Picture: Alva Noë. There have been a number of attempts recently to externalise consciousness, or at least extend it beyond the skull. In Out of Our Heads, Alva Noë launches a very broad-based attack on the idea that it’s all about the brain, drawing in a wide range of interesting research – mostly relatively well-known stuff, but expounded in a style that is clear and very readable. Unfortunately I don’t find the arguments at all convincing; I’m not unsympathetic to extended-mind ideas, but Noë’s clear and thorough treatment tended if anything to remind me of reasons why the assumption that consciousness happens in the brain looks so attractive.

I’m happy to go along with Noë on some points: in his first chapter he  launches a bit of a side-swipe at scanning technology, fMRI and PET, pugnaciously asking whether it is ‘the new phrenology?’ and deriding its limitations: this seems a useful corrective to me. But in chapter two we are brought up short by the assertion that bacteria are agents.  They have interests, and pursue them, says Noë; they’re not just bags of chemicals responding to the presence of sugar.  Within their limits we ought to accord them some sort of agency.

To me, proper agency requires an awareness of what acts one is performing and the idea that bacteria could have it at any level seems absurd. How did we get here? Noë’s case seems to be that the problem of other minds is effectively insoluble on rational empirical grounds; we can never have really solid reasons for believing anyone else, or any other entity, is conscious; yet we find ourselves unable to entertain seriously the idea that our fellow-humans might be zombies. This, he thinks, is because we have a kind of built-in engagement, almost a kind of moral commitment. He wants to extend this to life fairly widely, and of course if brainless bacteria can have agency, it tends to show that the brain is a bit over-rated.  I think he’s unnecessarily pessimistic about the evidence for other conscious minds; as a matter of fact books like his are pretty spectacular evidence; how and why would human beings produce such volumes, examining the inner workings of consciousness in minute detail, if they didn’t have it? But bacteria have yet to produce such evidence in their own favour.

Noë rests a fair amount of weight on experiments which show the remarkable plasticity of the brain: notably he quotes experiments on ferrets by Mriganka Sur. New-born ferrets had their brains rewired in such a way that the eyes fed into auditory, rather than visual cortex; yet they grew up able to use their eyes perfectly well.  This shows, Noë suggests, that no particular part of the brain is required for vision. That might be so, but that in itself does not show that no brain at all will do the job, and obviously it won’t: if the ferrets’ optical nerves had been linked with their teeth, or left dangling unattached, they would surely have been unambiguously blind. The belief that consciousness is sustained by the brain does not commit us to the view that only one specific set of neurons can do the job.  Noë explains, quoting an experiment with a rubber hand, how our sense of our selves and where we are can be moved around in a remarkably vivid way. For him, this shows that where the brain is doesn’t matter; but for others it seems equally likely to suggest that what the brain thinks is crucial and where our real hand is doesn’t matter at all.

Noë wants to claim that the frequently quoted thought-experiment of a brain in a vat, extracted from the body but still living and thinking, is impossible in principle (we know it’s impossible in practice, at least currently). He suggests that even if we did manage to sustain a brain artificially, the supporting vat, providing it with oxygenated blood and all the other complex kinds of support it would need, would actually amount to a new body. This nifty bit of redefinition is meant to show that the idea of a brain without a body will not fly. But the real point here is surely missed.  OK, let’s accept that the vat is a new body: that still means we can swap bodies while maintaining an individual consciousness. But if we keep the body and swap brains… it just seems impossible to believe that the consciousness wouldn’t go with the brain.

This perception seems to me to be the unshiftable bedrock of the discussion. Noë expounds effectively the case for regarding tools and even parts of the environment as parts of our mental apparatus; and he brings in Putnam’s argument that ‘meaning isn’t in the head’. But these arguments only serve to expand our conception of the brain-based mind, not undermine it.

My sympathy for Noë’s case returned to some degree when he discussed language. He notes that for Chomsky and others language seemed a miraculous accomplishment because they misconstrued it as an exercise in the formal decoding of a vast array of symbols. In fact, language is an activity rather than a purely intellectual exercise, and develops in a context, pragmatically.  I’d go along with that to a great extent, but while Noë sees it as proving that our decoding brain isn’t the crux of the matter after all, it seems to me it proves that decoding isn’t really what our brains are doing when they process (a word Noë would object to) language.

I sympathised even more with Noë when he attacked the idea that reality is, essentially, an illusion. If this were the case, the brain would be the all-powerful arbiter of reality (although it might seem that if the world is an illusion, the brain must be one too, and we should be dealing with a mind whose actual nature need not be pinkish biological glop). But he seemed to be back on weak ground when he concluded by taking on dreams. Dreams, after all, seem like the perfect evidence that the brain can produce conscious experience without calling on the senses or the body.  Noë argues that dreams are more limited than we think, that not all waking experiences can be reproduced in dreams, which are always shifting and inconstant. This might be true, but so what? If the brain can produce conscious experiences on its own – any conscious experiences – that seems to show that, with all caveats duly entered, the brain is still where it really happens.

It’s a well-written book, and for someone new to consciousness it would provide many excellent short sketches of thought-provoking experiments and arguments. But I’m staying in my head.

135 Comments

  1. 1. Gary Williams says:

    As someone very sympathetic to Noe, let me attempt a defense of his claim that the mind is “out of the head” and that it is not just the brain which is important to consciousness, but rather, the joint brain-Earth interaction.

    First, in regards to agency, Noe takes his cue from Varela and Maturana’s theory of autopoietic systems. Autopoietic theory says that the unicellular organism is the root of all mind because (1) we evolved from unicellular organisms and (2) our ontogenetic history starts as a unicellular organism. Accordingly, Noe defines agency in terms of the self-regulating, goal-directed autonomy demonstrated by these autopoietic systems. Organisms are said to be “structurally coupled” with the environment. While sure, this might not be agency *qua* agency insofar as it is not metacognitive, there are reasonable grounds to suppose that autonomous goal-directed behavior can support a “minimal” sense of agency. Accordingly, when Noe claims that bacteria are conscious, one must keep in mind a distinction (which he, unfortunately, does not draw) between primary consciousness and secondary consciousness (metacognition, introspection, etc). Noe’s claims become a lot less radical when you realize his theory of “enaction” is only really applicable as an explanation of primary consciousness, not secondary consciousness.

    Second, in regards his claim about the brain not being sufficient for consciousness, let me explain. If we accept the basic teleological nature of organsisms, then we can say that brains evolved to react to entities in the real world (in accordance with their internal needs/interests). We can say that brains are intentionally directed towards the real world insofar as information necessary for surviving is to be found “out there”, in the world. So primary consciousness directed at the world because this is how survival works: we seek stimulus-information for the control and guidance of behavior. This grounds Noe’s claim about the brain being necessary but not sufficient for mind in at least two ways. First, we could not imagine an organism without an environment. Organisms, by definition, evolve in environments. And whereas the environment does not need the organism to exist, the organism needs the environment to exist. Second, the brain is not sufficient for consciousness because he defines the brain’s teleological “purpose” as attending towards information in the environment. This is where Noe takes his cue from J.J. Gibson’s theory of ecological optics.

    This is also the crucial point of the Ferret experiments. The experiments don’t show that the brain is not important for consciousness. What they show is that the brain evolved so as to be directed at stable environmental invariants (which lead to invariant patterns of stimulus). This is the essence of the ecological thesis that Noe defends. Take away the world, and the brain has nothing to “resonate” to, in Gibson’s terms. For this reason, the brain is not sufficient for primary consciousness. Accepting this thesis doesn’t imply that the brain is unimportant to consciousness. On the contrary, it merely seeks to demonstrate the essential purpose of the brain: to be directed towards the world, not create an inner 3D model of it. Here, Noe borrows from Rodney Brooks is accepting that “the world is its own best model.”

  2. 2. Peter says:

    Thanks, Gary, that’s helpful.

    I see that Noë’s interpretation of the ferret experiments has been criticised more robustly elsewhere.

  3. 3. Peter Hankins is Skeptical of Alva Noë (plus my response) | Minds and Brains says:

    […] Hankins from the wonderful site Conscious Entities just posted a short review of Alva Noë’s latest book, Out of Our Heads. Peter is skeptical of Noë’s claim that we are not just our brains. My […]

  4. 4. Mike Spenard says:

    Hi Peter,
    Others and myself were just talking about Noe (and Chopra) in the “Qualia: the movie” thread. Perhaps you could be kind enough to comment on a reposing of what I had said in there on Noe’s seeming Behaviorism?! ; and also any thoughts on Noe teaming up with Chopra (http://deepakchopra.com/2010/07/deepak-chopra%20-interview-with-dr-alva-noe-on-sirius-xm-radio/):

    I read Noe’s book this winter and he seems to be advocating for a form of logical behaviorism (not the Skinner-ian kind) at times. E.g. p.xii,7,24-26,42,90. He even has a section called “Consciousness Is Like Money” which is strikingly almost verbatim what Ryle and Dennett have written (see Dennett’s intro to Ryle’s CoM); it’s odd that he rips off this analogy and doesn’t give a citation–probably because he wants to distance himself from that camp yet ironically use their analogy. And on page 15 he says “smiling is part of happiness” and on page 24 “consciousness is something that we DO”. Ryleian statements if there ever were! And considering that line of thought is an explicit attack on the ghost in the machine Noe makes for a funny bedfellow with Chopra.

    As Chapora certainly wants to do away with both behaviorism and physicalism entirely. And he’s even willing to say neurology has little to nothing to do with consciousness, “is that consciousness is not located nor localized nor originates in our brains”. Yet Noe seems to not be advocating for this at all, only for an expansion of what contributes: to allow for non-CNS processes to be part of the mix (this is the part of Noe I can agree with), “Now there’s no question whatsoever that the brain is necessary. But the idea that has begun to come into focus for many researchers is it’s necessary but maybe it’s not sufficient.” (but who ever really disagreed with that in any strict sense? Certainly not the person he pits himself against as his prime rival, Marr). Which by no way excludes physicalism, at least not with that statement, which is what Chopra is after.

    Noe seems to be pro-behaviorism and and anti-neurology one minute and then anti-behaviorism and pro-neurology another. Is anyone else seeing this or am I misreading him?

  5. 5. Peter says:

    Mike,

    I generally agree with what you say. It is striking the way parts of this echo Ryle. And an alliance between Chopra and Noë certainly seems a bit strange.

    Hard to be sure what’s going on there, because I’m not completely clear about what Noë thinks is the true position – perhaps others who have read more of his stuff will be able to help. He does seem to take the view that a kind of behaviourism is the actual scientific truth, but then there’s this stuff about how we can’t help attributing an inner life to people, and in some way are sort of morally bound to do so. That’s still a long way from Chopra so far as I can see but it might be a sort of chink in the armour.

    Folks – I perhaps ought to mention that I’m going to be away in Italy for two weeks now (I’m sitting with my suitcase beside me as I type) and probably not allowed any kind of online access. But you’re more than capable of managing without me!

  6. 6. Ken Aizawa says:

    Hi, Peter,

    Thanks for the link to my discussion of Noë. Have a safe trip to Italy. I’m jealous!

    Ken

  7. 7. Mike Spenard says:

    Noe seems to pit himself against David Marr as his arch enemy.

    At first I was sympathetic to Noe, ‘Perhaps Marr’s ideas are to representational, and leave us with the homunculus fallacy?’, I thought. But I went and reread Marr’s Vision, and started to reconsider: his ‘primal’ and ‘2d sketches’ are both highly distributed and the lower you go systematically the less the homunculi would have to know; until they are dumb brutes; “homunculi are bogeymen only if they duplicate entire the talents they are rung in to explain. If one can get a team or committee of relatively ignorant, narrow-minded, blind homunculi to produce intelligent behavior of the whole, this is progress” (Dennett 1978). So Marr’s use of the word ‘representation’ doesn’t seem to be ‘what we have in mind’ when we normally use that word. Pun intended ;)

    So I’m left thinking Marr’s ideas might even be compatible with Noe’s ‘extended mind’ theory when taken in this way, i.e. perhaps we could make an amendment and say there is a ‘pre-primal ensemble’ or constituency outside the CNS. After reconsidering Marr I think Noe is either misrepresenting him (knuck-knuck) or honestly misunderstands him.

    Anyhow, what do others here think about Marr in contrast with Noe?

  8. 8. Mike Spenard says:

    Also, Noe seems to align himself with Merleau-Ponty quite often; but I really don’t know much about M-P other then that he was a phenomenologist. Could someone be so kind as to fill me in?

  9. 9. Shankar says:

    Seems like an interesting book. Will try to get my hands on it.

    But I don’t know in what context Noe argues that dreams are more limited than we think.

    Sure, the scenes shift and the overall plot makes no sense most of the time on waking up, but the sensory experiences always tend to be realistic. By sensory, I mean not just sight and sound, but everything one could think of -smell, acceleration, nausea, etc.

    In fact, they are put together so beautifully instant by instant that, at least for me, there has never been an inconsistency between the different senses or the larger plot at any particular moment.

    It’s almost a wonder how this is even possible. If we are dealing with real sensory data, the consistency is automatically assured by the real world (for example, when you open the fridge, you don’t expect a draft of hot air to come out of it).

    In the case of dreams, the central ‘director’ has to make sure that all disparate parts of the brain dealing with different qualia are all synchronized with each other and also with the overall plot, in real time .

    In my opinion, this is infinitely more complex and involved than straightforward translation of external data into corresponding qualia, where synchronization and consistency are assured.

    In fact, I believe that unless one invokes Quantum Mechanics, this aspect of the brain can never be explained.

  10. 10. Kar Lee says:

    Hi Shankar,
    Here is one case I remember about dream: A man dreamed of taking part in some kinds of movement (political?) and some long time after that, many many activities which occupied a substantial part of his life in the dream, he was arrested and subsequently executed by having his head chopped off. Upon his waking up, he found a pillow just fell on his neck.

    In the brief moment when the pillow landed on his neck, his brain fabricated the entire life story of his leading to his execution in the dream to account for the sensation he felt on his neck, before waking up.

    How does the brain do that?

    I think there is a mechanism at work. In order to come up with an explanation for the sensation on the neck, the brain (which is an organ constantly trying to justify the reality such as explaining away ones own silly action) searches through existing pockets of experience retained in its memory. When it found something remotely usable, it links them up and bamb! a story (or rather, the qualia of a story) is formed instantaneously, and you have this lighting speed story creation. The story does not need to be self-consistent because you won’t know it inside a dream. Everything seems to make sense inside a dream. You notice inconsistency upon waking up.

    Similar thing may happen in problem solving. An idea came from nowhere in a flash, and you know the problem is solved. But to put it in logical steps so that other people can follow, so that you can justify your idea to both yourself and others, you have to go back and re-construct the idea step by step using logical thinking, in the language of a particular specialty that is most appropriate. Sometimes the logical brain will prove that the initial intuition was actually wrong. So the intuitive part of the brain is not fail-proof.

  11. 11. Shankar says:

    Kar Lee, that’s an interesting anecdote. But I doubt if the entire story was fabricated after the pillow fell on his neck.

    Most probably, the story was already progressing in some random manner, and the dream just incorporated the sensation of the pillow falling on his neck as his execution.

    I have had such instances of external noises getting incorporated into my own dreams. But in such cases, the tempos of the dreams were roughly in line with real time. I don’t see how the history of some political movement could be compressed into something less than a second of real time, once the pillow hit his head.

    If what you stated is true, that would mean that nerve impulses have to travel a zillion times faster than normal speeds (like a CPU on overdrive, but by a factor of 100x or more). That is assuming that normal neural activity as we understand leads to dream experiences in the first place. But if there is some mysterious quantum mechanical process behind dreams, your scenario is entirely possible.

    The reason I believe QM might be involved is that, compared to decoding of sensory data from organs (which is a forward neural network and can be combinatorial and rather straightforward), creating simultaneous sets of sensory data which are consistent from a central theme is infinitely more complex. This will mean that brain structures need to operate in reverse, with higher level recognition structures creating lower level (such as pixelated) representations.

    Now, there is no a priori reason to believe that the brain needs to operate in reverse mode during the course of its normal functioning when processing real data from sense organs. So, the question then is, is reverse operation capability anyway incidental and can be accomplished with the normal forward data path? If the answer is no, then how much extra complication is required for reverse operation? And why did evolution favor this?

    My own theory is that the brain operates only in forward mode. Dreams take place on the ‘other side’ of the mind-body interface. The brain can nudge the sequence of events a bit here and there by using its channels for the interface which give rise to qualia in the first place. In some instances (such as the pillow falling), the brain can ask the mysterious dream director to incorporate them into its existing screenplay or even command it to stop it altogether (such as when the alarm goes off).

    So basically I am leaning towards a theory where higher level scripts of dreams are translated into lower level sensory qualia without causal neural firings at all. It happens on the ‘other’ side of the mind-body interface in some mysterious manner. Our causal brain structures are simply not wired for this herculean task.

    Disclaimer- I am not a neurobiologist.

  12. 12. Kar Lee says:

    Shankar,
    I also believe quantum process need to be involved in our brain, but for different reasons. For the speed of dream, I think we can move along without QM just yet. Here is my reasoning. In the paper “Three Laws of Qualia” http://www.imprint.co.uk/rama/qualia.pdf Ramachandran and Hirstein argued that we can eff the ineffable by linking up with another brain, much in the same way the corpus callosum linking the two hemispheres of our brain together, and feel the other person’s qualia. Whether the result is the true effing of the ineffable qualia of other mind or is just a simple reinterpretation of other people’s internal brain signal by our own brain in the form of our own qualia is debatable, the possibility is such that some previous lengthy experience in another brain (or other part of the brain) can now come to you in a flash (existing data, rapid transfer).

    Another factor at work here may be that the way we experience qualia of a long period of time is not by recalling everything that has happened, but by a simple raw fuzzy feeling without details. For example, one week has gone by and you are still not making any progress on the project and the clock is ticking, you may come to a moment that feels “Ah… it has been another week” and accompanying whatever anxiety you may have at that moment. You FEEL the length of time that has passed. Not that you recall all the details of events during that week at the moment of the feeling, which may be reconstructed later, but just the knowledge and feeling of having gone through one week (without details) is there.

    I suspect when the dreamer’s brain tried to make sense of the sensory input from his neck, the brain’s neural network quickly fell into this local minimum, which resemble the chopping off of the head. Then, in order to make sense of why its head was being chopped off, the brain quickly falls into another local minimum that is consistent with a sense of a long time has passed, and quickly fill in the details from its past experience (real or pseudo experience) in order to make sense of that, in a fashion similar to linking up with other brain and those experience come to you in a flash. Of course, it is possible that if some kind of dream is already on-going at the moment of the neck sensation, such as in the middle of a football match, the brain might interpret that as being hit by a ball.

    Anyway, the sensation of having a lengthy experience could happen rapidly if some neural pathway is suddenly established and a past experience (pseduo memory or real, or even part pseudo and part real) is accessible.

    I read this story a while ago and can no longer find the source, unfortunately.

  13. 13. Shankar says:

    Kar Lee,

    Assuming that we don’t question the credibility of the subject’s version of this pillow incident, it is possible that 1) the subject was already dreaming about the incident when the pillow landed on his neck at the right time (coincidences happen and only they get reported) or 2) the subject became a victim of false memory recall and reported what never really happened (albeit honestly). The latter possibility happens even with recalling real memories.

    But I don’t know what you mean by ‘falling quickly into the local minimum’. Will this be a quantum state? Or some classical neural impulse pattern? If it is the latter, I doubt that a state corresponding to the entire sequence of events in the dream can ‘fall’ so quickly. If that were the case, we should be able to verify this experimentally by a huge spike in the EEG connected to a subject in a controlled experiment.

    Most likely, the so-called ‘fall’ may just have to do with triggering a series of events at a slow pace like in the second possibility I had outlined above.

  14. 14. Kar Lee says:

    Shankar,
    Sorry for the confusing terminology. By falling into a local minimum, I was simply referring the case of artificial neural network that given an input, it quickly arrives at the state for output by “falling into a local minimum” in terms of those firing/non firing coefficients that have been previously trained (similar to the recall of memory, pattern matching, etc).

    False memory for dreams do happen upon waking up. So that is a possibility.

  15. 15. Charles Wolverton says:

    Mike –

    I’ve finally gotten back to your draft and now understand why I was having so much trouble structuring a comment. I of course agree with those things I already knew, and the many things I didn’t almost all resonate. So, I really have little to say in response except “good job!”.

    A couple of exceptions. I think you may be underestimating the extent of the similarity between color and shape. It seems to me that the idealist-realist conflict confuses the attributes a physical object has from a technical perspective – and which consequently are talked about only in a small community – and the attributes that are commonly talked about in the larger community. For example, the technical description of the “colors” of an object presumably would be a detailed specification of the light reflective properties of its surface. The “colors” commonly talked about are the words associated with “normal” phenomenal experiences of visible objects.

    Similarly, the technical description of an object’s shape might be a detailed specification (perhaps in mathematical terms) of its space occupancy while in common conversation we talk of geometrical figures, relative sizes, colloquialisms, etc. The technical attributes seem appropriate to the realist position, the common attributes to the idealist position; but they appear to comfortably coexist.

    And FWIW, I do suspect that in a certain sense we do in fact “paint” objects those phenomenal colors in our minds, and for exactly the color-coding reasons you describe in the draft. Without a mental image of the FOV (I’d call it a “representation” if that word weren’t somewhat overloaded, so think of it as an “interpretation”) of the FOV contents, it would be possible but time consuming to sort things, identify changes, et al. The mental image/interpretation seems a useful aid in doing those things, an aid that evolution has conveniently provided us. (The implementation of this – if any – is, of course, TBD.) I may be wrong, but I think this view avoids the question “but who/what is :looking at” the mental image?” because the image is the illusion that makes us think we “see” the scene before us while in fact we are only collecting sensory inputs from it.

    I’m responding in this thread (rather than the Higgs thread) because I suspect your perspective on vision from the perspective of color can be applied to some of the issues on vision from the perspective of shape raised in Prof Aizawa’s critique of Noe:

    http://www.centenary.edu/attachments/philosophy/aizawa/publications/dontgiveuponthebrainfinal.doc

    I’ve tried writing a (long) comment along the lines I envision, but it isn’t coming together. So, I’m essentially passing the buck to you. :>)

  16. 16. Mike Spenard says:

    Thanks Charles. Glad the piece is somewhat cohesive for you. It’ll give me motivation to come back to it in time and do some areas more justice.

    You may be right, I may be downplaying the relation between shape and color; all shapes do have a color after all. However, the part of the visual system for shape certainly uses different parts then those of color, and the former might be more integrated with non-visual senses. So, for now, the simple point that shape is a more redundant feature than color is enough for me to gain the grown on expounding the nature of color.

    But it could very well be true that shape has a relative ontology too; we only need consider distances to see how this could be. How far is it around the coast of Britain? A map will say X amount of miles. But for an mouse, who has to pay greater head to finer obtrusions than man, it will be greater than X. As Quine said: Consider what it would be like to debate over the existence of miles without ascending to talk of ‘mile’. “Of course there are miles. Wherever you have 1760 yards you have a mile.” “But there are no yards either. Only bodies of various lengths.” “Are the earth and moon separated by bodies of various lengths?” The continuation is lost in a jumble of invective and question-begging. When on the other hand we ascend to ‘mile’ ask ask which of its contexts are useful and for what purposes, we can get on; we are no longer caught in the toils of our opposed uses. This was what I was going on about with Alaska; which I had written before finding this little gem of Quine’s.

    Ontology, the whole lot, seems to hang on usage and purpose. But does this force us into being Idealists?

    . . .

    “For example, the technical description of the “colors” of an object presumably would be a detailed specification of the light reflective properties of its surface. ”

    Well, the technicians of the visual sciences have run up against a wall. They can’t just say SPD X = color Y. Light source and visual response of the subject change the result. So to get around that they stipulate a certain light source and viewing angle; which are arbitrary. But if we correctly interpret what you said, then “color” in the technical sense is no longer “color” at all really, but SPD. And color is only attributable from a phenomenological perspective. Which is where typically the conversation goes into a philosophical fever. But at this stage is the game it can’t be denied that that phenomenological perspective can be explained without a linguistic, evolutionary and information centric perspective. That puts phenomenology on a big leash.

    “The technical attributes seem appropriate to the realist position, the common attributes to the idealist position; but they appear to comfortably coexist.”
    Right, technicians do get on with their business of course. And people do just fine amongst each other with their unsophisticated mental terms. So they certainly coexist. I haven’t the knowledge or skill yet to properly substantiate my hunch, but this bifurcation seems to be wired right into our language; what I’ve called Semantic Dualism. Obviously nature has a strict modus operandi of wiring neurology to divide the world into “Me” & “Notme”; therefore, my chips are on the bet that language has inherited this m.o. during the course of its evolution and development from its non-linguistic roots. And now we bear the burden, as the result of this unimaginably long m.o. operating on how we think and how our language allows us to think. Ergo, the insoluble mind-body problem.
    Heck, I seem to have the hardest time getting across to people that unless you resolve mental terms into non-mental terms at some point (e.g. to describe how something at the personal level is attributable to sub-personal phenomena) then you’ve simply recast one mental term into another; and your description is circular and does no real work other then a repackaging of the problem. E.g. explaining a “desire” with a “feeling” or “thought”, or “image” or “representation” or “command” or “message”; all of those pre-suppose what one is trying to explain in the first place intelligence, rationality and ‘what it is like to be something’. Why is 1)properly laying out this goal so hard (many here would disagree with it it seems) and 2) why is it so hard to answer even when can properly outline the task?! Semantic Dualism I feel. Anyhow, I digress :)

    “I do suspect that in a certain sense we do in fact “paint” objects those phenomenal colors in our minds, and for exactly the color-coding reasons you describe in the draft. Without a mental image of the FOV (I’d call it a “representation” if that word weren’t somewhat overloaded, so think of it as an “interpretation”) of the FOV contents”

    Once faced with some of the nitty-gritty of color ontology we try to imagine just what exactly it is our visual perception is doing. I too think of it that way: painting. (Neurology crunching the task): Object detected… type assigned… SPD assessed… hue information applied/painted. And I think it is harmless enough if we take into consideration my ranting above on mental terms and presupposing what we are explaining. When we us the word ‘image’ or ‘painting’ we take out a loan for the explanatory load we bear. It allows us to take a shortcut. And this is fine as long as we make explicit that we are in theoretic debt.

    I’ll take a look at Aizawa’s critique asap. Unfortunately no one has responded to my posts on Noe but Peter. This thread seems to be about anything but him!

  17. 17. Charles Wolverton says:

    OK, I now think I know what to say in response to Prof Aizawa’s critique of, in particular, Noe’s concept of “weak enactivism”. (Disclaimer: I don’t have immediate access to either of Noe’s cited works, so I am assuming Prof Aizawa’s representations thereof are reasonably accurate.)

    While I think Noe’s ideas are basically sound, I question his presenting them in terms of “SMK”. What I would say instead is that our immediate perception of a familiar 3-D object (say, a plate) from a position that makes it appear to be a 2-D shape (say, an ellipse – an example of what I take to be “what one strictly speaking sees”) may be colored by our previous experience with such an object, and may produce an experience-mediated interpretation of the apparent 2-D shape as being in fact a projection of that 3-D object. I see the “extra information” in this multi-stage interpretive process as being not “SMK” but any past experience with the object-type in question – experience that may well have been gained by some combination of our moving with respect to it and its moving with respect to us. But it’s the familiarity acquired by virtue of those previous experiences that counts, not the details of how it was acquired. Ie, injecting “SMK” seems a confusing and unnecessary distraction.

    With this reinterpretation of Noe’s argument, Prof Aizawa’s discussion of amodal completion for his Figure 4 example seems less compelling. First, the 2-D shape in Figure 4 is not a projection of a familiar 3-D object, but simply an ambiguous 2-D shape. So, how that shape is interpreted by a viewer seems pretty much discretionary. It certainly can be decomposed into the 2-D shapes “black square and Pac-Man icon”, but it can also be decomposed as a projection of the 3-D configuration “black square occluding circular ring”; or “black circular ring over black square on white background”; or – as suggested by Prof Aizawa’s proposed “irregular” completion – any of an infinite number of hypothetical combinations. But what does that have to do with (my reinterpretation of) Noe’s argument? One clearly doesn’t have previous experience with every unknown – and in fact unknowable – possible completion.

    Similarly, the optical illusion examples don’t strike me as fatal to (my reinterpretation of) Noe’s argument. The very nature of an optical illusion is that it misleads us in interpreting our current perception of some figure(s). The examples presented seem to demonstrate only that previous experiences don’t necessarily correct current misinterpretations of arbitrary figures – figures specifically designed to cause misinterpretation. I don’t see this as incompatible with the claim that past experiences may color current perceptions.

  18. 18. A says:

    would you please tell me how you draw your blog’s phot?
    thanks!

  19. 19. Mike Spenard says:

    My post is trapped in Peter’s moderator queue and he’s on a trip. So re-post….

    [Sorry, Mike, the re-post got trapped too. I’ve now resurrected the original – if you want any other adjustments, let me know – Peter]

  20. 20. Charles Wolverton says:

    Mike –

    “Ontology … seems to hang on usage and purpose. But does this force us into being Idealists?”

    As I read Rorty, and Davidson as channeled by Rorty and Ramberg in the essay I recommended here:

    http://www.consciousentities.com/?p=552#comment-162702

    their suggestion is to drop “ontology” (and hence worries about creeping idealism?) and just focus on the “usage and purpose” of the separate vocabularies we use to talk about different topics of interest. Then one can ignore issues of “reducibility”, “translatability”, “indeterminancy”, et al, at least to the extent that the motivation for introducing those issues is to establish ontological priority and a corresponding rank-order of the “truths” associated with different topics.

    (BTW, my long – and continuing – struggle with this essay motivated my questions to Lloyd in comments 21 and 28 in the “Qualia: the Movie” thread. The questions may have seemed casual and dismissive, but that was not my intent.)

    “But at this stage is the game it can’t be denied that that phenomenological perspective can be explained without a linguistic, evolutionary and information centric perspective. That puts phenomenology on a big leash.”

    I didn’t get this – could you elaborate or rephrase?

    “the insoluble mind-body problem”

    From the same essay (actually, Rorty’s response to the essay), Rorty admits to having “turned a blind eye to the fact that the mind-body distinction is intertwined with the person-thing distinction”, and notes that Davidson has appreciated the relationship between those distinctions, in particular that the notion of “mind/person” is tied up with considerations of social practice, which the notion of “body/thing” isn’t. Hence, the vocabulary applicable to persons engaged in social practice – with its need for words concerned with normativity, responsibility, intentionality, etc – is different from the vocabulary applicable to bodies as subjects of physical, chemical, or biological study. (I still can’t do justice to the essay and the response, but this hopefully conveys their spirit.)

    So, although I enthusiastically agree that “explaining a ‘desire’ with a ‘feeling’ or ‘thought’, or ‘image’ or ‘representation'” is just “repackaging of the problem”, as I read the essay one of its messages is that it is neither necessary nor perhaps even possible to “resolve mental terms into non-mental terms”. Instead, what seems to be needed is a stable vocabulary with enough agreement (ie, triangulation) within the relevant community so that everyone has the same general idea of what constitutes “proper” use of each word and accordingly uses one, and only one, word to identify each concept. This vocabulary apparently doesn’t currently exist, or at least isn’t widely accepted and strictly followed. (Whether a description in that vocabulary is reducible or translatable to a description in another vocabulary seems a separate issue.)

    Re Noe, I have little to say other than I agree (because it seems so obvious) with his expanded view of “consciousness” (one of the words we desperately need to have well-defined in that new vocabulary), initially was taken by his (and O’Regan’s) idea of the world as a readily available memory store but now have some doubts about it, and can’t comment re Marr since I know nothing of him or his work.

  21. 21. Mike Spenard says:

    Thanks Charles, “Rorty and His Critics” right? You have a URL? ;)

    “their suggestion is to drop “ontology”” I think you make a good suggestion. And I suggest we can go about that in two ways. First, just go about our theoretic sketching and let others fight over labeling it on the Idealistic or Realistic side of the fence. And secondly, as hinted in my post above, I’ve been thinking that the egregiously bifurcated dispute on the mind-body problem and the ontology of mental contents (whether is idealism vs realism, or non-reduction vs reduction, physicalism vs dualism) can be take as evidence in itself; as a human phenomena in need of explanation. What I mean by that is, is that we can stand back at look at the philosophy of mind from the outside and ask “Why is there this bifurcation?”, “What is causing it? (the ‘Me & Not-me’ operandi rising into language?)”. In doing that I think one would circumvent all of the ontological fevers and explain the fever from a scientifically grounded (evolutionary psychology) perspective.

    So, I think this second approach has been implied quite a bit, but not explicitly stated. I’m repeating myself, but I’m genuinely curious as to what others think; either way, especially if they don’t agree. As I, personally, see no other option; everything else seems to through oneself into explaining mental content with other mental content (thus being circular to some) or explaining mental content with non-mental phenomena (thus being a category mistake to others). And both counts can be found in guilt I think. Which begs the question, “Well since you’ve taken both options off the table what else is there?” … re-frame the problem: Why are the ranks amongst us bifurcated?

    . . .

    ““But at this stage is the game it can’t be denied that that phenomenological perspective can be explained without a linguistic, evolutionary and information centric perspective. That puts phenomenology on a big leash.””

    “I didn’t get this – could you elaborate or rephrase?”

    ‘[the] phenomenological perspective can[n’t] be explained without a linguistic … perspective’
    Recall the dispute between KL and ourselves? Our point that language being a social enterprise restrains phenomenological explanations from being rooted only in private aspects. A leash if you will.

    And also, if you recall my writing on ‘the gold standard for a color’, this shows, I think, that there would have to be an infinite number of ‘essences’ since their could be an infinite number of hues throughout biology. And since phenomenologists would need to steer clear of explaining an infinite number of hues (they initially thought only red,green,blue had to be explained!) they will need evolutionary biology to tell them which out of the infinite set (the ones actually ‘found’ by biology; although I refuse that language since I don’t think we are dealing with objects) they need to set about explaining. Another big leash if you will.

    And they also need ‘color opponency’ theory (Hurvich and Jameson) to explain colors; as the opponency (there are no red-greens) IS a phenomenological aspect in itself; and this theory explains WHY that phenomenology exists. Which means they need information theory. Another big leash if you will.

    Hopefully that makes more sense. They are powerful points I think, and I really should explain them better. And I was delighted to see you discover, or at least advocate on here, the first.

    . . .

    “with its need for words concerned with normativity, responsibility, intentionality, etc – is different from the vocabulary applicable to bodies as subjects of physical, chemical, or biological study. (I still can’t do justice to the essay and the response, but this hopefully conveys their spirit.)”

    This does sound very much like the personal vs sub-personal level of description I’ve been laboring over; but I inherited it form Ryle, Quine & Dennett.

    “as I read the essay one of its messages is that it is neither necessary nor perhaps even possible to “resolve mental terms into non-mental terms”.”

    That seems to be a growing consensus. For the reasons I mentioned above (amongst others of course) I think.

    “Instead, what seems to be needed is a stable vocabulary with enough agreement (ie, triangulation) within the relevant community so that everyone has the same general idea of what constitutes “proper” use of each word and accordingly uses one, and only one, word to identify each concept. This vocabulary apparently doesn’t currently exist, or at least isn’t widely accepted and strictly followed. (Whether a description in that vocabulary is reducible or translatable to a description in another vocabulary seems a separate issue.)”

    And that is well put. I think this quote captures the point, but in a progressive way:

    “I recommend against trying to preserve that intuition [that if one says one is in main, one is], but if you disagree, whatever theory I produce, however predictive or elegant, will not be by your lights a theory of pain, but only a theory of what I illicity choose to /call/ pain.
    But if, as I have claimed, the intuitions we would have to honor were we to honor them all do not form a consistent set, there can be no true theory of pain, and so no computer or robot could instantiate the true theory of pain, which it would have to do to feel real pain. Human beings an animals could no more instantiate the true theory of pain (there being none), which lands is with the outrageous conclusion that no one ever feels pain. […]
    If and when a good physiological sub-personal theory of pain is developed, a robot could in principle be constructed to instantiate it. Such advances in science would probably bring in their train wide-scale changes in what we found intuitive about pain, so that the charge that our robot only suffered what we artificially /called/ pain would lose its persuasiveness.”

  22. 22. Vicente says:

    Mike,

    “If and when a good physiological sub-personal theory of pain is developed, a robot could in principle be constructed to instantiate it. Such advances in science would probably bring in their train wide-scale changes in what we found intuitive about pain, so that the charge that our robot only suffered what we artificially /called/ pain would lose its persuasiveness.”

    Is it not that for vision, hearing or smell this has already happened (at least to a much larger extent than in the pain case), and still it has not shed much light into the problem. What about nausea feel, or many propioception effects described, that just to think to instantiate them in a robot seems absurd.

    What physiological theory of pain would you need to build your robot? unless you were going to replicate(clone) an animal, which defeats the purpose since you would be just copying what already exists. Physiology of sight or hearing is not needed to build artificial vision or hearing systems, all you need is the concept of vision or hearing, since the physical substrate is completely different, nervous tissue or electronic machinery.

    Even if you had a robot equipped with all kind of sensors and actuators for stress, pressure, fracture, temperature, etc, that could behave as if it feels pain, that would prove nothing in terms of creating a real human pain phenomenal experience (qualia), as in the rest of AI attempts.

    Finally, humans beings or animals don’t instantiate any theory of anything, for the same reason the Universe is not an instance of physics. Theories are mental constructs we build in order to try to “understand” and manage ourselves in the world, i.e. to reduce pain.

  23. 23. Vicente says:

    I forgot to mention about psychological discomfort(pain). Would your robot get depressed because there is a charge leak in its capacitors, or batteries are getting old?
    I am assuming that psychological discomfort in humans is due to biochemical brain disorders (reactive or endogenous), which is still to be proven, see for example all the controversy about antidepressants vs. placebo, at least in mild conditions.

    The debate is always the same one, all we do is to get into it from different angles.

  24. 24. Charles Wolverton says:

    “You have a URL?”

    Actually, yes! Pages are removed, but there are enough left to give the flavor:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=ls8y52IpkDkC&pg=PA370&lpg=PA370&dq=bjorn+ramberg+%22rorty+and+his+critics%22&source=bl&ots=RRhLKIaAYa&sig=GPZEOQhZnOBzWezzb_d1ixRklJ4&hl=en&ei=5wx1TLkkwv3wBrS5mJcH&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6&ved=0CCgQ6AEwBQ

    “‘[the] phenomenological perspective can[n’t] be explained …”

    I suspected the missing “[n’t]” but wanted to be sure. Thanks.

    Since we generally are in agreement, I’ll stand aside on the other issues and hopefully some with opposing views will weigh in.

  25. 25. Mike Spenard says:

    Hi Vicente, the quote wasn’t my own, I forgot to put the citation.
    http://www.memeoid.net/books/Dennett/Brainstorms/chap11.pdf

    I was only looking to append what Charles had said, “what seems to be needed is a stable vocabulary … within the relevant community so that everyone has the same general idea of what constitutes “proper” … This vocabulary apparently doesn’t currently exist, or at least isn’t widely accepted and strictly followed.”

    With Dennett’s point that, “Such advances in science would probably bring in their train wide-scale changes in what we found intuitive about pain”

    I wasn’t really looking to discuss that essay, but we can if you like (even tho this thread is about Noe).

    . . .

    Dennett’s argument isn’t so much pro- or anti- “robot pain” as it is about how a theory of pain will not appease our intuitions. And therefor both robots and humans will not be able instantiate a theory. In which case we would go without any empirical support for saying X is in pain, whether human or robot. And that this itself is also intuitive, as no one thinks solipsism is tenable except for insane people.

    You may leverage that there not only is no theory of pain, but in principle there could not be. (Except for vision, hearing or smell “this has already happened” ? You seem to only hold this for pain?) But this is far from proven, and if it were it would bear on humans as much as robots (which you note) but it would leave us all in a solipsism.

    Anyhow, the supposed necessity of a theoretic vacuum aside, his reason of why a theory can’t be made that appeases all of our intuitions is that they are inconsistent with each other. His prime example is:

    Two intuitions:

    (1) Pains are essentially items of immediate experience or consciousness; the subject’s access to pain is privileged or infallible or incorrigible.

    (2) Pains are essentially abhorrent or awful–“Pain is perfect misery, the worst of evils…”

    Dennett points out an interesting observance that pits these two intuitions against each other:

    “After receiving the analgesic [pain killer, e.g. morphine] subjects commonly report not that the pain has disappeared or diminished (as with aspirin) but that the pain is as intense as ever though they no longer mind it.”

    The reason this observation makes our intuition contentious is: If, per (1) the subject says he is in pain, then he is in pain. But, he goes on to say his pain, while still there, is no longer agonising ?and abhorrent; which contradicts (2) that a pain is that which is in essence abhorrent?.

  26. 26. Mike Spenard says:

    Oops, “And that this itself is also [non]intuitive”
    Typing in this little box on an iPhone is going to be the end of me ;)

  27. 27. Mike Spenard says:

    Arg, my post is stuck in moderator limbo again. This blog system has it out for me, and probably rightly so :)

  28. 28. Kar Lee says:

    The discussion about whether consciousness resides in our head or other part of the body may have been a wrong path to pursue. It may all comes down to our inability to define “consciousness”. From a third person viewpoint, “consciousness” is pretty much on the same footing as “love”. Both love and consciousness are inferred by behavior, and only by behavior. To claim that “his love for baseball is strong”, and try to locate where that love resides in his body, will necessary lead one down a very wrong path.

    However, from a first person point of view, consciousness is entirely different. No behavior is required to provide the baseline. Consciousness is also not on the same footing as love, because love is a type of qualia, and consciousness is a pre-requisite for the existence of qualia. To ask if my consciousness resides in my head or outside of my head is equivalent to asking if I exist inside my head or inside my heart, and that is a tricky question.

    We know if my brain (inside my head) is damaged, I may lose consciousness (losing qualia, as in the case when I pass out). It seems to imply that the brain is necessary for conscious experience. But if blood stops flowing, we pass out too, so blood flowing is also necessary for consciousness. But blood also flow outside of the brain. Maybe we keep the oxygen-carrying blood flowing only inside the brain but not outside, and that proves that it really is in the brain that our consciousness reside. But let’s carry this to its logical conclusion. Let’s stop blood flowing inside only PART of the brain. As such, if blood stop flowing in the speech center, one cannot speak. If blood stops flowing in the visual cortex, one loses the sensation of seeing, but consciousness stays. There may be a critical point beyond which, one will pass out if blood stop flowing to that area. So, we might attempt to figure out exactly where inside the brain that area is if blood stops flowing, consciousness is no more.

    This line of reasoning assumes that the area of a brain defines the function. Once blood stop flowing to that area in the brain that is responsible for a certain function, that function will be lost. So, there is an area inside the brain that is responsible for some particular type of conscious experience.

    Noe has made contribution in clarifying whether it is the area that defines the brain function, or the function that defines the brain area. Is the area corresponding to the visual cortex necessarily responsible for the conscious experience of seeing, for example. What will happen if you wire the nerve signal from the auditory organ to the visual cortex instead? Will you see sound, or will you hear images? From the brain rewiring example of ferrot, we know that conscious experience is not defined by a particular area of the brain, but rather, it is the function that defines the area.

    Conscious experience is not an intrinsic property of the brain. An unstimulated brain is an unconscious brain! Example: Chickens grow up wearing eyeshades will not have visual experience even after the eyeshades are removed. It takes the environment to shape the conscious experience. If an unstimulated brain is an unconscious brain, can we really claim our consciousness is inside our brain, but not out in the environment? Where in the brain if it is the brain?

    The dream example does not challenge this view. If those chickens that grow up blindfolded and become blind for life have dreams, they won’t dream about visual images because their brain is unstimulated for visual image. That part of consciousness will forever be absent.

    On the other hand, for a fully stimulated adult brain, the area that have been shaped for vision now defines vision. Visual cortex is now responsible for visual experience, etc. One may still tends to claim that visual cortex is where the experience of vision happens. But let’s engineer an electronic drop-in replacement for the visual cortex and perform the replacement. Now out of a sudden, the visual part of your consciousness, jumps into this electronic replacement part, out of the original visual cortex. Now, why is it that when some electronic logic gate start flipping on and off, I have the visual experience? It is not even part of me, even though it is in my brain!

    If we ask the same question towards the original visual cortex, we immediately recognize that it is the Hard problem. But we can delay facing the hard problem when we ask about the electronic replacement part because we can claim that it must have given us visual experience through its interaction with other parts of the brain which, being part of the original me, generate the visual experience. But then, when you successfully replace the whole brain with replacement parts, your consciousness leaves your original brain and now resides in the electronic brain. How ridiculous!

    The fallacy probably is in attributing physical attributions (such as location) to non-physical things (such as consciousness).

    Consciousness has no location, and it is definitely not inside ones head. Yes, ontology problem.

  29. 29. Vicente says:

    Mike, you are right, this page is not for this discussion, but I can’t help just a small response:

    subjects commonly report not that the pain has disappeared or diminished (as with aspirin) but that the pain is as intense as ever though they no longer mind it.

    I haven’t gone through the experience so I can’t really tell, but, it seems that one thing is the feel, and another one is the reaction or response, or feel of the feel . Let me clarify it. The same flavour-feel (I assume it is really the same one) can produce different responses in two subjects, one can find it delicious, and the other one disgusting. The same sound, a chalk scratching the blackboard can be neutral to most people, but it causes me to have shiverings. (footnote)So Lloyd, what part of the brain evaluates the feel, and reports to what other part?
    This is what Dennett describes and claims, that morphine makes the evaluator module change the assessment criteria, but the feel is the same, is the -feel of the feel- that is modified.

    Regarding Noe’s, I suspect that the baseline of his argument is not really that mental processes are not in the brain, but that they require to be extended (in behavioural and sensing terms) all over the environment in order to be meaningful (his analogy of digestion vs dancing), I have the impression that he proposes a model, similar to a sort of quantum wave function that covers(takes into account) the whole space until it collapses in a measurement. So in order to have a solution for the mind, boundary conditions are as important as the equation. Very Buddhist.

    I found this essay on Near to Death Experiences (NDE):

    http://www.quantumconsciousness.org/documents/soulblog1.doc

    that might be related to current topic, since it’s an experimental approach to what could be claimed as a brainless mind strictly speaking. I thought it interesting anyway.

    Kar Lee: The fallacy probably is in attributing physical attributions (such as location) to non-physical things (such as consciousness).

    Consciousness has no location, and it is definitely not inside ones head. Yes, ontology problem.

    I very much agree, and Kant (ontology) tells us that you and I can’t handle anything that has no location… So it is not inside ones head, and it is not outside either.

    We are beings that create an experience that includes space, but the experience itself is not in space.

    May I say, A never stimulated brain is an unconsious bri

  30. 30. Mike Spenard says:

    @Vicente:
    One would wonder if this talk of feel of feels puts one on an infinite regress, are there ‘feels of feels of feels’? With, my infallibility on my mental life, who can refute my claim for ‘feels of feels of feels’? No one.

    It seems as tho this is simply playing with language to maintain the idea that there is a universal essence to pain, its abhorrence, despite a subject having pain and reporting (with infallibility) otherwise. The move turns any single desideratum, ‘redness’ ‘pain’ etc., into an infinite number. It has the makings of a reductio ad absurdum. I understand that may strike the ear as dismissive, but accordingly we would need explain qualia-qualia in our efforts to explain qualia.

    Then what if we find one intuition on qualia-qualia in conflict with another on qualia-qualia? Back where we started.

    And who is to say my qualia-qualia is not just qualia? Reports of qualia or qualia-qualia are infallible after all; what I say goes. You might say the contention between the intuitions is resolved by saying it is between ‘feel’s and ‘feels of feels’, but if it is reported that it is between only ‘feel’s and not ‘feels of feels’s than that cannot be refuted under the framework. Therefore, back where started again.

  31. 31. Mike Spenard says:

    @Charles

    I think I stubbled upon another great demonstration of ontological problems with color today. Check out this video about making glow sticks:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tItOOpyJP5k

    Benham’s Top forces us to trip up in answering “Where is the color?”. The following makes us trip up in answering “What is the color?”

    Note that in order to make a glow stick the has white light you need to mix yellow and blue glow sticks. By the intuition instilled in us from grade school you would think this would make a green glow stick. But, if following the “color opponency theory” I’ve labored over, this is what is predicted.

    Also, note the looming philosophical questions. The narrator states, “Rhodamine B” is green in the solid state, but red when diluted”. Well, what color /is/ Rhodamine B?! One might insist that it is green, but there is no more reason to consider Rhodamine B’s color in a solid state its true color than over its diluted state; the color is context and purpose dependent.

  32. 32. Vicente says:

    Mike[31]

    I believe you are committing the same mistake again. The color is nowhere but in your mind. Forget about the reflecting surfaces, tops or glow sticks and concentrate in the properties of the reflected light beam and the visual system, from retina to cortex. I wish I had the experimental means to show how the stimulus of those light beams is equivalent to that of another light beam directly related to the perceived colors. It is just a bizarre effect of electromagnetic optics.

  33. 33. Charles Wolverton says:

    “the color is context and purpose dependent”

    True, but in this case couldn’t one simply observe that a solid chunk of X is not in any sense the same as a colloidal suspension of X, so it is no more surprising that they “have” different colors (given that the SPDs will be different) than that a straight pencil “becomes” bent in a glass of water?

  34. 34. Mike Spenard says:

    @Vic

    “The color is nowhere but in your mind. ”

    And where might that be?

  35. 35. Mike Spenard says:

    @Charles

    Well, if a chunk of solid-X is “not in any sense” the same as that of X-in-suspension, than it is no longer X we are talking about is it. But that may be the case, Rhodamine-B may undergo a chemical change in suspension whereby it is no longer really Rhodamine-B. And then there are no qualms for our intuitions after all. But it didn’t sound like that was the case.

    Your pencil analogy is interesting in contrast. A fluid optically augments the straight pencil: makes it “less-straight” if you will. But in the above case Rhodamine-B isn’t made less-green or more-green; but a hue that is completely different, incompatible in fact (there are no red-greens). Which, if we followed our intuitions, would seem outside the range of what should happen with a clear liquid: Someone naive to these affairs might argue, “augmenting green can give you a darker or lighter green. Or, if you add another hue yellowish-green or blueish-green. As for augmenting green into red, no additive can get you from green to red, as there are no redish-greens”. But perhaps I’m wrong and that’s not what a naive art student would say; seems likely to me though.

    No part of this should count as an explanation of course, as you said the answer ultimately is in SPD changes. But it begs a question we can leverage onto our naive art student “What constitutes the true color of Rhodamine-B?” Do we say: Its SPD in a solid non-suspended form is the true color, and when suspended the hue change is attributable to the suspension. So that we may say the perceive color is due to the true-color + the suspensions optical properties. Or do we have to say that, since even air augments the color of Rhodamine-B, it has no true color? Or do we say only that we can not ever know its “true-color”? Or do we follow Vincente and say: Objects do not have colors, true or not, and that colors only exist in the mind; and therefor to say, “The ball is red”, is to talk non-sense. As the ball is SPD-X and only ‘the ball in my mind’ is red; which is not /the/ ball.

    I’ve explained this context dependence much better elsewhere, and Hardin certainly is miles better at it… Anyhow, my only aims was just a flushing out of intuitions at most (and this is important since this is what phenomenology guides itself with). Which, when in contention, I’m always keen to draw a circle around. Since many here (e.g. post#29&30 with its ‘feels of feels’) have decided they are the arbiter of what counts as a plausible theory.

  36. 36. Charles Wolverton says:

    “Do we say: … Or do we have to say that … Or do we follow Vincente and say … ?”

    I think this is another instance where the suggestion (in comment 20) to “just focus on the ‘usage and purpose’ of the separate vocabularies we use” applies. In casual conversation with a random person (the art student, perhaps?), the vernacular suffices: “Wow, funny how the color of that stuff changed from green to red when he dumped it in the solution”. But in conversation with a color specialist, describing the phenomenon as accurately as one can using technical jargon (SPDs, color opponency, et al) is appropriate.

    I see “The color is nowhere but in your mind.” as mixing the two vocabularies and consequently as unintelligible. (Although I would have said essentially the same thing as recently as a few months ago.) I have a rough idea what Vicente means, but to agree or disagree I’d need a much more detailed description. On the other hand, those not conversant in these matters would think the assertion ridiculous since it’s obvious to them that the color is on – or in – the object in question.

  37. 37. Vicente says:

    Mike,

    What constitutes the true color of Rhodamine-B?

    What constitutes the true color of carbon, hmmm, a chunk of coal or a diamond? or graphite? or a single atom?

    What is the color of copper? hmmm a wire or a melting pot? in day light or under a bulb?

    What constitutes the true color of a perfect mirror?

    Think of a kid blowing a whistle in a train passing by a station platform, what is the pitch of the whistle, the one the kid listens, or the one a man on the platform listens (first when the train is approaching of afterwards when is leaving). Or what is the color of distant star, the one stars nearby observe, or the one we observe from the Earth, considering an expanding Universe ?

    See how Doppler effect can perfectly change your visual and hearing perceptions, colors and pitches?

    So, perceptions have always to be referred and understood considering both ends, the source and the perceiver.

    To say the ball is red is perfectly sensible, we have to be practical in our daily lifes. To say: please pass me the ball which you perceive red would be stupid of course (the ball itself as an identified object (concept) is only in your mind too, in the world there is only an spherical distribution of matter). Again, put a red and a green ball next each other, and ask a color-blind guy to give you the green one.

    Finally Mike, I am the arbiter of nothing, it is just that your understanding of colors does not convince me. To me colors are qualia resulting from the stimulation of the visual cortex. When such stimulation comes from a healthy visual system, you usually “see” the world. After all I have no theory of qualia to present, so.

    There is something interesting you might try, if you consider so: when you go to sleep try to get your room as dark as possible, then concentrate in the sort of lights and figures that usually happen to appear, apparently behind you eyelids, if you do it for long enough you might find very interesting surprises. I think (quite sure) I have seen hues I have never seen in the world, sort of bluish, purple greenish patterns, beautiful. In any case it is a relaxing meditative experience worth doing, in my opinion.

  38. 38. Mike Spenard says:

    Not trying to explain anything (“No part of this should count as an explanation” how could I make that clearer?), see http://tiny.cc/gh7k3 if you want something convincing.

    Proponents of qualia are in need of essences, the above was only a series of questions steaming from that intuitive hunch and the guidance of phenomenology. If they are incoherent, all the worse for the idea of qualia, as intuitions and introspection is qualia’s bassinet.

    And to state that “The color is nowhere but in your mind” is to insist there is a great deal of error in saying “the ball is red”; since redness is nowhere but in the mind redness cannot not be a property /the/ ball can have after all.

    Such desires to continue speaking of balls being red, but not /really/ being red (since red is “only in the mind”) is par for course with the program of reification that qualia is. But I for one can’t understand what you are saying, as the desideratum referenced seems to capriciously flip-flop at your whim.

  39. 39. Vicente says:

    Mike, just to try to clean my reputation of whimsy flip-flopper. All I said is that despite the ball is not intrinsically red, for practical purposes, for convenience, for language economy, etc and since it seems we all “perceive” it coloured, and we agree to call that red, we say the ball is red (although it is actually not), and we refer to it as such.

    Mike and Charles: It is not just colors, it is the whole visual experience that is only in your mind. In this article you can see how much “the world” is a construct of your brain, subsequently presented to “what/who ever”. The moment there is a malfunction in the “computer” that constructs the inner Universe (phenomenal experience) the image gets distorted.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727751.200-the-minds-eye-how-the-brain-sorts-out-what-you-see.html

    Of course, I agree of a Universe being out there, which is used as an element to create your inner Universe, in which you mainly dwell. But that outer Universe does not include concepts or mental constructs. For example, a galaxy only exists in the mind, in the space there is only a distribution of matter and energy (behaving according to certain laws). It is the observer that creates the idea of galaxy, and superimposes it to the physical substrate. The same applies to everything else.

    I went throught some parts of Hardin’s book, and I don’t find it convincing, rather weak or wrong. Maybe you could check the citation ranking of Hardin’s work.

    Charles: what clarification is needed to make my statement intelligible (I don’t say right)? tell me and I’ll try my best to explain it. Why am I mixing vocabularies?

    I am curious, what did really make your mind change a few months ago from previous position?

  40. 40. Charles Wolverton says:

    “what clarification is needed to make my statement intelligible?”

    Perhaps a poor choice of words on my part – it’s really that such statements seem to add nothing to any discussion. For example, everyone engaged in this thread presumably is aware of the general ideas addressed in the New Scientist article you cite, so your “summary” statement – “the whole visual experience … is only in your mind” – conveys no new information to us. OTOH, those who aren’t aware of those general ideas will have no idea what your summary means since they probably think that if the “visual experience” is anywhere it’s in the eye; so, it will convey no information to them either.

    BTW, I found the article interesting and informative – thanks for the cite. But I wonder if Mike noticed this sentence on the first page:

    The information from the photons hitting a particular spot on the retina is restricted to their wavelength (which we perceive as colour), and their number (which determines brightness).

    It appears that even among people who clearly know something about vision processing some myths die hard.

    “what did really make your mind change a few months ago …?”

    I didn’t really change my mind, I just learned some of the vocabulary of visual processing. I had seldom thought about such matters until a year or two ago and never in any depth. But once I did start thinking about them, just the bare minimum understanding of the mechanics of vision – photons, retina, optic nerve – suggested to me that “color” in its phenomenal sense couldn’t refer to something “on or in” objects that are “out there”. But at that time I didn’t know the vocabulary I have learned from Mike, so I too said “Aha! If color isn’t out there, it must be in here” – but had no idea what to “be in here” meant. (To my credit, between then and reading Mike’s draft I did come to realize that color had to be an interactive process between light-reflecting surfaces and visual processing in the brain, but still had no idea what “visual processing in the brain” entailed.) Now that I know a little more, I realize that that it’s better not to mix the technical vocabulary of visual processing with the vocabulary of every day chit-chat. Although I champion as a general principle the “language economy” you mention, it only works once a linguistic community has reached agreement on the larger meaning that imprecise use of a word is meant to abbreviate. In this arena, we clearly aren’t there yet – better to be as precise as possible.

    Finally, what were some of the major items in Hardin’s book that you found “[un]convincing, rather weak or wrong”?

  41. 41. Vicente says:

    Charles, I got caught, I really hesitated about making the comment on Hardin’s book. It is not fair to make a negative comment on somebody else’s work, without further explanation (anonymity makes it worse). Now you demand the explanation, fair enough, serve me right.

    The comment was intended to tell Mike I don’t find the book convincing, not to comment the book itself, I am too lazy for that. Anyway, I’ll quote:

    Opponent-process theory is to the study of color vision what the theory of continental drift is to geology

    Come on !! and the whole book is soaked in this approach.

    Then he confuses heat and temperature (ok irrelevant for the topic).

    And then going through the rest as much as I did, fast and superficially (another mistake) it neither contributes to vision physiology nor to phenomenology. As I was reading I had the feeling to come across misconcepts all the time.

    As I said, If you really want a peer review analysis check the citation index.

    it’s really that such statements seem to add nothing to any discussion

    Absolutely right! nothing at all, sorry, well things like the discovery of the synapse or the subconscious happen once in while. Since Descartes, not to say Plato we have add little to the real issue, so let me just frolic in this garden of ignorance a bit.

    And language… to me one the worst traps… you are right, but pompous is soft for somebody who would say:

    please darling pass me the ball that has the surface that absorbs all frequencies in the visible spectra except for the one that induces the red qualia in my phenomenological perception of the ball

    don’t you think.

  42. 42. Mike Spenard says:

    “I wonder if Mike noticed this sentence on the first page:’The information from the photons hitting a particular spot on the retina is restricted to their wavelength (which we perceive as colour), and their number (which determines brightness).’ It appears that even among people who clearly know something about vision processing some myths die hard.”

    Indeed. It’s a completely false characterization of the initial stage of the visual process. One would wonder if the author has studied anything written in the last 50 years. Hurvich and Jameson dates to 1957, that’s not exactly new science. And make no mistake the visual sciences today entirely revolve around it (e.g. see suggested volumes below).

    The desire to put ‘redness’ in a place stems from the perfectly nature tendency for our minds to default to an ontology that revolves around objects; rather than a distributed ontology, e.g. Alaska. As Quine put it, “we are body minded”. And this creates the bifurcation between, as Charles put it, “Aha! If color isn’t out there, it must be in here!”, i.e. between Realism and Idealism. Or as I put it, it’s a “program of reification”. And I think this is something we can all agree on here, this bifurcation exists. We don’t agree. You see us as saying “redness is out there” and we see you as saying “redness is in here”.

    But really Charles and I (and I think Hardin p.59+) are advocating something different than “redness is out there”: we are suggesting that this default ontology game needs to be dropped. Give up the program of reification, the ontology of ‘redness’ isn’t akin to objects, its akin to distributed processes. As Charles put it, “I did come to realize that color had to be an interactive process”, and interactive processes in general have a distributed ontology. Therefor, the hurdle, as I see it, is giving up on one’s “body minded” intuitions and accept that with a distributed ontology goes essences and kernels: qualia.

    . . .

    If you don’t like Hardin than check out the multi-author 2 volume collection:

    http://www.amazon.com/Readings-Color-Vol-Philosophy/dp/0262522306/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1283303793&sr=8-10

    and

    http://www.amazon.com/Readings-Color-Vol-Science/dp/026202425X/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_b

    But you’ll find much the same as what I’ve said above, as the visual sciences are putting the death nail into the idea of ‘redness’ having any sole aspect that must be included in its description.

  43. 43. Mike Spenard says:

    “Therefor, the hurdle, as I see it, is giving up on one’s “body minded” intuitions and accept that with a distributed ontology goes essences and kernels: qualia.”
    I’d like to add that we’ve already done this for person-hood (although Vicente might disagree here with Quine and myself, if so then it adds nothing to the conversation, but perhaps he doesn’t)…

    Most of us have heard the Heraclitus metaphor from someone, that “one can never step in the same river twice since its water is always flowing”. The essence of this metaphor is over the conception of identity. And many have felt so inclined as to run with this line of thought and apply it to personal identity, “since my atoms are always ebbing and flowing, it seems that I cannot say that ‘I’ am a physical thing”. And from this premise is argued the need for some central essence, ego or soul of person-hood.

    Identity, essential to both our language and conceptual notions, is intimately linked with divided reference. As identity is expressed in the uses of “is” where we are ready to expound into “is the same object as”, and the division of references comes about when we settle the conditions (this is what Charles has been highlighting); such as how far into an intersection one road starts and another ends. And, although this is usually a simple practice and notion, confusion over it is not uncommon; such as with the Heraclitus metaphor, that we cannot step into the same river twice because of the flowing water, being held in juxtaposition with person-hood and physical identity.

    But this difficulty need not ail us. First we need consider that the applicability of reference for the general term “river” and being able to physically step into the same river on multiple occasions is precisely what gives this general term its meaning, and distinguishes the term from stages such as banks and deltas and divisions of water such as eddies. Secondly, in putting the temporal extend of “river” on equal terms as that of its spatial extent, we find no greater qualms in stepping into the same river at different times than at different places.

    Similarly, these considerations hold for the seeming difficulty of personal identity. Putting space and time on equal par shows that the sameness of person is no more controvertible from the perspective of physical space than of time. And that no matter the disparity there is no reason why childhood, adolescence and adulthood are not of the same person or one’s limbs, torso and head. We no longer need cling to the forlorn idea that there be an unchanging kernel or essence to person-hood and personal identity any more than for the identity of a river or Alaska (Quine 1960, p.114-5, 182-3).

    “If we liked we could … eliminate ‘Socrates’ as singular term by reconstruing the name as a general term true of many objects; viz., Socrates’s spatiotemporal parts. For the old force of ‘x = Socrates’ can then still be recovered in paraphrase, this time as:

    (y) (y is a Socrates if and only if y is part of x).

    A possible interest of this alternative is that the uniqueness of such an object x then follows from the logic of the part-whole relation, independently of any special trait of ‘socrates’ beyond its being true of one or more objects of the sort that can be parts. […] Physical objects, conceived thus four-dimensionally in space-time, are not to be distinguished from events or, in the concrete sense of the term, processes. Each comprises simply the content, however heterogeneous, of some portion of space-time, however disconnected and gerrymandered.” (Quine 1960, p.171)

    So I suggest qualia and the debate between “in here” vs. “out there” is brought on by the same intuitions that drive the, now obvious, ineptness of the Heraclitus metaphor. Once we decide /where/ Elm Street ends in an intersection, is context and purpose dependent, the difficulty is not nearly so perplexing and insurmountable once we accept this relativity; and in the process of that one that does away with kernels whether of person-hood or experience.

  44. 44. Charles Wolverton says:

    From http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/587335

    “A pupil of Heraclitus, Patteios, offered a strengthened version of the dictum, observing that not even once does one step into one river.”

    Another example, I think, of matching vocabulary to purpose. As Mike has oft noted, in a philosophical sense you can’t “go to Alaska” since it’s a concept, not a place, and as Patteios suggests (apparently – I, of course, had not previously heard of him and only skimmed the cited article), even as a concept Alaska is ever changing and it takes a finite amount of time to cross the (conceptual) border. But as Vicente notes, it would be “pompous” in casual conversation to respond to someone who says they’ve gone twice to Alaska on vacation by saying “Wrong! From ancient Greek philosophy we know you can’t go to Alaska once, never mind twice.”

  45. 45. Kar Lee says:

    I think we just demonstrated how philosophically sophisticated this group really is!

  46. 46. Mike Spenard says:

    Another small amendment… I use the example of Alaska because it’s dependent upon a socio-political context and the ad-hoc rules that go with that. If there were only one human on the planet Alaska would cease to be. And if there was /ever/ only one human, Alaska would never have been. It’s dependent upon a social history.

    And so I’m holding these points in analogy with mental phenomena. They are the result of a natural history; evolution invented colors as a procedural shortcut; and a necessary condition, for what they are today, is a specific history of a public social practice.

    I understand that is non-intuitive, “What the heck do my experiences have to do with whether or not I’m in a society?!”, but this is committing the same error as someone on a boat to Alaska who says, “What the heck does my ability to arrive at my destination have to do with whether or not I’m in a society?!”. Each fails to recognize the antecedents in history.

  47. 47. Charles Wolverton says:

    “If there were only one human on the planet Alaska would cease to be.”

    And a related question: If people ceased talking about Alaska, would it cease to be?

    In the “Rorty and His Critics” essay to which I keep referring, Rorty asks a similar question: Would there still be snow if nobody ever talked about it?

    His answer: Sure. Why? Because according to the norms we invoke when we use “snow”, we are supposed to answer this question affirmatively.

    And he adds: If you think that glib and ethnocentric answer not good enough, it is because you … think you can … cut off one corner of Davidson’s triangle and just ask about a relation called “correspondence” or “representation” between your beliefs and the world.

    “so I’m holding these points in analogy with mental phenomena”

    The relevant part of the essay addresses the significance of the concept of “the mental”, so I infer that Davidson, Ramberg, and Rorty also see that analogy – and that’s pretty good company to be in!

    Notes:

    – In my question about ceasing to talk about Alaska, I explicitly say “people”; ie, I am changing the scenario from Mike’s single remaining person.

    – By “ethnocentric”, I understand Rorty to be emphasizing that the norms to which he refers are specific to “our linguistic community”, ie, are not universal.

    – The “cut off” corner of Davidson’s triangle is “other members of one’s linguistic community”.

  48. 48. Vicente says:

    If there were only one human on the planet Alaska would cease to be.”

    If there were no sentient/conscious beings at all, no observers, just PZ’s in the best case. Would the Universe exist?

    Does something that is not observed directly or indirectly by anybody and is not cause or effect of anything exist?

  49. 49. Mike Spenard says:

    Thanks Charles. Your mention of snow is useful in comparison. It highlights the difference in the level of description. Snow is described at a physical level, we don’t attempt to describe or predict the phenomena of snow using intentional idioms, e.g. beliefs and desires. In describing and predicting the affairs of Alaska, in contrast, we use intentional idioms quite often. And as noted the identity of Alaska hangs upon government, social groups and nations. With the loss of these goes the loss of the language game that /makes sense/ of the word Alaska.

    However–and this is to incorporate Rorty’s point that snow does still exist with Vicente’s last question–with the loss of man only goes the loss of the social constituents of what makes up Alaska and snow. In the latter case nothing is lost, snow still exists, simply without description. In the former only the geography (which does have a great deal of snow! ;) ) exists, and this of course is not /nearly/ enough to reach state-hood.

    To source what I had written in my OtIoC draft, in fuller response to Vicente#48 (which is a perfectly fair question) :

    If the human perceptual system ceased to exist, and took with it its peculiar types of perceptual discernments, doesn’t this commit us to a form of Idealism? Emphatically, no. Only with the insistence of the reification of these perceptual discernments as outright things would we commit ourselves to such an Idealism; and it simply does not follow that, in purging the world of sentient creatures, the world ceases to exist in every way once conceived.

    The extermination of a describer and his descriptions does not necessitate the extermination of that which satisfies such descriptions. For example, we can expect such facts as those dependent on a society, e.g. the value of currency and art and nations, to cease. But with the removal of these you still have that which such facts are ultimately dependent on, i.e., that which is describable by physics (e.g., gold and banking system computers). Of this we can be certain; as such a reality existed prior to the appearance of mankind and will continue long after our departure (It should be noted that the efforts of those advocating conscious experience as more fundamental than physics and reality are really attempting to convince us otherwise on this last point, and commit themselves to an Idealism).

  50. 50. Charles Wolverton says:

    I might note that Rorty’s quote doesn’t address whether snow would exist if no one talked about it, just that one should answer the question “yes” in keeping with our norms. I am, of course, not sure, but I think he would have said that as long as people are talking about snow, there is no need to address its ontological status because almost no one would argue the negative position. (And if I am correct, I infer that there are few if any living idealists – or at least none to be taken seriously.)

    Similarly, since his position was that what has no role in practice is of no interest in theory, I assume that he would have said that the ontological status of snow – or anything else – after all humans are gone is of no interest.

    And speaking of idealists, I don’t know if any readers here are Chalmers fans, but my understanding – as usual, not necessarily correct – is that he isn’t a substance dualist, nor perhaps even a non-physicalist, but instead hypothesizes an as yet undiscovered fundamental (gravity-like?) force that explains consciousness – a force that could be part of a new, more complete physics. Anyone know for sure if that’s wrong?

  51. 51. Mike Spenard says:

    Another subsequent point. If every man went missing from the face of the Earth, except one, it would seem that he could still declare state-hood. He may take his understanding of Alaska, based out of the former social context, and declare “Alaska exists as x,y,z”. But with the loss of practice we should expect a gradual lessening of its meaning. And if one day he awoke to find mankind back in its former glory, we should expect that the reinstated socio-political systems to hardly accredit this man’s “Alaska” as a state of any sort.

    Qualiaphiles and dualists ask us to imagine a man removed not only from his physical body other men (like above), but all of natural history, and that we can somehow still insist on making sense out of ‘redness’. By making this move, like the man in the boat, such advocates do away with the possibility of a destination. That might be ok for some folks, but I for one would hardly call that earnest inquiry; and when they return to joining the rest of us and history there will be little if any ground to accredit him a mental-content-hood of any sort.

    End of rant.

  52. 52. Mike Spenard says:

    @Charles … I was just discussing Chalmers with a friend. I’m going to be lazy and paste it. This is how I understand him, but I could be wrong, as I’m not stooped in his material all that much:

    He’s very much like John Searle, but more like Nagel, I think. Both disavow substance dualism, but when they start with their own positive account of consciousness they are clearly pro-qualia, which makes them akin to the phenomenologist traditions (Husserl et al, Nagel and even Jung is one).

    However, whereas phenomenologists usually are substance dualists, Chalmers-Searle state they are not. The way to make some sense out of their position is that they are “property dualists”. I.e. they believe at the end of the day everything is physical, BUT they believe mental phenomena have a special mode of ontology that is not reducible. So sticks and stones have properties of an ontology that is reducible, and mental contents have different sorts of properties with a different non-reducable ontology. Yet it all, supposedly, falls under physicalism.

    My response is: Unless you resolve mental terms into non-mental terms at some point (e.g. to describe how something at the personal level is attributable to sub-personal phenomena) then you’ve simply recast one mental term into another; and your description is circular and does no real work other then a repackaging of the problem. E.g. explaining a “desire” with a “feeling” or “thought”, or “image” or “representation” or “command” or “message”; all of those pre-suppose what one is trying to explain in the first place intelligence, rationality and ‘what it is like to be something’. (Dennett’s “Brainstorms” book brilliantly labors this point).

    Chalmers and Searle think they can solve the problem of consciousness in a way that avoids such. And they posit that some phenomena (“some” apparently = only mental) have a unique non-reducable ontology. I think its an excuse for them having no bloody clue of their own on how to go about doing what I claim above would constitute a real explanation.

    Chalmer’s argument for “extended science”, or some sort of alternate ontology for mental properties, strikes me as premature in the following way:

    It’s as if our friend Chalmers walk into Leibniz’s Mill, looked around, and said, “Welp. I don’t see anything that could be a part of redness! Time to rewrite the physics books!”.

    To get some theoretic wiggle room Chalmers turns into a bit of a “pan-psychist” at times. What is even more striking is the attempt by pan-psychists and Chalmers to make everything have a ‘part of the stuff of redness’: it’s quite like saying, “Welp. We didn’t find it in the Mill (the brain), so we must have to say every part everywhere is a sort of ‘part of the stuff of redness’”. Unless computers are the subject! Somehow pan-psychists, and those whom liken them selves to Chalmers position, only wish to apply their pan-psychism to everything in the universe but one sort of thing. It has a theoretic stink of festering pooh if you ask me; that’s about as nice as I can put it ;p

    It’s an odd sort of making as it detours us from thinking about parts working/functioning, and what I go on about in my ‘On the Invention of Color’.

  53. 53. Mike Spenard says:

    Further rant on Chalmers:

    Chalmers writes “It’s a manifest fact about our minds that there is something it is like to be us–that we have subjective experiences…And the subjective experiences are arguably the central data that we want a science of consciousness to explain.”(1999). Chalmers calls for a new enhanced kind of science with bridging principles to link first and third person ontology. Yet, Chalmers, like Searle, argues for non-reducibility and that the data of consciousness cannot be expressed fully as physical brain processes, behaviors and functional organization.

    If Chalmers does succeed in his “fundamental theory of consciousness”, with its bridging principles, just how will it increase our understanding? Could it really be said we scientifically understand qualia if all we have done is connect axiomatic first-person phenomenal experience with objective brain processes? If for the experience of blueness we have brain process B1 this leaves open the question of “Why not process R1?”. By declaring the phenomena to be understood as non-reductive and axiomatic proponents have constructed a wall impenetrable to science and a detailed understanding of causal relationships.

    “Paradoxically, the way that the mental infects the physical prevents there ever being a strict science of the mental…Alas, I want to suggest that for a great many absolutely fundamental abilities, such as our ability to see or our ability to learn a language, there may not be any theoretical mental level underlying those abilities: the brain just does them.” ~Searle 1984

    Thanks for nothing Chalmers and Searle.

  54. 54. Vicente says:

    Charles, Anyone know for sure if that’s wrong?

    Could be right. The thing is how does that new physical agent interacts with the brain. The problem comes from long ago, the point is that two entities of different nature or substance cannot interact.

    I have been looking for any research focused on the location in the brain of places where such interaction could take place, and found nothing, except for:

    http://noosphere.princeton.edu

    Basically they propose (hint I would say) that such interaction is performed by biasing random event distributions that take part in brain physiological processes.

    Another thing is that how can be so sure that such interaction is not actually taking place. No experiment or measurement has been made. Maybe the interaction is so weak, although effective, that has not been observed in the bulk of the brain. “something external” could be providing energy to the brain but in such a little amount that we don’t detect it.

    They never mention this possibility when they claim that Universe closure (energy conservation) would be broken if the mind-qualia were to interact with the brain. But, if such a measurement would be made with a positive result, we would be facing a similar situation to that of the Dark Energy . Why not?

    Something is causing the galaxies drift away faster and faster, and something is making the neurons fire. The same cause?

  55. 55. Vicente says:

    I lied,

    -we would be facing a similar situation to that of the Dark Energy-

    Similar but conceptually very different. We still have all the problems of subjective mental states, introspections, etc etc, the mind studying the mind, so the scientist is himself a part of the experiment (not very good for objectivity) etc etc

    In any case such a discovery would be a step forward.

    Charles, if you interested in the difficulties of science approaching the study of the mind problem I recommend you to read: Tononi, Edelman, Sherrington, Russel, Eccles and Popper…and Schrödinger. different somehow, but all very wise and sensible views on the topic.

  56. 56. Kar Lee says:

    The more I observe this debate on “qualiaphile” vs “non-qualiaphile”, the more I am impressed by how different people think, and how they are segregated by their thinking. When I read Chalmers, I was astonished that there is such a person out there who thinks so much like me! I understand every word he says. Then when I read Dennett, I could come up with lot of objections to what he wrote. When I read Metzinger, I would go, right right, but you are explaining the wrong problem.

    Now, I can imagine there are people who are as impressed with Dennett’s thinking as much as I am by Chalmers’. No doubt Metzinger’s followers will say the same thing about their leader.

    So, why are people naturally fall into one of these groups? And they think so differently?

    The conclusion that I can come up with is that different group try to explain different things, all using the vaguely-defined term “Consciousness”.

    So, the attacks on “qualiaphiles” or “non-qualiaphiles” are completely unjustified because I don’t think people understand each other correctly. Non-qualiaphiles don’t understand what qualiaphiles mean by qualia. Qualiaphiles don’t understand what non-qualiaphiles mean when they deny qualia. As a “qualiaphile” (I don’t have statistics on whether majority of people believe in qualia or don’t believe in qualia, but the statistics means very little to me), I am quite sure when people deny qualia, they are denying something else. Likewise, if people deny the existence of my consciousness, I KNOW they are denying something else.

    I have spent almost my entire life debating theists, most intensively during my college years because my philosophical belief is in the atheist side. But lately, I have an insight: The God no-God debate is completely meaningless. Atheists don’t understand what “God” means to a theist. Atheists’ understanding of the concept lead them to abandon the idea. In fact, different groups of theists don’t understand the meaning of each others God either. Everybody uses the term God to describe something that is unique to themselves, and the mis-matches of these descriptions ensures debates (e.g. atheists vs theists). At some point, the debates turn into attacks/counter-attacks, and that is not healthy.

    What I will say is this, if the existence of qualia does not bother you, then that is great because there is one fewer problem for you to seek answer of. Life is simpler. But if the existence of qualia bothers you, then you have to face up to the HARD problem.

  57. 57. Charles Wolverton says:

    I haven’t read it yet, but here’s a post on Chalmers by neurobiologist Eric Thomson:

    http://philosophyofbrains.com/2010/08/25/two-fronts-against-chalmers.aspx

  58. 58. Vicente says:

    @Kar Lee, I completely disagree, the religious issue is completely different from the consciousness one. Religion has social, political and economical dimensions that the consciousness issue has not.

    I believe we all have a conscious experience (despite Dennett denies qualia). To tackle the hard problem is something secondary or resulting from the primary experience. The approach in the religious case is different.

    Now, if as you said Non-qualiaphiles don’t understand what qualiaphiles mean by qualia , it is because either they have not thought much about it, or they are not smart enough to understand it.

    What does it really mean to be a theist? to follow a creed, christian, muslim… to say there must be an explanation to all this, to have a childish view, and believe in an old man with white beird that cares for you but eventually will judge you and bla bla… what is it?

    Theists !! or polytheists !! or pagans setting Rome in fire… masses under control or out of control.

    You know, I have been very fortunate to met in my life true religious people, and believe me they don’t get into debates (actually they hardly talk). As Christ said: you will know them by their fruits , not by their stupid chit chat he he give me your money…

    There is only one way to debate with these guys, to ask them to shut the f. up, and don’t waste more time.

    I believe the consciousness (in opposition to the religious one) debate to be a philosophic and scientific one, really worth to engage in.

  59. 59. Vicente says:

    Charles[57], very interesting. Don’t you think that supervenience in this context is a way to refer to dualism, I have the impression they use this word to hide what they really mean (are they ashame of it?).

    I agree that the argument on developmental biology is not equivalent to that of consciousness, for the reasons in cmmt[55], although I understand how hard is to find the path that takes from genes to fenotypes. The temptation to propose ideas like the morphogenetic fields (Ramachandran) is very strong, this would be a biological equivalent to the dualistic approach. The difference is that embryology falls entirely within the science realm, while consciousness does not, so for the moment I’ll wait to see what the hard work of the labs fellows produces.

    I like the final remark: we don’t understand well brain states and mind states, how to link them?

    And then, I have never understood very well how to apply the conceivability argument in this context. Actually I can conceive that mental states could be not “completely” coupled to brain states (open dualism), so there is no full supervenience, but that proves nothing in one way or another, or does it.

  60. 60. Kar Lee says:

    Vicente,
    I can see fire in your eyes…..(fire to be interpreted as passion)
    If we are to say that the consciousness debate does not have the elements that the religious debate has, how can one explain the ferocity of attack John Searle got with his Chinese room argument from some members in the strong AI group? This is not meant to single out the strong AI group, but just that Searle mentioned this in his lectures.

    Constructive thoughtful debate is always pleasant to be engaged in. But when people start to put label on other people, the similarity between a religious debate and philosophical debate is very apparent. I have seen very vicious attack on Chalmers on the Internet and I was shocked. One can disagree with the other side without launching an attack. I hope we can maintain basic civility in our discussion here, as we have been doing so well, with some occasional lapses…

    But then, it is probably just human nature to attack and counter attack. What else do we do for fun? Didn’t Einstein got attacked for his theory of relativity? And that was supposed to be scientific! (See “Einstein’s Mistakes” by Hans Ohanian)

    Now, regarding the God no-God debate, since there are so many versions of God, we don’t know which version we are debating. Even though I find the concept unnecessary, some may find the concept necessary. Even Einstein felt compelled to say he would believe in a Spinoza’s God. And then, I would like to invite you to check out this book “God Theory” by Bernard Haisch. With Haisch’s God, it is almost like the Universal Consciousness that I am promoting, a far cry from a white beard guy sitting on the cloud. And this is from the former editor of the Astrophysical Journal.

    With so many explanatory targets in our consciousness discussion, each one of us busy building his/her own version of “consciousness”, and the proliferation of the concepts of God, I can see the similarity in the confusions generated.

    By the way, I have released my ebook “Where are the zombies?” for public download: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/21788
    This group and Peter are mentioned in the Acknowledgment, without permission from both.

  61. 61. Vicente says:

    Kar Lee, sorry if I was overheated, I have just seen these guys cause so much damage and suffer…

    just some reactions:

    Constructive thoughtful debate is always pleasant to be engaged in.

    Absolutely, but believe-ful and supertition-ful and ulterior-motive-ful debates, not for me thank you.

    how can one explain the ferocity of attack…

    Well, the strong AI group needs to get funds for their research, so anything that contradicts their claims is not good. Particularly a good argument like the chinese room one. Simple computing, expert systems despite very useful and interesting are not as appealing as conscious human like machines….

    I haven’t read Ohaians, but I believe the debate in physics has to be done with equations and experimental data… if not is loses most of its value.

    Ah, Spinoza (poor Baruch), one of my favourites, another victim of our religious friends…but he gave them what they deserved. You know, I would give a leg to know what Leibniz and himself spoke about when the former paid him a visit in The Hague short before his death… they say Leibniz was never the same person after that day. Einstein was compelled by “Deus sive Natura”, the expression is just so beautiful.

    I’ll check Haisch book.

    I still think consciousness and religion are very different business.

    My idea is that we just lack most of the knowledge and means necessary to play this game, it is not intellectually affordable, the strategy is wrong. I suspect, that if “one day” in this life or another we come to know the truth, it is going to be a real surprise, nothing to do with all this arguments and counterarguments.

    CONGRATS for your book !!! many will profit from it. I still owe you my comments.

  62. 62. Mike Spenard says:

    @Kar Lee
    “So, why are people naturally fall into one of these groups? And they think so differently?
    The conclusion that I can come up with is that different group try to explain different things, all using the vaguely-defined term “Consciousness”.”

    Well saying to say that the answer to the factions in philosophy of mind is because they 1)set out to explain different things 2)define consciousness in different ways, begs the initial question. As why are do we find ourselves with 1 and 2?

    I talked about a possible reason in post#16, so I’d be curious to your thoughts on it.

  63. 63. Mike Spenard says:

    “f we are to say that the consciousness debate does not have the elements that the religious debate has, how can one explain the ferocity of attack John Searle got with his Chinese room argument from some members in the strong AI group?”

    A large group of people can think someone is making an egregiously ill-formed argument without being religious. That is how.

  64. 64. Kar Lee says:

    Mike[62,63],
    Your comment 16 is so long. I lost track of your proposed (I will try to read it again) reason. You can enlighten me in the next comment if I have not come back before you do. But my speculation is just that people are born different. Depends on your DNA and your upbringing, you fall into one of those camps (and then seldom get out!).

    Then if an attack is warranted (not just on the idea, but on the person) just because a group of people think someone is making an “egregious ill-informed” argument, what difference is it from one religious sect attacking another? Emotion runs high, tribal security is at stake, they must be wrong, if not my way, then highway…

    For me, a constructive debate has to be free of demeaning personal attack. And that is where I draw the parallel between some of the relatively hostile philosophical debates and some of the religious debates of the same nature. Maybe I should also clarify that debating the philosophical foundation of a religion can be interesting and can be done in a constructive way, but debating why I may go to hell because I fail to go to which church or which temple on which day will be not.

  65. 65. Mike Spenard says:

    “But my speculation is just that people are born different. Depends on your DNA ”

    So there is a gene for dualism, pan-psychism etc etc?! Surely you jest!

  66. 66. Mike Spenard says:

    @KL Ok, I’ll yank out the relevant parts from that[#16] post:

    Why is it so hard to explain how consciousness works? Why is it so hard for academia and lay-people alike to even agree what the term “consciousness” means? First, take note that there are mental predicates like “desire”, “feel”, “think” etc. and than the physical predicates scientists use in describing neurons and planets etc. I.e. subjective terms vs. objective terms. And people do just fine amongst each other with their unsophisticated mental terms. So they certainly coexist. I haven’t the knowledge or skill yet to properly substantiate my hunch, but this bifurcation seems to be wired right into our language; what I’ve called Semantic Dualism.

    Obviously nature has a strict modus operandi of wiring neurology to divide the world into “Me” & “Not me”; what I’ve rephrased from Descartes as “Thinking of intent therefore ‘I'”. We would be very poor at carrying out our biological imperatives without our neurology consolidating and unifying its conception of itself: We would be nawing on our limbs and become frightened of the movements of our toes. And nature has avoided this problem by setting up this high contrast “me” and “not me” dichotomy.

    This seems silly at worst or obvious at best to mention, but what is not so obvious is that our language built upon this capacity that, despite being obviously mandatory, is one that was engineered. And once you stack language on top of it, it imposes itself in language. That’s not so obvious I feel.

    Therefore, my chips are on the bet that language has inherited this modus operandi during the course of its evolution and development from its non-linguistic roots. And now we bear the burden, as the result of this unimaginably long m.o. operating on how we think and how our language allows us to think. Ergo, the insoluble mind-body problem.

    This sort of phenomena would not be entirely unheard of, as it is basically the weak form of the Sapir-Whorf proposal.

    For instance, some language obligate the speaker to attach sexual tense to non-sexual objects, and others do not. English is notably gender neutral of the European languages; and German is notoriously difficult for its attaching gender to things such as bridges and tables; Spanish doing the same, but very often with an inverted sexual tense to that of German. What is interesting is there have been experiments done which show that such differences between German and Spanish speaks can strongly influence 1) their default assumptions about objects (e.g. bridges having a “manly” property for Spanish speakers, and the reverse for Germans), 2) the ability to obstruct speakers ability to commit information to memory.

    An even more striking instance is the evidence that shows language influencing the descriptions of spacial orientation. Some languages are more “geographic” in their directions, while others are “egocentric”. And coordinate system of directions that is pervasive and dominant in language is almost entirely egocentric.

    Some feel, myself included, that unless you resolve mental terms into non-mental terms at some point (e.g. to describe how something at the personal level is attributable to sub-personal phenomena) then you’ve simply recast one mental term into another; and your description is circular and does no real work other then a repackaging of the problem. E.g. explaining a “desire” with a “feeling” or “thought”, or “image” or “representation” or “command” or “message”; all of those pre-suppose what one is trying to explain in the first place intelligence, rationality and ‘what it is like to be something’. And yet others feel mental terms are non-reducible and can only be explained from the personal level to the personal level.

    The position I often deride, substance dualism or the kind that Chalmers seems to stand behind, I feel shouldn’t just be refuted but taken as evidential in a way. What I mean by that is, it’s the intuitive default position almost all people have when they conceive of the nature of their person-hood. That makes it a natural phenomena, one without basis of course, but it does exist.

    I take this observation and the former on language obligating us to default spacial system, inter alia, as highly suggestive of a systematic and widespread bifurcation in language. The schism starts with the dictates from our biology for “me” and “not me”. Language builds from that premise, and frames how our mind can think about ourselves. And then spiritual story tellers amplify it into dogma. And by opening up the hood to understand why it’s the default position (e.g. my hunch above) we can show how “the hard problem” is an illusory one that is soluble to the proposal I mention above. And do so in a way that doesn’t crassly shun dualism, pan-psychism, phenomenology etc., but gives it a proper place theoretically; as an artifact found while doing software archaeology.

    Why is 1) properly laying out this goal so hard and 2) why is it so hard to answer even when we can properly outline the task?! Semantic Dualism I feel. And one of my focuses is on trying to better understand the nature of this bifurcation in our language: how it arose, why it arose, and how we can cope with it imposing itself on our minds to the degree of creating the mind-body gap (Chalmers’s “The Hard Problem”; we hear Chalmers casting aside substance dualism. But by my account above he has still have left that which underlies and supports it, semantic dualism, to go unchecked. He got rid of the dog, but you still fill its bowl).

    Sorry for this being just as long winded as post #16.

  67. 67. Mike Spenard says:

    @Charles

    I know I’ve repeated the above a few (to many) times. Except for the part on language obligating sexual tense (It just came to mind recently). Many posts ago you had mentioned the hope that someday “the vocabulary would exist”, or something to that effect implying we could transcend a bifurcated (mental vs non-mental predicates) linguistic framework. Anyhow… I would just like to point out that the fact that English somehow lost its power to obligate its speakers to a sexual tense is, perhaps, suggestive that such hopes are grounded and within the realm of possibility. Perhaps it won’t be for all of humanity. That is, some will feel their language allows them to place pain on a schematic; and others will not.

    Perhaps it’s happening now.

  68. 68. Charles Wolverton says:

    Following along with Mike’s language theme …

    I wouldn’t be surprised if to some extent the associations that the words “physical” and “mental” evoke in people affect their reactions to the issue of “consciousness”. “Physical” may suggest materialism, determinism, fatalism, nihilism, et al; “mental” may suggest spiritual, free will, hope, optimism, et al. A person who makes those “negative” associations with the physical and finds them distasteful may want the mental to be something separate and special so that they can “eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive”. (For younger readers – that’s a lyric from an old song.) Those who, like me, are perfectly comfortable with the “negative” associations are undisturbed by the thought that the mental reduces to the physical. My problem with Chalmer’s PZ argument isn’t so much that I think PZ’s don’t and can’t exist, it’s that in a certain sense I think they do exist – and “they” are “we”!

    To preclude any wrong inferences, I should probably emphasize that the above is late-night armchair philosophical BS. In “real life” during the day, I’ve got it undeservedly good and have no complaints (as long as Earl keeps his distance). But I also try to have no illusions.

  69. 69. Vicente says:

    @Kar Lee, another one gets in the circus central ring.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/sep/02/stephen-hawking-big-bang-creator

    Will M-theory stand for Marvellous-theory or Misery-theory, let’s see.

    @Mike:

    egregious ill-formed concept is strong AI, I think the chinese room argument is pretty good. But there is no point in getting in this sterile dicussion. The point is to respect each views, as long as they respect ours, and they are not harmful, this is one of the problems wiht religion.

    So there is a gene for dualism, pan-psychism etc etc?! Surely you jest!

    No, but probably there are genes that induce in you an inclination to certain kinds of thought, and make you prone to believe certain things or others (have a look at Pinker’s blank slate). What we should do, is to try to get rid of all these inclinations that rot our minds, and this brings me to Charles.

    @Charles
    I think PZ’s don’t and can’t exist, it’s that in a certain sense I think they do exist – and “they” are “we”!

    Yes, I went through that process, I would say that we are in part PZs, but mostly conscious beings. Since the subconscious was discovered we cannot deny that. Our brain has also many auto-pilot or autonomous modules that support the PZ side. I think one of most important aims we should all have, is to tame our PZ side, to break free from its control, to stop behaving like idiots. Buddhism is to take this idea to the extreme, to kill the bloody zombie.

  70. 70. Charles Wolverton says:

    “Since the subconscious was discovered we cannot deny that [we are mostly conscious beings].”

    As Mike keeps arguing, definitions of – or justifications for the existence of – “consciousness” tend to be circular or to involve equally vague terms: “awareness”, “having phenomenal experience”, “the sense of self”, “the sense of what it’s like to be something”. This one – essentially “the mental state that the subconscious state is below” – is at least novel, but still not helpful.

  71. 71. Vicente says:

    Charles, there is nothing, nothing at all, less vague to you than consciousness, awareness or phenomenal experience, any other thing could be vague but not that. Actually your inner life is the only thing you have for sure, the rest could vague. I am not talking about the content of the experience, but about the experience itself. We should not confuse a fact with the understanding of the fact, one thing is to see the sun and another one to understand nuclear fusion reactions and star dynamics. And another thing is to name the sun: sun. To understand it or have a name for it, does not change you experience of the sun and its existence.

    We cannot justify the existence of consciousness, because consciousness is the existence, consciousness is primarily “to be”, theistically speaking for Kar Lee’s satisfaction, I am who I am or as Parmenides thought, what it is, is, and what it is not, is not.

    The sense of self is a different issue, is a more complex experience, there could be conscious beings without self sense, probably many animals.

    And then it is not that arguments for the existence of consciousness are circular, he he, it is much worse, because our friend Bertrand (Russell) presented his axiomatic set theory or Russell paradox, which puts us in a really difficult situation to prove anything at all.

    As Peter reminds us everytime we log in, if the self is an illusion who is being fooled, if consciousness does not exist what am I feeling and perceiving right now….

    So let’s become a bit sensible….

  72. 72. Kar Lee says:

    Mike,
    Thanks for this comment, and its length helps clarify a few things that I did not follow before. I appreciate the clarification.

    I believe language does affect ones thinking. I still get goose bumps when I hear people refer to a huge cruise ship (or the all mighty starship Entreprise!) as she. To me, “It” suffices. On the other hand, I keep saying that sometimes the same word, in this case

    “consciousness”, means different things to different people. As you think along the different meaning routes, you come to very different places.

    That lead me to your first question: Why is it so hard to agree on what the term consciousness means? You imply from the discussion followed that it could be the language: Semantic Dualism. I partly agree, but only partly.

    Language get invented as needed. We know if we lock up two kids together in isolation from the rest of society before they learn their native language, they are often able to develop their own to communicate between themselves. If our language bifurcates, it must be because of necessity. Another way to look at it is, many languages from many independent cultures have developed similar mental terms. How can different cultures developed in mutual isolation develop compatible concepts if there is no underlying cause(s)?

    Instead of saying our language accidentally get us into thinking in the “wrong” direction, I will believe that it is a natural phenomenon (you used this description yourself) that we think in this way.

    However, being natural does not prove it right. It only means it is not accidental.

    To me, sematic dualism is an effect, not the cause.

    I like to point out that in your comment, the style of writing is strongly third-person. By that I mean even when you are refering to “desire”, “feel”, you are not writing about your own desire, or your own feel. You are writing about “desire” and “feel” in general, probably

    someone else’s desire, someone else’s feel. If asked to imagine yourself swimming in a lake, you will probably imagine a figure swimming in the lake from a third person perspective, and then make the association that you are that figure, but not imagining water all
    around you, water level up to your nose and you need to control your breathing, etc. This is a typical third-party approach to a personal event. Many people are very good at this capability. In fact, too good.

    The mis-match is when two people talking to each other about themselves swimming in the lake, one focusing on the third party guy in the lake, as if he is describing someone else even though he is talking about his own experience, and another guy has this up-close and personal view of the event, really immersing himself in the imaginary water, there can be occasion for communication mismatch. But in an event like swimming, chances are the communication of “experience” can go on without problem, mis-match unnoticed. Each party comes away with his own understanding of the communication. However, in the case of consciousness discussion, the mis-match in focus can be detrimental. It can be the difference between embracing the hard problem and the dismiss of it.

    On my way home today, I was listening to NPR on the radio. There was a guy talking about going through the entire summer without having a vacation or any backyard BBQ. Instead, he and his wife went to this “compassionate friends” convention. His cracked up a little bit when he explained why they ended up in that convention: Every participant in that convention has lost a child. He and his wife lost their two sons (aged around 20) last year because of a truck plowed into the car their sons were driving, on their way to be with them. I got very strong emotional impact listening to him.

    So, why are they seeking out fellow victims to communicate their pain across, to begin the healing process? Can regular people understand them well enough and lend them enough support? Apparently not! When hearing the word “Truck”, traffic accident, people who have lost a loved one perceive the words differently than those who have not. No matter how understanding you are, if you have never lost a loved one due to a truck, you can never understand what it means to be in such a situation, and the response reveals it all. Similarly, people who are born introvert (or with certain kind of personality trait), or having certain type of life experience, will perceive the word “consciousness” differently than those who are not born that way or having those experiences. For a third-person view oriented person, the word consciousness is just a simple concept of which the existence will result in a certain behavior, such as the claim: there must be an evolutionary cause for consciousness. Thus robotic consciousness is not only possible, but logical and necessary. On the other hand, for people who focus on the first person aspect of the term “consciousness”, which I insist is the only right way to look at it (because to me, consciousness is not a third person observable), consciousness is the pre-requisite for qualia, whose existence is a direct proof of personal existence. Consciousness is not some hypothetical concept related to behavior or physical action. Instead, it is the essence of my personal existence. I cannot exist if I am unconscious. If I am conscious, I must exist. My consciousness is my existence.

    With these two different understanding on consciousness, how can we talk?

    Just like the guy whose sons were killed by a truck trying to discuss the need to require additional safety feature in all commercial trucks with someone whose has a strong anti-government personality, who insist that government should always keeps its hands off everything (political liberterian) in the society, with the emotional content as different as these, how can one convince the other?

    For someone like me who makes this strong association between personal existence and consciousness to convince someone who takes a as-a-matter-of-fact third person approach to his own consciousness (which is just a concept to summarize an individual’s overall behavior) on the Hard problem, I can see how it goes nowhere.

    Yes, language is a barrier. But I think it is a barrier because same language carries different emotional content, thus meanings, to different people, and these people talk passed each other.

    So, to clarify, my definition of consciousness is:
    Consciousness is the first person observable that make possible my view point of the external world.
    Corollary: Something is conscious if I can imagine myself being that thing and feel what it is like to that thing from inside.

    Can you re-share with me yours?

  73. 73. Mike Spenard says:

    @Vic#71
    “there is nothing, nothing at all, less vague to you than consciousness … any other thing could be vague but not that. ”

    If it cannot be vague then that would seem to necessitate it being an “all or none” property. As, if I have only a half-qualia (no one says they are half experiencing redness), than that would lead one being able to say it is vague or open to question and doubt; which is to say open to verification.

    But now you’re stuck in the same boat as substance dualists. You have the obligation to tell us exactly where, in the continuum of life this all or none property arose; both phylogenetically and ontogenetially. And any place you draw the line is completely arbitrary, as there is always a prototypical form whether it be a species, embryo or the various degrees of mental normality and impairment. So good luck fitting “non-vague-able” non-reducible essences into the framework of biology.

  74. 74. Vicente says:

    To [#72] & [#73]

    I clearly failed to convey my idea in #71. There is a confussion between three concepts.

    1) The phenomenological experience (PE) itself.

    2) The content of the experience.

    3) The understanding of how does the experience exist, actually this would part of (2).

    So I am not stuck, I am ignorant. I say:

    1) The PE is not vague, it is what it is, whatever it is.

    2) The contents can be vague.

    3) Why is it like this? How does it work? I wish I knew.

    Let me present another analogy:

    You are watching a movie in a plasma tv set.

    1) The images and sound are not vague (blur?) (if they are get a pair of glasses).

    2) The plot and the language can be vague.

    3) How does plasma tv technology and retina physiology and light ray propagation, and visual cortex,etc work?

    This is the tragegy of humankind, that we don’t know what and who we are.

    I agree with Kar Lee language is an effect not the cause. This semantic dualism you refer to is a consequence of the main problem.
    Even the emotional aftermath KL refers to is not a general rule, is not what happens to you, is how you react to it. Live as if you were going to lose all you have, or even better, as if you had already lost it.

    You have the obligation to tell us exactly where, in the continuum of life this all or none property arose; both phylogenetically and ontogenetially. And any place you draw the line is completely arbitrary, as there is always a prototypical form whether it be a species, embryo or the various degrees of mental normality and impairment. So good luck fitting “non-vague-able” non-reducible essences into the framework of biology.

    Fair enough. I wish I could Mike, I really wish. All I have are questions, and some certainty about what are wrong answers. It is like when you can’t find a solution for a problem, but you can discard what is not a solution.

    Anyway, I am not so sure it is a continuum in the first place, and then I am not so sure you always need a proto-type for the type, in the sense that maybe a small random change created a completely new function, so “proto” becomes meaningless. Look at easier questions(philosophically speaking), tell me how bacteria happen to appear, and then tell me how the big leap, that is really a line, from procariots to eucariots happened. You don’t need to appeal to consciousness to sink in your phylogenetic continuum progress (rather full-house expanssion, I prefer S.J. Gould view).

    I don’t know. But I have the hunch this is not intelectually affordable for me (I don’t want to say for us).

  75. 75. Kar Lee says:

    Charles,
    Interesting that you said,”Physical” may suggest materialism, determinism, fatalism, nihilism, et al..” because I embrace all these and I happily deny free will, but I still find materialism inadequate facing up to the hard problem. No doubt what you described may cause some people to turn against materialism, but not me.

  76. 76. Kar Lee says:

    Mike,
    I understand the “all or none” in the following way: If you are in full body sedation, there is one point when you wake up. Before that, you feel nothing. After that, you are aware of something. The awareness may not be crystal clear, but it exists. This is a step function like transition.

    Some people may say something like “I was half-conscious”, but that is a statement say he was conscious, but the perception was that perfect. If you are half-conscious, you are conscious. So, consciousness is all or none. We don’t even need to follow the development of an embryo to get ourselves (un)stuck.

  77. 77. Kar Lee says:

    Vicente, I think Stephen Hawking is referring to “the guy with white beard on the cloud” :)

  78. 78. Vicente says:

    Charles[70] “Since the subconscious was discovered we cannot deny that [we are mostly conscious beings].”

    No no, we cannot deny that we are sharing the apartment with a zombie, we cannot deny that sometimes there are subsconscious processes as main drivers of our behaviour.

    But I believe we are mostly conscious beings, and that we should strive to make our consciousness to prevail over the zombie side.

  79. 79. Mike Spenard says:

    @Kar Lee#72
    “To me, sematic dualism is an effect, not the cause.”

    Well, I was advocating it is both. It’s (1) an /effect/ of the fore mentioned neuro-biological modus operandi. And, since it is (2) itself a term conceptualizing that we have both mental and non-mental terms (and this bifurcation we all agree exists!), I am adding further that (3) it is the /cause/ of the cultural dispute known as philosophy of mind.

    I could be wrong, but I don’t see how that flow of reasoning really requires any stretch of reason. Especially considering the examples of evidence for Whorf’s theory.

    “That lead me to your first question: Why is it so hard to agree on what the term consciousness means? You imply from the discussion followed that it could be the language: Semantic Dualism. I partly agree, but only partly.”

    But your objection seems to be saying “We shouldn’t say language accidentally get us into thinking in the /wrong/ direction … I believe that it is a natural phenomenon (you used this description yourself) … However, being natural does not prove it right. It only means it is not accidental.”

    But this is part of my point with (1), (2) & (3). That the bifurcation in language is natural, and since it is rooted in neuro-biology it is not accidental. And because, it in some sense serves a biological purpose, it is not entirely proper to call it “wrong”. But only indirectly causal of the cultural divide in philosophy of mind.

    So where is it in the above chain that you stop agreeing? Clearly (2) you agree with.

  80. 80. Mike Spenard says:

    @Vicente#74

    “I agree with Kar Lee language is an effect not the cause. This semantic dualism you refer to is a consequence of the main problem.”

    Could you explain how? As per post#79: Semantic Dualism is just a term encapsulating that language has two kinds of terms, mental and non-mental, and is in this sense bifurcated. Therefor you are advocating that the bifurcation of mental and non-mental terms “is an effect” of our mutual disagreements in philosophy of mind. I don’t see how that can be substantiated; as I, for one, don’t wield that kind of power over the kinds of terms everyone uses in language.

  81. 81. Kar Lee says:

    Mike,
    “So where is it in the above chain that you stop agreeing? Clearly (2) you agree with.”
    I agree with 1), and 2), but I have doubt about 3) because it does not work like that for me. Mental terms were invented because there are mental stuff that need description. I don’t think the existence of the mental terms lead people to invent mental stuff. I think that is where I stop agreeing.

  82. 82. Mike Spenard says:

    KL,
    Ok, lets say you are right (and I think so) and “mental terms were invented because there are mental stuff that need description”. Perfectly fair point. And this gets us as far as, and supports (2), Semantic Dualism. Since, as you said “there was mental stuff” as well as non-mental stuff.

    But to suppose (3), that this (2) is causing the ideological debate in philosophy of mind, is rather self evident. It’s the two sets of ontology and desideratum we are fighting to explain; regardless of what a philosopher may agree or disagree with.

    Therefor, no part of (1) (2) or (3) is characterizing mental terms as causing people to invent mental stuff, anymore then physical terms are causing people to invent physical stuff. Only to point out that there are two kinds of terms and people are fighting over there applicability, reducibility etc. And that this bifurcated philosophy of mind debate itself is a phenomena, and in need of an explanation that can be sought after independently to the debates within philosophy of mind. But, may (and I think so) have implications for it.

    So, my greater point is that since (3) can trace back to (1), neuro-bio modus operandi, we can better understand philosophy of mind en masse (i.e. the mentioned implications) irrespective of what side of the table you sit (e.g. qualia debate). This is the best way, as I can find, to bring pro-qualia folks like yourself to the same table as anti-qualia folks like myself. And do so on equal terms.

    So to ask again, “why is our language bifurcated into mental and non-mental terms?”. You can answer “because there were two kinds of phenomena, mental and non-mental, that the terms had to be invented for”. But it doesn’t put you at the table; it assumes the warrant for the bifurcation is verified. And we don’t know this; if we did there wouldn’t be the debate in PoM. And the only way to check up on that warrant is to pay dues to our history and conditions: doing the software archaeology and seeing if neuro-biological operandi primed us for this bifurcation. If the answer is negative /then/ we can say with assurances that there are as you say two distinct modes of ontology and our two kinds of terms rests on invention at this juncture, to meet those ontologies with language, alone.

  83. 83. Mike Spenard says:

    Another clarification…

    As you say, the antecedents of the semantic bifurcation, (i.e. mental and non-mental terms) could be entirely rooted in “metal stuff”. That is, mental phenomena as they are /now/. If that is the case then there is no point in my advocacy.

    But, if the antecedents of the semantic bifurcation are in “mental stuff” /and these to have antecedent forms/ (e.g. proto neurology that creates a high contrast cognitive framework of “me vs not-me”), which would be proto-“mental stuff”, then it is not at all as simple as you put it. And we should, therefore, question whether the Semantic Dualism is a reflection of, as you a advocate, some real sense of two kinds of ontology “mental vs non-mental stuff”; or, as I think is /possible/, some underlying neurological disposition that is only an “economical truth” (i.e. it allows us to survive, and is in that sense is veridical). And I think by us mutually saying “I don’t know” on these two options it would be possible for both camps to work on something together.

  84. 84. Vicente says:

    @Mike

    Why is it so hard to agree on what the term consciousness means?

    Mainly for the same reason it is so hard for science to study consciousness, because it is subjective , because we cannot access directly and observe others minds.

    “why is our language bifurcated into mental and non-mental terms?”.

    I am not so sure if bifurcation applies in this case, it is not that the language has splitted into two completely different and disjoint kinds of language, one for mental issues and another for non mental issues. That is a bifurcation, like a road splitting in two roads.

    It is just that language includes terms for mental and non-mental stuff. But the language remains one overall.

    Otherwise you can apply this bifurcation idea to all opponent or disjoint sets of terms.

    Probably we could live, in practical terms, without making any reference to mental stuff (senses-qualia aside), although our lifes would be much poorer.

    In you proto-argument, when you say me vs. not-me you have to be more precise, me as in cave men saying this chunk of meat is for me, or me as in cave men thinking “I” am more clever than “someone else”.

  85. 85. Kar Lee says:

    Mike,
    I think I like Vicente’s characterization of the language, but I can still use the concept “bifurcation” for our discussion. The fact is, even if “neuro-biological operandi primed us for this bifurcation” is found to be true, it still does not logically follow that ontology is not the reason for this “Semantic dualism”. It is just like someone jumping out of a burning house can be traced back to his neuro-biological mechanism, it does not follow that the house is not on fire.

    In fact, my speculation is, the “neuro-biological operandi” primed some people to see qualia as real, and primed some other to deny it. And that is the source of debate (or bifurcation), irrespective of the ontology, which is a separate issue.

  86. 86. Charles Wolverton says:

    I have been meaning to weigh in on the Semantic Dualism discussion but when trying to formulate a comment have been overcome by deja vu. I just now noticed that this is because my comment 20 in the paragraph following the quote “the insoluble mind-body problem” is the essence of what I have to say. But I’ll try to expand on that just a bit.

    One major thrust of the Ramberg essay is to explain to Rorty – who didn’t see “the mental”, as opposed to “the physical”, as being of any particular philosophical interest – why Davidson did. Ramberg’s argument is rather long and convoluted (and at least from my admittedly naive perspective, quite subtle), but the bottom line is that when dealing with humans as persons rather than merely animate objects, the vocabulary of “the physical” has to be augmented by words capturing the ideas of intentionality and normativity. He concludes that the dominating influence is the latter, but the essential point is that the resulting “normative vocabulary” must be different from the underlying “physical vocabulary” because the purposes for which it is deployed are different. And Rorty concedes that he has been shortsighted in not recognizing the full significance of the animate object-person distinction and the consequent need for different vocabularies.

    Turning to Semantic Dualism, which seems to be another name for this general idea, I don’t see the importance of the question – addressed in recent comments here – whether the difference in vocabularies is cause or effect vis-a-vis our discursive difficulties. Once we accept that there is a difference, it seems that we can move on to thinking about what follows from that difference no matter how it arose. One thing that does NOT necessarily follow is it’s having ontological implications; clearly one can describe the same physical object using different vocabularies, each tailored to a specific purpose. Another is that the relationship between the normative vocabulary and the physical vocabulary is necessarily non-reductive (ie, non-tranlatable) owing to the way the former is defined (conceptually) as “augmenting” the latter. But here too it’s unclear what, if any, importance to attach to that observation.

    My sense is that the brain-consciousness relationship is analogous to (or even just a special case of) the physical-mental one. And since we haven’t yet worked out the “consciousness vocabulary”, we are each essentially using a “private language” and can only “talk past each other”. If that’s a more-or-less accurate view, it appears that not much can change until there is some convergence on a common “triangulated” vocabulary.

    A related observation: Some statements in these comments suggest to me an assumption along the lines of “the incorrigibility of first person reports with respect to the mind”. It is my understanding that this assumption has been pretty thoroughly refuted over the past half century. If that incorrigibility assumption is being made and there is reason to think it not refuted, I’d be interested in pointers to substantiating sources. If not, it would seem a useful step toward a common vocabulary to avoid statements that suggest such incorrigibility.

  87. 87. Alva says:

    Dear Peter, and Contributors,

    Thanks for this fascinating discussion!

    Peter: here’s something I’ve just posted on language:

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2010/09/09/129751691/baseball-ideology-and-the-nature-of-language

    Cheers,
    Alva

  88. 88. Mike Spenard says:

    @Alva
    “What makes baseball-like practices interesting is the fact that, to put the point as a philosopher might, their ontologies are practice-relative.”

    Funny, exactly what Charles and I have been laboring. But, the above begs the question of how one can speak about qualia, which supposedly is not relative to any behavior(s) (i.e. it has a non-relative ontology), and do so meaningfully (which qualiaphiles need to do to explain their desideratum!) without availing themselves of something which is relative to objective behaviors (i.e. a relative ontology): language.

    I’ve read OoOH and few JCS etc. articles, but it’s still not clear to me on where you stand on this.

  89. 89. Charles Wolverton says:

    Prof Noe’s baseball article captures – in a more readable style – much of what I’ve gleaned from essays in “Rorty and His Critics” that are by or about Davidson. For example:

    AN: “To learn a language is more than learning rules. … It is to acquire a range of practical and … perceptual skills …”

    DD: We have erased the boundary between knowing a language and knowing our way around the world generally.”

    Prof Noe appends to that quote: “… and it is to come to have a range of feelings, attitudes and beliefs about language itself.” In his reply to Davidson’s essay, Rorty asks Davidson why, having erased that boundary, he thinks “there is a theory which captures this sort of know-how”, and speculates that even were there such a theory, language users would be unlikely to apply it in practice. I wonder if the rather vague appendage is intended to suggest such a theory.

    AN: Are there home runs? Of course. But you can’t look outside of the practice of baseball for an understanding of what home runs are.

    Compare this to the Rorty Q&A re snow in my comment 47.

    And there several other parallels.

    BTW, my guess is that some of the difficulty people have with “Alva” is due to ignorance of an aspect of US history. In keeping with the idea that to understand speech requires some context, understanding “Alva” is presumably abetted by knowing Edison’s full name – which I think most youngsters interested in science did 50 years ago, although I wouldn’t be surprised if that is no longer the case.

  90. 90. Peter says:

    Alva,

    Many thanks for your friendly response: I like the baseball article very much.

  91. 91. Kar Lee says:

    “To learn a language is more than learning rules. … It is to acquire a range of practical and … perceptual skills …”

    Charles,
    Alva’s statement brought me back to an earlier point we were discussing: Difference between “knowing the address” and “knowing how to get there”. My claim is: Knowing the address (using what system?) is exactly equivalent to knowing how to get there.

    In some part of the world, the address of a person may appear like “Second floor of the house to the left of the locksmith” (write that on the envelop and it will get delivered).

    And consider this address:
    100 Main Street, Big Town, Interesting County, Maryland, US 12345.
    That is supposed to be the “full” address.

    Well, but the “full” address should really be:
    100 Main Street, Big Town, Interesting County, Maryland, US 12345, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy, Local Group, Virgo Supercluster, The Observable Universe.

    But anyone cares outside of earth? The point of having the address is so that you know how to get there. The point of knowing the language is so that you know how to communicate with people who use that language. “Knowing-that” is exactly equivalent to “knowing-how” in these two cases.

    It is a delight to see Alva appear on here personally.

  92. 92. Vicente says:

    Everybody is assuming that language is really useful to communicate, and that only happens when we reduce it to a set rules strictly defined. In real life language is too often a source of confusion and misunderstanding (when needed for issues that really matter, not for baseball). That is why science had to develop its own language.

    Charles, how true! poor Edison, one of the most important inventors not just of US history but of the Universal history of technology. And now that the bulb (typical invention that brings him up) will be completely replaced by LED lights in a few years he will be even more forgotten. And how many will know who developed the theory of semiconductors, and how does a LED diode work… This is really the hard problem of consciousness and not Chalmers definition. If people just were a little curious about the world around them… how much better everything would be. To have cravings for knowledge is probably one the best gifts one can have in this life.

  93. 93. Charles Wolverton says:

    “how many will know who developed the theory of semiconductors”

    No doubt there is, as usual in issues of attribution, some disagreement about who should be credited with that: Shockley, Bardeen, Brattain, others? But to the extent that it is Shockley, he probably will be remembered, but due to his late-in-life statements about race and eugenics. (On which I have no opinion – just making a historical observation.)

  94. 94. Mike Spenard says:

    “Knowing the address (using what system?) is exactly equivalent to knowing how to get there.”

    I’ll call BS on that ;)

    My address is 98.229.237.114, (make no mistake this ties me to a specific geographic location) and I bet you don’t know how to visit me; while a cop working with an IT consultant and my local ISP could.

  95. 95. Kar Lee says:

    Mike, you are assuming I am not a cop working with an IT consultant. Some assumption could be quite costly :) and that is no BS.

  96. 96. Kar Lee says:

    Mike,
    This is your address:
    3XX CypXXX St #4S
    Manchester, NH 03103

    The XXX are there to protect your privacy.
    Your ISP is Camcast.
    Your phone number is: (603)-6XX-xx43

  97. 97. Kar Lee says:

    And I know exactly how to find you.

  98. 98. Kar Lee says:

    And we can talk about Qualia over a glass of beer…

  99. 99. Mike Spenard says:

    Thanks for blocking it out, but it’s stale anyhow; former address and phone #. Besides…

    The average joe has no clue how to use an IP address to know how to get to a specific location. 4-228:3-114:2-458:1-182 is another address that points to my specific geo-location, but knowing it is not equivalent to knowing how to get to where it is. Ergo, an address is not equivalent to knowing how to get there.

    Heck the same argument can be made for GPS. Give any shmuck GPS coordinates, which is an address, and they won’t have a clue how to get there. Some sort of pre-shared information is obviously required besides the address, what Tor Nørretranders calls exformation; Noe alludes to this as well. Silliest argument I’ve heard in a while really.

  100. 100. Vicente says:

    @Charles[93], well yes, I was just trying to point out how people usually “take for granted” their environment, without questioning at all what things are, how they work or where they come from… nothing more than that.

    I completely agree with KL, if after giving somebody(with IQ above borderline) an address (postal addressing standards) he can’t make to the place(having available transport means), then that was not an address by definition. That is the difference between an address and a just the name of a place.

    Mike would the cop need an order from a judge to get the address info from your local ISP, because if that is the case you are giving no address (public not private).

    From Wikipedia

    An address is a collection of information, presented in a mostly fixed format, used for describing the location of a building, apartment, or other structure or a plot of land, generally using political boundaries and street names as references, along with other identifiers such as house or apartment numbers. Some addresses also contain special codes to aid routing of mail and packages, such as a ZIP code or post code.

    Functions

    Addresses have several functions:

    Providing a means of physically locating a building, especially in a city where there are many buildings and streets,
    Identifying buildings as the end points of a postal system,
    A social function: someone’s address can have a profound effect on their social standing,
    As parameters in statistics collection, especially in census-taking or the insurance industry.

    History

    Until the advent of modern postal systems, most houses and buildings were not numbered. Streets may have been named for landmarks, such as a city gate or market, or for the professions of their inhabitants. In many cities in Asia, most minor streets were never named. This is still the case today in much of Japan. When postal systems were introduced, it became necessary to number buildings to aid in mail delivery.

  101. 101. Vicente says:

    Kar Lee & Mike, go ahead, it is just a matter of the number of beers you have that you eventually agree on all philosophical matters regarding qualia, addresses, or any other issue, or that you just don’t care at all… In that sense Mike is right the whole ontology is context dependent ;-)

  102. 102. Kar Lee says:

    After a couple of beer, I might even be able to convince Mike to stop calling people silly before the point is even proven…(I might need to order special beer for that ;) )

  103. 103. Charles Wolverton says:

    A final observation on addresses:

    There is a difference between “knowing-how” to get to an address and “knowing-how to learn-how” to get to an address; the latter is a means of acquiring former. That’s why in my comment (“Qualia: the Movie”, #31) about getting from Comfort, TX to an address in Marina del Rey, CA I precluded using aids like a GPS device. So, I stand by my final assertion in comment 34 in that exchange, which to date remains unchallenged.

    In recent comments, the focus on addresses is misplaced. The issue has nothing to do with the definition format, scope, detail, etc, of addresses, all of which may be interesting in their own right but are irrelevant to the original question.

  104. 104. Kar Lee says:

    From Comfort TX
    Head east on Ave A toward US-87 BUS
    Continue onto US-87 BUS
    Turn left to merge onto I-10 W
    Passing through New Mexico, Arizona
    Entering California
    Take exit 93 on the left to merge onto CA-60 W/Moreno Valley Fwy toward Riverside
    Merge onto I-215 N
    Continue onto CA-60 W
    Take exit 1A for I-10 W/Santa Monica
    Merge onto I-10 W
    Take exit 3B to merge onto I-405 S toward Lax Airport/Long Beach
    Take exit 50B to merge onto CA-90 W
    Turn left at Mindanao Way
    Take the 2nd left onto La Villa Marina

    That is how you get to Villa Marina East from Comfort TX.

    To clarify the misunderstanding between an address and merely name, if Vicente’s quote from Wikipedia still does not clarify enough, I explicitly consulted available tool on standard address format,i.e., Google Map, to arrive at this route.

    All right, all right, joking aside, our debate on this issue illustrates a very interesting point in the consciousness debate: talking passed each other.

    See, even in such trivial thing as an address, my understanding of an address is definitely different from you, Charles and Mike. I think of address in a larger context, including all the format, standard, convention, landmarks, maps, and all the components going into making address meaningful. That’s why, the mere name, the Empire State Building, can be an address because it fits into my understanding/definition of an address in a larger context, even though it is just a name.

    However, for you two gentlemen, Charles and Mike, your understanding of an address is just a string of letters (by the way, if you show me an address in Congoese, it is going to confuse the hell out of me because I don’t speak that language). The standard, not included; the convention, not included; the language, not included. Of course there are exformations. Of course there are other stuff going into address to make address meaningful, just like every other human construct. If you know how to get from Place A to Place B, telling people at Place A the “how” is basically telling those people the address of Place B. But telling the same “how” information to people at Place C may not because it has missing information. It is no longer an address. In fact, it stops evening being the “know-how” either.

    If we can debate what is an address, and therefore whether the “knowing-that” is the same as “knowing-how”, imagine what kind of confusion we can get ourselves into talking about qualia and consciousness.

    So, Charles, I also standby my comment: People talk passed each other, all bring with them their own interpretation of the meaning of the words being thrown around, especially in the discussion about consciousness.

  105. 105. Vicente says:

    So: “To learn a language is more than learning rules. … It is to acquire a range of practical and … perceptual skills …” may I add: that mainly allow you to get confused and misunderstood all the time, and talk pass everybody around, probably as a result of the very subjective nature of consciousness (at least when fragmented in individuals) and the slippery notion of meaning.

    Having said this, I think that Prof. Noe’s article is very interesting and reflects very well the extension of language artifacts far beyond formal or written presentations. But I feel it lacks the critical view, to also present how inefficient and unreliable is such language when used to communicate in serious frameworks, other than sports comments.

  106. 106. Kar Lee says:

    Vicente,
    To demonstrate your point on confusion, here is one paragraph from Noe’s “Out of our heads”:
    “..I was sitting with my six-year-old son on the S-Bahn in Berlin. We’d only just arrived in Germany and my son, as of yet, knew no German. Across from us sat a man reading the newspaper. On the seat next to him, sitting for all the world like a passenger, was the man’s dog. That sight alone was amusing to us. My son leaned over and said to the man in English, “Is your dog friendly?” The man looked at August with confusion. “Is your dog friendly?” August repeated. More confusion. I then said, in German, “Ist er freundlich?” At those familiar words in the man’s native German, his brow cleared and he turned to us and said, in perfect English, “Indeed, he is most friendly!” And he added, in English, “I must be going deaf!” Of course, he wasn’t deaf:he couldn’t perceive my son’s words because he was unable, in that context and at that early hour of the morning, to find anything remotely intelligible about the sounds my son was making. I don’t think the fact that my son’s English is that of a six-year-old was particularly a factor. The man knew English but didn’t expect English in that situation, and so he was as good as deaf.”

  107. 107. Kar Lee says:

    From Science,
    “Brain scans showed the people’s introspective ability was strongly linked to the amount of gray matter in a spot of the prefrontal cortex, right behind the eyes, the researchers reported.

    “In addition, the study found people who were more introspective also had stronger functioning white matter in that part of the brain…”

    These are probably those who would be labelled as qualiaphiles.
    More here:
    http://esciencenews.com/articles/2010/09/16/brain.matter.linked.introspective.thoughts

  108. 108. Vicente says:

    Kar Lee, thanks for the link, pretty interesting!! I have always suspected something like this !

    Please let me deviate a bit from science, just a bit. I couldn’t help to recall the Tibetan buddhism old tales about the Third Eye an organ right behind and between the eyes. They even performed some rudimentary surgery in order to improve the faculties of such organ.

    I have also thought of my own understanding of Jesus way of referring himself sometimes as the son of man , I have always understood that as an evolution, in biological evolution terms, of the species. A mutation that causes a change in the brain that allows the new individual to reach enlightment more easily than the average “proto-man”. The same could apply to other mystical guy like Gautama Buddha and others. A new man with with a new brain and a thus a new mind.

    To me this paper also underpins the idea of the brain being an instrument to communicate, an interface between two worlds, some have better broadcasting services than others.

    This paper reinforces this belief of mine a lot.

    Anyway, I apologyse for the science digression, I just meant to share some informal off-the-record ideas.

    I disagree with the last part, I quote:

    “There may be different levels of consciousness, ranging from simply having an experience, to reflecting upon that experience. Introspection is on the higher end of this spectrum

    This was actually the topic of one Peter’s previous blog pages, I believe. I think consciousness is one, and then there are different levels of awareness.

    I hope they carry on this research line, it is so promising !! I think it could be very interesting to combine it with the researh on effects of meditation on the brain that Matthieu Ricard and Yale University? teams are doing.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7cgFQ1Sqcc

    qualiaphiles because they are qualia (and other mind features) observing enabled/capable as a result of this brain centre development?

    Thanks Kar, you’ve made my day.

  109. 109. Kar Lee says:

    Vicente,
    “…I think consciousness is one, and then there are different levels of awareness.”

    I think I agree with you on that.

  110. 110. Kar Lee says:

    To continue our discussion on language effect on consciousness debate, here is a piece written by Lera Boroditsky on Wall Street Journal : http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703467304575383131592767868.html?mod=wsj_share_digg

    People who speak different languages do seem to behave differently: English speaker arrange time sequence from left to right, Hebrew speaker arrange time sequence from right to left, Australian Pormpuraawans from East to West (!), etc.

    As a bilingual person, I can attest to the effect of language on the way one perceives the world. The cultural background associated with a simple term like “The moon” can throw you off course if you are not linking “The moon” to the right cultural background of the person who you are communicating with. In fact, a physicist’s moon may not be quite the same as an engineer’s moon, or that of a poet.

    One funny thing is when I was contemplating translating my ebook “Where are the zombies?” into a Chinese version, I came across some interesting difficulties. First, Zombies and Vampires translate basically into the same thing, and that same thing invokes, because of the combined effect, a very different feeling in Chinese from a mindless being (mindless Vampire? you must be kidding!). Second, there is really no term for the term “mind” in philosophical sense. In casual sense of “mind”, such as in “out of sight, out of mind”, the mind is translated directly into the brain, or brain-sea, as a Chinese speaker would sometimes prefer. Consciousness has a direct one to one translation, which is good. But the term “mental” roughly translates into “spirit”, which can be a similar concept, but can be not, depending on how you interpret it.

    It looks like it will take a lot of effort (highly non-trivial, as a mathematician may put it) to perform a translation of books about consciousness study from one language to another. Just getting the terms right is already highly non-trivial.

    But then, just like what I have been arguing, within the English speaking community, these terms don’t get interpreted the same way by different individuals either. The difference in language just adds one more layer of complexity to the discussion.

  111. 111. Vicente says:

    Kar Lee, a few questions: Do you really feel as two different persons when thinking in chinese or in english? Is it the same to talk in a language and to think in a language? assuming that a language is needed to think.

    I think the first thing required to clarify this languages issue, would be to understand the concept of meaning quite obscure to me. At this point I see meaning as a pointer to another sort of information structure (don’t ask me what it is) that allow to compare items or concepts. I agree with you, that probably for each of us the repository of information structures is different, while we share the name of the structures (words), which leads to confusion. Probably those information structures are build integrating basic or elementary information blocks. Of course, different languages that have evolved in different cultural frames will diverge in meanings even more (for corresponding translations).

    I need to deeply understand what is meaning, which I have not so far.

    From the article the only conclusion I get is that english native speakers are mean people that like to blame others even for what it is not their fault. They created their language specifically for this purpose ;-)

  112. 112. Kar Lee says:

    Vicente,
    I actually feel like the same person behaving in two different ways when I use different languages. However, I cannot tell if it is due to the environment or due to the language because when I am using one language, it is usually because I am surrounded by one group of people and when I use another language, I am surrounded by a different group of people. It is quite possible that I adjust my behavior so that I am more inline with the expectation of people around me.

    But when I am alone, if I am reflecting upon my experience, language does affect the emotional content of a thought. For example, if I think about a tram in English, what appears in my mind is more likely San Francisco’s tram and its hilly landscape. While if I start with Chinese and having a thought about a tram, the image is more likely a double decker tram in Hong Kong, unless I intentionally add the geographical information to the concept. That is, I still can think of San Francisco’s tram in Chinese.

    On the other hand, I can think out loud in either language on a mathematical problem with no apparent difference. Same applies to a mechanical design or a logical problem. I suspect these other problems have their own special languages that dominate over whatever sub-vocalization sound you happen to be using.

    Since you are bilingual as well, do what I described appear consistent with your experience as well?

    Regarding meaning, I believe meaning is a term we use when we can fit something into a larger context. We usually only go one level up to satisfy our psychological need for meaning. If one goes too many levels up, eventually, everything becomes pointless (psychologically speaking). Case in point, say if you are preparing a meal because a friend is stopping by for lunch. Then the meaning of preparing the meal is your friend’s visit (here meaning is roughly the same purpose). But if one continues to ask for the meaning of the friend’s visit, eventually one will be completely lost.

    And the meaning of life is at the highest level one can ask. That’s why this question is so difficult to answer.

  113. 113. Vicente says:

    Well, I can’t really answer your question, I don’t consider myself bilingual strictly speaking (neither do native speakers). Despite english is 80-90% of my working/prof language, and has never been a handicap for communication (regardless current discussion), I feel much more comfortable in my own language (Castilian), which is also much closer to english than Chinese (still not very close). Maybe I feel a different person because I almost always(except when I meet British friends) use both languages in quite different situations, that demand to play different roles (in a way we are all actors), and also induce in us different states of mind. For that reason I might feel a different person, but that could happen to people that have to use formal language at work, and then a more relax, casual slang at home…. still the same language.

    But language is quite an issue, for example, in the European Union formal meetings, Councils, Committees, Boards, Working Parties etc… when for any reason there are no translation services available, usually the language for the meeting would be english, but then, british delegates will not be allowed to speak in english, because it is understood that that will give them an advantage in the negotiation arena, despite people sitting around the table a proficient in english. Mother toungue is something very special… (is poetry in a foreign language meaningful? looking at the emotional side you mentioned, not to me)

    I agree on the technical language characterisation, is one of the few cases in which the level of objectivity is enough to allow the sufficient level of mutual understanding. Maybe it is because due to the nature of the concepts involved, the undelying info structures (¿?) don’t allow multiple different instances…

    And here comes confussion, reading your last parragraph I can clearly see that you are referring to three uses of meaning…eg:

    1) what does it mean that symbol?
    2) I didn’t mean to hurt you.
    3) The meaning of life.

    To me, the meaning behind the root “mean” in those three sentences is different (more or less subtle, but more than just a nuance), maybe because I would use different expressions for each case in my language.

    In this case I am only interested in case 1).

    Ah, you are right, sooner or later we end up questioning the meaning of life.

    But you see, in order to make the question meaningful to me, I have to rephrase it as: What is the purpose of life? // the sense of life? // the goal of life ?

    I don’t mean to answer the question, but I have the blurred hunch that the purpose of life is not to return to it never again…

    Do you think that humankind will eventually share a common language? is it possible that something like the Esperanto initiative or similars could succeed? or the political and cultural barriers are impossible to overcome. Could it be that having a common language favors some sort of global mind creation? Internet + Global language…

  114. 114. Vicente says:

    You see…. is to not return to it never again… was it right in place place? is not to return to it… I can’t tell, I think it is wrong isn’t it.

  115. 115. Kar Lee says:

    Vicente,
    Right after I hit the “submit” button, I immediately realized that maybe it was the other sense of “meaning” you were referring to, like the meaning of a symbol. Funny that one single word has so many meanings! But it was my bed time already…

    So, the “meaning” in “meaning of a symbol”, to me, refers to a set of attributes that is associated with that symbol. For example, the set of attributes that is associated with “moon” for a poet is probably quite different from the set for a NASA engineer who is designing the next lunar module. So, it can mean quite different thing to different people at different time, though the word refers to the same physical object. Meaning is never as simple as a definition.

  116. 116. Kar Lee says:

    I hope we can all speak one common language for necessary communication, but retain our regional languages for a globally diversified cultural structure. Cultures are fertile ground for study to understand human as a species, that’s important, especially for those of us who are living our lives as humans ;)

  117. 117. John Davey says:

    Mike

    “Funny, exactly what Charles and I have been laboring. But, the above begs the question of how one can speak about qualia, which supposedly is not relative to any behavior(s) (i.e. it has a non-relative ontology), and do so meaningfully (which qualiaphiles need to do to explain their desideratum!) without availing themselves of something which is relative to objective behaviors (i.e. a relative ontology): language.”

    What does that mean ?

    Sometimes I don’t quite understand the Dennetteese vocabulary – seemingly far less clear than the meaning of the qualia words that are allegedly so vague !

    Surely the answer is that qualia can result in behaviours that can be observed by third parties. But qualia themselves don’t need third parties so they don’t need the vocabulary attached. You just need to know what they mean. If i fly to the moon by myself and stand on a nail its still going to hurt. And it’ll hurt me if I’m a deaf mute who’s been raised by a gang of silent monkeys and i’ve only got one word – ‘grunt’.

    If all meaning is up for grabs – if I have to reduce my qualia to lesser concepts in order to ‘prove’ i’m making sense – then exactly what we say about qualia and indeed all mental concepts could be said about the constituent elements of mathematical physics. Tell us what time is – can’t ? Does that mean it doesn’t exist ? What about space ?

    John

  118. 118. Charles Wolverton says:

    Hi, John. I’ll leave to Mike to explain his quote since I didn’t fully get his point notwithstanding it’s being partially attributed to me (I don’t “speak ontology”). But I would like to pursue a couple of parts of your comment.

    “Surely … qualia can result in behaviours that can be observed by third parties.”

    This seems beyond dispute. Almost any person stepping on a nail will experience an unpleasant sensation and respond accordingly. An observer who has also stepped on a nail and experienced the result can infer that the person is experiencing a similar sensation – what English-speakers would generically describe as “pain” – especially if the person responds similarly. I only question that anything significant is added by attributing to such 1-POV experiences – what I take to be meant by “qualia” – some special and/or mysterious status.

    “But qualia themselves don’t need third parties …”

    If this is equivalent to “Sensations like pains can only be experienced from a 1-POV”, I agree but again don’t see why that observation has special significance. I don’t fully understand the closing parts of Sellars’ “Empiricism and Phil of Mind” and may be wrong, but I think he proposes an extension of his “social practice” concept of knowledge (what Mike and I are describing as “triangulating”) to include 1-POV inputs. So, in that sense I can “know” what you are experiencing when you step on the nail because that situation is arguably a form of triangulating involving nails, your and my experiences and behaviors consequent to stepping on them, and something like Davidson’s “principle of charity” wherein we each assume the other to be in some sense responding appropriately (what I had in mind by saying “accordingly” earlier). As Wittgenstein observed, if there were no such process involving typical responses to pain, no one would understand “toothache”.

    ” … so they don’t need the vocabulary attached.”

    Do you mean “a vocabulary”, ie, some ability to describe the experience?

    If so, I would argue that you actually do need some way of communicating your response to stepping on the nail in order to indicate that you are having a particular sort of experience. Vocabularies can be (and in fact have been) described as “grunts”, so even in your moon example there must be a “vocabulary” of grunts adequate to distinguish experiences. If “grunt” is simply a generic response to every experience, doesn’t that call into question whether what we think of as “pain” is actually being experienced?

    But if you really do mean “the vocabulary”, what is the one you have in mind?

    “You just need to know what they mean.” and “If all meaning is up for grabs … ”

    Could you elaborate on what your sense of “meaning” is in these phrases given that there is no vocabulary “attached” to qualia (which I infer means “that can be used to describe such 1-POV experiences”)?

  119. 119. John Davey says:

    “If so, I would argue that you actually do need some way of communicating your response to stepping on the nail in order to indicate that you are having a particular sort of experience. Vocabularies can be (and in fact have been) described as “grunts”,.. If “grunt” is simply a generic response to every experience, doesn’t that call into question whether what we think of as “pain” is actually being experienced? ”

    Charles – I think you’ve summed up what I understand to be a kind of representation of the Dennett-type position, itself from the tradition of Skinner, logical positivism et al.You do need a vocabulary to communicate the experience but you don’t need the vocabulary to actually have the experience. That was part of my point I suppose – the experience of pain is independent of any vocabulary -it a very basic biological function unlike, for instance, any worries I may have about globalisation, or the state of the economy. And this is where I disagree with your last sentence – it doesn’t matter what my vocabulary is or whether I even have one – I will still experience pain if I stand on a nail, that’s a scientific fact that follows from the biology of nervous systems. If I see a mouse being thrown alive onto a stove, I would be fully justified in assuming the animal is experiencing pain. This is not exactly an animal with much in the way of mental faculties. ( I know Dennett gets very weird on topics like this – I think I recall him saying that children under the age of 12 months aren’t conscious because they haven’t learned enough yet. Frankly, if your toolset is telling you that this makes sense, you need to change that toolset of yours)

    Ambiguities and difficulties about the great mystery of how language and our brains come to communicate pain with others is not the same issue as experiencing pain.Hence my point about space and time. Nobody would seriously suggest that there is no such thing as space. But space is a non-derivative, pure block of irreducible semantic. You can’t explain it to somebody that doesn’t know what it is already. So how do we come to be able to communicate about it ? It’s a mystery, but it’s no different to pain, or any other kind of mental experience come to that. (In fact Kant fused the two, and thought space and time didn’t exist at all, but were part of our innate mental faculties. Not saying he was right, but I understand how he got there..)

    So it strikes me that just because its difficult to work out how language communicates pain, it makes no sense to assume that pain doesn’t exist as a consequence, or even that it is ambiguous. It makes no more sense to assume this about pain than it does about space. I have no doubt If I were to see poor Charles stand on a nail he’d be hurting, I’d have no meaningful doubt about it whatsoever.

  120. 120. Charles Wolverton says:

    Thanks for the reply, John. I should note that I’m not very familiar with Dennett’s positions on these matters, so any parallels between what he says and what I say is coincidental.

    In order to see where we agree and where – and why – we don’t, it might help to distinguish clearly the various cases:

    1. A person having a phenomenal experience (such as one we would describe as “pain”), and no 3-POV observer is present (eg, your “nail on the moon” scenario)

    I think we agree that no a priori learning process or a posteriori communication is necessary (or even possible since no one else is around). Hence, even a baby can have such experiences. (I can’t imagine why Dennett – or anyone else – would dispute that.)

    2. A person having a phenomenal experience such as one we would describe as pain, and a 3-POV observer (your stove example, but with a person instead of a mouse) but no interpersonal communication

    You say “I would be fully justified in assuming the animal is experiencing pain.” No doubt true, but why? Because you have learned from personal experience that certain situations can result in the experience you call “pain”, and you have observed the reactions of persons (or critters) exposed to intense heat – reactions similar to those you have experienced.

    But suppose once on the hot stove the mouse casually trots around, finds a morsel, sits down, and calmly eats it? Wouldn’t that shake your confidence that the mouse is experiencing what you have experienced and what your observations of others’ reactions suggest they were experiencing? Or what if the observer is a baby who has never been burned and has never seen someone else burned. Why would the baby have any concept that a person (or mouse) who is exhibiting the normal reactions – familiar to us but not to the baby – is experiencing what we call “pain”? In short, why do you assert that the certainty about your pain – warranted by your privileged 1-POV – remains when you have only a 3-POV of another person who may or may not be having a similar experience and can’t communicate anything about whatever they are experiencing?

    3. Scenario 2 with the addition of interpersonal communication referring to the experience; eg, the observer says “Wow, I bet that’s painful!”.

    This is the situation I tried to describe in the paragraph of my last comment that begins “If this is equivalent to …”. (That first sentnece should have been stand-along with the rest of the paragraph separate – ie, the part relevant here begins “I don’t fully understand …”, A last minute editing error.) I assume we agree that any verbal exchange employing “pain” (or any other essentially equivalent word) requires that both parties have previously engaged in some process along the lines of the one outlined there if they are to have a high degree of confidence that they are referring to similar experiences when they use the word.

    Since such a process seems fairly straightforward, I don’t understand why you think there is a “great mystery of how language and our brains come to communicate pain with others”. But in any event, I didn’t claim pain doesn’t exist or is ambiguous; on the contrary, I don’t see why it and other such phenomenal experiences warrant the special treatment they are accorded by qualiaphiles.

  121. 121. Mike Spenard says:

    The basic point is that qualia is often taken to have a non-objective non-relative ontology. In contrast to language which is dependent on public social practice, i.e. an objective and relative ontology, to make references and meanings. Therefore, for a qualiphile to explain qualia publicly to others it would have to be done via that which is relative: public language. And this is why, historically, many philosophers have wanted to posit a “private language” which is non-relative. IMO I don’t think private language are possible. And I think the instance by qualiaphiles for non-relative ontology makes it difficult, if not impossible, for them to explain their desideratum to others via public language while maintaining that non-relative ontology they insist upon.

    From what I’ve read of Charles he felt the same, but I don’t wish to put words in his mouth.

    We had labored over this point a while back:
    http://www.consciousentities.com/?p=552#comments

    My posts #36+ (specifically #38 and #58)
    And what Charles was saying in posts #54+

  122. 122. John Davey says:

    Charles

    Thank you for your reply Charles but I perhaps don’t quite get where you’re coming from.

    “Why would the baby have any concept that a person (or mouse) who is exhibiting the normal reactions – familiar to us but not to the baby – is experiencing what we call “pain”? In short, why do you assert that the certainty about your pain – warranted by your privileged 1-POV – remains when you have only a 3-POV of another person who may or may not be having a similar experience and can’t communicate anything about whatever they are experiencing?”

    I don’t quite get this. Are you suggesting that I have a simultaneous first and third person views of myself simultaneously ? Pain as experience is entirely 1st person : as communicated phenomena only by what might be termed private theory. I see a person snoring with his eyes shut, I assume he is asleep. I see a mouse jumping about on a hot stove, I assume he is in pain. I don’t need to have a theory about my own pain because that just happens. I can’t be deceived by it : I’m with Descartes on this.

    If you are suggesting that I can’t see inside another’s subjective experiences, you are quite right. But just because mental phenomena have a subjective nature doesn’t preclude them from having an objective existence. I am fully of the belief that there is nothing unnatural or unmeasurable about mental phenomena and that not will ‘consciousness meters’ exist ,but in fact they already do. All measurement needs is a working theory. Nobody has seen an atom, but we can measure the radius of one very accurately. How ? By using detailed theories of how radiation and light would interact if atoms existed. The same will be the case for qualia and other mental phenomena I’m quite sure. We currently all have ‘folk’ measurement systems based upon experience : hospitals use more detailed metrics from brain scans and the like.

  123. 123. John Davey says:

    Mike

    I think the simplest point to make is that qualia as experience have a 1st person ontology but as phenomena have a 3rd person ontology. It is not either/or and we can use both.

    Communicating about space and time requires a public language but space and time cannot be described as derivative concepts. Nonetheless, we manage to do it and IMO language assumes not a joint ‘private language’ but certainly a shared pre-linguistic world view.

    J

  124. 124. Vicente says:

    John:

    I am fully of the belief that there is nothing unnatural or
    unmeasurable about mental phenomena and that not will ‘consciousness meters’ exist ,but in fact they already do. All measurement needs is a working theory. Nobody has seen an atom, but we can measure the radius of one very accurately. How ? By using detailed theories of how radiation and light would interact if atoms existed. The same will be the case for qualia and other mental phenomena I’m quite sure. We currently all have ‘folk’ measurement systems based upon experience : hospitals use more detailed metrics from brain scans and the like.

    Really? ok, let me make you a question? when you take a picture of an object, you can use simple geometrical optics notions and ray tracing to find out the ratio of the real object size and the the size of its projection in the image plane. eg: a tree 10m high becomes a 10mm tree image.

    Now, let’s accept the eye works as a camera, then we can calculate the ratio of the real object and its projection on the retina, fine.

    Since we are talking about consciousness allow me to take one more step, and ask you to calculate the ratio between the size of the image projected on the retina and the size of the image in your mind (the phenomenological image).

    Firing rates and activity patterns of visual cortex neurons seem quite useless in this case, don’t they… but you will probably have a measurement theory, or not. It looks hard for the same reason that just knowing how a *.jpg image file is stored in the computer memory, helps little to know the dimensions of the real object as well as the image object when reconstructed on a screen or a projector or a sheet of paper… the conscious image case is much more difficult since we cannot talk of screens or papers.

    The same problem applies to all other phenomena, measure the pitch of a note you listen (the mental sound).

  125. 125. Vicente says:

    John: to be fully honest, the question I am posing to you makes no sense to me, except for the fact that I find its lack of sense interesting itself. I just asked because of your comment.

  126. 126. John Davey says:

    Vicente

    The point is that all measurement is based upon a theoretical model. An objective third world model of first person experiences I don’t find difficult to conceive of as we already use them : for instance, we can make judgments about people snoring with their eyes closed, or lying on the floor motionless with a bullet in the head. Hospitals use brain scans to predict brain activity and brain death.

    There is a misconception that in order to measure something there has to be some kind of physical proximity, almost a sense of touch between measuror and measuree. I think this is false. Some measurement is simple – using a rule to measure a length, for instance. Other measurement is highly derived, often depending upon theories about the measured object – the atomic radius of an atom, for instance (for what its worth, I think even measurement with a rule is theoretical – it assumes that space is uniform between the edge of the length measured and the edge of the rule). A lot of detailed scientific measurement involves deriving basic information from complicated measuring equipment based upon detailed theories.

    We don’t currently have a theory of mental phenomena that is detailed enough to be general and quantified. But I have no doubt it will occur.

  127. 127. John Davey says:

    “Since we are talking about consciousness allow me to take one more step, and ask you to calculate the ratio between the size of the image projected on the retina and the size of the image in your mind (the phenomenological image).”

    I think that’s a sensible question, and theoretical frameworks will probably answer simpler questions like this first as the optical system is well understood.

  128. 128. Charles Wolverton says:

    John –

    “Are you suggesting that I have a simultaneous first and third person views of myself simultaneously ?”

    No. I agree that “Pain as experience is entirely 1st person”.

    “I don’t need to have a theory about my own pain because that just happens. I can’t be deceived by it”

    This is loosely related to my comments on the current thread about IIT. The issue (although apparently not applicable here, assuming I understand your position) is exactly how to describe the phenomenal experience that you are calling “my own pain”. To describe it as “something that just happens” and that you “can’t be deceived by” is (I think) OK to almost everyone.

    To describe it as something one “knows”, inferentially, to be ‘pain'” because one has:

    – had similar phenomenal experiences in similar situations and has reacted in certain ways

    – observed others in similar situations reacting in those same ways

    – has agreed with those others to label that apparently common phenomenal experience “pain”

    is (again, I think) OK to most everyone. The result of that process is what I understand Sellars to mean by saying that “in characterizing a [mental] state as …knowing, we are … placing it in the logical space of reasons, of justifying and being able to justify what one says”.

    What is not OK (according to Sellars) is to claim that by directly experiencing the phenomenon, one has acquired non-inferential “knowledge” (in Sellars’ sense). That claim is what Sellars calls the “Myth of the Given” (a claim I understand you NOT to be making.)

    I agree with everything else in your comment.

    Re your response to Mike, it appears that the only difference between us is that you (and perhaps Mike) are an “ontology-phile” while I am an “ontology-phobe”. But since it appears that we all arrive at the same place – different vocabularies for different purposes, coexisting peacefully – that difference need not be resolved.

  129. 129. Mike Spenard says:

    @Charles
    I admittedly sorta play both fields. In constructing a theory of mental content I’m an ontology-phobe. As when you play the ontology game in theory building it typically locks you into being in either the idealist or realist camp; and my own theoretic account (e.g. of color) won’t make either camp happy.
    But then you have to discuss with others, and fit in one’s own theoretic account with the orthodox or intuitive ontological conceptions. Therefrom I think one has to be willing to compare and contrast one’s theoretic account (constructed as it was in a state of ontological phobia) with those that take ontology as their modus operandi.

  130. 130. Charles Wolverton says:

    Well, Mike, since my only interactions about this stuff are with the few folks on this blog, my objective is to make this an “ontology free zone”. What you guys do outside that zone is, of course, your business. :-)

    You never reported back on E&PM. I hope you weren’t as unimpressed as KL and Vicente!

    Did you look at the IIT paper, the subject of the current post by Peter? There was some stuff that seemed relevant to your color processing interests – although I quickly decided that reading the paper carefully would require much more effort than I’m willing to expend on it, so I’m not sure.

  131. 131. Mike Spenard says:

    I think it’s worth a shot: “an ontology free zone”. After all, ontology is a philosophical conceptual framework of sorts; and, if we are to be scientific in our account of mental content, we likely have to move past it (but in a way, as I was trying to advocate above, that doesn’t ignore it outright).

    Life has become hectic for me lately, I’ve had to tune out of reading and talking on here unfortunately. What were the E&PM posts?

    I agree with Peter on his lamenting over the term “qualia space”; in that “qualia are not patterns of neuronal activation; the word was defined precisely to identify those aspects of experience which are over and above simple physics…whatever qualia are, they are not information.”. They seemingly are trying to bring a term into their fold that is antithetical to their aims. I’m not to keen on that myself either. To many good neuroscientists etc. are going on in using the term, and being either unintentionally or willfully ignorant of the baggage that is an inherent aspect of that term. Disappointing to see this trend continue.

    Peter did make a slight error [it’s a true statement in the sense of trichromatic SML receptors; but false for non-trichromatic species; and contentiously false in the sense of RGB, which is what his statement implies …I think] in saying “We know that colour can be reduced to the combination of three independent values”, but not being aware of color opponency theory seems rather common unfortunately. Anyhow, no big deal in this context. [Carelessness on my part, I’m afraid – I don’t think it affects the basic point, luckily! – Peter]

    “The idea of qualia space, if I’ve understood it correctly, rests on the idea that subjective experience can be reduced to combinations of activation along a number of different axes.”

    This is somewhat akin to my advocacy that color has a “distributed ontology” (which, to appease your position, is really not ontology in any classical sense perhaps; which always revolved around essences, Platonic or otherwise). I haven’t read the IIT papers either.

    However, I don’t think this distributed nature of colors “being” can be meassured like they propose (I can’t say without reading it first of course). They are likely forgetting the aspects of purpose and observer relativeness. Which would compound the problem of taking measure significantly. E.g., we might need a “redness” ruler for 1000 different purposes and 10,000 different receptor response grades in observers. Not to mention the question of where human-red and bee-red overlap? Do we need two rulers or one?

    But I think these sorts of mistakes by Balduzzi et al are the best sort. And I expect that if I get around to reading the IIT paper(s) I’d learn a great deal by understanding its limitations and oversights.

  132. 132. Mike Spenard says:

    Oops. Clarification:
    E.g., we might need a [different] “redness” ruler [one] for [each of]…

  133. 133. Mike Spenard says:

    Also, to add to.. “Not to mention the question of where human-red and bee-red overlap? Do we need two rulers or one?”

    …if you recall my dialog in OtIoC, I had gone on about there being no “gold standard” to a hue. If I’m right about that, and the scientific evidence on receptor response curves between individuals strongly favors it, then there can’t be an objective ruler or scale (perhaps this is the /real/ subjectivity I think of a color). Whatever scale Balduzzi comes up with would need to be “zero’d out” from person to person, task to task or context to context, and species to species. That is hardly what they are aiming for I think, i.e. some sort of ‘aware-of-redness-detector’.

    Sorry for the multi-post. Hopefully this makes some sense; nothing I post on here seems to lately ;)

  134. 134. Charles Wolverton says:

    Welcome back, Mike. I’ve missed having a fellow traveler with whom to suffer the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”.

    E&PM = Sellars’ “Empiricism & Phil of Mind”. Some time ago you said you had “picked it up”, so I thought you had perhaps read some or all of it and wondered what reactions you had.

    I’m posting my responses to the other issues you raised above on the IIT thread for the convenience of others who may be interested.

  135. 135. Frederic Peters says:

    Alva Noe is out of his mind, and has been for quite a while.

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