May 17 2012

What Is Consciousness? Another Reply to Kastrup

I hadn’t planned for this topic to take over my blog this week, but it happens. Judging by the comments there is significant interest in the issue of consciousness, and Kastrup and I are just getting to the real nub of the argument. So here is another installment – a reply to Kastrup’s latest offering. First, however, some background.

Materialism, Dualism, and Idealism

Philosophers of mind, such as David Chalmers, now recognize three general approaches to the question – what is consciousness? Materialism is the view that the mind is what the brain does. This is often stated as the mind is caused by the brain. Some commenters took exception to this phrase, saying it implies a dualist position, that the mind is its own thing,  but I disagree. The brain is the physical substance, while the mind or consciousness is a process that emerges from the brain. A dead or deeply comatose brain has no mind, so they are manifestly not the same thing. Language here is a bit imprecise, but I think the phrase – the brain causes the mind – is an acceptable short hand for the materialist position.

Dualism is the position that consciousness is something separate from the brain and not entirely caused by it. It may be a separate property of the universe (property dualism) or be something beyond the confines of our material universe. Whatever it is, it does not reduce to the firing of neurons in the brain, which cannot, in the opinion of dualists, explain subjective experience.

The third position, the one that Kastrup holds, is idealism – the claim that consciousness is all there is and the physical universe, including the brain, is a manifestation of consciousness. Kastrup uses the metaphor of a river, where the flowing water is consciousness. The material world is like a whirlpool in the stream – the whirlpool has a definite existence in time and space, you can point to it and say, “there it is,” but it is comprised entirely of the stuff of consciousness.

I am an unapologetic materialist. I think the mind is entirely explainable as a manifestation of the brain’s biological function. The brain is thinking and feeling meat. I am not emotionally invested or tied to this conclusion. It would be quite cool if we were  living in a computer simulation or there was some other deeper layer to reality that would allow my consciousness to survive the death of my brain. I have simply found no compelling evidence for such a conclusion. Show me compelling evidence and a logical argument and I’ll buy it – but I’m still waiting.

This does not mean, of course, that I can explain exactly how the brain generates the subjective experience of consciousness. It is important to separate the question of how the brain causes consciousness from if the brain causes consciousness. The evidence for the brain as the sole cause of the mind is, in my opinion, overwhelming. The how is a bit more tricky. I personally am on the fence between two materialist positions. One position is that the “hard problem” of consciousness, as Chalmers calls it, is really a non-problem – it is simply made of all the easy problems of neuroscience. We are making good progress in figuring out the neural correlates to the different aspects of conscious experience – motor planning, executing motor functions, primary and secondary sensory processing, visual processing, etc. The more abstract functions are more challenging, but we are making steady progress. It’s possible that once we solve all these individual questions there will be nothing left – in other words, our subjective experience will be made up of all the subsets of consciousness without the need for there to be any other process that is itself consciousness. In this view consciousness is simply the real time processing of sensory input and internal communication and monitoring.

It is also possible that there is some other function within the brain that is essential to consciousness that we have not yet identified. There are theories about the “global workspace” – a distributed network in the brain that is like the central command center. Right now I think this is an open question, and I know neuroscientists of either view. Either way, it’s all still brain function.

Another compelling reason to accept the materialist paradigm of neuroscience is that it has been and continues to be extremely successful. In science theories are judged not only by how well they fit the data, but by how useful they are as predictive models – and the materialist position that brain function is the mind has been fantastically successful.

There does not appear to be any intrinsic limit to our ability to map and alter anything considered to be part of our subjective experience. Damage or alteration to the brain can change your sexual identity, your moral decision making, your personality, your ability to even think about the world. Patients with non-dominant hemisphere strokes, for example, often have what is called neglect – they do not know that the left half of the world even exists. There is no model inside their brain for the left half of their body or the world, so they cannot even think about it.

Non-materialists often dismiss this as mere correlation, but that is not fair, in my opinion. The correlation is incredible, and predictive. To give just one more example, synaesthesia is the phenomenon of different sensory modalities mixing together, so synaesthetes will smell color or perhaps perceive numbers as having a physical texture. There is evidence for more robust neural connections and activity between the relevant brain areas in synaesthetes. That is a pretty compelling neural correlate.

Further still, the arrow of temporal correlation, which should go from cause to effect, seems to go from brain activity to subjective experience. Studies so far show brain firing happening prior to awareness of the subjective state.

Yet another reason I currently accept the materialist paradigm is that there is no independent evidence for anything else – for a consciousness separate the brain. There is no evidence as to what consciousness would then be, and how it interacts with the brain. Dualism and idealism are just inventing a massive mystery to explain what they perceive as another mystery, and they don’t really accomplish anything. In this way non-materialist notions of consciousness are very much “god of the gaps” arguments. They are identical, in my opinion, to vitalism – the notion that there is a life force. Non-materialists start with the sense, the gut feeling, that consciousness is something different than physical matter. If you read the comments to Katrup’s articles or my previous entries on this topic, or if you read dualist articles you will read this over and over – subjective experience is not material. They then proceed from that premise. This, however, is just a failure of language or imagination, not the materialist paradigm. They then essentially invent a mysterious magical consciousness that does not need to obey the laws of physics to explain consciousness. They also, therefore, are confusing unexplained with unexplainable (with regard to consciousness).

Vitalists, likewise, felt that living things had to be fundamentally different than non-living things. Life could not just be what you get when you add together all the little things that biology does. There had to be something more, some life energy which is its own thing. They then used the vital force to explain any process not currently explained by biology. Over the centuries, however, biology was eventually able to tackle all the basic functions of life. Eventually there was simply nothing left for the vital force to do. It was not so much proven wrong and rendered unnecessary – not even wrong. I believe that dualism/idealism is in the midst of suffering a similar fate.

Kastrup’s Latest Reply

With that as background, let’s go on to Kastrup’s latest reply. I will ignore any tedious further discussion about form or tone, and simply address the key points that he is trying to make.

He writes (italics are my prior writing that he is quoting):

“The problem, from a scientific point of view, is that the notion that the brain modulates consciousness becomes operationally inseparable from the notion that the brain causes consciousness, at least in terms of the experimental relationship between brain function and mental function.”

This is clearly untrue. The modulation hypothesis predicts that there are subjective mind states that do not correlate with objective brain states. Such prediction is invalid under the causation hypothesis.

I guess I was unclear in my statement above. I added the caveat, “at least in terms of the experimental relationship between brain function and mental function,” specifically to account for claims of consciousness separate from brain function, but I can see that this was not sufficient. My point was that the brain as modulator hypothesis is a convenient way of explaining away all the neural correlates to consciousness, but adds nothing in terms of predictive ability or even as an explanatory model. What Kastrup is saying is that the brain as filter theory predicts imperfect correlation, but I don’t see why this would be true.

What this formulation does do is set up a situation in which any anomaly in our data (imperfect correlation) can be interpreted as evidence for the modulation hypothesis. This is a very weak “prediction” – that there will be anomalies in the data. Of course there will be. The brain is horrifically complex, and our current tools for imaging brain function are relatively crude. This is really just another version of Egnor’s argument that imperfect correlation is evidence of dualism – it isn’t – it just reflects the limits of current technolgy and neural models.

In other words – the modulation hypothesis is unnecessary. It adds nothing to the materialist paradigm in terms of explaining or predicting how brain function will correlate to subjective experience. It adds an additional element of consciousness separate from brain function – a massive new assumption that is not justified. The best the non-materialists have is anomaly hunting – looking at current research and then focusing on studies that show imperfect correlation or some aspect of brain function that is difficult to explain with our current models. They are exploiting the leading edge of research where data is preliminary and uncertain and using it as if it were a solid and verified premise.

Further, I don’t buy the modulation hypothesis explanation for the correlates we do see, including the temporal relationship of brain activation preceding awareness. How, for example, does modulation explain synaesthesia? You have to contrive a notion of modulation, again, that completely replicates the findings of strict materialism.

Kastrup continues:

“There doesn’t seem to be anything coming from outside the brain – but worse, the concept is completely unnecessary. It is sliced away cleanly by Occam’s razor.”

This is acceptable only if one ignores the wealth of evidence for the existence of mind states uncorrelated to brain states. Novella seems to dismiss all evidence related to, for instance, Near-Death Experiences (NDEs),

This, of course, is the real crux of the matter – is there evidence for consciousness separate from brain function? I maintain that there is not. NDEs are a good example. The evidence for NDEs is mostly anecdotal. Whenever a controlled look is taken at NDEs there is no evidence that consciousness is occurring while, for example, the brain is not functioning. What we have at best are memories reported after the fact – after a long period of recovery (you don’t just wake up from a cardiac arrest). During the recovery period they may form memories that are dream-like and they may interpret them as occurring during the cardiac arrest, even though they formed later. Also, during many NDE situations brain activity is not entirely lost, there are bursts of activity in different parts of the brain. Further NDE-like experiences (there is a range of experiences that are referred to as NDE) can be triggered by certain drugs, like ketamine. All of the components of NDEs can be generated by brain activity.

Kastrup and I both agree that we don’t have space in this current debate for a full treatment of the NDE issue. My point, however, is simple – NDEs can be explained as brain experiences. At the very least we have to admit that the issue of NDEs is highly controversial. This is not like plate tectonics or genetics – it is not reasonable to use NDEs as if they were an accepted or solid scientific premise. They are not. In my opinion, the interpretation of NDEs as non-material is an unnecessary and fringe interpretation. Kastrup, however, wants to use it as an established premise. This is unreasonable.

About this he further writes:

My point is this: Though Novella is entitled to hold any opinion he wishes regarding the evidence available for uncorrelated mind states, the evidence is substantial enough (in the form e.g. of myriad peer-reviewed scientific publications, like van Lommel’s article in The Lancet, to mention only one example) that reference to it in any debate about the  mind-body problem is legitimate; it’s a legitimate point of contention. To claim otherwise is to dismiss the validity of the peer-review process, which, for obvious consistency reasons, would force Novella to equally dismiss the other scientific results he uses to justify his positions. So I do not grant Novella’s claim above, which I consider arbitrary and incorrect.

I completely disagree. First, peer-review is not sufficient to establish scientific legitimacy. Much of what finds its way into the peer-reviewed literature is crap, and much of it may be good science but turns out to be wrong. What is more important than just passing the peer-review bar is what happens next – when the scientific community assesses the science. It is premature to cite NDEs as evidence for anything. They are, at best, an anomaly yet to be explained, although I think they have been adequately explained. Kastrup is simply wrong about the role of peer-review – it is not sufficient to establish legitimacy. NDEs are not a valid premise for his position – they do reveal the weakness of his position.

As as an example of my point, there are many peer-reviewed publications, even in respected journals, that deal with topics generally rejected by the scientific community.  Homeopathy is a great example. It is demonstrably absurd and wrong, and yet proponents can make the same lame legitimacy argument by citing publications in respected peer-reviewed journals and the occasional scientist who supports it. None of this adds up to homeopathy being legitimate, and I would not accept it as a premise to pronounce the demise of materialism.

The Psilocybin Study

Kastrup continues to make much about a recent study of the effects of psilocybin on the brain. This is another example of him exploiting new and controversial research as if it establishes a solid premise, and he continues to misinterpret the study. For the record, despite his complaints I have read all of the articles he linked to on this topic, I just did not find any of it cogent or compelling. But let me address his specific points in detail.

For background, psilocybin is a psychedelic drug that causes surreal hallucinations. Previous studies have found that the drug increases activity in certain parts of the brain. The new study that has Kastrup so excited found that psilocybin decreases activity in certain parts of the brain, and found no increase. Kastrup maintains this study (if confirmed) disproves the materialist paradigm because it breaks correlation between brain states and mental states. His arguments, however, are hopelessly superficial and naive of modern neuroscience – and I am not the first neuroscientist to point this out.

Here is Kastrup’s full discussion of the issue. He argues that decreased brain activity cannot explain the intense experiences associated with psilocybin use within the materialist paradigm. His arguments all seem to hinge on a false assumption (although he tries to deny this) –  that the intensity of the subjective experience relates to the raw neuronal activity in the brain (the proportionality argument).

First I need to emphasize that this one study, an fMRI study, is insufficient to establish that there is no increase in any type of brain activity anywhere. This type of imaging infers brain activity by looking at a subset of metabolic processes. PET scanning looks at brain activity through different metabolic processes. Prior PET studies did show increases in brain activity with psilocybin. From the existing evidence we might conclude that some processes increase while others decrease – or we have to say that we have confilicting evidence and therefore we don’t currently know what the answer is. Again – hardly appropriate to take as a premise for changing science as we know it.

But let us assume that the new study is correct and psilocybin only decreases brain activity. The neuroscientific interpretation of this is that it is reducing the modulation by one part of the brain on other parts of the brain. This is changing net subjective experience. Since processing that is involved with higher order reality testing is inhibited, it’s no suprise that reality-bending experiences result. These experiences are only “intense” because they are so unreal. This does not require increased neuronal firing. In fact, reality testing and the higher cognitive functions are much more demanding than the more primitive processing that happens in the evolutionarily older parts of the brain. When the processing-intensive frontal lobes are reduced or removed from the equation, an overall lower amount of brain activity could result in wierd psychedelic and emotionally “intense” experiences. This in no way breaks the materialist predictions of correlation.

Kastrup argues that if the above explanation were true, then we would expect one of three things: First, we may see increased activity in the disinhibited areas of the brain. This is not necessarily the case, however. The activity might be the same, but since it is no longer being modulated and modified by reality testing centers the net experience can be very different.

Also – to clarify a point I made in my previous reply to Kastrup – I was not arguing that proportionality never exists when looking at brain function. My point was that proportionality does not necessarily exist in every case, and so the absense of proportionality does not break materialist correlation. There certainly is increased brain activity correlating with increased subjective mental activity, but this simple magnitude correlation does not hold when we are talking about the interaction among the various brain regions.

Kastrup further argues that if the brain regions responsible for the psychedelic experiences are not increasing their activity, then they must have been active all along, but, he argues, this makes no sense. Why would such hallucinations being going on in our subconscious all the time? He writes:

Therefore, the second scenario implies that unfathomable ‘sci-fi’ fantasies are subconsciously playing themselves out in our brains on a regular, on-going basis. What evolutionary advantage could this possibly have?

Not necessarily, but also it is not unreasonable that, in essence, fantasies are going on in the background all the time. Our brains are pattern recognition machines, and there is a vibrant internal conversation going on within our brains all the time. We are aware of only a small amount of what goes on in our brains. So if one tiny part of this comes into our awareness because it is no longer be crowded out by processing-heavy reality testing, that makes perfect sense. Further, the elements that make up those fantasies could be active all the time but don’t manifest as narratives because they are filtered by reality testing modules. Once disinhibited, however, they contribute to our conscious narrative.

This relates somewhat to Kastrup’s third point of rejection – he rejects the notion that activity in the fantasy-generating parts of the brain are active but not coalescing into coherent activity, but then once disinhibited they do. This is a bit of a straw man, based upon a simplistic understanding of brain function. He writes:

Even if we leave aside the fact that postulating such an unknown mechanism is quite contrived, this third scenario still implies that the brain activation signatures of unfathomable and mind-boggling psychedelic ‘trips’ are indistinguishable from ordinary, subconscious ‘noise.’ How reasonable a hypothesis is this, in light of the paradigmatic assumption that experience is brain activity?

I think Kastrup vastly underestimates the subconscious “noise” that is going on in the brain during normal activity.  There is a large amount of both psychological and neuroscientific evidence for the conclusion that there is a great deal of subconscious processing, including generating lots of noise. We attend demonstrably to a very small portion of this activity. Our brains select small portions of both sensory input and our internal communication to weave into a highly constructed narrative we experience as our stream of consciousness. Altering this stream significantly without changing overall brain activity makes perfect sense.

Kastrup has simply demonstrated his own naivete regarding the complex brain interactions that make up our conscious experience. His arguments all hopelessly fail for this reason. He is using preliminary and contradictory evidence as a premise, combined with false assumptions about proportionality and the meaning of things such as ‘intensity’ of experience, and then combining it with demonstrably wrong gut feelings about what is reasonable to assume about brain function.

Conclusion

Kastrup ends with this:

“He should at least exhibit a little tiny bit of humility when confronting neuroscientists about neuroscience”

Truths and arguments stand on their own or fail on their own. Either way, they are not determined by authority, otherwise we would still be living under the notion that the Earth is the center of the universe.

Kastrup did not give my complete quote, I actually wrote:

He should at least exhibit a little tiny bit of humility when confronting neuroscientists about neuroscience (which he does also here  – apparently I am not the first neuroscientist to call his understanding of neuroscience “naive”). This doesn’t mean we’re right and he’s wrong, but it should at least give him pause. I know I get very concerned about my own understanding of a topic if experts in the field contradict me.

I specifically added the caveat because I knew that Kastrup would reply exactly as he did, but apparently that was not enough to dissuade him. The cheap shot was just too tempting, so he ignored what I wrote and did not include it in his quotation.

It is also interesting that he is now arguing that authority is not a reliable guide to correctness, while above he was enthusiastiacally citing peer-review and prestious journals as a source of scientific legitimacy.

I, of course, agree with his conclusion. Arguments stand or fall on their own. I think I have demonstrated that Kastrup’s arguments fail at many levels. He relies upon preliminary or controversial claims as solid premises. He misunderstands the current synthesis of our neuroscientific understanding of how the brain works and how brain functioning relates to consciousness.

Our experience of reality is demonstrably constructed by the brain. When you alter the underlying brain function, you alter that construction. People can be made to feel as if they do not control their own limbs, or that they have extra limbs, or that sound has a color, that parts of the world do not exist, that their spouse has been replaced by an imposter, or that they are one with the universe. We can do all this by poking around in the brain.

Psychological manipulations can make you miss “obvious’ events occuring right in front of you. Optical illusions are dramatic misperceptions of reality that can not only be correlated with brain activity they can be convincingly explained by specific information processing that happens in identifiable locations within the brain.

The obvious conclusion from all of this is unavoidable – our brains actively construct our subjective experiences.

Addendum:

Kastrup has written a reply. I am not sure it is worth another reply by me – I will decide later. He really only makes one point, represented here:

The fallacy here is that Novella talks merely of ‘intensity,’ while conveniently ignoring the other hallmarks of psychedelic experiences: Their structurecoherenceunfathomable complexity, and the fact that they are often described as “more real than real.” (see Rick Strassman’s study at the University of New Mexico’s School of Medicine, described in his book The Spirit Molecule). Novella is creating a straw-man by subtly, yet massively, under-characterizing the experience, and then casually explaining such under-characterization away.

He describes the psychedelic experience over and over again as a “peak” experience. This is just more neuroscience naivete on his part. He gives no operational definition of what “peak” means (seems like just another way of saying “intense”). He doesn’t address my points – I think he didn’t really get them.

Psychedelic experiences are so emotionally mindblowing because they are outside of our everyday neurological experiences. They can be life changing in part because they challenge our concept of reality They reveal how constucted our reality is by deconstructing it. It may seem “realer than real” because reality testing is not functioning, telling your brain that something is not real. None of this  implies that there has to be more neuronal firing going on.

Kastrup also acknowledges my point that there is a lot of background noise in normal wakeful consciousness, but then seems to think this supports his position. He just doesn’t seem to get it.

There is nothing “peak” about psychedelic experiences. They are just really different from what we are used to, because our brains are functioning differently. Some processing-intensive modules are out of the mix, like reality testing. So reality is constructed differently from anything we experience in normal wakefulness. Of course these are intense and life altering.

The bottom line is that Kastrup is making a god of the gaps argument. He can’t make sense of the psilocybin research, so he is using it to support his metaphysics. His declaration that materialism is dead is premature.

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187 responses so far

187 Responses to “What Is Consciousness? Another Reply to Kastrup”

  1. Physicaliston 17 May 2012 at 11:40 am

    Dualism is the position that consciousness is something separate from the brain and not entirely caused by it.

    It’s a fairly minor point, but this doesn’t quite capture the distinction between dualism and materialism (or, better, physicalism).

    Chalmers is a dualist who thinks that consciousness is entirely caused by the brain. His claim is that the causal link itself requires a law of nature to secure it. The link is not secured by metaphysical necessity or logical entailment (and one or both of these is required for the truth of materialism, he claims).

    For this reason, I think it’s best to avoid trying to articulate materialism/physicalism in terms of causation. (Since some anti-materialists like strong emergentists and property dualists also claim that the brain causes consciousness.)

    The criterion that’s commonly accepted among philosophers these days invokes supervenience. Physicalism requires all facts to supervene on physical facts. This means that it is (metaphysically) impossible for the mental facts to differ if the physical facts are the same.

    Perhaps “the brain causes the mind” is an acceptable shorthand, but it would be less misleaded to speak instead of mental processes being identical to brain processes, or mental properties being fixed by physical properties.

  2. ccbowerson 17 May 2012 at 12:08 pm

    “Judging by the comments there is significant interest in the issue of consciousness”

    The most commented posts tend to be ones that address topics that people know little about, yet they still have many opinions about because they underestimate the extent of their ignorance.

  3. ccbowerson 17 May 2012 at 12:15 pm

    …actually the driver is often an ideological motivation, which drives the opinions. The ignorance is because some topics are quite complex, and one must have an interest in understanding instead of an interest in confirmation

  4. LarryCoonon 17 May 2012 at 12:20 pm

    Adding to what ccbowers just said, the most controversial topics (which is not to say there is a SCIENTIFIC controversy) are the ones where one side doesn’t fully understand the logic of science and why it is an important tool for separating what IS true from what we WANT to be true. Steve made several references to concepts being demonstrated to be unnecessary, and therefore subject to pruning by Ockham’s Razor– Vitalism and his analogy of light switch faeries being two. I think the significance of this is lost on dualists, ghost hunters, cryptozoologists, and and advocates of numerous other fringe topics.

  5. the_woodmanon 17 May 2012 at 12:56 pm

    Physicalist wrote: ‘anti-materialists like strong emergentists’

    Why are strong emergentists anti-materialists? In my view, strong emergence is a necessary requirement in order for materialism to work.

  6. Alastair F. Paisleyon 17 May 2012 at 1:15 pm

    @ Steven Novella

    > Materialism is the view that the mind is what the brain does. This is often stated as the mind is caused by the brain. Some commenters took exception to this phrase, saying it implies a dualist position, that the mind is its own thing, but I disagree. The brain is the physical substance, while the mind or consciousness is a process that emerges from the brain. <

    You're conflating "correlation" with "equivalency." Even if we hold (for the sake of argument) that the "brain causes the mind," it does not follow that the brain is identical with the mind, that mental states are identical with brain states.

    Supervenience, emergentism, and epiphenomenalism (all of which hold that the “brain causes the mind”) are actually dualist positions.

    > Another compelling reason to accept the materialist paradigm of neuroscience is that it has been and continues to be extremely successful. In science theories are judged not only by how well they fit the data, but by how useful they are as predictive models – and the materialist position that brain function is the mind has been fantastically successful. <

    The "working assumption of materialism" has been extremely successful at identifying "access" or "A-consciousness" – the "phenomenon whereby information in our minds is accessible for verbal report, reasoning, and the control of behavior” (source: Wikipedia: Consciousness). This is what philosophers of mind call the “easy problem of consciousness.” The materialist paradigm is incapable of addressing “phenomenal” or “P-consciousness” (subjective experiences – a.k.a. “qualia”) because subjective phenomena as such are beyond the purview of physical science which employs an objective or third-person methodology. P-consciousness is what philosophers of mind call the “hard problem of consciousness.” (It would appear that your tack is to simply deny the reality of qualia – of subjective experiences themselves.)

    > Non-materialists often dismiss this as mere correlation, but that is not fair, in my opinion. <

    It's defnintely fair. You're the one who is making the claim that subjective mental phenomena are physical. Therefore, the onus is upon you to furnish us with objective physical evidence that it is. Correlation doesn't count. Physical things have physical properties. What are the physical properties of subjective awareness?

    > I am an unapologetic materialist. I think the mind is entirely explainable as a manifestation of the brain’s biological function. The brain is thinking and feeling meat. I am not emotionally invested or tied to this conclusion. <

    I disagree. You are emotionally invested in your position because you are…to employ your own words…"an unapologetic materialist."

  7. tmac57on 17 May 2012 at 1:32 pm

    Alastair F. Paisley-Show me an example of subjective awareness NOT associated with a physical thing.

  8. tmac57on 17 May 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Can anyone explain to me exactly what Kastrup’s concept of reality is? Does he think that he is arguing with a real live ‘material’ human (Dr N) or is he arguing with his own consciousness,or what?

  9. the_woodmanon 17 May 2012 at 1:42 pm

    He’s not a solipsist; that is, he believes that other minds except his own exist.

  10. Steven Novellaon 17 May 2012 at 1:46 pm

    “Physical things have physical properties. What are the physical properties of subjective awareness?”

    This is the core of the dualist fallacy, in my opinion. Mind is not a physical thing, it is something a physical thing does. It is a process. It makes no sense to require that is has physical properties. I believe this is a massive attempt on the part of dualists to beg the question – to assume their conclusion from the start.

    Also, saying correlation doesn’t count is absurd. Correlation is a legitimate part of scientific inference. I never claimed that mind = brain function is a logical of absolute proof. Rather, it is the best scientific inference we can make from existing evidence, which includes a triangulation and many correlations. No other hypothesis is necessary or useful.

  11. the_woodmanon 17 May 2012 at 2:17 pm

    Dr. Novella wrote: ‘This is the core of the dualist fallacy, in my opinion. Mind is not a physical thing, it is something a physical thing does. It is a process. It makes no sense to require that is has physical properties.’

    I’m not sure I agree. A process has to have at least some properties, for if it had none, it would not exist. And how can these properties not be physical properties, if we assume that physicalism is correct? If they were not physical, something that exists (the properties) wouldn’t be physical, which is incompatible with the physicalist idea that everything that exists is physical.

  12. SARAon 17 May 2012 at 2:20 pm

    LarryCoon and ccbowers
    Controversy is generated when people have an expereincal stake. It relates to their lives and their self definition is being challenged by some else’s differing view point.

    Everyone has a mind and experiences consciousness. Is there anything more self defining?

    If the tone of the discussion wasn’t so deeply intellectual, I imagine more people would venture a comment. But most of it presupposes a knowledge of philosophy and neurobiology and that is intimidating.

  13. Alastair F. Paisleyon 17 May 2012 at 2:34 pm

    @ Steven Novella

    > This is the core of the dualist fallacy, in my opinion. Mind is not a physical thing, it is something a physical thing does. It is a process. It is a process. It makes no sense to require that is has physical properties. I believe this is a massive attempt on the part of dualists to beg the question – to assume their conclusion from the start. <

    That mind is NOT a physical is thing is the point! You're presupposing dualism and simply refusing to acknowledge it as such. In fact, you're presupposing "property dualism.”

    > Also, saying correlation doesn’t count is absurd. Correlation is a legitimate part of scientific inference. I never claimed that mind = brain function is a logical of absolute proof. Rather, it is the best scientific inference we can make from existing evidence, which includes a triangulation and many correlations. No other hypothesis is necessary or useful. <

    Correlations do not necessarily imply causation. But they certainly do not imply identification (which is the logical fallacy that you are committing here).

    The raising of my hand is correlated with my intent to raise my hand. And since mental phenomena are not physical (even by your own admission), then it would seem to me that my nonphysical intention was the cause of my hand being raised.

    Question:

    Why doesn’t correlation qualify as causation in this case?

  14. Aroueton 17 May 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Hi Dr. Novella, been enjoying this exchange but wanted to point out a common error involving the use of the word “evidence”. You wrote: ” is there evidence for consciousness separate from brain function? I maintain that there is not. NDEs are a good example. The evidence for NDEs is mostly anecdotal.”

    Anecdotal evidence is still evidence. It simply is weak evidence. What you really mean, I believe, is that you consider NDEs as weak evidence for mind =/ brain because the evidence in favour of it unreliable or can be explained better by other competing hypotheses. But strictly speaking, there is plenty of evidence in favour of the proposition mind =/ brain. The question is how much weight should that evidence be accorded and does it sufficiently support the conclusion being proferred?

    It may be fair to say that parapsychology hasn’t produced sufficiently strong or reliable evidence in favour of the mind =/ brain hypothesis (Bernardo would disagree but that’s fine) but it seems incorrect to say that there’s no evidence in favour of that hypothesis.

  15. Alastair F. Paisleyon 17 May 2012 at 2:41 pm

    @ tmac57

    > Alastair F. Paisley-Show me an example of subjective awareness NOT associated with a physical thing. <

    Show me an example of something physical NOT associated with subjective awareness.

  16. Steven Novellaon 17 May 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Ii think we are running into the limitation of language here. How do you define “physical”? Subjective experience, consciousness, etc is physical in that it is simply a description of the processes of the brain. But the experience itself is not a physical thing with dimension, etc. We don’t really have a word for what it is, and I think you are exploiting that ambiguity, to confuse and not to illuminate.

    Consciousness is entirely the physical processes of the brain. That is not dualism, it is materialism. But then you say, show me the physical properties of consciousness itself, and you a priori exclude any correlation with the physical properties of brain function. This is tantamount to circular reasoning on your part – you are trying to define away the materialist position with word play.

    Your intention example is a good example of this. Intention is the firing of specific neurons in your brain in a specific pattern. There is no non-physical cause.

    If you have been paying attention – I never said correlation = causation. But sometimes correlation does emerge from causation. We can infer causation when the correlation holds up every way you would predict from one particular causation. In this case all the evidence, all the correlations, are consistent with the hypothesis that brain entirely causes mind, which is also the most elegant explanation that does not add any unnecessary new components.

  17. Steven Novellaon 17 May 2012 at 3:42 pm

    Arouet – thanks, you are correct. But we went over this in the other thread. In context what we mean is no compelling evidence. I am usually careful to say this, but not every time.

  18. Alastair F. Paisleyon 17 May 2012 at 3:46 pm

    Just FYI, the scientific evidence does not support materialism.

    Merriam-Webster defines “materialism” as “a theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter.

    Quantum mechanics holds that nature is fundamentally dualistic. Therefore, “matter is NOT the only or fundamental reality.”

    Quantum mechanics holds that there is neither a physical explanation for quantum indeterminsm nor for quantum entanglement. Therefore, “all being and processes and phenomena can NOT be explained as manifestations or results of matter.”

  19. daedalus2uon 17 May 2012 at 4:06 pm

    Arouet, the problem with NDE as evidence of life after death is not that it is anecdotal, but that it is not at all “near death”. It is like saying that jumping up in the air is a “near moon experience” because you are closer to the moon when you do jump, and then from what is experienced while jumping up in the air trying to infer what being on the moon would be like.

    I think the anecdotal reports of subjective experiences are likely correct, correct in that people actually did experience those feelings/effects/memories. But so what? The brain was still alive during those periods, and/or the brain is alive and active during the recall of those “memories”.

    NDEs are extreme metabolic states. That is the whole point, they are “near death”. Why should we expect the brain to function nominally while it is under extreme stress, to the point of failure? We shouldn’t. It is interesting that the psilocybin result, the brain was experiencing deactivation while experiencing hallucinations. Presumably when the brain is under near death metabolic stress, parts of it will be shut down to conserve ATP and prolong life. Perhaps that is why there is the correlation between deactivation and hallucinations. If the brain doesn’t have the metabolic resources to maintain itself alive, better to go into some sort of a default deactivation mode (common to all humans). Kind of like sleep in that people are not moving around (that would be bad in a near death metabolic state) and that strange things are experienced (such as dreams) when the overhead of making sense of everything is saved by turning it off.

    Native Americans have the cultural custom of the Sweat Lodge, where a near death metabolic stress is induced by hyperthermia. This is what that new age quack used to kill a few people a few years ago. Native Americans used it to induce spiritual-like experiences. Sounds a lot like what psilocybin does.

  20. Steven Novellaon 17 May 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Alastair – more word games. First of all – the universe is composed of more than “matter” – it is also composed of energy. Quantum mechanics does not require something other than matter – energy. It simply is a description of the behavior of matter-energy at the atomc scale. It does not disprove materialsm – especially as the term is being used in the current discussion.

  21. mnestison 17 May 2012 at 5:05 pm

    As a neuroscientist myself, i find this debate interesting. However, knowing how long it took me to fully develop a reasonable understanding of functional/clinical neuroanatomy, i can’t help but wonder if this debate is even worthwhile; as philosopher types who don’t have this background simply cannot appreciate what Steven is saying. Every sentence that he wrote above, i found myself nodding in agreement and thinking of fairly nuanced examples of brain complexity; but to somebody without a solid neuroscience foundation, it might be easy to dismiss this and insert vague language to muddy things.

    For example, Steve’s discussion of inhibition, disinhibition above is actually quite complex with regard to brain functioning. For illustration purposes, we generally know that the ventral-medial, orbital-frontal cortex serves as a governor of sorts for emotional processing. Those with injury to this area – and importantly thus show less activity on functional imaging to this region – frequently exhibit incredibly intense and overpowering emotions, demonstrating increased aggression, risk taking and terribly impulsive decision making processes. There is no net increase in brain activity or in the emotional processing centers of the brain; rather, this is a direct result from injury that has led to DECREASED activity of portions of the prefrontal cortex. This is but one example, but there are many others. In an admittedly overly simplistic example, schizophrenia patients show less activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex; this lack of activity has been theorized to lead to working memory deficits that allow for a normally inhibited stream of processing to direct a person’s experience of reality (the take home message is that schizophrenia, a condition in which a person has experiences similar to Psiolcybin ingestion, is characterized by decreased in certain brain functions, not an increase).

    Regarding the discussion and semantics of brain causing mind – and the assertion that brain activity does not lead to a measurable physical outcome, but instead mental states – what about studies in which, during neurosurgery, an electrical stimulation to the humunculus leads to a direct and very reliable physical outcome (and this also occurs for mental states as well). We know, from epilepsy patients, that when electrical discharges begin around the hippocampus, patients often experience emotion-laden aura (or in gelastic epilepsy associated with hypothalamic harmatomas that reliably result in extreme laughing or crying). I could go on and on, but there is a solid foundation of the brain causing both physical and mental experiences directly. I get the feeling that scientists and philosophers speak a different language entirely. Scientists are empiricists limited by data, philosophers play with words and ideas without such restriction.

  22. SteveAon 17 May 2012 at 5:43 pm

    Alastair F. Paisley: “Show me an example of something physical NOT associated with subjective awareness.”

    How about Ayres Rock? Or does that just disappear when people aren’t looking at it?

  23. Bernardoon 17 May 2012 at 5:53 pm

    My response: http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2012/05/novellas-reply-part-3.html

  24. Alastair F. Paisleyon 17 May 2012 at 6:01 pm

    @ Steven Novella

    > Ii think we are running into the limitation of language here. How do you define “physical”? <

    I define "physical” as that which is objective, that which is amenable to the third-person perspective. This is the basis for the physical sciences. (By the way, it should be noted that biology is not considered a physical science in academia.)

    > Subjective experience, consciousness, etc is physical in that it is simply a description of the processes of the brain. But the experience itself is not a physical thing with dimension, etc. We don’t really have a word for what it is, and I think you are exploiting that ambiguity, to confuse and not to illuminate. <

    We most certainly do have a word for the view you are espousing here. It's called "property dualism."

    "Property dualism describes a category of positions in the philosophy of mind which hold that, although the world is constituted of just one kind of substance – the physical kind – there exist two distinct kinds of properties: physical properties and mental properties. In other words, it is the view that non-physical, mental properties (such as beliefs, desires and emotions) inhere in some physical substances (namely brains).

    (source: Wikipedia: Property dualism)

    > Consciousness is entirely the physical processes of the brain. That is not dualism, it is materialism. But then you say, show me the physical properties of consciousness itself, and you a priori exclude any correlation with the physical properties of brain function. This is tantamount to circular reasoning on your part – you are trying to define away the materialist position with word play. <

    Whether the "brain causes the mind" is an entirely different issue from whether the mind is physical. These are two separate issues.

    Based on my first-person experience of my own subjectivity, I have clear evidence that the physical influences the mental. But, by the same token, I also have clear evidence that the mental influences the physical. (Dualism is what everyone presupposes in practice, even if they deny it in theory. And the reason why everyone presupposes dualism in practice is because it accords with our personal experience.)

    > Your intention example is a good example of this. Intention is the firing of specific neurons in your brain in a specific pattern. There is no non-physical cause. If you have been paying attention – I never said correlation = causation. But sometimes correlation does emerge from causation. We can infer causation when the correlation holds up every way you would predict from one particular causation. In this case all the evidence, all the correlations, are consistent with the hypothesis that brain entirely causes mind, which is also the most elegant explanation that does not add any unnecessary new components. <

    They are also consistent with dualism (and idealism).

    Incidentally, both John Eccles and Wilder Penfield (arguably the two greatest contributors to the field of neuroscience) were flaming dualists.

  25. mnestison 17 May 2012 at 6:10 pm

    Bernardo, after admittedly only briefly reading your reply, i reassert that a non-neuroscientist, even with the best of intentions, cannot truly grasp the complexity of the these brain intensity arguments. As i noted above, the psilocybin ingestion argument is weak – it is not unlike a psychotic episode, for which there actually is decreased activity in specific areas of the frontal lobe that then allow for this experience to be realized. When dorsolateral frontal activity is more normalized (read: ACTIVE), psychotic experiences/behavior decrease/cease. Your arguments suggest an overly simplistic view of cognitive processing/understanding of functional neuroanatomy.

  26. Aroueton 17 May 2012 at 6:11 pm

    @Steven Novella: Yeah, I know how easy it is to slip – I’m glad you clarified since it just tends to set proponents off.

    @daedalus2u – There are certainly different interpretations for NDEs – all I’m saying here, is that some of the accounts are supportive of the mind =/ brain hypothesis. They are evidence in favour of that hypothesis. That’s not the same thing as saying that that hypothesis is correct – there could be other interpretations of the evidence not supportive of that hypothesis. All I was getting at is that we should frame it in terms of strong/weak evidence. Unreliable evidence is still evidence, though it should not be accorded much weight.

  27. Alastair F. Paisleyon 17 May 2012 at 6:13 pm

    @ Steven A

    > Alastair F. Paisley: “Show me an example of something physical NOT associated with subjective awareness.”

    How about Ayres Rock? Or does that just disappear when people aren’t looking at it? <

    Has anyone seen it who did not experience subjective awareness at the time?

    "Many physicists and philosophers have objected to the Copenhagen interpretation, both on the grounds that it is non-deterministic and that it includes an undefined measurement process that converts probability functions into non-probabilistic measurements. Einstein’s comments “I, at any rate, am convinced that He (God) does not throw dice.“[23] and “Do you really think the moon isn’t there if you aren’t looking at it?”[24] exemplify this. Bohr, in response, said “Einstein, don’t tell God what to do“.

    (source: Wikipedia: Copenhagen interpretation)

  28. mnestison 17 May 2012 at 6:21 pm

    By the way, there is evidence that psilocybin leads to specific decreased metabolism of the same dorosolateral frontral regions hypoactive in schizophrenia. The frontal lobes and fronto-striatal tracts act as a sort of gating mechanism that allows certain sensory information into our attentional awareness. This is overly simplified for a general audience, but when you turn down this part of the frontal lobes, you often get extra noise (extraneous sensory information) from the thalamus that is not normally beneficial from an adaptive perspective (meaning that the brain has evolved to inhibit this information because it is useless adaptively). So again, the decreased cortical activity argument rests on false assumptions and misunderstandings.

  29. Alastair F. Paisleyon 17 May 2012 at 6:47 pm

    @ Steven Novella

    > Alastair – more word games. First of all – the universe is composed of more than “matter” – it is also composed of energy. Quantum mechanics does not require something other than matter – energy. It simply is a description of the behavior of matter-energy at the atomc scale. It does not disprove materialsm – especially as the term is being used in the current discussion. <

    1) There is no physical explanation for physically uncaused events. (The standard interpretation of QM holds that nature is fundamentally indeterminate.)

    2) There is no physical explanation for entanglement (what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance.")

    3) QM holds that nature is fundamentally dualistic (the "wave" in the "wave/particle" duality is a probability wave – an immaterial mathematical abstraction representing a realm of possibilities or potentiality.)

    4) The observer effect/measurement problem would seem to suggest that consciousness plays a role in actualizing possibilities.

    The bottom line is that the so-called working assumption of the physical sciences (materialism) is not actually supported by contemporary physics. (Denying these facts doesn't change them.)

  30. robmon 17 May 2012 at 6:51 pm

    Quantum mechanics discovering a new fundamental properties of material invalidates materialism? Well I suppose if a phenomenon has the word “dual” in it, then it must be dualistic. Matter has wave like properties, but it’s still matter. Just because a concept changed in the past does not mean the concept must be thrown out. By that logic we should no longer use the word water, it’s not an element after all, life can no longer be a valid description since there is no life force animating living things,etc.

    Should we through out the mind because philosophers have changed their definitions of that over the centuries?

  31. Alastair F. Paisleyon 17 May 2012 at 6:53 pm

    @ Steven Novella

    > Your intention example is a good example of this. Intention is the firing of specific neurons in your brain in a specific pattern. There is no non-physical cause. <

    If correlation implies causation in this particular example, then this would seem to validate free will. At any rate, how exactly does it invalidate dualism?

  32. Johannon 17 May 2012 at 7:11 pm

    Dr. Novella,

    You have spend a good portion of your career debunking non-materialist claims. You frequently become exchanged in heated debated with psi proponents, dualists, new agers, and idealists. You even run a podcast called “Skeptics Guide to the Universe.”

    So let’s be honest: how can you possibly not be emotionally invested in materialism?

    All of us are emotionally invested in our worldview; this is a starting point. Intelligent debate begins with this admission.

    I find it somewhat disingenuous – of both sides – to lay claim to objectivity, for it is much like the “no man’s land” of WW1; few can stay there long. It’s just not… human nature.

    - Johann

  33. tmac57on 17 May 2012 at 7:19 pm

    Alastair F.Paisley-
    Is it your assertion that there is nothing outside your subjective experience? Is your computer real and physical? Are you communicating with other ‘real’ physical entities that exist outside of your subjective experience? Are you talking to yourself in some bizarre self referential monologue?
    What is the nature of your experience?

  34. _rand15_on 17 May 2012 at 7:26 pm

    @ Alastair F. Paisley “Quantum mechanics holds that nature is fundamentally dualistic. Therefore, “matter is NOT the only or fundamental reality.””

    1. Completely different meaning of the term “dualistic”, and totally irrelevant here.

    2. Matter supposedly not being the “only …” reality is irrelevant and not asserted by quantum mechanics in a way that would be changed if quantum mechanics were proven to be wrong.

    “Quantum mechanics holds that there is neither a physical explanation for quantum indeterminsm nor for quantum entanglement.”

    Quantum mechanics makes no such claim, unless you refer to the random aspect of quantum processes. Quantum mechanics is in essence a set of equations. There are different interpretations as to the origin and meaning of certain aspects following from the application of the equations. The indeterminism and entanglement arise from the equations; it is not the case that there is no “physical” explanation. It *is* the case that there is as yet no widely accepted interpretation that leads to complete understanding by humans of all the implications of the equations (or, if you like, the physics) of quantum mechanics.

    So far, every time there has been a contest between the QM equations and someone’s contrary intuition, the equations have provably won. This fact doesn’t give much confidence in anyone’s intuition about the functioning of the brain and mind, does it, seeing as how the brain and mind are still so far from being understood?

    OTOH, quantum mechanics does have issues (of interpretation) just as mysterious, to my own mind, as the mind-body-consciousness question. I refer to things like the so-called collapse of the wave function during measurement, how an equation that computes complex quantities that when squared yield probability values can produce results that agree with reality so well (now that’s *really* strange, let me tell you).

    Oh, yes, I’m guess I should say that I’m writing the above as a physicist.

  35. Steven Novellaon 17 May 2012 at 7:35 pm

    Johann – because I am invested in a process, not a conclusion. Conclusions are tentative and subject to revision and modification, and sometimes rejection. Skepticism is a process. What matters is valid logic and fairly accounting for all evidence. If that process leads to a different conclusion, then I will happily change. This has been my stated position for years, and I have articulated it many times.

  36. _rand15_on 17 May 2012 at 7:44 pm

    @ Alastair F. Paisley “The raising of my hand is correlated with my intent to raise my hand. And since mental phenomena are not physical (even by your own admission), then it would seem to me that my nonphysical intention was the cause of my hand being raised. ”

    Steve didn’t say that mental phenomena are not physical. He said that mental phenomena are a process. The functioning of software in your computer is a process – I don’t consider that to be non-physical. It’s precisely the outcome of the physical functioning of the guts of the computer. In many cases, that functioning is too complex to be describable in a practical way (at a level of detail sufficient to understand everything that goes on completely), but so what?

    If we can’t (perhaps ever) describe the physical brain processes in “complete” detail, that wouldn’t mean that those brain processes and their outcome were non-physical in the sense of not arising from brain activity. And, of course, it wouldn’t prove the opposite, either.

    Finally, experiments have shown that mental awareness of the intention to raise or at least move a body part is (at least, in experiments intended to look at this) preceded by neural activity mapping the intended movement – i.e., a plan of motion. That is a plausible physical cause (or at least correlation) for either the intention or the actual motion, it hardly matters which in the context of this discussion. What “caused” this neural activity? Oh, yes, ultimate causes … they don’t usually get us very far … turtles all the way down, I guess.

  37. _rand15_on 17 May 2012 at 7:49 pm

    I do sometimes wonder if the notion of a “brain state” is really a viable concept. A “state” is normally thought of or defined as a condition that can be specified completely by a set of numbers (such as the quantum state of a pair of electrons, or the electromagnetic field values on a boundary enclosing a space). If you can reproduce the values, you reproduce exactly the condition and subsequent behavior of the system.

    But the brain has so many things going on that constantly change, and is so dependent on its own past history, that perhaps it can’t be properly specified that way. Maybe we need a new concept to supersede “state”.

  38. Alastair F. Paisleyon 17 May 2012 at 8:07 pm

    @ robm

    > Matter has wave like properties, but it’s still matter. <

    The "wave" is a probability wave (a nonphysical mathematical abstraction), not a physical wave (like water waves).

    "It is important to resist the temptation to regard electron waves as waves of some material substance, like sound waves or water waves. The correct interpretation, proposed by Max Born in the 1920s, is that the waves are a measure of probability…The fact that electron waves are waves of probability is a vital component of quantum mechanics and in the quantum nature of reality.”

    (source: pg. 202, “The Matter Myth” by Paul Davies – physicist)

  39. daedalus2uon 17 May 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Arouet, I don’t see the NDE data as “weak evidence”, I see it as non-evidence.

    For “data” to be “evidence”, there has to be a valid chain of logic that compels rejection of the null hypothesis to a degree that changes the prior plausibility.

    The chain of “logic” for the NDE data is that a NDE is sufficiently similar to real death that experiences during NDEs are characteristic of experiences during real death and that simultaneously the brain is functioning sufficient well that it is laying down memories that are reliable and can be remembered post-NDE.

    Those are two mutually contradictory requirements, neither of which is tested or is capable of being tested. NDE proponents don’t try to evaluate or test these two contradictory requirements, they simply assert that they both happen.

    In real death, all 100,000,000,000 nerve cells die and irreversibly stop functioning. In NDEs, the brain remains active and living tissue. We know that dead cells cannot form and retrieve memory, only living cells can do that (but we do not know the mechanism). Cells need ATP to remain viable. As ATP becomes depleted, the last thing that cells are unable to do before they die is remain viable. Ability to form memories has to stop before cells are unable to remain viable.

    If the chain of logic is flawed, that does not make the evidence “weak”, it makes it non-evidence.

  40. _rand15_on 17 May 2012 at 9:28 pm

    Alastair F. Paisleyon 17 May 2012 at 8:07 pm

    @ robm

    > Matter has wave like properties, but it’s still matter. <

    The "wave" is a probability wave (a nonphysical mathematical abstraction), not a physical wave (like water waves).

    Hmm, it's better to recognize that matter (e.g., electrons) exhibit wavelike behavior when put into a situation that gives it a chance to do so. The quantitative details of the behavior are extremely well described/predicted by quantum mechanical equations. And it's true that these equations operate on a wave function that, when squared, gives probability (see, even Davies has trouble getting the language right – the wave function isn't a wave of probability, strictly speaking, but of the square root (speaking a little loosely) of probability).

    The point? The wave-like behavior is in fact physical and can be physically observed. The matter is the physical, the behavior plays the role of the processes we were talking about earlier. Do we understand why the laws of quantum mechanics are as they are? Not completely, but that doesn't stop us from considering electrons or neutrons to be matter.

  41. bgoudieon 17 May 2012 at 9:33 pm

    @Alastair

    “4) The observer effect/measurement problem would seem to suggest that consciousness plays a role in actualizing possibilities.”

    no the observer effect simply covers the fact that one cannot generally take a measurement without the very act influncing the subject of the measurement. It has nothing to with consciousness.

    It is not the same thinga s the uncertainty principle (which also says nothing about consciousness and any effect it has on outcomes). This is an error that is often found when people try and use QM to “prove” their supernatural claims.

  42. Aroueton 17 May 2012 at 10:53 pm

    @daedalus2u: Here’s the online oxford definition of evidence:

    - the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid:
    the study finds little evidence of overt discrimination
    - Law information drawn from personal testimony, a document, or a material object, used to establish facts in a legal investigation or admissible as testimony in a law court:
    without evidence, they can’t bring a charge
    - signs or indications of something:
    there was no obvious evidence of a break-in (sorry, formating doesn’t copy great)

    Someone telling you there is an alien is their background is evidence of an alien being in their backyard – it’s just not particularly good evidence of it. It is information indicating that the proposition is true. It’s also terribly unreliable information towards that proposition.

    Likewise, some NDE stories are supportive of the proposition that mind =/ brain. That does not mean we are forced to accept that conclusion – but suggesting that they are not evidence just because there are other ways to look at it is just wrong. The same evidence can often support multiple conclusions.

  43. Alastair F. Paisleyon 18 May 2012 at 1:03 am

    @ rand15

    > Quantum mechanics makes no such claim, unless you refer to the random aspect of quantum processes. Quantum mechanics is in essence a set of equations. There are different interpretations as to the origin and meaning of certain aspects following from the application of the equations. The indeterminism and entanglement arise from the equations; it is not the case that there is no “physical” explanation. It *is* the case that there is as yet no widely accepted interpretation that leads to complete understanding by humans of all the implications of the equations (or, if you like, the physics) of quantum mechanics. <

    I stated in an earlier post that this was according to the standard intepretation of QM (a.k.a. Copenhagen interpretation). It has historically been the most widely accepted interpretation.

    > Oh, yes, I’m guess I should say that I’m writing the above as a physicist. <

    It has been noted.

  44. Alastair F. Paisleyon 18 May 2012 at 1:07 am

    @ rand15

    > Quantum mechanics makes no such claim, unless you refer to the random aspect of quantum processes. <

    I was referring to the random aspect. There's no physical explanation for an indeterministic event. It's uncaused by definition.

  45. Alastair F. Paisleyon 18 May 2012 at 1:40 am

    @ rand15

    > The point? The wave-like behavior is in fact physical and can be physically observed. The matter is the physical, the behavior plays the role of the processes we were talking about earlier. Do we understand why the laws of quantum mechanics are as they are? Not completely, but that doesn’t stop us from considering electrons or neutrons to be matter. <

    The interference pattern is observed. The actual wave is not. It is only inferred. The wave is not a wave of "stuff." It is nonphysical.

    "The much-vaunted wave–particle duality of quantum mechanics conceals a subtlety concerning the meaning of the terms. Particle talk refers to hardware: physical stuff such as electrons. By contrast, the wave function that attaches to an electron encodes what we know about the system. The wave is not a wave of ‘stuff,’ it is an information wave. Since information and ‘stuff’ refer to two different conceptual levels, quantum mechanics seems to imply a duality of levels akin to mind-brain duality.

    (source: “The Physics of Downward Causation” by Paul Davies, an essay appearing on pp. 44-45 “The Re-emergence of Emergence,” edited by Philip Clayton and Paul Davies)

  46. Alastair F. Paisleyon 18 May 2012 at 2:50 am

    @ rand15

    > Steve didn’t say that mental phenomena are not physical. He said that mental phenomena are a process. <

    This is what he said: "Mind is not a physical thing, it is something a physical thing does. It is a process. It makes no sense to require that is has physical properties.”

    That qualifies as property dualism.

    > The functioning of software in your computer is a process – I don’t consider that to be non-physical. It’s precisely the outcome of the physical functioning of the guts of the computer. Finally, experiments have shown that mental awareness of the intention to raise or at least move a body part is (at least, in experiments intended to look at this) preceded by neural activity mapping the intended movement – i.e., a plan of motion. That is a plausible physical cause (or at least correlation) for either the intention or the actual motion, it hardly matters which in the context of this discussion. <

    How does a physical correlation establish that the mental is physical? It simply establishes that mental activity and physical activity are correlated. I fail to see how that invalidates dualism.

  47. Alastair F. Paisleyon 18 May 2012 at 2:54 am

    @ rand15

    > The functioning of software in your computer is a process – I don’t consider that to be non-physical. It’s precisely the outcome of the physical functioning of the guts of the computer. <

    The basic unit of information on a silicon-based computer is a binary digit. We can determine the physical properties of a binary digit.

    Two questions:

    1) What is the basic unit of information that is processed by a carbon-based computer?

    2) What are the physical properties of that information?

  48. mrfoodon 18 May 2012 at 4:57 am

    @Alistair F. Paisley

    1) What is the basic unit of information that is processed by a carbon-based computer?

    Does it matter? Honestly? What difference does it make what the fundamental unit of brain information boils down to. This is ANOTHER semantic argument. Call it a unicorn if it makes you feel better.

    2) What are the physical properties of that information?
    They’re electrically based, measurable in fMRI or PET scans, EEG waves, etc. In much the same way that a computer uses ones and zeros to transmit, recieve, code and decode information

    If “conciousness” exists outside the physical realm ( it doesn’t, it’s caused by electrical impulses in the brain), by extension, that external force still has to communicate with the phsyical matter of the brain. It seems to me that this would be detectable either by observable phenomena or by inference. So, where’s the communication method? If you’re positing that the brain is filter ( I apologize, but dissecting your posts to infer your meaning is not easy at 4AM) why take the extra step?
    Simply putting forth the semantic argument that since the processes of the brain manifest themselves in consciousness, thereby PROVING dualism in that the subjective experience derived from those processes is inherently immeasurable, ergo non-physical, is ducking out of actually explaining in an observable manner HOW that works. I’ll say it again: if “consciousness” is seperate, there has to be a physical method for it to communicate with the PHYSICAL MATTER of the brain.
    In short, your argument, though well stated, is just a semantic dodge. Also, and this is just me being in a bad mood because I’m tired, please stop begging the question.

  49. Bernardoon 18 May 2012 at 5:06 am

    My response to the addendum: http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2012/05/novellas-reply-part-4.html

  50. mrfoodon 18 May 2012 at 5:26 am

    @Alistair

    One more thing:

    This is what he said: “Mind is not a physical thing, it is something a physical thing does. It is a process. It makes no sense to require that is has physical properties.”

    That qualifies as property dualism.

    If a process is composed of physical substances ( electrons, neural pathways, etc) how is the end result of that process not physical? Again, we don’t have to require that it has physical properties, but you seem to require that it does not have physical properties, which is missing the forest for the trees in my opinion.
    Also, all of the drug studies and “evidence” for consciousness outside of the brain actually preclude the neccessity for consciousness outside of the brain. If physical changes to either the structure or chemistry or activity of the brain affect the subjective experience of consciousness, then, again, why take the extra step? You would still need to come up with a mechanism by which the consciousness that is seperate from the brain communicates with teh physical matter, but I guess that is easily explained away by dualism in saying that it’s inherently immesaurable, or unobservable, or whatever precise adjective you care to use.

    This is just my opinion and I mean no offense, but I find property dualism to be on the same level intellectually speaking, as Platonic philosophy, specifically immutable exemplars as told in “The Allegory of the Cave.” It’s cute, but I really want us, as a species, to grow beyond the need to have anything “higher” than ourselves.

  51. SteveAon 18 May 2012 at 7:25 am

    Aroueton: “Here’s the online oxford definition of evidence:

    - the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid:
    the study finds little evidence of overt discrimination
    - Law information drawn from personal testimony, a document, or a material object, used to establish facts in a legal investigation or admissible as testimony in a law court:
    without evidence, they can’t bring a charge
    - signs or indications of something:”

    You seem to be conflating two seperate meanings of evidence. If someone tells me that they saw an alien in their backyard, that’s evidence of nothing but that they’ve made such a statement. It is not evidence in the scientific use of the word. Thought it might spur an investigation to find further information to determine the story’s truth or validity, or otherwise.

    However, if the same person tells me that an alien landed in his backyard and then ET beat that person’s grandma’s head in with a shovel, then he might be asked to repeat that story as ‘evidence’ in his own trial for murder.

    Personal testimony (evidence) in a legal setting would not automatically count as evidence in the scientific sense.

  52. BillyJoe7on 18 May 2012 at 8:18 am

    Materialist: The physical brain causes the mind. Therefore the mind is physical.
    Dualist: The mind is not physical. Therefore the brain does not cause the mind.
    Idealist: Nothing physical exists. It is all in the mind.

  53. ccbowerson 18 May 2012 at 9:23 am

    “This is what he said: ‘Mind is not a physical thing, it is something a physical thing does. It is a process. It makes no sense to require that is has physical properties.’
    That qualifies as property dualism.”

    If you think that this qualifies as property dualism , I think we are dealing with a language/misunderstanding problem. I don’t think he meant that statement differently than the analogous: digestion is something that the GI tract does.

  54. Wrigs13on 18 May 2012 at 9:50 am

    Articles in publications such as The Lancet are proof positive and cannot be dismissed?

    Two words; Andrew Wakefield.

    It is always possible to find published an article that agrees with your point of view, no matter how good or bad it may be, if you look hard enough.

  55. etatroon 18 May 2012 at 10:31 am

    1) There is no physical explanation for physically uncaused events. (The standard interpretation of QM holds that nature is fundamentally indeterminate.)

    I studied quantum mechanics (QM) in college, in physical chemistry courses. I did not get this interpretation from that part of the course, nor was any such statement/interpretation stated by the professors, nor did any of my classmates make such statements. Studying QM is actually an illuminating experience for a naive student like I was; I thought we were understanding secrets of the universe, and understanding where light and color came from. I think you fundamentally misunderstand what “quantum” means, actually. As applied to physics & chemistry, it just refers to the discreet nature of states. That is — not continuous. So discreet mathematics & probabilities have to be applied. What does this mean? Well – it means that an electron exists in state 1 or state 2, but not state 1.5, 1.25, 1.125, 1.0625, etc., only in 1 or 2. This is observable through classical Physics III courses, Intro Chem courses, and more in-depth in Physical Chem courses at universities throughout the world. These rudimentary experiments in college courses actually teach us that nature is, in fact, determinant. Just that certain parts of it (say, electron behavior, energy states, and light), is explained using discreet mathematics, not continuous.

    2) There is no physical explanation for entanglement (what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.”)

    This is a low-hanging fruit from the logical fallacy perspective, that just because you can’t think of a physical explanation, doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist. It is the argument from ignorance. I can think of one physical explanation (I am not a physicist, so this is pure speculation), when the two particles (say electrons) are interacting, their wave properties (which is energy, a physical thing) are super imposed for a time, and they are probed in some way (at a later time and at a distance from one another), their properties are the same.

    3) QM holds that nature is fundamentally dualistic (the “wave” in the “wave/particle” duality is a probability wave – an immaterial mathematical abstraction representing a realm of possibilities or potentiality.)

    I explained above why I think you don’t understand what “quantum” really means. The “wave/particle” theories of light do not say that light IS at the same time a wave AND a particle, just that it has properties of both. Water in a glass has wave and particle properties. It has particle properties in that the molecules push up against and bounce off the the glass, it has wave properties in that, the surface behaves as waves, observable with our eyes. Say, when you stick your finger in the middle of the water, a wave emanates from the contact point, travels in a straight light outwards, then bounces off of the glass, and the wave interacts with the waves come back to it, in a linear additive fashion. Light behaves like particles, in that it bounces off of things, interacts with stuff (can be absorbed), and also like waves. You can shine a light at a corner, it will travel in waves around the corner, the way water will when it hits something. Light also interacts in “wave” form in that light from two sources coming together, the properties are the linear sum of the two waves. These properties of light are all shown in third quarter (second semester) intro physics courses on every college campus. Sound behaves this way too. (vibrations through a medium, e.g., air). You don’t doubt the materialistic nature of water because it behaves like a wave.

    4) The observer effect/measurement problem would seem to suggest that consciousness plays a role in actualizing possibilities.

    No. Just — no. The act of observing something means that we have had to interact with it in some physical way, and thereby have changed it. Say we want to observe light. In order to do that, we set up a CCD camera. The light is absorbed by the CCD, converted to an electrical potential, the electrical potential interacts with a current, the strength of the current is changed (in a quantum, or digital manner, actually, either it’s there or not), which then goes through complicated physical processes until the information is observed on a computer screen. We interacted with the light at the part where it hit the CCD, it transferred energy to it, and we changed it. Conciousness has nothing to do with that. You can extrapolate this to every other observable thing. Say, we’re measure pH, which uses an electrode; the electrical potential inside the electrode (which has solution and a metal electrode) is changed because the platinum interacts with hydrogen ions (H+) in the solution; the individual H+ ions are changed slightly through this interaction. The observer effect / measurement problem really is only a manifestation of the physical-ness of our measurement systems and the physical-ness of things we are measuring. The measuring tool must interact with the object, and the interaction changes it in some way. Our consciousness is totally independent from this process.

  56. chaos4zapon 18 May 2012 at 11:02 am

    Physical correlation makes the brain=mind the more likely explanation and therefore, the most fruitful avenue for exploration. It doesn’t invalidate dualism…it just makes it unnecessary. You go down the path that shows the most promise until the hypothesis fails, pretty basic. If it fails, then you move on to consider and test another hypothesis, such as Dualism. Oh….wait, I’m being told in my ear-piece that dualism can’t be tested? I suppose that makes it of little value to anyone that wants to understand brain/consciousness, as opposed to trying to just confirm what one wishes to be true.

  57. ccbowerson 18 May 2012 at 11:15 am

    “Oh….wait, I’m being told in my ear-piece that dualism can’t be tested? I suppose that makes it of little value to anyone that wants to understand brain/consciousness, as opposed to trying to just confirm what one wishes to be true.”

    That is a good point from a practical perspective- what difference does it make? (And I mean that question in a more literal sense, not just rhetorically). It really doesn’t matter in terms of how the science is done, so it really seems to be an issue of how one is thinking. I am more and more convinced that this is a language and thinking problem.

  58. Alastair F. Paisleyon 18 May 2012 at 11:31 am

    @ ccbowers

    > “This is what he said: ‘Mind is not a physical thing, it is something a physical thing does. It is a process. It makes no sense to require that is has physical properties.
    That qualifies as property dualism.”

    If you think that this qualifies as property dualism , I think we are dealing with a language/misunderstanding problem.

    I do think that Novella’s statement qualifies as property dualism. And I am not the one here with a “language/misunderstanding” problem. (If the mind does not have physical properties (as he has argued), then it logically follows that the mind has nonphysical, mental properties.)

    Wikipedia defines “property dualism” as follows:

    Property dualism describes a category of positions in the philosophy of mind which hold that, although the world is constituted of just one kind of substance – the physical kind – there exist two distinct kinds of properties: physical properties and mental properties. In other words, it is the view that non-physical, mental properties (such as beliefs, desires and emotions) inhere in some physical substances (namely brains).

  59. Alastair F. Paisleyon 18 May 2012 at 12:18 pm

    @ etatro

    This is in regards to your objections concerning QM claims that I have made.

    1) QM (according to the standard interpretation…a.k.a. the Copenhagen interpretation…the one that is taught in college) holds that nature is fundamentally indeterminate (random), that physical events really do occur uncaused.

    According to this interpretation, the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics is not a temporary feature which will eventually be replaced by a deterministic theory, but instead must be considered a final renunciation of the classical idea of “causality“.

    (source: Wikiedia: Quantum mechanics)

    2) There is no local causal interactions between correlated entangled particles. (The correlations occur instantaneously regardless of distance. This is well-tested.) “Quantum nonlocality” is part and parcel of quantum mechanics.

    3) QM holds that nature is fundamentally dualistic. I have already cited numerous sources in this thread that explicitly state that the waves are nonphysical. (In fact, one source said that it is akin to mind/brain duality.)

    4) I said that the “observer effect/measurement problem would SEEM to suggest that consciousness plays a role in actualizing possibilities.” (The word “seem” is key here.)

    The change of the wave function from ψ to ψn is called the collapse of the wave function and occurs when the measurement takes place.[3] This collapse of the wave function is not explainable using the Copenhagen interpretation.[2]

    (source: Wikipedia: Observer effect (physics))

    The oddity of this abrupt resculpturing of the wave – often called ‘the collapse of the wave function’ – is that it SEEMS to depend upon the activities of the observer. If nobody looks, then the wave never collapses.

    (source: pg. 210, “The Myth Matter” by Paul Davies – physicist)

  60. ccbowerson 18 May 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Paisley-

    You are missing a key point of those properties being distinct. If what we call “mind” is just our word or concept of what the brain does (or part of what it does), and is not distinct in a way other than the language we are using, I don’t see how one can call that dualism. If you are prepared to call it that based upon the language, then it seems arbitrary and meaningless

  61. SARAon 18 May 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Can we ban Wikipedia as a reference in this argument? It’s troublesome that you all are trying to make evidence based arguments by using Wikipedia.

    It’s a great tool for learning something for the first time. (as long as you know it’s weakness) but to make it part of the evidence or proper definitions in a debate like this is not apt.

  62. gr8googlymooglyon 18 May 2012 at 1:27 pm

    Only those who know that their argument has little or no merit focus so anally on semantics.

  63. SteveAon 18 May 2012 at 1:51 pm

    gr8googlymooglyon: “Only those who know that their argument has little or no merit focus so anally on semantics.”

    I agree, when someone starts pulling out dictionary definitions it’s pretty much a last gasp. Not always; but often.

  64. etatroon 18 May 2012 at 2:14 pm

    @ gr8googlymooglyon & SteveA : I totally agree.

    Though, for clear communication, it is necessary to agree on the meanings of terms in order to engage in a productive conversation. This is why a lot of laws and contracts have a “definitions” section before the actual text.

    I once had a heated debate with my roommate about religion and the nature of religion. We seemed to reach an impasse at some point and realized that we were talking past one another. That’s when you start discussing what words mean. I had always taken religion to require the belief the supernatural, a god or gods, or some other non-nature, non-physical entity (e.g., soul, or even “force” in the Star Wars universe). He seemed to think that religion did not require the supernatural. However, I would not call such things a “religion,” but rather a belief-system, or a philosophy, or a system-of-ethics. These things could have properties of religion, like authority & hierarchy, history, and dogma. But if they lack a supernatural component, I would not refer to it as religion. It is silly then, to devolve the conversation into the “correct” meaning of a word. But rather — more intellectually gratifying to explore what the nature of such a thing is assuming first one definition, then another. It turns out we learned a lot from each other during that debate.

    The moral of the story is that in order for the discussion to be productive, we have to agree on what things mean. I think a certain party in the discussion refuses to recognize or do that. Paisely has shown that he fundamentally misunderstand what “quantum” means, and also refuses to accept definitions of Mind, thought, cognition, etc.

    Finally, I am a little surprised that we haven’t seen the term “emergent property” come up. It seems that “mind” is an emergent property of the physical processes of the brain. Just like “population” is an emergent property of group of individuals. You won’t deny that ants are physical entities, they exist in populations, and the populations are able to do things an individual wouldn’t.

  65. tmac57on 18 May 2012 at 3:26 pm

    The brain is an information processing organ.The mind is that processed information.The mind IS what the brain does. That is my materialist perspective.

  66. chaos4zapon 18 May 2012 at 3:32 pm

    @etatro

    I think you may be a little confused. I don’t think that you would accurately describe “population” as an emergent property of a group of individuals, or at least it would be unnecessary to do so. I’m sure that the very definition of Population list several individuals as a prerequisite to consider it a population. It seems to me that the term “Emergent Property” is a bit of a place-holder for not having a firm grasp on the mechanism involved yet. Since it is a place-holder, I’m not sure if it is all that useful in anything other than the most basic conversations with the lay-person on the subject. Someone with a slightly more sophisticated (in tone and vocabulary only, in this case) ability to argue would simply dismiss “emergent property” as a place-holder that explains nothing and one may be accused of using it as a cop-out. Since this conversation has mostly not been about the mechanism (I think we all agree it is mostly unknown and very complicated) and has instead focused on rather a testable hypothesis that is in line with everything we know about what can happens to consciousness when the brain is damaged or lost, is better than a non-solution offered up and defended for no other reason than wishful thinking.

    Or….maybe someone just didn’t think of the term “emergent property” while typing and I am just hopelessly confused, which very well could be the case.

  67. leoneton 18 May 2012 at 4:19 pm

    etatro is correct, and along the lines of the issue of definitions, I’d assert that wave functions, entanglement and other QM oddities are as much a part of nature [i.e. the physical/material universe] as the chair I’m sitting on or Newton’s Laws. They were discovered by scientists operating under the framework of methodological naturalism, and do not appear to be subject to the (presumably non-random) whims of a spirit realm.

    One can more narrowly define the “physical universe” as strictly matter and energy and abstract things like qualia and physical laws to their own category and call it property dualism, but it’s an exercise in semantics and ontology; it doesn’t change what they are.

  68. the_woodmanon 18 May 2012 at 5:30 pm

    etatro wrote: ‘Finally, I am a little surprised that we haven’t seen the term “emergent property” come up. It seems that “mind” is an emergent property of the physical processes of the brain. Just like “population” is an emergent property of group of individuals. You won’t deny that ants are physical entities, they exist in populations, and the populations are able to do things an individual wouldn’t.’

    Emergence is not a physical phenomenon.

    Physically, every physical object consists of elementary particles and fundamental forces, located in spacetime (according to the Standard Model). No object, however complex it may seem to us, has properties that transcend those of these basic constituents.

    What happens when something ‘emerges’ is that the elementary particles and fundamental forces take on a different configuration. For example, a configuration of two particles with 2 mm space between them may ‘emerge’ from a previous configuration of two particles with 1 mm space between them when the particles move a bit. Beforehand we have two particles and spacetime, and afterwards we have two particles and spacetime, without any additional extras. There is no emergence of new properties or new things, only ‘emergence’ of a new configuration, the constituents of which all existed since the big bang. Nothing new really comes into existence; there is only a change in position of that which already exists.

    The idea that there are genuinely emergent properties stems from our misunderstanding of these basic facts – we think that a configuration *really* has new properties (because it may look dazzlingly complex to us at first glance, even though the principle behind its ‘emergence’ is exactly the same as in the two particle situation mentioned), while physically, it hasn’t. It’s a myth that some things are ‘greater than the sum of their parts’, although a very popular one. ;)

  69. BillyJoe7on 18 May 2012 at 5:31 pm

    The problem in this discussion is the idea that Dualism can be divided into substance dualism and property dualism.

    Historically, Dualism and Materialism have been opposing and mutually exclusive views.
    Dualism: There are two types of entities, physical and non-physical.
    Materialism: there only physical entities.
    So property dualism is actually a subset of Materialism. Property dualists believe there are only physical entities, but that physical entities come in two types, one has properties (ie brains), the other does not (ie minds).

    Perhaps we should just call it property materialism!

    It then comes down to a discussion about whether concepts such as Quantum Mind and Universal Conciousness play any role in the genesis of physical entities that have no properties (ie minds). In other words whether minds are fundamentally different physical entities from brains.

  70. the_woodmanon 18 May 2012 at 5:36 pm

    Well, that’s at least my current opinion on the matter …

  71. tmac57on 18 May 2012 at 5:56 pm

    woodman- re something being greater than the sum of it’s parts, I think that a new idea,is an example of something greater than it’s parts. A set of books that has all of the known words in the world,would not be logically said to encompass an arrangement of those words that described something previously unknown. The works of Shakespeare are not reducible to the individual words that he used.

  72. mdstudenton 18 May 2012 at 9:15 pm

    “He doesn’t address my points – I think he didn’t really get them.”

    Pretty much sums up the whole discussion. It’s been nonetheless fascinating and quite satisfying to read Dr. Novella deconstruct Kastrup’s arguments. Ultimately I think this exchange served in demonstrating two main points: first, that there is still much about how the brain and mind are related that we do not understand; and second, invoking god-of-the-gaps theories to help elucidate their relation doesn’t help anybody.

  73. Eric Thomsonon 18 May 2012 at 9:55 pm

    BillyJoe: just because the new ingredient they want added to nature is a property rather than a substance doesn’t make them materialists in any standard sense of the term.

  74. Eric Thomsonon 18 May 2012 at 11:33 pm

    Steven wrote, in describing materialism about mind:
    This is often stated as the mind is caused by the brain…The brain is the physical substance, while the mind or consciousness is a process that emerges from the brain.

    Are you arguing consciousness is like “solidity” or some other higher-level emergent state? If so, then I could tentatively agree, in the sense that consciousness is a higher-level neural state, not a state of a single neuron. Similarly, ‘solidity’ is a higher-level chemical state, not a state of a single chemical. That is innocuous enough.

    But then you’d never say that the emergence of this chemical state precedes solidity. It’s not as if the chemicals become fixed into a lattice-like structure, and this causes the material to become solid. By definition, to be a solid is to be in that crystal-like state. Similarly, to be conscious is to be in some higher-order neural state (whatever neuroscience reveals it to be).

    Sure, something causes that conscious neural state to emerge, just as something can cause water to freeze, but that wouldn’t be to disagree with my point. That would just focus the discussion on something strictly different from the phenomenon we are interested in: what brings it about?

  75. Eric Thomsonon 18 May 2012 at 11:37 pm

    Somewhat surprisingly, Steven argues against the view that experiences just are complex neural processes, Steven wrote:
    A dead or deeply comatose brain has no mind, so they are manifestly not the same thing.

    Nobody has ever said that having a brain, period, is sufficient for consciousness. Similarly, nobody would claim that having a bag filled with H20 molecules is sufficient to have a solid. What matters is the organization of the molecular constituents in the brain/bag. Is the above argument from Steven supposed to show that experiences are not brain states? Very odd indeed!

    Note it is often fine to talk about brain states ‘generating’ or ‘producing’ conscious states. I see this as a lazy shorthand for the claim that the brain is a conscious machine, and conscious experiences aren’t some additional non-neural feature of reality. If you start to take the loose talk (especially talk of brains ‘causing’ minds) too literally, it starts to fall flat, and is at odds with all the evidence I know of (e.g., from rivalry, hallucinations, etc)..

    This isn’t to say that there isn’t causality involved at some level, and temporal asymmetries. When I drink alcohol, that causes me to feel drunk. I experience the sound of the gunshot after the air pressure hits my ears, not before. My point is not to disagree with such obvious claims, but to point out that the experiences caused by these stimuli are themselves complex brain states. That is, these stimuli cause your brain to be put into a novel conscious state. They do not put your brain in a conscious, but magically not neural, state.

    Similarly, putting water in the freezer puts it into a novel solid state. It doesn’t put the water into a solid, but magically not chemical, state.

  76. BillyJoe7on 19 May 2012 at 1:30 am

    Steven: “A dead or deeply comatose brain has no mind, so they are manifestly not the same thing.”

    Eric: “Is the above argument from Steven supposed to show that experiences are not brain states?”

    He is saying that the brain is more than the mind.
    The mind is the conscious brain.
    There is also the subconscious brain.

  77. NewRonon 19 May 2012 at 1:44 am

    Eric: Your knowledge is vast. From a rather naive mind, can I ask you: Is not everything we know about the brain a product of consciousness? Is it just possible that consciousness may exist without a brain but require a brain to be expressed ( something like a radio signal requires a radio to be heard)? I am putting this forward simply as a possibility.

  78. Mlemaon 19 May 2012 at 2:41 am

    A new fruit is discovered.
    It is measured carefully. So carefully that it can be reconstructed in 3-D. It’s sliced in every direction, on every plane, with it’s internal structure recorded in detail. It’s analyzed in every possible way. We know the physics of this new fruit. We know everything about it, right?

    We don’t know how it tastes!

    Mary takes a bite of the apple. Now Mary knows how it tastes. So we take apart Mary’s brain. We analyze it in every possible way. Now we know how the fruit tastes right?
    No? Well, maybe Mary can tell us.
    Oops. nevermind.

    OK, so John takes a bite of this new fruit. What does it taste like John?
    “It tastes like nothing I’ve ever had before!”
    How are we going to figure out what it tastes like?

    Let’s have John take another taste, and while he’s tasting it, we’ll take his brain apart. (we found a way to keep him alive while still completely analyzing his brain state – even right down to the frequency and phase of the oscillation of the relevant neurons.) Now we will know how it tastes!

    Nope. We still don’t know. The taste of the new fruit can only be experienced by the taster.

    What it’s like to taste that fruit is undoubtedly a property of consciousness. We can’t think of anyway that tasting could be done by someone or something without a brain.

    It’s very confusing to discuss because there are other elements of consciousness that are explained thoroughly (or will be) by figuring out the functioning of the brain. We don’t think about our experience, because it’s really each individual’s whole world. When you’re dissecting the brain, or doing the calculations, it’s all through your conscious, subjective experience that you’re doing so. Your whole life is subjective experience. First-person only.

    Forget about materialism, dualism, idealism, reductivism, blah, blah, blah, etc.
    What does it matter? What’s important is to recognize the phenomenon and to be able to conceptualize it’s fundamental nature.

    I refer you to Chalmers:
    http://consc.net/papers/nature.html
    not because he’s got some new or unique perspective on this, but because he’s very thorough in discussing and trying to explain it.

    The proposal of the “hard question” is not like the proposal made by “vitalism”. Chalmers addresses this very comparison.

    Something else to help conceptualization: when we mess with the brain, we mess with the subjective experience of the person who the brain belongs to, yes? Yes. But, even the messed up experience is subjective experience. That doesn’t address the nature of the question: what is our conscious awareness.

  79. Mlemaon 19 May 2012 at 3:01 am

    For those struggling to reconcile their skeptical nature as scientists with the idea of consciousness as a fundamental property of the universe:

    http://www.closertotruth.com/video-profile/Is-the-Soul-Immortal-David-Chalmers-/1174

    (don’t know why it’s titled that way – misleading)

  80. SARAon 19 May 2012 at 3:12 am

    # Mlema
    Thank you for your great example of the subjective state of consciousness. I don’t think I got why it was such an issue until you gave that example.

    However, I don’t quite understand why the fact that I can never fully dissect and quantify Mary’s tasting of fruit equals an additional something to create conscious. Because when I dissect the brain and discover the particular matter and process that creates Mary’s experience of the taste – I still know that those things caused her experience. The fact that I cannot quantify her direct experience does not negate that the experience is being caused by brain.

    It merely means that I will never be able to truly quantify it. Or even if you say that I will never be able to prove the causation because I cannot quantify her experience, it still doesn’t mean that the conscious arises from an additional thing than brain matter. It merely proves I cannot ever get direct causation proof.

    So, I’m not sure that the subjective experience of consciousness means anything more than its hard if not impossible to quantify.

  81. Eric Thomsonon 19 May 2012 at 3:14 am

    BillyJoe: I think that cannot be right, as cadavers have no minds, period, conscious or unconscious. Just a bunch of neurons connected to one another, signifying nothing. You are a commendably charitable exegete, but that seems a bit of a stretch.

    Mlema: I wouldn’t expect an omniscient neuroscientist to have an experience of red when she studies the brain of someone seeing red, any more than I’d expect an omniscient male gynecologist to become pregnant when he studies a pregnant woman (I steal this example from Patricia Churchland).

    There is a strange belief that by studying experience you should somehow have that experience. No. We only need to have knowledge of said experience, i.e., neural process. I think an omniscient neuroscientist has knowledge of the experience without having the experience.

    Incidentally, Frank Jackson, the person who actually developed that thought experiment about Mary, has since realized it doesn’t kill materialism, and is now a materialist about consciousness. For instance, see this paper.

    NewRon: it is possible, but not plausible to me that the mind exists in the absence of a brain. I don’t find a compelling case that brains need to be supplemented by additional ingredients.

  82. Eric Thomsonon 19 May 2012 at 3:39 am

    Note while I am a metaphysical naturalist about consciousness, I am not a methodological naturalist. I don’t need a brain scan to tell me that I like chocolate cake.

    Reminds me of the old joke about behaviorism. What did one behaviorist say to the other after sex? It was good for you, how was it for me?

  83. BillyJoe7on 19 May 2012 at 5:36 am

    BillyJoe: “It then comes down to a discussion about whether concepts such as Quantum Mind and Universal Conciousness play any role in the genesis of physical entities that have no properties (ie minds). In other words whether minds are fundamentally different physical entities from brains.”

    It starts…

    Mlema: “For those struggling to reconcile their skeptical nature as scientists with the idea of consciousness as a fundamental property of the universe: http://www.closertotruth.com/video-profile/Is-the-Soul-Immortal-David-Chalmers-/1174

    :)

  84. BillyJoe7on 19 May 2012 at 5:50 am

    Mlema,

    “Let’s have John take another taste, and while he’s tasting it, we’ll take his brain apart. (we found a way to keep him alive while still completely analyzing his brain state – even right down to the frequency and phase of the oscillation of the relevant neurons.) Now we will know how it tastes! ”

    How would you ever know whether he would or he wouldn’t know what the apple tastes like after analysing his brain down to the oscillation frequency of all the neurons iinvolved?
    Do you think that it is IMPOSSIBLE for the scientist to know what the apple tastes like after he has obtained that extraordinary degree of detail?
    If not, your argument fails.

    Daniel Dennett calls your argument an “intuition pump”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intuition_pump

  85. daedalus2uon 19 May 2012 at 8:30 am

    Each tasting of each fruit by each individual is a unique event.

    Each individual has a different pattern of different taste receptors on their tongue, each with different responses to chemical signals. Those chemical receptors are connected to a unique sensory network in that individual’s brain.

    Each fruit is a unique assembly of different chemicals, sugars, organic acids, esters, water, proteins, fiber, all assembled in a unique configuration. When a unique set of teeth bite and apply force to the fruit, the fruit structure is damaged, leaking fluid contents into the mouth in a unique pattern. The fruit fluids mix with fluids in the mouth and react. Enzymes in saliva break down starches producing sugars, which affect the sugar receptors differently. Volatile compounds vaporize, mix with air and are transported across odor detectors in the nasal passages. The details of which compounds vaporize which odor receptors are activated is a complex matter of heat and mass transfer in the mouth and nasal passages while chewing and breathing is happening.

    The brain receives differential signals from millions of taste and odor receptors. These signals are analyzed, pattern recognition is done on them, associations with other foods tasted in the past are generated. All of this data is integrated and condensed to form the “taste” sensation the individual experiences.

    In every unique individual (that would be all individuals because all individuals are unique) the sensory processing neural networks are unique. They take a unique pattern of signals process it in a unique way and generate a signal which is interpreted by the brain as a “taste”. All of that data processing is unconscious, only the final result, the “taste” is presented to consciousness.

    What does it even mean for two things to “taste the same”? Any two things will necessarily present different sensory stimuli to the brain when they are eaten. Two things can’t “taste the same”. What this means is that virtually all of the sensory data is discarded and only the condensed “taste” sensation is remembered. The brain doesn’t have the memory capacity and the resolution to preserve all of that data. When we think that two different fruits “taste the same”, what is really happening is that we can’t remember enough of the details to appreciate that they taste differently.

    What does it mean that we can’t convey how something tastes to someone else? We can’t even remember it for ourselves.

  86. Alastair F. Paisleyon 19 May 2012 at 10:25 am

    @ BillyJoe7

    > So property dualism is actually a subset of Materialism. Property dualists believe there are only physical entities, but that physical entities come in two types, one has properties (ie brains), the other does not (ie minds). Perhaps we should just call it property materialism! <

    It's called "property dualism” because it holds that two distinct types of properties inhere in physical substance – namely physical properties and nonphysical mental properties.

    > It then comes down to a discussion about whether concepts such as Quantum Mind and Universal Conciousness play any role in the genesis of physical entities that have no properties (ie minds). In other words whether minds are fundamentally different physical entities from brains. <

    This is a legitimate issue. And the fact is that various "quantum mind” theories have been proposed (most notably the Penrose/Hameroff “Orchestrated Objective Reduction” hypothesis).

  87. LarryCoonon 19 May 2012 at 11:49 am

    daedalus2u wrote, “Each tasting of each fruit by each individual is a unique event,” which is certainly true. So a more relevant thought experiment wouldn’t be whether we can transfer the resulting brain changes to another person — let’s say instead that we have a time machine (this is MY thought experiment, so I can have ready access to time machines), and the ability to create a complete physical, chemical and energy map of Mary’s brain to any arbitrary level of detail. In other words, we know about every neuron, and about the strength and robustness of every neuronal connection. We do this kind of mapping on Mary before she’s eaten the fruit, and we do so after.

    1) Does the difference in physical brain states in the two mappings equate to the experience of eating the fruit?

    2) If we use our time machine to take back the “after” mapping of Mary’s brain, and could apply the necessary changes to Mary’s brain before she has eaten it, so that instead of eating the fruit she instead has her brain changed to look like it did (er, will have did, or something…) as a result of eating the apple, then will her knowledge and memory of the experience be the same?

  88. tmac57on 19 May 2012 at 12:02 pm

    Newron-

    Is it just possible that consciousness may exist without a brain but require a brain to be expressed ( something like a radio signal requires a radio to be heard)?

    Just for fun,let’s suppose that we rename everything that materialists such as myself would call physical and call it ‘consciousness’ (include energy as well). Now consider that the peripheral nervous system and all of your sense organs are the antenna that feeds that ‘consciousness’ to the brain for processing. The results of that ‘consciousness’ processing is the mind.

    You could view it that way,but how would that be fundamentally different than just saying that consciousness/mind is what the brain does? Viewed the other way,you might find comfort in saying that consciousness exists apart from us physically,and therefore survives beyond our experience,but if your ‘antenna’ is not there to experience it,then you are not able to be part of that consciousness.

  89. daedalus2uon 19 May 2012 at 1:30 pm

    Larry, I would say the answer to #1 depends on what the definitions of “equate” and “experience” are.

    As for #2, I would say yes, that as far as Mary is concerned she cannot distinguish a difference.

    However, the type of time machine you propose is not possible, and even if it was, you have changed the environment in the past, even if only by differential distributions of mass/energy affecting gravitational interactions. Quantum indeterminancy doesn’t let you do what you propose to do.

  90. mufion 19 May 2012 at 3:28 pm

    Eric said: There is a strange belief that by studying experience you should somehow have that experience. No.

    This observation reminds me of a term that some philosophers of mind use: conceptual dualism.

    Here’s a description, based on David Papineau’s work:

    Not to be confused with property dualism, or ontological dualism, conceptual dualism suggests that we have two different ways of thinking about the properties of a single substance. The distinctness between these different kinds of concepts is what causes the ‘intuition of distinctness,’ which Papineau suggests is responsible for dualism, and why it is such an attractive hypothesis.

    Specifically, Papineau says that these two types of concepts are distinct, because the phenomenal concepts possess some part of the actual experience. Our concept of red includes a ‘faint copy’ of red, whereas our conception of the human perceptual system includes no such faint copy.

    [source]

    So I guess that, in this sense, we’re all dualists, regardless of our metaphysical/ontological beliefs, assumptions, or commitments.

  91. SteveAon 19 May 2012 at 3:47 pm

    etatroon: “Though, for clear communication, it is necessary to agree on the meanings of terms in order to engage in a productive conversation. This is why a lot of laws and contracts have a “definitions” section before the actual text.”

    I’m with you on this. The point you make is that definitions should be agreed on from the start (as in your contract example) which is useful. My point was that these discussions often end up with someone pulling out a dictionary definition that backs up their (often narrow) interpretation of a word and treating it like a trump card. It’s often (but not always) the last gasp of a lost argument.

  92. SteveAon 19 May 2012 at 3:58 pm

    Mlema: “Let’s have John take another taste, and while he’s tasting it, we’ll take his brain apart. (we found a way to keep him alive while still completely analyzing his brain state – even right down to the frequency and phase of the oscillation of the relevant neurons.) Now we will know how it tastes!
    Nope. We still don’t know. The taste of the new fruit can only be experienced by the taster.”

    To repeat a point already made by BJ7. You are begging a question here, Mlema. Why the assumption that we could never know? Given the right technology it might be quite possible to analyse the taste sensation and reproduce it perfectly.

  93. mufion 19 May 2012 at 5:35 pm

    PS: Conceptual-dualist intuition aside, I seem to have acquired an ontological-monist intuition, as well. For example, even though I ascribe distinctly phenomenal and physical concepts to water/H20, I nonetheless assume that all of these concepts refer to a single substance or configuration thereof – so, too, with the mind/brain (or, more accurately, mind/embodied-nervous-system). That assumption doesn’t necessarily entail materialism (or physicalism) – e.g. it might entail idealism (which Kastrup appears to favor) – but then the weight of science & philosophy developed over the past few centuries (yes, including QM) seems to come down on the side of materialism/physicalism, as Dr. Novella suggests. Either way, it’s no sweat off of my back – so long as we are able to generate reliable predictions.

  94. NewRonon 19 May 2012 at 6:38 pm

    # tmac5: Thanks for the response. I agree that ‘I” would not “be the there” but the difference is that while I am there, I am there with the knowledge that there is consciousness greater than me of which I am merely partaking. Since my post, I have been trying to reduce my ignorance by reading Chalmers as well as the other posts. I guess intuitively I would fall at the other end of the spectrum from you, although I leave myself open to change. As a layperson, I find Type A materialism (the views of Dennet whose books I have read, and Churchland whose talks I have listened to) repugnant and if I was to change I would need to overcome deep prejudices – perhaps the fault lies with me.

  95. Mlemaon 19 May 2012 at 8:47 pm

    SARA,
    “However, I don’t quite understand why the fact that I can never fully dissect and quantify Mary’s tasting of fruit equals an additional something to create conscious.”

    I didn’t mean to say that. Instead i mean to say: let’s imagine that we’re in the future and we CAN fully dissect and quantify the taste that Mary is tasting. That is, we know exactly what her brain is like when she’s tasting the fruit. We still don’t know what the taste of the fruit is! Because what it tastes like is something fundamentally different from the physical brain state that “creates” or “correlates” or “causes” the taste as it’s experienced.

    Because when I dissect the brain and discover the particular matter and process that creates Mary’s experience of the taste – even though I could theoretically re-construct everything about the physical configuration of matter that creates the taste – I still can’t taste the taste. If I then reconstruct the configuration in my own brain — THEN I can taste it. But do you see how it’s something separate that only belongs to the “experiencer” who’s experiencing it?

    Now, that’s not to say it exists separately from the brain, or even that the brain doesn’t cause it. We don’t know of any instance where it exists separate from a brain. But there’s no reason to guess it wouldn’t exist, for instance, in a dog. That is, i believe my dog probably experiences the world similarly to me. I believe she sees images and hears sounds. The range of sights and sounds she can process is different. I know that because we know that her eyes and ears (and brain) are different from mine. But there’s no reason for me to think that since she has a brain similar to mine, she probably experiences the world in a similar way.

    SARA: “Because when I dissect the brain and discover the particular matter and process that creates Mary’s experience of the taste – I still know that those things caused her experience. The fact that I cannot quantify her direct experience does not negate that the experience is being caused by brain.”

    That’s true. Sorry if I said otherwise. There’s no reason to say Mary’s experience of tasting the fruit could exist separate from her brain. We can’t imagine consciousness without a brain. (In more ways than one if you get that :) But it’s not hard to imagine a brain without consciousness. And i don’t mean comatose.
    Let’s just imagine that it’s just a brain doing all its things. It’s taking in info and putting out behavior. But, it has no awareness! It has no sight or hearing – only the flow of photons through the lens of the eye and the sound waves vibrating the ear drums, and the processing of the information that the photons and sound waves provide through neural translation, and the output of neural and motor response. But there’s no “experiencing” the intake and processing of the physical information, or the outputting of behavior. Sort of like if you could get up in the morning, go to work, eat and do all the things you have to do, and even exhibit the normal personality that endears you to others – all while you’re really still asleep. It’s that element of awareness that is a non-material thing.

    Because we never see it outside of a brain, and we never see a brain without it unless there’s something physically wrong with the brain – I think we can safely say it’s tied in the physical world by “brain”.

    SARA: “It merely means that I will never be able to truly quantify it. Or even if you say that I will never be able to prove the causation because I cannot quantify her experience, it still doesn’t mean that the conscious arises from an additional thing than brain matter. It merely proves I cannot ever get direct causation proof.

    So, I’m not sure that the subjective experience of consciousness means anything more than its hard if not impossible to quantify.”

    Bingo girl! I wasn’t trying to prove or disprove causation in either direction brain to mind, mind to brain. (at least I hope not – sometimes I wonder if I know what the hell I’m saying! :)
    I don’t know that it really matters to me personally any more about causation. I’m just trying to show what we’re really talking about here when we say subjective experience. And you’ve got it. It just seems to me like a lot of people think of it as one and the same as a brain state, and, although it is always intimately tied to a specific and quantifiable brain state (and visa versa) it is something fundamentally different from a brain state. An experience is not a physical thing, although it never happens apart from a physical state (that we know of – which is all that we can talk about anyway) And really, we CAN quantify experience by reporting (Mary tells us what the fruit tastes like) or by quantifying the corresponding brain state (since we know that is intimately tied to the experience) we just don’t know what it’s like to actually taste it beyond the third person description, unless we taste it ourselves. As you say: hard if not impossible to quantify.

    I feel like i should say too that I don’t see any reason at all why it’s necessary for us to take different philosophical viewpoints on this unless we are philosophers (although I’m sure I’ve done that already – so, sorry)

    Here’s how I see it:
    We are already studying “consciousness” by studying it’s physical correlates in all the things we learn about what a conscious brain is like and how it works. It’s perhaps the only way we can study consciousness if consciousness is a non-material thing. We study the laws of physics. they’re non-material. We can only study them in their physical correlates. Maybe people get weirded out because they think of consciousness being tied to intent or intelligence. But then let that be the philosophical stuff. Some people say we have no intent or intelligence, and that it’s just the physical ability of the brain. Sure, why not? After all, consciousness may just be a manifestation of the physical brain – a “strongly emergent property” (meaning it becomes something fundamentally different from the thing it emerges from) But at this point there will be new arguments about what things are different from what they emerge from. Suffice it to say that we don’t know of anything else that emerges so strongly from something else that it then becomes recognizable as fundamentally different from it’s source. Perhaps it’s something like matter transforming to energy when it moves really really really fast :) Still the physical world, right? But fundamentally different.

    I need to stop with this reply because I’m getting into the theoretical nature of what consciousness is, beyond something different from the physical brain that it’s, at least so far, inseparably tied to, or even caused by. I hope the way in which I’ve spoken about it doesn’t commit me to anything causal as far as philosophy, because I’m not willing to make that sort of commitment here and now.

    Thanks so much SARA!

  96. Mlemaon 19 May 2012 at 9:07 pm

    Eric Thomson:
    “Mlema: I wouldn’t expect an omniscient neuroscientist to have an experience of red when she studies the brain of someone seeing red, any more than I’d expect an omniscient male gynecologist to become pregnant when he studies a pregnant woman (I steal this example from Patricia Churchland).”

    Nor would I. Beside the point however.

    ET: “There is a strange belief that by studying experience you should somehow have that experience. No. We only need to have knowledge of said experience, i.e., neural process. I think an omniscient neuroscientist has knowledge of the experience without having the experience.”

    I personally don’t believe that someone studying experience should have that experience. that’s nuts. Beside the point however.

    ET: “Incidentally, Frank Jackson, the person who actually developed that thought experiment about Mary, has since realized it doesn’t kill materialism, and is now a materialist about consciousness. For instance, see this paper.”

    I was unaware that I was using someone’s thought experiment as an illustration of what subjective experience is.
    You may have gotten confused because I used the name Mary. that name was used in an argument to support a materialistic understanding of consciousness. If you read the paper I linked to by Chalmers you will find that understanding discussed, along with a criticism of it’s failings. I’ll go ahead and copy the pertinant part:

    “The Knowledge Argument[*]

    *[[Sources for the knowledge argument include Jackson 1982, Maxwell 1968, Nagel 1974, and others. Predecessors of the argument are present in Broad's discussion of a "mathematical archangel" who cannot deduce the smell of ammonia from physical facts (Broad 1925, pp. 70-71), and Feigl's discussion of a "Martian superscientist" who cannot know what colors look like and what musical tones sound like (Feigl 1958/1967, pp. 64, 68, 140).]]

    According to the knowledge argument, there are facts about consciousness that are not deducible from physical facts. Someone could know all the physical facts, be a perfect reasoner, and still be unable to know all the facts about consciousness on that basis.

    Frank Jackson’s canonical version of the argument provides a vivid illustration. On this version, Mary is a neuroscientist who knows everything there is to know about the physical processes relevant to color vision. But Mary has been brought up in a a black-and-white room (on an alternative version, she is colorblind[*]) and has never experienced red. Despite all her knowledge, it seems that there is something very important about color vision that Mary does not know: she does not know what it is like to see red. Even complete physical knowledge and unrestricted powers of deduction do not enable her to know this. Later, if she comes to experience red for the first time, she will learn a new fact of which she was previously ignorant: she will learn what it is like to see red.

    *[[This version of the thought-experiment has a real life exemplar in Knut Nordby, a Norwegian sensory biologist who is a rod monochromat (lacking cones in his retina for color vision), and who works on the physiology of color vision. See Nordby 1990.]]

    Jackson’s version of the argument can be put as follows (here the premises concern Mary’s knowledge when she has not yet experienced red):
    (1) Mary knows all the physical facts.
    (2) Mary does not know all the facts
    (3) The physical facts do not exhaust all the facts.

    One can put the knowledge argument more generally:
    (1) There are truths about consciousness that are not deducible from physical truths.
    (2) If there are truths about consciousness that are not deducible from physical truths, then materialism is false.
    (3) Materialism is false. ”

    So, anyway, I downloaded the paper. Thanks.

  97. Mlemaon 19 May 2012 at 9:17 pm

    BillyJoe:
    “How would you ever know whether he would or he wouldn’t know what the apple tastes like after analysing his brain down to the oscillation frequency of all the neurons iinvolved?
    Do you think that it is IMPOSSIBLE for the scientist to know what the apple tastes like after he has obtained that extraordinary degree of detail?
    If not, your argument fails. ”

    BillyJoe you need to think about this very carefully. Let’s suppose YOU are the omniscient neuroscientist and you know everything there is to know about the brain of someone who is currently tasting a particular fruit – are you going to taste that fruit or know what it tastes like because you;ve got his active brain being analyzed in real time while he’s eating it? No. the taste will not appear in your mouth once you have that knowledge. The taste of the fruit is something you can only know by tasting it. It’s subjective experience and it is unknowable to anyone but you through your eating of the fruit. And it is likewise knowable to others only through their eating of the fruit.

    Dennett;s postulations are identical to Dr. Novella;s. Please read the Chalmers paper where he
    addresses vitalism exactly as Dr. N has used it as a defense against a material understanding of conscious awareness. Here are pertinent parts:

    “At this point, type-A materialists often press a different sort of analogy, holding that at various points in the past, thinkers held that there was an analogous epistemic gap for other phenomena, but that these turned out to be physically explained. For example, Dennett (1996) suggests that a vitalist might have held that there was a further “hard problem” of life over and above explaining the biological function, but that this would have been misguided.

    On examining the cases, however, the analogies do not support the type-A materialist. Vitalists typically accepted, implicitly or explicitly, that the biological functions in question were what needed explaining. Their vitalism arose because they thought that the functions (adaptation, growth, reproduction, and so on) would not be physically explained. So this is quite different from the case of consciousness. The disanalogy is very clear in the case of Broad. Broad was a vitalist about life, holding that the functions would require a non-mechanical explanation. But at the same time, he held that in the case of life, unlike the case of consciousness, the only evidence we have for the phenomenon is behavioral, and that “being alive” means exhibiting certain sorts of behavior. Other vitalists were less explicit, but very few of them held that something more than the functions needed explaining (except consciousness itself, in some cases). If a vitalist had held this, the obvious reply would have been that there is no reason to believe in such an explanandum. So there is no analogy here.[*]

    *[[In another analogy, Churchland (1996) suggests that someone in Goethe's time might have mounted analogous epistemic arguments against the reductive explanation of "luminescence." But on a close look, it is not hard to see that the only further explanandum that could have caused doubts here is the experience of seeing light (see Chalmers 1997). This point is no help to the type-A materialist, since this explanandum remains unexplained.]]

    So these arguments by analogy have no force for the type-A materialist. In other cases, it was always clear that structure and function exhausted the apparent explananda, apart from those tied directly to consciousness itself. So the type-A materialist needs to address the apparent further explanandum in the case of consciousness head on: either flatly denying it, or giving substantial arguments to dissolve it. ”

    Thanks BJoe

  98. Mlemaon 19 May 2012 at 9:19 pm

    Ack! apologies to all who thoughtfully replied or commented on my post, but need to get away from this for now at least.

  99. Eric Thomsonon 19 May 2012 at 9:53 pm

    Mlema: All the arguments you have cut/paste try to go from an epistemic claim to an ontological conclusion, and it just doesn’t work.

    Any Mary type argument used against materialism can also be used to undercut any other theory of consciousness. E.g., let Mary be an omniscient colorblind dualist philosopher who knows all the dualistic facts about color experiences. Then she goes out into the world and sees red for the first time. Does she learn anything? Sure, she learns what it is like to see red. Therefore, there are facts left out of the dualist picture, so dualism is false.

    The fact that Mary can be used to undercut every ontological position about consciousness just reinforces that the argument really makes an epistemic point. There is more than one way to know about a conscious brain. That was the point of my claim above, that I’m a metaphysical naturalist, but methodological (epistemic/conceptual) dualist/pluralist.

    There are some twists and turns here we could go through, but ultimately, these arguments all just point to the fact that you don’t have an experience just by studying other people’s experiences. You kept saying this was beside the point, but actually it is the crucial point.

  100. Eric Thomsonon 19 May 2012 at 9:55 pm

    The above reductio of the Mary argument is Paul Churchland’s creation, incidentally.

  101. Mlemaon 20 May 2012 at 1:43 am

    Hi Eric,
    “Mlema: I wouldn’t expect an omniscient neuroscientist to have an experience of red when she studies the brain of someone seeing red, any more than I’d expect an omniscient male gynecologist to become pregnant when he studies a pregnant woman (I steal this example from Patricia Churchland).”

    I really cannot make sense of this comparison. It’s totally wackadoodle. No one expects that, and no one expects someone studying how the brain state correlates to conscious experience would himself experience that brain state. Who does Patricia Churchland think is expecting a brain scientist to have the same experience of the person whose brain is being studied?

    ET: “There is a strange belief that by studying experience you should somehow have that experience. No. We only need to have knowledge of said experience, i.e., neural process. I think an omniscient neuroscientist has knowledge of the experience without having the experience.”

    Again, I didn’t suggest that studying experience (in the form of the brain state of a certain experience, or in the reporting of that experience) should entail having the experience being studied. And I don’t know of anyone who has a strange belief that someone should have the experience of the brain they’re studying. As I said, that’s nuts. Yes, of course we can have knowledge of the experience without having it. We can gain that knowledge through the reporting of someone who’s had the experience, or we can learn about all the neural correlations. This is how we learn about consciousness. If you read my response to SARA above, I talk about this.

    ET: “Incidentally, Frank Jackson, the person who actually developed that thought experiment about Mary, has since realized it doesn’t kill materialism, and is now a materialist about consciousness. For instance, see this paper.”
    “ET: “Mlema: All the arguments you have cut/paste try to go from an epistemic claim to an ontological conclusion, and it just doesn’t work. ”

    As I said, i was using somebody named Mary to try to illustrate exactly what it is we’re talking about when we talk about subjective awareness. I knew of a philosohpical argument about someone named Mary that supported a materialistic view on consciousness from the Chalmers paper, which showed that such an argument still did not account for subjective experience, so I copied it for you. I don’t have the knowledge for or interest in having a philosophical argument with you about Mary.

    ET “…these arguments all just point to the fact that you don’t have an experience just by studying other people’s experiences.” You kept saying this was beside the point, but actually it is the crucial point.”

    I really don’t understand why you are saying this to me, except that you are supporting me exactly in what I said, which is: you don’t have an experience just by studying other people’s experiences. You can only have an experience by having it yourself!

    Therefore, they are something we can learn ABOUT only by studying their correlates or effects, and can only learn DIRECTLY by having them ourselves! Hence, they are fundamentally different from the brain state they’re correlated with: which we can theoretically learn EVERYTHING about if we are an neuroscientist. You seem to be bringing a certain judgement call into it, which is that we don’t NEED to have the subjective experience in order to learn about the experience. That’s true and that’s fine. I’m just saying that if you know everything about the brain state of a person who is tasting a fruit you’ve never tasted before but you still don’t know what the fruit tastes like yourself, then you really don’t know everything about the consciousness of the brain that’s tasting that fruit, right? Because part of conscious experience is subjective. So, the subjective experience of the taste of that fruit is a piece of knowledge you cannot know without tasting that fruit yourself.

    ET “…you don’t have an experience just by studying other people’s experiences.” You kept saying this was beside the point, but actually it is the crucial point.”

    the fact that you don’t have an experience just by studying other people’s experiences is the point I was making, in order to illustrate that the experience is something fundamentally different from everything you can learn about the physical brain. Are we in agreement now?

    ET “I’m a metaphysical naturalist, but methodological (epistemic/conceptual) dualist/pluralist.”

    Cool man. So does that mean that you agree that subjective experience is something that exists in the natural world, perhaps as a fundamental property, that can be known directly only through consciousness, even though we can learn much about how it exists in the natural world through it’s physical correlates?

    Because for me, the crux of the discussion on this page has taken place off base of the concept discussed. It seems like people mostly don’t really get the idea that the brain is taking in information all of the time as physical phenomenon, and utilizing it through physical biological processes in order to assimilate and utilize and react to the information, and that their experience of the physical world as pictures and sounds and smells, etc. is something totally unnecessary for this physical functioning to occur. Sights and sounds and smells are just photons and molecules moving in different ways and at different and varying speeds and affecting the molecules in the body of a biological being, all contributing to it’s continuing aliveness, and all able to do so without anyone or anything being conscious of that happening. Some people say it’s an accident of evolution. But regardless, it’s still something that exists, and it’s interesting how many people don’t seem to be able to recognize it for what it is. After all, it’s what our whole lives are all about: our experience of them. If we could remove conscious experience from the world, and fly up into the atmosphere and look down at the earth, everything would look exactly the same. But all the little people running around doing their things would be like sleepwalkers. (now somebody will probably reply about sleepwalking because that’s not a perfect comparison. that’s how it is on this page, people miss the point and reply to something irrelevant that was said) So – they would be like people WHO AREN’T EXPERIENCING ANYTHING THAT THEY”RE RUNNING AROUND DOING! :-) Now someone else will say “that’s a p-zombie, and they don’t exist” again, it’s a means of illustrating, not a suggestion that people can exist without conscious experience. Wow, I’m getting really sleepy.

  102. Mlemaon 20 May 2012 at 1:48 am

    daedalus2u,
    this isn’t about the physiological phenomenon of tasting something. It’s about the fact that each person has their own unique experience when they taste something and no one can learn what that unique experience is like even if they could know everything about the brain of the person having that experience while he’s having it. They can taste it themselves, or they can hear a description of the taste, but the tasting is the taster’s alone.

    “What does it mean that we can’t convey how something tastes to someone else? We can’t even remember it for ourselves.”

    :-) I love that daedalus2u. It’s so existential.

  103. Mlemaon 20 May 2012 at 2:34 am

    SteveA: “Why the assumption that we could never know? Given the right technology it might be quite possible to analyse the taste sensation and reproduce it perfectly.”

    I’m not sure what you mean Steve. What would you be reproducing? The brain state? The chemical nature of the fruit that causes the taste? No problem. If you can reproduce the brain state I had while I tasted the fruit and somehow cause your own brain to be in that brain state, then it seems theoretically possible that you would experience that taste too.

    When you take a bite of the fruit, and the chemical composition of the fruit activates the physiology of your brain to form a particular configuration so that you will salivate and begin to chew and swallow and digest and assimilate the food, there really is no need for you to experience the taste of the fruit. The taste is superfluous. Some people might intuitively say: but it’s the taste that makes me want to eat it, or it’s the taste that makes me salivate! But that just shows how hard it is for us to recognize what subjective experience is. It’s not the taste that causes salivation, it’s the interaction between the molecules of the fruit and the cells of your body. It’s all physical. There’s no sensual aspect required. Your “tasting” is just your subjective experience of this information and energy transfer that’s going on between your physical body and the physical fruit.

  104. Mlemaon 20 May 2012 at 2:58 am

    Hi mufi! i hope that you and your whole family are doing well.

    The very comparison you make between H2O/water, and mind/brain, is addressed in the Chalmers paper I’ve copied and referred to ad nauseum already. :P Anyway, if you;re interested, it’s under Type B materialism in the paper.

    http://consc.net/papers/nature.html

    regards, M

  105. Mlemaon 20 May 2012 at 3:00 am

    ha ha mufi, that was supposed to be a smiley face with a tongue sticking out! (you know, like I’m making myself sick with harping on the Chalmers stuff)
    I’m not gonna try it again. Sometimes I learn. :)

  106. BillyJoe7on 20 May 2012 at 4:59 am

    Mlema,

    “BillyJoe you need to think about this very carefully.”

    Actually I have. ;)

    “Let’s suppose YOU are the omniscient neuroscientist and you know everything about the brain of someone who is currently tasting a particular fruit – are you going to taste that fruit or know what it tastes like”

    Let’s talk about the omniscient color blind neuroscientist.
    I can no more imagine being that omniscient neuroscientist than you or anyone else other than that omniscient color blind neuroscientist. Neither you, nor I, nor anyone else other than that omniscient color blind neuroscientist can know what it would be like to have the vast and detailed knowledge about the experience of red and the consequences of that knowledge.
    Therefore none of us has any idea whether or not such a omniscient color blind neuroscientist would be able to experience color. It is impossible for us to say one way or the other.
    Therefore your argument fails.

    “No. the taste will not appear in your mouth once you have that knowledge.”

    No. You cannot say that with any authority…because you are not an authority….because you are not an omniscient color blind neuroscientist. You have no idea what an omniscient color blind neuroscientist is capable of experiencing.
    There is no fact of the matter here.

    “The taste of the fruit is something you can only know by tasting it. It’s subjective experience and it is unknowable to anyone but you through your eating of the fruit. And it is likewise knowable to others only through their eating of the fruit.”

    Okay, prove to me that your above statement HAS to be correct.
    In fact, it HAS to be incorrect because we do not have any evidence about what it is possible for an omniscient color blind neuroscientist to experience. The correct statement is that we simply can not know one way or the other.
    That was Dennett’s point about “intuition pumps”.

  107. BillyJoe7on 20 May 2012 at 5:09 am

    Mlema,

    Have you ever had someone explain to you why they are moved by a piece of art that doesn’t move you and, as a result, started to understand how she feels? You won’t know exactly how she feels. In fact, you might only have a slight inkling of how she feels. At the very least you have moved out of your apathy for this piece of art and towards her appreciation of it, even if only infinitesmally.

    But Mary the color bling neuroscientist has a staggeringly vast expanse of knowledge about the experience of red. In fact, she knows ALL there is to know about the experience of red. How can you possibly discount the possibility that she is capable of experiencing red?

  108. BillyJoe7on 20 May 2012 at 5:39 am

    Mlema,

    “If we could remove conscious experience from the world, and fly up into the atmosphere and look down at the earth, everything would look exactly the same. But all the little people running around doing their things would be like [may I suggest automatons]”

    How do you know that?
    How do you know that life on Earth would be no different if humans were nothing but automatons?
    How do you know that automatons are even possible?

  109. Eric Thomsonon 20 May 2012 at 8:48 am

    Mlama wrote:
    the fact that you don’t have an experience just by studying other people’s experiences is the point I was making, in order to illustrate that the experience is something fundamentally different from everything you can learn about the physical brain. Are we in agreement now?

    Not at all. That completely misses the point of my pregnancy analogy, and my argument that this is a metaphysically uninteresting fact about consciousness (though epistemically interesting), and the reductio against making claims that experiences are somehow different from brain states. I’m frankly not sure you read my last two comments.

  110. JollyRancheron 20 May 2012 at 10:35 am

    Eric Thomson: “Any Mary type argument used against materialism can also be used to undercut any other theory of consciousness. E.g., let Mary be an omniscient colorblind dualist philosopher who knows all the dualistic facts about color experiences. Then she goes out into the world and sees red for the first time. Does she learn anything? Sure, she learns what it is like to see red. Therefore, there are facts left out of the dualist picture, so dualism is false.”

    If this is an example of Churchland’s line of thinking, I can’t say he’s making a very good impression. His whole argument seems merely like a determination to miss the point. If Mary were to know all the dualistic facts about consciousness, she would, ipso facto, already know what red feels like, and hence learn nothing upon leaving the room. This is because the dualist is DEFINING the dualistic facts as the experiences themselves, so to say one has all the relevant dualistic facts is tantamount to saying one has had all the relevant experiences. The reason they make this definition, is because it would seem experiences have a rather peculiar place in the current paradigm, so peculiar, in fact, that the best explanation for their peculiarity is actually that they don’t fit in the paradigm. One can certainly argue this is not the case, but not by willfully misunderstanding where it is dualists are actually coming from.

    Similarly, the pregnancy example also misses the point. Indeed, one would not expect a male gynecologist studying a pregnant woman to himself become pregnant. However, one would expect a super gynecologist to be able, in principle, to know all the biological and physiological structure and functions of a pregnant woman, no? This is because pregnancy, absent the actual conscious experiences one goes through during it, is DEFINED structurally and functionally, such that it is perfectly amenable to third-person scientific inquiry. In other words, knowing evrything there is to know about pregnancy, absent conscious experiences themselves, does not, in any way, require one to become pregnant; it is an unecessary stipulated accretion that, in effect, acually points to the disanalogy between conscious experiences and other things with regards to the effectivness of naturalistic methodology. One doesn’t need to get pregnant to know anything about pregnancy, unless, of course, one is talking about the CONCSIOUS EXPERIENCES of being pregnant, but that just plays right into the dualists hands. They’re rather tricky fellows, actually.

  111. daedalus2uon 20 May 2012 at 11:38 am

    There is another problem. Does an omniscient geologist know everything there is to know about rocks? Does that omniscient geologist know what it feels like to actually be a rock?

    Doesn’t this “prove” that rocks are conscious too? Or at the very least that omniscient geologists are not conscious?

    Those who posit an all-encompassing consciousness field, necessarily posit that rocks are conscious too, because they are in the consciousness field too. Maybe rocks only couple to this consciousness field poorly, so rocks have a lesser degree of consciousness.

    Rocks are subject to quantum mechanics, so rocks have quantum minds too.

  112. Eric Thomsonon 20 May 2012 at 11:55 am

    JollyRancher:
    If Mary were to know all the dualistic facts about consciousness, she would, ipso facto, already know what red feels like, and hence learn nothing upon leaving the room. This is because the dualist is DEFINING the dualistic facts as the experiences themselves, so to say one has all the relevant dualistic facts is tantamount to saying one has had all the relevant experiences.

    As I said when I brought it up, I left out some wrinkles in my response, and your response requires me to talk about them.

    Any response the dualist gives to try to wiggle out of the dualist-parallel argument is also available to the materialist. For instance, in the case you bring up, some dualists would say you literally cannot have the concept ‘experience of red’ without having the experience. That option is also available to the materialist.

    The materialist can say that when Mary has the experience, she acquires a new conception that targets the same thing. That is, there are two ways to activate the concept ‘red experience’ (or two different conceptions of ‘red experience), one generated by studying experiences scientifically, and the other by actually having your own brain in that color-experiencing state and applying the concept to yourself directly. This would be an epistemic difference.

    It isn’t clear this is a good account of what is happening. After all the colorblind theorist (whether dualist or materialist) would have the concept ‘red experience’ in her theory of color vision. I have the concept ‘Pain of childbirth’ even though I have never experienced it directly, and never will. Hence, I am agnostic about whether Mary would activate the same concept in a different way, or acquire a new concept.

    Either way, these are epistemic points not ontological. I can have different concepts of the same thing (Clark Kent/Superman). A conceptual difference doesn’t imply an ontological difference.

    And that’s the problem. Conceptual differences, divined from the armchair in the absence of actual research and experiments, are a poor guide to ontological differences. Adding more bells and whistles to your epistemological story doesn’t change this fact.

    Similarly, the pregnancy example also misses the point. Indeed, one would not expect a male gynecologist studying a pregnant woman to himself become pregnant. However, one would expect a super gynecologist to be able, in principle, to know all the biological and physiological structure and functions of a pregnant woman, no? This is because pregnancy, absent the actual conscious experiences one goes through during it, is DEFINED structurally and functionally, such that it is perfectly amenable to third-person scientific inquiry.

    This doesn’t work to kill the analogy, for the same reasons as I stated in the previous paragraph I wrote.

    I can agree that consciousness is not defined as some neural process (though it is not defined in a way that excludes it is a neural process either: a key distinction that dualists often do not appreciate). But that doesn’t mean consciousness is not in fact a neural process! Indeed, our best evidence and thinking is that consciousness is a brain process, even if you don’t know it, even if that is not how it is originally defined. Again, you are pointing out conceptual distinctions that aren’t enough to count against materialism.

    Mary is supposed to refute materialism, and in that she fails badly. However, she is helpful for thinking about how we know about consciousness.

  113. Eric Thomsonon 20 May 2012 at 12:00 pm

    Note I also didn’t mention the Swamp Mary rejoinder to Mary. As I said, there are many wrinkles here. Swamp Mary is very clever, though, and worth knowing about. Someone above mentioned her, though not by name.

  114. etatroon 20 May 2012 at 12:09 pm

    @Miama & Eric & others Re: the thought experiment with the “new fruit.”

    This thought experiment reminds of something I have always contemplated about my dog. He experiences the world much more differently than me. Say you were to ask us about experiencing “cat.” I would describe it’s shape, color, size, visual texture. If I pet the cat, I would describe how soft its fur might be, the length of the fur. My dog would describe mainly a bunch of scents that I couldn’t detect, probably sounds that it sends that I can’t detect. He’d probably describe how a cat moves, and it’s general shape. He would have no sense of what I meant when I said its fur is soft because he doesn’t have the receptors on the surface of his skin, and I’d have no sense of what the chemical scents are; nor would I know how he’d describe whatever sensory inputs come from his whiskers (texture / shape / temperature?).

    However, I know that he remembers “cat.” He gets excited when we walk by our neighbor’s patio who owns a cat. I can say the cats name and he gets excited (because I previously had said the cats name when we were actually in the presence of cats). So he can associate the auditory input from my voice with the memory of the cat.

    Just like we do with people, we could attach electrodes to his skull or run him through fMRI instruments and take all the brain scans we want to see which parts of his brain are active. Then when I say “Peter” (the cats name) to him, see which parts light up — maybe that’d tell us where “cat” is stored in his memory.

    I also wonder what goes on when he dreams. We know our dogs dream, but what are they dreaming? We dream in sights & sometimes sound. The majority of our understanding of the world (for a seeing person) is through visual stimulus. I wonder whether my dog dreams in scents and sounds, as opposed to visuals.

    Anyway — like “Mary” would not be able to describe to us the “new fruit” and understanding her brain states still doesn’t tell us what the new fruit really tastes like; we interact with other species, like dogs & lab rodents, and we actually manage to communicate & understand (at a rudimentary level) each other. Even though we don’t really know what the other is experiencing, we still share the experience. I always found that to be fascinating. I would also say that there ARE, in fact, ways to try to understand what the new fruit tastes like, if we examine her brain while eating a pineapple and a pear and see that her brain has activity that overlaps regions active during the new fruit — maybe it tastes something like a pineapple & pear; we can reduce it to component parts — sucrose, glucose, fructose, starches, citric acids — and deduce a type of taste.

  115. Alastair F. Paisleyon 20 May 2012 at 12:19 pm

    @ etatro

    > The moral of the story is that in order for the discussion to be productive, we have to agree on what things mean. I think a certain party in the discussion refuses to recognize or do that. Paisely has shown that he fundamentally misunderstand what “quantum” means, and also refuses to accept definitions of Mind, thought, cognition, etc. Finally, I am a little surprised that we haven’t seen the term “emergent property” come up. It seems that “mind” is an emergent property of the physical processes of the brain. <

    There are two different types of "emergence:" weak and strong. Weak emergence is reducible to its individual constituents, strong emergence is not. (You said you wanted precise definitions; I have given them to you.)

    Which type of emergence are you invoking to explain mind as an emergent property?

  116. Alastair F. Paisleyon 20 May 2012 at 12:20 pm

    @ etatro

    > The moral of the story is that in order for the discussion to be productive, we have to agree on what things mean. I think a certain party in the discussion refuses to recognize or do that. Paisely has shown that he fundamentally misunderstand what “quantum” means, and also refuses to accept definitions of Mind, thought, cognition, etc. <

    The moral of this story is that certain individuals like yourself refuse to acknowledge when a claim has been properly substantiated. Every claim I made concerning QM was documented. This is why you have completely ignored my post. We both know that.

    I define the "physical” as that which is objective, that which is amenable to the third-person perspective. This is the basis for the physical sciences. (There is a reason why "psychology" is not considered a physical science in academia.) If it's not objective, then it is not physical. Mental phenomena are subjective, not objective. They are not amenable to the third-person perspective. Therefore, they are not physical. It's really that simple. And if you believe otherwise, then the onus is upon you to demonstrate to us that subjective phenomena are actually objective. Good luck with that endeavor. You'll need it.

  117. mufion 20 May 2012 at 1:28 pm

    Mlema:

    The family’s well, thanks.

    The reason that I mentioned conceptual dualism is because it recognizes an epistemic gap that we all share in, without our necessarily having to stake out a particular ontological position (i.e. there might be a related ontological gap or there might not be). But, given what I said in my postscript about my ontological leaning towards materialism/physicalism, I understand why you might have referred me to Chalmer’s counter-argument to (what he calls) Type-B Materialism. Here’s a quick & dirty response to it:

    The analogy between water/H2O and mind/body (or, more accurately, mind/normal-functional-embodied-nervous-system) is just that, so it would hardly come as a surprise to me if a heavy-hitting philosopher of mind like Chalmers were to identify a disanalogy, as well. Still, I think the question is: Did he identify a disanalogy that is somehow a fatal problem for materialism?

    After all, it seems to me that a disanalogy needn’t have any ontological implications whatsoever; e.g. water/H2O and genes/DNA are analogous in that they both exemplify pairs of distinctly phenomenal and physical concepts that nonetheless map to each other somehow. Yet, any disanalogies that we are likely to find between these two pairs do not necessarily convey anything of ontological significance, do they?

    But I think the other problem here is that Chalmers’ disanalogy rests on a highly controversial premise (one that’s garnered him a lot of attention) when he suggests that if Mary were “given a complete physical description of the world”, she would thereby “be able to deduce all the relevant truths about water”, but would not be able to do so with regard to minds. How’s that? Because “we cannot coherently conceive of a world that’s physically identical to our own, in which there is no water”, whereas we can do so (so the argument goes) with respect to minds. In other words, the disanalogy here seems to share in Chamlers’ conceivability argument re: p-zombies – beings identical to normal humans, physically & behaviorally speaking, who nonetheless lack phenomenal experience – as a supposed refutation of materialism.

    Conceivability has long struck me as a particularly weak argument for anything. That I can conceive of ghosts – which are more or less the exact opposites of p-zombies in that they represent pure phenomenal experience without attending physical, human bodies – does little or nothing to persuade me of their possibility (and I’ve been told in the past that I have a wild imagination). So, too, with p-zombies and p-worlds inhabited by them.

  118. Eric Thomsonon 20 May 2012 at 1:56 pm

    mufi great points: Chalmers’ claim that there is no analogy with vitalism is a major exaggeration. There might be some disanalogies, but that isn’t enough to kill the obvious and real points of analogy (obvious to anyone that has read both vitalist literature and dualist literature). Vitalism provides a fairly catastrophic historical precedent for dualistic thinking. Not a deductive knockout punch (after all, an argument from analogy is just an inductive argument), but a debilitating bodyblow.

  119. JollyRancheron 20 May 2012 at 3:28 pm

    Eric Thompson:”This doesn’t work to kill the analogy, for the same reasons as I stated in the previous paragraph I wrote.

    I disagree, I do think it negates the analogy, but as you pointed out, not necessarily in a way particularly damaging to materialism. The point I was making above with regards to the susceptibility of pregnancy to standard scientific inquiry was, to put it bluntly, that there IS in fact an epistemic gap with regard to consciousness, but not with regards to the functions and physiology of pregnancy, or any other standard natural phenomena.

    Eric Thompson:”Either way, these are epistemic points not ontological. I can have different concepts of the same thing (Clark Kent/Superman). A conceptual difference doesn’t imply an ontological difference. ”

    This, however, I have no real disagreemnt with. What I was more concerned to dispute was Churchland’s framing of the problem, since he is well known for being someone prone to deflationary accounts of the hard problem, of which the arguments you paraphrased are obvious examples. What I DO contend is that those arguments which attempt to deflate the presence of an epistemic gap usually arise from failing to really understand what the dualist is actually saying, because deflationary accounts(in my experience anyway) basically presuppose that consciousness can be defined functionally; a presupposition which, obviously can not be used to argue against the existence of said epistemic gap. The whole point of the Mary experiment is to point out that the normal structural/functional methodology of the natural sciences doesn’t capture everything we know conscious experience to be, whether or not this methodological/epistemic flaw necessitates an ontological difference or not.

    Eric Thompson:”Mary is supposed to refute materialism, and in that she fails badly.”
    No qualms here, as a refutation of materialism, Mary doesn’t cut it. However, any successful rebuttal is not going to come from the quarter that denies there IS a gap, instead it’s going to come from ones which acknolwedge it, but point out the difficulty of the inference or account for it in other terms, as you suggested.

    I suppose I attributed more of Churchland’s views to you than I should have, since I only skimmed a lot of the comments, which is why I chimed in. To be honest, I find the deflationary approach somewhat intellectually dishonest and more than a little desperate, where as other materialist rebuttals are at least trying to solve the problem and/or trimming down the importance of the intuitons in such arguments rather than denying them flat out.

    Eric Thompson:”I can agree that consciousness is not defined as some neural process (though it is not defined in a way that excludes it is a neural process either: a key distinction that dualists often do not appreciate).”

    This is the crux of the issue, isn’t it? I’m inclined to agree that consciousness is not defined in such a way that excludes a neural explanation. The problem with this for me, however, is that this is only an argument against materialism’s inherent impossibility, not proof positive of materialism per se. For that part of the job, most materialists point to the success of science explaining other phenomena, the correlations between mind/bain and the causal relationship between them etc… and infer materialism must be true, even if we don’t know how this could be so. But this isn’t really an argument for HOW materialism could be true, given the very strange dichotomy between subjectivity and objectivity; instead, it’s merely an argument for BELIEF in materialism, rather than an explanatory vindication of its doctrine, which is what I’m really interested in, and seems to me the most fascinating part. Thich is why I get frustrated when people are content to say: we have good reason to believe consciousness is some brain processes, and therefore materialism is true. End of story. Simply asserting we have good reason to believe x = y, and the epistemic gap is consistent with this belief is a defensive argument rather than an offensive one.

    I find it interesting that most materialist arguments are defensive and promissory, where as the bulk of anti-materialist arguments I have encountered are not simply concerned to make the case that there is an epistemic gap, but that the very nature of the gap, properly considered, entails that the gap will not go away no matter how much neuroscience progresses, and, obviously, if one considers the gap permanent, then stating that the very existence of the gap is nevertheless conceptually consistent with materialism, does not do much to motivate it, because all that motivation comes from taking into consideration past scientific successes, which advocates of the gap will say does not apply for inalterable CONCEPTUAL contrasts between subjectivity and objectivity.

    Of course, this all hinges on whether one accepts the arguents that the gap is, in fact, a rather strange one, inherently resistant to the standard methodolgy of science. But that’s whole ‘nother schpeel, so I’ll spare you the sore eyes! :P

    Oh, btw, I’m not actually a dualist, just so you know; I find that although dualism would certainly explain WHY there is an epistemic gap between scientific methodolgy and consciousness, it still wouldn’t explain how and objective immaterial substance gives rise to subjectivity more than materialism does. I’m pretty much in the, what the hell is going on corner.

  120. Eric Thomsonon 20 May 2012 at 4:58 pm

    JollyRancher wrote:
    The problem with this for me, however, is that this is only an argument against materialism’s inherent impossibility, not proof positive of materialism per se. For that part of the job, most materialists point to the success of science explaining other phenomena, the correlations between mind/bain and the causal relationship between them etc… and infer materialism must be true, even if we don’t know how this could be so. But this isn’t really an argument for HOW materialism could be true

    I take it that the evidence and arguments favor a neural approach to consciousness. It will require a good argument, preferably some real evidence, to make me disbelieve that.

    I actually think I see how it works, in broad strokes, and can imagine how neuroscience will explain consciousness in the next 50 years or so (when I allow myself to spin out the science fiction story into the future). I think we are actually in the middle of developing such a story right now, but people don’t see this because of dualistic conceptual blocks that stop them from seeing it.

    The arguments from dualism look so weak from this perspective, that I can only see dualism going the way of vitalism as time goes on.

    This is in Part III of my book. :)

    On my pregnancy analogy:
    The point I was making above with regards to the susceptibility of pregnancy to standard scientific inquiry was, to put it bluntly, that there IS in fact an epistemic gap with regard to consciousness, but not with regards to the functions and physiology of pregnancy, or any other standard natural phenomena.

    But that doesn’t hurt my original point, which was ontological. My claim is that if consciousness is a brain process, then we wouldn’t expect someone to be in that state just by studying that state (any more than I photosynthesize because I study photosynthesis). And for those that believe there are special ‘phenomenal concepts’ or whatever that only come about when you are in that state, then of course we wouldn’t expect people to have those concepts until they enter that state. But that isn’t to say materialism is false. So you are right that there is a disanalogy here, but the essential analogy I was making still holds.

  121. mufion 20 May 2012 at 7:12 pm

    Eric: I think the vitalism analogy is apt – not that everyone has given up on it, yet (e.g. among scientists, James A. Shapiro comes to mind).

    But I guess we’re talking in terms of “dominant paradigms” or the like, in which case vitalism, mind/body dualism, and idealism (assuming that was ever dominant) are looking increasingly like stubborn paradigms of the past.

    Nonetheless, I expect that there will be hold-outs for an indefinite time to come – no matter how successful the neurophilosophical research project is or will be.

  122. mufion 20 May 2012 at 7:13 pm

    Correction: neurophilosophical => neurophenomenological

  123. Davdoodleson 20 May 2012 at 10:57 pm

    Do non-materialists admit any threshold to their claims? A point on the specturm of neural activity below which their magical mind does not operate separately from the meat?

    Does a blowfly have a “mind” that isn’t mere meatwork?

    How about a crayfish? A snake? A Rainbow Lorikeet?

    Is is it only mammal minds that transcend their mamal brains? Only human minds?

    If so, where, and how, does that point arise?
    .

  124. Mlemaon 21 May 2012 at 4:10 am

    I wanted to make another attempt to convince myself that it’s possible to be understood and to understand. Earlier, I hurt the possibility of doing so by saying that I wasn’t interested in philosophical labels, while all the while I was referring to philosophical terms and also to philosophers. Forgive me. I want to try to find a common understanding of what we’re talking about here, and I realize I can only find common understanding if I put aside my own understanding.

    And please excuse anything I say that is not strictly accurate scientifically-speaking as long as I have the gist of it right (meaning: if i have something inaccurate that affects what I’m saying otherwise, please correct me)

    The world is physical. The things in the world follow physical laws. In this moment while you are reading this you and everything around you is simply infinitesimally small particles of matter, and energy, and it’s all really the same stuff just moving at different speeds. The things you see around you are all made up of the same stuff, just organized in different energy states. And photons are moving on and into or off these constructions of matter. And your body is comprised of this very same stuff, and nothing extra. You’re stuff and everything around you is stuff. your brain is stuff. And all the stuff is following physical laws.

    Photons are reflecting off of stuff and passing through the material that your eye’s lens is made of and affecting the stuff that the cells in your body are made of, including the nerve (made out of stuff) that physiologically takes the information gained from the photons to the physical material brain. The amazing configuration of stuff that is the brain then connects to itself throughout itself using its own stuff, still according to physical laws. The brain organizes the information gained from the photons that travelled into the eye stuff through the nerve stuff to the brain stuff to respond to the stuff in the environment outside the body stuff. Amazing and complicated feats of physiological function are orchestrated all throughout the stuff that is the physical living organism. All the requirements of life in any given moment are managed by the physical brain. Respiration of surrounding atmosphere, digestion of food stuff, control of muscles both voluntary and involuntary.

    There are other physical phenomenon that the stuff of your body interacts with that also provide information about the external material in the world. For instance, vibrations in the air cause your eardrum to vibrate. The arrangement of material medial to the eardrum feeds physiological information to the brain just like the eye does. The brain, through processing this information via physical physiological means can respond to it’s environment even more successfully than it can with just the information it gets via photons. It now has information about activity that is affecting the movement of the atmosphere around it. Depending on prior information about changes in the atmosphere, it orchestrates appropriate response of the organism. So, nothing is here that is not physical. But where does sight come in? and sound? The brain is physical and is utilizing physical information (electromagnetic radiation/photons) to gain information about its environment through the physical structure of the eye. The brain also gains physical information through physical vibrations in the air (or through the wall the physical ear is leaned up against) :-)

    The brain uses physical information (is there any other kind?) to keep the organism alive and doing everything the organism must do to stay that way. It has other ways to gain information beyond the ears and eyes. There are nerves throughout the body which detect physical harm to the organism both within and without. The physical body and brain must get all the information it can get from the physical world through the physical/chemical/electrical construction of the nervous system. . The transmission of information to the brain about damage elsewhere in the body is often accompanied by the experience of pain. Why do we experience pain when all the physical information that it accompanies is available to the brain, and via the brain, the rest of the body without any consciousness of it?

    If I get burned, the affected tissue provides information to the nerves, which convey it to the brain where it’s processed and responded to. Part of the brain’s response may be to move the body to acquire materials from the environment to assist with recovery and repair of the damaged tissues. Why can’t my brain process whatever information is available from my physical hand about the damage done and the repair needed and the actions to take to accomplish it without being accompanied by the experience of pain? Someone could answer that pain brings attention to damage that needs attending. But the pain is experiential. The damage is physical and conveys the physical information to the brain which processes it and can provide information back to the body about what needs to be done to respond to the damage. The pain cannot help this physical process because it’s only an experiential correlate of the damage. How can something that’s experiential affect the physical? If I touch a hot stove, my hand instantly recoils. My physical nerves have the ability to detect the damage and react to it without even involving my brain. It’s not until the brain gets involved that I have an experience of what happened. This is an example of how the body can process and respond to information in order to live and stay alive, and do so without subjective experience. The short cut to the spinal cord and back removes my hand from damage. The physical information that travels simultaneously to the brain is processed and then effects further physical response in the form of acquiring materials from the environment to repair the damage. Why does pain accompany this phenomenon of physical information input, and physical action output? Someone may now say it’s for learning. But again, learning is the brain making connections and storing information – all physical. The pain can’t increase the learning because the physical body is causing the pain, not the other way around. The information is already there in physical form. What does pain add? The degree to which the damage is assessed as something that should be avoided in the future can be encoded in the physical brain in such a way as to prioritize avoidance appropriately (in fact, it is!). No pain necessary to learn anything, because learning is physical: the neurons of the brain storing information and connecting in new ways to share and use that information. Pain is just the experience of the physical damage (or the experience of learning to avoid damage if you like). Does anybody know how pain can cause anything physical to change that isn’t already being physically changed?

    Everything the brain and body are doing to learn about and respond to their environment is purely physical, as is the environment they are responding to. So what is the usefulness of having an experience of these physical goings-on? There’s no doubt that my experience is in my brain. We know of no experiences that are had anywhere but inside a brain. And if you mess around with my physical brain you mess with my experiences. So there’s nothing mysterious about how to locate these experiences. An investigation of my brain state while I’m having an experience will give you physical information about what my brain is like when my body is in a particular state and is receiving physical information via electromagnetic radiation, atmospheric vibrations, etc. If we could put my brain in you and your brain in me, then i would know what it’s like to experience living as your body and you would know what it’s like living as mine. But still, even then, neither one of us would be able to know what it’s like to live with the other one’s brain.
    What else is in the physical world that we can only know in the same way we know our experiences? How do we know the things in the world that we don’t know in the way that we know our experiences?
    Sorry, i know I ask a lot of questions. They’re honest questions this time around :-) As i said, it’s my hope to reach a common understanding.
    Thank you anyone!

  125. steve12on 21 May 2012 at 6:09 pm

    mnestis = right on.

    I would love for Kastrup or Paisley or their ilk to respond to mnestis’ posts above. He gets it. The interpretation of systems level neuroscience by these folks is HOPELESSLY wrong, yet they seem to feel completely unencumbered by their utter ignorance.

    No need to go over what he wrote above, but the idea that MORE BEHAVIOR (whatever that means) = MORE NEURAL ACTIVITY (or rCBF, or larger ERPs, or whatever other mistaken idea one may have abou these data) is an Intro to Cognitive Neuroscience-level mistake. Yet that’s ~half of the evidence that these folks are “citing”.

    This is barely a discussion because of these basic, basic mistakes of interpretation. I think the weird part is when one realizes:
    1. that they’re not high-level mistakes. This is basic shit, and evinces a complete lack of understanding.
    and
    2. These guys prattle on like they really understand it!

    Sometimes I really wish I could lose all humility in this way and just proclaim myself an expert. Unfortunately, I feel the need to do work.

    To anyone who wants to refute me – please don’t. I yield to mnestis. Address his right-on posts above – much more detail, etc. Refute them if you can (you can’t). YOu might actually learn something.

  126. mufion 21 May 2012 at 6:56 pm

    Mlema: I don’t have any satisfying answers for you, but I wanted to let you know that I read your last (lengthy) comment.

    I guess I take it for granted – as a brute fact about the world, the only real world (as far as we know) that actually exists – that experience naturally characterizes certain physical events – particularly, neural events – albeit, a very small percentage (like 2%) thereof.

    So, if forced to answer your question: What makes experience useful (say, from a biological standpoint), I’d have to say: Experience is no more more useful to an organism than the neural events that correlate with it, and those are useful only because of the behaviors that they help to produce.

    Any assessment beyond that is (in more ways than one) purely subjective.

  127. etatroon 21 May 2012 at 8:11 pm

    @ Alastair F. Paisleyon.

    Okay. This is the last time that I will try to address you sophistic ramblings, but I will attempt. However, it will probably go through a filter and I doubt you will understand or accept what I have to say.

    This is in regards to your objections concerning QM claims that I have made.
    1) QM (according to the standard interpretation…a.k.a. the Copenhagen interpretation…the one that is taught in college) holds that nature is fundamentally indeterminate (random), that physical events really do occur uncaused.
    “According to this interpretation, the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics is not a temporary feature which will eventually be replaced by a deterministic theory, but instead must be considered a final renunciation of the classical idea of “causality“. ”

    I do not believe that the quote you pulled from Wikipedia leads to the conclusion that nature is fundamentally indeterminate. At the atomic level, energy and matter behaves in a quantum fashion. That is, using discreet mathematics (not continuous). As a result of this, wave functions and operators can be used to model behavior. There is no need to invoke a non-physical entity in order for it to operate. It does not require anything but energy and matter. You seem to be attempting assign agency in order to determine where the probabilities come. The probabilities arise from the quantum nature of the way things behave. There’s no need to invoke an external agent.

    2) There is no local causal interactions between correlated entangled particles. (The correlations occur instantaneously regardless of distance. This is well-tested.) “Quantum nonlocality” is part and parcel of quantum mechanics.

    Again. At the risk of repeating myself. Just because you do not know or cannot explain a physical cause of something, doesn’t mean that there’s isn’t one. You really lost me here. I don’t know what this statement is supposed to illustrate. (A low-hanging ad hominem is to note that if the subject and verb agreed here, your statement still lacks meaning). I realize that quantum entanglement occurs regardless of distance (not proven, only it is shown to occur over long distances).

    3) QM holds that nature is fundamentally dualistic. I have already cited numerous sources in this thread that explicitly state that the waves are nonphysical. (In fact, one source said that it is akin to mind/brain duality.)

    I have to just all-out disagree with you. I don’t know where or in what context you were instructed in quantum mechanics. I don’t understand why you think that quantum mechanics holds that nature is dualistic. In my understanding from physical chemistry, the different components of the wave functions can have eigenvalues; the number of possible eigenvalues depended on the previous eigenvalues and which term it’s modifying (N,L,M, etc). I think in my previous post when I was talking about the wave properties of light (which are observable through physical experiments), I was probably mistaken because you were discussing (I guess?) the wave-nature of quantum mechanics. (I had thought that you were talking about the fact that light behaves as both a wave and a particle.) This is a result of applying discreet mathematics; which uses sin & cos functions; and the “quantum-ness” comes with the eigenvalues and applying operators to the functions. There’s no need to invoke anything non-physical. Those waves are non-physical the same way that f = ma is non-physical. It’s a mathematical description of something physical. In my short time studying quantum mechanics as an undergraduate chemistry student, I would think that if QM held that nature was fundamentally dualistic or that it was “akin” to mind/brain duality, one of my professors would not have omitted this. If you need to argue from authority on these sources of yours (wikipedia?) rather than having any logical reasoning that is understandable by a generally intelligent reader, I view it as an internal weakness of your position. My position can be equally attacked. I realize that. I am asserting that I studied QM as a chemistry student and you have to trust me that no one ever mentioned mind-brain duality. You will just have to trust me that it wasn’t on the syllabus.

    4) I said that the “observer effect/measurement problem would SEEM to suggest that consciousness plays a role in actualizing possibilities.” (The word “seem” is key here.)
    “The change of the wave function from ψ to ψn is called the collapse of the wave function and occurs when the measurement takes place.[3] This collapse of the wave function is not explainable using the Copenhagen interpretation.[2]”
    (source: Wikipedia: Observer effect (physics))
    “The oddity of this abrupt resculpturing of the wave – often called ‘the collapse of the wave function’ – is that it SEEMS to depend upon the activities of the observer. If nobody looks, then the wave never collapses.”
    (source: pg. 210, “The Myth Matter” by Paul Davies – physicist)

    Again, I have to repeat myself. Your conclusion, that consciousness SEEMS to be SUGGESTED to PLAY A ROLE (hedge much?) in actualizing possibilities, does not follow from the quotes you cite. When we “look,” we employ experimental techniques. These are physical. In order to “look,” we must interact. The interaction changes what we’re looking at. Even if I am wrong, I do not believe that your citations support your assertion.

  128. Alastair F. Paisleyon 21 May 2012 at 10:04 pm

    @ etatro

    > I do not believe that the quote you pulled from Wikipedia leads to the conclusion that nature is fundamentally indeterminate. <

    You're simply engaging in denial.

    " Before quantum physics came along, it was generally believed that the strictly causal laws of nature such as Newton’s mechanics determined everything, so that all motion would be the result of the action of known forces…In the quantum world, however, this no longer holds: randomness and indeterminism are a fundamental property of nature.

    (source: pg. 180, “Quantum Physics: A Beginner’s Guide” by Alastair I.M. Rae)

    > Again. At the risk of repeating myself. Just because you do not know or cannot explain a physical cause of something, doesn’t mean that there’s isn’t one. <

    You're engaging in more denial. Nonlocality is part and parcel of quantum mechanics. That you refuse to acknowledge this fact doesn’t change it.

    > I don’t understand why you think that quantum mechanics holds that nature is dualistic. <

    The "wave" in the "wave/particle duality” is a probability wave (a nonphysical mathematical abstraction).

    > Again, I have to repeat myself. Your conclusion, that consciousness SEEMS to be SUGGESTED to PLAY A ROLE (hedge much?) in actualizing possibilities, does not follow from the quotes you cite. <

    You're either engaging in more denial or your reading comprehensions skills leave something very much to be desired. I said "SEEM" in my first post. And I furnished you with a quote that says "SEEMS."

    You have been thoroughly refuted on all four points. There is nothing left here to discuss unless you want to explain your use of "emergent property."

  129. JollyRancheron 22 May 2012 at 12:15 am

    Eric Thompson:”But that doesn’t hurt my original point, which was ontological.”

    Either I didn’t make myself clear earlier or I’m still misunderstanding your claim.

    Eric Thompson:”My claim is that if consciousness is a brain process, then we wouldn’t expect someone to be in that state just by studying that state (any more than I photosynthesize because I study photosynthesis).”

    This sounds like a broadly epistemological point to me; to claim that we shouldn’t expect someone to be in state x simply because they are studying it is ontological and not at all controversial. But, to claim we shouldn’t expect someone to be in state x, and therefore to know everything there is to know about state x, simply because they studied all the physical facts about it is epistemological, and, I contend, the claim at issue. Why?

    Because the first claim simply states that someone who knew everything physical there was to know about state x, is not ignorant of any fact of the matter, but simply hasn’t been causally determined into a particular state by their study. In contrast, the second claim stipulates that if someone were to know everything physical about state x, they would nevertheless be ignorant about particular facts of the matter.

    It is here where the analogy between pregnancy/photosynthesis and consciousness breaks down, for I can heartily agree that someone who studies photosynthesis or pregnancy should by no means be expected to transition into a state of either; but this is not to say they lack any KNOWLEDGE about either of those states, because there is none to be had, since by hypothesis, they possess all the third person, methodologically standard, scientific knowledge of said processes, which is in principle possible. This is because there is no fact of the matter of what it is like to undergo photosynthesis, nor is there any fact of the matter that eludes a gynecologist who knows all the physical facts about pregnancy (barring the conscious experiences of pregnancy themselves). Not engaging in photosynthesis is not to miss any facts about it, and not becoming pregnant is not to leave out any physical facts about the story of pregnancy (again, barring those of conscious experiences of pregnancy). However, to say someone is in brain state x does not exhaust all there is to know about it, because, contrary to the cases mentioned above, there IS a fact of the matter; namely, whether or not the nature of the experience was one of seeing blue or seeing green, of hearing F as opposed to F sharp, or of tasting chocolate or poop. Surely it is a fact of the matter whether or not one has one experience or another, even if they differ only in degree?

    Therefore, to hold up the other cases of photosynthesis/pregnancy, or the study of anything else paradigmatically physical, does not carry over to the case of brain states vs conscious experience, because there are NO undiscovered facts of the matter; hence the existence of a UNIQUE epistemic gap between the two.
    Now, to suggest that IF consciousness were a brain we still shouldn’t expect to know all the facts of the matter associated with conscious experience, even if we did know everything physical there was to be garnered from standard scientific methodology, is not to deny that there is a unique epistemic gap between brain states and conscious experiences, but rather, to try and explain said gap away, albeit in terms acceptable to the materialist, by making use of the definitional point you mentioned earlier; namely, “I can agree that consciousness is not defined as some neural process (though it is not defined in a way that excludes it is a neural process either:”

    To invoke the phenomenal concept strategy(or anything similar) is simply to offer a potential explanation, by appealing to features of consciousness itself, such as the existence of different modes of presentation of a single referent, of how materialism could nevertheless be true, even in spite of a unique epistemic gap between brain states and consciousness. It is NOT to deny said gap, which I take to be what you were trying to do with the earlier analogies, because they are not at all similar to the case of consciousness.

    Finally, if one accepts what I have said, one might nevertheless say that whatever epistemic gaps may be unique to consciousness this still doesn’t justify an inference from conceptual dualism to ontological dualism. So far as I can tell, this is formally correct; I don’t believe there is any simple deductive argument that disproves materialism. But I suspect the dualistic line of thinking goes something like this: If materialism were correct, one would naturally assume that in principle, everything, by which I mean ALL the facts, including those of experience, should be discoverable via standard scientific methodology. The materialist can easily respond: Pffft, there is no good reason to suppose anything of the sort, the world may very well BE fully material, even if not everything within it is discoverable according to standard materialistic methodology. To which the dualist (or any anti-materialist for that matter) might reply: Perhaps, but if materialism does not entail that everything is discoverable and hence EXPLICABLE,(not merely probable because of past success) by material means qua physics, then whatever DOES it mean or entail? Simply that everything is material? Well, what does that mean, precisely? Since I think you might find the very definition of material rather vague and open ended, and if it is the case that this is so, to claim that materialism is nevertheless true because science seems to point in that direction generally is not much of an ontological claim at all; and thus the fact that I can’t help but think that epistemological bells and whistles are rather important after all.

  130. Mlemaon 22 May 2012 at 12:41 am

    Mufi – thanks for slogging through my epic post. In retrospect, i should have known that only a friend would do such. I felt so desperate to try to make sure i had done my best to illustrate the question of the mind/brain. But who will read my illustration? I think people have their minds made up that they know what they’re talking about. Who needs an illustration? If people don’t understand the issue, they’re not necessarily going to question whatever understanding they do have in order to expand it. It’s very very difficult to summon the analytical and spatial reasoning needed to really conceptualize the perplexing existence of qualia. It’s possible that some people just aren’t able to and I have to accept that. So, the questions at the end of my post remain unanswered. And they will likely remain so.

    But I will comment on your answer to my question about the usefulness of qualia.
    First of all, I think I agree that subjective experience could be said to “characterize” certain physical events. i like the way you put that.

    But as far as useful? I still don’t see any use to existence.
    That is: you say “Experience is no more more useful to an organism than the neural events that correlate with it, and those are useful only because of the behaviors that they help to produce.

    But i would say: the neural events are useful because they are what produce behavior. What is the purpose of experiencing those? The physical body takes in information and produces behavior in response. So, the physical body is not only useful, it’s imperative for life! We don’t know of anything that’s alive that isn’t physical. But to experience the information coming in (like electromagnetic radiation through the lens of the eye, or vibrations in the air through the ear) as being: color, light, shadow, sound, is useless. It’s not the pictures we see and the sound we hear that produce behavior. It’s the PHYSICAL STUFF that’s interacting with the PHYSICAL STUFF of our brain. So, I don’t see any use or purpose for experiencing these things. The body can function exactly as it does without me seeing electromagnetic radiation as images. The information that light carries comes into my body as a physical phenomenon carrying all the info my body needs: all the subtle varying wavelengths, a broad range of intensity, etc. That’s all I can get from that phenomenon.
    No reason to see a picture with color, shadows, etc.
    Well, don’t want to write my thesis all over again.

    “Any assessment beyond that is (in more ways than one) purely subjective.”

    :)

  131. Mlemaon 22 May 2012 at 12:46 am

    mufi, I just read what I wrote, and i have a very interesting sentence in there that i don’t remember writing (I think it may have been the start of a thought, which i’ve now forgotten.

    “I don’t see any use to existence”

    hmm.

  132. Eric Thomsonon 22 May 2012 at 1:10 am

    Jolly: yes, it’s all about refuting the dualists who think that Mary is sufficient to refute physicalism. That’s the whole point. The rest is epistemology.

  133. BillyJoe7on 22 May 2012 at 7:05 am

    Mlema,

    I read your piece also. :)

    But, for me, it didn’t add anything to what you had already been saying. It was just more detailed which, for me, was unecessary because I already understood what you had been saying.

    Essentially, you have taken the view that p-zombies are possible. Others disagree. Since there is no fact of the matter, I guess we just have to agree to disagree. Maybe, in the future, we will build robots whose behaviour is indistinguishable from our own. Even then we will not know the answer because we will be unable to determine if they are conscious or if they are just behaving as if they are conscious.

  134. Mlemaon 22 May 2012 at 8:37 am

    BillyJoe7,
    That’s what a p-zombie is! It’s a philosophical construction to show that: there’s no way for us to know whether or not someone (or something, like a robot) is conscious. I don’t know if you’re conscious :)

    of course all people who aren’t unconscious are conscious – that’s why you say p-zombies are impossible. You say that because you can’t imagine a person being a person without being conscious. But then you gave an example – a human built out of synthetic material. Will he be conscious? No way to know. Which means: no way to know if any person besides yourself is conscious or just acting that way. That illustrates the nature of subjective consciousness – which is non-material. The subjective experience of your consciousness is an unnecessary property of the functions of consciousness. But as you said, you already understood that. I had seen in one of your comments on one of the past couple of posts that to you consciousness is immaterial. I think you had made three statements about your philosophy on the matter. So do you think, like Dr. Novella, that once all the “easy problems” of consciousness (like the ability to discriminate and react to stimuli, integrate info, report mental states, control behavior, etc.) are solved, that the “hard problem” will be solved? If so, how do you think that might happen?

  135. Eric Thomsonon 22 May 2012 at 9:56 am

    If our best evidence and thinking leads to the conclusion that you are conscious, then that is what we should conclude. It isn’t about Cartesian mathematical certainty, but the best hypothesis, what theory provides the best fit with our evidence and everything else we know.

    Since the best hypothesis on the table (and I would say it is no mere hypothesis any more) is that brains are conscious, then zombies (physical duplicates without consciousness) are not possible any more than a physical duplicate of me that doesn’t digest is possible.

  136. mufion 22 May 2012 at 10:19 am

    Mlema: I’m responding partly to your reply to me and partly to your reply to BillyJoe7…

    No reason to see a picture with color, shadows, etc.

    I’d say that there is no a priori reason.

    According to a posteriori reason, however, phenomena like color, shadows, etc. are natural features of embodied nervous systems – features that are no more expensive (physically speaking) than the embodied neural processes on which they supervene.

    That’s not to suggest that I know why embodied neural processes entail these features (no more so than I know why the universe exists).

    Could it have been otherwise (e.g. are p-zombies possible)? I doubt it, but then that’s only an inference from experience. (After all, even physical concepts are acquired that way.)

    Which means: no way to know if any person besides yourself is conscious or just acting that way.

    I’d say that there’s no sure-fire way to know.

    But, if you reject solipsism, then I assume that you put a little more trust in your inferential powers than such a radically skeptical statement would suggest.

    That illustrates the nature of subjective consciousness – which is non-material.

    I don’t see the illustration, but maybe it’s a definitional thing.

    Since I define consciousness as a biological process (because that’s where the science leads me) – analogous to digestion or respiration – it only makes sense for me to agree with you here if I make a normal practice of describing digestion or respiration that way, which of course I don’t.

  137. Eric Thomsonon 22 May 2012 at 11:18 am

    Mufi great point–I can’t count how many silly remarks on consciousness I have defused by taking someone’s question, asking the exact same question wrt digestion, and then pressing them for what is different. It typically brings to the surface people’s latent dualistic assumptions that consciousness is (ontologically) special. Sometimes it brings to light their vitalism, that they are actually dualists about digestion. But that is fairly rare.

    Not just dualists, but even people that give “antireductionist” arguments based on multiple realizablity to claim the brain is somehow irrelevant. I ask them about how irrelevant chemistry is for the study of digestion. Or people that claim that the brain “causes” consciousness (does the symphony of reactions that extract energy from food “cause” digestion, or is it just digestion, full stop?).

    Sort of like Dawkins applied to consciousness: when you understand why you are a materialist wrt digestion, you will understand why I am a materialist wrt consciousness. :)

    Or more generally (for the antireductionist types in general): when you understand why you don’t think that way wrt digestion, you will understand why I don’t think that way wrt consciousness.

    Some will bring up disanalogies between digestion and consciousness, which obviously do exist, but overall this is a useful strategy. It is not a universal acid, but a pretty good one. I’d give it a pH level of 5.

    Note as I said I do sometimes get people saying they are not materialists wrt digestion. Typically they invoke final causes or some other Aristotelian jambalaya, but at least that shows where they stand, and I can decide if I want to waste my time as they fail to make clear how their view would ever help a working biologist.

  138. mufion 22 May 2012 at 11:29 am

    Eric: I might have actually picked up the digestion/respiration analogy from you (i.e. from a couple of years ago on this very same blog), so no wonder you like it! :-)

  139. Steven Novellaon 22 May 2012 at 12:17 pm

    I think we have gotten bogged down in semantics a bit. I think all the materialists here agree that the mind is what the brain does. It is not separate in any way. The concept of the mind or mental states is tricky to deal with linguistically, because you can ask nonsensical questions like, how physically big is the feeling of love.

    Regarding the question – why are we not zombies, why is there qualia, etc. I don’t think we need an answer to this. There does not necessarily have to be an evolutionary advantage (that’s hyperadaptationalism). It could just be that vertebrate central nervous systems evolved that way as a solution to having behavior react to and adapt to the environment. Maybe a life form could have evolved to have similarly complex behavior without consciousness, but who cares. That doesn’t mean that consciousness would not evolve.

    I tend to think that consicousness, however, is not separable from the complex behavior we associate with it. Animals evolved to respond positively and negatively to stimuli. Over time the analysis of that stimuli and the response to it became very complex, and we experience that partly as our consciousness.

    Further, we needed some way to attend to the important part of all the information potentially coming in. How do you attend to some information and ignore other information without having something like consciousness.

    And finally, once we evolved complex language our thoughts became more coherent. In order to communicate complex information to another individual you need to be able to grab onto and manipulate that complex information.

    All these things make up human consciousness. Consciousness is at least one solution, and it may be the only solution. But even if p-zombies can exist, that does not mean that consciousness would not evolve. It’s a fine solution to the above behavioral needs.

  140. JollyRancheron 22 May 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Eric Thomson: “yes, it’s all about refuting the dualists who think that Mary is sufficient to refute physicalism. That’s the whole point. The rest is epistemology.”

    I can see you are not particularly interested in engaging with any of the actual issues I raised, which is fine, so rather than harp on you continually; I’ll try once more to explain with regards to what is wrong with waving away epistemological issues and call it quits. It actually matters if you want to convince any dualists. Know thy enemy, right?

    Look, the dualists usually point to an epistemic gap wrt to consciousness, claiming it is a unique case, right? There are then two ways for a materialist to deal with this.

    Option One: deny that the gap is unique and any real cause for concern, which is what you did via the analogies you mentioned a la Churchland and friends. If this worked it, it would refute Mary. But it doesn’t, for the reasons I mentioned above; namely, there is absolutely no similarity between the cases whatsoever. None. That is to say, it is false to claim that studying photosynthesis is in anyway the same as studying consciousness. It’s wrong, or if it isn’t, explain why, taking into consideration the points I mentioned above.

    Option Two: Accept the gap, but simply claim that epistemic distinctness does not necessarily entail ontological distinctness. You also seem to approve of this. This claim is formally is correct, and Mary fails to refute materialism.

    But then, the dualists ask: So, why is there a gap in the first place? Why does there exists a radical epistemic asymmetry between consciousness and brain processes, that does not in any way exists with regards to other natural phenomena, like knowledge of photosynthesis, or digestion, or water etc… Take note: to claim there IS a similarity is to repeat option one, which does not work, again for the reasons I stated above.

    The materialist replies: Who cares? All that matters is that the bare existence of the gap does nothing to refute materialism, and so, on account of our growing scientific knowledge of the brain, dualism is rendered completely unmotivated. It’s simply better to accept materialism is true, even if the how currently eludes us.

    The dualist replies: On the contrary, we need an EXPLANATION of why there is a gap AT ALL, since, by the dualist’s lights, it appears to be the only thing we know of in the universe which suffers from this gap. This calls for an explanation, say they, and surveying the intellectual scene, and finding none in the offing, they conclude, well, since this gap is unique, and it can’t be explained away via standard materialist methodology, even in principle, then it’s likely the case that this epistemic gap corresponds to an ontological gap. It is an inference to the best explanation regarding WHY there is a gap, where as the materialist thesis is typically an inference to the best explanation wrt to WHY brain states are correlated to mental states, the direction between brain damage and altered states etc…

    The two camps are operating within two different frameworks. The dualist(or another anti-materialist) makes what he/she regards as a reasonable assumption; namely, that IF materialism is true, then we should expect a certain epistemic landscape to materialize. This landscape is not materializing and does not seem (because of the very nature of the concepts involved) like it will ever materialize, and therefore concludes materialism is false.
    The materialist, on the other hand, claims if materialism is true, we would expect a certain empirical landscape to arrive, and, when it does, concludes materialism is true. The dualist posits materialism, if it means anything at all, should predict a certain level of epistemic completeness, while the materialist posits that if materialism were true, we would expect all the empirical developments which have in fact developed to develop.

    It is because of this contrast in frameworks why dualists are unimpressed with empirical arguments; whenever one points out such and such correlations and the tight relationship between mind and brain etc, and then infers materialism must be true, the dualist might well reply: well, yes, there are such empirical developments, but they are hardly compelling, simply because the truth of materialism should be judged on epistemic success, not brute empirical facts, which not only fail to close/explain the gap, but are perfectly consistent with other explanations which DO explain it’s existence. What’s more, the very methodology used by materialism is a terrible guide for deciding between metaphysical theses, since it is necessarily slanted towards tempting one to infer materialism,(which is why dualists likely prefer a prediction based on epistemic completeness), given that consciousness qua consciousness is physically undetectable, even in indirectly, and only known inferentially based on comparison with one’s own experience, such that one can hardly take it as confirmation of materialism that no one has found any beyond brains. It was never a possibility to begin with because you can’t identify something that makes itself know only subjectively via objective methods.

    Anyway, I expect people are tired of my ranting by now, so I’ll give it a rest. Suffice to say that I think it is a grave mistake to wave away epistemological issues; they are central to the debate, on both sides, and to reject examining them is simply to uncritically presuppose that one’s own framework is the best equipped to deal with the question of consciousness, when it is often the case that which framework should be used is the very thing at issue and where materialist and dualist and other antimaterialists butt heads.

  141. JollyRancheron 22 May 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Steven Novella:I think we have gotten bogged down in semantics a bit. ”

    This is the cardinal sin of much consciousness talk. :)

    Steven Novella:”Regarding the question – why are we not zombies, why is there qualia, etc. I don’t think we need an answer to this. There does not necessarily have to be an evolutionary advantage (that’s hyperadaptationalism).”

    Indeed, but I don’t think dualists are looking for an evolutionary explanation, (though I think it is an interesting topic). Rather, they want to understand the dichotomy between subjective and objective more fully, and to deny we need an answer to the zombie/qualia question is simply to dissolve the dichotomy they find so problematic. This doesn’ mean it is the wrong course of action, but any dualist worth their salt would demand how the emergence of subjective points of view from what is purportedly an objecticve world occurs, and that it is a legitimate question to ask.

    Steven Novella:”Animals evolved to respond positively and negatively to stimuli. Over time the analysis of that stimuli and the response to it became very complex, and we experience that partly as our consciousness.”

    This hits the nail on the head in terms of diagnosing what all anti-materialist, dualist and even some materialists alike find problematic. The question is why should an increase in the DEGREE of complexity of stimulus and reaction, lead to the emergence of a difference in KIND, between subjective and objective, where some facts, so called qualia, seem only to exist within the subjective portion of this dichotomy. First we have a universe devoid of subjectivity, until a certain amount of complex compunds come together and react in increasingly comples ways, when, along the way, at some point, however small and dull as opposed to our own, a subjective point of view emerges. This is perplexing because the gap form one to the other always looks as if it needs to be corssed in a single stride.

    Like I said before, however, I am not a dualist, since I don;t think positing a new substance, of whatever kind, solves the subject-object problem, but I do take their criticism of materialism seriously.

    Steven Novella:”How do you attend to some information and ignore other information without having something like consciousness.”

    Think of it like this. The existence of “You” seems, from a physical point of view, entirely superfluous, since, presumably, the laws of physics would suffice to move your body/brain around in all the ways, no matter how complex, conscious organisms do in fact move around, just like any other physical object in the universe. The existence of a point of view seems completely arbitrary.

  142. Eric Thomsonon 22 May 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Jolly the epistemic issues are interesting, but in this thread I narrowed down to the ontology because I’m not interested in hashing that out in a blog comment thread.

  143. Steven Novellaon 22 May 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Jolly – I brought up the evolutionary argument because others did (like Kastrup himself).

    I think you missed the point of my attention example above. This goes beyond behavior. What algorithm does the brain use to process and respond to certain information while completely ignoring other information. How is some information more “important” than other information, and how does the system decide? This is a major component of consciousness.

    I get what you are saying about subjective emerging from objective – I am of the belief this is a non problem. It is, in my opinion, exactly like life vs nonlife, and it is not a coincidence that the same arguments occurred over life. How does life emerge from non-life? At what piont does complex chemical reactions become sufficiently complex that we call it life?

    For a long time this was a serious problem, and vitalism was one solution. But today I think it is non-controversial among scientists and philosophers that this is a non problem. Life is an emergent phenomenon of really complex chemistry.

    In the same way human consciousness is an emergent phenomenon of really complex information processing, attention, stimulus response, and language.

    The only real problem with this is that it doesn’t “feel” right. There is something profoundly non-intuitive about it. But that feeling, I beileve, is just the illusion of consciousness itself. In a way it’s a consequence of our brain function. You might say our brains evolved to not be good at understanding the nature of consciousness itself. This is because our brains construct our internal model of reality, which includes ourselves, the universe around us, and a continuous narrative of events, thoughts, memories, and feelings. But this is all a constructed illusion by the brain, and in fact it processes information specifically to make the illusion seamless and compelling.

    Occasionally we are smacked in the face when the illusion breaks down, like with visual illusions or when our memories clash with verifiable reality, but people usually shrug these off as cool tricks or aberrations. Neurologists tend to see people confront more profound examples of the break in the brain-constructed illusion, like when half the universe vanishes, or when you feel like your arm does not belong to you. When you see this all the time, the reality of the constructed nature of consciousness becomes more clear.

    Our stream of consciousness is just the meat inside our heads, and when you mess with the meat you mess with consiuosness – in every possible way you can imagine and some interestnig ways you cannot imagine until you have seen it or learned about it already (because you have no intuitive awareness that your reality is being constructed the way it is).

  144. JollyRancheron 22 May 2012 at 6:13 pm

    Eric Thomson:”Jolly the epistemic issues are interesting, but in this thread I narrowed down to the ontology because I’m not interested in hashing that out in a blog comment thread.”

    Fair enough.

    Steven Novella:”I brought up the evolutionary argument because others did (like Kastrup himself).”

    Again, fair enough. I suppose I’ll take a final stab at this, before letting this topic die off, as it seems to have run its course for the most part.

    Steven Novella:”This goes beyond behavior. What algorithm does the brain use to process and respond to certain information while completely ignoring other information. How is some information more “important” than other information, and how does the system decide? This is a major component of consciousness.”

    I didn’t mean that subjectivity appears superfluous merely wrt to behavior, but the transitions between brain states as well. It would APPEAR, whether or not it is the case, that the brain itself, when studied simply AS A BRAIN, gives no indication, or explanation, as to why whatever algorithm it uses has to be a “felt” algorithm, since in order for it to operate all that seems necessary is that the proper state transitions occur, and in order for those transitions to occur one would ultimately appeal to the physical principles governing the brain, just like any phenomenon could in principle be explained, no? Why, at any point in the story of explanation pertaining to the brain, would someone who was interested in what brains do, ever need to bring in experience as an explanatory principle?

    I presume no one would; instead, they could, in principle, merely point to the previous states of the brain, and external stimuli, and make use of the language of neuroscience, with all the attendant concepts such as neurotransmitters and ion channels and different brain regions responding to one another etc… and come to a fully satisfactory explanation of why someone carried out the action they did without ever having to make recourse to the fact that throughout all of this processing there was conscious experience occurring. Consciousness appears to be the only thing we know of which has a double aspected nature of this sort, where its existence is left completely ARBITRARY with regards to the principles (in this case neurological ones) with which it is associated.

    Compare: if someone were to ask why life is always accompanied by mitosis, one can point to how the feature of mitosis actually accounts for, and just is, one of those vaunted features of life; namely, growth, but in the case of consciousness, if one asks, well, why is brain activity always accompanied with consciousness, there are no principles about the brain itself, AS SUCH, which explain why they should be so correlated. To point out that, as a matter of fact those correlations do exist, and therefore consciousness simply is the complex processing going on is to do nothing to dispel the arbitrariness hanging over the issue, since AS BRAINS, there seems to be no principle, precisely because these principles are all couched in objective terms, capable of explain how subjectivity emerges from objectivity, which is not at all analogous to the difference between life and non-life.

    Steven Novella:”How does life emerge from non-life? At what piont does complex chemical reactions become sufficiently complex that we call it life?”

    From this it seems to me, you consider the question of how life emerges from non-life to be largely terminological, and it is. I recently watched a panel on the Science Network which asked precisely this question of when something becomes complex enough and fulfills enough functions to be called alive. However, subjectivity is not like this, because it is BINARY, something either has a point of view, or it doesn’t, while life is not a binary concept, precisely because it is defined in objective, structural/functional terms, while pure subjectivity, or having a point of view, is not. People, animals, fish, insects etc… have a point of view, while amoebas, plants, and rocks don’t. There is no degree of complexity here between the two poles that could be used as a non- arbitrary dividing line between when something has a point of view (i.e. exists subjectively), and when something doesn’t. It is for this reason I find the deflationary approach uncompelling.

    Perhaps Sam Harris can explain it better than I can, he does so in a way that avoids drawing on too much background baggage: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-mystery-of-consciousness-ii

    Steven Novella:” The only real problem with this is that it doesn’t “feel” right.”

    Yes, and perhaps because of the constructive nature of our mind wrt to the actual interface with which we experience the world, I think it very much possible we might suffer from a cognitive block of some sort that ever prevents us from actually making sense of consciousness in the same way we do other phenomena. However, that is not that there is no hard problem wrt to consciousness, or that it is a pseudo-problem, but merely a recalcitrantone, engendered by the concepts we are forced to make do with by our own cognitive structure.

    Anyway, that about wraps it up for me I guess. One can only beat a dead horse so much, after all.
    Btw, I’ve only been following the blog for the last little while, but I do very much enjoy it. Kudos.

  145. Steven Novellaon 22 May 2012 at 7:43 pm

    Jolly,

    I have to disagree with you on several points.

    First – brain function does not have to be conscious. Many aspects of brain function are not conscious – they are subconscious, or even non-conscious (they don’t contribute to consciousness).

    I also disagree the consciousness is binary. Are birds conscious? Do they have the same level of consciousness as humans? Is a human in a light coma where there is the barest evidence of consciousness as conscious as a fully awake and intact human? Probably not, but they do have some consciousness.

    If you think birds are fully conscious, what about fish. What about insects? I think consciousness is closer to a continuum, perhaps not smooth with some discontinuities, like language – but then again, language is a continuum too.

    Further, I disagree with your hyperreductionist examples. You cannot fully understand life by studying biochemistry. You need to study tissues, and organs and organ systems, and whole organisms, and populations, and ecosystems. There are levels.

    Similarly, you cannot understand brain function by studying neurons and neurotransmitters. You have to also understand networks and modules and how they all work together, and it’s at this higher hierarchical level that consciousness comes in (ie, emergent).

    Finally, let’s say that the brain does not have to be conscious – so what. Maybe it didn’t have to be, but it is. I think it has to be – that when you develop a system that is attracted to and repelled by stimuli, and can focus attention, and can communicate and all this is happening in real time with self-reference and monitoring on internal states with access to memory, etc. – all of this adds up to consciousness.

  146. Eric Thomsonon 22 May 2012 at 9:14 pm

    Why, at any point in the story of explanation pertaining to the brain, would someone who was interested in what brains do, ever need to bring in experience as an explanatory principle?

    To explain things like unconscious priming, binocular rivalry, hallucinations, dreaming, every perceptual illusion, etc.. We can observe differences between conscious and unconscious brains, between conscious and unconscious representational states in the brain. If you don’t bring in consciousness to explain these things, you won’t explain them.

    What I see in the Harris piece are the standard dualistic intuitions laid bare, without justification, that keep people locked into these local minima that keep them from seeing how neuroscience can explain consciousness. For instance, “Nothing about a brain, studied at any scale (spatial or temporal), even suggests that it might harbor consciousness.” That is someone that has never studied perceptual neuroscience.

    What magic would he prefer we advert to to explain the phenomena I listed to start my post? What is this mystical nonsense he is spouting? What is the argument? It’s yet another raw expression of mysterianism by yet another person who takes the limits of their imagination as a portal to the ultimate structure of reality. It really is hubristic at many levels.

  147. Eric Thomsonon 22 May 2012 at 9:15 pm

    I’m writing a chapter on vitalism now, having read about 150 primary sources, and those l who say there is no analogy have clearly not read the vitalist literature. They are talking out of thin air.

    I’m not going to let the cat out of the bag here in terms of vitalist sources I’ve collected, but here is my favorite quote from an antivitalist:

    The appeal to a vital force is merely a periphrasis of ignorance. It constitutes one of those back doors of which there are so many in science, and which are the constant refuge of indolent minds who will not take the trouble to investigate what appears incomprehensible, but are satisfied with accepting the apparent miracle.

    Substitute ‘dualism’ for ‘vital force’, and he’s nailed it.

  148. Eric Thomsonon 22 May 2012 at 9:20 pm

    That quote is from the German physiologist Karl Vogt.

  149. JollyRancheron 22 May 2012 at 11:12 pm

    I don’t want to keep dragging you back to this particular blog post, since I can see that you have already moved on in maintaining the blog wrt to other topics and whatnot, so I’ll try and be brief, though as you may have guessed, I suffer from verbal diarrhea.

    Steven Novella:”First – brain function does not have to be conscious. Many aspects of brain function are not conscious – they are subconscious, or even non-conscious (they don’t contribute to consciousness).”

    I don’t disagree with this. In fact, I think it helps highlight my point, given that from the objective point of view of a brain, both conscious and unconscious processes appear exactly the same, such that the question becomes: why should some parts of the brain be conscious(i.e. experienced), and others not, given that the neural principles that occur during conscious states and unconscious ones are hardly different in any fundamental way. It’s all just meat banging around in response to previous states of meat and external stimuli.

    Steven Novella:”I also disagree the consciousness is binary. Are birds conscious? Do they have the same level of consciousness as humans? Is a human in a light coma where there is the barest evidence of consciousness as conscious as a fully awake and intact human? Probably not, but they do have some consciousness.”

    I don’t really disagree with this either; all your examples are differences WITHIN consciousness, in terms of its contents. A bird might not be able to form memories like me, or think abstractly, or even feel differing degrees of sensation with the same level of intensity or sensitivity of detail. Ditto for the comatose human, the fish, and insect. But this is beside the point; my claim was that the existence of subjectivity AT ALL was binary, not the contents or capacities that accompany it. Something is either capable of feeling pain/thinking etc.. or not. Even the lightest pinprick or vaguest interconnected stream of thoughts is, respectively, a pain, or a thought; but the EXISTENCE of any sort of feeling/thought etc.. at all, is binary. Rocks/plants do not have any pain or thoughts at all, but humans and animals do. What’s the difference between these categories? Not one of degree in terms of complexity, because objectively they are all just different arrangements of matter, but subjectively it makes all the difference between, as they say, somebody being home, and nobody being there at all.

    Steven Novella:”Further, I disagree with your hyperreductionist examples. You cannot fully understand life by studying biochemistry. You need to study tissues, and organs and organ systems, and whole organisms, and populations, and ecosystems. There are levels.”

    I don’t find this controversial either. There are indeed different levels. What I was trying to point out is that if someone were to ask: Of what does life consist? The biological principles used to explain it would sufficiently answer the question as to why living things grow, reproduce, heal from injury etc… That is, there are transparent mechanism, like mitosis, DNA, and so on which explain clearly and sufficiently why these phenomena of growth etc occur. In contrast to this, pointing to the causal relationships between states of the brain, and other states of the brain(and external stimuli) be they at the level of individual neurons, or circuitry, or different brain regions, never gets you over the binary hump from objective process to the existence of subjectivity. To simply define subjectivity as the sum total of a particular arrangment of objective process does not get you over the explanatory gap.

    Steven Novella:”Similarly, you cannot understand brain function by studying neurons and neurotransmitters. You have to also understand networks and modules and how they all work together, and it’s at this higher hierarchical level that consciousness comes in (ie, emergent).”

    Indeed, in order to understand brain function different levels would be appropriate, no qualms there. I only mentioned neurons and neurotransmitters in an offhand way, since the point applies to any purely objective process, whatever the level, because however many levels of explanation there are, there is only one layer off reality, the physical, which is why I have no problem understanding how the brain, or life, or water, is in actuality composed of atomic particles, because it is just a difference of degree in scale and spatiotemporal arrangements of matter in a mathematical grid. But to claim subjectivity “emerges” from objective processes, whether or not it is true, does nothing to clarify the issue.

    Steven Novella:” Finally, let’s say that the brain does not have to be conscious – so what. Maybe it didn’t have to be, but it is. I think it has to be – that when you develop a system that is attracted to and repelled by stimuli, and can focus attention, and can communicate and all this is happening in real time with self-reference and monitoring on internal states with access to memory, etc. – all of this adds up to consciousness.”

    I suspect that consciousness will indeed be present where anything so sophisticated is concerned, but the fact that I can refuse to agree you are conscious without any conceptual contradiction, no matter how much I know about you as a purely physical system, suggests something in our understanding in missing. If I claim to be able to label you an automaton, and you claim this is impossible, the onus is on the materialist to point out where the contradiction lies, presumably by pointing out the explanatory mechanism that would render this contradiction transparent. This would constitute a solution to the hard problem. But it would be a solution, not a dissolution.

  150. JollyRancheron 22 May 2012 at 11:13 pm

    Eric Thomson:”To explain things like unconscious priming, binocular rivalry, hallucinations, dreaming, every perceptual illusion, etc.. We can observe differences between conscious and unconscious brains, between conscious and unconscious representational states in the brain. If you don’t bring in consciousness to explain these things, you won’t explain them.”

    My point in the piece you quoted was to say that by studying a brain AS A BRAiN, like any other natural object, without attributing conscious experience to any brain state on the basis of verbal report, or common sense ascriptions, would never lead anyone who is trying to explain why a brain transitions from brain state A to B to C, would never have any reason to look beyond standard neurological principles to come to a satisfactory explanation of why this occurred. Conscious experience would never make itself felt at all. For example, to explain how a brain moves from one state(s) correlated with conscious experience to another(as in binocular rivalry) one can tell a fully consistent parallel story at the neural level, because as materialist often point out, there is a tight correlation between the two. It is THIS story, when looked at this level, which excludes consciousness.

    Now, to claim one needs to resort to consciousness to “explain” the above phenomena is tangential to my point, since I was positing that studying the brain as a biological system, not a conscious one, is unlikely to lead to ever having to invoke consciousness as an explanatory agent, or would ever, via standard neurological principles, explain the emergence of subjectivity.

    To say that if we do take brains to be conscious in the lab, rather than simply studying them as a purely biological system, necessitates importing consciousness as an explanatory principle is not surprising, since one is already embedding consciousness within the system, and explanatory framework, and at the cognitive level, using it as just another principle to explain OTHER conscious phenomena. But the problem is from getting to a purely biological system to a cognitive/conscious one WITHOUT embedding it within the explanatory framework from the start, since, when studied as a purely BIOLOGICAL system it gives no hint that the conscious level is even there. What’s more, if some alien, sufficiently different from us were to appear on earth, an studied our brains, it would never have any reason to ascribe the phenomena you mentioned to people surveyed as purely biological systems in the first place, since these are all conscious experiences themselves. In short, it wouldn’t even know these phenomena exist.

    Eric Thomson:”What I see in the Harris piece are the standard dualistic intuitions laid bare, without justification, that keep people locked into these local minima that keep them from seeing how neuroscience can explain consciousness.”

    I tried to explain the justification before (or at least how I see it at any rate). Namely, that dualists are operating under different assumptions of what materialism, if true would, entail epistemically, and not finding this prediction to come true, and for whatever reason, not finding it conceptually coherent that it will come true, eventually reject. I don’t claim this is everyone’s justification, but I think it’s a candidate for some.

    Eric Thomson:”What magic would he prefer we advert to explain the phenomena I listed to start my post? What is this mystical nonsense he is spouting? What is the argument?”

    It doesn’t mean the world actually turns out to be magical after all, simply because materialism is having a difficult time coping with a very difficult problem. To claim that maybe it is not up to the task is not tantamount to being a wooly eyed superstitious fool, it is to challenge an overwhelmingly dominant intellectual paradigm, and suggest, perhaps, that not everything is going to succumb to the cognitive equipment of a collection of advanced primates.

    Eric Thomson:”It’s yet another raw expression of mysterianism by yet another person who takes the limits of their imagination as a portal to the ultimate structure of reality. It really is hubristic at many levels.”

    You mistake the argument. It is not: I can not imagine how it must be true, therefore it is false or unsolvable. It is more along the lines of:The very conceptual tools at hand for solving this problem are deficient, therefore any attempt to solve the problem via said conceptual apparatus will not work. One who objects that the study of the growth cycle of bananas has nothing to do, and will not solve, Goldbach’s conjecture, is not being arrogant, he is speaking sense because there is an obvious incompatibility in methodology and conceptual relevance between the two tasks. Anti-materialist claim that there is a an incompatibility of the very same kind, in this case the difference between subjective and objective, one simple does not lead to another in any intelligible way. Or so claims the anti-materialist, if it does the onus is on the materialist to explain precisely how this occurs, relying on nothing other than physical, qua physics, principles.

    Eric Thomson:”I’m writing a chapter on vitalism now, having read about 150 primary sources, and those l who say there is no analogy have clearly not read the vitalist literature. They are talking out of thin air. ”

    I suspect the sociological point may be true. Nevertheless, I suspect any similarity to vitalism will only be found in terms of the psychological incredulity of it’s adherents, since there is at least one difference which seems to me largely undisputed. Namely, that vitalism was POSTULATED by scientists to account for the DIRECTLY OBSERVED functionally defined, phenomena of life, whereas the existence of subjectivity is a GIVEN, not postulated, and the physical principles of today are claimed to be insufficient for this inherently UNOBSERVABLE phenomena. There was never any conceptual dichotomy like the between subject and object in wrt to vitalism. Maybe your book will offer a different perspective, time will tell.

  151. sonicon 23 May 2012 at 1:21 am

    Eric Thomson-
    Do you think it possible to have a computer program that would produce consciousness? I have often wondered what the constituent parts would be- but it seems no matter what I feedback to what the computer doesn’t become a dualistic conscious entity. For example, one can program a machine to recognize it’s parts as ‘my parts’ and even give it a section called ‘my mind’– yet the machine doesn’t become dualistic.
    But aren’t those the constructs that make us so?

    as mlema points out it seems consciousness isn’t a necessary part of the universe– that is to say it would not necessarily come into being by any algorithm- at least none known. So unless we want to argue that consciousness has something to do with efficacy (perhaps by collapsing a wave function?), we are stuck with consciousness because of chance.

    A vitalist notes that ‘life comes from life’. Until we know otherwise by actual demonstration– It seems reasonable to grant the possibility that something about life is irreducible.
    And that might be consciousness–
    That is to say the difference between life and non-life is in the realm of experience-

    I don’t know of any measurement of experience. Is there a quantity associated with it? How much experience could a rat have compared to an atom of hydrogen?
    Is that a silly question?
    Perhaps the amount of information processing available is key.
    And that brings us back to the algorithm I asked about before– so enough for now…

  152. Mlemaon 23 May 2012 at 2:17 am

    I very much appreciate everything that everyone has written on this page. I expecially appreciated SARA’s response to a post I made about taste. Without that, it would have been possible for me to theorize that people who do not recognize the hard question of the experience of consciousness perhaps were simply not experiencing consciousness :-)

    After reading much, including the links and links to links that have been provided, i conclude the following:

    All of vision is an illusion. Anyone who thinks that something like color really exists and that it’s only an illusion when you see a color that your experience tells you you shouldn’t, is failing to recognize the physical nature of the world. We may think our brains can know what reality is when everything is working properly. If we are honest, and admit that the only way we know the world is through our 5 senses – which are simply a highly complex organization of meat which is capable of gaining information from the physical phenomena around it (all the atoms, photons, etc that are operating in accordance with physical laws) in order to maintain life, and that brains are simply a portion of meat that utilize that information to respond to the environment and continue to survive, we realize that we can’t know what or if there is an objective reality. All we have is our subjective experience, and every day that we operate in the world we are making one huge (albeit ultimately reliable) assumption that our subjective experience is enabling us to know the truth of an objective world.

    This is the form of duality that we must either acknowledge (if you believe there IS an objective world) or deny, because we deny the physical nature of how consciousness works.

  153. BillyJoe7on 23 May 2012 at 7:17 am

    Mlema,

    You don’t know with absolute certainty that I am conscious and I don’t know with absolute certainty that you are conscious. However, the odds are strongly that we are both conscious. Is that future robot conscious? I would say that if he behaved just like you and I, probably yes. But the odds would not be as strong. There just might be something different between meat and metal.

    Yes, the mind is immaterial. But it is natural, not supernatural. At least that has to be the default because there are innumerable instances of natural phenomena but not one clear instance of a supernatural phenomenon.

    ” do you think, like Dr. Novella, that once all the “easy problems” of consciousness (like the ability to discriminate and react to stimuli, integrate info, report mental states, control behavior, etc.) are solved, that the “hard problem” will be solved? If so, how do you think that might happen?”

    That has to be the default position. Because it is the attitude that gets things solved, as the past history of science has demonstrated time and again. I have no idea how it might happen. But that is not a problem – who ever thought that loosening of the concepts of time and space would be the solution to the problem of the precession of the perihelion of mercury?

  154. BillyJoe7on 23 May 2012 at 7:27 am

    sonic,

    “So unless we want to argue that consciousness has something to do with efficacy (perhaps by collapsing a wave function?)”

    I hope not. The term “collapse of the wave function” is problematic for many physicists and, in any case, consciousness has nothing to do with it.

    “A vitalist notes that ‘life comes from life’. Until we know otherwise by actual demonstration– It seems reasonable to grant the possibility that something about life is irreducible.’

    Granted, but the assumption must still be that life arose from non-life. Present day physical objects cannot be neatly separated into the two groups: “life” and “non-life”. There is a fuzzy zone in between into which we must place objects that are not clearly alive or not alive. This fuzzy zone is a sure hint that life can arise imperceptivley from non-life.

  155. BillyJoe7on 23 May 2012 at 7:38 am

    Mlema,

    “All we have is our subjective experience, and every day that we operate in the world we are making one huge (albeit ultimately reliable) assumption that our subjective experience is enabling us to know the truth of an objective world.”

    It is not a huge assumption. It is a reasonable assumption. In fact, it is a very reasonable assumption. If it was just you living on this Earth, then maybe. But there have been countless scientist all over the world for over two centuries all comparing notes. There has to be an objective reality out there to produce such reliable agreement amongst all these individuals.

  156. Eric Thomsonon 23 May 2012 at 9:04 am

    Jolly: I was attributing mysterianism and hubris to Harris, not you.

    Even assuming there is a gap, it is not reasonable based on conceptual “gaps” to infer an ontological gap. I gave a materialist description of the situation above (here). These conceptual concerns don’t come close to outweighing all the other the evidence and reasons we have to think that consciousness is a brain process. You keep pushing it, so obviously feel the pull, as if this is some kind of unique prediction of dualism that counts against materialism. It is not.

    As far as whether we need to talk about consciousness to explain brain function, I should have been more explicit. We absolutely will carve the brain at the joints between conscious and unconscious processes (this is required explaining things like dreaming, anesthesia, visual hallucinations, even if you take a “biological” approach). Aliens would have to do the same to explain why some people behave the way they do, even taking a purely biological approach.

    Whether they would have the phenomenal concept of consciousness, versus dividing the brain into two different species of representational systems, is an interesting question. However, at an ontological level they would simply be describing the conscious and unconscious processing going on in the brain. In that sense, if there is a conceptual gap (something I am agnostic about), there is still no ontological gap, which we get back to.

    And this assumes they are not studying humans, who tell them about conscious experiences. In which case they would likely be fine and explain our concepts about experiences. But to make it tougher for the materialist, assume they are studying nonlinguistic animals that don’t even have concepts of experiences (e.g., my dog).

    I know you are pushing the Chalmers line about vitalism, but it isn’t right (though frankly it depends on the vitalist, for some it is right, but not in general). Wait for my chapter. Email me if you want me to send it to you.

    Note I don’t take concepts about consciousness as given. Ask a three year old about their conscious experiences. The talk about red fire trucks, not experiences of red fire trucks. I see concepts about conscious experiences as sophisticated developmental latecomers.

    So experiences might be given, but not our concepts about experience. And that’s what you are focusing on. And that’s the fundamental problem with your attack on materialism. I am talking about consciousness as a brain process. You are focusing on concepts about consciousness.

  157. Eric Thomsonon 23 May 2012 at 9:07 am

    BillyJoe did you come out as a dualist in this thread? Wow. Why do you think the mind is immaterial? Is digestion immaterial? How is consciousness different?

  158. Eric Thomsonon 23 May 2012 at 11:11 am

    Frankly I wouldn’t cite Harris as you are better than him at making actual arguments. He is just being a flat-footed mysterian.

  159. Mlemaon 23 May 2012 at 2:16 pm

    BillyJoe7: “It is not a huge assumption. It is a reasonable assumption. In fact, it is a very reasonable assumption.”

    It is a very very very reasonable huge assumption.

    “If it was just you living on this Earth, then maybe. But there have been countless scientist all over the world for over two centuries all comparing notes. There has to be an objective reality out there to produce such reliable agreement amongst all these individuals.”

    Everything you know, and everything everybody knows, is known through subjective conscious experience. People have been agreeing about the nature of an objective reality “out there” since time immemorial. But does there HAVE to be an objective reality out there? There’s absolutely no way to prove that there is, or prove that there isn’t, because all the means and materials we use to prove what we know about objective reality are all subjectively utilized, understood and experienced. It’s not falsifiable by any means other than further subjective means. So, we have all taken it for granted since the day we were first conscious.

    Don’t get the idea that I for one minute don’t assume there is an objective reality. And it has nothing to do with the science of the last 200 years. I’ve always believed in the reality of the objective world. The only time my belief ever got a little shaky was when I got treated by someone as if I didn’t exist :)

  160. Eric Thomsonon 23 May 2012 at 2:22 pm

    Jolly, I just got some time so I’ll say a little about how I see the epistemic situation here, in two posts. I’ll probably cross-post after editing at philosophy of brains where I contribute.

    Blind neuroscientists: what is missing?
    The focus on concepts and epistemology largely misses the crux of the problem of consciousness, which isn’t how we conceive of it. The problem of consciousness is the problem of…consciousness. Not our conception ofconsciousness, which is a phylogenetic and ontogenetic latecomer compared to consciousness: my dog doesn’t see consciousness, but squirrels and bones.

    Say I am a blind neuroscientist with an omniscient understanding of the visual system in its conscious and unconscious states. On the whole, what do I feel is lacking? Concepts about experiences? Is that what I’m worried about? Hell, no. Dude, I’m freaking blind, I can’t see! My brain cannot enter these states, so I cannot have these experiences. It is experiences themselves that make consciousness an interesting problem, that make life worth living. This strange, derivative, speculative focus on how people conceive of consciousness is far enough beside the main point, it is effectively to miss the point.

    For that matter as a blind neuroscientist I actually can conceive of people having visual experiences: I can map phenomenological color space, I can classify other people’s brains as seeing this or that color consciously, I can map my brain and note that it cannot enter these neural states, which explains why I don’t have said experiences. I predict your color experiences with 100% accuracy, as my brain scanner and your phenomenology (coupled with my theory of consciousness) are in perfect lock-step with no gaps whatsoever. Indeed, I bet I know a hell of a lot more about your experience than you do.

    So you tell me, what does my concept of ‘experience of red’ leave out that having the experience will add?

    What it leaves out, most obviously, is an ability to recognize when my own brain is in that red experiencing state. If I were magically “fixed” and given vision, I’d expect a period of calibration as the concepts I already have, activated via one route in the lab, were set up to be triggered directly when I am in a red-experiencing state.

    But that is not an ontologically interesting change. That is no different from learning to recognize someone by voice versus by touch. It doesn’t mean there are two different people there, or that I have two concepts of that person, one auditory and one tactile. Even if I do have two such concepts, that would not imply there are two people there—it’s a nonstarter to even go down this route.

    What is different, unequivocally, and importantly is that I can freaking see! And this is what my theory predicted, and so would make me no more sympathetic to dualism.

  161. Mlemaon 23 May 2012 at 5:07 pm

    Eric Thomson

    “That is no different from learning to recognize someone by voice versus by touch.”

    That’s just using one form of subjective info over another – it’s not the same as having no subjective information to begin with, so it doesn’t really illustrate the question of how we know what we know.

    Can you do this illustration with a neuroscientist who knows everything about the brain and everything else there is to know without having any of his 5 senses? In what form does his knowledge exist? If he gains his sensations, how does he coordinate his experience with his brain states? Do you think someone will just tell him? How will he know what they’re saying?

    M

  162. BillyJoe7on 23 May 2012 at 5:14 pm

    Eric,

    “BillyJoe did you come out as a dualist in this thread? Wow. Why do you think the mind is immaterial? Is digestion immaterial? How is consciousness different?”

    Hmmm…maybe I got my definitions tangled.
    I usually think of it as natural/physical/material versus supernatural/nonphysical/immaterial.
    The mind falls into the first category.

  163. BillyJoe7on 23 May 2012 at 5:27 pm

    Mlema,

    I think it is telling that we all have the same idea about what’s actually out there. What’s the chance of that happening if there was actually nothing out there, or if there was something different out there from what we all agree is out there. I’m talking about broard outlines here. Obviously most people do not think about cosmology, quantum physics, and relativity when they think about reality.
    (You and I are probably exceptions :) )

    “The only time my belief ever got a little shaky was when I got treated by someone as if I didn’t exist”

    I’ve been going through that very uncomfortable situation over the past six months!
    I’m about to send her an email about a typo on her website and I just know I will get no response. :(

  164. Eric Thomsonon 23 May 2012 at 6:46 pm

    Mlema: I wouldn’t get too caught up in that analogy–do you have anything more specific concerns about my analysis of the case presented?

    Not to ignore your additional question: what if Mary had no experiences at all, what would I say then? I am in the process of thinking about that ‘worst case scenario’ for materialism.

  165. tmac57on 23 May 2012 at 8:17 pm

    Mlema- You seem quite interested in how we can know that objective reality is valid. It seems to me that the validity of subjective reality is the real question.

  166. Mlemaon 23 May 2012 at 11:42 pm

    tmac57,
    I pose the question “how can we know what we know” to try to make people see that the only way we know what we know is through our subjective experience. That is, through our eyes, ears, noses, etc: our physical body’s senses. In fact, the only way I know I’m a physical body is because I feel it, see it, smell it – no, wait..uh, it doesn’t smell :-)
    So, no, as I’ve said, I never question objective reality (except as in the example Doctor N. pointed out, where sometimes my experience is confused by some inconsistency in my perception. However, I have a lot of practice at discerning inconsistencies. I once found my sister’s lost contact lens in a pile of leaves at the edge of a wood.) I assume the reality of the objective world, just like everybody else. But unlike many others (apparently) I accept that I can’t prove its reality (because, again, all I have, or anyone has, are subjective means by which to know it) But, I probably should also say, I’m not trying to prove it. I don’t see any need to, and no way to do it (that I know of) and it seems like a really silly thing to think about trying to do. My assumption of reality has never steered me wrong.

    So, I think you’d better hope that your subjective reality is valid – because that’s all you’ve got! Are you having some doubt that you exist? (sorry – I know that’s kinda snide – just trying again to emphasize: all knowledge is subjective.) Can you think of anything you know that you learned by some means other than your 5 senses?
    thanks

  167. Mlemaon 23 May 2012 at 11:58 pm

    Eric Thomson,
    you honor me by asking.
    I’m glad you posted that analysis because it made me realize that I’ve come to see all those “Mary” illustrations as an invalid means to understand the question of qualia. The reason I think that is: because just missing one of our five senses doesn’t prevent us from having subjective consciousness, and all the problems that come up seem to dissolve because the other senses still create the possibility of experience.

    So, I’ll be interested in an example with a person who has no sensory capacity at all. To grant that person omniscience seems problematic to me because: what would that omniscience consist of? How can there be any knowledge in a mind that has no sensory input? What would thoughts be like with no words or images, or even the ability to feel?
    thanks

  168. Mlemaon 24 May 2012 at 12:31 am

    wait, I just realized, isn’t that the p zombie? I thought materialists said those can’t exist?

    also, sorry, I don’t always comprehend things the first time I read them. I read your post again,and have another question

    “So you tell me, what does my concept of ‘experience of red’ leave out that having the experience will add?
    What it leaves out, most obviously, is an ability to recognize when my own brain is in that red experiencing state. ”

    I don’t see that. I thought the omniscient guy knew everything about the brain state of seeing red, and was able to know which brain state his own brain was in. So why wouldn’t he recognize when his own brain is in the red experiencing state? i would say that what the concept “experience of red” leaves out is actually seeing what red looks like. An experience isn’t a concept, it’s an experience!
    thanks

  169. Eric Thomsonon 24 May 2012 at 8:24 am

    Mlema:
    I thought the omniscient guy knew everything about the brain state of seeing red, and was able to know which brain state his own brain was in.

    I was assuming blind vision scientist, when given sight, did not have access to a brain scanner so didn’t know the state of her brain at the time. If you give her access to her own brain, she will indeed be able to know what color she is seeing, as you suggested.

    i would say that what the concept “experience of red” leaves out is actually seeing what red looks like. An experience isn’t a concept, it’s an experience!

    Yes, that was my point when I focused on the derivative and somewhat tangential nature of these questions about concepts about experiences, rather than experiences themselves.

    Finally, I am still writing up something on consciousness-free scientists, but I agree I’m not sure it is an entirely coherent notion (of course they could not be physically identical to humans, as then they would be conscious–I am presenting them as an alien species with radically different internal organization). But it is worth exploring anyway to see how to respond to a “worst case” scenario for the materialist.

  170. tmac57on 24 May 2012 at 8:49 am

    Mlema- I think that what you are saying pretty much is the same way I view things.However,as regards my comment about the question of valid subjective experience,what I am getting at,is that we should all recognize that our subjective experience can lead us astray as to the nature of reality.That’s why science is so tricky,and works best when a consensus of our subjective experiences is systematically combined to narrow down the finer details of objective reality.
    Objective reality is what it is,but subjective reality is the open question. I think that people confuse themselves by mixing up the two,and even refusing to accept that there actually is an objective reality.

  171. sonicon 24 May 2012 at 10:31 am

    Eric Thomson-
    The ‘Mary’ argument is an old one. I never could figure out how someone would think it a disproof of materialism.
    If the mind is congruent with brain states, then there isn’t really any ‘subjective’ state. It’s just that we don’t know how to read them yet—
    It would be like trying to disprove materialism because there is a language that we know is going on (chickens communicating) and then claiming it must be supernatural because we don’t know how to translate.
    But if we could translate the brain states– then no more subjectivity– right?

    I really am interested in the possibility of a ‘conscious’ machine.
    It seems if there is an algorithm for consciousness it might be implementable in that manner.
    Otherwise we are left with an emergent property of a living system that is unique to life and not available to non-life. Ouch…

    It seems a ‘self’ is conscious. We would need to create a self that would become conscious. At least this is the type of consciousness that would be of interest (It is possible that everything is conscious– but it is ‘selves that are conscious’ that are most interesting.) It would seem that ‘selves’ and ‘consciousness’ make for a type of feedback that allows them to continue. (A self can have an experience- and consciousness is altered by the history and desires of the self…)

    For example– I think that ‘understanding’ might be achieved when a certain threshold of connections is achieved. So to say “I understand” is to say “That concept is connected to enough other concepts that I have a feeling that it belongs,” which translates into “That many neural connections is the ‘feeling’ of ‘understanding’.

    This might be transferable to something other than a brain.

    Am I just nuts?

    Anyway– when is your book going to be done?
    If you need a proof reader…

    Mlema-
    It does seem odd that the only thing we know matters (consciousness) isn’t a necessary part of the universe we live in.
    What an extravagant universe we inhabit.

  172. Eric Thomsonon 24 May 2012 at 10:52 am

    Sonic I think there is something useful to the ‘translation’ analogy. However, I don’t think there is no subjective state. I think subjectivity exists, but is a complex neural state. That is, subjective conscious experiences are themselves brain processes. I will never stop seeing red just because I have a perfect neural theory of red experiences.

  173. ccbowerson 24 May 2012 at 11:08 am

    “Otherwise we are left with an emergent property of a living system that is unique to life and not available to non-life. Ouch…”

    Why does that hurt? I don’t have a problem with that possibility

  174. mufion 24 May 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Why does that hurt? I don’t have a problem with that possibility [emergence]

    Nor do I. It would be par for the course.

  175. sonicon 24 May 2012 at 2:42 pm

    eric-
    what I am saying is that the state is objective if another can know what it is by looking.
    That is not to say you won’t be able to see red– it’s just that anyone could tell that you are seeing red by looking at the proper scan.
    That is to say there would be no special ‘subjective’ state that isn’t objectively knowable.
    And if there aren’t any subjective states that aren’t objectively knowable– well then the argument falls apart.
    Otherwise the argument continues and one’s conclusions will be dependent on the premises one brings.
    I think JollyRancher makes that point…

    ccbowers- mufi-
    If the goal is to explain all life functions without needing ‘life’ to explain them, then the fact that the most important function that we can know (consciousness) would be available only to life- that seems problematic to me.
    Imagine the headline– “Only living things can be conscious agents– no non-living thing can do so.”
    Put that headline at the top of the New York Times and then try to explain how there is nothing ‘special’ about life that can’t be explained by physics.
    Good luck with that.

    BillyJoe7-
    (I’m messing with you here)–
    If there is no difference between life and non-life— then my consciousness will continue beyond my death– right? :-)

  176. ccbowerson 24 May 2012 at 3:27 pm

    “Good luck with that.”

    I’m not sure about this line of reasoning…appeal to satisfactory newspaper headline? It is only problematic the way that you are framing it. You keep differentiating between life and non-life and that itself is introducing another messy category. I do not have a problem with the idea that consciousness may only be possible through certain biological configurations, particularly certain arrangements of central nervous systems. I am also open to the idea that something like consciousness may be possible in ways that we cannot yet imagine. I do not care if that makes headlines difficult for the New York Times

  177. tmac57on 24 May 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Sonic-Are you troubled by the fact that the unique properties of water,are only available to water?

  178. BillyJoe7on 24 May 2012 at 5:45 pm

    sonic,

    (I’m messing with you here)–
    If there is no difference between life and non-life— then my consciousness will continue beyond my death– right? ”

    (stop messing with me)-
    I said that it is difficult to classify some things are alive or not alive. Are viruses alive? Prions?

    If you cannot definitely classify some things that exist now as definitely alive or definitely not alive, then it should not be difficult to see how, at some time in the past, life could have arisen from non-life. At the interface there is not much difference between the two. Non-life could easily have graduated into life. How many different ways do I need to say it?
    Yet you always seem to avoid arguing sensibly against this argument.

  179. Eric Thomsonon 25 May 2012 at 4:11 pm

    Note I haven’t forgotten the requests to do the story above with nonconscious scientists. It is harder than I thought it would be, will post eventually at philosophyofbrains.com if not just my ms. I have half of it written, but the hard half is taking me a long time forcing me to think it through more thoroughly. It will likely take a couple of weeks (minimum) of thinking to get there.

    I do have a day job, after all. :)

  180. Alastair F. Paisleyon 31 May 2012 at 12:36 am

    @ Steven Novella

    > Regarding the question – why are we not zombies, why is there qualia, etc. I don’t think we need an answer to this. There does not necessarily have to be an evolutionary advantage (that’s hyperadaptationalism).
    It could just be that vertebrate central nervous systems evolved that way as a solution to having behavior react to and adapt to the environment. Maybe a life form could have evolved to have similarly complex behavior without consciousness, but who cares. That doesn’t mean that consciousness would not evolve.
    I tend to think that consicousness, however, is not separable from the complex behavior we associate with it. Animals evolved to respond positively and negatively to stimuli. Over time the analysis of that stimuli and the response to it became very complex, and we experience that partly as our consciousness. Further, we needed some way to attend to the important part of all the information potentially coming in. How do you attend to some information and ignore other information without having something like consciousness. <

    The problem with materialists like yourself is that they presuppose dualism and refuse to acknowledge it as such. You're actually presupposing dualism because you're presupposing free will. This is made evident by your use of the term "attend."

    On the materialist view, consciousness is simply an epiphenomenon. As such, it is casually inert and cannot confer any survival benefit. Therefore you cannot furnish us with any plausible explanation why “organic robots WITH consciousness” were naturally selected over “organic robots WITHOUT consciousness.”

  181. Alastair F. Paisleyon 31 May 2012 at 12:40 am

    @ Steven Novella

    > Regarding the question – why are we not zombies, why is there qualia, etc. I don’t think we need an answer to this. There does not necessarily have to be an evolutionary advantage (that’s hyperadaptationalism). It could just be that vertebrate central nervous systems evolved that way as a solution to having behavior react to and adapt to the environment. Maybe a life form could have evolved to have similarly complex behavior without consciousness, but who cares. That doesn’t mean that consciousness would not evolve. I tend to think that consicousness, however, is not separable from the complex behavior we associate with it. Animals evolved to respond positively and negatively to stimuli. Over time the analysis of that stimuli and the response to it became very complex, and we experience that partly as our consciousness. <

    The term "complexity" is merely employed as a euphemism for magic. It explains nothing.

  182. rhombusofdoomon 31 May 2012 at 1:19 pm

    I think it’s pretty bizarre to assume a non-materialistic world view. Even if you believe in god, ghosts, leprechauns or telepathy.
    If god is standing to my left, and a ghost to my right, then something, someTHING, differentiates the space to my left from the space to my right. It may not be a form of matter we can even begin to imagine, but something is different. Nothing is “supernatural”. Nothing can exist without existing. And it’s not necessary, not even to fit god or demons into your belief system.
    Look at it another way: if I met god, and asked him what he is made of, how it is that he has his powers and omniscience etc (regardless of whether I could understand the answer), it’s pretty odd to think there wouldn’t be an answer.

    A materialistic world-view is to me obvious, and doesn’t automatically contradict or disprove whatever nonsense or woo one may want to believe in. So I think people arguing the opposite are just working with connotations and definitions that differ from reality.

    But that’s not to say I’m ok with the position that all of consciousness is just flesh and chemistry. _I_ exist, I am conscious, this is a real thing I experience (or else _I_ would not be experiencing it -I could THINK I was, but I wouldn’t be…if you see the difference, which you can’t – one can only be certain about their own consciousness). I can’t comprehend how this could be explained simply by particles moving around and bouncing into each other.
    However that I can’t comprehend it doesn’t make it so. Nevertheless there are too, too many odd questions to answer, that we haven’t even yet begun to understand how to answer, or even ask, that I can’t be quite as optimistic as Steven seems to be regarding our understanding of consciousness and implication that we’re getting there, on the right track, etc.

    I even sometimes feel that anyone who isn’t totally blown away by the questions of consciousness, and is happy to accept it as just some biological side-effect of complex computations, is maybe a P-Zombie, and simply has no experience of consciousness, or at least, not as I experience it.

  183. evilrobotxoxoon 31 May 2012 at 7:36 pm

    A couple of comments/questions from a neuroscientist who is vaguely familiar with basic philosophy of mind:

    1) regarding property dualism, it seems to me that it is an empirical matter whether property dualism and substance dualism are actually different positions. I understand that property dualists assert that they are, but that’s based on the premise that it is possible for a physical system to have nonphysical properties, and I’m not sure that’s possible. If it is, are there any examples? It seems to me that the burden of proof is on the property dualists to demonstrate that there are, or else I’m not convinced that they even have a separate position from substance dualists, i.e. ID is to creationism as property dualism is to substance dualism.

    2) the whole Mary seeing red argument and other related arguments seem to assume premises that are incompatible with the physicalist position. Physicalists believe that when a person sees a color, it is a physical process in which a physical particle strikes the retina, setting off more physical processes that lead to an experience that is also a physical process. In other words, experiencing red is when red photons physically hit you, setting off a chain reaction of physical events. Similarly, experiencing being shot is when a bullet physically hits you, setting off a chain reaction of physical events through pain-responsive neurons and etc. Nobody would argue that if Mary was the world’s best trauma surgeon and knew everything there is to know about gunshot wounds, that that means that a bullet would magically appear, lodged in her arm, causing her pain. But if Mary is a neuroscientist who’s never been hit by a red photon, that’s exactly what dualists argue. From a physicalist perspective, being hit by a bullet and being hit by a photon are in the same class of phenomena, so I don’t understand how the Mary argument can claim to disprove physicalism.

    I’m not an expert in these things, and I know they’re complicated. I’m open minded to the (likely) possibility that I’m wrong, but if I’m wrong, please explain it to me because no one else has so far.

  184. Alastair F. Paisleyon 12 Jun 2012 at 2:18 am

    @ evilrobotxoxo

    > 1) regarding property dualism, it seems to me that it is an empirical matter whether property dualism and substance dualism are actually different positions. I understand that property dualists assert that they are, but that’s based on the premise that it is possible for a physical system to have nonphysical properties, and I’m not sure that’s possible. <

    What are the physical properties of consciousness? If you can’t furnish me with any, then you qualify as a property dualist by default.

  185. Eric Thomsonon 18 Sep 2012 at 10:16 am

    Paisley: Experiences occur in time, have different rates of occurrence (e.g., flutter of different frequencies when being touched by my vibrating cell phone), and different intensities (just-above threshold tone versus deafeningly loud rock concert). To name three. William James pointed these things out against those 19th century thinkers who claimed that experiences have nothing in common with physical properties.

    What is the mass of a heartbeat, the temperature of bird flight? With consciousness too, we are dealing with complex system-level properties, which often don’t have transparent physical properties.

  186. Eric Thomsonon 18 Sep 2012 at 10:19 am

    For those who pressed me to do so in this thread, I have started to address the “Mary” type case in which she starts with zero consciousness knowledge:
    http://philosophyofbrains.com/2012/09/01/aliens-versus-materialists.aspx
    http://philosophyofbrains.com/2012/09/01/aliens-versus-materialists-part-ii.aspx

    It is a good one, and I’m glad people here pushed me to address it, as it is a case that has been on my back burner for some time.

  187. Eric Thomsonon 30 Sep 2013 at 10:40 pm

    Part III is up, and Part IV is written, to be posted in a week or so. I won’t clog Steven’s blog with a link to that final post. Thanks to Mlema for pushing this interesting direction, as it has helped me shore up what was one of my final remaining concerns for neuroscientific accounts of consciousness:
    http://philosophyofbrains.com/2013/09/30/aliens-versus-materialists-part-iii-phenomenal-concepts-to-the-rescue.aspx

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