of that entailment :-)).

    Arnold:

    “We cannot observe the subatomic particles that are assumed to exist; we only observe the systematic effects that they cause — for example, tracks in a bubble chamber. Why should phenomenal states be treated differently?”

    We infer the existence of sub-atomic particles from their observable effects as described within a theory or hypothesis. Same with dark matter and dark energy: we infer their existence by observing certain effects that, if dark matter and energy existed, they would cause if our theory or hypothesis is correct.

    But there is no theory or hypothesis on hand of how phenomenal states could affect behavior, nor do we need to posit their existence to explain behavior since the neural story covers it all. If we restrict ourselves to observable data (as contrasted with conscious experience, which isn’t observable) there’s no reason to infer the existence of phenomenal states as causes of human behavior, unlike the dark matter/energy as possible causes of galactic behavior and cosmic expansion.

    Still, even though phenomenal states aren’t observed and aren’t causal from a 3rd person explanatory perspective (they aren’t needed as evidence-based explanatory posits, like sub-atomic particles), there’s no good reason to doubt their existence, although some do in rather roundabout ways, such as Dennett and the Churchlands.

  15. 15. Arnold Trehub says:

    Tom: “But there is no theory or hypothesis on hand of how phenomenal states could affect behavior, nor do we need to posit their existence to explain behavior since the neural story covers it all.”

    If you unpack what you say above, Tom, it seems to me that you are claiming that a phenomenal story (1pp) and a neuronal story (3pp) cannot be different descriptions of the same underlying events. I think both kinds of descriptions effect behavior.

  16. 16. haig says:

    @Tom

    >”Could you show, using an example, of why it’s impossible that experience would be absent given certain behaviors?”

    The reasons are technical and I won’t be able to do them justice here in a comment, but they are similar to Roger Penrose’s arguments.

    >”…we don’t yet have a clear account of why experience is necessarily entailed, if indeed it is, by instantiating certain cognitive functions (although as people here know I have my guesses about the nature of that entailment.”

    Could you explain or provide a link to an explanation of what your guesses are?

  17. 17. Callan S. says:

    There is, however, some evidence that undiluted materialism does induce what Clark calls a “puppet” outlook in which people’s sense of moral responsibility is weakened and their behaviour worsened.

    What was the evidence?

  18. 18. Tom Clark says:

    Arnold:

    “…it seems to me that you are claiming that a phenomenal story (1pp) and a neuronal story (3pp) cannot be different descriptions of the same underlying events. I think both kinds of descriptions effect behavior.”

    One wonders what the single set of underlying events are for these two descriptions. Seems to me there aren’t two descriptions, but rather two sorts of things: brain events and conscious experiences, and that they are very closely correlated. From a third person, external perspective, it’s the brain events that account for behavior, but as subjects we routinely attribute a causal role to experience as well, even though experience doesn’t figure in 3rd person accounts. Since there’s a close correlation for the most part, such attributions are convenient explanatory fictions as far as science is concerned.

    Haig: my hunches about explaining consciousness are at http://www.naturalism.org/appearance.htm Would love to get at least a sketch of Penrose’s argument, perhaps you could supply a link or two.

    Callan: re the purported corrosive effect of questioning free will on behavior, see http://www.naturalism.org/demoralization.htm#danger Recent attempts to replicate these findings have not been successful.

  19. 19. Vicente says:

    Tom,

    One wonders what the single set of underlying events are for these two descriptions. Seems to me there aren’t two descriptions, but rather two sorts of things: brain events and conscious experiences, and that they are very closely correlated. From a third person, external perspective, it’s the brain events that account for behavior, but as subjects we routinely attribute a causal role to experience as well, even though experience doesn’t figure in 3rd person accounts. Since there’s a close correlation for the most part, such attributions are convenient explanatory fictions as far as science is concerned.

    This paragraph is certainly “bizarre”. My questions: could there be a “loose” correlation for the remaining part? how close is it for the most part? Note that the smallest mapping gap(space/difference)makes a whole world difference. What would be the material substrate for the non-correlated conscious experiences? if any.

    And farther science is concerned, any intuition?

    Regarding your previous answer, conscious processes keep us alife , well sometimes, or the other way round. I believe survival is as much related to unconscious processes. Of course, it all depends on the survival scenario we consider.

  20. 20. haig says:

    @Tom

    Thanks for the link. Here’s a nice talk by Penrose that may help: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f477FnTe1M0

    My thoughts differ from his somewhat in the details, but the basic argument holds.

  21. 21. scott bakker says:

    Tom: “For them, filling in the missing information (sticking with science, as you suggest) wouldn’t undercut having free will in this sense, so they want to retain the expression. But of course the contra-causal connotations of “free will” are widespread, which makes use of the term problematic. At the Moving Naturalism Forward meeting, many of the participants judged – against Dennett’s compatibilism – that we should stop using the term given its dualist baggage, and instead talk about voluntary action, and I agree. But I doubt that will happen.”

    Some excellent answers down the line, by the way. Dennett’s position has always smacked of conceptual opportunism, like telling someone at their grandma’s funeral to simply start calling their dog, ‘grandma.’ ‘Terminological compatibilism’ is pretty much bound to sound like a cheat for those demanding metaphysical justification of their intuitions (which Dennett openly refers to as illusory). ‘Voluntary action’ is definitely a step in the right direction, or at least an intellectually honest one…

    The question is one of how wide that eliminativist door will eventually swing. Abandoning ‘free will’ and the associated metacognitive intuitions is one thing, but holding onto the assumed *conceptual role* it once played with a term like ‘voluntary action’ is quite another. The question then becomes the degree to which the metacognitive intuitions informing that role can be trusted: if just one Grandma were a dog all along, maybe it would make sense to give the next Grandma a break, but everywhere you turn in cognitive science nowadays you find Grandma’s revealed as (packs of) dogs.

    And if you think about, this is precisely what we should expect: that the scarcity of information available to theoretical metacognition (or ‘philosophical reflection’) would drastically compromise our prescientific inklings. This clearly seems to be what the flood of information provided by the sciences of the brain is presently revealing.

    In other words, my question regarding heuristics cuts deeper than you might think. You have the heuristic mechanisms the brain actually employs in social and practical cognition, and then you have the heuristics the brain employs in attempting to cognize itself. If it’s the former we’re interested in understanding, then the mathematical and mechanistic concepts of the sciences are all we really need.

    The problem lies with the latter, the question of what to do with the intentional concepts of the theoretical metacognitive tradition – with the bulk of philosophy! Now Dennett, I would argue, equivocates: since he never actually thematizes the metacognitive + heuristic nature of intentionality, he can fudge these two empirically distinct levels and speak of ‘intentional stances’ all the while decrying original intentionality. I’m essentially accusing you of the same thing: We pretty much *know* that theoretical metacognition has no chance in hell of accurately characterizing practical cognition, so then just what is it you’re trying to square or ‘compatibilize’?

    Another way to put it: What criteria do you use to distinguish between metacognitive dogs (such as the ‘feeling of willing’) and purported metacognitive Grandma’s (such as the supposed conceptual role inherited by ‘voluntary action’)?

  22. 22. Charles Wolverton says:

    Arnold: I think both kinds of descriptions [3pp neuronal, 1pp phenomenal] effect behavior.”

    Tom: Seems to me there aren’t two descriptions, but rather two sorts of things: brain events and conscious experiences

    I agree that the 3pp observing of neural activity and the 1pp “experiencing” of it should be distinguished, but I think calling the latter a description is misleading. As Tom has noted, experiences aren’t observed but are instead undergone. While a phenomenal experience may result in a verbal response that is interpreted as being a description of the experience, that’s just a linguistic convention. Such responses aren’t necessarily descriptions of anything; eg, mental imagery isn’t always required for detecting and responding to activity in the FOV. And as Tom notes, there currently appears to be no good theory as to how or even why we seem to have phenomenal experience, never mind a theory as to what its causal capabilities might be – in particular the capability to effect a verbal description of itself.

  23. 23. Arnold Trehub says:

    Charles, I claim that, from the first-person perspective, we do observe the content of our conscious experience. We do not observe the excitation patterns of our sensory receptors. The observation of features in our phenomenal world is called perception, memory, and introspection. The result of these subjective operations is an internal (1pp) *description* which we are unable to fully communicate in the 3pp domain.

    The retinoid theory is a good candidate theory of consciousness. It has been tested in a number of ways and provides powerful explanation for the evulutionary advantage of consciousness.

  24. 24. Arnold Trehub says:

    Typo: *evolutionary* advantage …

  25. 25. Charles Wolverton says:

    an internal (1pp) *description* which we are unable to fully communicate in the 3pp domain.

    Determining a word’s public meaning (ie, common usage) involves interpersonal communication, specifically a process like Davidson’s “triangulation” which requires two language speakers and a commonly experienced feature of the 3pp world. Usage of “description” per the quote is not only uncommon but is applied to a feature of the world that is not publicly accessible. That seems to make it part of a private language.

    So, I’m inclined to appeal to Lincoln: “calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg”.

  26. 26. Arnold Trehub says:

    Charles, if you are unwilling to accept the concept of internal (1pp) *descriptions*, I don’t think that you can make any progress in the science of consciousness. The problem we confront is one of epistemology. “Common usage” doesn’t get us very far.

    Tom: “One wonders what the single set of underlying events are for these two descriptions.”

    Yes, we can wonder about the underlying reality, but since we are not omniscient, we are unlikely to have full knowledge of the essential reality. The best we can do is compose theories that are supported by empirical evidence.
    In this pursuit (a science of consciousness), there is no getting away from 1pp and 3pp descriptions.

  27. 27. Tom Clark says:

    Scott:

    “We pretty much *know* that theoretical metacognition has no chance in hell of accurately characterizing practical cognition, so then just what is it you’re trying to square or ‘compatibilize’?

    “Another way to put it: What criteria do you use to distinguish between metacognitive dogs (such as the ‘feeling of willing’) and purported metacognitive Grandma’s (such as the supposed conceptual role inherited by ‘voluntary action’)?”

    If I understand your question, I guess I’d retain terms and concepts that have evidential support in the sciences (such as the voluntary-involuntary distinction) and/or that play ineliminable roles in our social practices (e.g., the concept of responsibility). Some terms and concepts, such as contra-causal, liberetarian free will, are pretty obviously incompatible with science and naturalism, so should be tossed (they are the dogs), but others like bearing responsibility (being a proximate, if fully determined, source of action that must be held responsible to maintain social norms) are compatible and so should be retained for their social utility (they are the Grandmas).

    The concept of voluntary action is important in that it helps demarcate the types of action that an agent can usefully be held responsible for. The feeling of willing is a (fallible) subjective marker for behavior agents (proximately) originate, so as long as we don’t freight it with any dualism or contra-causality, it’s perhaps not such a dog as all that. Seeing what we can square with naturalism, and how to square it (do we drop terms altogether or modify their meaning/reference?), is one of the on-going projects discussed in the Moving Naturalism Forward meeting.

    Not sure if these remarks really address your concerns, so feel free to explicate further if you’ve a mind to, thanks.

  28. 28. scott bakker says:

    Tom: So it’s just a matter of philosophical argumentation, the difference between metacognitive dogs (theoretically inapplicable metacognitive intuitions) and Grandma’s (theoretically applicable metacognitive intuitions)? This isn’t going to impress the skeptic.

    So take the notion of ‘conceptual roles': for someone like myself, who’s convinced that ‘concepts’ as the philosophical tradition conceives them, will, like memory or any other much studied human capacity, be revealed to be far more complicated and varied and less veridically geared than anyone could have imagined even a few decades ago, buying into inferentialism amounts to calling your dog, ‘Grandma’!

    And how could it be otherwise given just how little information the prescientific intuitions and observations leading to inferentialism draw on?

  29. 29. scott bakker says:

    Tom (again): Daughter interruption!

    The larger point is this. Operationalizing intentional concepts for use in various experimental concexts, like the voluntary/involuntary distinction, is well and fine, given the lack of any alternatives. Operationalizing intentional *terms* that have been mechanistically redefined – as can be done with the voluntary/involuntary distinction – has to be the safer route, don’t you think, given the radically heuristic nature of the former? And if so, the question becomes one of how this counts as anything other than mere terminological compatibilism or de facto eliminativism?

    I have the feeling I’m not being clear, though… Does this make any sense? My point is that people are going to continue holding each other responsible and so on no matter what, without any real theoretical sense of what they’re doing. It’s the *accounts* of this activity that are problematic. The question is whether our second order intuitions on this activity are reliable in any theoretically explanatory way, or whether they are ‘philosopher (and to a lesser extent, psychologist) make-work programs.’ Why not acknowledge that we’re likely trading dogs?

  30. 30. Charles Wolverton says:

    Tom-

    Re responsibility, I agree with your take, but I think it makes the distinction clearer if one uses a different word for the “social need” case as opposed to the “moral responsibility” case. To that end, I try to use “accountability” for the former because it may suggest that the issue is pragmatic rather than moral, thereby stirring fewer emotional reactions in hearers. Presumably, noone seriously doubts that society has to protect itself from predators even if their behavior is determined.

  31. 31. Roger Pitcher says:

    as a folk dualist, i reject as wrong/incomplete any description of reality that is materialist/emergent. it seems to me that the folk dualist position feels right – it is after all the basis of 5000 years of civilisation! physics itself becomes more and more ethereal. the phrase ‘too clever by half’ seems apt to describe most philosophers.

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