How do you know you aren’t surrounded by zombies?
The question is harder to answer than you might think. Of course, it helps to know that, in philosophy, a zombie is something quite a bit different from the brain-eating monster we find in movies.
In this context “zombie” refers to someone who has all the physical traits of a person, including behavior patterns, but no consciousness. If you tell a zombie that she isn’t a thinking person, her face might flush, and she might scream at you, but it would all just be a mechanical reaction, there is actually no consciousness driving that behavior.
Consciousness is not something we can test for physically. We simply infer it from behavior patterns. But, if materialism is true, there is no reason to think that consciousness is really needed in order to control behavior. The complex patterns of electrons, as they bounce around the brain, is enough.
If that is the case, there’s no logical reason (again, if one is a materialist) to assume that other people have consciousness. Of course, (most) materialists do believe that other people are conscious. In general, they tend to say that consciousness just is the pattern of electrons–or that it arises naturally from those patterns.
But, unless one is willing to posit some kind of psychic property to electrons specifically, then this is the position that anything which had such a pattern would be conscious: rocks tied to springs, a system of gears and levers, or the nation of China sending each other text messages.
It seems absurd to say that such things would be conscious in the way that a human is, but that is precisely what one means if one is going to say that consciousness is nothing more than a pattern of electrons.
And there remains the fact that, unless we are willing to propose something outside the purview of science, there is no more reason to think that the people we see every day are conscious than a very complex system of rocks whacking one another.
One assumes that others are conscious because one experiences consciousness personally. We all know such a thing exists; we don’t need science to tell us that. As such, we find it very plausible to believe that creatures like us are conscious. This is particularly true given that the alternative is demanding scientific evidence for something that science can’t find in one’s self.
But, if one is willing to accept that other people have consciousness, then one has accepted that there are ways of knowing other than our physical senses. That being the case, it becomes very hard to understand why “show me physical evidence” is a reason to reject any of our non-physical perceptions (such as our moral sense) as valid paths to knowledge.
And this, of course, opens the door to several arguments for theism.
May 13th, 2013 at 5:21 pm
The fallacy of your thought here is that:
1 – you make assumptions equal to those you criticize the materialist for
2 – you make a strawman of materialist assumptions to attack
3 – you only consider the option of psychic phenomenon or something outside of science without considering that science just does not yet have an explanation.
In essence you are saying that because science does not have a complete answer your answer of “it’s magic” is and must be correct without any proof of your conclusion other than saying the opposition does not have the answer so your answer must be right. It is not and cannot be right until it is shown to be so. Attacking others does not make you right.
May 14th, 2013 at 6:58 am
Greetings once again.
And, to jump right in:
1: Which assumptions?
2: I completely agree that I’m generalizing (doing otherwise would require a book), but feel free to introduce any particular materialist position you feel needs to be better represented.
3: I feel that I have considered this option. I’ve written other posts about it, and touch on that idea even here (as I point out that consciousness is not something that can be evidenced physically).
So, no. I’m neither saying “it’s magic” nor am I defending what I am saying on the grounds that science does not currently have a complete answer.
Rather, I’m saying that science cannot, by definition, ever answer this question. It is properly called “the qualia problem”, and was also dubbed “the hard problem of consciousness” by David Chalmers. And it is, demonstrably, not a scientific question.
Moreover, if it is agreed that science hasn’t yet found a way to test for consciousness (even if one thinks it will someday be able to do this) already supports my main point. That is, that one must either reject consciousness as unsupported or agree that there are ways of knowing other than science.
Last, I’m not pressing a particular conclusion other than the falsehood of materialism here. Once it is agreed that there is more to reality than the material, it would be a separate set of arguments to determine what that “more” might be.
May 14th, 2013 at 8:56 am
“Consciousness is not something we can test for physically.”
This is an unproven statement. It is more correct to say that we do not currently have a method for testing for consciousness … unless you consider this article and its implications: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2012/detecting-consciousness-with-brain-waves-1105.html If we can determine when unconsciousness has been achieved, we will be able to determine when consciousness is present.
“We simply infer it from behavior patterns.”
This is not so. See the answer/link above. Consciousness or lack of it can be measured. That you don’t know how to measure consciousness or detect it with science does not mean that it cannot be done.
There you have your strawman set up, ready to go.
“But, if materialism is true, there is no reason to think that consciousness is really needed in order to control behavior. The complex patterns of electrons, as they bounce around the brain, is enough.”
Here you simply must be assuming that consciousness is not the emergent effect of complex patterns of electrons ‘bouncing around the brain’ as you so eloquently put it. I presume this is sarcasm and that you have at least some idea of the recent discoveries in neuroscience. This is the final set up for your strawman argument because you have intimated that consciousness is NOT part of the physical world. This is an unsupported statement and just about every new discovery in neuroscience bears out the idea that consciousness is the emergent phenomenon of brain activity. Further, science has shown that consciousness does not occur without a brain that is functional, thus strongly linking the two as inseparable.
So lets go on and visit your other missteps:
“If that is the case, there’s no logical reason (again, if one is a materialist) to assume that other people have consciousness.”
Using this logic, there is no ‘logical reason’ to think that anything we observe is actually like any similar thing we have observed. The laws of physics tell us that when things behave/appear/are constituted of the same things that they are similar if not identical. When we see a computer we assume it is a computer because that is what it is except in some case where someone has turned it into something else. Computers do not have a habit nor even one documented case of evidence that they arbitrarily become something other than a computer. Using such deductive rules we can conclude that unless something very strange is happening, other humans are conscious just as we ourselves are.
“Of course, (most) materialists do believe that other people are conscious. In general, they tend to say that consciousness just is the pattern of electrons–or that it arises naturally from those patterns.”
Talking like this is not true requires that you have some support for it rather than dismiss it disparagingly, as if it could not be true and correct.
“But, unless one is willing to posit some kind of psychic property to electrons specifically, then this is the position that anything which had such a pattern would be conscious: rocks tied to springs, a system of gears and levers, or the nation of China sending each other text messages.”
Now the strawman: because you don’t think consciousness is an emergent property of the brain and have already ‘defined’ it as untestable so not in the physical world, so clearly ANYTHING which appears to behave as if it is conscious must be conscious or the only other possible option is that consciousness is magic or not testable or both. Further, the only way you allow for this to be true is if electrons have psychic properties. You’d not make a good scientist as you’re declaring limits rather than testing to see what the results are. You are drawing conclusions from wrong and very questionable premises, conclusions that are without support and then you try to build on them. Your argument is wrong from the beginning… and subsequently all the way through.
“But, if one is willing to accept that other people have consciousness, then one has accepted that there are ways of knowing other than our physical senses. That being the case, it becomes very hard to understand why “show me physical evidence” is a reason to reject any of our non-physical perceptions (such as our moral sense) as valid paths to knowledge.”
Here we have it, I have not supported the argument that there are ways of knowing outside our physical senses, you used a strawman for that. Then you go on to try to support some silly notion about moral senses as a valid path to knowledge. Of course you have not defined moral sense, nor should you want to because your argument here depends on things being untestable, unmeasurable and thus valid no matter how you describe them. Because you think it cannot be tested that you can declare it to be whatever you ‘think’ it is and further that it is a valid method of knowing. Having said all this you can’t show that ‘a moral sense’ or whatever it is actually allows us to know anything. You’re just making a failed attempt to justify blind faith without evidence as a preface for declaring revealed wisdom as valid and superior to testable scientific knowledge. Well, you started off being wrong and finished that way. Very wrong.
Arguing from ignorance is futile.
Creating strawmen is fallacious.
Asserting something without evidence to prove yet another something without evidence is not valid.
Do all of this willingly would appear to violate one of those moral sense laws Christians are fond of talking about.
May 14th, 2013 at 4:22 pm
It is more correct to say that we do not currently have a method for testing for consciousness
This is key to the discussion, but I did give an argument for that end. Whatever that method may be, it cannot, by definition, be scientific.
This is not so. See the answer/link above. Consciousness or lack of it can be measured. That you don’t know how to measure consciousness or detect it with science does not mean that it cannot be done.
Whether or not this could be called a behavior pattern, it is still an inference that presumes consciousness. Brain wave patterns don’t reveal consciousness. Rather, scientists simply correlate them with consciousness (that they have inferred from behavior patterns).
More directly–how do scientists know which particular brain states signal consciousness? Isn’t it from noting the behavior of test subjects while monitoring brain states?
Here you simply must be assuming that consciousness is not the emergent effect of complex patterns of electrons ‘bouncing around the brain’ as you so eloquently put it.
I specifically gave an argument to that end. To further that point, are you of the opinion that anything moving in such a pattern is conscious, or must it be electrons?
just about every new discovery in neuroscience bears out the idea that consciousness is the emergent phenomenon of brain activity.
I’m aware of no discovery of the idea that consciousness is purely physical.
I’d say that it is likely that there are physical requirements for human consciousness, but that is not the same as saying that the physical is all that is needed. This is the difference between “necessary” and “sufficient”.
Further, science has shown that consciousness does not occur without a brain that is functional, thus strongly linking the two as inseparable.
When did science show this?
Specifically, what experiment did this without inferring consciousness from behavior patterns?
Using this logic, there is no ‘logical reason’ to think that anything we observe is actually like any similar thing we have observed.
Not at all. The reason to think one is conscious has nothing to do with physical observations. To infer consciousness from the physical is to assume the non-physical without tangible demonstration, which is what nearly every materialist I’ve ever encountered has called anathema to materialism.
Now the strawman: because you don’t think consciousness is an emergent property of the brain and have already ‘defined’ it as untestable so not in the physical world, so clearly ANYTHING which appears to behave as if it is conscious must be conscious or the only other possible option is that consciousness is magic or not testable or both.
If you plan to continue to use the term “strawman” as often as you have, you need to be careful to avoid misrepresenting my argument. I never insisted on this false dichotomy. I did not mention magic. Nor did I speak about “anything which appears to behave as if it is conscious”. Please argue against the claims I actually make.
What I spoke of was any substance which moved in the same pattern as electrons follow in a brain. Would you call such a thing conscious? If not, what is the difference between this and brain activity?
You’d not make a good scientist as you’re declaring limits rather than testing to see what the results are.
Whether or not I’m a good scientist is irrelevant to this discussion. I’m discussing philosophy of mind. And anyone who feels that this vindicates the idea that science can test for the mind is not doing good philosophy.
That is the pertinent subject.
Here we have it, I have not supported the argument that there are ways of knowing outside our physical senses, you used a strawman for that.
Apologies if it came across as accusing to you. I definitely did not mean to say that this was your position.
Rather, I meant to say that this is the position of materialism (which is true).
Then you go on to try to support some silly notion about moral senses as a valid path to knowledge.
I’d say that this is a strawman.
I didn’t say this supported the notion. I claimed that the view that the physical senses were the sole source of knowledge is not a valid refutation of moral sense.
As you aren’t defending that idea, it seems that we don’t have a disagreement on this point.
Of course you have not defined moral sense, nor should you want to because your argument here depends on things being untestable, unmeasurable and thus valid no matter how you describe them.
I honestly have no idea where you got this impression. I’ve never claimed any of these things. I’ve specifically been talking about forms of testing and knowing.
This is a very deep misrepresentation of my claims.
Having said all this you can’t show that ‘a moral sense’ or whatever it is actually allows us to know anything.
I wasn’t interested in doing this.
What I was showing is that materialism cannot account for consciousness, which is true. There isn’t some other thing that I’m “really” getting at here. That would be beyond the scope of this argument.
You’re just making a failed attempt to justify blind faith without evidence as a preface for declaring revealed wisdom as valid and superior to testable scientific knowledge.
This keeps getting more bold in its speculation about what I’m “really” doing.
To repeat, I am arguing that materialism cannot account for consciousness. You are free to disagree, of course, but deal with that argument. This is vastly beyond anything I’ve said here.
Arguing from ignorance is futile.
Creating strawmen is fallacious.
I agree. I’ll be careful to avoid these things; please do the same by addressing the argument as I’ve actually made it.
Asserting something without evidence to prove yet another something without evidence is not valid.
I asserted nothing without evidence. There are volumes of evidence about the philosophical and methodological boundaries of science. This is evidence.
Nor am I attempting to prove “another something”. This is simply speculation about what I’m doing. I had no intention of that.
So, just to be absolutely clear: my position is that materialism cannot account for consciousness (no matter how much neuroscience learns) because the actual experience of consciousness is simply inferred (even in neuroscientific studies) from behavior.
I’m not adding anything like a “therefore X exists” to the end of that. I’m adding a “therefore, we ought to move on to thinking about what other view of life might better account for the ‘data’ of consciousness”. I’m not here making any suggestion at all as to what that view might be.
May 14th, 2013 at 4:40 pm
Lets start back at the beginning: define consciousness for us, then we’ll have a conversation.
May 15th, 2013 at 7:17 am
I tend to think of consciousness as a state of awareness. That is, having a first person perspective. Such a perspective, as far as I can tell, includes thoughts and emotions.
My basic point is not that there is currently no scientific test for such a thing. Rather, it is that there cannot, even in principle, be such a test.
As consciousness is a non-physical trait (whether or not it is dependent on physical states) that cannot be mathematically modeled, it would contradict the scientific method to test for it (thus, other means must be used). Neurobiologists must simply assume such a thing exists in order to run their tests.
May 15th, 2013 at 9:51 am
What is that state of awareness?
You seem unwilling to define consciousness, or unwilling to try. If you won’t or can’t define it, it’s a bit hard to test for it or understand it.
The color red is a non-physical thing and science determined a way to test for red.
Your posturing here makes it seem likely that you don’t want to understand consciousness. You are making truth claims about it, but the claims you make are that it is non-physical and further that it cannot be modeled. How do you know this? You stated this as certainty. As far as I can see here you have no support for such claims. I’ve pointed to the support for reason to seriously doubt your claims or even to think them flatly invalid.
If you’re just looking for ways to continue thinking conscisouness is magic, you won’t find them coming from me. The ‘I’ behind your eyes can be measured and will someday soon.
May 15th, 2013 at 6:13 pm
I’m perfectly happy to define consciousness. If you also want me to define awareness, I’d say that it is a having knowledge or perception.
If you’d like me to now define knowledge and perception, let me know. But, personally, I think we all have a basic understanding of what consciousness is.
As to the color red, this is an excellent example. Science only tests for it insofar as it is physical. That is, it studies the wavelengths of light.
However, red as common sense thinks of it is considered, in the modern era to be a subjective impression. That is, it is seen as being part of the mind, rather than part of objects that we normally call red.
This is fine, but notice what is going on here. The mind is being used as something of a dumping bin for everything that can’t be tested by science. If it is not measurable, so this thinking goes, it must be subjective (and, therefore, mental). The mind is, largely, the collection of things that science can’t study.
It is obvious, then, why science can’t study the mind using the same method. It was this approach that created the problem of the mind in the first place.
This is formally known as “the qualia problem”. It is not that science does not currently have a method for studying the sensation of red as it appears to us (or other subjective things), it is that we call things subjective precisely because science can’t study them.
Your posturing here makes it seem likely that you don’t want to understand consciousness.
Of course I want to understand consciousness; this seems highly speculative at best.
Still, my mentality is not the issue. Even if I were irrationally committed to the idea that we not understand consciousness, this wouldn’t make my arguments false.
Nor does wanting to understand consciousness vindicate the claim that science will be able to do so.
I feel that, if we’re going to have to understand consciousness, we need to look into consciousness, and not simply defer the matter to a method of study which (however amazing in other areas) is not suited to understanding consciousness at all.
If you’re just looking for ways to continue thinking conscisouness is magic
This is another strawman. Again, please be careful to argue against the claims I’ve actually made.
Okay, apologies for the length. But I hope that the explanation made the position more clear than it otherwise would have been.
Best to you.
May 16th, 2013 at 9:56 am
“to define awareness, I’d say that it is a having knowledge or perception.”
This is a good start, yet it begs a definition for knowledge and perception. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perception for some discussion on perception. I will say that knowledge is stored or not ‘being acquired right now’ perceptions.
“… personally, I think we all have a basic understanding of what consciousness is.”
I’d say you are wrong. From Wikipedia:
Consciousness—The having of perceptions, thoughts, and feelings; awareness. The term is impossible to define except in terms that are unintelligible without a grasp of what consciousness means. Many fall into the trap of equating consciousness with self-consciousness—to be conscious it is only necessary to be aware of the external world. Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon: it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it has evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written on it.
“As to the color red, this is an excellent example. Science only tests for it insofar as it is physical. That is, it studies the wavelengths of light.”
This is probelmatic in that apple is just a label we give to the combined aspects of a fruit. Red is the label for the singular aspect of light that we can detect in a given frequency range. Apple and red are labels, not impressions. All labels are used to refer to objects in our minds, as shortcuts to the long description of an object. The experience of detecting the wavelengths of light we label as red has one basic aspect – what we call color. Objects like apples have more than one aspect: shape, size, texture, color and so on. It is important to keep consistent understanding. Red is a label, apple is a label.
“This is fine, but notice what is going on here. The mind is being used as something of a dumping bin for everything that can’t be tested by science. If it is not measurable, so this thinking goes, it must be subjective (and, therefore, mental). The mind is, largely, the collection of things that science can’t study.”
This is true only when you muddle things up and do not apply consistent and scientific exploration of things. The mind is not a dumping ground, it _IS_ where these labels are applied and used. They convey to another person the aspects of an object being described. When I talk to you of a green apple, you can see a picture of it in your mind’s eye. Green is no different than red because it is a label for a different set of visible light wavelengths. The question then is why do we think in terms of aspects of an object or thing? Red, tall, fat, thick, see-through are all aspects which properly function only when seen as an aspect or property of an object rather than objects themselves.
“This is formally known as “the qualia problem”. It is not that science does not currently have a method for studying the sensation of red as it appears to us (or other subjective things), it is that we call things subjective precisely because science can’t study them.”
You appear to be making the same mistake that has always been made throughout history as much as I can tell so far. You do not seem to consider what it is to be conscious or try to do so without exploring the very idea that what you’re thinking and experiencing is merely symbolic of what is real. That is to say that all our thoughts and communication are symbolic in nature and not real. Even your thoughts about thinking are symbol oriented. Remember that part.
Consider that all the suggested thought on theory of mind or existence is right in some way. There is a way to see it all that explains all the disparate views. Consciousness is a simulation of the world around us. We live in that simulation. It runs in our brains. We experience nothing except through that simulation. The label red allows us to apply an attribute to some object being modeled in that simulation. Our physical senses inform the rules and aspects of objects in that simulation. All of your thoughts are made of symbols, labels, and objects within that simulation. When you find some ‘thing’ that cannot be represented as an object in that simulation, you think it cannot be investigated by science, that it is impossible to study it with science and therefore must be investigated otherwise. There are many things which science investigates indirectly by looking at effects of or change in surrounding objects etc. In this way science can investigate thought, emotions, feelings, and ‘qualia’. I do not believe that it is a hard problem, unless you want to unfailingly keep investigating in the same ways. Science does not require that we do that.
An aspect by itself cannot be represented in the brains simulation of the world around us. Our simulation rules require that properties be applied to objects, so such properties cannot by themselves be represented in the brain’s simulation of the world around us. You can’t have a bucket of red, though you can have a bucket of red paint. We think and communicate in symbols so that our brains can use thier rules of simulation to apply the descriptive ‘thoughts’ to the internal simulation running in our brains. If I had to describe every fiber of a sofa to tell you I was sitting on it, we’d starve to death deciding what we want for dinner. The problem of qualia is a misdirection in thought. It’s not a problem at all when you see qualia as properties of objects in the simulation in our heads.
Yes, that’s a lot to digest and I’ve tried to keep it short. This means that subjective thought is that which is not directly informed by sources external to our brains. The concept of red is not subjective. The effect of our thought and considerations can be tested and observed. Science can see brain activity in varying ways. Consciousness can be tested for, and with effort, can be interpreted by science in an objective way even if the observed function of the brain was subjective.
So take a couple of minutes to think about this. When you do you will be lead to ask “what then is doing the thinking?” As our brains analyze the incoming data and stored data, they become aware that they are doing so. No, seriously, keep thinking about it. All of your thinking is about modeling the real world inside the simulation in your head. Consciousness is the awareness that you are doing this… even if you don’t know exactly what you are doing because you are doing it at a symbolic level.
Sorry… maybe. A long reply … again.
May 16th, 2013 at 8:33 pm
If you mean to say that it is very difficult to nail down in completely precise language what consciousness is, I agree. I’d also agree if you made this same claim about time, matter, energy, or space.
Personally, I’m very interested in the nature of consciousness, and continue to read on it. However, that would take us wildly off topic (for a book’s length of writing). And, so far, I’m not aware of any definitional issue that effects the claims I’ve made.
The experience of detecting the wavelengths of light we label as red has one basic aspect – what we call color.
Yes. And it is that experience that cannot be mathematically modeled–or tested physically. It is subjective and, therefore, not under the purview of science.
The mind is not a dumping ground, it _IS_ where these labels are applied and used.
This doesn’t affect my point. Whether or not these things have been “dumped” or are there naturally, the fact remains that they are subjective. They are not things that science can analyze, specifically because of their subjectivity.
Green is no different than red because it is a label for a different set of visible light wavelengths.
Green is not, in common usage at least, a label for wavelengths of light. Rather, the term is a label for our first-person, subjective experience of seeing a certain wavelength of light.
This is a different thing.
You do not seem to consider what it is to be conscious or try to do so without exploring the very idea that what you’re thinking and experiencing is merely symbolic of what is real.
I can say that I’ve considered that idea, but I don’t find it convincing.
I actually would agree if we removed the word “merely” from this statement. Of course thoughts are representations of external realities, but to say that they are only symbols is to say that thoughts aren’t themselves real things, which is incorrect. Rather, they are real things that are about other things.
That being the case, none of this solves the qualia problem. And I’m not convinced it would anyway. After all, none of this explains the parts of these experiences that differ from what science tells us about the events they report.
Consciousness is a simulation of the world around us.
I’d (mostly) agree. My contention is that a simulation is, itself, a real thing.
When you find some ‘thing’ that cannot be represented as an object in that simulation, you think it cannot be investigated by science
Wait, I think we’ve gotten off track here.
I’m referring specifically to things that can be represented in “that simulation”, but which cannot be mathematically modeled.
Thus, this seems to be almost exactly the opposite of my position.
There are many things which science investigates indirectly by looking at effects of or change in surrounding objects etc.
This has never been in dispute.
Rather, what is in dispute is the idea that science can investigate all things. I’ve made the case that there is good reason to think that science does not investigate the subjective (as an example); this is not a refutation of that case.
In this way science can investigate thought, emotions, feelings, and ‘qualia’.
I don’t see any logical path from “science can investigate some things indirectly” to “science can investigate qualia indirectly”. That strikes me as the division fallacy.
The problem of qualia is a misdirection in thought. It’s not a problem at all when you see qualia as properties of objects in the simulation in our heads.
I don’t take issue with this view of qualia, but it is not an answer to the problem.
This is because the “objects in the simulation in our heads” seem to have “properties” that science can’t find, and isn’t designed to look for.
As a rule, science doesn’t look at the objects in our heads. That is not its job. Rather, it looks at objects in the physical world. So, if it turns out that internal objects have properties that science eliminated from the physical world, then these are properties it cannot study.
The concept of red is not subjective.
I agree that the concept is not, but the experience of seeing color is subjective.
The effect of our thought and considerations can be tested and observed.
The physical effects can be, yes. But this is a far cry from saying that qualia have been explained scientifically. Rather, this is simply the position I offered earlier: that science studies behavior, but does not study thought or emotion.
Consciousness can be tested for, and with effort, can be interpreted by science in an objective way even if the observed function of the brain was subjective.
Science doesn’t actually interpret anything. Scientists do.
The reason I mention this is that it takes a scientist willing to draw on his/her own subjective experience to explain a subjective experience. Simply reading off the data will not do.
No amount of scientific knowledge (including knowledge of neuroscience) will allow a blind person to know what color looks like to a sighted person. That experience is not something science discusses.
So take a couple of minutes to think about this.
This implies that I haven’t already spent quite a bit of time already thinking about this particular position.
So, for the record, I have already done this.
even if you don’t know exactly what you are doing because you are doing it at a symbolic level.
Whether or not thoughts symbolize other things, there still must be something to do the symbolizing. That is there must still be thoughts.
Thus, we can’t say that they are “merely” symbols. A symbol is a property, no less than color, and must, therefore, be a property of something.
Hence, thoughts are something that must be taken as more than symbols of the outside world, but something else which has properties.
And some of these properties are things science cannot, by definition, investigate.
Okay, done at last.
Best to you.
May 19th, 2013 at 11:34 am
Point for point is useful many times, but here I’ll just try summary style to cut the size a bit. Forgive if I don’t quote you.
The ‘science’ of mind is imprecise for exactly the reason that it is still a mystery. I feel that most are afraid to admit the simple truth that mind is the emergent property of a ‘computer’ analyzing how it analyzes already analyzed data. This necessarily distorts the hard and easy problems into separate psuedo-domains.
The ‘red’ problem shows us that it is not intuitive on how to explain ‘experience’ among others. Stated simply (and I do mean simply), it is the process of analyzing the meta data of analysis of what data has been acquired.
This begs the question of what experiences that last analysis? That’s a good question. There is a part of the analysis machine that analyzes how we analyze other data. All the many layers of analysis feed back on each other until we often can’t tell them apart. We certainly don’t communicate in significant ways that highlight the different layers, but you can detect them if you try.
It is not the qualia that can be objectively analyzed, but the manner in which we analyze qualia that can be. Bad analogy: When we measure current, we do not measure the spin of electrons but merely the effect of electrons passing through a point of a conductor. To know that the meter works correctly we do not have to measure exactly the spin of electrons it measured or even how the meter ‘perceived’ the electrons. The analysis of qualia which arrives at a nominal/average value indicates strongly that the analyzer has similar processes to analyze the qualia. If an apple looks slightly darker in hue to you than to me, it is not important. We both assessed red as red. This is important knowledge along with the fact that we can both compare this to a 3rd or 4th qualia preception source to see where our subjective differences are in order to find a mean value. This tells us that one of us might be color blind or other details about the qualia sensing mechanism’s we have. Again, it’s not that we experience red of a specific wavelength of light, its that we both experience it. This is external qualia. The experience of red is immutably entangled with both the physical parts and our biological parts.
In our brains we both experience a qualia. We both label it red. These are the physical parts of the problem. Internal to our minds red is associated with different things, different other qualia. Someone working at Target (red is the only color they use) would have a different analysis of the color red than you or I. The act of ‘experiencing’ red necessarily causes our brains to bring up stored data about red, things that are red, experiences that happened around red and so on. The perception of red is nearly identical for all. The resultant analysis is not. The perception and analysis IS the experience of red. It is not possible to experience red without the analysis of the perception of red and all other related data available to us. This is what our brains do.
By the time your brain has ‘perceived’ red, it has reduced the physical inputs to data. Bits and bytes etc. When you ‘experience’ red it is the act of analyzing the data that represents the sensory input of the wavelength of light that we have labeled as red. We never directly ‘experience’ red or any qualia of the physical world. What experience is then is the analysis of the data that represents the external world and all its aspects.
Thoughts and experience are the same things internally to the brain. Physically they use the same hardware and algorithms. When the input data to the ‘experience’ engine is from external sensory sources, it is ‘experience’ and when it is from internal sources (our own brain) it is thought. When we mix the two it is thinking. To demonstrate: Think of a zoo full of animals that you have never seen before, that no human has ever seen before. How many of those animals were original and NOT based on anything you ever acquired information about (even fictional animals from stories etc). Try to imagine the unimaginable. The rules that you have built into your brain simulation of the world cannot easily make up new stuff. This is the source for the argument from ignorance. Thought is based on the rules that we have acquired and built into our simulation of the world. Thought is running that simulation without strict adherence to external world rules or even any external world rules. The rules, however, are based on what we learn from the real external world.
Analyze sensory data. Analyze the meta data from that. Analyze the meta data from that. Analyze how you analyzed the meta data. Analyze how you analyzed your analysis. Somewhere in the recursive analysis you become self aware. Lots of accessible and highly refrenced historical data helps.
We think we can understand how perception of the external world is modeled and how it can be represented mathmatically. Thought is the same process. Analysis of that thought brings more focus on one aspect or another.
What then is ‘analysis’ that I’m talking about? How do we analyze the data we acquire? The answer is that we do it the same way as all other animals. We check the available data and run all of it through comparisons to what we know already to see if it fits or needs more ‘analysis’ to find patterns that it does match. Where there is no match we store a new pattern and give it a label/symbol/weighting etc.
We have a bit of reasoning/software if you want to think of it that way, where we look for meta pattern matches and this done in many layers. The weighting of any pattern match can heavily influence or count more strongly in other pattern matches depending on physical inputs. Hormones have an often detrimental influence, as does hunger and so on. Things like thyroidism and sleep deprivation can interrupt normal bodily inputs and unbalance the pattern matching. Physical defects in the body/brain can permanently alter the pattern matching machinery causing many ‘psychological’ disorders. The pattern matching layers, at different point, have outputs that send signals to our body to perform this function or that.
None of this is impossible nor improbable and testing for it is being done. Behaviors indicate physical maladies/conditions, this is common sense. The part which makes us individuals is at the top of the heap of pattern matching. It’s the part that shuts off when we sleep, when we are unconscious. The brain still functions at a level which will avoid death for as long as possible. If you think carefully enough you’ll be able to see that you have trying to match patterns the entirety of this written conversation. You do it for everything. The top layers (consciousness) is able to import problem sets/simulations from abstract things. Imagine you are tech support and get a call where the user says the printer is not working: analyze your thoughts as you recieve that problem and what your brain does to solve it. Now to build the long chain, analyze why you do this job, what it might mean to you and find the ultimate reason that you go to work every day. How much of that is about feeding yourself and your family, spending time seeking pleasures, avoiding pain. The complex analysis of large data sets to arrive at postivie outcomes on these pattern – your life against patterns of suitable lives – and you can see that our actions are all driven by pattern machines. Consciousness is the ability to do complex analysis of problem sets/patterns which are not linked to your bodily functions.
A thought is just pattern matching on that whose input data/criteria was assumed or pieced together from two or more other pattern matches which seem unrelated. An incomplete problem set in which you are pattern matching across all that you know or have memories of.
Emotion: when lower layers of pattern matching get heavy weighting and pattern matches cause output to the body, there is vascilating feedback patterns in the machinery which distort other pattern matching processes. Depression, anger, happiness, joy, grief… all distort the pattern matching processes.
Soon, science will have more information about the structure of the neurons in our brains and how specific drugs/injuries/maladies can affect behaviors and vice versa. Yes, there is structure to the neurons in our heads. Structure implies machine like processes and that each brain is not a unique snowflake but rather a inexact copy of the parents brains. This is why we see some dog breeds with certain behaviors and others not etc.
What you would like to be out of the physical world truly is not. Nuclear power was impossible until it wasn’t. My thoughts here are not conceived in a vacuum. All that I read and learn helps shape what I think is the most realistic match. Nothing that comes with credibility suggests that consciousness is found in anything outside of a brain. Dualism loses the plot by not thinking about what we are thinking with or how we might be thinking it and assumes that it is some kind of magic. It’s not. We are meat machines. Try to think of something that is absolutely unrelated to anything you’ve ever thought, heard, learned about, seen etc… Think of something that is so different that it cannot be concieved of coming from what you already know, or being built from little bits you know about, like a Lego model.
When you decide that you can’t think of what has not already entered your mind or something based upon such things, you’ll be able to see that thoughts are simply pattern matching activities we use to work to achieve better outcomes for existent problem sets. The more information that we have the more likely we are to have more productive thoughts.
==No amount of scientific knowledge (including knowledge of neuroscience) will allow a blind person to know what color looks like to a sighted person. That experience is not something science discusses.==
Ahh, but it can. Just as you do not know what it is like to experience infrared lightwaves, the blind person cannot see lightwaves that you do. To want them to experience this is to want to be able to see infrared. Their simulation does not have those symbols or aspects. Lets find some data on fMRI where blind people’s reaction to words about color is compared to those of sighted people. Turn around and look at the results of asking each about the ‘sound’ of spring or some such. What you’re trying to do here is compare apples and oranges. Once the simulation is built, the machinery does not compare between brains with differing senses.
==Hence, thoughts are something that must be taken as more than symbols of the outside world, but something else which has properties.==
Thoughts are simulations in and of themselves. We switch simulations depending on the problem needing resolution at the time. This context switch is how a smell or sound can ‘take us back’ to when we were young or visiting a friends house or what have you. The exact mechanism of context switching is instantiated by perception and subsequent analysis. Strongly weighted memory groups will be revived from analysis of some sensory data and the group can instantiate the context switch in a partial mode or even complete mode. PTSD folk have this problem in spades.
That should be enough for now.
This has been good so far.
May 20th, 2013 at 4:45 pm
This is impressive.
Let me see if I can respond to the heart of things…
I think I understand your position: that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain, which operates analogously to a computer. My problem with this isn’t that it doesn’t make sense in itself, but that it contradicts materialism.
That is, materialism is the position that matter, as it is understood in the sciences, is the only thing which exists. Under this view, matter has no capacity to bring consciousness about–even as an emergent property, because this would be an affirmation of something other than matter, so defined.
I’ve always liked this quotation from Schrödinger:
“Even if one knew all the variables of a physical system, their values at one time or at all times, and the equations governing them, there would be no way to derive from that information anything about whether the system in question was conscious, was feeling anything, or was having subjective experiences of any sort.
Of course, we sometimes infer from its physically observable behavior that a being has feelings. When my dog begs for a strip of bacon, I know it’s because he enjoys the taste. But that conclusion is based on an analogy between the dog’s reactions and mine, not on a mathematical or logical derivation from physical facts.”
Matter, as science understands it, simply doesn’t allow for subjective experience, meaning that (if one agrees that subjective experience exists) there is more to reality than what science studies.
Of course, one could take a different view of matter, or propose something other than matter. What one cannot do, however, is reasonably claim that thoughts are material as modern people understand the term “material”.
If an apple looks slightly darker in hue to you than to me, it is not important.
It’s definitely not important for the purposes of most conversations, but, if it is a fact that can’t be explained physically, it is a reason to think that not all facts can be explained physically.
And that conclusion has very important consequences.
But I do agree that there is much in our mind that is analyzing things mathematically. However, what it is that is being analyzed is not mathematical. That is simply being put into the equation. What that something else is, in the case of mind, cannot be matter as physics defines it.
What you would like to be out of the physical world truly is not.
I didn’t see an argument for this.
I saw a very interesting elaboration on how a physical process of mind might work. And, setting aside my reasons why I think this does not explain qualia, it is not a defense of materialism.
That is, it seems a rather unwarranted assumption to say that materialism is true until shown to be false. I’d definitely like to see a positive argument for it.
Nuclear power was impossible until it wasn’t.
Nuclear power is, demonstrably, a physical thing.
A quale is, demonstrably, a non-physical thing.
And I cannot stress enough that the comparisons between dualism and magic are strawmen. The idea that “physical” and “magic” are the only options is precisely what the dualist rejects. To make this argument, then, is to beg the question in favor of materialism.
When you decide that you can’t think of what has not already entered your mind or something based upon such things, you’ll be able to see that thoughts are simply pattern matching activities
Nothing I’ve said contradicts the idea that thoughts are pattern matching activities.
Just as you do not know what it is like to experience infrared lightwaves, the blind person cannot see lightwaves that you do. To want them to experience this is to want to be able to see infrared.
This has nothing to do with “want’. It has to do with reality. Whether or not it is a good thing, or worth wanting, or important to you and I, it is a fact. No amount of scientific knowledge will show a blind person what it is like to see.
Or, if you want to use your analogy, no amount of scientific knowledge will show me what it is like to see infrared light.
And that is my point, not that I particularly want to see infrared light, but that this is something outside the purview of science. That being the case, materialism’s claim is incorrect.
Beyond that, I do think the “China-head” objection to this view of consciousness is a strong one.
It can be summarized in this question: If the population of China were sending one another electronic text messages in the same pattern as the neurons interact with one another in the brain, would that series of messages be conscious?
If not, then we need an explanation as to why composing the same pattern with neurons is significantly different enough for consciousness to hang on the difference.
Okay, those are the thoughts for the moment.
But I’m inspired to read some more on the subject–thank you for that.
May 14th, 2013 at 2:44 am
If anyone’s a philosophical zombie, it’s Rob Zombie.
May 14th, 2013 at 6:46 am