Picture: Paul Churchland. There is a lot of interesting stuff over at the The Third Annual Online Consciousness Conference; I particularly enjoyed Paul Churchland’s paper Consciousness and the Introspection of Apparent Qualitative Simples (pdf), which is actually a fairly general attack on the proponents of qualia, the irreducibly subjective bits of experience.  Churchland is of course among the most prominent, long-standing and robust of the sceptics; and it seems to me his scepticism is particularly pure in the sense that he asks us to sign up to very little beyond faith in science and distrust of anything said to be beyond its reach. He says here that in the past his arguments have been based on three main lines of attack: the conditions actually required for a reduction of qualia; the actual successes of science in explaining sensory experience, and the history of science and the lessons to be drawn from it. Some of those arguments are unavoidably technical to some degree; this time he’s going for a more accessible approach and, as it were, coming for the qualophiles on their own ground.

The attack has two main thrusts. The first is against Nagel, who in his celebrated paper What is it like to be a bat? claimed that it was pointless to ask for an objective account of matters that were quintessentially subjective. Well, to begin with, says Churchland, it’s not the case that we’re dealing with two distinct realms here: objective and subjective overlap quite a bit. Your subjective inner feelings give you objective information about where your body is, how it’s moving, how full your stomach is, and so on. You can even get information about the exhausted state of certain neurons in your visual cortex by seeing the floaty after-image of something you’ve been staring at.  Now that in itself doesn’t refute the qualophiles’ claim, because they go on to say that nevertheless, the subjective sensations themselves are unknowable by others. But that’s just nonsense. Is the fact that someone else feels hungry unknowable to me? Hardly: I know lots of things about other people’s feelings: my everyday life involves frequent consideration of such matters. I may not know these things the way the people themselves know them, but the idea that there’s some secret garden of other people’s subjectivity which I can never enter is patently untrue.

I think Churchland’s aim is perhaps slightly off there: qualophiles would concede that we can have third-person knowledge of these matters: but in our own experience, they would say, we can see there’s something over and above the objective element, and we can’t know that bit of other people’s feelings: for all we’ll ever know, the subjective feelings that go along with feeling hungry for them might be quite different from the ones we have.

But Churchland has not overlooked this and addresses it by moving on to the bat thought-experiment itself. Nagel claims we can’t know how it feels to be a bat, he says, but this is because we don’t have a bat’s history. Nagel is suggesting that if we have all the theoretical information about bat sensitivity we should know what being a bat is like: but these are distinct forms of knowledge, and there’s no reason why the possession of one should convey the other. What we lack is not access to a particular domain of knowledge, but the ability to have been a bat. The same unjustified claim that theoretical knowledge should constitute subjective knowledge is at the root of Jackson’s celebrated argument about Mary the colour scientist, says Churchland: in fact we can see this in the way Jackson equivocates between two senses of the word ‘know’: knowing a body of scientific fact, and ‘knowing how’ to tell red from green.

The second line of attack is directed against Chalmers, and it’s here that the simples of the title come in. Chalmers, says Churchland, claims that a reductive explanation of qualia is impossible because subjective sensations are ultimately simples – unanalysable things which offer no foothold to an inter-theoretical reduction.  The idea here is that in other cases we reduce away the idea of, say, temperature by analysing its properties in terms of a different theoretical realm, that of the motion of molecules. But we can’t do that for subjective qualities. Our actual experiences may consist of complex combinations, but when we boil it down enough we come to basic elements like red. What can we say about red that we might be able to explain in terms of say neurons? What properties does red have?  Well, redness, sort of. What can we say about it? It’s red.

Churchland begins by pointing out that our experiences may turn out to be more analysable than we realise. Our first taste of strawberry ice cream may seem like a simple, elemental thing, but later on we may learn to analyse it in terms of strawberry flavour, creaminess, sweetness, and so on. This in itself does not prove that there isn’t a final vocabulary of simples lurking at the bottom, of course. But, asks Churchland, how will I know when I’ve hit bottom?  Since every creature’s ability to discriminate is necessarily limited, it’s inevitable that at some point it’s going to seem as if I have gone as far as I could possibly go – but so what? Even temperature probably seemed like a simple unanalysable property once upon a time.

Moreover, aren’t these unanalysable properties going to be a bit difficult to handle? How do we ever relate them to each other or even talk about them? Of course, the fact that qualia have no causal properties makes this pretty difficult already. If they don’t have any causal effects, how can they explain anything? Qualophiles say they explain our conscious experience, but to do that they’d need to be registered or apprehended or whatever, and how can that happen if they never cause anything? As an explanation, this is ‘a train wreck’.

Churchland is quite right that all this is a horrible mess, and if Chalmers were offering it as a theory it would be fatally damaged. But we have to remember that Chalmers is really offering us a problem: and this is generally true of the qualophiles. Yes, they might say, all this stuff is impossible to make sense of; it is a train wreck, but you know, what can we do because there they are, those qualia, right in front of your nose. It’s pretty bad to put forward an unresolved mystery, but it would be worse to deny one that’s palpably there.

On the point about simples, Churchland has a point too: but there does seem to be something peculiarly ungraspable here. Qualia seem to be a particular case of the perpetual give-away argument; whatever happens in the discussion someone will always say ‘the trouble is, I can imagine all that being true, and yet I can still reasonably ask: is that person really having the same experience as me?’ So we might grant that in future Churchland will succeed in analysing experience is such a way that he’ll be able to tell from a brain scan what someone is experiencing, conclusions that they will confirm in great detail: we can give him all that and still feel we don’t know whether what we actually experience as red is what the subject experiences as blue.

Churchland thinks that part of the reason we continue to feel like this is that we don’t appreciate just how good some of the scientific explanations are already, let alone how good they may become. To dramatise this he refers back to his earlier paper on Chimerical colours (pdf).  It turns out that the ‘colour spindle’ which represents all possible colours is dealt with in the brain by a neuronal area which follows the Hurvich-Jameson model. The interesting thing about this is that the H-J model is larger than the spindle: so the model actually encodes many impossible colours, such as a yellow as dark as black. Presumably if we stimulated these regions with electrodes, we should experience these impossible colours.

But wait! There is a way to hit these regions without surgery, by selectively exhausting some neurons and then superimposing the after-image on a coloured area. See the paper for an explanation and also a whole series of practical examples where, with a bit of staring, you can experience colours not in nature.

These are well worth trying, although to be honest I’m not absolutely sure whether the very vivid results seem to me to fall outside the colour spindle: I think Churchland would say I’m allowing my brain to impose sceptical filtering – because some mental agent in the colour processing centre of my brain doesn’t believe in dark yellow, for example, he’s whispering in my ear that hey, it’s really only sort of brown, isn’t it?

For Churchland these experiments show that proper science can make predictions about our inner experience that are both remarkable and counter-intuitive, but which are triumphantly borne out by experience. I do find it impossible not to sympathise with what he says. But I can also imagine a qualophile pointing out that the colour spindle was supposed to be a logically complete analysis of colour in terms of three variables: so we might argue that these chimerical colours are evidence that analyses of sensory experience and the reductions that flow from them tend to fail and that the realm of colour qualia, quite contrary to the appraently succesful reduction embodied inthe colour spindle, is actually unconstrained and undefinable.  And why are these experiments so exciting, the qualophile might ask, if not because they seem to hold out the promise of new qualia?

70 Comments

  1. 1. John says:

    Thanks for bringing this article to my attention. Churchland is the leading example of a “folk physicist” in philosophy today. He makes a reasonable point:

    “Accordingly, the truth would seem to be that absolutely none of the ‘apparently simple’ qualitative characters that grace our inner lives are genuine ontological simples at all. They are, all of them, complex neural and physiological states, states whose qualitative characters are embodied in that precious physical complexity.”

    and then makes the non-physical statement that:

    “Any physical system is ‘dynamically closed’ under the laws of Physics.”

    The correct statement should have been:

    “Any physical system is ‘dynamically closed’ under the laws of Newtonian Physics.”

    He seems unaware of the way that the conservation of momentum law becomes the conservation of energy-momentum or how entanglement suggests an infinity of pre-set Everettian universes. The article is also fixated on the “objective” versus “subjective” when the scientific problem is one of the states (arrangements) of objects. Objects beyond the body have states that cause changes in the states of other objects until finally they produce a change in state in the brain. It is only this final change in state that is our experience. Churchland seems so diverted by the “subjective”, “objective” and “dynamic” that he misses the point that experience is a state in itself, not a transfer of state from one object to another. This state has a form that we all know as a “view” which can be described in non-dynamical geometrical language and hence related to the state of the material of the brain. The scientific problem is straightforward, it is only the philosophers who cannot emerge from the burden of pre-20th century materialism.

  2. 2. John says:

    ..who have such difficulty relating mind to matter.

  3. 3. Arnold Trehub says:

    John,

    You wrote:

    “Objects beyond the body have states that cause changes in the states of other objects until finally they produce a change in state in the brain. It is only this final change in state that is our experience. ”

    I think its important to emphasize that it is not only objects beyond the body, but also objects *within the body* that have states that produce changes in states of a particular *part of the brain* (in my theory, retinoid space). So our experience includes events in the space within our own body (pleasure, pain, moods, hunger, etc.) as well as events in the phenomenal world around us.

    John: ” … how entanglement suggests an infinity of pre-set Everettian universes.”

    Do you think it is necessary to accept quantum entanglement and the validity of the Everettian multiverse to understand consciousness as a creature property that emerged in the course of biological evolution?

  4. 4. Vicente says:

    Arnold

    as events in the phenomenal world around us.

    Phenomenal world is anywhere but around us, by definition.

    consciousness as a creature property that emerged in the course of biological evolution?

    First, that should be proven, for the time being there is no evidence of such thing.

    Regarding Churchland’s paper… so if I can make a prediction about something, that means I understand it. For example, we have had to postulate the existence of dark energy and dark matter to understand the large scale dynamics of stars and galaxies, still we don’t understand the very nature of dark energy and matter. Nevertheless, we can make accurate predictions about the future motion of stars and galaxies, based on our hypothesis and the estimated ammount of dark energy and matter, which doesn’t mean that we understand and have sufficient knowledge about what dark energy and matter really are.

    The fact that we can make predictions about certain color inner experiences related to some stimulus, doesn’t mean that we understand at all what consciousness is.

    I can predict that if I punch your nose you’ll feel pain, and the harder I strike the worse the pain gets, but what is the very nature of pain feel??

  5. 5. John says:

    Arnold: “Do you think it is necessary to accept quantum entanglement and the validity of the Everettian multiverse to understand consciousness as a creature property that emerged in the course of biological evolution?”

    I think we live at a moment when the “Theory of Everything” is known to be a long, long way off. At least we know this is the case, however, Churchland seems oblivious to this truth in his article. To address your point: the physics of experience is the physics of observation, two spacetime points have different observations because, according to the relativity of simultaneity, even the slightest thermal movement will displace the points in time relative to each other. This means that the physics of observation is the physics of a single spacetime point (eg: a four dimensional set of data at the apex of a light cone). Spacetime points have an interesting interpretation in quantum mechanics (see Zeh’s article: http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/quant-ph/0307013 ). Zeh is one of the founders of “decoherence theory” and is one of the top ten physicists of the past 50 years.

    He says “A phenomenon is “observed” when an observer becomes aware of it. This
    requires the observed system to affect the ultimate observer system, which
    is known to be localized in the brain and probably in the cerebral cortex.”

    The paper would have been better if Zeh had known more of what we now know: conscious experience is largely epiphenomenal and the decoherence of an entangled system is probably the selection of a universe rather than a causal event. Had he realised this he would have seen that Tegmark’s calculations were a non-sequitur and would not have left the analysis in this seminal paper as a footnote in the history of quantum mechanics.

  6. 6. Arnold Trehub says:

    Vicente: “Phenomenal world is anywhere but around us, by definition.”

    1. Vicente, if your phenomenal world is not all around you, where is the computer screen you are now looking at? What is to the right of you? What is to the left of you? What is behind you? What is above you? What is below you?

    2. As we move up the levels of biological evolution from microbes to the appearance of humans, the evidence for creature consciousness becomes more compelling.

  7. 7. Arnold Trehub says:

    John: “… conscious experience is largely epiphenomenal …”

    If conscious experience is a useful brain representation of the physical world with which we must engage, is it proper to say that “conscious experience is largely epiphenomenal”?

  8. 8. Vicente says:

    Arnold,

    The computer screen is just an arrangement of matter and energy (with no meaning or significance, if there is no me in front looking at it there is no screen, the matter and energy probably remain). It is only after my brain processes my visual input and some other inputs (memory, emotions, etc) that a phenomenal screen is produced, somehow, somewhere, or nowhere, I don’t know…. but definitely not in the same space as the matter and energy that reflected the light that provided the information about it.

    Actually screens are only phenomenal, in two layers, the qualia-image and the meaning. If a bird gets through my window and looks at the screen it will probably produce the phenomenal image of it (matter and energy object), but it will lack the meaning layer.

    Actually you could fake a whole scenary that produces the same phenomenal result as the real one, by different means….

    Or as I have said many times, you could directly stimulate the brain, and get amazing phenomenal experiences.

    What are matter and energy, beyond their definition, I don’t know either.

    2. It is not compelling to me at all. Actually we haven’t got a clue how those microbes happened to appear in the first place, and I challenge the best evolutionist biologist to explain me the origin of life in real biophysical terms, now let’s talk about brains and consciousness. I am not denying that evolution theory accounts and explains many many facts, and fits the fosile record in many cases etc etc, it is a great theory, not complete though, it seems to share the explanatory gap with consciousness field… mind you, I am not a creationist at all, just an ignorant, eagerly waiting for a really compelling explanation.

  9. 9. John says:

    Arnold: “..is it proper to say that “conscious experience is largely epiphenomenal”?”

    When I am about to say a word it just pops into my mind, I do not put together the phonemes. The same happens in the case of inner speech. Ryle spotted this problem in “Concept of Mind” and reasoned that if he were to consciously think of anything he would need to consciously think of thinking of thinking of thinking.. so he concluded that his mind was not an intelligent agent. The “readiness potential” also demonstrates this epiphenomenalism through the obvious truth that I only know I have taken a decision after I have taken a decision. Libet’s 0.5 second delay and the various other 0.5 second delays that occur in perceptual masking, perceptual filling in etc. also demonstrate that my experience occurs after I have reacted to most stimuli. So, yes, conscious experience does not seem to be an “intelligent agent” and even gives the appearance of being epiphenomenal.

    That said, when I am acquiring a skill I have a heightened experience containing the actions involved. The 0.5 second delay catches me out when I am acquiring a skilled, sporting maneuver because it is too slow to be compatible with skilled performance. Fortunately, in some way the sharp existence of the clumsy, delayed proto-skill in my experience leads to it becoming a real skill. I can even do this trick of making that which is consciously present into a skill by mentally rehearsing the playing of my guitar or going over a maths problem in my mind.

    So, I would propose that experience is largely epiphenomenal but it does indeed do something to processing that confirms the right actions and rejects the wrong actions.

  10. 10. Arnold Trehub says:

    John,

    High-level cognition is much more than skill acquisition or confirmation of actions. Human cognition depends crucially on our parsing and capturing egocentrically represented aspects of a unified, coherent, phenomenal world. This is the world of our conscious experience — what human achievement depends on. If this is the case then it seems to me that conscious experience cannot be thought of as a mere epiphenomenon.

    See: http://journalofcosmology.com/Consciousness130.html

  11. 11. Tom Clark says:

    A typically lovely and perspicacious write up, thanks Peter!

    I responded to Churchland at the conference, see http://consciousnessonline.wordpress.com/2011/02/14/consciousness-and-the-introspection-of-apparent-qualitative-simples/#comment-799 , arguing that his reduction of qualia doesn’t go through for a number of reasons. I agree with him that we don’t have subjective knowledge of qualia, but not because they don’t exist. Qualia are not themselves objects of knowledge to which we stand in an epistemic relation, but rather the terms in which knowledge of the world is presented in experience to the conscious subject (the experienced self within experience).

    Churchland seems to equivocate on whether there actually are such things as qualia (“qualitative features of brain states”) and whether they are identical or not to physical states. He asserts that “qualitative features” are causally effective (denying epiphenomenalism), but this can only be the case on an identity theory (since there’s no account on offer of how something non-physical interacts with something physical). But drawing a literal identity between phenomenal states and brain states leaves no additional causal role for experience over and above what the brain does, which seems to make consciousness causally otiose, that is, epiphenomenal.

    But then again, phenomenal states, available to the subject alone, are logically barred from playing roles in 3rd person explanations since they aren’t publicly observable (only their correlates are publicly observable), so they aren’t even epiphenomenal(!) or so I say at http://www.naturalism.org/privacy.htm

  12. 12. Stephen says:

    “. . . if your phenomenal world is not all around you, where is the computer screen you are now looking at? What is to the right of you? What is to the left of you? What is behind you? What is above you? What is below you?”

    well, for that matter, define “you” in this context.

    Just because the computer screen is in front of my eyeballs, retina, optic nerve, and brain, does not mean that it is in front of “me”. That means that it is in front of my body in 3-dimensional space.

    Exactly where the hell “I” am in relation to all these physical objects, in 3 dimensional space, isn’t exactly clear.

    I am aware of a constant and very compelling sensation that “I” am physically located directly behind my eyeballs.

    But who hasn’t felt a little disorientation about one’s physical location when either viewing through a video camera, or as a 3d virtual reality avatar? I think that the perception of locality is most likely a property of sensory integration and interpretation, rather than dependent on a “physical location of consciousness”. Consciousness, (“I”) could be anywhere, everywhere, nowhere, it could be a meaningless question . . . philosophically. Right?

    We know that the brain is related to the conscious experience, just as we know that the retina is related to the visual experience. So are the optic nerve, the cornea, the visual cortex, etc. But that’s not where “seeing” happens.

    I personally don’t believe that the RED color that I perceive, is any different an experience than the RED color anyone else perceives – (barring color blindness or other mechanical impairment – which is objectively testable). So I have a hard time buying into this whole qualia thing on that basis. But I accept that it is true, that I can’t say for sure that I know what someone else’s RED experience is.

  13. 13. John says:

    Arnold: “If this is the case then it seems to me that conscious experience cannot be thought of as a mere epiphenomenon.”

    But what does it DO? I can only find two functions of conscious experience. The first function of conscious experience is evident from what happens if you are hit over the head with a heavy, blunt object: conscious experience enables the brain to operate in a directed manner over minutes or more of time. The second function of conscious experience was argued in my last post: it gives meaning to actions. The second function is clearly related to the first because a meaningful brain is a brain that operates in a directed manner.

    How does it DO it? Suppose conscious experience were a classical state of a neural network that matches the current state of the brain to some sort of template state, providing an “approved” or “don’t do that again” signal to the processors in the rest of the brain. If this were the case would it account for the observation that conscious experience consists of a second or so of events arranged geometrically that are a minimum of 0.5 secs late compared with sensory stimuli? It would account for the 0.5 secs delay – any approval mechanism would need to have most of the data from an action available before approving but it would not account for the geometrical form. A neural network does not need to preserve geometrical relationships.

    The real problem here is the “template” mentioned above. How can the brain acquire a sense of “meaning” that it can use to assess actions? I argue in New Empiricism and Meaning that “meaning” is the result of the time extension of conscious experience plus its spatial form: events become meaningful if they are modelled in a four dimensional matrix. It is when a symbol contains not only the 3D form but the direction of the event that it represents that it is a meaningful symbol that embodies intention.

    It is at this point that I am currently left clutching at straws. I know about neural networks, I can analyse my conscious experience and note that it is a 4D manifold but how the hell is a 4D manifold processed? It largely consists of the past. I know we cannot remake the past by transferring data to historical events but we can remake the past by selecting a different 4D universe. Perhaps this is where Zeh’s reflections on 4D point observers has a role. It is an intriguing possibility. Notice that Zeh’s article was about time, not consciousness per se.

    Tom: “Qualia are not themselves objects of knowledge to which we stand in an epistemic relation, but rather the terms in which knowledge of the world is presented in experience to the conscious subject (the experienced self within experience).”

    Agreed.

  14. 14. John says:

    ps: I said above that “The first function of conscious experience is evident from what happens if you are hit over the head with a heavy, blunt object”, this is a very crude summary of a mass of data, for instance, under anaesthesia a patient can have more brain activity than when conscious, in severe delirium a patient can wander around but be unconscious, in vegetative state and some comas the brain can be active and the body make undirected actions etc…

  15. 15. Arnold Trehub says:

    John: “But what does it [consciousness] DO?”

    Think about it this way: What does a reservoir DO? It provides you with the water you need to drink! Does it make any sense to call a reservoir an epiphenomenon? What does *consciousness* DO? It provides you with your subjective world! Without consciousness there would be no human culture, no art, no science, no philosophy, no phenomenal world with which to engage. So consciousness is not an epiphenomenon.

  16. 16. Tom Clark says:

    Arnold:

    “What does *consciousness* DO? It provides you with your subjective world! Without consciousness there would be no human culture, no art, no science, no philosophy, no phenomenal world with which to engage. So consciousness is not an epiphenomenon.”

    The question from a 3rd person explanatory perspective is what does consciousness per se add to what the brain already does in terms of behavior control. I don’t see anything obvious it adds, nor is there any proposed mechanism by which it could add it. If you say it’s identical to brain functions (or say it’s a subjective aspect of those functions) then it doesn’t add anything.

    That consciousness provides us with a phenomenal world with which to engage (and indeed a phenomenal self to engage with it) is true but the question is what function, if any, does the phenomenal have? Since the phenomenal world – consciousness – hasn’t played a role in any scientific theory of behavior thus far, the prospects are dim that it ever will, imo. It’s neural correlates, measurable and in public view, do play a role of course. But since consciousness doesn’t ever appear in public, it isn’t even in a position to be epiphenomenal.

  17. 17. Vicente says:

    Tom

    nor is there any proposed mechanism by which it could add it.

    Absolutely, this is the real binding problem.

    Even more and worse, there is not any proposed mechanism by which consciousness (phenomenal experience) is created or emerges from the brain.

  18. 18. John says:

    Arnold: “Think about it this way: What does a reservoir DO? It provides you with the water you need to drink! Does it make any sense to call a reservoir an epiphenomenon?”

    The reservoir is not epiphenomenal because it is in continual physical interchange with its environment. What it does is to set the temperature of its container by kinetic interactions, stress the soil beneath it, exchange molecules with the air etc. My conscious experience is different, I do not find it creating the words that are appearing on this page as I type. It has the words within it but the words are created elsewhere (in non-conscious parts of my brain). As I pointed out above, the timing of mental events also demonstrates that my experience is late compared with events in the world. My non-conscious brain is not at all epiphenomenal but my conscious experience is largely epiphenomenal. Conscious experience is observation, not process. It seems to approve or reject my artistic creation but it does not do the creating.

  19. 19. Arnold Trehub says:

    John: “Conscious experience is observation ….”

    I suggest that this is a deep misconception that has long impeded our effort to understand consciousness. Consciousness is NOT observation. Consciousness is a brain representation of the world on the Z-planes of retinoid space from the perspective of a “point” of ORIGIN in the represented world, the core self (I!). It is a brain representation in which all features of the world are bound in natural spatiotemporal register around the core self. This is the phenomenal presence of the world for us. ASPECTS of the phenomenal world are then unconsciously parsed and unconsciously OBSERVED by the synaptic matrices in our various separate preconscious sensory modalities. Autaptic-cell activity in retinoid space constitutes consciousness, and this conscious activity provides, via heuristic self-locus excursions (selective attention), neuronal input to the unconscious brain mechanisms that govern our overt behavior. For a simple 2D simulation example of this process see *The Cognitive Brain*, Ch. 12, “Self-Directed Learning in a Complex Environment”, here:

    http://www.people.umass.edu/trehub/thecognitivebrain/chapter12.pdf

    Since there is an essential recurrent biophysical interchange between the conscious content in retinoid space and the mechanisms of preconscious synaptic matrices, we cannot think of consciousness as epiphenomenal.

    Furthermore, if consciousness were epiphenomenal, it is hard to see how our SMTT findings could have happened. See “Complementary Neuronal and Phenomenal Properties”, here:

    http://www.people.umass.edu/trehub/thecognitivebrain/chapter12.pdf

    If we continue to think of consciousness as an *observer*, we remain trapped in a conceptual tar pit. Alternatively, if we think of consciousness as our brain representation of the world with the core self as its perspectival *origin*, then I think we can make good progress in understanding consciousness as a natural biological phenomenon.

  20. 20. Arnold Trehub says:

    Correction. The link for “Complementary Neuronal and Phenomenal Properties” is here:

    http://journalofcosmology.com/Consciousness130.html

  21. 21. Arnold Trehub says:

    Tom: “That consciousness provides us with a phenomenal world with which to engage (and indeed a phenomenal self to engage with it) is true but the question is what function, if any, does the phenomenal have?”

    The question of the *function* of our phenomenal world can only be answered by the causal properties of a model of consciousness that describes the phenomenal in biophysical terms (3pp, say aspect-1 in dual-aspect monism). If such a model is proposed, one can deny the validity of the model, but it would be incoherent to accept the model and then say “But what does the phenomenal add to its biophysical instantiation?” This is like asking “What does consciousness add to consciousness?”

  22. 22. Arnold Trehub says:

    Stephen: “Exactly where the hell “I” am in relation to all these physical objects, in 3 dimensional space, isn’t exactly clear.”

    For an explanation of where “I” is located see here:

    http://www.people.umass.edu/trehub/where-am-i-redux.pdf

  23. 23. Tom Clark says:

    Arnold:

    “The question of the *function* of our phenomenal world can only be answered by the causal properties of a model of consciousness that describes the phenomenal in biophysical terms (3pp, say aspect-1 in dual-aspect monism).”

    Seems to me that that the phenomenal can’t be described or captured in biophysical terms (it isn’t reducible to them), which is why it can’t play a functional role in 3rd person explanations. What does play a role are the neural correlates of the phenomenal. 1st person subjectivity *per se* is necessarily barred from participating in such explanations since it doesn’t exist as a publicly observable phenomenon (which is also why it isn’t epiphenomenal – to be causally epiphenomenal with respect to a 3rd person explanation a phenomenon has to at least exist in 3rd person public explanatory space). If a theory says that the phenomenal is a (private, subjective) “aspect” (Arnold) or “feature” (Churchland) of brain states, that still doesn’t give it a causal role distinct from those states. So it seems to me anyway.

  24. 24. Arnold Trehub says:

    Tom,

    If a strictly private event — a phenomenal experience — is notionally caused by the operation of a publicly specified brain mechanism within a theoretical model such as the retinoid system, and if relevant empirical tests of the explanatory and predictive power of the theoretical model are successful, wouldn’t we be justified on scientific grounds in asserting a causal role for the putative brain state that constitutes the phenomenal experience?

    Does logical inference play no part in assigning functional roles?

    If consciousness (1pp) is *essentially* distinct from the physical world (3pp), aren’t we pinned to dualism?

  25. 25. Tom Clark says:

    Yes, we could assign a causal role for the brain state, but not for the phenomenology per se, which prima facie is hard to literally identify with any set of neural events.

  26. 26. Vicente says:

    Arnold(24)

    What it would justified on scientific ground is asserting the existence of an statistical correlation between the putative brain state and the described phenomenal experience. The causal role is too much (no underlaying mechanism proposed), and to say that it “constitutes” the phenomenal experience is based on nothing.

    Yes, for the time being we are pinned to dualism, or to admit absolute ignorance about the very nature of the mind…

  27. 27. Arnold Trehub says:

    Vicente (26),

    If we are absolutely ignorant about the very nature of the mind, how was it possible to predict the phenomenal experiences induced in the SMTT experiment, and in the pendulum illusion?

  28. 28. Arnold Trehub says:

    Tom,

    Science is a pragmatic enterprise. I think you set the bar too high if you demand a logical IDENTITY relation between brain processes and conscious content. They are each confined within different descriptive domains and the best we can do is bridge the biophysical to the phenomenal on the basis of corresponding analogs. I think the same problem arises at the margins of the physical sciences.

  29. 29. Vicente says:

    Arnold,

    For the same reason in Physics we are absolutely ignorant of the very nature of the Universe and we can predict many many things… Once you have established a law you can predict many things, still you might not understand at all the mechanisms and elements behind the law.

    In neuropharmacy, it is possible to predict the effects of some molecules never tested before, because we have a model of many membrane receptors and the processes they modulate. For example, we could predict the painkiller properties of a certain drug, but that does not provide any knowledge about what pain feel ultimately is.

    Take Churchland’s simples… first they are simples, interesting, now find a place for them in the brain… you can’t.

    Neuroscience has made important progress since Cajal, still it has not slightly scratched the nature of phenomenal experience, except for the wide range Neural Consciousness Correlates discovered… that’s all.

    This dual aspect monism approach is semantically impossible and it is just outraging… it says nothing, it reminds me of the absurd old religious arguments.

    A completely new perspective is needed, not just neuroscience but a completely new model of the Universe and our place in it.

  30. 30. John says:

    Arnold: “Since there is an essential recurrent biophysical interchange between the conscious content in retinoid space and the mechanisms of preconscious synaptic matrices, we cannot think of consciousness as epiphenomenal. ”

    Well, I would agree except that if my conscious experience is indeed retinoid space then the retinoid space 0.1 secs ago is still in that conscious experience and this historical component cannot interact right now using classical interactions.

    Using your analysis of the neural instantiation of the content of consciousness, I would propose that the retinoid space is a form in at least four dimensions of which three are described in your analysis (the analysis uses a succession of 3D slices of reality). The retinoid space of 0.1 secs ago is still in my conscious experience, in fact it is this time extension, this “specious present”, that is the very essence of my awareness. I hear an entire tick of a clock, I am not present for no time at all as would be the case if the world were really a succession of 3D slices. Fortunately, in the 21st century we know that the world is not a succession of 3D slices.

    How much of my experience is in the non-interactive past? If I hear “now” I hear the whole word in the past. The past is epiphenomenal now. As you say, my conscious content is not epiphenomenal when it is created but it is epiphenomenal when it is part of the form of my experience. Which brings me back to spacetime points and quantum mechanics…

  31. 31. Tom Clark says:

    Arnold,

    In talking about identity, I was responding to your question: “…wouldn’t we be justified on scientific grounds in asserting a causal role for the putative brain state that constitutes the phenomenal experience?” If you’re saying the phenomenal is constituted by a brain state, then it seems to me you’re drawing a literal identity between the physical and phenomenal. But you say you’re not doing that. You say:

    “I think you set the bar too high if you demand a logical IDENTITY relation between brain processes and conscious content. They are each confined within different descriptive domains and the best we can do is bridge the biophysical to the phenomenal on the basis of corresponding analogs.”

    I agree here about different descriptive domains (what I call explanatory spaces at http://www.naturalism.org/privacy.htm#1stperson ), since the phenomenal is strictly private, given only to each individual subject, while the physical is what’s publicly available to all observers. These domains as you say can be correlated – there’s lots of reliable co-variation between elements of one and elements of the other, what you call analogs. For instance, my color experiences reliably co-vary with different triplets of values in my neurally-instantiated color state space (Churchland).

    Now, is my experience of red literally *constituted* by whatever brain state correlates with that experience? If it is, then it plays whatever causal role the brain state plays, so the phenomenology per se (my experience of red) isn’t adding anything to that state’s causal role. If my experience *isn’t* constituted by the brain state, then it’s something in addition to that state. If so, then the question is whether the experience adds something more, causally, to what the brain state is doing, and how. No one to my knowledge has provided any account of how something non-identical to brain states or other physical phenomena contributes to behavior control. So either way, I don’t see how phenomenology per se is causally efficacious in 3rd person explanations of behavior.

    But (as I keep saying), because the physical and phenomenal do in fact (as you agree) constitute two different descriptive domains/explanatory spaces, it *isn’t* the case that the phenomenal is epiphenomenal with respect to the physical. Since they constitute two separate but parallel (correlated) domains, they don’t causally interact. Instead, we have two explanatory stories, one in each domain: a compelling subjective story couched in terms of phenomenology (my pain made me wince) and an equally compelling objective story in terms of physiology (my neurons made me wince).

    This neatly solves the problem of mental causation, the problem of how phenomenal feels could possibly influence physically instantiated behavior control mechanisms. The answer is straightforward: they don’t, since they aren’t in the same explanatory space.

  32. 32. Arnold Trehub says:

    John,

    I think this is a productive discussion.

    John: “Well, I would agree except that if my conscious experience is indeed retinoid space then the retinoid space 0.1 secs ago is still in that conscious experience and this historical component cannot interact right now using classical interactions.”

    What you call the historical component of patterned activation in retinoid space is a temporally persistent component that is decaying in amplitude over time due to the short-term memory property of the autaptic cells which are the principal cells in retinoid space. It is this persistent pattern of activation that is *sampled* recurrently over time by the non-conscious detection and recognition mechanisms of the synaptic matrices in the sensory modalities. This non-conscious selective detection and recognition is what I propose is our *observation*. For example, these character strings on your computer display are detected and recognized by you first via non-conscious brain mechanisms, and it is only after some milliseconds delay (100-500?) that back projections from the synaptic matrices into retinoid space evoke your conscious experience of these words in an egocentric spatial format, and perhaps the inner “speech” that accompanies your visual perception.

    John: “Using your analysis of the neural instantiation of the content of consciousness, I would propose that the retinoid space is a form in at least four dimensions of which three are described in your analysis (the analysis uses a succession of 3D slices of reality).”

    I agree that retinoid space is a 4D spatiotemporal manifold. I talk about 3D retinoid space with short-term memory properties as a matter of expository convenience.

    John: “The retinoid space of 0.1 secs ago is still in my conscious experience, in fact it is this time extension, this “specious present”, that is the very essence of my awareness.”

    Yes. This is consistent with what I said above. I think it is more useful to talk about the *extended present* rather than the *specious present*. All episodes of conscious experience — language, music, narrative, happenings of the day — can have meaning only in the extended present or in recollection of an extended present, which itself happens in an extended present. There are NO COGNITIVE INSTANTS.

    John: “How much of my experience is in the non-interactive past? If I hear “now” I hear the whole word in the past. The past is epiphenomenal now. As you say, my conscious content is not epiphenomenal when it is created but it is epiphenomenal when it is part of the form of my experience.”

    Your conscious content is NOT epiphenomenal when it is part of your experience because your experience (as activation in retinoid space) persists over time sufficient for the non-conscious observational mechanisms of the synaptic matrices to receive this retinoid activity as input, process your conscious content, and project it back into retinoid space in recurrent fashion. It is an ongoing feedforward-feedback process/loop that goes on as long as you are conscious.

  33. 33. John says:

    Arnold, we both seem to be agreed that the “view” suggests a 4D manifold and this could indeed be embodied in retinoid space. I also agree that the part of my experience that is 0.1 secs in the past could also be a persistent trace now, either as reverberative activity or the facilitation of synapses. I will freely confess here to shamelessly vacillating between Green’s interpretation and a reverberatory model – see The value and interpretation of meditations. Although I am attracted to a reverberatory model I note in that article that “the principle difficulty with this interpretation is that it is not clear whether the temporal separation of the parts of the bar of a tune would be preserved”. The “onion” model in the diagram in the article does not have an angular separation of its temporal parts but I am unsure about whether an “onion” model is the only possibility. Stacked layers containing similar topological projections are quite well known in the brain, the LGN being the most obvious place where this occurs.

    The choice seems to be between something like Green’s de Sitter space and a layout of the temporal progression of events in 3D that appears like an ersatz time-like dimension. If the latter is true then 0.1 secs ago in experience will be no more epiphenomenal than now.

    On the other hand there is a whole complex of problems and observations that might be solved by the five dimensional model such as the nature of free will and the nature of qualia and there are even theoretical papers that seek to explain qm as a phenomenon in a universe with 5 extensive dimensions.

  34. 34. Arnold Trehub says:

    Tom: “Since they [the physical and the phenomenal] constitute two separate but parallel (correlated) domains, they don’t causally interact. Instead, we have two explanatory stories, one in each domain: a compelling subjective story couched in terms of phenomenology (my pain made me wince) and an equally compelling objective story in terms of physiology (my neurons made me wince).”

    I think the hang-up is that you think that the physical and the phenomenal are in separate ontological domains that “don’t causally interact”, whereas I think that the physical and the phenomenal are in a single (physical) ontological domain, even though they occupy different descriptive domains which necessitates the bridging principle of corresponding analogs. As I see it, subjective stories/descriptions can be no more than personal testimonies, e.g., “my pain made me wince” — a perfectly valid folk explanation. But this is not explanatory in physical/scientific terms/description. That said, subjective testimonies are important data for formulating and testing the validity of scientific explanations.

  35. 35. Charles Wolverton says:

    I agree with much of Churchland’s position and (what I take to be) the essence Tom’s position but continue to object to the bifurcation of descriptions into “objective” (3pp/public) and subjective (1pp/private). The 3pp/public vs 1pp/private distinction is fine, but I find the objective vs subjective distinction problematic. (As does John, I think, altho we use such different vocabularies that I can’t be certain). I see the important distinction between descriptions as being credibility and consider labeling descriptions based on 3pp observations “objective” and those based on 1pp observations “subjective” as subject to being misinterpreted as suggesting that the former are inherently less credible than the latter.

    I subscribe to the view that what gives 3pp/public scientific “knowledge” its credibility is being the consensus view of a more-or-less well-defined community of credible individuals, using more-or-less well-defined self-correcting procedures, and having been arguably successful as a guide for making our way in the world. From that perspective, the problem with 1pp/private description isn’t that being “subjective” it is inherently deficient relative to a supposedly “objective” 3pp/public description but that it isn’t subject to the reliability enhancement provided by redundancy: eg, ten credible people observing the same phenomenon and agreeing to a single description consistent with those observations. On the other hand, just as the reliability of consensus descriptions adopted by a community depends on certain characteristics of the community (size, relevant education and experience of its members, past success, et al), the reliability of an individual’s descriptions depends on certain characteristics of that individual. Ie, the reliability of descriptions based on 3pp observations and the reliability of descriptions of based on 1pp observations don’t necessarily fall into disjoint ranges; some 1pp descriptions could conceivably be more credible than some 3pp descriptions.

    From that perspective, I have a quibble with these statements by Tom:

    “phenomenal states, available to the subject alone, are logically barred from playing roles in 3rd person explanations since they aren’t publicly observable ”

    “1st person subjectivity *per se* is necessarily barred from participating in such explanations since it doesn’t exist as a publicly observable phenomenon”

    Although I agree with these statements as worded, it seems that on a casual reading they might very well be misread as excluding all 1pp observations by subjects about their phenomenal experiences, whereas some such observations could conceivably prove useful when correlated with 3pp observations of concurrent neural activity. [I think this is consistent with Arnold's final observation in comment 34, posted while I was composing this comment.]

    “a compelling subjective story couched in terms of phenomenology (my pain made me wince) and an equally compelling objective story in terms of physiology (my neurons made me wince).”

    Again, although I agree in principle, it seems to add nothing to use “objective/subjective” instead of “1pp/3pp” and may mislead if that distinction causes a casual reader to infer a reliability ranking that may or may not apply in a specific scenario.

    Note: I think Sellars’ mythical hero Jones trains the “Rylean ancestors” featured in “Empiricism and Phil of Mind” to provide arguably credible 1pp reports on their thoughts and phenomenal experience – altho I admittedly have at best a tenuous grasp of the relevant final couple of chapters.

  36. 36. John says:

    On the objective/subjective debate: can a Turing Machine be a “scientist”? Suppose the Turing Machine had a program that directed it to produce the simplest possible computational description of the universe and robotic machines that could be directed to create the appropriate apparatus and perform experiments. In principle the machine might eventually contain a set of bits that represent the elements of the computation. In fact here is the answer:

    %^$&^$^&xx iuytfgdvgjh = 6576fhgf [dkjdgdjdyryte] {uytuyb} %jhg %$$&^)(_

    Well, one day, when the machine has done its work we will be able to find the transformation equation from my bits to the bits in the machine.

    Of course, the machine’s constructors will be able to say that it is not the final equation that is the substance of the Turing Machine’s achievement, it is the models that it makes. They will be able to demonstrate flying machines and food creators, molecular manipulators and planetary classifiers… These four dimensional descriptions of nature will be very impressive but then I will ask “how do they work?” and the operators will have to admit that I had a possible answer in May 2011. Not only did I have a possible answer but had the machine used the correct encoding from the outset it would scarcely have needed a transformation equation to produce my original answer. Yes, the objective, computational machine knows everything but understands nothing, its final equation is gibberish on its own.

    Fortunately, as I watch the Turing Machine construct its models I will be able to remember how they were made. In a quiet moment, as I load these memories into my conscious mind I will be able to imagine how the equation relates to the flight of a plane with the meaning of y = 3x^2 as an actual motion of the vehicle in the multidimensional geometrical manifold that is my mind which contains both motion and position now. Understanding includes time extended events now, it is the placing of measured (objective) variables into a manifold that has an existent time coordinate. The “objective” is measurement, the subjective is “observation”.

  37. 37. John says:

    Oh, the answer: a Turing Machine cannot be a scientist, at best it is a poor mathematician. Scientists understand their computations.

  38. 38. Charles Wolverton says:

    I have no objection to the use in discourse of any symbol string to represent any concept as long as the represented concept is sufficiently well-defined to be largely unambiguous (eg, as in formal math). If one means by the string “objective” something like “consensus interpretation of 3pp reports by competent scientists of the observed results of their repeatable measurements” and by the string “subjective” something like “1pp reports by individual untrained test subjects of their observed immediate phenomenal experiences”, that’s fine. But then my argument is that the objective-subjective contrast becomes essentially that between reports with generally higher credibility and reports with generally lower credibility – in which case, it would seem appropriate to make that distinction explicit. Both 1pp and 3pp reports (defined as above) are based on “observations”, but I see the important distinction as being the credibility of the total process – and hence, of the resulting reports. Neither “1pp-3pp” nor “subjective-objective” capture that distinction unless those strings are defined in sufficient detail to do so – which in my (admittedly limited) experience I’ve yet to see.

  39. 39. john says:

    Charles, “Objective” truths are measurements, not observations. An observation is performed by a scientist and involves placing an event in a geometrical manifold. My latest measurement is 4.7777, my latest observation is that my cup is 8cm high. In the second case the fact that you speak English allows you to interpret the symbols on the screen and hence place the cup in your imagination with a vertical displacement of roughly 8cm.

    Objective truths require the intervention of an observer to have meaning (ie: to have a spatio-temporal context).

  40. 40. Arnold Trehub says:

    Charles,

    Definitions are propositional structures. Propositional structures have to be systematically linked to spatio-temporal objects/events (say images) in the phenomenal world to have referential meaning. No egocentric images, no meaning. See “Interaction between analogical and symbol/token representations”, on page 325 here:

    http://people.umass.edu/trehub/YCCOG828%20copy.pdf

  41. 41. Charles Wolverton says:

    John: if we agree to discuss objects such as cups and you propose to use “truth”, “measurement”, “observation”, et al per your definitions, that’s fine (although the first two appear to be equivalent as defined and therefore redundant). But in order for us to communicate, it is critical that those definitions be explicit and that we agree to use the words accordingly. In the absence of such agreement, my use of those words would be entirely different. (Eg, following Rorty I try to avoid using “truth”.)

    In some fields, there is a pretty well established and generally accepted vocabulary, so that explicit definition and agreement often aren’t necessary. In phil of mind, that seems not to be the case. Some words often are used inconsistently even within a single brief essay. It appears to me that “objective/subjective” lack the explicit and generally accepted definitions necessary to avoid such inconsistency, at least between different speakers/writers. So, I submit that they should be defined explicitly or not used at all.

    My inclination is toward the latter, mostly because I find the words typically not only undefined but unnecessary because arguably redundant. Not to pick on Peter, but just as a ready source of examples, consider the post, a cursory review of which suggests to me that it could have been written without their use with no loss (IMO, probably a gain). Consider the very first occurrence:

    “qualia, the irreducibly subjective bits of experience”

    How about instead:

    “qualia, the irreducibly explainable elements of experience”

    The more descriptive term “irreducibly explainable” (due to Chalmers, I think) and “experience” seem to capture the features often intended in using “subjective”: “ineffable” and “not 3pp accessible” respectively. Is the reader’s understanding really enhanced by adding “subjective”?

  42. 42. Charles Wolverton says:

    Arnold -

    Following Wittgenstein, I view the “definition” of a word to be part of a description of how the word is to be used in a language game, not a formal “propositional structure”. In particular, I don’t subscribe to “meaning” as being determined by reference to “spatio-temporal objects/events”. (FWIW, my own not-at-all-thoroughly-considered concept of the “meaning” of a linguistic utterance is “the response of a specific hearer of the utterance that the utterer intends to evoke”.)

    In a forum such as this, I assume one objective of the language game being played is to achieve consensus on the use of certain key words so as to minimize misunderstanding – using my idea of meaning, to minimize unintended and inappropriate responses by hearers of those words. (Clearly not the objective in the language game of partisan politics where evoking inappropriate responses often is precisely the intent!) I’ve been frustrated by the frequency of encounters with words used in Phil of Mind for which no consensus re their use seems to have been reached, and my no-doubt tedious carping on this issue is an attempt to make a minor contribution to improving that situation, at least in our little CE community.

  43. 43. Vicente says:

    How about instead:

    “qualia, the irreducibly explainable elements of experience”

    Explain them.

  44. 44. Arnold Trehub says:

    Charles: “Following Wittgenstein, I view the “definition” of a word to be part of a description of how the word is to be used in a language game, not a formal “propositional structure”.”

    I seems to me that what you have just written above is a sentential *proposition* asserting that .

    Charles: “(FWIW, my own not-at-all-thoroughly-considered concept of the “meaning” of a linguistic utterance is “the response of a specific hearer of the utterance that the utterer intends to evoke”.)”

    It seems to me that if *meaning* is “the response of a specific hearer of the utterance that the utterer intends to evoke”, then *meaning* depends crucially on the intention of the utterer, which, in turn, must depend on the utterer’s and hearer’s understanding the *meaning* of the linguistic utterance. Otherwise, it seems, language production and response would likely be random.

    I think we promote consensus by pointing to exemplars/images of our linguistic proposals. Science depends on validation by consensus on the results of empirical/imagistic tests — the subjective spatio-temporal referents of the language of science.

  45. 45. Arnold Trehub says:

    For some reason, part of my #44 did not appear in the submitted post.
    I hope this goes through OK.

    Charles: “Following Wittgenstein, I view the “definition” of a word to be part of a description of how the word is to be used in a language game, not a formal “propositional structure”.”

    I seems to me that what you have just written above is a sentential *proposition* asserting the following:

    IS .

    Charles: “(FWIW, my own not-at-all-thoroughly-considered concept of the “meaning” of a linguistic utterance is “the response of a specific hearer of the utterance that the utterer intends to evoke”.)”

    It seems to me that if *meaning* is “the response of a specific hearer of the utterance that the utterer intends to evoke”, then *meaning* depends crucially on the intention of the utterer, which, in turn, must depend on the utterer’s and hearer’s understanding of the *meaning* of the linguistic utterance. Otherwise, it seems, language production and response would likely be random.

    I think we promote consensus by pointing to exemplars/images of our linguistic proposals. Science depends on validation by consensus on the results of empirical/imagistic tests — the subjective spatio-temporal referents of the language of science.

  46. 46. Arnold Trehub says:

    Apparently the symbols I used in #44 and #45 resulted in loss of part of my post.

  47. 47. john says:

    Arnold: “Definitions are propositional structures. Propositional structures have to be systematically linked to spatio-temporal objects/events (say images) in the phenomenal world to have referential meaning.”

    Well said. I would like to take this further and define “observations” as events that are systematically linked to spatio-temporal objects/events (say images) in the phenomenal world and measurements as the readings on instruments.

    Charles, I find myself agreeing with Arnold about meaning and “intentions”. The meaning of an apple is that it can be moved to my mouth and bitten, it evokes a sweet or bitter, sharp taste. These are events that occur in the spacetime of my experience when my body interacts with an apple. The word apple can produce these intentions but also has an intension, which is the actual object, an apple, out there in the world. My experience always contains the intentions, the intension is noumenal.

    An instrument such as a pair of calipers can interact with a noumenal object such as an apple, I can never observe this interaction, my observation contains a model of the calipers in a proper geometrical relationship and it is the time extended motion of the calipers that produces most of the “meaning” of the measurement. (Calipers close on apple, separation of calipers equals width of apple).

    (See Simultaneity – the key to understanding mind?

  48. 48. John says:

    Suppose the Turing Machine described previously, the one that had derived the most fundamental equation of the universe, took millennia to do this and was forgotten by humanity. So what? We could lead excellent lives if we kept our populations low, lived frugally, loved each other, accepted our deaths and kept the peace with our neighbours. Watermills would be adequate technology. The reason we do not do this is that we would only accept death and relative hardship if it were a better, more meaningful way of life than the alternative.

    A nihilist might just shrug their shoulders but compassion demands a direction and the direction is composed of the free intentions in our minds. But what intentions…

  49. 49. Tom Clark says:

    Arnold (34):

    “I think that the physical and the phenomenal are in a single (physical) ontological domain, even though they occupy different descriptive domains which necessitates the bridging principle of corresponding analogs.”

    If the phenomenal is in the physical domain, then some set of physical events is identical to the phenomenal, for instance a pain I experience. There is literally nothing else my pain could consist of if my pain is in the physical domain. But earlier you said “I think you set the bar too high if you demand a logical *identity* relation between brain processes and conscious content.” If the phenomenal constitutes a sub-set of the physical that sits in a different “descriptive domain” it’s still nevertheless physical, though and through. So on your account there’s an underlying phenomenal-physical identity, which seems to me hard to sustain given that the physical and phenomenal don’t share all properties in common, e.g., my pain isn’t publicly available (it exists only for me), whereas my brain is.

    Charles (35):

    When I speak of there being parallel explanations, one subjective and one objective, you can substitute phenomenal and physical, where the phenomenal is available only to the conscious subject (hence participates in each individual’s private subjectivity) and the physical is objective in the sense of being publicly observable in principle by anyone. The way I see it, it isn’t that there are two ontologically basic sorts of stuff, phenomenal and physical. Rather the phenomenal and physical are two representational, explanatory spaces created by two different epistemic perspectives on the world, one tied to individual cognitive systems like human persons, the other tied to collective, consensus models of the world, such as created by everyday 3rd person discourse and its offshoots such as science, http://www.naturalism.org/appearance.htm#part1

  50. 50. Vicente says:

    Tom,

    Rather the phenomenal and physical are two representational, explanatory spaces created by two different epistemic perspectives on the world, one tied to individual cognitive systems like human persons, the other tied to collective, consensus models of the world, such as created by everyday 3rd person discourse and its offshoots such as science

    It is difficult to accept this interpretation.

    The physical is not a representational explanatory space tied to any collective consensus mode. The physical is what it is, whatever it is. Once the physical is observed or sensed by an individual it becomes part of the input necessary to create the phenomenal experience for that individual. The only representational space could be the phenomenal world, one per subject. The “explanatory” part needs some post-processing of the input.

    Actually, perception is known to be subject and context dependent.

    What could be tied to collective consensus are the cognitive models we have created about the physical (which are part of the individual phenomenal worlds, probably supported by neural processes), but not the physical itself. Those models can be explanatory up to a certain extent.

    The question is simple. For example, in the physical world there are no colors, in the phenomenal world there are colors, how?

    I don’t know if it makes sense to consider the cognitive, semantic, logical aspects of consciousness before the very simple foundations are established.

  51. 51. Charles Wolverton says:

    Arnold (44) -

    I’m guessing that the missing part of your comment quotes some assertion by me, which can be interpreted as constituting a definition. If so, all I can say in response is that I try to include qualifiers such as “IMO”, “I see”, “my view is” in all statements – partly to stay consistent with my skepticism about “truth”, partly because in this arena I’m always walking on thin ice.

    if *meaning* is “the response of a specific hearer of the utterance that the utterer intends to evoke”, then *meaning* depends crucially on the intention of the utterer …

    Yes, and on the utterer’s ability to predict the response of the hearer.

    … which, in turn, must depend on the utterer’s and hearer’s understanding the *meaning* of the linguistic utterance.

    I view the hearer’s response as largely Pavlovian, so the utterer need not assume that the hearer will necessarily “understand” the utterance – ie, extract mutually agreed to “meaning” from it – only that the hearer will respond as anticipated. Presumably that’s why sloganeering works. Politicians, advertisers, et al are seldom trying to communicate information – ie, attach “meaning” to their slogans. They’re just trying to evoke responses that unfortunately are quite predictable.

    And to some extent, so are those participating in fora such as this. We often want to evoke an explanation, a rebuttal, or a concurrence. But we presumably hope our utterances evoke responses which require somewhat more complex processing to formulate and are therefore less predictable (in practice, even if not in principle).

  52. 52. john says:

    Tom, Vicente, Arnold, Charles, the physical domain is the domain of measurement and transfer of state. The transfers of state are described by the relationships that we call “science”. Apart from the relations of science we know nothing of the physical domain except the part that constitutes the phenomenal space-time of our minds.

    I am slightly shocked by the naive realism of the idea that there is a physical domain that we observe that is somehow different from the observation that is our experience. We infer that there is a physical domain from the relationships in our science but we cannot ever directly experience any part of it except the bit that is our experience itself.

    Apples are inferred to be mainly space and have no taste in themselves, photons are inferred to be electric and magnetic fields not colours, sounds are inferred to be transmitted by oscillations in the air but these oscillations have no sounds themselves. It is totally extraordinary that people believe that the physical domain can have any other description than as a set of relations between measurements or between the contents of conscious experience.

    I challenge anyone to describe an apple without referring at all to phenomenal experience or to the relations of science.

  53. 53. Arnold Trehub says:

    Tom (#48): “If the phenomenal constitutes a sub-set of the physical that sits in a different “descriptive domain” it’s still nevertheless physical, though and through. So on your account there’s an underlying phenomenal-physical identity, which seems to me hard to sustain given that the physical and phenomenal don’t share all properties in common, e.g., my pain isn’t publicly available (it exists only for me), whereas my brain is.”

    This harks back to the *metaphysical* framework that I find comfortable. In dual-aspect monism the phenomenal exists completely in an unknown physical reality. Yet I cannot assert a formal *identity* when describing any instance of the phenomenal aspect in terms of an instance of the physical aspect in the pragmatic language of science because the phenomenal and the physical occupy separate descriptive domains. We are forced into accepting some descriptive slack. This is why I propose the bridging principle of corresponding analogs.

  54. 54. Charles Wolverton says:

    Tom (48) -

    Yes, I understand and mostly agree (we may diverge somewhat on the relationship between these spaces/vocabularies as I described in comment 35). I just think that something like “privately experienced/publicly observable” makes the distinction clear w/o the unnecessary and (IMO) undesirable baggage attached to “subjective/objective”. As I said, a “quibble”.

  55. 55. John says:

    Dual Aspect Monism, different descriptions for the physical and phenomenal…

    I challenge any correspondent to describe the physical, such as a pencil, in terms that do not involve the phenomenal and are not scientific relations such as computational relations or functional descriptions.

    When I try the exercise all I come up with is a set of atoms at a location in space whatever that means, I have never seen an atom or 3D space. I can only get a meaningful idea of an “atom” by imagining Rutherford’s planetary model or something similar so I know I am fooling myself if I think I have a “physical” description.

    If by a physical description one means placing abstract events in a geometrical manifold, well, again, I cannot imagine such a manifold except in my phenomenal experience as a projective geometry.

    If by a “physical description” one means using a nineteenth century theory to describe the world then it does not describe either the world or my experience. This is the real origin of the “different descriptions for the physical and phenomenal”: the theory being used to describe the physical by those who utter such statements is incomplete so does not embrace the relations present in the phenomenal.

  56. 56. Vicente says:

    John(53)

    Absolutely, even more, “the pencil (matter)” stops to belong to the physical the moment you cover it with the concept PENCIL. For that reason a pencil can only be treated in phenomenological terms, because it is phenomenal. If the pencil is oberved by a subject that doesn’t know what a pencil is, is not pencil yet (just an unidentified object), but could become a pencil. A pencil is a manmade tool, but the same applies to natural objects, a cloud, a mountain, galaxies, are phenomenal concepts (rooted in the observation of the Universe, of course), even the molecular or subatomic constituents are phenomenal as concepts created by man, to construct its models.

    Our world is phenomenal, and I push your challenge even further, because those scientific relations, you mention, are also phenomenal in their conceptual origin.

    We could take this argument to the extreme and say that the physical world, only really exists when it has been sensed and incorporated to a certain mind.

    What the Universe would be in the absence of sentient conscious beings? difficult if not impossible to say. There is one Universe per consciousness.

  57. 57. John says:

    Vicente: “Our world is phenomenal, and I push your challenge even further, because those scientific relations, you mention, are also phenomenal in their conceptual origin. ”

    Measuring instruments operated by a Turing Machine are not themselves phenomenal, they can perform measurements and computations without our knowledge (but do not observe). Unfortunately we cannot describe what they do in non-phenomenal language because there is no such thing as non-phenomenal language or a “physical description”. We can produce physical theories of the non-phenomenal which is the closest we can get to a physical description.

  58. 58. Peter says:

    [My apologies - some comments were caught by the spam filter. I think I've put this right, but if not please let me know.]

  59. 59. Tom Clark says:

    Vicente (49):

    “The physical is not a representational explanatory space tied to any collective consensus mode. The physical is what it is, whatever it is.”

    I sympathize with what you’re saying, but I’d put it this way: as knowers we can’t help but operate on the assumption that there’s a mind-independent reality (which is the way it is) that our models seek to capture. As cognitive systems which model the world outside us and ourselves in the world, we end up drawing the mental/physical distinction as a behaviorally advantageous representational achievement, one which derives from the self/world, internal/external, representational/represented, and system-dependent/system-independent distinctions, http://www.naturalism.org/appearance.htm#part4

    This is to say that the physical as something mind-independent is a representational categorization that *contrasts* with the mental, and in particular with the phenomenal (the self-existent chair itself vs. my conscious experience of it). Reality as it appears to us contains *both* the physical and the phenomenal, and we shouldn’t (like Dennett) deny that the phenomenal is as real as the physical. Of course we tend to privilege the physical as ontologically primary and self-existent since it’s what figures in 3rd person explanations and it’s what we take (for good reasons) to be mind-independent. But showing how the phenomenal is *entailed* by the physical, when it’s suitably configured, is what’s eluding us, although I have my representationalist hunches, http://www.naturalism.org/appearance.htm#part5

    Then again, trying to delineate such an entailment might be a wild goose chase if in fact the mental/physical distinction is just that, a representational categorization, something that doesn’t involve any causal or other sort of dependence relation between one side of the dichotomy and the other.

  60. 60. Arnold Trehub says:

    John:”I challenge any correspondent to describe the physical, such as a pencil, in terms that do not involve the phenomenal and are not scientific relations such as computational relations or functional descriptions.”

    All physical descriptions (3pp) are overt expressions of covert phenomenal brain models/images (1pp). They are scientific relations only when they are described within a 3pp scientific model. The physical descriptions drawn by early humans on the walls of their caves are not likely to have involved scientific relations at that time because there probably were no scientific terms to apply. They were simply primitive artistic expressions of subjective images. Science is a human artifact.

  61. 61. Vicente says:

    Tom, thank you for you clarification, still, you say:

    the self-existent chair itself vs. my conscious experience of it

    This is the precise point where I diverge. There is no self-existent chair itself .

    The moment you classify, you categorise, you can’t have stand-alone/self-existent entities. The matter and energy of the so-called chair are self-existent, but not the chair itself.

    The chair as an object, as defined in the dictionary, can only exist in the mind of an observer.

    Manmade objects are tricky, but the same idea applies to everything, a volcano or an ice-berg.

    Self-existing are on the one hand matter and energy, that show a behavior that seem to follow certain law, which discovery is the goal of science, and on the other hand other minds, other people, other conscious beings, sentient entities.

    The problem is what is the phenomenal, how does a brain produce it? or interact with it? eventually the phyical line end up in a similar place….

    You say:

    Reality as it appears to us contains *both* the physical and the phenomenal, and we shouldn’t (like Dennett) deny that the phenomenal is as real as the physical. Of course we tend to privilege the physical as ontologically primary and self-existent since it’s what figures in 3rd person explanations

    Yes, some even believe that the physical could contain the phenomenal, the “experience locus/locii” idea, appeals to me, and could be up to something. Mind you, it is difficult to separate this path from Theilard de Chardin ideas…. or the other way round, the mental creates the physical.

    My opinion, is that there are two separate realms, and the brain is the interface, the bridge that connect both sides. But how?

    Sometimes I suspect Dennett doesn’t really understand the hard problem of consciousness.

    I’ll have a more detail look at your site, thanks.

  62. 62. Vicente says:

    Arnold,

    The physical descriptions drawn by early humans on the walls of their caves are not likely to have involved scientific relations at that time because there probably were no scientific terms to apply

    That is because they were not descriptions, they were representations.

    - description: de-script. to write about something, to explain something.

    - representation: re-present. to present again, maybe in different format and media, like a picture or a photo.

    That is why the phenomenal result of an observation is representational, or we can say the phenomenal constitutes a representational space, it presents in another “format or media”, the observed item, scenario, etc

    To me this is an important concept.

  63. 63. John says:

    Arnold: “All physical descriptions (3pp) are overt expressions of covert phenomenal brain models/images (1pp). They are scientific relations only when they are described within a 3pp scientific model.”

    Science goes way beyond your postulate that physical descriptions are “scientific relations only when they are described within a 3pp scientific model”.

    Consider some scientific theories. An ecological scientific theory might propose that the density elk depends upon the food density. This theory explicitly creates a coordinate system and places elk and food on a plane within this system. Consider another theory p = mV, momentum equals scalar mass times vector velocity. This theory sets up a 3D geometry in which the vector “V” is the same no matter where it is placed. Scientific theories set up a geometrical manifold and place objects within it.

    Take a neuroscientist’s theory of a brain scan in which activity in area “A” is correlated with stimulus “B”. This theory puts the brain and stimulus in a 3D manifold. Take a physicists theory of time dilation, t = T gamma. This theory not only postulates events in a 4D manifold but divides the manifold into a possible infinity of inertial frames of reference, one for each observer.

    The only difference between the physical theories of neuroscientists and the truth about reality is that the neuroscientists know so little about science that they have not understood that a transformation may be needed between their abstract 3D theories and reality. There might be a frame of reference for each observer. There obviously is a frame of reference for each observer but for some reason neuroscientists and philosophers just wont have it!

  64. 64. Charles Wolverton says:

    “There might be a frame of reference for each observer.”

    Gibsonian ecological psychology?

  65. 65. Arnold Trehub says:

    John: “There obviously is a frame of reference for each observer but for some reason neuroscientists and philosophers just wont have it!”

    I’m a neuroscientist and I believe that there IS a privileged frame of reference for each observer! But this belief is a part of my covert (1pp, within my brain) theoretical model. It seems to me that my private belief becomes a scientific description only when it is expressed in an overt (3pp) scientific model. Science is a human invention, and all that is public about science is an elaborate artifact. The ecological scientific theory that proposes that the density of the elk population depends upon the food density, and “explicitly creates a coordinate system that places elk and food on a plane within this system” is a scientific artifact. If all humans on earth were to vanish, the books, journal articles, computer records, etc., that contained the elk-food theory would remain, and might be understood by an alien visitor with the means to decode the scientific content of these artifacts.

  66. 66. John says:

    Arnold: “But this belief is a part of my covert (1pp, within my brain) theoretical model. It seems to me that my private belief becomes a scientific description only when it is expressed in an overt (3pp) scientific model.”

    The point I was trying to make in the previous post was that what neuroscientists and philosophers believe to be a scientific, or third person, model is usually no more than a model within a 3D coordinate system. The ecological model involving elk only needed a 2D model and the description of the observer needs a model in at least 4D. A 4D model (with 1 negative dimension) automatically creates an infinity of observation points.

  67. 67. Arnold Trehub says:

    John,

    I guess I misunderstood your point. I agree that a scientific description of the observer needs a 4D model. Space-time with a subjective “point” of origin.

  68. 68. Duncan says:

    “There might be a frame of reference for each observer.”

    Metzinger’s Ego Tunnel?

  69. 69. John says:

    Duncan, Charles: “Metzinger’s Ego Tunnel?”, “Gibsonian ecological psychology?”

    Well no, what exists exists – just look around, that is the geometry of experience, its clearly a projective geometry. Nothing flows into any centre point of such a geometry so there is no “ego tunnel” and temporal displacements are geometrical not simple processes as in Gibson’s vision. The scientific way to deal with experience is to examine its dimensionality (the number of independent axes involved) and then derive a geometrical equation to account for the form (see for instance The value of meditations). The philosophical method of accounting for experience seems to be to assume that nineteenth century physics is a universal truth and to reject our experience because it is inexplicable according to such an assumption.

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