Picture: correspondent. Tom Clark is developing a representationalist approach to the hard problem and mental causation: see The appearance of reality and Respecting privacy: why consciousness isn’t even epiphenomenal . He borrows from Metzinger but diverges in some important respects, especially in denying the causal role of consciousness in 3rd person explanations of behavior. Tom says he’d welcome feedback.

Roger Penrose, delivering the the second Rabindranath Tagore lecture in Kolkata was surprisingly upbeat about prospects for AI, though sticking to his view that consciousness is not computational and requires some exotic quantum physics. Alas, I can’t find a transcript.

At Google, Dmitriy Genzel is attempting machine translation of poetry. Considering that the translation of poetry is demanding or even impossible for skilful human authors, you could say this was ambitious. His paper(pdf) gives some examples of what has been achieved: there’s also a review in verse.

Finally just a mention for the claim made briefly by Masao Ito that the cerebellum (normally regarded as the part of the brain that does the automatic stuff) may have an important role in high-level cognition. That would be very interesting, but don’t people sometimes have the cerebellum entirely removed? I understood this makes life difficult for them in various ways, but doesn’t seem to affect high-level processes?

9 Comments

  1. 1. Tweets that mention Conscious Entities » Blog Archive » Interesting Stuff -- Topsy.com says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Josh Ames. Josh Ames said: Interesting Stuff: Tom Clark is developing a representationalist approach to the hard problem and mental causa… http://bit.ly/f1qmYA […]

  2. 2. Trond says:

    I don’t understand Tom Clark’s argument. On one hand he says that the brain and consciousness are completely detached and no effect on each other. On the other hand he acknowledges that the content of consciousness depends on the brain. Isn’t that the very epiphenomenalism he denies?

  3. 3. Tom Clark says:

    Trond, thanks for the feedback. What I’m suggesting is that the sense in which one’s consciousness depends on being a representational system, like a brain, isn’t a causal relation. Epiphenomenalists usually think that there’s a one way causal relation from brain to mind, that the physical somehow produces or generates the mental, but that the mental has no effect on the physical. What I’m suggesting is a psycho-physical parallelism between phenomenal consciousness and the brain, with no causal interaction and in which the physical doesn’t have ontological priority (as it does for epiphenomenalists). But of course I reserve the right to be wrong about all this!

  4. 4. Trond says:

    So in a nutshell you are suggesting that phenomenal consciousness *exists* independently from the brain, but in our case the brain affects consciousness?

  5. 5. Tom Clark says:

    I wouldn’t say that consciousness exists independently of the brain. We only find phenomenal states associated with brain states, so there’s clearly a relation. But it doesn’t seem to be a causal relation, since if it were we’d see consciousness as something in addition to brain states that those states produce or generate, and we don’t.

    If you want to say that consciousness just *is* those states, perhaps at some functional or representational level, then again there’s no causal relation, but rather an identity. But that would mean when we look at the operations of the brain, we would be literally seeing consciousness, and that seems wrong. Consciousness isn’t observable from the outside (or inside for that matter); it exists for the instantiating system alone, not as an object of observation but as the (phenomenal) medium of representation which includes the conscious phenomenal subject as an element.

  6. 6. Vicente says:

    Tom, I’ve had a look at your site, quite interesting. In one of the sections, you keep the baseline rationale that we are just subjugated to the cause-effect law as the rest of nature, and at some point you say: except for whatever true randomness there is (not precise quote). Could you please clarify what true randomness would be.

    Another question, if I may. In your meditation understanding, as you present it, how is it that there is an observer that can observe the other elements in consciousness, and whose only desire is to keep attention focused (to avoid distractions). Is it a detached element withing the brain states as processes? let’s say a supervisor process. Is it an anatomical part of the brain? observing what goes on in other areas areas of the brain. Have you got any theory of how to fit the observer in the brain?

    Finally, you say that consciousness is a tool to negotiate the world. Who wants to negotiate the world? Isn’t the best way to negotiate the world, in an out of control cause-effect wheel, just to ignore it, not to be conscious of anything.

  7. 7. Tom Clark says:

    Hi Vicente,

    Re true randomness: I had in mind quantum randomness, which conceivably could get amplified to have effects in the macro realm of human behavior.

    Re the observer in meditation: there is no literal observer, but rather the activity of paying attention to the contents of consciousness from moment to moment. I don’t know much about the physical or functional correlates of such attention, so I won’t speculate, although I assume they exist. I tend to doubt that one part of the brain literally observes another.

    Re negotiating the world: as organisms we’re built to want to negotiate the world, to control behavior in service to advantageous outcomes (we aren’t out of control, rather we are behavior controllers). The brain’s representational capacities make this possible at a comparatively sophisticated level (compared to simpler creatures) and consciousness seems to be associated with certain information integrating capacities, see http://www.naturalism.org/kto.htm#Neuroscience

  8. 8. funny says:

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  9. 9. thetravian says:

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