The Hard Problem of Consciousness (3'd iteration)

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Yazata, Jul 11, 2012.

  1. SciWriter Valued Senior Member

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  3. SciWriter Valued Senior Member

    All kinds of 'forbidden' thoughts can surface from 'simpleton' areas of the brain.
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  5. Rav Valued Senior Member

    Not a force, because even the forces themselves are mediated by some sort of more fundamental physical activity.

    Not pansychism, because I'm something of a physicalist (tentatively, at least). Until I see someone resolve the problem of causal interaction that is inherent in any suggestion that consciousness is an unphysical phenomenon, I will very likely remain so. However I do think it's highly probable that matter has thus far undiscovered properties that might account for such seemingly mysterious phenomena. You called such a position "promissory materialism" earlier, but I think it's a perfectly justifiable position. In fact I'd even go so far as to say that it's not really forgivable to fail to recognize that we are in the equivalent of 6th century Greece with respect to what we'll likely come to understand about the nature and scope of physicality a few hundred years from now.

    It's more like this: since the 6th century, we've discovered that matter is more than just something that can smack you in the face. We've discovered that it's also something that can go right through your face without you even knowing about it. It's like a mysterious supernatural force, yet it's not. It's matter, and it's just a lot more incredible than some people seem to want to give it credit for, and perhaps it is even more incredible than that.
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2012
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  7. KilljoyKlown Whatever Valued Senior Member

  8. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    That needs some additional argument. An obvious rejoinder is that it seems to suggest an infinite regress: if properties are real, then properties must have properties, and if properties of properties are real...

    What is a "conscious experience"? Part of our difficulty might lie in our natural tendency to reify these supposed things, in other words, to implicitly treat them as if they were phenomenal substances.

    The anti-physicalist conclusions that some people draw from the "hard problem" seem to arise from the idea that some of the contents of conscious experience (like the experience of seeing red) aren't included in physics' inventory of physical reality. So red must therefore be some sort of non-physical being that transcends science. That's what all the talk about "zombies" is about -- it's the assertion that an organism can be identical to us in all the ways specifiable by physical science, but still be devoid of the experience of seeing red and all other mental experiences and/or phenomenal contents. And thus the existence of spiritual reality is demonstrated, and when we recognize that all of our ideas of physics ultimately come from our conscious experience, an idealist ontology is vindicated.

    That's probably true. I have no argument with that. But 'something happening in them at the time' isn't the same idea as the idea of ontologically real non-physical qualia existing somehow/somewhere, complete with their own properties.

    Right. I think that's correct and it's probably the best way to approach the problem, in my opinion.

    I'd be one of them, I guess. (I call myself a "physicalist" though, rather than a "materialist".) But I'm not assuming that "experience" arises ex-nihilo. I'm denying that "experience" is a substance, a kind of thing, a sort of stuff. In my opinion its something that happens, it's an activity, a process, an complex collection of events. Hence, the place to look for the answers isn't in an expanded non-physicalist ontology, but rather in a cognitive science that seeks to understand the data processing that occurs in human and other brains, and potentially in all variety of formally similar systems (like robots).

    Epiphenomenalism still seems to be treating "conscious experience" ontologically, as a mysterious non-physical stuff. In epiphenomenalism's case, the imagined stuff of conscious experience is just kind of released like smoke from a chimney, with no causal effect on the underlying physical neurological events that generated it and that actually moves the body. Hence the plausibility of "zombies", meat-puppets that still have all the physical processes going on, but aren't releasing the supposed causally-impotent subjective consciousness gas.

    My own philosophical belief is that as we better understand the function of our internal perceptual states in our cognition and behavior, we'll see that they aren't causally impotent at all.

    Assuming that this world of physics includes systems that behave as human nervous systems do, then I don't see any reason to think that if we duplicate all the behaviors found in ourselves, we wouldn't have duplicated consciousness too. That's because I'm thinking of consciousness as the data-processing behavior of physical systems, their responsivity to their environments (including themselves in the environment) and their ability to process information about it. I'm not implicitly assuming that consciusness must be a different kind of non-physical stuff parked alongside the physical stuff.

    In other words, the plausibility of the "zombie" epiphenomenalist objection seems to depend on how we initially conceive of consciousness, on the ontological spin that we initially give it.

    Apparently I disagree with Chalmers and am more in tune with Dennett, I guess.

    In my opinion, if a system is able to react to its external and internal environment in the complex ways that we are, then it wouldn't be a zombie. So I don't believe that these hypothetical zombies are even possible.

    Why would they have to be lying? Why not say that some complex physical data-processing systems can not only respond to different wavelengths of light, but can also recognize their own response to that wavelength on different occasions? It seems to me that pretty much anything that we can say about the color red is consistent with that. We can start to explain how it is that the system acquires the information, why it's visual information (as opposed to tactual or verbal-conceptual), how different instances of that particular wavelength are recognized as the same color and as visually distinguishable from different colors, why our visual experience is a field in which colors occupy geometrical areas, why it seems to us that we can't fully translate these introspectible visual states into verbal-cognitive representations, and so on.

    We shouldn't be denying experience and trying to make it go away, we should be trying to properly understand it. My belief is that much of our difficulty comes from trying to imagine events like the experience of red as if red was a kind of mysterious non-physical substance, and not just information (whether true or false) that our physical body possesses about its external or internal environment. There's no more need to deny or eliminate our human experience than there is to deny or eliminate all the files on a computer's hard-drive. The files are still real, and still very much a part of physical reality, despite the fact that if we take the drive apart and poke around inside it, all we're going to physically find in there is a bunch of magnetic domains.
  9. SciWriter Valued Senior Member

    Our senses contact some of the the external reality out there directly, such as the visual spectrum, but we don’t view it directly, since further processing must take place to represent it, which even adds to it by painting a more useful face upon it, such as ‘red’ in place of a jumble of waves of a certain frequency, and the filling in of the conception of the tomato’s rear, unseen portion.

    So, the actual territory out there has become a map, internally, with improvements made for readability. Since ‘internally’ is all there is for us, that map is our territory, one-to-one, and so the brain perceives itself, as kind of a sixth sense, but this sensing level is one that we can see directly, as it is already in our internal ‘brain language.’

    Let us also remember that consciousness has been localized to a brain process, which gets rids of any woo-woo options.
  10. Gustav Banned Banned


    my state of the art nikon is refusing to represent red anymore
    it appears to have been traumatized after a particularly gory scene i snapped
    it runs hot and fuzzes red to pink

    i shall trade in for a macho canon

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  11. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    The "conscious" modifier I suppose adds the element of cognition, of experience containing within itself some content (a language-expressed thought, for instance) that provides apprehension or acknowledgement of there being phenomenal presentations transpiring. It's beyond me why philosophers want to clobber-up experience, what is simple and basic (here are personal thoughts, here are exhibitions of a world, here are sensations of a body, here are dreams and imaginings, here is the evidence of anything at all), by muddling it up with jabber over qualia and other distractions / detours.

    In regard to action, is there an overarching or nested level of the brain where one could find the components (or even forces like electromagnetism) engaging in an activity of outwardly / publicly be-ing like the appearance of Jane's thoughts or Jane's perceptions or Jane's dreams? For instance, there's a POV and an understanding of, where the activity of pixels on a TV screen can resemble an episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" (which would elude some animals who perceived nothing but meaningless flashing bits on the device). But is there a level or POV where brain activity resembles the city park, the noise of a heavy metal band, the odor of violets, the feel of silk, etc? Could we be referring here to matter additionally having internal states or intrinsic appearances, a proposition of philosophy that is surely science fiction in physics (currently)? That is, it sounds nice that there is some "hidden dimension" where collective activity of brain components finally has the appearance of thoughts and perceptions, but a question is can that become a scientific fact?

    Or should I instead be considering that you are disembodying action -- for instance, like literally regarding "flying" as hovering independently of the entity or entities engaging in it? That is, experience as an activity is not constituted of physical components from any level of examination? You probably did hit the nail somewhat on the head with "collection of events", in that a goose flying is a sequence of all the changes of the goose's body through time. "Flying" is then revealed as a generalization or symbolic summary of those changes happening to the bird's body, and a kind of classification for the way the bird (or whatever) is modified and successively re-located in space through a particular medium (air). "Action" is accordingly an empty generic concept, with whatever specific empirical content (like a goose changing in a way called flying) extracted away to produce that abstract placeholder or general idea.

    But in light of this, how could action as disembodied be the case in a physical world -- that is, how can it be other than the physical entities themselves changing in shape, changing as a collective arrangement, changing as location in space, etc? To say that experience is "something that happens, it's an activity, a process" is to say that it is indeed "some-thing(s)" engaging in action, the sequence of that entity or those entities changing over time, and thus we're right back to seeking an explanation for how a configuration of brain/body components resembles Jane's thoughts, perceptions, and dreams as they change over time. Really, there's also a much deeper issue: How any of the items mentioned are suddenly "present" or manifested when they're normally absent in the nothingness of non-consciousness (post-death, pre-life); that is, not just an issue of how a brain can have two radically different appearances as manifested from rival POVs (being the brain/body itself or observing/researching another brain/body) when phenomenal consciousness is the case.

    I tend more and more to consider disembodied approaches to be just that: They are useful abstract systems formulated/invented and superimposed imaginatively over the concrete entities or organizations that one would think should actually be the causal or potent agencies in physicalism. Somewhere along the way people find the disembodied frameworks so useful that they start reifying them, a kind of blending of an intelligible world with a physical world. I probably need to provide what's below to clarify:

    George Lakoff (snipped from interview): Early cognitive science, what we call 'first-generation' cognitive science (or 'disembodied cognitive science'), was designed to fit a formalist version of Anglo-American philosophy. That is, it had philosophical assumptions that the determined important parts of the content of the scientific "results." Back in the late 1950's, Hilary Putnam (a noted and very gifted philosopher) formulated a philosophical position called "functionalism." (Incidentally, he has since renounced that position.) It was an apriori philosophical position, not based on any evidence whatever. The proposal was this: The mind can be studied in terms of its cognitive functions - that is, in terms of the operations it performs - independently of the brain and body.[...]

    From this perspective [functionalism, generative linguistics, AI, information processing, etc] the brain could only be a means to implement abstract 'mind' - wetware on which the 'programs of the mind' happened to be implementable. Mind on this view does not arise from and is not shaped by the brain. Mind is a disembodied abstraction that our brains happen to be able to implement. These were not empirical results, but rather followed from philosophical assumptions.

    In the mid-1970's, cognitive science was finally given a name and outfitted with a society and a journal. The people who formed the field accepted the symbol-manipulation paradigm. I was originally one of them (on the basis of my early work on generative semantics) and gave one of the invited inaugural lectures at the first meeting of the Cognitive Science Society. But just around the time that the field officially was recognized and organized around the symbol-manipulation paradigm, empirical results started coming in calling the paradigm itself into question.

    This startling collection of results pointed toward the idea that mind was not disembodied - not characterizable in terms of the manipulation of meaningless symbols independent of the brain and body, that is, independent of the sensory-motor system and our functioning in the world. Mind instead is embodied, not in the trivial sense of being implementable in a brain, but in the crucial sense that conceptual structure and the mechanisms of reason arise ultimately and are shaped by from the sensory-motor system of the brain and body.

    JB: Can you prove it?

    LAKOFF: There is a huge body of work supporting this view....

    ("PHILOSOPHY IN THE FLESH" - A Talk with George Lakoff; EDGE.ORG 51— March 9, 1999)
  12. wellwisher Banned Banned

    The human brain is a frontier that cannot be investigated using the current scientific method, as is. The reason is the phenomena in question needs to be directly experiences, within, and can't be fully seen from the outside, in the third person. We can investigate physical reality, in the third person, through our sensory systems. This allows repeatable observations, which others can see and confirm. But the hidden dimension of the mind, can only be experienced, directly, in the first person. It needs a new breed of scientists who are willing to become both the experiment and scientists, at the same time.

    Let me give you an example. If I had a dream, I can experience many details. If I am fully conscious in my dream, when I awaken, I can write down all the details. This is the first person. Although my written analysis may be honest and true, there is no way to prove this to someone who is watching me in the third person. Even if it was truth, it is not provable in the third person, therefore the cynic can deny it. I cannot reproduce this experience in all its detail, since dreams do not work that way. It is not the phenomena that is unprovable, but rather the normal third person approach of science, is not up to the task, since this new frontier requires a first person approach.

    A good example is back pain. Many people suffer from back pain while many people use this excuse as a ways to get drugs like pain killers. From the third person you can't always tells one from the other. The only real way would be in the first person, if you could crawl into the experience and experience the pain or no pain directly. In the third person it is easy to be cynical and easy to be fooled. Based on that we develop theory but never use first person data. This is approach is not up to the task for investigation the hidden other, since it is subtle even in the first person.

    This is why I said the stereo vision of consciousness has a science patch on one eye. That hidden eye cannot be investigated in the third person and therefore it cannot be proven by science to actually exist; we place a patch on it. We lose the depth perception and therefore cannot agree of any consensus definition of consciousness. In our privacy, we can use first person. We can look without the patch, but you can't publically say anything other than the patched eye approach is lacking. To say the eye can see under the patch is taboo because third person says so.
  13. Gustav Banned Banned

    this third person seems mysterious
    why is there something speculating about me?
    why do i wonder whether i am a programed entity or one with agency?
  14. SciWriter Valued Senior Member

    It seems that we must do as we must, although that can change from learning, to a new 'must', but at least one based on a wider range of information, At first, we may not like this state of affairs, but then the other shoe drops, for the alternative (that isn't) would be to have our thoughts and actions not depend on anything at all, and so then we come more to 'like' how it really is, although only in that that's how it has to be. The determinism inherent in the states beneath doesn't carry on up into the felt state of being. Introspection doesn't reveal it. We only know of it from the externals of science. Relying only on internals for knowledge has its limits.
  15. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Information about the things that we experience in the surrounding physical world enters our neurophysiological system (another part of the same physical world) through our various senses. But "resembles" might not be precisely the right word to describe the form it takes in there. I think of it as analogous to storing a photograph on a computer drive. The information is present, even if the little magnetic domains that store the information wouldn't look to our eyes like the original scene. The states and behaviors of neural networks don't look like colors or sound like music either.

    Approaching this in "point of view" terms might not be a good idea. It kind of suggests that there's a little person (the "homunculus" its sometimes called) riding around inside each of our heads (our soul, in effect) that looks at our perceptions, thoughts, feelings and ideas displayed on some kind of interior TV-monitor, much as we look at things in the physical world with our physical eyes. (Except that the soul perceives mental contents directly, with no intervening causal processes.)

    My own belief is that there isn't any little person riding around inside our heads and there isn't any interior TV-monitor for it to look at, if there was.

    That's the view that I'm arguing against. It's a conclusion that some people do try to draw from the "hard problem" though. Namely that conscious experience is fundamentally irreducible to and unexplainable in terns of physical science and ontology. And since all of our knowledge and awareness of the physical world is by means of our minds, this additional spiritual reality must have epistemic and ontological priority over physical reality. So if there's any reduction to be done, it's the idealistic reduction of the physical to the spiritual.

    "Disembodied" isn't my idea. In my view (I'm using that word figuratively, not literally) the physical substrate of human information processing would be the behavior of neural networks. The physical substrate of computer information processing would be rapidly changing electronic states in silicon chips.

    That sounds like the idea that if we are consciously aware of the color violet, then by God there must be something inside our heads that's colored VIOLET. But neurosurgeons could pull our brains apart cell by cell, and they aren't going to find it.

    Consider what we can say in words about our senses. I don't think that there's a whole lot of problem understanding the neurophysiological differences between visual, auditory or tactual experiences, how they are associated with different sense receptors, how organisms can distinguish between different sensory modalities and so on. We can describe features of experiences, such as the geometry of the visual field. We can characterize colors or musical tones as variables in the light and sound information, easily recognizable from instance to instance.

    This is basically the 'Mary black-and-white' thought-experiment situation, in which scientist Mary becomes the world's greatest authority on visual perception, despite her own total color-blindness, her not being able to perceive any colors at all. So despite her full scientific knowledge of the subject of color vision and her ability to expound on it for hours, what is she still missing?

    One proposed answer is that she's lacking some ontological being, some essence of color, located somewhere inside her head.

    Another reply might be that what Mary still lacks isn't some mysterious quale at all. What she lacks is the ability to perform the necessary physical acts that we call color vision: sensing, discriminating and being aware that she is visually aware of (as opposed to verbally-conceptually talking about) different wavelengths of light.

    Arguably, all that there might really be to red or blue or green is that they are values of visual variables that people can effortlessly recognize in their vision from one instance to another. Color might not possess any more information content than that.
  16. Ostronomos Banned Banned

    Qualia are one.
  17. Gustav Banned Banned

    sock says what?

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  18. SciWriter Valued Senior Member

    Says "Qualia are one."

    We'd better write it down as a great wisdom: "A quale is one". Dan Quayle is another.
  19. wesmorris Nerd Overlord - we(s):1 of N Valued Senior Member

    That you mention "spiritualists" in the OP set me back to the thought that these people are necessarily retarded. LOL. Also that I'm an insensitive dick half the time. Okay but really, there can't be a "supernatural". There's just "what's natural". Obviously, it's kind of hard to completely say, but if it IS - it's part of nature and as such, natural. For realz. How is it that even a real term "spiritual". So dumb.

    Also, gustav is a programmed entity.

    Good topic though, pardon my random. Haven't stopped by in forever and too many thoughts at one time to sort, all throttled seriously by the assumption from experience that every sci thread is ultimately impossible to really discuss anything, mostly a fault of the medium.

    I have the impression i used to make this topic my bitch, followed by the notion that is probably actually backwards.
  20. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    What do you hope to accomplish by answering this question?

    (This is a serious question.)
  21. Ostronomos Banned Banned


    Qualia are spiritual.
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2012
  22. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    The "visual scene" would be dependent upon the POV it was captured from, the focusing capabilities of what receives, and whether or not what receives the visible range of EM patterns has the ability to understand or interpret what it received as anything whatsoever (ergo, rocks and dead bodies wallow in nothingness, minus even that concept, despite absorbing environmental energies). Enough feet away and the TV screen becomes a blurry glow without details, in terms of limited human vision. Also lacking any chance of being construed as an episode of some show, in the other direction, if one could be shrunk to tiny bug-size and crawling on the screen itself, lacking the distance and perspective for allowing the pixels to be represented as integrated together. "What something is" as an experience is supplied by the conscious agents and their relation in the environment to what they're perceiving (this concerning extrospection, not introspection of one's thoughts).

    Which takes us back again to the how problems: How does the addition of memory and processes that philosophy would traditionally subsume under "understanding" or "intellection" result in experience? Cognition can't provide awareness of changing electrochemical structures having an appearance as images, sounds, odors, etc, if changing electrochemical relationships (anywhere in the universe) have no appearance to begin with (anti-panexperientialism talking here; death being a return to not even nothingness, what matter normally is to itself). Not to mention the circularity of some of the changing electrochemical organizations themselves also being the cognition.

    Non sequitur, or I don't understand why you'd be invoking / referring to something like that at all. A tree is seen rather than an organized community of cells because it's viewed by an interpreting observer at a higher nested level and POV (not at the level of the cells), with the observer's reception equipment also lacking the necessary magnification abilities for acquiring details of smaller scales. The spatial relation that's part that perspective is external (in physicalism), between one matter object and another, not in the observer's head. The experience of this as a visual image is tied to that: "George is like a hairy circle with bumps on the side because we're viewing his body from directly above him". Barring drug-induced or medical condition hallucinations modifying the image.

    Obviously there are specialized areas of the brain, dealing with perception, receiving signals from other other specialized areas (as well as transmitting them), which somewhere in the chain received them from the eyes or other sensory tissues. Disparagingly calling them "homunculi" instead of processing modules or whatever is not going to alter that. Whether or not there is a "Matryoshka doll" vertical situation of one receiver within another is another matter (in physicalism, in the end, one would seem to eventually have to stop with individual atoms dealing with electromagnetic influences).

    Then physical entities / forces and their available properties ultimately have to account for what they produce (experience, in this instance). Not shift responsibility to invented formal systems or an ex nihilo explanation, when a need for precursors is discarded.

    I agree, but pointing that out is what gives physicalism part of its difficulty or challenge to begin with. To wit: "The odor of lilacs (as that) can't be found anywhere in my head or even as a characteristic of the molecules that entered my nose. But I still believe in it." Or maybe we shouldn't? The latter seems to be the solution (albeit popularly derided as "insane") if many alternatives bordering on science fiction continue to be offered as explanations, i.e.: "There is no manifested content to our thoughts and perceptions. We simply talk and write like there is, even though we then lack empirical evidence that we're talking and writing."

    We can assign words to mythical or fictional beings, with some large groups even arriving at a consensus or interpersonal agreement that they shared and "felt the presence of God" at the same time. How does being able to assign words to experiential properties explain their origin in terms of physical entities and forces that lack any appearance as they normally exist (anti-panexperientialism)? An alternative subject: "The rain is coming down. It's wet and noisy, etc. This description explains rain as much as a physicalist needs to know." Either carries what I would consider a potentially offensive suggestion: "Some physicalists are easily sated in terms of curiosity. Just throw them a convenient bone."
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2012
  23. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    "But the hidden dimension of the mind, can only be experienced, directly, in the first person. It needs a new breed of scientists...". There are critics who contend that an investigation from "first person" isn't legitimate science, or even researching properties classed as "first person" itself is folly. Daniel Dennet was once one of those, though that might have changed. Science fiction usually does depend upon the future for its projects to "come true", though the writers cheat occasionally by anachronistically placing such in their own eras - Jules Verne having moon trips, flying machines, submarines, etc., in the 19th century. Somebody in the past surely also speculated about a cure for some infectious disease, without any knowledge of microorganisms existing at the time for being the eventual cause. Tomorrow always awaits as a possible rescuer for a current, insightful few who get sorted to that larger group labeled "crackpots".

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