Mar 23 2010

The Global Workspace – Consciousness Explained?

As neuroscientists continue to build a more accurate and sophisticated model of the human brain, finding the neurological correlate of conscious awareness remains a tough nut to crack. The difficulty stems partly from the fact that consciousness is likely not localized in any one specific brain region.

But as our technology advances and we are able to look at brain function in real time and in greater detail, researchers are starting to zero in on the hardwiring that produces consciousness.

In this context, consciousness is operationally defined as being aware of sensory stimulation, as opposed to just being awake. We are not conscious of everything we see and hear, nor of all of the information processing occurring in our own brains. We are aware of only a small subset of input and processing, which is woven together into a continuous and seamless narrative that we experience.

The New Scientist has a good review of this topic – in which they discuss the work of Bernard Baars who proposed in 1987 the “global workspace theory.” Essentially, he hypothesized that conscious awareness stems from a discrete network of neurons that are widely distributed throughout the cortex. This networks receives input from the various sensory regions of the brain and puts it all together – filtering out any contradictory or unnecessary information to create one unified picture of reality in a continuous stream that we experience.

According to this model sensory input that gets filtered out of the global workplace remains subconscious, as is any processing that occurs in other parts of the brain but is filtered or not presented to the global workplace.

Baars also proposes that the global workspace can explain the dichotomy between the slow serial functioning of the conscious brain and the fast parallel processing of the brain as a whole. He writes in his book on the topic:

The difference is, of course, that most psychologists work with the limited capacity component of the nervous system, which is associated with consciousness and voluntary control, while neuroscientists work with the “wetware” of the nervous system, enormous in size and complexity, and unconscious in its detailed functioning. But what is the meaning of this dichotomy? How does a serial, slow, and relatively awkward level of functioning emerge from a system that is enormous in size, relatively fast-acting, efficient, and parallel? That is the key question.

The global workspace seemed like a reasonable hypothesis from the point of view of explaining existing observations and data, but there wasn’t a way to really test it, and so it remained in science limbo. Until recently, that is, when the new tools of neuroscience enabled neuroscientists to look at brain function to find the potential correlates of the global workspace.

A team of researcher led by Stanislas Dehaene of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, beginning in 2005, looked at a phenomenon known as inattention blindness. (For a fun demonstration of this, take a look at Richard Wiseman’s Color Changing Card Trick.) Basically, inattention (or inattentional) blindness occurs when we fail to notice something which is right in front of us. The information simply does not become part of our stream of consciousness. This seemed like a good opportunity to test the global workspace theory.

In the study they presented subjects with two streams of four letters. In some cases the subjects had to answer a question after the first stream, which distracted them and caused them to miss the second stream of letters.  In other cases they perceived both streams of letters.

In both cases for 270 milliseconds the streams of letters resulted in the same neuronal activity (as measured by a 128 lead EEG). In the case when the subjects perceived the second string this initial activity was followed by a synchronized burst of activity in parts of the brain (frontal and parietal lobes) thought to be part of the global workplace. In cases where the subjects did not consciously perceive the letters there was no such activity – the neurons quieted down after 270 milliseconds.

What this could mean is that the initial 270 milliseconds of activity represents the subconscious processing in the visual and visual association cortex, while the next phase of activity is conscious awareness of that stimulus by the global workspace. This experiment has been replicated with implanted electrodes as well.

So it seems there is about a 300 millisecond delay from perception to conscious awareness, and those stimuli we are consciously aware of result in activation of a distributed network of neurons, while those we are not aware of do not result in such activation. So far so good for the global workspace.

However, just being awake should result from some basic level of activity in any consciousness network. In fact, this is what researchers have found – the default mode network (DMN) is the baseline activity in the network thought to be part of the global workspace.

Steven Laureys (yes, the same Steven Laureys from facilitated communication infamy) hypothesized that if the DMN is part of the brain function that causes consciousness then we would expect the level of activity in the DMN to be greatest among healthy controls and those who are locked in (conscious but paralyzed), decreased in those with minimally conscious state, and decreased further in those in a vegetative state. That is in fact what he found when he studied 14 patients with disorders of consciousness and 14 healthy controls.

This is a fascinating area of research which seems to be progressing nicely. Although the results should be considered preliminary, it is not surprising that researchers are finding that brain activity correlates with levels of consciousness and awareness. The global workspace and the brain regions now associated with it are a good candidate for the neural substrate of consciousness.

The obvious clinical application is an improved ability to diagnose by direct functional brain scanning which unresponsive patients are conscious and which have impaired consciousness, and to what degree. This could also lead to an important criterion for prognosis – who is likely to recover and who will not.

But the basic neuroscience advance is interesting in its own right. Understanding why certain brain processes are conscious and others are not will take us a long way to building a model of overall brain function.

Share

161 responses so far

161 Responses to “The Global Workspace – Consciousness Explained?”

  1. johncon 23 Mar 2010 at 11:58 am

    Fantastic post, this is kind of stuff I’m bookmarking. I wasn’t aware of the global workspace theory.

    Finding the neurological correlate of consciousness is one step to creating a digital one, methinks. I don’t think it’ll be long after this part of the puzzle is cracked that we see some incredible advances in ‘artificial’ intelligence.

  2. daedalus2uon 23 Mar 2010 at 2:03 pm

    My suspicion is that consciousness is actually an illusion, a result of the HAAD mentioned in the earlier post. Certainly there is not a “thing” that is called “consciousness” that persists unchanged over an individual’s lifetime.

    If consciousness is an illusion, then we might be able to create that illusion in AI, but that may just be another example of HAAD. We already have many individuals who attribute agency to mechanical things, and many who do not. I am not sure that there is any way to actually test for consciousness.

  3. petrossaon 23 Mar 2010 at 2:44 pm

    This gives rise to the thesis that ‘our’ consciousness is just along for the ride. Although ‘we’ can plan and act accordingly, when it comes to real-time environmental interaction its our other consciousness which calls the shots.

    This has far reaching consequences for the premise of ‘free will’. Who has the free will, which consciousness we hold accountable. Or do we just hold the one accountable which can make itself heard even though in reality that consciousness actually hasn’t a clue why his body did what it did and has to concoct an explanation itself.

    Excerpt from a little thought i wrote
    http://www.neowin.net/forum/blog/316/entry-3140-free-will-does-it-exist/

  4. bluskoolon 23 Mar 2010 at 3:43 pm

    Have their been any studies looking at DMN in subjects who are sleeping? If so, is the level of activity decreased like it is in patients in a PVS or a minimally conscious state?

  5. artfulDon 23 Mar 2010 at 3:43 pm

    “We are not conscious of everything we see and hear, nor of all of the information processing occurring in our own brains. We are aware of only a small subset of input and processing, which is woven together into a continuous and seamless narrative that we experience.”

    Shouldn’t that last be, “we are ‘conscious’ of only a small subset of input, etc.” – because we can be aware yet not consciously so, yet can’t be conscious without being aware of that consciousness.

    Otherwise an unusually good post.

  6. Rob Heberton 23 Mar 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Great stuff. This is the kind of research that gets me very excited about future developments.

  7. bluskoolon 23 Mar 2010 at 8:53 pm

    My suspicion is that consciousness is actually an illusion, a result of the HAAD mentioned in the earlier post.

    How could consciousness be an illusion? In order for an illusion to happen, there has to be something to experience the illusion. If our conscious is an illusion, what is perceiving that illusion?

  8. tmac57on 23 Mar 2010 at 9:54 pm

    How does memory play a part in all of this? I am reminded of cases of patients with brain damage that have very brief, short term memory, and forget everything that just happened to them within a few moments. They were conscious enough to meet someone ‘new’ to them, and have a conversation, but could literally turn their backs on them and forget that they just met (loss of consciousness?). Their long term memories enable them to function as a conscious person, but, do they have defective ‘workspaces’, or are they just unable to move ‘new files’ from their workspace into long term memory because of some other deficit?

  9. Yoinkel Finkelblatton 24 Mar 2010 at 1:36 am

    This is pretty far from explaining consciousness, at least pretty far from describing the mechanism for the generation of mental phenomena — i.e. the hard problem. That our experience can be correlated perfectly to a neurological substrate is useful from a clinical standpoint, but we can’t take for granted that this is a complete accounting of a mechanism. I’m not entirely sure that there isn’t something more fundamental that we are missing in our accounting of consciousness, an electromagnetic or field component. To be fair, we have no evidence or outstanding need in the literature to call for such evidence, but our understanding of real time in vivo functionality of neural microcircuitry is far from complete and I think we need a deeper humility about this topic all around. The brain is the most complex thing we have ever encountered in the universe, we need to be clear that we don’t even begin to understand all the rules of the game it is playing.

  10. BillyJoe7on 24 Mar 2010 at 5:37 am

    “Their long term memories enable them to function as a conscious person, but, do they have defective ‘workspaces’, or are they just unable to move ‘new files’ from their workspace into long term memory because of some other deficit?”

    My understanding is that it is the latter.

  11. BillyJoe7on 24 Mar 2010 at 5:47 am

    buskool,

    “How could consciousness be an illusion? In order for an illusion to happen, there has to be something to experience the illusion. If our conscious is an illusion, what is perceiving that illusion?”

    “Consciousness” is an illusion like the “self” is an illusion.
    This pretty well has to be the case if we are going to stick with the scientific/materialist assumption.
    “Consciousness” and “self” arise out of the function of the brain. To speak of something or someone doing the experiencing is to invoke dualism – mind and spirit, or mind and soul – and this is a philosophy without an evidential base.
    To speak of “my brain” is an understandable error. “You” don’t have a brain, there is just a brain that produces the illusion of “you”.

    So, are you a materialist or a dualist?

  12. bluskoolon 24 Mar 2010 at 8:13 am

    Materialist.
    You only said that it has to be an illusion for materialism to be true, but I disagree. You said that to speak of something or someone experiencing is to invoke dualism. This is not so. The brain is something. The sum total of your genes, hormones, neurons, etc. and their interactions with their environment is someone.
    Yes, the brain produces consciousness, but it isn’t an illusion – it actually is something that happens. The conscious experiences illusions (magic tricks, 3d movies, etc…), so I don’t see how it could be an illusion. How can an illusion experience an illusion?

  13. davidsmithon 24 Mar 2010 at 1:18 pm

    So called neuroscientific theories of conscious experience always get so far and then, suddenly, erm, well, distributed brain activity, recurrent loops or whatever neurodynamic description happens to be flavour of the month creates an experience.

    How exactly does this happen?

    Can someone follow me through the steps from neurodynamics to conscious experience in easy to understand language? I’ll put a bet down that we’ll only get so far as a description of neurodynamics every time. Does neuroscience simply ignore the philosophical problems associated with a physicalist approach to conscious experience, or does it carry on with the hope that such problems might just magically go away?

  14. M. Davieson 24 Mar 2010 at 1:38 pm

    @davidsmith

    Some (vulgar) physicalist approaches simply say ‘neurodynamics is consciousness’ or ‘where there is neurodynamics of sort X, there is consciousness’.

    However, I am not sure that approach resolves the problem of subjective experience, that is, if you ask someone ‘are you aware of your experience’ and you get the answer ‘yes I am, I know what it is like to experience things’, how do you know whether that is a report of internal states or whether it is a mechanism which works as follows: ‘when prompted about your self-awareness, assert that you have it, whether you do or not’. To put it another way, how do you differentiate an entity which ‘actually sees red’ from one which checks stimulus input and says ‘it appears I am seeing red’.

    I am more inclined to think that BillyJoe7 is on to something and that ‘consciousness’ as a placeholder for all sorts of things, and semantically might lead us astray. Also, the invoking of consciousness has more to do with ethical issues than epistemological ones (I say extremely provisionally).

  15. M. Davieson 24 Mar 2010 at 1:42 pm

    (to clarify, not all physicalist approaches are vulgar, i.e. unsophisticated or superficial; but the one I provided above certainly is)

  16. davidsmithon 24 Mar 2010 at 2:08 pm

    “However, I am not sure that approach resolves the problem of subjective experience, that is, if you ask someone ‘are you aware of your experience’ and you get the answer ‘yes I am, I know what it is like to experience things’, how do you know whether that is a report of internal states or whether it is a mechanism which works as follows: ‘when prompted about your self-awareness, assert that you have it, whether you do or not’. To put it another way, how do you differentiate an entity which ‘actually sees red’ from one which checks stimulus input and says ‘it appears I am seeing red’.”

    That appears to be more of a description of the observational problems associated with assuming that a third person perspective is distinct from first person subjective experience, rather than a problem of subjective experience itself. Either way, why is that relevant? Just refer to your own subjective experience and compare that with how physical explanations are constructed. I can’t fail to see how the latter is totally incapable of explaining the former no matter how sophisticated the neurodynamic description.

    With regards to type-identity theories, they seem like just-so stories. The two sides of the equation refer to totally different properties, one is physical description the other is subjective experience. It’s certainly ‘simple’ in terms of philisophical content but it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

  17. M. Davieson 24 Mar 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Um, I’m agreeing with you?

  18. davidsmithon 24 Mar 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Oh right! When I was reading your reply I wasn’t sure. In the bit I quoted, I thought you were saying that it’s the job of neuroscience to provide a description of the differences between neurodynamic processes associated with conscious experience and those that aren’t, without the need to provide an account of how neurodynamics produce conscious experience in the first place. Sorry if I misunderstood.

  19. BillyJoe7on 24 Mar 2010 at 4:45 pm

    bluskool

    “The brain is something.”

    Agreed.

    “The sum total of your genes, hormones, neurons, etc. and their interactions with their environment is someone.”

    In common parlance, what you said above no one would argue with. However, strictly, in a scientific/materialist sense it is false. Here is the translation in materialist terms:
    “The sum total of the body’s genes, hormones, neurons, etc. and their interactions with their environment produces, through its brain, an illusion called “you”.”

    “Yes, the brain produces consciousness, but it isn’t an illusion – it actually is something that happens.”

    Illusions are not nothing.
    If you look at the checkerboard illusion:
    http://www.123opticalillusions.com/pages/opticalillusions40.php
    The squares A and B do look different – almost as different as black and white – but in actual fact they are identical. This is an illusion, but would you say this doesn’t exist? The illusion of “self” is as convincing, even more so.

    “How can an illusion experience an illusion?”

    It doesn’t. The brain of that body we referred to above produces that illusion, just like the juxtaposition of pixels in that checkerboard produces the illusion that those squares are identical.

  20. Charles Won 24 Mar 2010 at 8:29 pm

    “how do you differentiate an entity which ‘actually sees red’ from one which checks stimulus input and says ‘it appears I am seeing red’.”

    This is the topic of Chapter II of Rorty’s “Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature”. The latter entity he calls an “Antipodean”, an entity which knows all about it’s own neurology; as opposed to “Terrans” – ie, us – who don’t. I’m on reading number one and don’t anticipate being competent to elaborate until reading number 3 or 4, if ever; so if interested, you’re on your own for now.

    In the meantime, something to mull over: literally “seeing red” presumably amounts to nothing more than excitation of specific neurons in specific modes. But our “experience” of “seeing red” is a “mental image” of something that “looks red”. So, why do we need that mental image, and who/what is “viewing” it? Translated into Dennett’s lingo, why do we create a virtual Cartesian theater and a virtual entity (the self?) sitting in it “watching the show”?

    I have some vague notions of answers but I’d be interested in others’ takes on that question.

    Also, for those interested in current concepts of consciousness, try Susan Blackmore’s “Conversations on Consciousness”, a collection of interviews with twenty leading researchers on consciousness. Not much depth, but a good overview for those – like me – newly interested in the topic.

  21. M. Davieson 24 Mar 2010 at 8:47 pm

    Ha! I was thinking of Rorty’s PMN when I wrote that comment. It’s well worth any time you devote to it, so enjoy.

    I find ‘The Nature of Consciousness: Philosophical Debates’ by Block, Flanagan, and Güzeldere to be an excellent anthology for the experienced reader. It’s from 1997 but it has the major works in it.

  22. BillyJoe7on 24 Mar 2010 at 11:18 pm

    Charles:

    ” Translated into Dennett’s lingo, why do we create a virtual Cartesian theater and a virtual entity (the self?) sitting in it “watching the show”?”

    “We” don’t.
    The brain does.
    Why does the brain create the illusion of a self sitting in a theatre?

    Presumably so that the genes which are the blueprint for the brain that creates this illusion have a better chance of surviving into the next generation. At least that was the reason throughout most of evolutionary history.

    Presumably, genes which produce a brain which produce a “self” do better than those that produce a zombie brain.
    Maybe, put in this way, it’s not so hard to see why.

  23. Charles Won 25 Mar 2010 at 10:19 am

    BJ7 -

    My question was specifically with respect to the next step: the optical neuronal “data” are there and the brain is ready to “process” that data. The processing has evolved to be such that our experience is of watching a movie of the outside world. Why?

    For example, take a simple scenario. A person is facing a white wall with a small black circle painted on it. The objective is to touch the circle with a finger. In principle, the brain could simply take the optical neuronal data, do the appropriate geometrical “calculations” to locate the circle relative to the body, determine the appropriate motor neuronal excitations to move the finger, and execute them. But in addition there is a mental image of the wall and the circle as viewed by a virtual self. Why? Ie, what evolutionary benefits accrue from that extra processing?

    The “vague notion” to which I alluded is that since everything necessary to create the virtual Cartesian theater is in place, even a subtle benefit from doing so might be sufficient evolutionary motivation. For example, in principle, a person with the relevant skills could “consciously” do the geometric computations; but no one does. In a sense, we just start moving the arm-hand-finger complement, “watch” what happens, and correct. So, perhaps the visualization helps in the predictive aspects of the resulting servomechanism.

    I was soliciting ideas among those lines.

  24. Charles Won 25 Mar 2010 at 10:30 am

    “along” those lines.

  25. M. Davieson 25 Mar 2010 at 10:45 am

    @BillyJoe7

    Presumably, genes which produce a brain which produce a “self” do better than those that produce a zombie brain.

    How do you propose to distinguish a zombie brain from a brain which produces a self? A person with a zombie brain produces the same reports as a person with a ‘self-brain’, and would presumably be identical to third-person observation, including observations of neural imaging. Like, if I told you that I had a zombie brain, that I have no ‘qualitative experience’*, could you convince me or demonstrate otherwise?

    *only the lazy will go for the easy joke here

  26. Steven Novellaon 25 Mar 2010 at 11:16 am

    davidsmith – I think your latter option is close to the truth – neuroscientists carry on hoping the hard problem will simply fade away. I think this is a good approach, and is working so far.

    The philosophical issues are interesting and meaningful, but I think ultimately stem from limitations of language an our conceptual grasp. Specifically, the brain is trying to understand itself, but it is limited to what it can do.

    Here is a partial analogy that may be illuminating – people with damage to one side of their brain and neglect cannot think about the opposite side of the world. There is nothing you can do to explain this to them – they can never understand their new limitations (until their brains recover a bit).

    We cannot know what cognitive limitations are inherent to being human, unless and until we have something else to compare it to.

    That aside – neuroscience is progressing just fine as solving the so-called “easy problems” of neuroscience. The fact that we cannot philosophically solve the hard problem does not seem to impair progress on the easy problem. Which leads to the possibility that the hard problem is not a problem at all (as Dennet contends) and it will simply fade away when the easy problems are solved.

    Further, with regard to the “why are we all not just zombies” question, there may be a reason, but there does not have to be. Self awareness can be an emergent property – it’s just what happens when you have a complex nervous system that needs to pay attention and be motivated to take certain actions.

  27. M. Davieson 25 Mar 2010 at 11:49 am

    neuroscientists carry on hoping the hard problem will simply fade away. I think this is a good approach, and is working so far.

    The fact that neuroscientists can do neuroscience without having to deal with the hard problem does not mean that the problem is solved or dissolved, simply that it doesn’t fall under their purview. As you say, neuroscientists can work on ‘easy’ problems (no pejorative intended) quite successfully without having to deal with the hard problem. It’s also possible to be an engineer or physicist without answering ‘what causes mass’; that doesn’t mean that question is dissolved.

    How do you think neuroscience could answer this problem:

    If you ask someone ‘are you aware of your experience’ and you get the answer ‘yes I am, I know what it is like to experience things’, how do you know whether that is a report of internal states or whether it is a mechanism which works as follows: ‘when prompted about your self-awareness, assert that you have it, whether you do or not’. To put it another way, how do you differentiate an entity which ‘actually sees red’ from one which checks stimulus input and says ‘according to my inputs I am seeing red’.

    Can neuroscience tell me whether I am a zombie or not? I think I agree with Dennett but also think we interpret his claims differently.

  28. Steven Novellaon 25 Mar 2010 at 12:00 pm

    I agree, and I have stated before, that the only reason I know you are not a zombie is because I am not a zombie, and it is reasonable to assume that I am not unique.

    If we create human-level AI that is indistinguishable from human-level intelligence, we will still not know empirically that the AI is self-aware in the way we are self-aware. We can infer this if the computer brain functions in a way similar to a human brain, but that’s it.

    I like you analogy about mass. I have written about dualism in the past, specifically those that use the hard problem to argue that therefore the brain does not fully cause consciousness. This is similar to saying that because engineers do not have a theory of mass and energy, that internal combustion is not entirely responsible for the propulsion of a car – that some magic is at work.

    In other words – it works both ways. Solving the easy problems may not make the hard problem vanish, but the hard problem does not invalidate the solutions to the easy problems.

    I do think, however, that the hard problem may end up being of no practical consequence.

  29. Charles Won 25 Mar 2010 at 2:42 pm

    Prof Novella -

    I really appreciate your comments re “the hard problem” (in particular, the role of language limitations in making it “hard”) and the emergent property view. Based on my reading about consciousness, I’ve come to similar conclusions, and it’s nice to have reassurance that I might be on roughly the right track.

    Especially intriguing was your phrase “motivated to take certain actions”. Having no problem with the possibility (IMO, probability) of being to some degree a “zombie”, I have been trying to look at the problem from the perspective of viewing us as (very complex) stimulus-response systems (which comes naturally since I’m a systems engineer). So, I’m curious how much I should read into that phrase.

    Thus far, I’ve found the systems view a helpful perspective in trying to get a grip on a variety of issues. For example, I would answer M Davies’ “problem” as follows. I don’t understand the implied distinction between the causes for responses to questions like “Do you have self-awareness?” I infer that the inner-state-reporting cause is supposed to be human-like, the programmed-response cause zombie-like, but since I view us humans as being “programmed” by our culture to respond affirmatively, I see no difference. (See note below.) Just look at how hard it seems to be for even the professionally trained to even entertain the possibility that self-awareness is an illusion.

    Similarly when we are “seeing red”. As I described earlier, in my view our brains essentially do “check stimulus input” and – if asked whether we are seeing red – cause an affirmative response. The additional phenomenal effect that red appears in the virtual Cartesian theater seems a separate issue.

    All, I should emphasize, IM-unprofessional-O; I may be entirely wrong and almost certainly am at least some wrong.
    =================
    [Note]

    There is no reason, of course, to give any credence to my claiming this. But some – especially Rorty fans – might be interested in this passage on p. 374 of “Rorty and His Critics”:

    “Would there still be snow if nobody ever talked about it? Sure. Why? Because according to the norms we invoke when we use “snow”, we are supposed to answer this question affirmatively. (If you think that glib and ethnocentric answer not good enough, it is because you are still in the grip of the scheme-content distinction.)”

    BTW, I consider the Ramberg essay and Rorty’s response in this book must-reading for Rorty fans. In his response, Rorty abandons some of his signature positions.

  30. bluskoolon 25 Mar 2010 at 3:27 pm

    “The brain is something.”
    Agreed.
    “The sum total of your genes, hormones, neurons, etc. and their interactions with their environment is someone.”
    In common parlance, what you said above no one would argue with. However, strictly, in a scientific/materialist sense it is false. Here is the translation in materialist terms:
    “The sum total of the body’s genes, hormones, neurons, etc. and their interactions with their environment produces, through its brain, an illusion called “you”.”
    “Yes, the brain produces consciousness, but it isn’t an illusion – it actually is something that happens.”
    Illusions are not nothing.
    If you look at the checkerboard illusion:
    http://www.123opticalillusions.com/pages/opticalillusions40.php
    The squares A and B do look different – almost as different as black and white – but in actual fact they are identical. This is an illusion, but would you say this doesn’t exist? The illusion of “self” is as convincing, even more so.
    “How can an illusion experience an illusion?”
    It doesn’t. The brain of that body we referred to above produces that illusion, just like the juxtaposition of pixels in that checkerboard produces the illusion that those squares are identical.

    I think we are just arguing over semantics here. I would say that you are your brain, not an illusion created by your brain. Really we mean the same thing I think.

  31. Charles Won 25 Mar 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Test (recently submitted comments seem to be disappearing down a rat hole)

  32. BillyJoe7on 25 Mar 2010 at 5:02 pm

    M. Davies:

    “A person with a zombie brain produces the same reports as a person with a ’self-brain’,and would presumably be identical to third-person observation, including observations of neural imaging.”

    I don’t think your presumption is a reasonable one?

    “How do you propose to distinguish a zombie brain from a brain which produces a self?

    Your underlying presumption in asking this question is that it is possible for a zombie brain to do the same work as a brain that produces a self. If that is so, why has evolution gone to the expense of producing a self when a self provides no survival advantage.

    “Like, if I told you that I had a zombie brain, that I have no ‘qualitative experience’*, could you convince me or demonstrate otherwise?”

    I am presuming a “theory of mind” or an “intentional stance”.
    It is based on the fact that there is someone that it is like to be me so I’m presuming that there is something that it is like to be you. Can I prove it? No. But I think it is the more reasonable presumption.
    I know that a brain that produces a self can do all the things that I can do, but I don’t know that a zombie brain could do all those things. Presumably you are in the same position.

  33. M. Davieson 25 Mar 2010 at 6:28 pm

    @BillyJoe7

    I don’t think your presumption is a reasonable one?

    It’s the standard definition of a philosophical zombie. If the question is ‘does entity X have subjective experience’ and your response is ‘well anything which is like my brain must also have subjective experience’ then that is question-begging. It asserts as fact that which it has yet to prove via argument or evidence.

    Sure, it’s a reasonable presumption, but skepticism isn’t founded on ‘my presumptions let me get by in the world, so that’s enough’.

    I’m not sure who I am disagreeing with here. If you say that zombie brains don’t exist, and cite people’s reports of a sense of self as proof, then you are going around in circles, because zombies do all the things everyone else does (including a report of having a self), they simply lack ‘conscious experience’. It’s not ‘like anything’ to be a philosophical zombie.

    As for my personal stance on the issue, it is a mistake to say ‘well, we could have had zombie brains but evolution made us otherwise’ because there is no ‘otherwise’, but in the opposite direction from BillyJoe7. Dennett’s response to the philosophical zombie isn’t that zombies don’t exist and we actually do have qualia after all; it’s that everything in the definition of a philosophical zombie accounts for consciousness. The dissolution of the hard problem of consciousness doesn’t dissolve the problem and retain consciousness, it dissolves ‘consciousness’ as a meaningful entity as well. I’m fine with that, too! However, it no longer means that we can say ‘well, entity X has consciousness, entity Y does not’, but have to be more discrete in what we are talking about. ‘Entity Y reports the colour red; entity Z demonstrates activity in the parietal lobe; entity M has c-fibers firing, entity L appears to exercise the faculty of memory’ and these might apply to people in a coma, to my computer, to your parrot, and so forth. This is why I said earlier that ‘consciousness’ usually points to ethical rather than epistemological issues – consciousness is often and historically cited as a marker for giving something ethical consideration or treating it as a moral agent.

  34. Charles Won 25 Mar 2010 at 7:06 pm

    Third try …

    Prof Novella -

    I really appreciate your comments re “the hard problem” (in particular, the role of language limitations in making it “hard”) and the emergent property view. Based on my reading about consciousness, I’ve come to similar conclusions, and it’s nice to have reassurance that I might be on roughly the right track.

    Especially intriguing was your phrase “motivated to take certain actions”. Having no problem with the possibility (IMO, probability) of being to some degree a “zombie”, I have been trying to look at the problem from the perspective of viewing us as (very complex) stimulus-response systems (which comes naturally since I’m a systems engineer). So, I’m curious how much I should read into that phrase.

  35. Charles Won 25 Mar 2010 at 7:07 pm

    and to continue …

    Thus far, I’ve found the systems view a helpful perspective in trying to get a grip on a variety of issues. For example, I would answer M Davies’ “problem” as follows. I don’t understand the implied distinction between the causes for responses to questions like “Do you have self-awareness?” I infer that the inner-state-reporting cause is supposed to be human-like, the programmed-response cause zombie-like, but since I view us humans as being “programmed” by our culture to respond affirmatively, I see no difference. (See note below.) Just look at how hard it seems to be for even the professionally trained to even entertain the possibility that self-awareness is an illusion.

    Similarly when we are “seeing red”. As I described earlier, in my view our brains essentially do “check stimulus input” and – if asked whether we are seeing red – cause an affirmative response. The additional phenomenal effect that red appears in the virtual Cartesian theater seems a separate issue.

    All, I should emphasize, IM-unprofessional-O; I may be entirely wrong and almost certainly am at least some wrong.
    =================
    [Note]

    There is no reason, of course, to give any credence to my claiming this. But some – especially Rorty fans – might be interested in this passage on p. 374 of “Rorty and His Critics”:

    “Would there still be snow if nobody ever talked about it? Sure. Why? Because according to the norms we invoke when we use “snow”, we are supposed to answer this question affirmatively. (If you think that glib and ethnocentric answer not good enough, it is because you are still in the grip of the scheme-content distinction.)”

  36. Charles Won 25 Mar 2010 at 7:08 pm

    and to continue …

    Thus far, I’ve found the systems view a helpful perspective in trying to get a grip on a variety of issues. For example, I would answer M Davies’ “problem” as follows. I don’t understand the implied distinction between the causes for responses to questions like “Do you have self-awareness?” I infer that the inner-state-reporting cause is supposed to be human-like, the programmed-response cause zombie-like, but since I view us humans as being “programmed” by our culture to respond affirmatively, I see no difference. (See note below.) Just look at how hard it seems to be for even the professionally trained to even entertain the possibility that self-awareness is an illusion.

    Similarly when we are “seeing red”. As I described earlier, in my view our brains essentially do “check stimulus input” and – if asked whether we are seeing red – cause an affirmative response. The additional phenomenal effect that red appears in the virtual Cartesian theater seems a separate issue.

    All, I should emphasize, IM-unprofessional-O; I may be entirely wrong and almost certainly am at least some wrong.

  37. Charles Won 25 Mar 2010 at 7:09 pm

    and the note …

    [Note]

    There is no reason, of course, to give any credence to my claiming this. But some – especially Rorty fans – might be interested in this passage on p. 374 of “Rorty and His Critics”:

    “Would there still be snow if nobody ever talked about it? Sure. Why? Because according to the norms we invoke when we use “snow”, we are supposed to answer this question affirmatively. (If you think that glib and ethnocentric answer not good enough, it is because you are still in the grip of the scheme-content distinction.)”

  38. BillyJoe7on 25 Mar 2010 at 11:44 pm

    bluskool.

    “I think we are just arguing over semantics here. I would say that you are your brain, not an illusion created by your brain. Really we mean the same thing I think.”

    Not really.
    If you create a puppet, is the puppet you? No.
    Similarly, if the brain creates you, you are not your brain

    If “you” think “you” are the one making decisions, how do you explain the 300 microsec delay between the decision being made and “you” becoming aware of it (see the article).
    In fact, the brain makes the decision and then it lets the self know about it, making the self feel like it made the decision.

    The feeling of the self being in control of the brain is actually an illusion produced by the brain.

  39. BillyJoe7on 26 Mar 2010 at 5:27 am

    M. Davies,

    “zombies do all the things everyone else does (including a report of having a self), they simply lack ‘conscious experience’. It’s not ‘like anything’ to be a philosophical zombie.”

    Yes, I understand the concept of a p-zombies.
    But P-zombies are philosophical thought experiments.
    The are defined in such as way as to be unfalsifiable. The p-zombie hypothesis also does not make predictions that can be tested. In other words, p-zombies cannot be considered a scientific concept.

    “If the question is ‘does entity X have subjective experience’ and your response is ‘well anything which is like my brain must also have subjective experience’ then that is question-begging.”

    But that’s not what I said. What I said was:
    I know I am not a P-zombie. I look about me and see everyone behaving an reacting more of less like I do and, extrapolating from my own experience, I make the reasonable assumption that there is someone at home inside those other bodies.
    So, this is my assumption which I am saying is more reasonable than the assumption that some are actually p-zombies.
    I was not my evidence.
    I did hint at some evidence though…

    “Sure, it’s a reasonable presumption, but skepticism isn’t founded on ‘my presumptions let me get by in the world, so that’s enough”.

    The evidence is from evolution.
    Throughout evolutionary history, there were in general vastly more progeny entering the next generation than there was food to support them. The struggle for existence was, in fact, caused by the scarcity of food. Evolution, in general, favoured obtaining the largest amount of food for the least energy expenditure. The energy cost of a “self” is extraordinarily high. If the same could be achieved without it, there would be no advantage for brains to produce selves.

    “Dennett’s response…”

    I don’t recognise Dennett at all in your summation of his ideas.
    But the discussion is already complicated enough so I will leave that be for the moment.

  40. bluskoolon 26 Mar 2010 at 9:17 am

    Not really.
    If you create a puppet, is the puppet you? No.
    Similarly, if the brain creates you, you are not your brain.

    If you create a puppet and go out into the world and talk through the puppet, why not just save a step and go out into the world and just talk yourself?
    If it aids your understanding to say that the brain creates the self rather than the brain is the self, by all means say that. I personally don’t see where it really makes any difference. But don’t pretend that your way of conceptualizing is more “scientific.”

    If “you” think “you” are the one making decisions, how do you explain the 300 microsec delay between the decision being made and “you” becoming aware of it (see the article).
    In fact, the brain makes the decision and then it lets the self know about it, making the self feel like it made the decision.
    The feeling of the self being in control of the brain is actually an illusion produced by the brain.

    Okay, I see the problem here. You are confusing two different concepts – free will and consciousness. Although they are related, they are not the same thing. I never said anything about free will, but since you bring it up I would say yes, free will is an illusion. More specifically, contra-causal free will is an illusion.
    It does appear that we make uncaused choices, but we really don’t, so it makes sense to say that free will is an illusion. However, it is not the case that it appears we are conscious, but really aren’t. So saying that consciousness is an illusion makes no sense to me.

  41. davidsmithon 26 Mar 2010 at 9:35 am

    “I like you analogy about mass. I have written about dualism in the past, specifically those that use the hard problem to argue that therefore the brain does not fully cause consciousness. This is similar to saying that because engineers do not have a theory of mass and energy, that internal combustion is not entirely responsible for the propulsion of a car – that some magic is at work. ”

    I don’t think the analogy of mass is similar to the situation posed by the hard problem. The hard problem is a statement about the incompatibility of physical explanation with conscious experience. Nobody would claim such incompatability between an explanation of propulsion in terms of internal combustion. The latter is clearly and demonstrably defined physically in terms of quantitative relationships. Conscious experience on the other hand is not, which is the whole point of the hard problem. Any comparison to the hard problem that is based on a relationship between a physically defined phenomena and a physical explanation of it is inappropriate.

  42. davidsmithon 26 Mar 2010 at 9:38 am

    I said,

    “The hard problem is a statement about the incompatibility of physical explanation with conscious experience. Nobody would claim such incompatability between an explanation of propulsion in terms of internal combustion. The latter is clearly and demonstrably defined physically in terms of quantitative relationships. ”

    I made a mistake. I meant to say,

    “The hard problem is a statement about the incompatibility of physical explanation with conscious experience. Nobody would claim such incompatability between an explanation of propulsion in terms of internal combustion. Propulsion is clearly and demonstrably defined physically in terms of quantitative relationships.

  43. M. Davieson 26 Mar 2010 at 10:56 am

    @Charles W
    in my view our brains essentially do “check stimulus input” and – if asked whether we are seeing red – cause an affirmative response. The additional phenomenal effect that red appears in the virtual Cartesian theater seems a separate issue.

    We’re probably more on board than off, but I think if you say there is an ‘additional phenomenal effect’ then you remain in the realm of the hard problem, and to assert a ‘virtual Cartesian theater’ (how is a virtual one different than a regular C-theater? Artificial butter on the popcorn maybe) seems to me to be a kind of dualism.

    BillyJoe7
    P-zombies are philosophical thought experiments.
    The are defined in such as way as to be unfalsifiable. The p-zombie hypothesis also does not make predictions that can be tested. In other words, p-zombies cannot be considered a scientific concept.

    And the point of the thought experiment is to test your intuitions, not to assert factual claims about the world, so I don’t see the problem. If p-zombies are defined so as to be unfalsifiable, that it can’t make predictions that can be tested, the same goes for subjective experience. In other words, subjective experience (consciousness), by this logic, cannot be considered a scientific concept. See my next point.

    I know I am not a P-zombie. I look about me and see everyone behaving an reacting more of less like I do and, extrapolating from my own experience, I make the reasonable assumption that there is someone at home inside those other bodies. So, this is my assumption which I am saying is more reasonable than the assumption that some are actually p-zombies.

    You claim that they (and you) have property X (consciousness). I bet I can in theory explain everything about them without invoking property X. What can you explain, or hope to explain, about them thanks to property X, besides asserting their possession of property X? What if I treat people as very sophisticated functional automata, with the ability to generate self-reports? Suppose I told you I found a p-zombie (or a few million of them), who consented to have us study her. Could you prove that she was not a p-zombie?

    As for the evolution example, do I understand your argument?
    Are you saying the following:
    (1) Using less energy has an evolutionary advantage.
    (2) Brains which do not produce selves use less energy, and thus, would appear to have the evolutionary advantage.
    (3) However, since brains with selves exist, this shows that they had an evolutionary advantage.

    If this is your argument, it commits petitio principii, it assumes the existence of a ‘sense of self’ in step 3, it doesn’t demonstrate it.

  44. M. Davieson 26 Mar 2010 at 11:03 am

    @davidsmith
    I don’t think the analogy of mass is similar to the situation posed by the hard problem.

    SN’s analogy or mine? I think they are on addressing different things.

    In response to SN’s analogy, I would say yes, the successful propulsion of a car and a detailed description of internal combustion doesn’t say why things have mass to begin with, just like functional neuroscience explanations can tell us all sorts of things about the brain’s function and self-reports but they don’t say whether and why people have consciousness to begin with.

  45. Charles Won 26 Mar 2010 at 1:53 pm

    M. Davies -

    My comment at 25 Mar 2010 at 10:19 am is the best I can do at explaining what I mean by the term “virtual CT”. And there I was addressing why, not how. But I suspect that ideas about the former would help in addressing the latter.

  46. BillyJoe7on 27 Mar 2010 at 1:40 am

    buskool,

    “If it aids your understanding to say that the brain creates the self rather than the brain is the self, by all means say that. ”

    To say that the brain creates a self is not the same as saying the brain IS the self. The brain is more than just a self. Likewise you are more than just your puppet. You may do all your speaking and interacting with the world through your puppet, but you will always be more than your puppet.

    ” I never said anything about free will, but since you bring it up I would say yes, free will is an illusion.”

    I wasn’t specifically talking about free will either but I agree that free will is an illusion.

    “It does appear that we make uncaused choices, but we really don’t, so it makes sense to say that free will is an illusion.”

    It appears we agree on a lot. :)

    ” However, it is not the case that it appears we are conscious, but really aren’t. So saying that consciousness is an illusion makes no sense to me.”

    In the checkerboard illusion, the bits marked A and B do exist, it’s just that they seem to be something they are not. They seem to be different colours but, in reality, they are identical in colour. The illusion is not that they exist (they do) but that they are to be different colours (they aren’t).

    Similarly with “self”:
    The self exists, but it seems to be something that it is not.
    The self seems to control the brain.
    In reality, the brain produces and controls the “self”.
    The illusion, then, is not that the self exists (it does), the illusion is that the self is in control of the brain (it isn’t).

    And similarly with “consciousness”:
    Consciousness exists, but it seems to be something that it is not. Consciousness seems to be part of what enables the self to control the brain. In reality, consciousness is what the brain produces in order to produce the self.

  47. BillyJoe7on 27 Mar 2010 at 2:49 am

    M. Davies,

    “And the point of the thought experiment is to test your intuitions, not to assert factual claims about the world, so I don’t see the problem.”

    But the conclusion that p-zombies do not exist is not mere intuition.
    That conclusion is based on a number of scientific facts (see below).
    It is, of course, not a 100% water-tight conclusion, but it is not mere intuition.

    “If p-zombies are defined so as to be unfalsifiable, that it can’t make predictions that can be tested, the same goes for subjective experience.”

    A conscious brain does not fall into the same category as a p-zombie. I know that I am conscious. So there is at least one example of a conscious brain. That is a fact, not an hypothesis. True, I can only infer from that that you are conscious but you could not say there is no fact underlying that inference.

    “You claim that they (and you) have property X (consciousness). I bet I can in theory explain everything about them without invoking property X. What can you explain, or hope to explain, about them thanks to property X, besides asserting their possession of property X? What if I treat people as very sophisticated functional automata, with the ability to generate self-reports? Suppose I told you I found a p-zombie (or a few million of them), who consented to have us study her. Could you prove that she was not a p-zombie?”

    The burden of proof is yours though.
    I already have one example of a brain that is conscious (and so do you). I have no examples of a p-zombie (and neither do you). So I know what conscious brains are capable of (and so do you). I have no idea what a p-zombies could be capable of (and neither do you).
    In other words, your claims about what p-zombies are capable of is pure speculation.

    “As for the evolution example, do I understand your argument? … If this is your argument, it commits petitio principii, it assumes the existence of a ’sense of self’ in step 3″

    I would put it more like this:
    There are three facts upon which my inference is based.

    FACT: there is at least one instance of a conscious brain.
    FACT: the facts of evolution tell us that, in order to maximise the chances of survival, life needs to be as parsimonious as possible in energy terms.
    FACT: the production of a conscious brain is extremely costly in energy terms and would have no survival value if there was no benefit compared with a p-zombie.

    INFERENCE: every life form that is capable of doing all the sorts of things that I am capable of doing are conscious.

    That is not 100% proof, but it not pure speculation either.
    That promotes the conscious brain to the status of a scientific concept and relegates a p-zombie to the status of a philosophical thought experiment.

    regards,
    BillyJoe

  48. bluskoolon 27 Mar 2010 at 10:47 am

    To say that the brain creates a self is not the same as saying the brain IS the self. The brain is more than just a self. Likewise you are more than just your puppet. You may do all your speaking and interacting with the world through your puppet, but you will always be more than your puppet.

    When I say the brain IS the self, that doesn’t mean that the brain is only the self. Like if someone says Daniel is tall, that doesn’t mean that I am only tall.
    When you say the brain creates the self, that makes it sound like the self is separate from the brain, which it isn’t. That is why I wouldn’t use that language. It sounds dualistic.

    I wasn’t specifically talking about free will either but I agree that free will is an illusion.

    Yes, you didn’t specifically say it, but you were talking about control. Free will entails the idea that you are in control of your actions.

    And similarly with “consciousness”:
    Consciousness exists, but it seems to be something that it is not. Consciousness seems to be part of what enables the self to control the brain. In reality, consciousness is what the brain produces in order to produce the self.

    That’s what I meant when I said we are arguing over semantics. I basically agree with what you are saying, but I wouldn’t phrase it as “consciousness is an illusion.” I would say “uncaused choices,” “free will” or “control” is an illusion.

  49. Charles Won 27 Mar 2010 at 11:33 am

    “We’re probably more on board than off”

    Correct. I belatedly read your comment at 25 Mar 2010 at 6:28 pm (I don’t find debates about zombies terribly informative and tend to ignore them) and agree with your “personal stance” (except for the “ethical” part, a perspective with which I am unfamiliar). I think a big problem in consciousness discussions is absence of a mutually agreed-upon vocabulary, so it’s almost as hard to establish agreement as disagreement.

    Since you know Rorty, I assume you know Sellars, so perhaps you can answer a question. The assumption that people “know” they are conscious strikes me as the sort of “incorrigible” first-person knowledge that he was disputing with the Myth of the Given. But my grasp of his thesis is currently at best tenuous – am I at all on the right track?

  50. Charles Won 27 Mar 2010 at 11:39 am

    To clarify, what I meant to say was “the certainty that one is conscious strikes me …”.

  51. M. Davieson 27 Mar 2010 at 11:45 am

    @BillyJoe7>/b>

    A conscious brain does not fall into the same category as a p-zombie.

    Only if you are a dualist. For me there is nothing but p-zombies.

    I know that I am conscious. So there is at least one example of a conscious brain. That is a fact, not an hypothesis.

    I see. Okay, I accept this fact tentatively, that there is one conscious brain. Yours. Prove to me how your brain differs from all the brains that exist.

    True, I can only infer from that that you are conscious but you could not say there is no fact underlying that inference.

    People can assert all sorts of things which seem reasonable, that doesn’t mean they are correct.

    The burden of proof [on showing that something, fully explained, also possesses the property X] is yours though.

    How so? You are making the positive claim, that property X exists. Your proof is ‘I know I have it and infer that other people do too’. I, however, can account for all phenomena without invoking this extra property.

    I already have one example of a brain that is conscious (and so do you).

    Nope, I’m a p-zombie. Prove me wrong.

    I have no idea what a p-zombies could be capable of (and neither do you).

    Sure I do – they are capable of everything every person is. Apparently some people like you think they also have property X, which they call ‘consciousness’, but I am not sure what this means, or what explanatory value it has beyond current descriptions of neural activity and behavior.

    I would put it more like this:
    There are three facts upon which my inference is based.

    FACT: there is at least one instance of a conscious brain.
    FACT: the facts of evolution tell us that, in order to maximise the chances of survival, life needs to be as parsimonious as possible in energy terms.
    FACT: the production of a conscious brain is extremely costly in energy terms and would have no survival value if there was no benefit compared with a p-zombie.

    I take issue with your third FACT, the production of a conscious brain is extremely costly in energy terms. How do you know this? Can you compare a ‘conscious brain’ to a brain which doesn’t produce consciousness and compare their energy consumption? Tell me a situation where a conscious brain would have survival value compared to a brain which is functionally equivalent (monitors states, reponds to pain, rewards, and so forth) but doesn’t have subjective experience. I don’t see how your restatement of your argument is different than mine, and thus, when it comes to your inference:

    INFERENCE: every life form that is capable of doing all the sorts of things that I am capable of doing are conscious.

    You call it an inference, I still call it question begging.

  52. M. Davieson 27 Mar 2010 at 11:46 am

    Whoops, sorry for the ruined bold tag.

  53. M. Davieson 27 Mar 2010 at 11:54 am

    @Charles W

    Sure, of course, my point about your CT wasn’t an aggressive one, just trying to be wary of the language your were using and what it might imply.

    I don’t know Sellars enough (I know enough to say Rorty is good, and then shrug my shoulders) but that seems to me a straightforward enough account. The SEP entry makes me think that Sellars argues something like the ‘I’ we utter when we say ‘I think’ is possible only upon lived experience and is not a fundamental property of the brain – more like something like a linguistic fiction which helps us orient ourselves in the world (see BillyJoe7′s ‘reasonable inferences’ about the world, which I agree with insofar as they have pragmatic utility but not as scientific proofs).

  54. Charles Won 27 Mar 2010 at 1:02 pm

    M. Davies -

    No aggression assumed. I actually agree that “virtual CT” is a poor choice.

    As I understand it, the CT that Dennett disputes is envisioned as a specific location in the brain where “it all comes together” and is “viewed” by the “self”, a homunculus-like entity. I am addressing the fact that we – as complete physical entities – have the sense of being actors on a stage moving in a set among other actors, all of which we “see” as we go through our roles. And my question is why (and how) the brain creates the visual illusion of the set and the other actors. As I suggested, doing so doesn’t seem necessary in order for us to avoid bumping into things, to converse with the other actors, etc.

    Following along the BJ7′s line of thought, perhaps the main benefit of doing so is to create the illusion of consciousness as a reinforcement of the illusion of self. The latter illusion does seem to to have clear evolutionary benefits.

    Yes, Sellars took the “linguistic turn”. According to Rorty’s discussion of him (Ch 4, PMN), he even considered awareness (in the full sense in which we use that word) to be subsequent to language ability. This seems somewhat nonsensical if one thinks of language ability in terms of parts of speech, diagramming sentences, etc. But if you consider a child learning a language, it seems more reasonable. A child learns language in the stimulus-response mode I alluded to in an earlier comment. And from that perspective, learning a language is simply learning how to respond to certain stimuli with verbal responses sanctioned by the simple “society” comprising immediate family, et al. And since that procedure continues into later life, one learns to respond to the stimulus of being asked “Are you conscious?” affirmatively – because that’s the response sanctioned by our society.

    At least that’s my take on the issue.

  55. Charles Won 27 Mar 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Re free will …

    From the “Closer to Truth” interview series on PBS, I got two insights that helped me pretty much resolve that issue for myself.

    From Searle re free will, “you can’t live without it” (by which – in the context of the interview – he meant you can avoid neither the sense that you have it nor acting accordingly). And from Dennett, the observation that the key issue in free will vs determinism is predictability. Putting those together with my prior inference from physicalism that we can’t have free will, I concluded:

    1. Notwithstanding the illusion of free will, we don’t really have it.

    2. But to function, we must act as if we do.

    3. Since it is not (and probably never will be) possible to predict one’s future, accepting #1 need not be a personal (as opposed to a societal) concern since no practical consequences need result.

    4. Unnecessary personal concern about #1 (eg, “But that means we’re only robots!”) is indicative of philosophical immaturity. Unfortunately for one so inclined, it – and any unpleasant consequences – are unavoidable (determinism, you know). On the other hand, denial of #1 usually works fine (again, for individuals – not so much for society).

  56. cwfongon 27 Mar 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Notwithstanding the illusion of freewill, we may or may not really have it.

    And whether we have it or not, we are destined either way to act as if we do. (The conundrum of incompatibility – inevitable effects from undetermined and undeterminable causes.)

    We have no choice except to act on either the fact or the illusion that we do.

  57. BillyJoe7on 27 Mar 2010 at 5:53 pm

    M. Davies:

    “For me there is nothing but p-zombies.”
    You really truely believe that you are a p-zombie?

    “I accept this fact tentatively, that there is [at least] one conscious brain. Yours.”
    I don’t need you to accept that fact, tentatively or otherwise.
    For me (BillyJoe), it is a fact that there is at least one conscious brain (BillyJoe’s). For you (M. Davies), it is a fact that there is at least one conscious brain (M. Davies’).

    “Prove to me how your brain differs from all the brains that exist.”
    I am infering that all brains are conscious like mine and you want me to prove how my brain is different? That, my friend, is your job. ;)

    “People can assert all sorts of things which seem reasonable, that doesn’t mean they are correct.”
    I tell you that I know this as a fact: that there is something that it is like to be me; that I am conscious. Can you look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself truthfully that you are not?

    “You are making the positive claim, that property X exists. Your proof is ‘I know I have it and infer that other people do too’. I, however, can account for all phenomena without invoking this extra property.”
    How? By using your conscious brain?
    When I say “I have a conscious brain” I am making a factual statement. I invite you to say to yourself “I have a conscious brain” and then say truthfully that that statement is false.

    “Nope, I’m a p-zombie. Prove me wrong.”
    I don’t need to. For my premise I only need one example. I already have that example. You are part of my inference, not my facts.

    “Sure I do – they [p-zombies] are capable of everything every person is.”
    That is just a flat out assertion, unsupported by fact.

    “Apparently some people like you think they also have property X, which they call ‘consciousness’, but I am not sure what this means…”
    Well, you can to lie to me because (I agree) I can never prove that you don’t know what having consciousness means. But can you also lie to yourself? Can you say truthfully to yourself “I am not conscious”, “there is no one at home here”, “there is nothing that it is like to be me”?

    “or what explanatory value it has beyond current descriptions of neural activity and behavior”
    When you know it as a fact – that there is at least one example of a conscious brain – you don’t need explanatory power. Only hypotheses require explanatory power. Self evident facts do not.

    “I take issue with your third FACT, the production of a conscious brain is extremely costly in energy terms. How do you know this?”
    You think consciousness comes free? Consciousness represents information and information does not come free.
    If you are qibbling about the word “extremely”, I can drop it. In terms of evolution, being costly is sufficient.

    “Can you compare a ‘conscious brain’ to a brain which doesn’t produce consciousness and compare their energy consumption?”
    I don’t need to (see above).

    “Tell me a situation where a conscious brain would have survival value compared to a brain which is functionally equivalent (monitors states, reponds to pain, rewards, and so forth) but doesn’t have subjective experience.”
    Again you making a flat out assertion without any evidence whatsoever that a p-zombie could function equivalently to a conscious brain.
    And you are forgetting that the three facts I listed have to be taken together to support the inference that all brains are conscious: There is at least one conscious brain + producing a conscious brain is costly + with no survival value such a costly activity would not survive evolution.

    “You call it an inference, I still call it question begging.”
    I have at least offered argments.
    It seems to me that all you have offered is flat out unsupported assertions.

    regards,
    BillyJoe

  58. BillyJoe7on 27 Mar 2010 at 5:56 pm

    bluskool,

    “I basically agree with what you are saying, but I wouldn’t phrase it as “consciousness is an illusion.” I would say “uncaused choices,” “free will” or “control” is an illusion.”

    I agree that we seem to be on more or less the same wavelength. :)

  59. BillyJoe7on 27 Mar 2010 at 6:24 pm

    Charles W,

    Regarding free will:

    I think it is important to know what we mean by “the illusion of consciousness” and “the illusion of self”.
    The checkerboard illusion is illustrative. We are not saying that the bits marked A and B do not exist. We are saying that there are not what they seem: A and B *seem* to be different colours but in *reality* they are the same colour.
    Similarly, we are not saying that consciousness/self does not exist. We are saying that it is not what it seems. Conciousness/self *seems* to control the brain but in *reality* the brain controls consciousness/self.

    The corollary is that free will is an illusion.

    It is essentially an evidence-backed materialist (ie scientific) explanation and a refutation of dualism.

  60. M. Davieson 27 Mar 2010 at 6:25 pm

    @BillyJoe7

    Your tone suggests you are getting defensive or something, I don’t know where that is coming from?

    A minor point:

    There is at least one conscious brain + producing a conscious brain is costly + with no survival value such a costly activity would not survive evolution.

    Evolution seeks optima, not maxima, and there are plenty of things organisms have that if they lost would increase their energy efficiency. I still don’t see how ‘consciousness’ draws any more energy that a homologous functional/responding mechanism would (or how one would even know to begin with).

    A major point I would prefer to hear an answer to:

    Can you say truthfully to yourself “I am not conscious”, “there is no one at home here”, “there is nothing that it is like to be me”?

    When I check to see if I am conscious, what am I checking for? Be specific, not just synonyms.

  61. M. Davieson 27 Mar 2010 at 6:31 pm

    @Charles W

    Okay, I think I follow, but consider the following, anyway:
    How can we be deceived about our phenomenal awareness? The idea that consciousness is a useful illusion seems problematic, because it is like saying ‘I experience red, well wait, I think I experience red, but it is just an illusion, I experience red but don’t really experience it’. That is, the experience of X is the experience of X, how could it be an illusion at all? Sorry if this is not clear.

    And since that procedure [learning how to respond to stimuli] continues into later life, one learns to respond to the stimulus of being asked “Are you conscious?” affirmatively – because that’s the response sanctioned by our society.

    Hmm, I think it is a bit different, we don’t just say ‘I am conscious’ when asked because otherwise people will frown at us and we don’t want their condemnation…is that what you mean? I don’t think that’s Sellars’ argument.

  62. M. Davieson 27 Mar 2010 at 6:41 pm

    Seriously, how is invoking ‘consciousness’ any different than invoking élan vital or aether? What do you need to use it to explain? There’s all sorts of discrete mechanisms, capacities for self-reference, state monitoring, et cetera, in all kinds of entities, biological and otherwise, why lump all those processes together and call it consciousness except in casual conversation?

  63. BillyJoe7on 27 Mar 2010 at 6:42 pm

    M. Davies,

    “Your tone suggests you are getting defensive or something, I don’t know where that is coming from?”
    I could have left smilies everywhere, but I thought that might spoil the effect :)

    When I check to see if I am conscious, what am I checking for? Be specific, not just synonyms.
    Oh, you know, ask yourself: “Is there anyone home?”, “Is there anything that it is like to be M.Davies?”
    I don’t seem to need to ask myself these questions but, when I do, my answers are an unequivocal: “Yes, there is someone home; there is something that it is like to be BillyJoe”.
    What answers do you get? If you are a p-zombie your answer would be “No, there is no one home; there is nothing that it is like to be M. Davies”. If you are not a p-zombie you could lie and say the same thing and I would not be able to tell the difference. But you would, wouldn’t you?

  64. M. Davieson 27 Mar 2010 at 6:47 pm

    What answers do you get? If you are a p-zombie your answer would be “No, there is no one home; there is nothing that it is like to be M. Davies”.

    I dunno. The p-zombie might say ‘what do you mean by consciousness’ and the interlocutor could respond ‘do you know who you are’ and the p-zombie could answer in the affirmative (I’m Bob, he says). Or the interlocutor might say ‘do you have an internal monologue, that is to say, can you stimulate part of your apparatus to provide a list of things which have occurred to your person in the last 24 hours without uttering it through your vocal cords’ and the p-zombie would say ‘oh, of course, I do that all the time, we call it ‘remembering’. Or the interlocutor might say ‘check whether you can identify the smell of strawberries as distinct from other smells’ and the p-zombie says ‘sure I can!’

  65. BillyJoe7on 27 Mar 2010 at 7:17 pm

    M. Davies,

    “‘I experience red, well wait, I think I experience red, but it is just an illusion, I experience red but don’t really experience it’.

    Just an illusion?
    The bits marked ‘A’ and ‘B’ on that checkerboard are experienced as different colours. That experience is real. But the fact is they are the same colour. But, and I will repeat this for emphasis, the experience is real.

    You experience red. That experience is also real (as real as ‘A’ and ‘B’ being coloured differently) . But the fact is, all there is is light being partially aborbed and partially reflected by the rose, the reflected part entering your eye and interacting with chemicals in the retina that results in the setting up and propagation of electical impulses in nerves which conduct it to certain specific centres in the brain. The fact is that there is nothing that is red except your experience. The rose is not red, it just reflects and absorbs different wavelenghts of light. The centres in the brain are not red, there’s just patterns of neural activity. But you certainly do experience red, that is not in doubt.

    “Seriously, how is invoking ‘consciousness’ any different than invoking élan vital or aether?”

    Invoking “consciousness” IS like invoking “elan vital/spirit/soul”, which is the dualist position. That isw exactly why we materialists/scientists do not invoke it. That is why we materials/scientist invoke the “illusion of consciousness”.

    Similarly, there is no “red”, but there is the “experience of red” (and, of course, the “specific neural patterns” that underlie it)

  66. BillyJoe7on 27 Mar 2010 at 7:35 pm

    M. Davies,

    “I dunno. The p-zombie might say ‘what do you mean by consciousness’ and the interlocutor could respond ‘do you know who you are’ and the p-zombie could answer in the affirmative (I’m Bob, he says). Or the interlocutor might say ‘do you have an internal monologue, that is to say, can you stimulate part of your apparatus to provide a list of things which have occurred to your person in the last 24 hours without uttering it through your vocal cords’ and the p-zombie would say ‘oh, of course, I do that all the time, we call it ‘remembering’. Or the interlocutor might say ‘check whether you can identify the smell of strawberries as distinct from other smells’ and the p-zombie says ’sure I can!’”

    So your p-zombie passes the Turing test.
    Congratulations!
    Unfortunately he is a hypothetical p-zombie. :(
    Our robots cannot yet do so. In the future? Who knows?
    For the present, however, I will return to this question:

    “Is there anyone home?”, “Is there anything that it is like to be M. Davies?”
    And all I am asking is that you answer yourself truthfully.

  67. M. Davieson 27 Mar 2010 at 10:50 pm

    @BillyJoe7

    But you certainly do experience red, that is not in doubt.

    I have a stimulus signal that cannot be conflated with other signals, yes, correct. So?

    we materialists/scientists do not invoke consciousness. That is why we materials/scientist invoke the “illusion of consciousness”.

    The point of the ‘red’ example is that you can’t have an illusion of subjective experience. You say yourself: But you certainly do experience red, that is not in doubt. ! So you certainly experience red, that is no illusion, but your experience of ‘self’, of ‘consciousness’, is an illusion?

    So your p-zombie passes the Turing test.
    Congratulations!
    Unfortunately he is a hypothetical p-zombie. :(
    Our robots cannot yet do so. In the future? Who knows?

    From your point of view, how will you ever know if robots are conscious? What if they already are? How will you find out?

    To say consciousness is an illusion is to say none of us are conscious, we just think we are. Is this what you are saying?

    “Is there anyone home?”, “Is there anything that it is like to be M. Davies?”
    And all I am asking is that you answer yourself truthfully.

    The implication is that I am arguing in bad faith. I am not. I don’t find those questions very good scientific or philosophical questions. “Is there anyone home?” Really? That is a good question? Could you define your terms for me?

    My previous comment was truncated. Here it is for the sake of inclusion:

    And the interlocutor might say ‘well, I lump all those abilities and functions (and thousands others) together and call them consciousness.’
    And the p-zombie says ‘why bother?’
    And the interlocutor says ‘when you have all of those, well most of them, or some of them or more than those, we’re not sure yet, then we can say “it is like something to be you”‘
    And the p-zombie still says ‘why bother? What’s the point of saying that? Is it a scientific object, or like a literary or rhetorical thing? Nothing against the latter (poetry stimulates my receptors, so I seek more of it), but it sounds more like a folkloric conception or poetic device than anything scientific.’

  68. M. Davieson 27 Mar 2010 at 11:10 pm

    Just so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle:

    To say consciousness is an illusion is to say none of us are conscious, we just think we are. Is this what you are saying?

  69. Charles Won 28 Mar 2010 at 12:43 am

    “How can we be deceived about our phenomenal awareness? The idea that consciousness is a useful illusion seems problematic …”

    A case of do as I say, not as I do. I’m trying to avoid using “consciousness” if at all possible since it is not well-defined and seems to add more noise than signal, and also trying to use “phenomena”. But since this vocabulary is relatively new to me, old habits often triumph. Ie, you are right – I should have said something like:

    “… And my question is why (and how) the brain creates our phenomenal experience of the set and the other actors. As I suggested, doing so doesn’t seem necessary in order for us to avoid bumping into things, to converse with the other actors, etc.

    Following along BJ7’s line of thought, perhaps one benefit of doing so is to reinforce the illusion of self, an illusion that does seem to to have clear evolutionary benefits.”

    This still may not make sense, but it’s closer to what I had in mind.

  70. Charles Won 28 Mar 2010 at 1:06 am

    BJ7 -

    To be honest, I’m not even clear myself on what I mean by “illusion of self”. I’m pretty comfortable just viewing a person as an organism that while relatively complex, essentially responds to stimuli as do simpler organisms. Because one of the abilities of that complex organism is to “model” its environment, including the organism itself, in that sense it has “self”-awareness. What I have in mind by “illusion of self” may be ascribing anything more exotic to the notion of “self” than that.

    In any event, I’ll try to be more careful about using that term in the future. Thanks.

  71. Charles Won 28 Mar 2010 at 1:49 am

    Forgot to address this:

    “we don’t just say ‘I am conscious’ when asked because otherwise people will frown at us and we don’t want their condemnation…is that what you mean? ”

    No, I mean (as I said earlier) that we are “programmed” by the culture to respond to certain questions essentially automatically. In response to “Are you conscious?”, only a few people with specialized interests (philosophers, psychologists, etc) would think carefully about the answer; I would guess that everyone else would say something like “Of course, what a ridiculous question.”

    “I don’t think that’s Sellars’ argument.”

    Didn’t intend to suggest that either your version or mine was. I’m not (yet – but perhaps soon) competent to opine on whether he would have agreed with my version.

  72. BillyJoe7on 28 Mar 2010 at 7:37 am

    M. Davies,

    “The point of the ‘red’ example is that you can’t have an illusion of subjective experience. You say yourself: But you certainly do experience red, that is not in doubt. ! So you certainly experience red, that is no illusion, but your experience of ’self’, of ‘consciousness’, is an illusion?”

    You need to distinguish between “red” and the “experience of red”.

    “Red” is an illusion.
    In fact, there is no “red”. Otherwise where is “red”? The rose is not red, it just reflects certain wavelengths of light. There is no red in the brain, just patterns of neural activity. So there is no red. If you see something that is not there, that is an illusion.

    However, the “experience of red” is real.
    You really do experience red.

    “From your point of view, how will you ever know if robots are conscious? What if they already are? How will you find out?”

    I will never know for sure. Same as I will never know for sure that you are not a p-zombie. I simply infer you are conscious on the basis of the above argument. If robots start behaving exactly like humans behave, I might need to infer consciousness for robots as well.

    “To say consciousness is an illusion is to say none of us are conscious, we just think we are. Is this what you are saying?”

    I have already covered this. The brain produces consciousness on the way to producing a self (consciousness is a necessary precondition for a self). The consciousness and self are real. The illusion is that the conscious self is in control.

    ” I don’t find those questions very good scientific or philosophical questions. “Is there anyone home?” Really? That is a good question? Could you define your terms for me?”

    All I am suggesting is that you acknowledge to yourself that “there is something that it is like to be M. Davies”.
    (You don’t need to acknowledge it to me because Idon’t need that for my argument. There IS something that it is like to be BillyJoe, and I know that conclusively, and that is all I need for my argument.)

    “To say consciousness is an illusion is to say none of us are conscious, we just think we are. Is this what you are saying?”

    It works like this: The subconscious brain makes a decision -> the subconscious brain passes the decision onto the conscious self -> 300 msec later the conscious self becomes aware of the decision -> the conscious self is unaware that the decision was already made 300msec ago -> therefore the conscious self believes it made the decision -> therefore the conscious self believes it is in control.
    So, the *fact* is that the brain is in control and the *illusion* is that the conscious self is in control.

  73. BillyJoe7on 28 Mar 2010 at 7:49 am

    Just to extend the following:

    “So, the *fact* is that the brain is in control and the *illusion* is that the conscious self is in control.”

    Of course this is only true for the brain in relation to the self. But even the brain is not in control in the grand scheme of things. The brain is merely a cause and effect engine. Completely deterministic (unless there is leakage from the quantum level, in which case, the brain would be largely deterministic but interrupted now and then by the equivalence of the flip of a coin).

  74. cwfongon 28 Mar 2010 at 1:10 pm

    In a deterministic world, gentlemen, all coin flips or their equivalents have been predetermined.

  75. M. Davieson 28 Mar 2010 at 1:40 pm

    Can’t write much now, but could you answer this question, perhaps you missed it:

    To say consciousness is an illusion is to say none of us are conscious, we just think we are. Is this what you are saying?

  76. Watcheron 28 Mar 2010 at 3:44 pm

    I think he addressed it in the very last part of his second-to-last post.

  77. BillyJoe7on 28 Mar 2010 at 3:58 pm

    cwfong

    “In a deterministic world, gentlemen, all coin flips or their equivalents have been predetermined.”

    All analogies are incomplete. ;)

  78. cwfongon 28 Mar 2010 at 4:06 pm

    The same brain that makes the decision then becomes conscious of the implementation process, which includes the opportunity to second guess the decision before the irrevocable step of taking an action. The consciousness at this point represents the form of conceptualization that the brain needs to employ while examining what can amount to a visual picture of possible consequences. I believe Damasio speaks to this process in his book, The Feeling of What Happens.

  79. M. Davieson 28 Mar 2010 at 7:52 pm

    @Watcher

    You are right, he gave an answer, my mistake, I apologize for the repetition. I am not really satisfied with his answer; we are probably at an impasse.

    He said
    I have already covered this. The brain produces consciousness on the way to producing a self (consciousness is a necessary precondition for a self). The consciousness and self are real.

    Which is simply repeating his point; he assumes the existence of ‘consciousness’ which has taken no better formulation than ‘I know I got it, you do too if you are honest with yourself buddy’. He still has not vouched for the explanatory value of ‘consciousness’. You might as well say ‘all moving objects have a motive force, if you don’t see it you are being dishonest, I know it’s there, that’s all I need for my argument.’

    The subconscious brain makes a decision -> the subconscious brain passes the decision onto the conscious self -> 300 msec later the conscious self becomes aware of the decision -> the conscious self is unaware that the decision was already made 300msec ago -> therefore the conscious self believes it made the decision -> therefore the conscious self believes it is in control.

    See, I don’t get how this demonstrates that there is something called consciousness beyond function and stimulus response. cwfong gives me another example of some neural operation. It describes something my computer does all the time. Does my computer possess consciousness? Is it ‘like something’ to be my computer?

    This ‘conscious self’ that people are talking about – it becomes aware of things that are brought to it, is this correct? The subconscious brain makes a decision and passes it on to the conscious self which appraises it and vetoes it if necessary? Sounds to me like you are reintroducing a homunculus into the process, something (‘the self’) which witnesses the theater of the mind and is thus separate from the mind. Or since this self might be physically located in the same area, maybe you say ‘it’s all part of the same thing, it’s not separate at all’. Or maybe you think the self is separate from brain processes or isolated from them, but any of these responses just move the goalposts to a different part of the brain.

    “All I am suggesting is that you acknowledge to yourself that “there is something that it is like to be M. Davies”.”

    Why must I make this confession? It has zero explanatory value, you just continually exhort me to do it, I have no idea why I must say these things.

    There IS something that it is like to be BillyJoe

    Tell me what it is like then. What is that thing which it is like?

  80. cwfongon 28 Mar 2010 at 8:19 pm

    What I described was the feeling of being conscious of the brain’s contemplative process. The feeling of what happens when we think, and can virtually see ourselves doing it, as opposed to the thinking we mostly do where such feeling is not a requirement. A computer to the best of anyone’s knowledge can’t feel itself think. It seems that while we have the need to feel as part of our processing, the machine doesn’t. One way of seeing this is that we, as its programmer, have done its feeling for it in advance.

  81. BillyJoe7on 29 Mar 2010 at 6:24 am

    M. Davies,

    He [BillyJoe] assumes the existence of ‘consciousness’ .

    No, I do not assume it. I know that there is at least one example of consciousness. Mine.

    “which has taken no better formulation than ‘I know I got it, you do too if you are honest with yourself buddy’

    But I AM conscious. That is a FACT.
    I used was the fact that I am conscious (plus the other two facts I mentioned) to INFER that others, like M. Davies, are also conscious.

    But the argument won’t work for you if you don’t/can’t acknowledge that you are conscious. That is not a problem for me, though, that is a problem for you. It means you can’t use the argument I used to infer that others are conscious and not p-zombies.

    That’s why I invited you to examine yourself and answer (honestly to yourself) the question “Is M. Davies conscious?”.
    You seem not to be able to bring yourself to do this.

    He still has not vouched for the explanatory value of ‘consciousness’

    I never claimed to and I don’t need to. It’s you insisting that I need to.
    Consciousness for me is a factual starting point. Consciousness exists. Because I am conscious. That, together with my other two facts, allows me to infer that others are conscious and that p-zombies are probably not possible.

    See, I don’t get how this….
    BillyJoe: “The subconscious brain makes a decision -> the subconscious brain passes the decision onto the conscious self -> 300 msec later the conscious self becomes aware of the decision -> the conscious self is unaware that the decision was already made 300msec ago -> therefore the conscious self believes it made the decision -> therefore the conscious self believes it is in control.”
    …demonstrates that there is something called consciousness beyond function and stimulus response.

    If wasn’t meant to. It was an answer to this question…
    M.Davies: “To say consciousness is an illusion is to say none of us are conscious, we just think we are. Is this what you are saying?”
    I was telling you that your interpretation of what I was saying is completely wrong by explaining, once again, what my actual view is.

    This ‘conscious self’ that people are talking about – it becomes aware of things that are brought to it, is this correct? The subconscious brain makes a decision and passes it on to the conscious self which appraises it and vetoes it if necessary?

    I didn’t get that from what he said, and I don’t think that is what he did say or imply. The conscious self does not make decisions. Period. It has been shown that there is a delay of 300 msec between the decison being made in the subconscious mind and the conscious self becomeing aware of that decision. This obviously applies also to any follow up decision.

    Why must I make this confession [“there is something that it is like to be M. Davies”]? It has zero explanatory value, you just continually exhort me to do it, I have no idea why I must say these things.

    You don’t have to. It’s just an invitation. I don’t care if you choose not to do so. As I said, it makes no difference to my argument at all. I infer it from the three facts I have garnered, one of which is that I am conscious.

    There IS something that it is like to be BillyJoe
    Tell me what it is like then. What is that thing which it is like?

    It doesn’t matter what it is like to be BillyJoe. It only matters that there is a fact of the matter that there is something that it is like to be BillyJoe.
    Perhaps I will try another tact:

    Start with a block of wood. It there anything that it is like to be a block of wood? No. There is no brain in there. Not even a single neurone. And a block of wood is not even alive. So, no, there is nothing that it is like to be a block of wood.
    What about a bacterium? At least it is alive! But, again, there is no brain, not even a single neurone. So there can be nothing that it is like to be a bacterium.
    What about an ant? It is alive and has a brain. But it’s brain is very primitive, so perhaps there is nothing that it’s like to be an ant either. And a bat? A Bat has no vision and moves around by echolocation. If there is something that it is like to be a bat, it would certainly be very different from what it is like to be a human.
    And what about humans?
    I know for a fact that there is something that it is like to be BillyJoe. So that’s at least one human who qualifies. What about M. Davies. Is there anything that it is like to be M. Davies. I infer that there is, but only M. Davies can answer that question for himself. Unless he is a p-zombie – hen the question makes no sense.

    Maybe there is nothing that it is like to be M. Davies. Maybe M.Davies IS a p-zombie. But it occurs to me now that there may be a way to find out. If M. Davies is a p-zombie, and if asked him if there is any difference between a p-zombie and a conscious human, he could answer in any number of ways including questioning the meaning of consciousness. But what he will not say is that, yes, there is a difference.
    If I asked another human (who, like M. Davies, understands the concept of a p-zombie) if there is any difference between a p-zombie and a conscious human, if he answered “yes”, I would know immediately that he is a conscious human.

    So, M.Davies: Is there any difference between a p-zombie and a conscious human?

    regards,
    BillyJoe

  82. Charles Won 29 Mar 2010 at 9:59 am

    BJ7 -

    Suppose M Davies rather than declining to answer your question responds “No, I am not conscious and no, there is nothing ‘it is like to be M Davies’”. What would be your conclusion?

  83. M. Davieson 29 Mar 2010 at 11:01 am

    @BillyJoe7

    No, I do not assume [the existence of consciousness]. I know that there is at least one example of consciousness. Mine….But I AM conscious. That is a FACT….Consciousness for me is a factual starting point. Consciousness exists.

    This is a peculiar fact indeed, a fact which only the speaker has access to. It exists as a fact for him or her, but cannot be shown to be a fact to anyone else. Apparently everyone else has their own fact which exists for him- or herself, different in reference than the original speaker’s. The speaker derives some conclusions from this fact, but can’t say to anyone else why they should accept the existence of this fact, and when asked ‘what does your fact help explain’ the speaker says there is no need for this fact to help explain anything. In other words, there is no phenomenon which we need the concept of ‘consciousness’ to explain. You know, if someone else came to this blog on any other topic and said “I know X to be true; it’s a factual starting point, but I can’t prove it to anyone else, and it doesn’t explain anything and doesn’t need to, but honest people admit that it is there” they would be laughed out of the place.

    The conscious self does not make decisions. Period. It has been shown that there is a delay of 300 msec between the decison being made in the subconscious mind and the conscious self becomeing aware of that decision.

    So the conscious self becomes aware of decisions. Is the conscious self a homonculous? You didn’t address that.

    It doesn’t matter what it is like to be BillyJoe. It only matters that there is a fact of the matter that there is something that it is like to be BillyJoe.

    “[Being BillyJoe] is like X”
    “[Y] is like X”
    “But it doesn’t matter what Y or X are, just that I call one of them consciousness, and we know it because it is like X and because I have it, but it doesn’t matter what X is”
    Do you not think this is a peculiar train of thought?

    If M. Davies is a p-zombie, and if asked him if there is any difference between a p-zombie and a conscious human, he could answer in any number of ways including questioning the meaning of consciousness. But what he will not say is that, yes, there is a difference. If I asked another human (who, like M. Davies, understands the concept of a p-zombie) if there is any difference between a p-zombie and a conscious human, if he answered “yes”, I would know immediately that he is a conscious human.

    Actually, a p-zombie could say any manner of things. Since a p-zombie is functionally equivalent to any other human but lacks ‘subjective experience’, then p-zombies can make mistakes, operate according to false principles, and so forth.

    So, M.Davies: Is there any difference between a p-zombie and a conscious human?

    I don’t know, I still don’t know what you mean by ‘conscious’ besides ‘it being like something”. A theory of a p-zombie can account for everything that people do, and like I said earlier, this includes reports of internal states. What use consciousness, a property accessible only to the elect who know they have it? Like a good p-zombie would say, ‘why should I bother with your concept’?

    @Charles W
    What are you getting at with that recent question, I am curious. I also get what you say at 28 mar 2010 at 1:49am.

    I never felt I was arguing in favour of any particular stance in this thread, but rather trying to tease out what other people are saying. It seems to me a number of people’s conclusions or claims have problematic or contradictory assumptions behind them, even though on the surface they suit adherence to some kind of physicalism, and my questions are only to get at problematic or contradictory assumptions.


    I also find it peculiar in this thread that self-avowed physicalists are invoking something pretty close to a qualia argument, if not identical, and thinking the qualifier ‘illusion’ exempts them from the contradiction.

  84. cwfongon 29 Mar 2010 at 2:17 pm

    Bacteria have a molecular circuitry that functions as a brain. They do feel, although we can’t know with any exactitude what that’s like. There appear to be empathetic pathways between different strains so that in theory there are different forms of bacteria that nevertheless can sense what it’s like to be each other.
    Play that forward and ponder.

    Also consider that when the brain consciously decides not to veto the subconscious, that’s a decision. Except not one that needs to be reconsidered by the subconscious.

  85. BillyJoe7on 29 Mar 2010 at 4:25 pm

    Charles W

    “Suppose M Davies rather than declining to answer your question responds “No, I am not conscious and no, there is nothing ‘it is like to be M Davies’”. What would be your conclusion?”

    That he is either a p-zombie, or that he is lying.

    And, since it my considered and evidence-backed opinion that p-zombies exist only in the minds of armchair philosophers who are not constrained by scientific evidence to the contrary, that he is, in all probability, lying.

  86. BillyJoe7on 29 Mar 2010 at 4:38 pm

    cwfong,

    “Bacteria have a molecular circuitry that functions as a brain. They do feel, although we can’t know with any exactitude what that’s like. There appear to be empathetic pathways between different strains so that in theory there are different forms of bacteria that nevertheless can sense what it’s like to be each other.
    Play that forward and ponder.”

    That would support my view that it took a lot of “effort” (over billions of years) to produce, from a rudimentary “feeling” in bacteria to full self consciousness in humans.
    I cannot be the only human who has consciousness. It would take too giant a leap into probability space from my parents to me to produce such a complex attribute.

    “Also consider that when the brain consciously decides not to veto the subconscious, that’s a decision. Except not one that needs to be reconsidered by the subconscious.”

    I thought you were on my side. :(

    The conscious brain does not veto the subconscious brain. That only seems to the conscious brain to be the case. Experiments have shown that the decision (or an adjustment to the decision, or a change in the decison – which is really just another decision after all!) occurs in the subconscious 300 msec before the conscious brain becomes aware of it.

  87. M. Davieson 29 Mar 2010 at 4:40 pm

    So you aren’t going to address my comments? That’s too bad. I wonder what an ‘armchair philosopher’ is. I think an ‘armchair philosopher who fails to be constrained by scientific evidence’ is someone who simply asserts the existence of a property that cannot be tested for, measured, or demonstrated to exist, when the results of any such test can be adequately explained by a theory which doesn’t invoke that property. Not only that, but said theory can even account for someone who says ‘it is like something to be me, I am sure of it!’

  88. cwfongon 29 Mar 2010 at 5:23 pm

    The conscious and subconscious functions are part of the same brain and operate as parts of a continuum. You might want to examine the literature again as to the nature of the experiments referenced, and the consistency among the interpretations that resulted. The time differences between signals from the various areas of the brain do not necessarily reflect time differences between the subconscious and conscious functions per se.
    The initial use here of the term veto was not mine, and I take no sides here. But our higher levels of consciousness do interface continuously with our lesser planes of awareness. It’s not a one directional process as far as the time factors are concerned.

  89. Charles Won 29 Mar 2010 at 5:33 pm

    “What are you getting at with that recent question?”

    Me:

    [If] M Davies … responds “No, I am not conscious …”, what would be your conclusion?

    BJ7:

    “since … p-zombies [are improbable], he is [probably] lying.”

    Ie, per the last paragraph of my comment at 27 Mar 2010 at 1:02 pm, in our society the question “Are you conscious” has only one acceptable answer – which therefore, as you claim, conveys no information. And, of course, it follows that neither does the assertion “I am conscious”. QED.
    ================================

    ” I was [just] trying to tease out what other people are saying.”

    And I’ve profited from being pushed. Thanks.

  90. BillyJoe7on 30 Mar 2010 at 6:39 am

    M. Davies,

    So you aren’t going to address my comments?

    I had my response loaded up this morning but hadn’t had time to proof-read it before having to head off to work so I didn’t post it. I have now, so here it is….

    ———————————

    This is a peculiar fact indeed, a fact which only the speaker has access to.

    No disagreement here.
    Except that *every* speaker has access to the fact that consciousness exists. Their own. It is a self-evident fact for everyone that they have consciousness.
    Unless you claim to be a p-zombie and then I have to say that evidence from evolution is against that hypothesis.

    It exists as a fact for him or her, but cannot be shown to be a fact to anyone else. Apparently everyone else has their own fact which exists for him- or herself, different in reference than the original speaker’s. The speaker derives some conclusions from this fact, but can’t say to anyone else why they should accept the existence of this fact,

    Everyone else – if they are honest with themselves – must necessarily accept the existence of consciousness because they themselves have access to the fact of their own consciousness, just like I do.

    …and when asked ‘what does your fact help explain’ the speaker says there is no need for this fact to help explain anything. In other words, there is no phenomenon which we need the concept of ‘consciousness’ to explain.

    I did not say that there is no need for consciousness to explain anything. I said I was not concerned about that need at this point in time. At present I am merely trying to prove that consciousness actually exists – because, if consciousness does not exist, there is no point in looking for a reason why it is needed is there?

    You know, if someone else came to this blog on any other topic and said “I know X to be true; it’s a factual starting point, but I can’t prove it to anyone else, and it doesn’t explain anything and doesn’t need to, but honest people admit that it is there” they would be laughed out of the place.

    Not necessarily.
    If someone came on to this blog and said “I am alive, and so are you”, I would not be inclined to stop him in his tracks and demand proof. I would simply accept that that is self-evidentally true.

    So the conscious self becomes aware of decisions. Is the conscious self a homonculous? You didn’t address that.

    I didn’t address that because the question doesn’t make sense in light of what I have already said about the brain and the conscious self. The brain produces a conscious self. The conscious self does not control the brain – that is an illusion. That is the whole point behind the concept of the “illusion of self” – that there is actually no self controlling the brain, no homunculus controlling the brain.

    But it doesn’t matter what Y or X are, just that I call one of them consciousness, and we know it because it is like X and because I have it, but it doesn’t matter what X is”
    Do you not think this is a peculiar train of thought?

    I am only concerned about whether or not there EXISTS “something that it is like to be BillyJoe”. I am not concerned what it is actually LIKE. You don’t need to explain what something is LIKE to prove that it EXISTS!

    BillyJoe: Is there any difference between a p-zombie and a conscious human?
    M. Davies: I don’t know, I still don’t know what you mean by ‘conscious’ besides ‘it being like something”. A theory of a p-zombie can account for everything that people do, and like I said earlier, this includes reports of internal states. What use consciousness, a property accessible only to the elect who know they have it? Like a good p-zombie would say, ‘why should I bother with your concept’?

    Okay, as I said, a response like that does not allow me to say that you are a conscious human. So, may I please ask you to choose from the following the situation thyat best describes M. Davies:

    1) I am a p-zombie.
    2) I am a conscious human.
    3) I am a conscious human pretending to be a p-zombie.
    4) I don’t know whether I am a p-zombie or conscious human.

    I also find it peculiar in this thread that self-avowed physicalists are invoking something pretty close to a qualia argument, if not identical, and thinking the qualifier ‘illusion’ exempts them from the contradiction.

    The word “qualia” means different things to different people. If you mean do I *experience* red when I look at the flowers growing on my rose bush, I am going to confidently state: “Of course I do”.
    And If you are going to tell me that you do not *experience* red when you look at my roses, then I suspect that either you are playing philosophical games with me, or you are outright lying (and I don’t think there is much difference between the two. ;)

    regards,
    BillyJoe

  91. M. Davieson 30 Mar 2010 at 10:41 am

    Everybody has a soul. It’s a self-evident fact to every person, and if you say you don’t have one, you’re being dishonest. How do we know we have souls? Science! If a soul didn’t have any evolutionary advantage they wouldn’t exist.

  92. M. Davieson 30 Mar 2010 at 11:19 am

    The brain produces a conscious self. The conscious self does not control the brain – that is an illusion.

    See, I thought people said brains perceive the world. But this it not the case, apparently brains produce a self which perceives the brain’s perception of the world. Or maybe that self, which the brain produced, has the illusion of perceiving the world! Or maybe that self bypasses the brain and see the world immediately. Does it experience ‘red’ or maybe the illusion of ‘red’, a distinction without a difference? Does the self which is not in control but which perceives the brain’s decisions have little eyes, or maybe a brain of its own? Maybe it’s circular, for we know the brain is round! What a wondrous model of cognition! If the self is an illusion, what is the thing which is being deceived? Is it another self? To say there is a self (oops, an ‘illusion of self’) which stands apart from the brain and only thinks it controls the brain – surely there is an evolutionary advantage for something which has no real effects on the brain besides sitting back and watching, thinking it is doing something!

    I am only concerned about whether or not there EXISTS “something that it is like to be BillyJoe”. I am not concerned what it is actually LIKE. You don’t need to explain what something is LIKE to prove that it EXISTS!

    “BillyJoe’s definition of consciousness: to be conscious is to have a sense that it is like something to be oneself. What it is like to be oneself doesn’t matter. I don’t need to say what being like me is, beyond saying that it is like something (which we don’t need to talk about), to prove that it exists.” In other words, it is like something to be like me therefore it is like something to be like me, therefore that plus evolution means everyone I attribute this property to has it as well..

    If someone came on to this blog and said “I am alive, and so are you”, I would not be inclined to stop him in his tracks and demand proof. I would simply accept that that is self-evidentally true.

    Hmm, yes, because it is impossible to prove the presence of biological processes, life is a fact accessible only to the speaker and can only be accepted axiomatically, buttressed via very honest people saying it is real (someone tell the biologists and morticians to pack it in).

    choose from the following the situation thyat best describes M. Davies:

    1) I am a p-zombie.
    2) I am a conscious human.
    3) I am a conscious human pretending to be a p-zombie.
    4) I don’t know whether I am a p-zombie or conscious human.

    Most likely 1, but maybe 4, because I am still waiting to hear the criteria that distinguish ‘conscious human’ from ‘p-zombie’. Asking “is there someone home” is apparently the litmus test, but I have 10 lines of computer code that must be conscious then.

  93. bluskoolon 30 Mar 2010 at 1:46 pm

    1) I am a p-zombie.
    2) I am a conscious human.
    3) I am a conscious human pretending to be a p-zombie.
    4) I don’t know whether I am a p-zombie or conscious human.
    Most likely 1, but maybe 4, because I am still waiting to hear the criteria that distinguish ‘conscious human’ from ‘p-zombie’. Asking “is there someone home” is apparently the litmus test, but I have 10 lines of computer code that must be conscious then.

    Maybe I am jumping back in on this too late so forgive me if this has been mentioned, but isn’t it possible that p-zombies are simply impossible? Instead of saying that you are a p-zombie and consciousness doesn’t exist, why not say you are are conscious and p-zombies don’t exist (or can’t exist)? What I mean is that consciousness could just be what happens when all of the necessary brain parts are functioning together much like driving is what happens when all of the necessary car parts are functioning together.

  94. tmac57on 30 Mar 2010 at 3:18 pm

    What I am trying to figure out is, does anyone in this debate actually think that they know what consciousness is, or is this just an intellectual exercise to gain more insight?

  95. cwfongon 30 Mar 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Everything that can’t be known to a certainty is to that certain extent illusory. (With apologies to Confucius for the paraphrase.)

  96. BillyJoe7on 30 Mar 2010 at 4:33 pm

    bluskool,

    “Maybe I am jumping back in on this too late so forgive me if this has been mentioned, but isn’t it possible that p-zombies are simply impossible? Instead of saying that you are a p-zombie and consciousness doesn’t exist, why not say you are are conscious and p-zombies don’t exist (or can’t exist)? What I mean is that consciousness could just be what happens when all of the necessary brain parts are functioning together much like driving is what happens when all of the necessary car parts are functioning together.”

    In my opinion, you are not far off the mark, bluskool.

  97. BillyJoe7on 30 Mar 2010 at 4:37 pm

    tmac,

    What I am trying to figure out is, does anyone in this debate actually think that they know what consciousness is…
    It’s the old story: I may not be able to define it, but I sure as hell know it when I experience it.

    …or is this just an intellectual exercise to gain more insight?
    IMO, it is a philosophical game to confuse and disorientate.

  98. cwfongon 30 Mar 2010 at 4:40 pm

    Cars don’t drive themselves without, at some point, conscious intervention.

  99. BillyJoe7on 30 Mar 2010 at 4:42 pm

    cwfong

    Everything that can’t be known to a certainty is to that certain extent illusory.

    How do you figure?
    Everything is known about that checkerboard. We know everyone sees A and B as different colours. We know that A and B reflect or transmit the same wavelength of light. We know why we all see A and B as different colours.
    But we still have the illusion.

  100. BillyJoe7on 30 Mar 2010 at 4:51 pm

    M. Davies,

    Everybody has a soul. It’s a self-evident fact to every person, and if you say you don’t have one, you’re being dishonest. How do we know we have souls? Science! If a soul didn’t have any evolutionary advantage they wouldn’t exist.

    Firstly I thought we were both agreed that there is no “self” controlling the brain. No soul. No homunculus. Call it what you like.

    Secondly, a soul is not self-evident. Not in the way consciousness is self-evident – or to use my previous phrase, “a given” – to all those who are actually conscious.

    Thirdly, the evidence of evolution and statistics lend no support for the existence of a soul, but they overwhelmingly support the existence of consciousness and self-consciousness.

  101. cwfongon 30 Mar 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Everything is not known about the unmasked checkerboard.

  102. M. Davieson 30 Mar 2010 at 5:02 pm

    @bluskool

    If someone says people are like X (p-zombies) and someone says people are like X+Y (p-zombies but also with the property of consciousness), then the burden of proof is on the person saying there is an additional property; you can’t just assume it and then say ‘see, it exists’.

    consciousness could just be what happens when all of the necessary brain parts are functioning together much like driving is what happens when all of the necessary car parts are functioning together.

    Sure! Why not! I think it would be acceptable when (1) someone says ‘what all the necessary parts’ are and grants consciousness to everything which has those parts and nothing which doesn’t, and (2) when someone shows why all those parts in aggregate warrant the overarching term. If you want to call A+B+C+D consciousness, you should be able to say why.

    Also, in your analogy, driving is not something inherent to the parts themselves, you can’t see it by studying those parts. This would be an interesting line to pursue (philosophers have), and one which might be open to defense. But BillyJoe doesn’t argue this, he simply says consciousness is self-evident to those who possess it!

    But of course, BillyJoe hasn’t said how his argument doesn’t also let us argue for the existence of a soul, for a soul is self-evident to every one who has one. Why, I can sense mine right now! Also, evolution and statistics prove it (somehow).

  103. M. Davieson 30 Mar 2010 at 5:06 pm

    BillyJoe
    IMO, it is a philosophical game to confuse and disorientate.

    Charles W has followed me just fine. How can I confuse you? All I’ve done is asked about your position and drawn out its implications – perhaps it is your position which is confused and disoriented.

  104. bluskoolon 30 Mar 2010 at 5:18 pm

    Cars don’t drive themselves without, at some point, conscious intervention.

    This misses the point of the analogy. It doesn’t matter that consciousness is one ingredient in driving. The point is that if you have a working car and a person in it pressing the peddle, you have driving. If p-zombies are impossible, postulating their existence is like saying that you have all of those ingredients in place without the driving.

  105. cwfongon 30 Mar 2010 at 5:46 pm

    “What I mean is that consciousness could just be what happens when all of the necessary brain parts are functioning together much like driving is what happens when all of the necessary car parts are functioning together.”

    “This misses the point of the analogy. It doesn’t matter that consciousness is one ingredient in driving. The point is that if you have a working car and a person in it pressing the peddle, you have driving.”

    Is the person pressing the pedal a necessary part of the car?

    I don’t mean to take sides here, but such errors of or by omission can glare out to be recognized from all directions.

  106. bluskoolon 30 Mar 2010 at 5:47 pm

    If someone says people are like X (p-zombies) and someone says people are like X+Y (p-zombies but also with the property of consciousness), then the burden of proof is on the person saying there is an additional property; you can’t just assume it and then say ’see, it exists’.

    Yes, but I’m not arguing for an additional property. I am saying that maybe p-zombies are not possible. IOW, if you have a p-zombie, it is conscious by definition.

    Sure! Why not! I think it would be acceptable when (1) someone says ‘what all the necessary parts’ are and grants consciousness to everything which has those parts and nothing which doesn’t, and (2) when someone shows why all those parts in aggregate warrant the overarching term. If you want to call A+B+C+D consciousness, you should be able to say why.

    Yes, it is just a speculation. But the speculatory knife cuts both ways. We can’t say for sure whether or not p-zombies are possible because we don’t yet know if pure functionalism is true.

    Also, in your analogy, driving is not something inherent to the parts themselves, you can’t see it by studying those parts.

    That seems intuitively true, but what if “driving” was something that evolved and we didn’t understand how cars were doing it. Couldn’t we take them apart, study them in detail and figure out how this thing we call “driving” is happening?

    This would be an interesting line to pursue (philosophers have), and one which might be open to defense. But BillyJoe doesn’t argue this, he simply says consciousness is self-evident to those who possess it!

    My intent wasn’t to argue for or against anyone. I was just thinking about p-zombies and wondering if this whole debate isn’t being framed wrong. I think the interesting question is “are p-zombies possible.” It seems to me that knowing that will tell us whether or not the hard problem is really meaningful. :) But alas, we don’t know the answer to that question. :(

  107. cwfongon 30 Mar 2010 at 6:49 pm

    ‘– but what if “driving” was something that evolved and we didn’t understand how cars were doing it. Couldn’t we take them apart, study them in detail and figure out how this thing we call “driving” is happening?’

    Would you find in doing so the needs that engine was somehow engineered to satisfy, and know by each need if it was conscious of its ends and means accordingly?

  108. bluskoolon 30 Mar 2010 at 7:22 pm

    “Is the person pressing the pedal a necessary part of the car?
    I don’t mean to take sides here, but such errors of or by omission can glare out to be recognized from all directions.”

    It’s not relevant. Just think of an analogy involving a process that doesn’t need consciousness. How about nuclear fusion?

  109. bluskoolon 30 Mar 2010 at 7:24 pm

    “Would you find in doing so the needs that engine was somehow engineered to satisfy, and know by each need if it was conscious of its ends and means accordingly?”

    I don’t understand what you are asking.

  110. cwfongon 30 Mar 2010 at 7:59 pm

    Engines were devised, whether by men, mice or magic, as means to achieve the devisor’s ends. Can you ascertain the degree that the devisor was conscious without knowing what reasons it was capable of consciously devising?

    As to nuclear fusion, if comparable to an engine, what ends would that process have been devised to serve as well? If none, could this properly be called an engine? If some ends were found, could we know the ones for which fusion was not consciously selected as the means? If not, the analogy fails.

  111. bluskoolon 30 Mar 2010 at 9:06 pm

    We might design machines for our particular ends, but there are really no “ultimate” ends unless you believe in God. We are machines designed by evolution, but that doesn’t mean we have an ultimate end, again, unless you believe in God. We are designed by evolution simply to survive. So, assuming the absence of God, I don’t see where your objection has any bearing.

  112. cwfongon 30 Mar 2010 at 10:01 pm

    Did anyone say anything about ultimate ends? You were discussing in particular the evolvement of car engines, which as far as I know, evolve as directed by humans. So as to your statement that “we might design machines for our particular ends,” I’ll take that as a concession that we can do it for the occasional conscious reason.

  113. bluskoolon 30 Mar 2010 at 10:21 pm

    So, what’s your point? How does this make this analogy false?

  114. cwfongon 30 Mar 2010 at 10:45 pm

    My point is that car engines are not analogous to nuclear fission in any way that makes your point that engines do their own driving without conscious direction.

  115. BillyJoe7on 31 Mar 2010 at 6:49 am

    M. Davies,

    See, I thought people said brains perceive the world. But this it not the case, apparently brains produce a self which perceives the brain’s perception of the world.

    You can always twist words to make them mean what you want them to mean to assist your argument, but there is no sense in which I have claimed the above.
    In fact, I am at pains to exclude a separate “self”. Of course the “self” is part of the brain. It should be pretty clear that what I mean by “produce” is something along lines of: throughout evolutionary history, brains evolved consciousness and then self consciousness. This is part of my argument that the idea that the self controls the brain is an illusion.

    Or maybe that self, which the brain produced, has the illusion of perceiving the world!

    That the brain experiences the world is not the illusion – it really does experience the world. But *what* it experiences, however, IS an illusion – *what* it experiences does not represent the world as it really is.
    In the checkerboard illusion, for example, the brain really does experience A and B (as different colours), but *what* it experiences is an illusion (they are actually the same colour)
    Why is this so difficult to understand?

    Or maybe that self bypasses the brain and see the world immediately.

    What???

    Does it experience ‘red’ or maybe the illusion of ‘red’, a distinction without a difference?

    The brain really does *experience* red. But there is no red out there. The *experience* of red is real, but it is an illusion that red actually *exists*. If you think this is not correct, answer the question I put to you previously, albeit rhetorically: “where is red?”

    Does the self which is not in control but which perceives the brain’s decisions have little eyes, or maybe a brain of its own? Maybe it’s circular, for we know the brain is round! What a wondrous model of cognition!

    Lack of understanding is no excuse for sarcasm.

    If the self is an illusion, what is the thing which is being deceived?

    Ilusion is not a deception, it is the failure of the brain to accurately perceive the world as it is. In the checkerboard example, the brain misperceives that A and B are different colours.

    To say there is a self (oops, an ‘illusion of self’) which stands apart from the brain and only thinks it controls the brain

    To correct you again: The *experience* of self is real. That the self controls the brain is the illusion – that would be equivalent to a soul/homunculus in the brain.

    – surely there is an evolutionary advantage for something which has no real effects on the brain besides sitting back and watching, thinking it is doing something!

    There surely must be an advantage to a brain being conscious compared to a p-zombie brain. But, you are mischaracterising the conscious self yet again.

    “BillyJoe’s definition of consciousness: to be conscious is to have a sense that it is like something to be oneself. What it is like to be oneself doesn’t matter.

    First of all, that describes the “conscious self”.
    And, for the second time, I didn’t say it doesn’t matter. Of course it matters. It’s just not what concerns me at this point. At this point I’m still trying to convince you that it exists.
    (The rest of that paragraph I don’t understand at all. Perhaps you can clarify)

    Most likely [I am a p-zombie], but maybe [I don’t know whether I am a p-zombie or conscious human], because I am still waiting to hear the criteria that distinguish ‘conscious human’ from ‘p-zombie’.

    You seriously entertain the thought that you are a p-zombie? That you are not conscious! (or is this just part of your philosophical game that you refuse to give up even after being shown how ridiculous it is?).
    You are actually telling me that the brain called “M. Davies” while receiving input from eyes and ears while watching Alanis Morissett singing “Utopia”, does not actually *experience* anything? You do not *experience* the beautiful sight and sound of Alanis Morissette singing “Utopia”?
    I am afraid, M.Davies, that that is just not believable.
    There surely must be a better way to win an argument!

    Asking “is there someone home” is apparently the litmus test, but I have 10 lines of computer code that must be conscious then.

    Again, why do you find it necessary to twist my words? I never asked you “Is there someone home?”, I said “Ask yourself is there someone home?”. Or “Ask yourself is there something that it is like to be M. Davies”. In other words, I’m trying to get you to be honest with yourself.

    regards,
    BillyJoe

  116. BillyJoe7on 31 Mar 2010 at 7:18 am

    bluskool,

    I think the interesting question is “are p-zombies possible.”

    A very interesting question!
    And, of course, they are not.
    You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it.
    And I ‘m pretty sure even M. Davies knows it.

    M. Davies…

    What we have here is philosophical masturbation, I’m sorry.
    Watch the video and tell yourself you don’t *experience*.
    You can lie to me but, please, don’t lie to yourself.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9tlC4fJkQU
    (oops, this is the stills version, but nevermind)

    P-zombie?….please, spare me the insult.

  117. bluskoolon 31 Mar 2010 at 7:32 am

    “My point is that car engines are not analogous to nuclear fission in any way that makes your point that engines do their own driving without conscious direction.”

    But I never said that car engines do their own driving without conscious intervention. Like I said from the beginning, you are missing the point of the analogy.

    Maybe “consciousness” is like “driving” is like “nuclear fusion.” Consciousness is what happens when certain brain parts are functioning together, driving is what happens when car parts and a someone to press the peddle are functioning together and nuclear fusion is what happens certain star parts are functioning together. The only reason I added nuclear fusion was because you seemed to think that if consciousness was a part of the process, the analogy would be false. But I don’t see where it matters if consciousness is a part of driving. In what way would that make the analogy false?

    The part about cars evolving was just a thought experiment to test the idea that driving could not be understood by examining the parts. It was also not a claim that cars drive themselves without conscious intervention.

  118. M. Davieson 31 Mar 2010 at 11:56 am

    @BillyJoe7
    BillyJoe7 that last block of questions were rhetorical and tongue-in-cheek (I thought it was obvious).

    I said “Ask yourself is there someone home?”. Or “Ask yourself is there something that it is like to be M. Davies”.

    “Well, me, is there someone home?”
    “I have no idea how to answer this question, what are you talking about?”

    “If there something that it is like to be you.”
    “Being me is like…’a summer’s day’? No, that’s not right, is it like ‘the feeling of rough cardboard’? No, not that…I’m not sure I get the question. Tell me what it is like to be you and that might give me a clue.”

    @bluskool
    Yes, but I’m not arguing for an additional property. I am saying that maybe p-zombies are not possible. IOW, if you have a p-zombie, it is conscious by definition.

    What if I said instead of p-zombies that there are just people in the world as they are. We are these people and we interact with each other every day. Forget the term ‘p-zombie’ altogether. Now, as good scientists, we try to explain everything about people, including their utterances about their inputs, their behaviors, the correlation with neural activity, and so forth. At which point do we need to bring up the concept ‘consciousness’? Surely we wait to encounter this phenomena and then name it; we don’t say ‘there is consciousness’ and then try to prove that it is there. I did say in a previous post maybe ‘consciousness’ has some lay value or poetic function, but it’s not a concept ‘proven by science’.

    Someone might say ‘well I have a feeling of what it is like to be me, explain that’. I would ask that person to define their terms a bit better. I’d say, maybe you have some capacity for self-reference. Is that consciousness? My phone, my computer, even the governor in my car has the capacity for self-reference, should we call all of these things ‘conscious’? Maybe we should, if there is good reason to, or maybe we should just talk about various mechanisms of self-reference. Someone else might say ‘well I experience red’, but I take that to mean they receive an input that cannot be conflated with any other input, and thus they register that input as distinct. Should anything which does that count as conscious? Why use the term ‘conscious or self-conscious’ if we can just talk about complex mechanisms of input reception? A smart bomb fills a lot of these criteria; it receives input, it has a sense of itself in the world, and it responds appropriately. Is that conscious? Or then someone says ‘well, me seeing red also has a particular quality, explain that’ and then we are back in the realm of the hard problem, qualia, and everything else.

    Saying ‘p-zombies are not possible, everyone knows it’ is like saying ‘people are not possible’ because everything in a theory of a p-zombie accounts for people as they are in the world, except for this experience which BillyJoe7 says everyone has, that ‘it exists, you know it if you are honest with yourself’ telling us that any doubt about his assertion is in bad faith, or we are doing ‘philosophical masturbation’ and ‘armchair philosophy’, but those latter terms aren’t really meaningful.

  119. M. Davieson 31 Mar 2010 at 12:11 pm

    Just to pre-empt a possible response, when I say

    When someone says ‘me seeing red also has a particular quality, explain that’ we are back in the realm of the hard problem, qualia, and everything else.

    There may be on objection that ‘well there is no “red” in the world, it’s just an illusion.’ But this falls flat because the hard problem doesn’t care if there is red in the world, the problem is precisely ‘why is there an experience of redness, why does it have a particular phenomenological status if there is no red in the world’. Evolutionary utility doesn’t hold water as a rebuttal, because something which registered red as a distinct input without ‘this phenomenological quality of redness’ would work in the world just as well, by definition.

  120. Charles Won 31 Mar 2010 at 1:53 pm

    120+ comments later, I went back and reread Prof Novella’s original post, the interview with Baars in the book mentioned in my comment at 24 Mar 2010 at 8:29 pm, and read for the first time the New Scientist article. Embedded in those is (I think) a definition of consciousness that might focus the discussion of what consciousness “is”.

    Caveat: On my first reading of the interviews, I skimmed them all looking for new concepts, and since Baars’ GW architecture was in its gross features consistent with the architecture that came naturally to me (a communication systems engineer), I didn’t take much notice of it. By now, I have my own ideas about some architectural features, so my description may or may not accurately reflect Baars’ ideas and may include some of my own. The maximum likelihood reading tack would therefore be to attribute obviously bad ideas to me, obviously good ones to Baars.

    As I interpret it, the Baars’ GW theory can be modeled somewhat as follows. The brain comprises numerous discrete components (or structures)- eg, the thalamus – and a vast network of neurons which can (roughly) be subdivided into types: sensory, motor, or memory (and possibly others). There are interconnected processing “centers”, each comprising some combination of components and neurons and performing one or more specific functions (mental activities) on neuronal inputs to produce neuronal outputs.

    In the interview, Baars is a bit evasive when asked about consciousness. He describes his architectural concept using a staircase metaphor in which each step up the staircase is a more inclusive level of modeling. Using visual processing as an example, the process starts with “pixels”, steps up to lines, then shapes, colors, etc. I’m a bit fuzzy beyond this, but I think he is saying something like that each process has it’s staircase, the various top steps competes for the brass ring – a phenomenal representation, which is the essence of “consciousness. For example, if the visual processing wins, you have the experience of being “in a play”, “seeing” the sets, other actors, etc. The losing processes remain “unconscious” (ie, no phenomenal representation), but the competition is continuous: the process that wins changes in real time.

    A couple of notes. Apparently this distributed processing model has supporting evidence from brain activity studies, and “consciousness” as ex post facto “reporting” of complex processing is consistent with the familiar several hundred msec delay between sensory stimulus and evidence of “consciousness”/”awareness”. The GW concept is also consistent with a view I find useful, viz, brain activity as essentially the implementation of neuron state transitions. I haven’t thought it out in detail (and am incapable of getting into much detail), but at least at an arm-waving level that view seems to be arguably compatible with some of the more difficult phenomena, eg, pain and occurrent thoughts.

    Fire away.

  121. bluskoolon 31 Mar 2010 at 3:07 pm

    What if I said instead of p-zombies that there are just people in the world as they are. We are these people and we interact with each other every day. Forget the term ‘p-zombie’ altogether. Now, as good scientists, we try to explain everything about people, including their utterances about their inputs, their behaviors, the correlation with neural activity, and so forth. At which point do we need to bring up the concept ‘consciousness’? Surely we wait to encounter this phenomena and then name it; we don’t say ‘there is consciousness’ and then try to prove that it is there. I did say in a previous post maybe ‘consciousness’ has some lay value or poetic function, but it’s not a concept ‘proven by science’.

    It depends on if you think of consciousness as an actual process or an entity. Take digestion. Really, digestion is just a chemical and mechanical process by which an organism breaks down food in order for it to be converted into energy. It is a process, not an entity. You can’t point to a spot in the body and say “there is digestion,” but it is still a very useful term to describe what is going on. Similarly with consciousness. Even if it is just complex, layered brain activity whereby higher layers are aware of the activity of lower layers (note that I just simplified the crap out of that), I still think it is useful to call it consciousness. For one thing, there is a lot that our brains are doing that isn’t conscious so just “brain activity” can’t be synonymous with consciousness. For another thing, we can take drugs that alter this thing we call consciousness without drastically affecting other brain activity like heart regulation. Also, let’s not forget that consciousness is also used to describe mental states where the organism is awake rather than asleep or in another sense unconscious.

    Why use the term ‘conscious or self-conscious’ if we can just talk about complex mechanisms of input reception?

    I would use a similar argument as above. We have the ability to view what another person does and simulate the experience in our own neurons without actually doing whatever it is they are doing. There is some speculation that this the same process we use in order to be aware of ourselves and how we feel. Sure, we could explain the neuronal activity whenever we talk about it, but it is much easier to give the whole process a label.

    Saying ‘p-zombies are not possible, everyone knows it’ is like saying ‘people are not possible’ because everything in a theory of a p-zombie accounts for people as they are in the world, except for this experience which BillyJoe7 says everyone has, that ‘it exists, you know it if you are honest with yourself’ telling us that any doubt about his assertion is in bad faith, or we are doing ‘philosophical masturbation’ and ‘armchair philosophy’, but those latter terms aren’t really meaningful.

    Well, I wouldn’t put it like that. I am saying that p-zombies are not possible because you couldn’t have something that functions exactly as we do, yet does not have subjective, conscious experiences. You could probably write a computer program that mimics the responses we would give, but is not conscious. But we don’t have computers that are even close to mimicking our neurons and brain organs. Hell, we don’t even fully understand how the neural networks in our own brains function.

  122. Steve Pageon 31 Mar 2010 at 3:08 pm

    I hope that one of you enjoys the biscuit when this circle-jerk has finished.

  123. M. Davieson 31 Mar 2010 at 3:26 pm

    wow, steve page is posting garbage, what a surprise

  124. bluskoolon 31 Mar 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Steve, didn’t you just prematurely post in this thread? Don’t get angry at long threads just because you can’t last.

  125. BillyJoe7on 31 Mar 2010 at 4:37 pm

    M. Davies,

    Nice evasion.

    Notice how I am able to answer and correct practically everything you write about p-zombies, yet all you are able to do in return is to make some generalised comments that avoid you having to confront the absurdity of what you are proposing.

    That should tell you something about how backrupt your idea of the p-zombie is.
    …wait, you have just disowned him!

    Oh well, if he is already dead, then let’s just bury him shall we.

    (Not that it would matter if he was dead or not. I mean his screaming as we shovel the dirt in, is just acting out, isn’t it. Just an elaborate response to a simple stimulus. He is not actually *experiencing* the sheer terror that we see in his eyes.)

  126. BillyJoe7on 31 Mar 2010 at 4:48 pm

    “I hope that one of you enjoys the biscuit when this circle-jerk has finished.”

    I think what we have here is a one man circle jerk!
    …a little hard to imagine but let’s just say that the biscuit is called M. Davies.

    :D

    Got it? Yes I’m sure you do.

  127. M. Davieson 31 Mar 2010 at 5:02 pm

    I have been more than patient, not sure how I have evaded anything. When I post a bunch of obviously ridiculous statements at 30 Mar 2010 at 11:19 am and you respond thinking they are things I am actually asking I’m not going to follow up.

    Notice how I am able to answer and correct practically everything you write about p-zombies. I don’t think an Alanis Morisette youtube video plus the injunction ‘just look!’ really takes what I have been saying seriously. As far as I can tell, you’ve failed to question your own stance, you’ve simply defended it.

    I see steve page’s scummy comment and your violent fantasy make you feel better though, way to go, I guess.

  128. M. Davieson 31 Mar 2010 at 5:19 pm

    @bluskool

    I am saying that p-zombies are not possible because you couldn’t have something that functions exactly as we do, yet does not have subjective, conscious experiences.

    Ok, sure, I could be on board with this and most of the rest of your comments, but the question is what is contained in the qualifier ‘functions exactly as we do’? What are the necessary components? My intuition is that once you define those components, we will probably end up with (1) people who we would have ascribed the faculty ‘conscious’ to (they can speak, move around) but are not conscious according to those criteria, i.e. they lack some important component and/or (2) things which we would never have thought of as conscious but satisfy all the conditions – computers, physical devices, simple organisms, who knows what else.

    You could probably write a computer program that mimics the responses we would give, but is not conscious. But we don’t have computers that are even close to mimicking our neurons and brain organs.

    My point is that absent any measure that tells us how the computer differs from the person, then there is no point saying one has ‘consciousness’ or ‘phenomenal experience’ or whatever and the other does not. I’ve been asking BillyJoe to tell me how a human differs from a p-zombie, for he implicitly thinks there’s a difference. How do I know he thinks there’s a difference? Because he’s been saying a p-zombie is impossible throughout this discussion. But what is the measure that tells us how they are different? I can’t see what his criteria is. Even a mechanical device, if it could mimic the brain/body in the world, would require us to see it as equivalent to any human brain. They would deliver reports just like we do, and if it is as sophisticated as we are it might act just like anyone else, saying all sorts of things about its ‘inside’ world.

    @Charles W

    fire away

    Well there’s not much to say – you’ve obviously done your homework; I haven’t read Baars (Google Books hit the page limit). My question would be whether Baars accounts for any synthesizing function. Apologies for the crude reduction, but suppose I am looking at a red stop sign. My ‘red’ detector tells me there is red, my ‘shape’ detector tells me there is an octagon, my ‘location’ detector tells me the object is in front of me – is there any final ‘center’ which pulls it all together, or is it sufficient for each detector to simply do its own thing? My sentiment is that the latter would be sufficient.

  129. cwfongon 31 Mar 2010 at 5:41 pm

    All three of the detectors are yours. If they all do their own thing without any final center to pull it all together, what did they need you for?

  130. Charles Won 31 Mar 2010 at 7:55 pm

    My impression is that they are all “pulled together” at the last step of the visual “staircase”. However, I should emphasize that “doing my homework” re Baars amounts to no more than I said, so my speculations and ramblings shouldn’t be taken as gospel.

    But I agree that for many “system responses”, they need not be integrated. But when the visual staircase wins the consciousness competition, they are effectively integrated in the resulting phenomenal representation.

    Of course, why and how this phenomenal representation is effected are the unanswered questions.

  131. BillyJoe7on 01 Apr 2010 at 5:59 am

    M. Davies,

    “When I post a bunch of obviously ridiculous statements…”

    When you post, in all seriousness, that you are a p-zombie, then it’s actually hard to tell when you are being serious and when you are being ridiculous.

    “I don’t think an Alanis Morisette youtube video plus the injunction ‘just look!’ really takes what I have been saying seriously.”

    Well, yes, when someone tells me that he is a p-zombie and doesn’t *experience* anything, than I have to admit that I find it really difficult to take what he says seriously.

    (And try Alanis Morissette.
    And, in case you missed it, “homunculus” not “homonculous”.)

    “As far as I can tell, you’ve failed to question your own stance, you’ve simply defended it.”

    As if you’re the first to introduce me to the concept of a p-zombie!
    However, most do not claim to be a p-zombie but rather that, if there was a p-zombie amongst us, we couldn’t tell. Which is true enough. Then the discussion naturally turns around to whether we think a p-zombie is possible.
    No one, in my experience, has ever made the preposterous claim that they are an actual p-zombie.

    “I see steve page’s scummy comment and your violent fantasy make you feel better though, way to go, I guess.”

    You hope I *feel* better?
    Are you sure that’s what you want to say?
    I mean I would have to *experience* something in order to *feel* something wouldn’t I?

    Oh, I know, you’re a p-zombie responding in exactly the same manner as a conscious human would respond. You *feel* nothing, bacause you *experience* nothing. You’re just a bunch of relexes and reactions responding appropriately to stimuli. Therefore, I can say anything I like about you and it won’t really matter will it?. Although you’ll respond as if you’re hurt, it’s all just empty reflexes.

    Yeah right!

  132. BillyJoe7on 01 Apr 2010 at 6:35 am

    M. Davies,

    “I’ve been asking BillyJoe to tell me how a human differs from a p-zombie”

    And you don’t like the answer and therefore you don’t accept the answer and therefore you pretend none has been offered.

    What is the definitional difference between a conscious human and a hypothetical p-zombie: consciousness, of course.
    If such a hypothetical p-zombie existed, could you detect the difference between it and a human: by definition, the answer to this question is no.
    Can a p-zombie actually exist: all of evolution theory is against it.
    Does a conscious human exist: Yes. I am such a human. And the evidence from evolution is that you are too.

    Yeah, yeah, you’re not a conscious human. You are a p-zombie.
    You are not *conscious*. You don’t *experience*. You don’t *feel*.
    Yeah, right.

    M. Davies, you remind me of “The Man Who Lost His Spectacles”:
    The man who lost his spectacles searches for them everywhere. In every room in the house. Into every nook and cranny. Under chairs and on top of cupboards. Finally he exclaims: “My spectacles aren’t anywhere!”. Just then his wife walks in and smiles. “What?” he asks. She smiles at him again and with her eyes points to the top of his head. “Don’t be ridiculous!” he replies.

    “Even a mechanical device, if it could mimic the brain/body in the world, would require us to see it as equivalent to any human brain. They would deliver reports just like we do, and if it is as sophisticated as we are it might act just like anyone else, saying all sorts of things about its ‘inside’ world.”

    And that robot, if it could do all the things of which conscious humans are capable would have to be regarded as conscious whether you could prove it or not. The evidence of evolution would demand it.

    regards,
    BillyJoe

  133. Charles Won 01 Apr 2010 at 9:40 am

    Against my better judgment, I’ll make one brief comment about zombies.

    When we talk about robots and computers, I suspect most of us automatically interpret the vocabulary – “data”, “memory”, “processors”, etc – in digital terms. And if so, most of us automatically envision a physical distinction between an analog human being and a digital zombie.

    I’m old enough to have experienced analog computers, so the thought experiment of a zombie that is essentially an analog computer that mimics literally every objective physical property of a human being comes easily. In which case it would seem that to attribute an additional “subjective” property to human beings is possibly a violation of Leibniz’s Law.

    Which is to suggest that the reason there’s no convergence in the discussion may be that the issue is more philosophical than biological.

  134. cwfongon 01 Apr 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Can you then discern a drunken monad from the non-drunken?

  135. BillyJoe7on 01 Apr 2010 at 5:57 pm

    “Which is to suggest that the reason there’s no convergence in the discussion may be that the issue is more philosophical than biological.”

    On the other hand, does any one else claim to be a p-zombie?

    If M. Davies is a conscious human, and admits to that fact, my argument stands.
    So he must insist that he is a p-zombie.

  136. BillyJoe7on 01 Apr 2010 at 6:10 pm

    …but let me reiterate another point I made earlier:

    M. Davies’ argument is not the usual form that the p-zombie argument takes. I would say that M. Davies’ argument is unique in this respect, but I wouldn’t mean that as a compliment. ;)

    regrards,
    BillyJoe

  137. cwfongon 01 Apr 2010 at 8:39 pm

    So your point was what, that there’s a fallacy of uniqueness at hand here? Because while there is such a category of the fallacious, the category of the exceptional that would include the unique has been noticeably absent from this thread.

    What is your “conscious human” for example? Something that’s biologically unique in its consciousness? Or might it just be possible that, as in other forms of biological life, there are inevitably conscious processes operating within the overall structure of which other parts in the structure are not consciously aware?

  138. cwfongon 01 Apr 2010 at 8:53 pm

    “Everything is not known about the unmasked checkerboard.”
    And different shades of grey are not in the separate color category as far as that particular illusionary process is concerned..

  139. BillyJoe7on 01 Apr 2010 at 10:37 pm

    cwfong,

    “So your point was what, that there’s a fallacy of uniqueness at hand here? Because while there is such a category of the fallacious, the category of the exceptional that would include the unique has been noticeably absent from this thread.”

    Well, at least you half agree. :D
    (Maybe the wrong half, but hey!)
    But, then, what about your good self, sir? Where do stand on that long line from the ordinary to the exceptional?
    (I mean, apart from your obvious qualifications in regard to language)

    “What is your “conscious human” for example? Something that’s biologically unique in its consciousness? “

    What?
    I am suprised at you sir!
    Where I have I said or implied this?
    How have you missed where I’ve said contrariwise?
    (Well, that is if I understand what you are abstrusely saying ;) )

    “Or might it just be possible that, as in other forms of biological life, there are inevitably conscious processes operating within the overall structure of which other parts in the structure are not consciously aware?”

    What?
    And you expecting me to disagree with this?
    (Contents of bove parenthesis applies)

    “Everything is not known about the unmasked checkerboard.”

    I’m sorry, I’ve lost the train of thought here.
    Would you please expand.

    “And different shades of grey are not in the separate color category as far as that particular illusionary process is concerned.”

    My cars have always been off white with just the barest shade of grey imaginable, whilst my wife’s cars have always been so near pitch black that it’s hard to tell the difference. We always say we like different colours in our cars. Are we wrong? I mean, technically, are we wrong?
    I will accept your expert opinion on this of course.
    …provided that, having given you that inch, that you don’t take the whole yard. That is to say, you must leave me with my checkerboard.

    regards,
    BillyJoe

  140. cwfongon 01 Apr 2010 at 10:59 pm

    What does that checkerboard in the illusion look like without the shadow from the green object, which, ironically, should be reflecting green as well, but doesn’t. Is there some antipode of green then in the checkerboard itself? And at exactly the spot where we find the shadow?

    Because of course we have started with the assumption that this was an ordinary checkerboard before the advent of the shadow, and yet even at this juncture, you’d be challenged to draw, with any accuracy, the state of that board without it.

  141. BillyJoe7on 02 Apr 2010 at 5:25 am

    cwfong,

    Are you kidding me?

    Cwfong, it’s just a collection of pixels on the flat surface of your computer screen that look like they could represent a checkerboard* with a green cylinder standing on it and casting a shadow over it. But it doesn’t matter what they represent or look like, the point is that those bits** labelled ‘A’ and ‘B’ on your computer screen look to be completely different shades of grey but, if you were to analyse the wavelength of light coming off the screen*** at those bits, you would find that they are actually identical.

    *Which is why we call it “The Checkerboard Illusion” of course.

    ** I’ve been calling them “bits” instead of squares because they’re not actually squares (although, if we think of the whole thing as representing a checkerboard, those bits obviously represent squares on the checkerboard).

    ***there are easier ways to see this of course – a piece of cardboard with holes cut out in the appropriate places, or cutting a pasting in photoshop for instance.

  142. cwfongon 02 Apr 2010 at 1:05 pm

    Yes we are all somewhat aware of the nature of the illusion. But lucky for you there was no illusion and you were not puzzled in the slightest. A picture is after all just a picture, by any other name be damned. Although in my case not of a “checkerboard,” as I’ve assumed the squares in that case would be just that and not parallelograms, and be 64 in number.
    But then you haven’t actually seen the same thing I’ve seen. Your “my checkerboard” was not mine, and not even yours in the bargain.

  143. BillyJoe7on 02 Apr 2010 at 3:24 pm

    cwfong,

    “Yes we are all somewhat aware of the nature of the illusion.”

    I just wonder, then, why you bought irrelevant facts into the discussion.

    “But lucky for you there was no illusion and you were not puzzled in the slightest.”

    Everyone with normal vision has the illusion. That’s the very defintion of an illusion (as opposed to a delusion). Everyone experiences A and B as different shades of grey. I’m mot excluded. It is true that I am not puzzled by the illusion, but that’s something else entirely. If you don’t see how it works I am happy to explain it, but I’m not sure that’s where you’re heading with this.

    “A picture is after all just a picture, by any other name be damned. Although in my case not of a “checkerboard,” as I’ve assumed the squares in that case would be just that and not parallelograms, and be 64 in number.”

    I’ve already acknowledged that the collection of pixels represents a checkerboard, but that is not the point. I’m sure any number of representations are possible showing the same effect. But you don’t actually need it to represent anything. It could just have been a pattern of grey shapes and it would work just as well. For example:

    http://www.michaelbach.de/ot/lum_diamond/index.html

    So, the fact that the original picture represents a three dimensional scene of a checkerboard and green cylinder casting a shadow is besides the point – except that it is more pleasant to the eye than those diamond shapes.

    “But then you haven’t actually seen the same thing I’ve seen. Your “my checkerboard” was not mine, and not even yours in the bargain.”

    I’ve seen what you’ve seen, but do you understand the point of the exercise? I know you’re fooling around a bit here, and that’s okay, as long as you understand what’s going on here.

    regards,
    BillyJoe

  144. cwfongon 02 Apr 2010 at 3:39 pm

    What I understand is that there was more going on that you understood and either still don’t, or can’t concede that you didn’t.

    And to repeat what set you off, “Everything that can’t be known to a certainty is to that certain extent illusory.”

  145. cwfongon 02 Apr 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Excuse the typo. It might have been an accident.

  146. BillyJoe7on 02 Apr 2010 at 4:58 pm

    cwfong,

    “What I understand is that there was more going on that you understood and either still don’t, or can’t concede that you didn’t.”

    The only way I can see to resolve this question is for you to tell me exactly what is it that I have not underdstood.

    “And to repeat what set you off, “Everything that can’t be known to a certainty is to that certain extent illusory.”

    Is that something you said or I said?
    If it’s something you said, what was the context? Or would you flesh it out a bit, because, as it stands, I’m having trouble responding to it.

  147. cwfongon 02 Apr 2010 at 5:42 pm

    @BJ7,
    ” the fact that the original picture represents a three dimensional scene of a checkerboard and green cylinder casting a shadow is besides the point – except that it is more pleasant to the eye than those diamond shapes.”
    The green wasn’t there for the mere pleasure of its accompaniment.
    And your alternate example was about size as illusory rather than color.
    There are these and other omissions in the scope of your observations that point to gaps in the range of your understanding.

  148. cwfongon 02 Apr 2010 at 6:03 pm

    The aphoristic comment I quoted was derived from Confucian philosophy. For it to be of any value, the person it’s to benefit must supply the inference. So I suspect I’m done here.

  149. BillyJoe7on 02 Apr 2010 at 6:39 pm

    cwfong,

    “The green wasn’t there for the mere pleasure of its accompaniment.”

    Actually the green IS there purely for aesthetic reasons. From the point of view of the illusion, green is completely irrelevant. You can prove it to yourself by simply covering it over with your hand, or changing the colour in photshop.

    “And your alternate example was about size as illusory rather than color.”

    Have another look. It has nothing to do with size. The only difference in that example is that there is a gradation of colour across the diamond. In any case, there are numerous examples on the internet of the use simple coloured shapes (rather than representations of 3D objects and scenes) to demonstrate this illusion.

    “There are these and other omissions in the scope of your observations that point to gaps in the range of your understanding.”

    Well, considering that you have chosen not to point them out, please excuse me if I conclude that those gaps exist only in your own mind. ;)

    “The aphoristic comment I quoted was derived from Confucian philosophy. For it to be of any value, the person it’s to benefit must supply the inference.”

    Fair enough. But, on its face, and assuming an inference related in some way to the meaning of illusion that we’re dealing with here, I would say that what it says is false.

    “So I suspect I’m done here.”

    Hmmm, okay, then I suppose I will never know where the alleged gaps are in my understanding.

  150. cwfongon 02 Apr 2010 at 7:40 pm

    Note from the site that these are “cognitive illusions where the eye and brain make unconscious inferences.” Telling me at least there’s a color/contrast inference intended in the shadow example and a size/line delineation inference in the gradient example. A colored cone enhances the sensation of contrast, at least for some people. But no two people can be expected to draw exactly the same inference.
    Some are so different from others in that respect that those others see them as inferentially challenged.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  151. BillyJoe7on 02 Apr 2010 at 9:00 pm

    You’ll have to post a link.
    But

    “Note from the site that these are “cognitive illusions where the eye and brain make unconscious inferences.””

    I can’t find that quote, do you have a link?
    But these illusions are hard-wired into our brains, so I think that’s what he probably means by “*unconscious* inferences”.

    “Telling me at least there’s a color/contrast inference intended in the shadow example”

    Why don’t you just test it.
    Here, I’ll give you a step by step guide:

    1) Look at A and B
    2) Note the difference between A and B
    3) Keep looking at A and B
    4) Cover the green cylinder with your hand.
    5) Does the difference between A and B change?

    There absolutely is not.

    “and a size/line delineation inference in the gradient example.”

    What do you mean by a size/line delineation inference?

    “A colored cone enhances the sensation of contrast, at least for some people. But no two people can be expected to draw exactly the same inference.”

    If you are still referring to the green coloured cylinder, then I must be “inferentially challenged” because I see no change in contrast by covering the green cylinder with my hand.

    “Some are so different from others in that respect that those others see them as inferentially challenged.”

    I guess that is possible

    “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

    Well, no, it is hard-wired after all!
    We can’t be blamed for that can we? I mean some people are actually colour blind. Hell, some are even blind!

  152. cwfongon 02 Apr 2010 at 9:37 pm

    http://www.123opticalillusions.com/pages/optical-illusions-explained.php

    “Optical Illusions Further Explained
    An optical illusion (also called a visual illusion) is characterized by visually perceived images that are deceptive or misleading. The information gathered by the eye is processed by the brain to give a percept that does not tally with a physical measurement of the stimulus source. There are three main types of illusion – literal optical illusions that create images that are different from the objects that make them, physiological illusions that are the effects on the eyes and brain of excessive stimulation of a specific type – brightness, tilt, color, movement, and cognitive illusions where the eye and brain make unconscious inferences.”

  153. BillyJoe7on 03 Apr 2010 at 5:24 am

    cwfong,

    Okay, the “Checkerboard Illusion” clearly falls into the category he calls a “literal” optical illusion.

    From your previous post:
    “Note from the site that these are “cognitive illusions where the eye and brain make unconscious inferences.””

    You have misread this somehow.
    They do not label the checkerboard illusion, but it is clearly not a cognitive illusion.

    BJ

  154. cwfongon 04 Apr 2010 at 6:11 pm

    See this: Demos of Visual Behaviors
    Edelson, Sinha, Movshon

    http://thisisnotthat.com/video/MP-crbrain-2.html

  155. BillyJoe7on 04 Apr 2010 at 8:34 pm

    cwfong,

    Thanks for the reference.

    An interesting looking series. :)

    I spent the half hour watching these highlights of the series. Apparently there are six episdoes in this series – each episode lasting about an hour – and seven series alltogether coming up in the coming months.
    That’ll keep us busy for a while!

    What I noticed particularly is how they connect everything together: evolution, genetics, neuroplasticity, neuroimaging, neuropatholology. Everything makes sense from the evolutionary perspective with random mutation and natural selection producing genes that act like recipes for producing brains that develop with input from the environment in which they find themselves (what they call neuroplasticity).

    They also briefly mention the checkerboard illusion – and you’ll notice that, while they mention the effect of the “shadow cast by the cylinder” that do not mention any effect from the colour of the cylinder. I put that bit in quotation marks because there really is no “cylinder casting shadows” – there is only a flat drawing on a flat piece of paper! They don’t mention that specifically in relation to the checkerbox illusion but they do in the section on the necker cube. In fact he picks that flat version consisting of some intersecting lines off the cardboard to illustrate the point.

    Thanks again for the reference.

    To repay the favour, here is a reference to a website where they seem, in my opinion so far (I haven’t read it all), to correctly analyse optical ilusions:

    http://www.michaelbach.de/ot/index.html

  156. cwfongon 05 Apr 2010 at 12:42 pm

    There’s a lot that wasn’t mentioned in the Rose series. It’s my observation that the color of the cylinder enhances the illusion, but not that it was a key element. You say there really is no cylinder casting shadows, etc., except that there really can be the shadow effect exactly as the illusion shows
    Check the sepia colored picture on this site that duplicates the effect: http://www.optical-illusions.info/illusions/where_is_the_white_knight_solution.htm

    In any case I have my own, and partial, explanation of the phenomenon this illusion represents – which may differ somewhat from others, yet doesn’t mean the others are wrong. It’s simply my take on one the lessons we can learn from these examples of how the brain performs, and from the checkerboard illusion in particular – and it is all about inference. But remember, it’s my opinion, hastily prepared and presented for this commentary, not my assertion as the only truth of the matter:

    The brain draws inferences from sensory input, some of that, as in this example, from our optical apparatus. Inference being another word for assessment in that context. Or in the context of brain activity in general, in the sense that conscious analysis of our unconscious assessment of sensory input can be in itself a form of sensory input – from which the unconscious can then draw some further inference. So it would seem that we can draw optical inference as well as logical inference from the example in question.

    In fact we don’t really “know” anything except by inference. There are a multitude of inferential processes going on that we are not consciously aware of – some functioning in the brain and most others elsewhere. This illusion represents an example of how some of the most important of these in the brain can operate.

    And note that the explanation given earlier on the site involved deception. But in the sense that any deception was deliberate, the deceiver was the maker of the illusion, and only our conscious processes were fooled. And this is important: we have evolved from a basic need to look for what may be hidden under the shadows of the world to deceive the senses.
    So here in this example we have uncovered this hidden view unconsciously and shown our metaphorical consciousness what was most probably there. Our consciousness then thinks it sees the actuality behind the shadow when in fact it doesn’t. And the unconscious process in this example is so automatic that we can’t consciously put a stop to viewing the illusion as the actuality.

    That’s the short, sweet and sour of the matter for the moment.

  157. BillyJoe7on 06 Apr 2010 at 8:19 am

    That site shows two different illusions.

    The 2D drawing.

    This can be seen as a representation of a checkerboard with a cylinder casting a shadow across it. But, in actual fact, it is just a two dimensional drawing on a flat piece of paper in which A and B are actually the same shade of grey although they look to be very different shades of grey.

    You could actually just draw A with the four surrounding lighter areas and B with the four surrounding darker areas and leave out the rest of the checkerboard and the cylinder (and you could even convert these parallelograms into squares) and the result would be nmo different. A and B would still be the same shade of grey but look to be different shades of grey. But now it no longer looks like a representation of a checkerboard with a cylinder casting a shadow across it. As I said, what it represents is irrelevant. The illusion works regardless of what it represents.

    The real life 3D set up.
    (You have to imagine that someone has set it up in front of you)

    In this example, there is an actual checkerboard with a cylinder casting a shadow across it and, of course, a light source to the right. Again, as in the 2D version, A and B are the very same shade of grey but look to be very different shades of grey.

    You might object, as do the authors at that site, that the squares ARE different shades of grey – in fact, you might claim that A is black and B is white. You would be wrong, of course. Whilst it is true that, if placed side by side in the same intensity of light, A reflects almost no light and looks black and B reflects almost all the light and looks white, they are not side by side and not in the same intensity of light. In fact, as in the 2D drawing A and B both reflect the same intensity of light. But, again as in the 2D drawing they look different.
    So, you see, the 3D set up is no differnt from the 2D drawing.

    The reason that A and B look different in both examples is that A is surrounded by light areas and B is surrounded by dark areas. That is all.
    The illusion is the result of evolution favouring two things: contrasting light and dark and averaging the light intenisty over the whole scene.
    Think about it.

  158. cwfongon 06 Apr 2010 at 12:21 pm

    Amazing insight there on evolution. Kandel and Edelson should be ashamed of themselves.

  159. BillyJoe7on 07 Apr 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Thank you and agreed. ;)

  160. Paisleyon 20 May 2010 at 6:56 pm

    It does not logically follow that mental states are equivalent to brain states based on this research. Correlation does not imply causation, let alone equivalence.

  161. Steven Novellaon 21 May 2010 at 7:25 am

    Paisley – you are incorrect. Correlation does imply causation – it just does not equal causation. Causation does in fact result in correlation. You cannot simply assume one pattern of causation, because there often can be multiple causal relationships.

    But correlation is evidence of causation, you just have to proceed systematically from there. With respect to mind and brain, there are multiple correlations all triangulating on one causation – that brain function causes the mind. This is consistent with all the evidence, and it is the simplest explanation. There is no evidence to refute this causal relationship.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.