Picture: qualintentionality. Sometimes mistakes can be more interesting than getting it right. Last week I was thinking about Pauen’s claim, reasonable enough, that belief in qualia is ultimately based on the intuitive sense that experience and physics are two separate realms. The idea that subjective stuff, the redness of red and so on, could be nothing but certain jigs danced by elementary particles, provokes a special incredulity. What’s the famous quote that sums that up, I thought? Something about…

This phenomenal quality is characteristic exclusively of mental phenomena. No physical phenomenon exhibits anything like it.

That captures the incredulity quite nicely. However, it dawned on me that it was Brentano, and he didn’t say ‘phenomenal quality’, he said ‘intentional inexistence’.

So it turns out we have two incredulitites, one about qualia – subjectivity or ‘what it is like’, one about intentionality – ‘aboutness’ or meaningfulness. To me, they have a very similar feel. So what do we say about that? I can see four reasonable possibilities.

  1. The resemblance is superficial: just because your mind boggles at two different things, it doesn’t mean the two things are identical.
  2. The incredulity is the same because it’s not specifically attached to qualia or intentionality, it’s just characteristic of mental phenomena of all kinds.
  3. The incredulity arises from intentionality, and qualia have it because they are intentional in nature.
  4. The incredulity arises from qualia, and intentionality has it because it arises out of qualia.

Although 1. is a very rational line to take, I can’t help feeling there is at least a little more to it than that. I don’t detect in myself a third incredulity – I don’t feel that nothing in subjectivity could possibly account for intentionality, or vice versa: that remains to be examined. And to put it no higher, it would be nice if we could tidy things up by linking the two problems, or even perhaps reducing one to the other. One inexplicable realm is bad enough.

I suppose 2. is what Brentano himself might have said. I don’t know whether we’d now be quite so quick to bestow the mystery on all mental phenomena: it doesn’t seem so implausible now that calculation or choosing a chess move might be nothing more than a special kind of physical activity. Moreover, if the problem doesn’t come from intentionality or qualia, we seem to have a third problem distinct from either, which is unwelcome, and a slight difficulty over the relationships. It doesn’t seem much of an answer to say that qualia seem strange and non-physical because they’re mental, unless we can go on to say a lot more about the spookiness of the mental and why it attaches to subjective experience the way it does.

I suppose we could go dualist here, and say that mental things exist in a separate domain in which both qualia and meanings participate. Isn’t something like that the main reason dualists are dualists, in fact? Taking that route involves the usual problems of explaining the interaction between worlds and indeed, giving some explanation of how the second world works. If we don’t give that latter explanation we seem only to have deferred the issues.

It might be easier if we said something along the lines of the mental being essentially a different level of explanation within a monist universe. For me, that looks at least a starter so far as intentionality goes, but not for qualia. They’re not really a level of explanation – they’re not explanatory at all, quite the reverse. This brings out some interesting differences. In the case of qualia we already have a pretty full scientific account of how the senses work. We pretty much know what we’d reduce qualia to, if we’re in the market for a reduction. In a sense, the way is clear: there’s no work in the ordinary world that we need qualia to do, we just need an extra ineffable zing from somewhere, something we could arguably dispense with. For intentionality, things are much worse. There is no scientific account of meaning, we don’t really know how the brain deals with it, yet it is an essential part of our lives which can’t be dismissed as airy-fairy obscurantism.  Curiously, of course, it’s qualia which are seen as the Hard Problem, while intentionality is part of the easy one. I suppose this is because when we contemplate intentionality, it doesn’t seem intractable. We may not know how it works, but it looks like the kind of thing we could get a grip on given a couple of insights; whereas there seems no way of scaling the smooth glassy wall presented by qualia.

Here’s a thought: if we’re saying that the two issues are different facets of the same problem, we ought to be able to apply the established qualia arguments to intentionality and still make sense, shouldn’t we?  We can’t do it the other way because I don’ t think there are any arguments for the existence of intentionality – nobody denies it.

So: the zombies go quite well, at first sight, anyway: we’d say that intentionality zombies (another kind – sorry) look and behave like us, but never actually mean what they say or understand the words they read.  By some process they come out with appropriate responses, but in the same sort of sense as the original zombies, the lights are all out.

Then instead of inverted spectra, we’d have inverted meanings. This is trickier, because there’s no tidy realm of meaning equivalent to the spectrum we can use – unless we co-opt the spectrum itself and say that when you mean red, you say blue… That doesn’t seem to work. Could we say that you actually mean the negation of everything you say, but for some reason act otherwise…? Maybe not.

Alright, let’s try Mary: Intentionality Mary was brought up without ever grasping the meaning of anything, but she understands everything there is to know about cognition… That doesn’t seem to make sense.

The problem is always that qualia have no causal effects, whereas meanings and intentions absolutely do: in fact if anything the problem with them is explaining their efficacy. Noting this, we can see that actually even the zombies didn’t really work: we can believe in people who behave like us without having real experience, but it’s surely nonsensical to say that our counterparts without desires or intentions would behave the same way as us, unless we’re really only talking about some kind of quale of desire or intention.

So if qualia and intentionality are radically different in some respects, the differences might provide at least a hint that ‘both mental’ is not a good enough explanation for the two incredulities.

What about option 3? Could it be that the incredulity we’re concerned with is basically attached to intentionality, and qualia only have it because they are intentional in nature? On the face of it it seems quite reasonable to think that the redness we experience is about the rose, and that it’s the special magic aboutness that adds the extra ineffable quality. With other qualia, though, it’s not so clear. If you take happiness to be qualic, what is it about? We can of course be happy about particular things, but that’s distinct from just being happy. Moreover, there’s plenty of intentionality without qualia: an account book is suffused with intentionality. In fairness, that’s only the derived kind – accounts only mean what we make them mean – perhaps it’s only the original intentionality of our thoughts that bestows qualicity?  But with intentionality, we expect content. We believe and desire and think that x or y, with x or y being capable of expression in words: but it’s the whole point of qualia that there’s nothing like that available.

Option 4 says qualia are fundamental and intentionality springs from them. John Searle has actually put this view forward (in addition to his view that intentionality is the business of of imposing directions of fit on directions of fit). The suggestion here is that, for example, the feeling of hunger is about food in some basic, primitive sense, and that it’s on similar qualia that all our meaningfulness is built. The example has a definite appeal, and there’s something attractive about rooting intentionality in the ‘three Fs’ of survival: making it not some celestial mystery but a particular slant that arises out our nature as competitive and social biological creatures. But there are problems. We must remember that the quale of hunger has no causal effects: it’s only the functional counterpart that actually causes us to speak or seek food, so the connection between the quale and the expression of beliefs or desires is broken. We may suspect for other reasons that it’s not really the quale at work here: the sense in which hunger means food looks very like H.P.Grice’s natural meanings (those spots mean measles). We may suspect that this is really what makes the example seem to work, yet completely inanimate and non-qualic things can have this kind of meaning (those clouds mean rain), so although it is an excellent place to start looking for an analysis of intentionality, it doesn’t seem to be a matter of qualia.

Personally, I would reaffirm the view I’ve often set out before: I haven’t a clue what’s going on.

59 Comments

  1. 1. John says:

    Peter: “This phenomenal quality is characteristic exclusively of mental phenomena. No physical phenomenon exhibits anything like it. ”

    Only a philosopher would say that. A scientist would say “our current theories do not explain observation. We need a theory of observation.”

    There is no convincing argument that physical theory cannot explain qualia, in fact there cannot be such an argument because physical theory is always subject to change. There are plenty of arguments that 19th century physical theory cannot explain qualia or arguments that redefine “physical” in such a way that qualia cannot be physical events. These convince those who know little of physical theory.

  2. 2. Vicente says:

    Well John, I think you can really say:

    “This phenomenal quality is characteristic exclusively of mental phenomena. No physical phenomenon OUTSIDE A BRAIN exhibits anything like it.”

    and definitely “exhibits” is a bizarre word choice….

    Then observation is subject to “phenomenal qualities which are characteristic exclusively of mental phenomena”, and you close the loop.

    Unless you want to explore panpsychism… that doesn’t match physics much better either.

    And… even if you could explain qualia in phyical terms, who is observing?

    IMO a scientist would say: “our current machinery to produce and improve theories is not able and adequate to produce a theory that can explain observation. We need a complete new conceptual frame to explain observation.”

  3. 3. Peter says:

    Scientists do say things like that. But I think some things really do lie outside the scope of physical theory (How about numbers, for example?).

    Whether qualia turn out to be like that in some way, or something that can eventually be given a full physical explanation, remains unclear for the time being. Unclear to me anyway – though if I had to place a bet I’d put a small sum on them being in large part a category error. :)

  4. 4. Arnold Trehub says:

    I am among those who approach the existence of consciousness as a scientific problem. As a scientist, I believe that humans do not have the power to discover the essential nature of anything in our experience, including the essential nature of consciousness or qualia. It seems to me that the scientific approach is necessarily a pragmatic one. The best we can do is to present a concept/definition of consciousness as a physical phenomenon and then propose theoretical models that can explain/predict interesting manifestations of consciousness in (bio)physical terms. The theories that we formulate are not final truths about the nature of consciousness. They are always provisional with the expectation that they will be modified or discarded if a different theory does a better job of accounting for relevant empirical evidence.

    Peter: “But I think some things really do lie outside the scope of physical theory (How about numbers, for example?)”

    My theory suggests that number systems are a useful invention constructed by the cognitive brain. They are propositional brain structures which enable us to model selected/parsed aspects of our global phenomenal world in quantitative terms.

  5. 5. John says:

    Vicente: ““phenomenal qualities which are characteristic exclusively of mental phenomena”

    No-one can prove that phenomenal qualities do not have a physical explanation. Physical explanations are open ended.

    Peter: “if I had to place a bet I’d put a small sum on them being in large part a category error”

    The category error is to treat qualia as entities that have no parts. Qualia are extended like events in the physical world. In the last article Tom was maintaining that experience is not extended and I think this semi-Cartesian assumption is widespread.

    Arnold: “It seems to me that the scientific approach is necessarily a pragmatic one.” Right on.

  6. 6. Vicente says:

    Arnold, you said:

    The best we can do is to present a concept/definition of consciousness as a physical phenomenon and then propose theoretical models that can explain/predict interesting manifestations of consciousness in (bio)physical terms.

    This is the point.

    – Give me a concept/definition of consciousness as a physical phenomenon.

    – To predict means quantification, and that means measuring. That is not possible in consciousness studies. Unless you want to remain in a pseudoscientific qualitative narrative stage.

    – What do you understand by “manifestation”? another odd term for the case, like “to exhibit”. For example, in scientific terms, the trace of a particle in a cloud chamber (manifestation?) and the testimony (manifestation?) of a subject have nothing to do (conceptually speaking). NCCs are not manifestations.

    – If you had manifestations of qualia in biophyisical processes, then you have a closure problem, unless you “identify” those qualia with biophysical processes themselves (you are free to do so). Maybe here is where Peter’s category error makes sense.

    When you say science is a pragmatic approach you have to differentiate between science to understand the Universe, and applied science to solve prosaic problems. The latter is pragmatic.

    But it is not just qualia, it is the whole experience of existing. I think Peter conveyed it pretty well, presenting the coupling of qualia plus intentionality in one single meaningful pack.

    Again we see the divergence with science, when Peter claims the role of intuition and incredulity, he is investing in a risky business (only a “small sum”, for risk hedging), he is too close to “revelation”, and that is only acceptable in absolute personal terms.

    Maybe that is the case, consciousness is a personal “pragmatic” enterprise, that each of us will have to face on his own devices.

  7. 7. Arnold Trehub says:

    Vicente: “Give me a concept/definition of consciousness as a physical phenomenon.”

    Here’s my definition of consciousness as a physical phenomenon:

    *Consciousness is a transparent brain representation of the world from a privileged egocentric perspective*

    For example, see *Evolution’s Gift: Subjectivity and the Phenomenal World*, here: http://journalofcosmology.com/Consciousness130.html

    Vicente: “To predict means quantification, and that means measuring. That is not possible in consciousness studies. Unless you want to remain in a pseudoscientific qualitative narrative stage.”

    I disagree with your view that relevant qualitative observations are “pseudoscientific”. Notice that all parts of the scientific canon depend on consensus (3rd-person) regarding spatiotemporal patterns of relevant subjective (1st-person) events which are intrinsically qualitative. The successful prediction (based on the structure and dynamics of the retinoid mechanism) that a circle in horizontal oscillation behind a screen with a triangular aperture will be perceived as an egg-shaped object swinging like a pendulum pivoting at the apex of the aperture is qualitative, but it is not a pseudoscientific observation.

    Vicente: “NCCs are not manifestations.”

    It depends on what kind of NCCs you are talking about. According to my theoretical model, patterns of autaptic-cell activation in egocentric retinoid space are subjective manifestations.

    Vicente: “If you had manifestations of qualia in biophyisical processes, then you have a closure problem, unless you “identify” those qualia with biophysical processes themselves (you are free to do so).”

    Yes. The theoretical claim is that qualia are constituted by the patterns of biophysical activity in retinoid space. The power of the theory will depend on how well it can explain and predict relevant phenomenal content.

    Vicente: “When you say science is a pragmatic approach you have to differentiate between science to understand the Universe, and applied science to solve prosaic problems. The latter is pragmatic.”

    I believe that all science is pragmatic because any scientific claim must meet an evidentiary test before it is accepted. All successful solutions — understanding the universe, or understanding why electric current heats a resistive conductor — are useful in the human enterprise, but at the same time they are discarded or modified when better scientific solutions are found.

  8. 8. Shankar says:

    “we can believe in people who behave like us without having real experience, but it’s surely nonsensical to say that our counterparts without desires or intentions would behave the same way as us, unless we’re really only talking about some kind of quale of desire or intention.”

    But this is precisely what happens during reflex actions.. we are all reduced to your new type of zombie, for at least that moment.. no higher cognition or conscious decision is involved.

  9. 9. Vicente says:

    Arnold,

    I can’t accept what you say, let me check your statements:

    Consciousness is a transparent brain representation of the world from a privileged egocentric perspective

    This could be a definition, but definitely not suitable for scientific purposes, and it does not present a physical phenomenon.

    The successful prediction (based on the structure and dynamics of the retinoid mechanism) that a circle in horizontal oscillation behind a screen with a triangular aperture will be perceived as an egg-shaped object swinging like a pendulum pivoting at the apex of the aperture is qualitative, but it is not a pseudoscientific observation.

    The point is that you cannot quantify or measure the prediction result. I would need you to find a function that relates the values of certain parameters at both sides, eg: some electrophysiological variable(in the RS) with some geometrical phenomenal value. You can’t do that.

    The theoretical claim is that qualia are constituted by the patterns of biophysical activity in retinoid space. The power of the theory will depend on how well it can explain and predict relevant phenomenal content.

    The same comment. You could measure certain parameters that characterise the biophysical activity, but you can’t measure its effect on the qualia generation, you can’t even observe the qualia generation (directly), which is the worse.

    I believe that all science is pragmatic because any scientific claim must meet an evidentiary test before it is accepted.

    So do I. So precisely because you can’t perform your evidentiary test in this case (unless you consider a vague testimony as evidence), you have an important part of your “system” out of range.

    I completely agree with your last popperian statement, to me “falsability” is the best philosophical approach to science. Unfortunately, for the time being there is no theory to check and discard.

    Having said all these, I find really valuable all efforts to approach the problem with scientific convictions, and the SMTT experiment is really clever and interesting, showing how the dynamics of certain neurological structures is directly involved in perception. But that was clear from the beginning, I am not questioning the fact that the brain plays a fundamental role regarding consciousness. As you did accept, the essence of reality is not available to us, which shouldn’t prevent us to pursue our efforts to understand our world. And I agree that, as a society, science is the best tool we have despite of its limitations.

    Still, you could say to me: like Peter, you haven’t got clue about what’s going on. And I would say: I’m afraid so.

  10. 10. John says:

    Vicente, I cannot believe that you are actually arguing against the use of science in the philosophy of mind, science is just the cataloguing and interrelating of observations according to a method. The method is for one scientist to observe, catalogue and describe relations in a particular context and then for other scientists to attempt to repeat these events and note the same relations. Notice that “science” has nothing much to do with the weird “physicalism” of the philosopher.

    Surely a person can say “I have this in my observation and it is related to this, do you have these events and relations when you are in similar circumstances?”. If you reject this possibility and maintain that “consciousness” is not events, arrangements of events or observation then what do you have left?

    Peter declares that qualia might be a category mistake but Ryle’s “category mistake” was due to his lack of knowledge of natural philosophy (Ryle was Dennett’s teacher and both knew little of Nature). It was Ryle who made the category mistake when he declared that visual experience was the 3D world beyond the body. Even the most cursory considerations of visual experience show that it is not a simple 3D form – just look like a scientist would look, examine the evident relations between events in experience: they are not arranged in 3D.

    You say “Still, you could say to me: like Peter, you haven’t got clue about what’s going on. And I would say: I’m afraid so.”

    Vicente, you could have some idea about what was going on if you threw away the theories that cause you to reject your observation. They are only theories and if, as you declare, they have no explanatory power then throw them away! In particular abandon that Marxist, Luddite, closet dualist Ryle and his apprentice Dennett.

  11. 11. Vicente says:

    John, you have startled me…

    OK, I am getting a bit purist and fussy about it, but as a matter of concept there is no choice. This is like Godel and Russell undermining the foundations of logic and mathematics (I am not comparing me with them of course). Since we are pragmatic, mathematics and logic are used everyday everywhere, and with very good results, still they are not a close body that guarantees “truth”.

    All I say is that we have to be aware of the limits of science, and that an important part of philosophy of mind lays beyond them.

    You ask:

    “I have this in my observation and it is related to this, do you have these events and relations when you are in similar circumstances?”. If you reject this possibility and maintain that “consciousness” is not events, arrangements of events or observation then what do you have left?

    Surely a person could say that, but it would be quite irrelevant for sheer scientific purposes.

    Events… who knows… everything becomes an event once observed. The thing is that those phenomenal events cannot be scientifically treated. The most you could do is to find some correlations with neurological events, and that trusting what someone qualitatively tells, or infering conclusions (not evidence) from certain behaviours.

    I cannot abandon Ryle and Dennett because I never took them on board (actually I confess that I have read very very little from Ryle)

    The key is to access and measure…

    BTW, since you take into account what people “say” in order to build the philosophy of mind, there are many more people reporting to have gained knowledge about what there minds really are through direct experience (eg: meditation, events and relations in there minds…) than by following scientific procedures…

    Should we incorporate mysticism to the scientific method?

  12. 12. John says:

    Vicente: “The key is to access and measure…”

    Science does not start like that. The key is to observe, catalogue and relate. If we are lucky we can measure on a ratio scale. Linnaeus just observed, catalogued and related, Mendel counted, Wilkins and Franklin measured, Crick and Watson theorised. They were all doing the science of genetics. Galileo sang to his rolling balls and observed whether objects hit the ground simultaneously or not but he was still doing physics.

    Vicente: “Should we incorporate mysticism to the scientific method?”

    Yes. I have talked to many mystics and have been unable to repeat many of their “observations”. On the other hand I have been able to repeat the experience that is the boundless space of Theravada Buddhist meditation and know other people who are honest observers who have done the same – but this is not really mystical, we all get flashes of experience without content when we relax in the dark.

    Take shamanism. If I were to take a substance and see fists in the clouds and letters strewn as the autumn leaves I can then confirm the reports of a particular set of mystics. I will probably disagree strongly with any theory that they may advance based on this type of observation. A scientific approach to observation would show me that if only my pals and myself see letters in the leaves and these are invisible to people who have not taken the substance then the vision is related to the substance. The substance might be known to block certain serotonin receptor subtypes so I would relate the vision to brain chemistry. The mystic, however, would make an unjustified theoretical leap such as declaring that drug induced visions are creating a new sort of perception of reality that puts them in contact with the gods.

    The followers of Plato have got a lot to answer for (see Science: empirical or Platonic?). We can do science without rulers.

  13. 13. Arnold Trehub says:

    John: “The key [for doing science] is to observe, catalogue and relate. If we are lucky we can measure on a ratio scale.”

    This hits the nail on the head!

  14. 14. Vicente says:

    Well I thought we were trying to understand something, it seems you both just want to be store keepers drawing up the inventory…

    you can’t relate without abstract models and measuring, in a scientific way I mean.

    But best of all, I agree, as you said, first is to OBSERVE, absolutely right, now go and observe each others minds…

    What about considering public observations…

  15. 15. Arnold Trehub says:

    I wrote: “I believe that all science is pragmatic because any scientific claim must meet an evidentiary test before it is accepted.”

    Vicente: “So do I. So precisely because you can’t perform your evidentiary test in this case (unless you consider a vague testimony as evidence)”

    If I set up the pendulum-illusion experiment and ask several subjects what they see, and each testifies that he/she sees something like an egg-shaped figure swinging like a pendulum from the top of the aperture, this testimony is certainly NOT “vague testimony”. It is *substantive* testimony and strong supporting evidence for the theoretical model that predicted this result.

  16. 16. Kar Lee says:

    John, Vicente and Arnold: You guys have stirred up the pot pretty well and the discussion is really delicious!

    Now to John, scientist to scientist, what exactly are you trying to observe and theorize? My understanding is that you are trying to explain mental phenomena. If this is really what you are doing, then in your methodology of “to observe, catalogue and relate”, this scientific endeavor becomes your own personal journey, and it involves no body else except you. I will explain why.

    It, though, being labeled scientific, nonetheless is your religion. In the very first step of “to observe”, you are only observing your own internal mental world, which is exclusively yours. No one else can really help you. If you attempt to observe other people’s mental phenomena, you are doing something incorrectly: trying to observe something unobservable.

    If you are hit by a hammer and your vision become “bluish” (the whole world turns blue on you) and you feel this indescribable strange feeling which only a person infected with SARS will feel 4 minutes before his death (I chose a now obscure disease which not many have experienced and none was able to put words on it to drive the point), are you going to compare your feelings with another fellow human to see if your indescribable feeling is the same as his indescribable feeling? (the feeling of tasting an apple is a good example here – tasting the same apple, some people may find it too sweet, and some may find it too sour – proving the point that the feelings are really different, even though all will say “it tastes like apple”)

    You cannot. In the very first step, to observe, you become the sole observer in this so-called scientific endeavor.

    Now move on to the next step, to catalogue. Again, you are the only person who can do this because no body else has the “data” you have.

    Finally, to relate. You conclusion is probably “If I get hit by the same hammer the same way again, the world will turn blue on me and I will have this strange feeling ‘only a person infected with SARS has 4 minutes before his death’.” And the theory works for you. But will it work for somebody else? I would say, probably not. You cannot even compare the feeling with another person what a SARS victim feels 4 minutes before he dies is like (since I made up this odd description to make it complicated).

    So, this theory only works for you, and for you only. It becomes your science, and it also becomes your religion: something you believe in, and yet unable to prove to others.

    Have we come across people who have to kiss they wives 36 times before going to work? We call that compulsive disorder. But for those people, at least for some of them, they have a real worry that if they don’t do that, something bad might happen to them. They rather kiss they wives 36 times before leaving home than risking their lives. That becomes their science, and that is also their religion. A very pragmatic one, just like our science, as Paul Feyerabend advocated.

    The existence of mental phenomena (e.g. qualia) is rooted in personal existence, your own personal existence. My mental phenomena are my problems, not anybody else. The philosophy of mind has everything to do with personal identity and personal death. Let’s try to study the mental phenomenon of personal death scientifically. What will be the qualia 2 hours after you die, or 2 hours before you were conceived? Whose qualia?

    How do we observe, catalogue, and relate? How do we do it scientifically? What are we trying to accomplish? What is science trying to accomplish?

    My claim, in line with Vicente’s statement: an important part of philosophy of mind study is outside the reach of scientific method as we currently know it, forever. In fact, I will go as far as Paul Feyerabend asserted: There is really no scientific method, whatever works works. Very pragmatic.

  17. 17. John says:

    It is interesting that Dualism needs “science” to be Platonic rather than partly empirical. Dualism is the philosophy of the gaps in scientific knowledge so if science becomes little more than honest observation at the edges it will compete for these gaps.

    Kar Lee: “In the very first step of “to observe”, you are only observing your own internal mental world, which is exclusively yours. No one else can really help you. If you attempt to observe other people’s mental phenomena, you are doing something incorrectly: trying to observe something unobservable.”

    You say “you are only observing your own internal mental world, which is exclusively yours.”, this is palpably untrue.

    Most people go through their whole lives without questioning whether what they see is actually physical objects or a mental representation. The majority of people find that the “internal” mental world is largely a perfect model of the physical world beyond the body. For most people their inner world overlaps that of others with such perfection that they assume that the two are the same. Even physics often seamlessly includes the mental world. This hidden integration of the mental into the physical is most evident in optics as I will explain below (see Note 1).

    Kars then moves on to the differences between people and the rare and exceptional. As an example of differences Kars wrote: “the feeling of tasting an apple is a good example here – tasting the same apple, some people may find it too sweet, and some may find it too sour – proving the point that the feelings are really different, even though all will say “it tastes like apple””

    A scientist would group the different types of taste together and investigate the biochemical and neural differences between the groups. This would be science.

    As an example of rare or exceptional events Kars wrote: ““If I get hit by the same hammer the same way again, the world will turn blue on me and I will have this strange feeling ‘only a person infected with SARS has 4 minutes before his death’.” And the theory works for you. But will it work for somebody else? I would say, probably not.”

    If these were honest reports and SARS continues, it would be feasible to gather enough data to discover the common biological mechanisms.

    Kars: “What is science trying to accomplish?”

    The same as the mystic or the philosopher but to do it honestly.

    Kars:

    Note 1.

    Take the object “AAA BBBB”, the ‘A’s are to the left of the ‘B’s, in both the physical and mental space so there is “handedness”. Handedness implies a viewing direction because the rear of objects has the opposite handedness of its parts from the front (ie: ‘d’ is ‘b’ when viewed from behind).

    A “view” is an extremely interesting geometrical concept and requires an extra dimension to host the projection. Naive realists look at diagrams showing the geometrical optics of the eye (“ray diagrams”) and assume that the extra dimension is the radial separation of the eye from the object but in doing so they miss the arrows on the diagram. The arrows signify that light arrives later at the eye than at the object. Geometrical optics involves vectors that combine both space and time. The extra dimension is time. If we illuminate an object with a flash we can measure the pattern of light on the object THEN the pattern of light between the object and the eye, THEN the pattern on the retina. None of these patterns are views. The person however sees a view containing the flash on their own mental object. The measurements at successive instants involve all three dimensions in space but only the person has a view, the person implements the full ray diagram. Schoolkids and even many physicists do not realise that the diagram represents a view that does not occur outside of the brain.

  18. 18. Vicente says:

    Arnold, please, just look at your own description:

    “…something like an egg-shaped figure swinging like a pendulum…”

    I guess that you went through the experience yourself, and that discards you as an objective judge.

    – Can you provide numerical data of the visual input?

    – Can you provide numerical data of the neural activity of the RS? (subject to the available instrumentation)

    – Can you provide the length of the major axis of the perceived phenomenal egg-shaped figure? the swinging frequency and phase-lag with respect to the input?

    This is why I said that part of the experiment setup is out of reach for scientific purposes.

    I am sorry I think that was a qualitative, vague report, still very valuable.

    Again, let me insist in the fact that I don’t question the value and interest of the experiment.The most important lessons I have learnt in life are not of scientific nature.

    Maybe we will have to start to consider some kind hybrid study disciplines (I believe in a way psychology already belongs to this class), for which as John said the main requirements will be to honest and sensible.

    Kar Lee, thanks for coming to my aid, at least the “two camps” platoons are a bit more balanced ;)

  19. 19. John says:

    Vicente, science does not demand numerical measurement. Very few scientists are physicists. Science demands honest observation.

    In fact many experiments can be set up with binary results so that events either happen or do not happen. As an example you could drop two objects of differing density from a tall tower onto two plates constructed so that they only activate a gong if they are struck simultaneously and so demonstrate the independence of g and mass for small masses. We could also check the conservation of momentum law by simply using a single mould to cast four steel weights from the same melt and mount them up in a Newton’s Cradle. Depending on “numerical data” is just an easy solution in many cases, saving us from racking our brains for experiments that do not need rulers and clocks to demonstrate a point. The fact that “numerical data” can be replaced with other techniques shows that science is not solely the art of ratio measurement. As shown for the cases of the gong and the Cradle, science can even be done in the absence of rulers or clocks but it does require honest observation.

  20. 20. Vicente says:

    John, yes, but I guess that we could all OBSERVE the falling objects, and be given the chance to listen (OBSERVE)to the gong. You know g is independent from the mass (what is mass?), but without measuring you can’t determine its value, or how would you know the ojects are accelerating uniformly without a clock, because you have the “impression”?

    Honestly, how far can you get today without figures? now it is you who is not being pragmatic.

    There are scientific disciplines other than physics, but appart from maths all the others should be reducible to physics, even statistical results used in medicine or pharmacy should be consistent with physics (for example placebo effect, you see, consciousness). Let me please not consider “humanities” to avoid more confussion.

    This is a matter of concept as well as a matter of accuracy.

  21. 21. Kar Lee says:

    John,
    I am trying to decipher what you are saying.
    You said, “Most people go through their whole lives without questioning whether what they see is actually physical objects or a mental representation.”
    But I was talking about stomach pain, headache… and these are hardly mental representations of some physical objects. I fail to understand why these are observables for you if these are my feelings. Physiologically, you might be able to detect some difference in neural firing pattern in the case of a headache, but the observable to you is really neural firing patterns and not the headache itself.

    You wrote: “If these were honest reports and SARS continues, it would be feasible to gather enough data to discover the common biological mechanisms.”

    If SARS continues, you will be able to know the feeling of a SARS victim four minutes before he dies? Without being one yourself?
    I would say, even if you were a SARS victim, you will know your own feeling only, and cannot be sure of those of others.

    On the question of what science is trying to accomplish, you said, “The same as the mystic or the philosopher but to do it honestly.” But I believe philosophers are dealing with deeper level stuff and are doing it honestly. It is just that the objectives are different. Science provides predictive power, philosophy attempts to provide understanding. Even Heisenberg tried to address the philosophical impact once quantum mechanics rules were firmly established. I believe throughout history, philosophers have been honestly engaging in providing a deeper level understanding.

    And then there is the medicine man. Is a medicine man a mystic or a scientist? A medicine man may give you some herbal leaves to chew on, or say a prayer for you. Sometimes these practices work (don’t underestimate the healing power of a prayer through the placebo effect). At a pragmatic level, that should qualify him as a scientist. But the understanding is beyond him, so he keeps it at that level, perhaps aided by some non-sensible theory, which, depending on who you ask, can turn him into a mystic. So, is he a scientist or a mystic?

    I have been trying to use “view” because I think the visual part has been over-used and it often brings in complications. Let’s try the taste of an apple. And by the way, taste does not exist without a taster. All you have scientifically are those chemicals. But the same chemicals can give rise to different tastes in different tasters.

    Vicente, I hoped I could help clarify something. But it seems like I have made the water muddier.

  22. 22. Kar Lee says:

    “I have been trying to use “view” ” above should read
    “I have been trying to avoid using “view” “

  23. 23. Arnold Trehub says:

    Kar: “Let’s try the taste of an apple. And by the way, taste does not exist without a taster. All you have scientifically are those chemicals. But the same chemicals can give rise to different tastes in different tasters.”

    In your taste example, you must have more than the chemicals that induce a taste. You must have an array of chemical receptors/transducers that are differentially sensitive to various chemicals in the substance that is tasted. You must have a bundle of sensory neurons that carry the particular patterns of afferent excitation to the sensory modality that detects and classifies the various tastes. (There will obviously be individual differences in these biological mechanisms among different tasters.) Then, according to retinoid theory, this preconscious pattern of sensory excitation must be projected into your egocentric retinoid space where it is consciously experienced as a taste localized in *your* mouth. The subjective quality of the taste for you, according to the principle of corresponding analogs between 3pp and 1pp events, must be a systematic analogical relationship between the neuronal excitation pattern in your retinoid space and your phenomenal experience. We do not understand all the processes in this biophysical explanation of taste. But if the theoretical model is correct, we should be able to design and conduct experiments that might validate the theory for sensory features like taste or pain, as we can now do for visual perception. Of course, this is not an easy short-term enterprise.

  24. 24. John says:

    Kar: “But I was talking about stomach pain, headache..”

    Yes, but there is also the entire naive realist universe that people have in common. When it comes to headaches we can compare notes – see Meditations: space in the dark.

    Kar: “I would say, even if you were a SARS victim, you will know your own feeling only, and cannot be sure of those of others.”

    Many experiences are unique to particular events. What you are saying is that rare events may not have experiences that are shared by many people. But a vast amount of experience can be similar between people. Like most of experience every day!

    These rarities and exceptions that you are introducing do not affect the basic premise that the vast majority of our experience is so similar from one person to another that most people believe their experience is the physical world itself. Most importantly the dimensionality of experience is in common between us and this can be used to gain deep insights into the nature of experience itself.

    Kar: “I believe throughout history, philosophers have been honestly engaging in providing a deeper level understanding.”

    Sadly, since philosophy ditched “natural philosophy” philosophers have been detached from the relationship between cosmology and reason.

  25. 25. Charles Wolverton says:

    Peter says: “I haven’t a clue what’s going on.”

    With respect to qualia, that’s understandable. It appears that neither does anyone else. But with respect to intentionality (or the “vocabulary of agency”, which I prefer due to the ambiguity of “intentional” and possible confusion with “intensional”), I find it somewhat surprising.

    Having finally absorbed most of the Ramberg essay – and Rorty’s response – in “Rorty and His Critics” (repeatedly recommended in this forum), I see most if not all of the questions Peter raises re that vocabulary answered therein. One may, of course, disagree with Ramberg, who is acting as an explicator of Davidson’s position to a skeptical Rorty – who enthusiastically accedes to Ramberg’s argument. But having so far seen no counterargument, convincing or not, I accept it and conclude that what’s going on re intentionality is relatively straightforward, especially compared to what’s going on re qualia.

    My take on the bottom line of the argument is that different vocabularies (ie, “levels of explanation”) are different because they have different purposes, not because they reflect different ontologies. They are not translatable one to the other because they are, uh, different – and substantively so. If they were mutually translatable, one presumably would be redundant. But even in the special case of the intentional and physical vocabularies, (pace Quine) neither ontological gap nor incredulity need follow from their being mutually untranslatable (or from the irreducibility of the former to the latter).

    Note that this is my synopsis of the result, not the argument – which is several pages long. And it is only one part of the essay, which addresses the broader question of the distinction between the mental in general and the physical. Yet again, I highly recommend it.

    But perhaps Peter is using “intentionality” in the sense of mental picturing, in which case the Ramberg essay probably isn’t relevant. If so, I don’t see why Brentano would be relevant either. Can’t one have mental states that are in some sense “about an inexistent object” without necessarily picturing the object in the mind? In any event, the relation with qualia would then seem relatively clear, and the explanations of each would seem likely to be similar – at a minimum.

    OTOH, if one shares Ramberg’s linguistic understanding of “intentionality”, I don’t see why there would be any direct relation with qualia, at least as I understand the term. Doesn’t being “ineffable” make them singularly non-linguistic?

  26. 26. John says:

    Charles, Rorty is full of the discussion of symbols. What is a word in the mind of Rorty?

  27. 27. Arnold Trehub says:

    Charles: “Doesn’t being “ineffable” make them [qualia] singularly non-linguistic?”

    If qualia were completely ineffable, how would we ever be able to use language in interpersonal communication? How could we understand each other’s meanings? If I truthfully tell you that I have a sharp pain in my left toe, or that I see a red ball, you will not have an exact experience/knowledge of my qualia, but you will have an experience that is a useful analog of what I am telling you. I think we can say that language is a tool for inducing the analogical exchange of phenomenal content/qualia.

  28. 28. John says:

    Charles and Peter, reach out to touch this screen. An intentional act has a non-conscious stimulus, a directed motion and continuous feedback whilst the motion is within observation. A directed motion within experience is a line within a four dimensional manifold. Continuous feedback containing a motion is an angular displacement in time projected from the observation point plus non-conscious processing. Why not observe?

    The invention of language has made us like Cyborgs. If we rest peacefully there is a geometrical form, a space and time. Then a word pops into this peace from our non-conscious language processor and disturbs the peace with its associations.

  29. 29. Tom Clark says:

    Peter,

    As usual I’m impressed with your original and insightful way of posing a problem and drawing connections. Just a few comments. You say:

    “it’s surely nonsensical to say that our counterparts without desires or intentions would behave the same way as us”

    Yes, because it seems to me intentional states get attributed *on the basis* of behavior, including verbal behavior. Of course we also have various conscious experiences of understanding, puzzlement, desire, hope, etc. that have intentional objects as content, but consciousness doesn’t seem essential to intentionality. Somnambulism reportedly can involve fairly high level goal directed behavior. That behavior is criterial for intentionality suggests that it might eventually be understood as involving internal representations which map external states of affairs and guide effective behavior with respect to those affairs. I understand the meaning of a term just in so far as I behave appropriately with respect to what the term denotes, where my behavior can include thinking the right sort of (reportable) thoughts, for instance about unicorns. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that the more complex autonomous mobile robots being developed count as intentional systems. Not sure about the Roomba; maybe there’s no clear threshold for attributing intentional states.

    “We must remember that the quale of hunger has no causal effects: it’s only the functional counterpart that actually causes us to speak or seek food, so the connection between the quale and the expression of beliefs or desires is broken.”

    I think this is true for 3rd person explanations of behavior that deal in public observables. But for ourselves as subjects, it seems dead obvious that (categorically private) feelings of hunger, pain, etc. *are* causally effective in prompting goal-directed behavior; we cite them in explanations of our actions all the time. As subjects we perforce inhabit a first-person explanatory space with qualitatively experienced desires as basic terms, http://www.naturalism.org/privacy.htm#1stperson This then prompts the wild goose chase of trying to show how qualia (hunger, pain) are causally effective in 3rd person explanatory space, the space where neurons and brains reside: it ain’t gonna happen. The two explanatory spaces, one public, one private, run in parallel, they don’t interact, http://www.naturalism.org/privacy.htm#barring Since behavior *is* in public space, then intentional states attributed on the basis of behavior play perfectly respectable roles in 3rd person explanations of action, whereas qualia can’t.

  30. 30. John says:

    Tom: “But for ourselves as subjects, it seems dead obvious that (categorically private) feelings of hunger, pain, etc. *are* causally effective in prompting goal-directed behavior; we cite them in explanations of our actions all the time.”

    Try sitting still and watching. Did you intend that word to appear in your thoughts? Did you work out that you were going to lift that arm? Actions and words pop into mind. As Ryle worked out years ago, it could not be any other way, as Libet and others since have discovered with “readiness potential” experiments, it is not any other way.

    Everyone who has ever looked, from Aristotle onwards, has noticed that thoughts pop into mind unbidden. If you look carefully you will notice that everything in that mind has already happened (say “now!”, when was that?).

    On the other hand, as Arnold has said, the content of our experience (perhaps his retinoid system) almost certainly is causally efficacious. It is only the arrangement of these causal elements in a geometrical form such as our minds (our everyday experience) that is perplexing and non-causal.

  31. 31. Charles Wolverton says:

    intentional states get attributed *on the basis* of behavior

    Alternatively, the “intentional idiom” (ie, the vocabulary of the “propositional attitudes” – desires, wants, beliefs, et al) emerges in the attempt to describe the internal causes behind certain behaviors. But we currently can’t translate that vocabulary into any “lower level’ vocabulary, eg, the anatomical, biological, etc. So, the dualism debate can be seen as being between dualists of whatever stripe – who doubt that we will ever be able to find such a translation because the “intentional objects” of the intentional idiom aren’t physical – and physicalists who think someday we will be able to do so.

    I may be wrong, but I think Arnold – to some extent – and Tom – perhaps to a greater extent – are in the Davidson-Ramberg-Rorty (D2R) camp in wanting to deontologize that debate. No offense intended (and none should be taken, given the standing of the D2R trio), but I find Ramberg’s summary of the D2R argument to that end much more coherent and convincing than any others I’ve encountered.

    intentionality … might eventually be understood as involving internal representations which map external states of affairs

    Perhaps, but not necessarily – D2R are anti-representationalists who seem to understand intentionality just fine.

    I understand the meaning of a term just in so far as I behave appropriately with respect to what the term denotes

    Alternatively, I consider the meaning of an utterance to be the behavior that the speaker intends to evoke in the hearer. Then the hearer understands the meaning of an utterance if the intended behavior is evoked.

    Although I don’t disagree with the sentiment, I would shy away from describing the resulting behavior – even if it is that intended by the speaker – as “appropriate” because I think it might be misleading. The behavior that the speaker intends to evoke may be quite inappropriate by some criterion. Eg, the speaker may intend that the hearer believe something that is “false” and act accordingly. (Any who doubt that must not be following contemporary US politics.)

  32. 32. Charles Myro says:

    Hi, charles Myro here,

    This phenomenal quality is characteristic exclusively of mental phenomena. No physical phenomenon exhibits anything like it.

    I think it is not so easy to cleanly split the mind and body or world and mind or matter and mind or whatever variation on Descartes’ split you entertain.
    If you grant that mind exists and that the scheme of mind versus matter or world is a mental notion—-then how can matter be divorced from mind? At what point does anything become non-mental—completely unrelated to mind? At what point do we humans depart from the mental?
    If you reply that we may separate mind from matter, I retort that that assertion is itself a mental notion, a mind construction– and matter too is a mental notion a mind distinction.
    Further, Mental and physical are defined in terms of each other—the one not being the other—and are inseparable in that sense.
    Further, the subjective– identified with the mental– and the objective– identified with the physical– are also inextricable, for the subjective must objectively exist and the objective is subjectively determined.
    If you assume there are two entities– mental and physical—-and they are mutually exclusive, separate and different, then, I argue, we cannot know the world at all, since
    we cannot separate the world of matter from the mental—or know where one ends and the other starts.
    In other words, how determine that something is exclusively mental or exclusively physical when you can’t separate the mental from the physical?
    I submit that there is no necessity to hold fast to such a split.
    There is no reason to accept, as Kant did, Descartes’ split and consequently posit a “thing in itself” world that is inaccessible to us; being inaccessible by reason of the presumed utter separation from the physical. We cannot then even confirm that there is such a thing, since it is inaccessible!
    This ambiguity drives science–which accepts the split– to reduce the mental to physical matter in operation. How odd, when it is not necessary to accept the split in the first place!
    One may argue that the categories of mind and matter are optional points of view, not necessities, and are abstracted from experience or wider existence or simply from what shows up or some such.
    The whole split is a muddle; better not to crack the whole of existence into these
    two problematic entities in the first place.

  33. 33. John says:

    Charles: “I consider the meaning of an utterance to be the behavior that the speaker intends to evoke in the hearer. Then the hearer understands the meaning of an utterance if the intended behavior is evoked.”

    I notice that you are dodging the problem of the nature of a “word”. I asked Tom:

    Try sitting still and watching. Did you intend that word to appear in your thoughts? Did you work out that you were going to lift that arm? Actions and words pop into mind. As Ryle worked out years ago, it could not be any other way, as Libet and others since have discovered with “readiness potential” experiments, it is not any other way.

    Words are generated by a non-conscious processor and thrown into our experience for our delectation. Just listen. Consider the timing of words. A word in your experience is entirely in the past. Listen to someone speaking, you hear entire words at the apparent position of the speaker, you dont hear a nanosecond of the word, then another nanosecond etc.. you hear the whole word stretching into the past.

  34. 34. Vicente says:

    Peter, I don’t know if this makes sense, but motivated by your post I went to have a look to Husserl (intentionality), and looking at his idea of man (as conscious entity) being the subject for the objects, i.e. rest of the Universe, and intentionality to set up the relation between both, the directness and aboutness of man towards the objects, I have the feeling that he should have included a representational system, for the man to conceive and perceive the objects. I mean, that some representational system is a precondition “sine qua non” for intentionality, and here is where qualia come in. It seems to me that qualia should be divided in two classes: representational and intentional, being the first a precondition for the second. Except for some abstract concepts that require not representation, e.g. the numbers?

  35. 35. Sam Hopkins says:

    John: “Try sitting still and watching. Did you intend that word to appear in your thoughts? Did you work out that you were going to lift that arm? Actions and words pop into mind. As Ryle worked out years ago, it could not be any other way, as Libet and others since have discovered with “readiness potential” experiments, it is not any other way.”

    First of all, it is often the case that I do think to myself, “I will raise my hand,” and then I raise my hand, or “I will do 123 times 456,” and proceed to carry out the math in my head. It’s perfectly normal to think that certain mental states are caused by prior mental states.

    Now, that doesn’t dispute the contention that many mental states arrive without any apparent mental predecessor. But I’m not sure what this contention is meant to prove. Our conscious experiences, our notions of self, are constituted by a continuous stream of mental events. When a thought pops into our head, don’t think of it as something foreign acting on us, think of it as us acting, unbidden. It seems necessary, in fact, that the mental events be uncaused (or caused by prior events) for them to be genuinely our own. This thought experiment doesn’t prove that our conscious states are not causally efficacious, and it doesn’t prove that they are merely by-products of physical phenomenon. Such a claim has to be established empirically. Maybe Libet does that, but that’s up for disputation too.

  36. 36. John says:

    Sam: “I do think to myself, “I will raise my hand,” and then I raise my hand, or “I will do 123 times 456,” and proceed to carry out the math in my head. ”

    This misses Ryle’s point. When you thought “I will raise my hand” did you construct the phonemes of the words that appeared, did you methodically search out their associations or did the words just pop into mind? If your conscious experience created “I will raise my hand” then you should have had all of these events in that experience and the prior events that gave rise to those events and the prior events…

    No, we do not construct ANY of the words that pop into our minds within our experience. Even if we try to do this deliberately we just observe parts that are popped into our experience.

    You seem to go back on your original claim when you say: “When a thought pops into our head, don’t think of it as something foreign acting on us, think of it as us acting, unbidden”

    I almost agree but I think of thoughts as something “appearing” unbidden, the only “action” of a thought in my experience is its appearance, the thought acts on non-conscious parts of my brain to make another thought appear.

  37. 37. Vicente says:

    “the thought acts on non-conscious parts of my brain to make another thought appear”

    Or even worse, they might make you directly engage in action… with unforseen consequences.

    To monitor and control this conscious/unconscious mechanism is one of the most important factors to determine the quality of a mind. It makes the difference between a civilised conscious being and a beast.

  38. 38. John says:

    Vicente: “To monitor and control this conscious/unconscious mechanism is one of the most important factors to determine the quality of a mind. It makes the difference between a civilised conscious being and a beast.”

    I agree with this sentiment and would see the control coming through rehearsal and training. See Conscious free will

  39. 39. Charles Wolverton says:

    John:

    I wasn’t “dodging” issues of words, as usual I simply didn’t get your point. Now that I do, all I can say is to repeat what I said before when you raised the same issue (at least as best I recall).

    You apparently want to stretch the formation of a verbal response (not necessarily actually articulated, possibly just floating free in the head) to a stimulus (either external or internal) from phonemes to words. I hypothesize that the atomic entity may be even larger – phrases, perhaps even whole sentences if they aren’t too complex. Hence, I agree that verbal responses (again, articulated or not) may not be constructed a phoneme at a time, and perhaps not even a word at a time.

    But what that has to do with “intentionality” in the Brentano sense – which was the subject of my comment – escapes me. Perhaps you are interpreting the word as being related to doing something “intentionally”. It isn’t.

  40. 40. John says:

    Charles: “Alternatively, I consider the meaning of an utterance to be the behavior that the speaker intends to evoke in the hearer. Then the hearer understands the meaning of an utterance if the intended behavior is evoked.”

    I understood this to mean that a speaker creates an utterance on the basis of an intended behaviour. This implies that the speaker knows the behaviour to be invoked and hence the meaning of the utterance as it is created. I then pointed out that words are created outside of our experience. You then said:

    “But what that has to do with “intentionality” in the Brentano sense – which was the subject of my comment – escapes me.”

    I will explain. I noted that “we do not construct ANY of the words that pop into our minds within our experience” so to define meaning in terms of an intentionality that is linked to the creation of utterances is defining meaning as something that occurs outside of experience. This seems to be a strange definition of meaning: something that exists outside of experience. Your proposal that intentionality creates meaning and meaning is embedded in utterances fails because utterances are created prior to the speaker’s experience containing the utterances. It is a thesis that meaning occurs outside of experience.

    In fact it is quite possible that the non-conscious processes that create utterances can link the utterance to a predicted response. A computer could do this by simply having a list of utterances that create a desired response. For instance against the response “creating social discomfort on a train” the computer might have “who are you looking at?”, “Did your mother buy you that shirt?” etc. But is “meaning” truly just the creation of lists that link groups of utterances (see The symbol grounding problem)?

    The difficulty that philosophers meet when tackling “meaning” is that they are presentists and trying to find the meaning in a 3D object without the coexistence of its connections in the world is impossible. If they abandon their presentism there is no problem. As an example, I can hear whole words and feel the whole motion of my arm so the meaning of my hand reaching out to pick up an object is clear: the hand is directed at the object and grasps and lifts it as an entire four dimensional action within my experience. Meaning is a four dimensional object that exists now.

  41. 41. Sam Hopkins says:

    John: “This misses Ryle’s point. When you thought “I will raise my hand” did you construct the phonemes of the words that appeared,”

    John, do I have to think as words? Can’t thoughts just be thoughts, which when are described we translate to sentences, but when we experience we experience as a unit equivalent to the meaning of those sentences.

  42. 42. Charles Wolverton says:

    John –

    As I suspected, the disconnect seems a matter of vocabulary. Our vocabularies overlap, but our uses of some overlapping words don’t. Nonetheless, it appears that we may be pretty much aligned in our perspectives.

    As I said in comment 25, I don’t like the word “intentionality” because of its ambiguity. I take the Brentano sense of the word to refer to the “propositional attitudes”, some of which can be expressed in forms such as these, where P is a proposition: I desire/wish/want that P become true.

    My understanding of your point is that we don’t (in some sense) “create” one of those propositional attitudes, they just pop into our heads. And once one of those attitudes has popped up, we don’t create from scratch an utterance U the uttering of which we expect to cause an action by a hearer that will make P true; instead, we execute a previously learned utterance U as an automatic response to the extant circumstances comprising the current external environment and internal state. If that understanding is more or less correct, I agree (assuming that one interprets “popping up” as having some cause, either external of internal).

    However, one way of describing this process is as follows. Speaker S “desires” that P become true, “believes” that the likely consequence of uttering U is that a hearer H will respond with an action that makes P true, and therefore utters P with the “intent” of evoking that response. And in that sense, the “meaning” of U is the intended response by H.

    The quoted words are elements of a vocabulary (the so-called “intentional idiom”) which has been thought to be useful in describing behavior seen as having a “mental” aspect. The “non-ontological” theme of comment 25 is that no deep conclusions need be inferred from either the existence of, or properties of, that vocabulary. If at some point we find that vocabulary to have become more trouble than it’s worth, we can just drop it without loss. My guess is that we are near – perhaps past – that point.

    The one place where we may disagree is your contention that:

    we do not construct ANY of the words that pop into our minds within our experience

    If your point is that we don’t “construct” utterances from scratch, I agree. But if you’re suggesting that our use of language is not learned based on experience, I obviously disagree since it obviously is.

    The difficulty that philosophers meet when tackling “meaning” is that they … are trying to find the meaning in a 3D object.

    I can’t speak for philosophers (not being one), but my impression is that you are assuming them generally to believe something that I would hope few do (certainly none of the D2R trio in my comment 25 do, all being good Wittgensteinians). Refuting this Augustinian view of language is a major part of “Philosophical Investigations”, which argues that meaning is found in use – a distinctly 4D concept.

  43. 43. John says:

    Charles: “…meaning is found in use – a distinctly 4D concept.”

    Do you mean 4D in the sense of a succession of instantaneous 3D states or 4D in the sense of a four dimensional cosmology?

    In a succession of 3D states only the present state exists, all past states have ceased to exist (this is ‘presentism’). At any instant nothing can be known because nothing changes. This means that nothing can be known in a universe that is a succession of 3D states. If nothing is known there is no meaning.

    In a true 4D cosmology the past exists.

    Many pundits imagine a spatially 3D universe with an entirely separate time dimension as their model of the universe. In this model (which is not part of any real physical theory) only one event can be at any point in the 4D manifold. so any attempt at understanding how a set of events, like this screen, could be observed simultaneously leads to a regress (a succession of 3D forms in a homuncular mind). Pundits are left trying to explain experience and meaning in terms of the instantaneous 3D forms which leads them to a type of functional presentism akin to the ideal presentism described above.

    The most probable 4D cosmology is the accepted model of our universe where time is a negative dimension which permits many spatially separated objects to be at a 4D point and hence present now. This allows a 4D object to be an ‘observation’ within a 4D manifold of ‘experience’. Such objects contain meaning because they have directed elements that connect earlier with later.

  44. 44. Charles Wolverton says:

    John –

    You reduce every topic to the same narrow question about time. Although I view an action as a continuous time function, and due to my mathematical background have no problem viewing such a function as something addressable as a unity, I can’t imagine why that is relevant to the topic at hand. Which, given my stature, doesn’t count for much, but none of the people I read – all of considerable stature and no strangers to modern science – address that question. Isn’t it at least possible that you are off on a tangent?

  45. 45. Vicente says:

    I sort of have the same suspicion as Charles…

    I admit that I have at the moment a great difficulty to understand how we can handle events spread in time (and space), how the real flow of consciousness works, but I see a very feeble relation with 4D spacetime physics. Considering the distances involved in our daily experience we can take that signals arrive instantaneously, we are not assigning spacetime coordinates to a supernova, or calculating the effect of the Earth gravity on GPS satellites clocks….

  46. 46. John says:

    Charles: “You reduce every topic to the same narrow question about time”

    I ask correspondents to consider what would happen if we tried to interpret concepts like consciousness in terms of the real world. The real world is spatio-temporal and 99% of pundits do not know that fact, or adamantly refuse to accept it, so my introduction of time into a purely spatial way of looking at events is going to seem strange.

    Charles: “Although I view an action as a continuous time function”….”I can’t imagine why that is relevant to the topic at hand”

    You are talking about the “intentions” that Brentano introduced to explain the “aboutness” of consciousness, and yet feel that our understanding of time is irrelevant? Brentano’s intentions are not just linked items in a list, they are about future events, for instance the consciousness surrounding the catching of a ball is not a succession of 3D states such as “arm at position 1″, “arm at position 2″, “clenched fingers” etc. it is the whole action. The meaning of catching a ball is the whole set of events over a period of time, including the motion. The whole idea of intentions is to highlight the fact that consciousness is temporal, a whole set of events over a period of time encapsulated now.

    Brentano wrote before we discovered much about the nature of time and his contemporaries were all either presentists or functional presentists (see my previous post) or dualists. In Brentano’s day (and today for 99% of philosophers) time was accepted as an immutable background. We now know that time is not like that.

    Most people agree that consciousness is not understood. Brentano, Aristotle, Descartes etc. have all pointed out that consciousness must embrace whole periods of time yet, as you say: “none of the people I read – all of considerable stature and no strangers to modern science – address that question”. Is it possible that these factors are related? Is it possible that the widespread application of “functional presentism” (see my last post) is the cause of the failure of philosophers and neuroscientists to get a grip on mind? Functional presentism is believed with a fervour that would make the average Islamic extremist look like a malleable realist. When people like Dennett talk about “reality” what they mean is the shared belief of functional presentism.

    When I challenge philosophers on this belief 90% say that all commonly observed events are the result of interactions in an instantaneous 3D space with an immutable background time. When I point out that magnetism, electromagnetism, kinetic energy and dynamics are due to 4D spacetime there is silence. I sense that philosophers in general are hoping that quantum physics will bail them out of this predicament of using an incorrect theory to analyze the world but anyone nurturing this hope understands nothing at all of quantum physics.

    BTW, which concept of time do you use in your analyses? How do you explain what you so pejoratively name the “specious” present? Are you prepared to describe your experience and then develop

  47. 47. John says:

    ..theories or use theories to deny observation?

    (I dont know why the end of the last post was lost).

  48. 48. Vicente says:

    John, yes, I wonder why Clay used the adjective “specious” (a word with a pejorative connotation)when trying to explain the blurry definition (of extended present) of W James. From then onwards the term has survived in literature…

    Maybe at his time the word had a different meaning or use?

  49. 49. Arnold Trehub says:

    It is interesting to note that while the spatio-temporal autaptic-cell patterns of the extended present in retinoid space are continuous from the present (now) through the “fading” past, representations in the *preconscious* mechanisms for episodic recall are punctate for BEFORE, PRESENT, and AFTER. See *The Cognitive Brain*, Ch. 5, “Accessory Circuits”, pp. 93-97, regarding clock rings and episodic processing, here: http://people.umass.edu/trehub/thecognitivebrain/chapter5.pdf.

  50. 50. Vicente says:

    Arnold, very interesting indeed. Actually, despite I still don’t understand in full detail your “recall ring” model, I was thinking that the fact that autaptic neurons have self feedback loops, entitle them to play a role in “extended present” feeling creation. In a way feedback loops always involve memory… (not just control).

    If ORCH models (Penrose/Hammeroff) are right, the effect of those loops in the unitary neuronal behaviour (at tubule level), could be crucial, for example, to produce the “extended present” feeling, by comparing the present with the inmediate past. This could apply not just to visual perception, but to the overall perception of the dynamics of the scenario we go through. Full experience extended present.

    Maybe is just a crazy idea….

  51. 51. John says:

    Vicente: “to produce the “extended present” feeling, by comparing the present with the inmediate past.”

    Here Vicente has phenomena such as words or movements that are laid out in time then to explain this experience he proposes mechanisms to model the phenomena at an instant. Having got an instantaneous model for a time-extended word can anyone tell us what a word of no duration sounds like?

    The “extended present” is not a “feeling” (if a feeling is a hunch or intuition). Consider the spoken word “hello”. This occurs as a sequence of sounds: “H-E-LL-O”. The sounds are data and they are directed from the past towards the present. Everyone has arrangements of data that span a second or so. This is “conscious experience”, directed and intentional. There is no experience without time extension.

    What is most remarkable is that – apart from the truly great philosophers such as Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz, Weyl, Whitehead – most philosophers and pundits insist that the time in our experience is actually a frozen pattern in 3D and our extension in time is “specious” or a “feeling”. They offer no reason why it cannot truly be an extension in time. These pundits are then utterly confused about how we can see or hear anything!

  52. 52. John says:

    Alex Green was probably right, there is no way that people can accept that dimensional time exists, even though every moving leaf, every passing word and every moment of awareness is events laid out in time. Even though modern physical theory is based on an existent time dimension. Whitehead found the same problem and it is insuperable.

    “The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries accepted as their natural philosophy a certain circle of concepts which were as rigid and definite as those of the philosophy of the middle ages, and were accepted with as little critical research. I will call this natural philosophy ‘materialism.’ Not only were men of science materialists, but also adherents of all schools of philosophy. The idealists only differed from the philosophic materialists on question of the alignment of nature in reference to mind. But no one had any doubt that the philosophy of nature considered in itself was of the type which I have called materialism. It is the philosophy which I have already examined in my two lectures of this course preceding the present one. It can be summarised as the belief that nature is an aggregate of material and that this material exists in some sense at each successive member of a one-dimensional series of extensionless instants of time. Furthermore the mutual relations of the material entities at each instant formed these entities into a spatial configuration in an unbounded space. It would seem that space—on this theory-would be as instantaneous as the instants, and that some explanation is required of the relations between the successive instantaneous spaces. The materialistic theory is however silent on this point; and the succession of instantaneous spaces is tacitly combined into one persistent space. This theory is a purely intellectual rendering of experience which has had the luck to get itself formulated at the dawn of scientific thought. It has dominated the language and the imagination of science since science flourished in Alexandria, with the result that it is now hardly possible to speak without appearing to assume its immediate obviousness.” (Whitehead: Concept of Nature)

  53. 53. Zombies of qualia and intentionality | Evolving Thoughts says:

    […] of qualia and intentionality Peter at Conscious Entities has a nice discussion of the above distinction I hadn’t thought of before (h/t Brandon): p-zombies that lack qualia […]

  54. 54. Arnold Trehub says:

    Consider the “aboutness” of the words we read when we are engrossed in a novel. In the opening passages of Joseph Roth’s “The Radetsky March” there is a description of a fateful act by a young lieutenant at the battle of Solferino. The life of the young Emperor Franz Joseph is saved when the lieutenant grabs the monarch by the shoulders and throws him to the ground, while taking a bullet himself. In reading this, I experience two different kinds of qualia, one kind directly evoked by the printed characters on the page (q1), and the other kind being my vivid internal images of the scene (q2) that are evoked by the words (character strings, q1) I am reading. It is clear that q2 lends meaning to q1. What is common to both kinds of qualia is that they must exist in an extended present and in an egocentric spatio-temporal format within the brain of the reader. Explanation of such qualia, it would seem, depends on formulating a biologically plausible system of mechanisms that can be demonstrated to generate proper analogs of q2 given q1. Is there another way?

  55. 55. Vicente says:

    Arnold,

    I don’t see why you differentiate the visual qualia (phenomenal imaginery) depending on the stimulii. The visual qualia coming from perception (reading the novel), are the same as those present in the imagined scenes (ok, maybe not as intense), or as those in your dreams: q1 = q2.

    Then, the emotional and congnitive processes triggered by the book reading, could rely on a different kind of qualia. These are the ones that lend the meaning.

    IMO a different issue is that the image or sound, or sensation in general, evoked by a written word, could also be a way to help to lend meaning to the symbols, irrespective of the qualia involved. It is the old problem of syntax and semantics.

    If you dream of reading a book… you easily replace perception by imagination, you see: q1 = q2.

  56. 56. John says:

    Arnold: “What is common to both kinds of qualia is that they must exist in an extended present and in an egocentric spatio-temporal format within the brain of the reader.”

    Perhaps Alex was premature in her despair.

    Vicente: “If you dream of reading a book… you easily replace perception by imagination, you see: q1 = q2.”

    What actually happens? If I shut my eyes and imagine the contents of my desk I can weakly imagine the pattern on my coffee cup at the position of the cup and if I reach out I can grasp the cup with only a small error. Clearly perceptual and imaginary space overlap to such a degree that it is probable that they are the same.

    If I look at a purple patch on a paper on my desk then shut my eyes and try to keep this patch of colour in my imagination, when I open my eyes the colour is a fair match.

    When our eyes are open we can also imagine colours. An artist can look at a white sheet of paper and see what he wants to paint imagined, albeit weakly, on the sheet of paper. If I stare at a white sheet of paper for long enough I can just about get a dim smudge of a green tick mark to fleetingly occur which disappears the moment I raise a finger at it (let alone a paint brush). Perhaps if I had spent the past thirty years making artistic marks on paper I might have improved this skill. Again the geometry and content of imagination and perception overlap but for me, at least, this is a very weak effect. If I recall from the distant past, the effect is not weak if hallucinogens are used.

    The geometrical overlap is very clear and beyond reasonable doubt: the imaginary and perceptual occupy the same space. Sensation literally wipes out imagination from this space. Hallucinogens seem to turn off this “wipe out” to a variable degree.

  57. 57. Arnold Trehub says:

    Vicente: “The visual qualia coming from perception (reading the novel) [q1], are the same as those present in the imagined scenes [q2] (ok, maybe not as intense), or as those in your dreams: q1 = q2.”

    Despite the fact that q1 and q2 concurrently occupy the same phenomenal space (retinoid space?), q1 does not equal q2 because q1 has the spatio-temporal form of words on a page in front of the reader, evoked by retinal patterns, whereas q2 has the spatio-temporal form of human interactions in an imagined world, evoked from memory by q1, the exteroceptive visual stimulus. Imagined scenes in dreams can be very intense even though they are evoked by interoceptive stimuli.

  58. 58. Vicente says:

    Arnold,

    q1 has the spatio-temporal form of words on a page in front of the reader, evoked by retinal patterns, whereas q2 has the spatio-temporal form of human interactions in an imagined world, evoked from memory by q1

    I am not sure about that, q1 has the same spacio-temporal form as any other image, only the subsequent cognitive processes interprete the image as words on a book, and even more decode their meaning.

    In fact, I believe one day technology will be able to substitute (prosthesis) those retinal patterns and help many blind.

    IMO, at a very high system and functional level, what happens is that that brain processes information gathered from different internal (interoceptive) and external sources and creates your phenomenal scenario.

    The information sources are transparent for the conscious observer. Actually a person could spend a whole life knowing almost nothing about his body.. his brain… his senses.

    This is the problem of delutions of all kinds… once the phenomenal stage is set up, “you” become an actor in it, with great difficulty to differetiate objective from subjective “elements”, because q1 = q2.

  59. 59. Richard J R Miles says:

    In order to recognise anything from our senses the brain and body must store retrievable information, either learnt by us or built into our evolved state. Not only do we need to know how and where this information is stored, but also the varied speed/spatio-temporal order of storage and retreval essential for communication as John has rightly stressed, much to some peoples annoyance. Even though this involves speeds of up to that of light/electricity, which seems instantaneous over the minute distances involved, some kind of order of interaction needs to be determined for all of these electro chemical processes which occur to make sense. Some are much faster than relaxed conscious normal thought, some are slower. Evolution has accounted for all these nano scale varying speed/spatio-temporal differences, utilizing anything from the quantum to the macro. This is probably why we are able to have what seems to be infinately precise control over our knowledge, thought and movement, or at least some people seem to even if I don’t.

Leave a Reply