Sunday, June 04, 2017

Mind is Not Reducible to Brain. (part 1)



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            This topic is of great importance for believers in God because it encompasses almost every facet of the territory upon which the battle over belief is fought. It impinges upon what one believes about the ability to be good or to refuse sin, the freedom of belief vs. the view that belief is just a side effect of bad psychology, the nature of religious experience and its veracity, even the after life. This topic should be of great importance to non believers as well as it impinges upon our ability to understand ourselves as free agents capable of governing ourselves, and as individuals who would seek the meaning of our lives and the expression of self in art. I suspect also that the determinist/reductionist view point encourages atheists in their materialism and rejection of the soul.


Brain/Mind


            Ideological and philosophical types of reductionism seek to reduce human consciousness to a level of side effect produced by brain chemistry; to do this reductionsts will lose the phenomena that describe an irreducible consciousness. This is done by employing the standard reductionist tricks of re-labeling, re-describing, and bait and switch. The bait and switch is primarily a replacement of consciousness with brain function. Phenomenoloigcally consciousness might be thought of as the awareness of self, others, nuance, place, time, ambiance, and the feel of perception. In place of this the reductionist places the way the brain functions, and puts it over as consciousness. The reductionst, assumes there is nothing to consciousness that is not produced by the physical apparatus of the brain. This just puts in place the outgrowth of the physical apparatus minus the aspects of consciousness the consciousness supporters talk about then points to those brain function aspects as proof that this is all there is; after all this is consciousness. Whereas in fact all they are doing is removing consciousness and pointing to the aspects they want to support as proof because those are the aspects they can get at through their methods. This is something like a prosecutor at a trial replacing the evidence with his own briefs then saying “well see the evidence is so in line with my briefs that it proves my case.”
            The debate about consciousness stacks believers in unique irreducible nature of human consciousness against those who think that consciousness can be reduced to mere brain chemistry. This is not an issue of theism vs atheism; major positions allied against the reductionism are also materialist positions, as well as God-believing positions. On the side of the mind are materialists such as property dualists, Functionalists and supervenience theorists. Property dualists are often mistaken for theists by the term “dualist,” yet they are not true dualists they don’t believe there are two levels of reality but that each property can have dual aspects. Functionalists hold that mental states are functional states but mental properties cannot be identified with mental biological properties. Supervenience says that mental life correlates with physical body.[1]
            Perhaps the major source for this kind of reductionism where brain/mind is concerned is the now classic work Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennett.[2]Dennett is a master of the bait and switch, using a vast amount of data about all sorts phenomena based studies dealing with brain function, all the while asserting that it’s explaining consciousness with which he does not even deal. I urge the reader to see the article by my friend Lantz Miller who wrote it for the academic journal that I once published; Negations: an Interdisciplinary Journal of social Criticism.[3]  Dennett seems to say “we are all zombies, no one is conscious.”[4] Kevin B. Korb seems to think this is just Dennett’s attempt to motivate the reading, sort of a shock effect by taking an extreme position.[5] Be that as it may Dennett represents the functionalists position. Functionalism, introduced by J.J.C. Smart and U.T. Place, is the thesis that mental states are identical to some particular brain states.[6] If the goal of Dennett is the old positivist’s dream of clearing away the clutter so science can get on with its work, the clutter he seeks to clear away is twofold, two positions stemming from the brain/mind questions as dealt with by philosophy: (1) mental states cannot be shared since the physical make up of our brains cannot be shared (Korb uses the term “goo”).  (2) the dualistic homuncular theories which had been advocated by many dualists. That idea suggested something like this, there is a part inside us that has the true brain function and that part really understands our motivations, even though we don’t. This gives way to an infinite regress as there has to be a homuncular thinker inside to give the powers to the first homunculus and so on.[7] This latter view can work out to be one of the tricks of reductionism, redescribing an otherwise valid position in terms of “homuncularism.” Atheists on the internet tend to call anything that involves internal states “homuncular.”
            Even though dualistic options are no longer defended, hold over ideas remain and obscure the valuable reductions. Korb sums up:


Dennett shows that the homuncular concept retains a powerful grip on the imaginations of many, perhaps most, cognitive scientists. While explicit dualism and homuncularism are (no doubt properly) `endangered' theses, a great many theories and judgments advanced by cognitive scientists rely at some point upon there being a magical place in the head where everything comes together---in what Dennett calls the Cartesian Theater. This concept is pernicious in a variety of ways. For one thing, it leads to lazy analysis: if we can rely upon some arbitrarily complex central process to clean up our functional loose ends, we needn't be very careful about specifying whatever functional processes we do provide. But worse, this Cartesian Materialism (functionalism with the Theater at the center) again leads to infinite regress: if there is a theater where consciousness is `projected', then there must be an observer viewing the projection (else why bother with the theater?). As before, we will find it difficult to understand this observer: if the theater and its audience are needed to understand conscious processes,
then an `inner' theater and `inner' audience will be needed to understand the observer, and so on. But if the theater and its observer are not needed to understand conscious processes, then why introduce them in the first place? As Dennett notes, the best place to stop an infinite regress is usually at the beginning.[8]

The opposition of the functionalists to the Cartesian theater is the opposition to a center of internal control where the subject makes a conscious decision or carries away an awareness of his own internal states. As an alternative to the ‘center’ (the Cartesian theater) Dennett proposes the idea of “multiple drafts.” This idea says that the version of what is perceived is contrastingly re-written. The drafts are edited and reedited endlessly and passed along through endless processes.[9] So there is no one key center perception. While this is highly reductionist, it takes out the conscious control of the subject. It loses phenomena of consciousness as our own experience tells us that we do take part in editing some of the drafts. It’s also problematic because it’s a reprise of the homuncular concept. Who is writing the drafts, a little reductionist inside the brain? The true position of Dennett is ambiguous, although no doubt he does believe that consciousness reduces to brain chemistry.
We know this from 150 years of neurology where you damage areas of the brain, and faculties are lost… You can cease to recognize faces, you can cease to know the names of animals but you still know the names of tools…What we’re being asked to consider is that you damage one part of the brain, and something about the mind and subjectivity is lost, you damage another and yet more is lost, [but] you damage the whole thingat death, we can rise off the  brain with all our faculties in tact, recognizing grandma and speaking English![10]

Atheists on the popular level use this argument quite a bit. From that premise, that brain damage means destruction of consciousness, they conclude that consciousness is reducible to brain chemistry and imagine a complete factual basis for the supposition. They have created a bogus science of neurology which they imagine has already answered all questions and proved conclusively that consciousness is reducible to brain function. This is far from a done deal. Science is just getting started on understanding the brain, despite what popular atheism wants to believe. This fact is stated bluntly by one of its expert teachers, Vitzthum in his lecture to the Atheist culb: “Since how the brain actually works is today one of the least-understood and most hotly-debated subjects in science, I'd like to explain briefly the most promising of these theories and in the process finish my discussion of philosophical materialism.”[11]
            The position that mind is reducible to brain and that it is proved by neurology is far form a proven position. Moreover, the brain damage argument is a weak argument. There are better arguments to be made by documenting brain function through neurological evidence, even though that is not proof. The brain damage argument is almost separate from any scientific evidence as we can observe the connection between damage and loss of consciousness without any scientific equipment. Either way the bran damage argument proves only that brain is essential to accessing consciousness, not that consciousness is reducible to brain function.  The access argument can be illustrated with the following analogies. We can destroy computer hardware such as the monitor and that eliminates or blocks our access to soft ware but it doesn’t’ mean that soft ware is hardware or that software is erased by the damage of hardware. The logic of the brain damage argument can be applied to prove that television programs are not broadcast through the air waves but originate in the tv box. After all if we damage the box, take out parts or what have you, we don’t get the picture or the sound or the program. By the logic of the brain damage argument proves that he signal originates in the box.


Mind irreducible to brain function

            By way of explanation of the two sides, I will take property dualism as representative of the pro-mind side, on the proviso that it’s not the only position. Panpsychism can be thought of as a subset (one of four types) of property dualism.[12] I will compare them with John Searle’s article “why I’m Not a Property Dualist.”[13]
            Searle summarizes the property dualist position:

(1)  Empirical reality exits in two categories, physical and mental.
(2)  Because mental states are not reducible to physical states they are something over and above the physical. The irreducibility in and of itself is enough to demonstrate that there is more than just the neurobiological.
(3)  Mental phenomena do not constitute separate objects of substances but rather are features of properties of a composite, such as human or animal. Thus humans or animals have two types of features or properties, mental and physical.[14]

Searle takes issue with this in that he ascribes the categories to just one world. There are not two sets of characteristics. We have one world, everything is physical, but we can describe it in a number of ways. Searle may be thought of as part of the pro-mind side, but he is not a property dualist. He explains why in terms of the problem of the mental and the causal. If the mental is removed from physical then it can’t play a causal role. Ultimately he’s going to argue that the conventional terms are the problem because they invite us to discuss the issue in dualistic ways. So Searle accepts the premise of the reductionists that everything is physical and material but he can’t be called a reducationist because he also recognizes the importance of ontology. He says in terms of neurobiology there is one world and consciousness is a product of the causal process. On the other hand, since descriptively our mental states are not reducible or accessible by others there is an ontological dimension that can’t be reduced. He seems to take the ontological as a descriptive dimension. As argument against the ramifications of Property dualism he lays out a dilemma. If consciousness is closed from the physical realm its not part of the causal mechanism and that means our behavior has nothing to do with consciousness. The alternative is that if the conscious is part of the causal it creates a dualistic causality in which case each action has two explanations, the mental and physical.[15] It seems rather coherent to me to appeal to the mental as motivation for movement and to the physical as the actual mechanics of carrying out the “enabling legislation” so to speak.
            I agree with Searle that a large part of the problem is the dualistic nature of language. We are forced into categories of dualism by the way we are led to speak about the distinction between physical and mental. I can accept Searle’s position, even as a Christian, with the proviso that we can’t understand God and God is obviously an exception to what we know and could contradict all of it. The qualities in humanity that make us “eternal sprits” and put us above the realm of the mere physical can be described in functional terms rather than taken as “essentialist.” That is to say, we can see “spirit” as mind, and mind as mental phenomena without positing a discrete entity or ghost in the machine. On the other hand I hold back from commitment to Searle’s position due to one question that he doesn’t seem to answer. When we say “consciousness” do we mean the actual awareness, or even the texture of mental awareness that comes with mental states, or do we mean the apparatus that makes that texture possible? That seems crucial because if we mean the apparatus then I would agree with his position in so far as we stipulate for biological life only; for biological life consciousness is rooted in the neurobiological. We need not confine our understanding of the texture of awareness or the function of awareness to biological life. If the texture is what we mean by “consciousness,” then it could be much more vast and irreducible to the neurobiological. This is an explanation of the term “source of consciousness.” That term I apply to God.
            I think Searle is wrong in assuming that two dimensions of human being (mental and physical) make for two causes in every action. One cause beginning with the motivation (mental) and working itself out as a cause over two dimensions of our being. That argument is not proof that mental can be reduced to the physical, nor does the threat of being dualistic disprove the reality of dualism. David Chalmers has an argument, or several arguments, for the irreducealbity of consciousness.[16] Chalmers observes that consciousness escapes the reductive net and is not easily reduced to the physical by the assumptions reductionists make. It’s natural to assume that everything reduces to the physical that consciousness supervenes upon the physical. No physical explanation can wholly account for the nature of consciousness. The argument is in what I call the “texture” or the “conscious nature” of consciousness itself.[17] Chalmers argues that consciousness does not logically supervene upon the physical. The reductionists pull a biat and switch by demonstrating the reduction of brain function to the physical, obviously, then speaking as though they have demonstrated that consciousness is the same as brain function when in fact they have no such demonstration. The very nature of consciousness resists such a demonstration, yet the reductionist is often blind to this fact because they can’t stop identifying consciousness with brain function.
            Chalmers full argument entails the theory of the supervenient but he also makes arguments without it. He says one can do it either way. I will avoid the complex and highly specialized issue in order to keep it simple; otherwise I am apt to become confused. He sets up the arguments so that they can be made and make sense without the supervenient analysis.[18] The basic argument is grounded in the nature of consciousness which is seen in the so called “hard problem,” the inability to explain the nature of consciousness without losing the phenomena of consciousness. To illustrate the hard problem Chalmers constructs the notion of the philolophical zombie. Philosophical zombies differ from Hollywood zombies in that they are not mindless automatons who can’t think wondering about doing someone’s bidding. They are identical to us in every way so they cannot be identified as such externally. The only difference is they don’t have mental states or the “texture” of consciousness. They can think they can react logically and reason but they don’t have the mental experience going on inside. The zombie can’t feel the good morning but she can say “good morning” and in a way that implies that she means it. It doesn’t matter weather such zombies are actually possible or not. This is not a possible worlds argument its really more of an analogy that illustrates the distinction between consciousness and brain function.[19]The upshot of the zombie thing is that one could have all the brain function to memic everything humans do, but still lack consciousness and that illustrates that consciousness is not explained by brain function. If the organism with all the brain we have lacks the texture of consciousness then the two don’t share the same properties one is not dependent upon the other.  Of course the opponent will argue that we are making more of consciousness than we should and that in imagining a world of such zombies we are inherently putting in the mental states just in ascribing to them our behaviors. The burden of proof is on them to prove that there is nothing more to the texture of consciousness than behavior.[20]
            The epistemic asymmetry of consciousness affords Chalmers a powerful argument. Conscious experience is a complete surprise given the relationship between mathematics and the rest of reality. That is to say, if not for our actual experience of consciousness we could never theorize or guess as to its’ existence just based upon scientific knowledge about brain function or the physical world. A world of philosophical zombies in which there was no experience of consciousness with all the scientific understanding we have could never come to realization that consciousness must exist for some beings somewhere.

From all the low-level facts about physical configurations and causation, we can in principle derive all sorts of high-level facts about macroscopic systems, their organization, and the causation among them.One could determine all the facts about biological function, and about human behavior and the brain mechanisms by which it is caused. But nothing in this vast causal story would lead one who had not experienced it directly to believe that there should be any consciousness. The very idea would be unreasonable; almost mystical, perhaps. It is true that the physical facts about the world might provide some indirect evidence for the existence of consciousness. For example, from these facts one could ascertain that there were a lot of organism’s that claimed to be conscious, and said they had mysterious subjective experiences. Still, this evidence would be quite inconclusive, and it might be most natural to draw an eliminative conclusion—that there was in fact no experience present inthese creatures, just a lot of talk.[21]
If consciousness was dependent upon the physical entirely as a shared property of the physical it would be deducible immediately by its relation to the physical. We should be able to deduce anything that is physical by understanding its physical break down. We can’t even get at a definition of consciousness that doesn’t exclude the mental qualia and reduce to brain function. That is not an explanation (though its taken for one by reductionists) it’s nothing more than losing the phenomena and re-labeling.
            What Chalmers calls the most vivid argument against the logical supervienence of consciousness upon the physical is ‘the knowledge argument’ put forth by Jackson (1982) and Nagel (1974). The example he uses is that of a woman he dubs “Mary” who is the world expert on neurophysiology of color vision. She lives in an advanced time when science has all knowledge of the physical realm. Mary has been raised in a black and while room where she has never seen color. She understands everything there is to know about the physical processes of producing color but she does not know what red looks like. No amount of reasoning from the physical facts can tell her how red appears.


It follows that the facts about the subjective experience of color vision are not entailed by the physical facts. If they were, Mary could in principle come to know what it is like to see red on the basis of her knowledge of the physical facts. But she cannot. Perhaps Mary could come to know what it is like to see red by some indirect method, such as by manipulating her brain in the appropriate way. The point, however, is that the knowledge does not follow from the physical knowledge alone. Knowledge of all the physical facts will in principle allow Mary to derive all the facts about a system’s reactions, and its various abilities and cognitive capacities; but she will still be entirely in the dark about its experience of red.[22]

He reinforces this idea by reference to Thomas Negal’s famous article of the 70’s “What is It Like to be a Bat?”[23] All the physical knowledge about bats can’t tell us what it’s like to be one. That’s just multiplying examples at that point. We can’t know what it feels like to be a bat because we don’t have the consciousness of a bat. The texture of the experience is a point in consciousness. The reductionists sometimes substitute brain function for the actual nature of the experience of consciousness. Until they get at that they can’t get at the hard problem.  They argue, as does Dennett in Consciousness Explained, discussing the theory of multiple drafts proposes that consciousness is just an epiphenomenal illusion that results from the process of editing perception by the brain. It’s like a number of still photos shown in rapid succession that becomes a moving picture. So it is with the multiple drafts and the continuous flowing sense of consciousness. "You seem to be referring to a private, ineffable something or other in your mind's eye, a private shade of homogenous pink, but this is just how it seems to you, not how it is."[24] There’s a lot that could be said to this point, for example see Latnz Miller’s devastating critique of Dennett’s book in Negations[25] Yet the most to the point criticism that can be made is that it’s not about consciousness. This is about the function of the brain. That doesn’t do anything to get at the nature of consciousness itself. Tending to brain function in this way does not prove that consciousness arises out of brain function and has no larger reference as a basic property of nature. The only thing it does prove is that conscious awareness is accessed through brain function.
            The issue of access is not the issue of causality. To say just exactly what is access and what is causing what, is hard to tell. It would be necessary to know that to resolve the argument either way. If there is a larger framework for consciousness than just being a side effect of chemicals in the head, such as a basic property or a principle of physical law or some such, then there must be some way in which what seems like an emergent property is actually connected to a larger principle. The fact that consciousness is communicated through brain chemistry is not a disproof.  It may be the case that the evidence for irreducibility doesn’t prove it either. It would seem that irreducibility is a good reason to think that consciousness might be a basic property of nature. While at the same time the link between access and brain chemistry is not proof that mind reduces to brain or that consciousness is wholly a side effect of brain chemistry. The organizing effect of mind also adds another valid reason to suspect that consciousness could be a basic property.



[1] Richard C.Vitzchum, “Philosophical Mateirlism.” The Secular Web, On-line resource, URL: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_vitzthum/materialism.html#F9visited 4/12/2012 from lecture given to atheist students association, University of Maryland, College Park, Nov 14, 1996.
[2] Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained. Back Bay Books, second edition, 1992.
[3] Lantz Miller. “The Hard Sell of Human Consciousness part 1. (no 3, Winter 1998)
_______________________________________________part II, (no 4, Spring 2002)
this is only going to be found on line. go to this URL:  http://negations.icaap.org/  see the menu on left side bar, click on winter of 1998, and scroll to the title "Hard Sell of Human Consciousness" by Lantz Miller, part one, then for part Two go to the 2002 issue and just scroll down until you see the title then sroll further to page number. It's well worth reading. If you really care about the top you must read this article.
[4] Dennett, ibid, 406
[5] Kevin B. Korb. “Stage Effects in the Cartesian theater: A Review of Dennette’s Consciousness Explained.” Pdf file published online, URL: http://www.theassc.org/files/assc/2271.pdf  visited 4/16/2012.
Korb is at School of Computer Science and Software Engineering Monash University Clayton, Victoria 3168 Australia
[6] Ibid, section 1.1
[7] ibid, section 1.3
[8] ibid section 1.5
[9] ibid, section 1.6
[10] Sam Harris quoted by Luke Muehlhauser, “Sam Harris, Argument Agaisnt the Afterlife,” blog, Common Sense Atheism, March 15, 2011 URL: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=14919  the original quote is from a “You tube video”  URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48xmvFgtKmc&feature=player_detailpage#t=92s
[11] Vitzthum, ibid.
[12] “Consciousness,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Archives pages. Website URL: http://www.science.uva.nl/~seop/archives/sum2004/entries/consciousness/#8.1visited 1/22/11. Robert Van Gulick ed. and Copyright. (2004)
[14] ibid.
[15] ibid.
[16] David Chalmers, The Conscious Mind: In Search of a theory. England, New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. 3-5.on line version: http://www.scribd.com/doc/16574382/David-Chalmers-The-Conscious-Mind-Philosophy Scribd, David Chalmers, The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Theory of Conscious Experience, webstie Department of Philosophy, University of California at Santa Cruz, July 22 1995, visited 3/1/11 on line page numbers apply.

[17] Ibid, supervenient specialized philosophical term that refers to the necessary sharing of peripheries between two existents when one is a subset of the other.
[18]  Ibid. 84
[19] ibid.84-85
[20] ibid. 90
[21] ibid,
[22] ibid
[23] in Chalmers, 90, originally in Philosophical Review, pp. 435-50
[24] Daniel C. Dennett, op cit329
[25] Lantz Miller, “the Hard Sell of Human Consciousness, and the recovery of consciousness in the nature of new language. part 1.” Negations: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Social Criticism. Issue 3, Winter 1998. On line copy: URL: http://negations.icaap.org/ (scroll down). For part 2 of Miller’s argument see the 2002 issue on the same site.

43 comments:

Eric Sotnak said...

"The debate about consciousness stacks believers in unique irreducible nature of human consciousness against those who think that consciousness can be reduced to mere brain chemistry."

Two remarks, here:

(1) This statement commits the "ad tantum" fallacy -- helping itself to the word "mere" in implicitly laying out what can and cannot be included under "brain chemistry". It assumes without argument that brain chemistry is seriously limited in what can and cannot fall under it's scope.

(2) But mainly, I think this is a false dilemma. I lean toward a sort of functionalist view that takes very seriously the view that higher-level functions cannot be explanatorily reduced to lower level processes. The schmancy term philosophers like to use here is "supervenience", so I suppose if I had to give my view a label it would be "supervenience-functionalism". But let me say I will freely admit that this is the sort of view I am leaning toward -- I don't feel that I am in a position to offer a robust defense since I haven't yet worked out details.

Where I agree with you is where you say "The position that mind is reducible to brain and that it is proved by neurology is far form a proven position." I think there is very good evidence in favor of some sort of physicalist model, but I agree that it is not conclusive (at least not yet). But by the same token, it is far too preliminary to suggest that the prospects for any physicalist account of consciousness is such a lost cause that we have no choice but to retreat to some form of dualism, or even to give up the game as a hopeless endeavor for other reasons (such as Colin McGinn has suggested).

Joe Hinman said...


Blogger Eric Sotnak said...
"The debate about consciousness stacks believers in unique irreducible nature of human consciousness against those who think that consciousness can be reduced to mere brain chemistry."

Two remarks, here:

(1) This statement commits the "ad tantum" fallacy -- helping itself to the word "mere" in implicitly laying out what can and cannot be included under "brain chemistry". It assumes without argument that brain chemistry is seriously limited in what can and cannot fall under it's scope.

My sense is the "mere" describes the reductionist attitude or what I take to be their attitude.I am not the one limiting what brain chemistry can included, Indeed I agree that mind is emergent from brain chemistry,but that does not mean it is reducible to it,

(2) But mainly, I think this is a false dilemma. I lean toward a sort of functionalist view that takes very seriously the view that higher-level functions cannot be explanatorily reduced to lower level processes. The schmancy term philosophers like to use here is "supervenience", so I suppose if I had to give my view a label it would be "supervenience-functionalism". But let me say I will freely admit that this is the sort of view I am leaning toward -- I don't feel that I am in a position to offer a robust defense since I haven't yet worked out details.

I like to old open possibilities for lots of views because I don't think we know enough, that includes dualism, although i would not bet on that one.

Where I agree with you is where you say "The position that mind is reducible to brain and that it is proved by neurology is far form a proven position." I think there is very good evidence in favor of some sort of physicalist model, but I agree that it is not conclusive (at least not yet). But by the same token, it is far too preliminary to suggest that the prospects for any physicalist account of consciousness is such a lost cause that we have no choice but to retreat to some form of dualism, or even to give up the game as a hopeless endeavor for other reasons (such as Colin McGinn has suggested).

I don't know that my view is duelist, depends upon how you define it,I don't believe ghost in the machine,I believe mind is real but I don't think of it in that way

7th Stooge said...

So in your opinion, consciousness supervenes on functions but can't be "explanatorily reduced" to lower level processes? So consciousness just is a given set of functions even though it's not reducible to physical facts? I guess you're distinguishing between functions and lower level processes. I'm not clear on whether you're leaning toward phsyicalism or functionalism.

personally I have trouble seeing how either one could work.

Eric Sotnak said...

"I'm not clear on whether you're leaning toward phsyicalism or functionalism."

Functionalism is a physicalist approach. (Well, it doesn't have to be -- I suppose one could take the view that mental states are a function of non-physical entities, but I'm not aware of anyone who has actually made a positive case for that.)

Hugo Pelland said...

Joe, as I pointed out on the other thread here on your blog, I will comment here as this is one topic I find super interesting. And since you asked about my experiences and beliefs, I think this is the most relevant as this is the most recent change of mind I had. Basically, I used to think that the notion of Materialism was silly, as there are things like our consciousness that are not material, by definition pretty much. However the 'by definition' is the problem here, as Materialism tries to deal with questions of existence. And when it comes to existence, one needs to ask where do we start?

What has changed for me is the realization that we can do 2 things that appear contradictory, on the surface, yet work hand in hand very well to explain the world we live in, or existence itself.

1) To start, we have to acknowledge that, as human beings, our most basic perception of existence is our own mind, our own thoughts. This is what makes me, me. This is what makes you, you. Even if we were in The Matrix, this self-inspection is the most basic thing, and perhaps the only thing, we can truly be aware of in terms of existence. I think therefore I am, as Descartes said.

2) However, does that mean that we have to start with that personal existence to 'define' what it means to exist in an objective sense? I don't think so. What this means is that I reject the primacy of consciousness. I do not think that my mind is a basic reality, a basic existence. And that's where it already sounds weird and why it's not an easy thing to discuss, because it appears that I am introducing a contradiction: I say under 1) that I cannot possibly be a non-existing mind, given that my mind is what I am, yet I am also saying now that the reality outside of my mind is what I want to start with, as if it's possible that I don't exist. A contradiction.

Or is it? Because I argue that it is perfectly acceptable, as a thinking person, to conceive of a better theory. Some theory that would explain the world I perceive through my senses and also explain my own existence, as a mind. If I cannot achieve the latter then, clearly and logically, the theory fails. But if it does happen that the theory does end up explaining that undeniable consciousness experience that is 'me', the mind 'me', then the theory is tentatively successful and, perhaps, even more successful than the primacy of consciousness. So that's where we need to start with an assumption, the primacy of the material.

On Victor's blog, you flat out rejected that notion (see thread here but as I mention below, it's not necessary), though not explicitly, by stating that materialism is a sham, and that nobody can even define what the material is. I wonder whether you took the time to read the rest (probably not, there's so much on that blog after all...) as I tried to explain exactly that actually, and I even mentioned Mary's room! So when I saw that reference in your article, it made me smile a little, as it was the confirmation that you are in fact using the primacy of consciousness to argue against the reducibility of the mind to the physical brain.

Hugo Pelland said...

Without re-reading my own words, I will try to express the ideas again. I find this useful, instead of copy/pasting or just blindly referring folks to the thread as it forces me to re-think about my position. You know, as a side note, that's why I don't find it particularly useful that you refer to your book all the time... and so many authors do that so it's not an attack on you Joe personally, not at all. It's just that for philosophical discussions, I find this to be extremely unproductive. These are topics that we need to think about to truly express or defend. It's not like some scientific research that list some observational facts. These are questions we asked ourselves, and they are not even that long (relatively...) to re-hash when the topic comes up, so why not...

Now, getting to the actual reasoning: what is the material and how can we start with the assumption that it truly exists, objectively, as a base reality? It starts with our sense-perception, given that we are the ones making arguments. But the mind is not there yet, only the senses are, in an objective sense, for definition purposes. So what our senses are perceiving, sound, images, taste, textures, smell are what the material is. It does not matter what constitutes the most basic levels of these observations, be it the atoms, quarks, or energy in general. The point is that we have perception of material things, but in a non-subjective way. The 'we' hear really mean the non-personal pronoun 'we'. In French, we actually have a word just for that, 'on'. It does not refer to anyone specifically, it can be no one actually. Goes to show how language often makes it hard to have these conversations, but that's beyond the point for now...

Therefore, to be super clear, the issue here already is that one could argue that this is defined as reference to a mind already. But it needs not to. My point is that we assume that these things we perceive are what they are, regardless of our experiences. Yes, I have to talk about them from my first person point of view, but that's the point of the theory after all: trying to start with a definition that we can understand, as human people with minds, but also as a detachment, an objective way, of talking about what it means to exist. So this material existence around me is assumed to be that base reality, to start with. Not proven, assumed.

Now that we have that assumption, it needs to be tested to figure out whether we actually get to minds, and everything we know of. That is of course the super hard thing to do. Philosophers don't agree afaik and I don't pretend that my amateur self has all the answers. However, I have yet to run into something that does 'not' make sense under that assumption; everything that exists, literally, can be explained in material terms from that assumption of the material existence. So it's not a proof per se, and there is a risk of fallacy from ignorance, as one could argue that I am just saying that I cannot think of something non-material, hence there is nothing non-material. However, that would be run, as I am not making that conclusion either!

The point truly is just, no more no less, that everything I know of, everything that exists as far as I know, is explained as a dependent of the material world I perceive, including my own mind, my own consciousness, and everyone else's. And because it's still possible, in theory, to have something non-material, I believe it avoids the fallacy of argument from ignorance. I am opened to hear what people have to say about things they claim are not explained in material terms. The problem is that it does not even make sense... except if one accepts the primacy of consciousness.

Hugo Pelland said...

To show what I mean, let's contrast the 2 using a few examples from the blog post, and this will in turn explain the "elephant in the room" I have no addressed: what is consciousness then?

Joe said:
"Phenomenoloigcally consciousness might be thought of as the awareness of self, others, nuance, place, time, ambiance, and the feel of perception. In place of this the reductionist places the way the brain functions, and puts it over as consciousness."

We don't need to mention brain functions directly, but under the primacy of the material, yes, what you describe here are things that humans beings with material bodies, do depict. We look at these human beings and they express self-awareness, show how they perceive others, etc... What do they have in common? A brain. So it's not about reducing anything to the brain, it's a mere observation (is it 'ok' to use 'mere' here?)

Under the primacy of consciousness, by definition, it is not even possible to reduce consciousness to the brain, because consciousness is assumed to exist, no matter what, regardless of the brain, which may or may not exist. The brain is then shown to exist, second, as you said Joe:
"the brain damage argument proves only that brain is essential to accessing consciousness"

There is no clearer sign that the primacy of consciousness is assumed here. The brain, something material, is used to access consciousness, which is assumed to exist no matter what. The consciousness thus form a base reality, a base existence.

But why is that a problem? Because it's on the primacy of consciousness that we actually run into contradictions or inconsistencies, not on the primacy of the material. There are many reasons but this is getting long already, so here are just 3:

1) Even though it's difficult to define the material, as I expressed at the beginning, it's even harder to define consciousness without referring to any material things. What does it mean to think if not thinking about material things we have experienced? What does it mean to have 1+1=2 when there is no '1' material thing to think about? The mental can be defined as non-material, and the material can be defined as non-mental, but what does it mean, on its own, to be mental? There is literally nothing to talk about!

2) Conscious thoughts are made up of building blocks that all come from experiences of our sense-perception. Therefore, it makes sense to conclude that thoughts are nothing more than the combinations of all these tiny little experiences we had in our lives, be it consciously or not, internal or external, at literally any point of our lives. If the mental were truly different, there might be a way to talk about things we just think of, mentally, without referring to the material at all. But we cannot do that afaik. Even when we talk about purely abstract things, such as nothing, infinity, or the square root of 1, "i", we have to use something material, some mental block based on a material object, to make sense of it. Nothing is not conceivable, it's the absence of 'things', infinity is just a lot of things, but we cannot truly think of an actual infinity, and we can even count infinities and do weird things with them (did you know that the sum 1+2+3+... is equal to -1/12? anyway...)

Hugo Pelland said...

3) Mary's room... is wrong. " It follows that the facts about the subjective experience of color vision are not entailed by the physical facts. If they were, Mary could in principle come to know what it is like to see red on the basis of her knowledge of the physical facts. But she cannot. " Of course she cannot, because she has never 'seen' red! The brain cannot remember what red 'is' without seeing red. We know birds can see UV light, or even the Earth's magnetic field, yet we have no clue what that looks like. Some people do see some UV wavelengths though! And they have a really hard time to explain what it is, because our common languages just don't have the tools for that... because it's such a niche thing. For the same reason, we cannot know what it feels like to be a bat not because we don't have the consciousness of a bat, but because we cannot possibly experience the same things a bat does experience. We don't have echo location, we don't the sense-perception of having wings or the taste of... whatever they eat.

To me that last one is really the most important one, as it is the most obvious and most telling. It goes to show how opposite consciousness is defined under the primacy of consciousness and primacy of the material, and it makes a lot more sense under the primacy of material in my opinion. We are the product of our experiences, not a consciousness able to experience certain things because of some pre-defined conditions. Yes, there are indeed countless examples, and they all go in direct directions precisely because of that.

If we start with the material, the experiences are all there is, including being conscious of our own thoughts coming up in our mind as the brain generates them, without "us" really doing anything. And that's all there is to the "hard" problem of consciousness, as we have no clue how the brain does that exactly. But it does not follow that it's not the brain doing it... we just don't know 'how', given the extreme complexity of arrangement of billions of neurons with trillions of connections, all firing at the speed of light.

Joe Hinman said...

the fact of need imnf to experience seeing the color is the point, Everything we know is coming to us through consciousness.

You put a lot of stuff down here Im going to have to deal with it in increments,it will take a couple of days.

Joe Hinman said...

Under the primacy of consciousness, by definition, it is not even possible to reduce consciousness to the brain, because consciousness is assumed to exist, no matter what, regardless of the brain, which may or may not exist. The brain is then shown to exist, second, as you said Joe:
"the brain damage argument proves only that brain is essential to accessing consciousness"

Yes I think it's pretty obvious,you are thinking rational conscious ideas about this discussion and about my position because you have consciousness and you access the Wroclaw through consciousness. That is by definition is mind, that is not brain function alone because we you are aware of the discussion, you are not just giving automatic answers,In fact I don't think an unconscious brain function could answer diametrically,

conscious thoughts from building blocks are not the same as consciousness itself, it's just the materiel of subject matter.

im-skeptical said...

"The debate about consciousness stacks believers in unique irreducible nature of human consciousness against those who think that consciousness can be reduced to mere brain chemistry."
- I was ready to jump in on this statement, but I see that Eric has already done so. Let me just add that the word "reduced" as you use it implies that materialists are subtracting something from reality and thus ignoring some essential part of the equation. But materialists seek to explain ALL of reality (ie, the entirety of the phenomenon we call mind), not just some subset of it.


Dennett seems to say “we are all zombies, no one is conscious.”
- Having read the book, I can tell you without any doubt that this is not at all what Dennett is saying. I think the problem is that the explanation he provides is simply not satisfactory to dualists (such as yourself or Lantz Miller), who insist that there's more to it than a purely physical description of the phenomenon.

7th Stooge said...

"Functionalism is a physicalist approach. (Well, it doesn't have to be -- I suppose one could take the view that mental states are a function of non-physical entities, but I'm not aware of anyone who has actually made a positive case for that.)"

And yet someone like Chalmers identifies as a functionalist but not as a physicalist. I think he calls his version "nomological funcionalism" or something like that, as opposed to analytic functionalism. If one takes the more physicalist apporoach, you cna always ask "Why is this set of functions accompanied by, or identified with, consciousness"? The explanatory gap remains in a way that it doesn't in non-controversial versions of supervenience.

7th Stooge said...

- I was ready to jump in on this statement, but I see that Eric has already done so. Let me just add that the word "reduced" as you use it implies that materialists are subtracting something from reality and thus ignoring some essential part of the equation. But materialists seek to explain ALL of reality (ie, the entirety of the phenomenon we call mind), not just some subset of it.

They seek to explain what is amenable to materialist explanations because they assume that materialism is all-explanatory from the outset. If qualia per se aren't amenable, then as dennett titles one of his chapters, they are "disqualified."

- Having read the book, I can tell you without any doubt that this is not at all what Dennett is saying. I think the problem is that the explanation he provides is simply not satisfactory to dualists (such as yourself or Lantz Miller), who insist that there's more to it than a purely physical description of the phenomenon.

He did actually write that we are all zombies. He might have added "in a way." Obviously an attempt at being provocative but there must be a kernel of truth to it as far as his own thinking; otherwise why write it? He also wrote that phenomenology doesn't exist, even if consciousness does.

7th Stooge said...

To me that last one is really the most important one, as it is the most obvious and most telling. It goes to show how opposite consciousness is defined under the primacy of consciousness and primacy of the material, and it makes a lot more sense under the primacy of material in my opinion. We are the product of our experiences, not a consciousness able to experience certain things because of some pre-defined conditions. Yes, there are indeed countless examples, and they all go in direct directions precisely because of that.

Hugo, As far as I understand the Mary scenario, it's designed to show that there are new facts about the world that mary learns when she first sees red that she did not know before, even though she knew everything there was to know about the structure and function of seeing red. She knew all physical, 3rd person-type facts about seeing red but there was still more for her to know. Therefore, reality isn't exhausted by physical, 3rd person-type facts. One rejoinder to this argument is that Mary is simply learning old facts in a new way. She's gaining a new epistemic route to the same ontology. The more hard-lined materialist rejoinder would be that she WOULD know what red looks like as a result of having complete neuro-scientific knowledge.

You talk about the "primacy" of consciousness vs. the "primacy" of the material. Why does one have to have primacy over the other?

Hugo Pelland said...

Joe said:
"the fact of need imnf to experience seeing the color is the point, Everything we know is coming to us through consciousness.

You put a lot of stuff down here Im going to have to deal with it in increments,it will take a couple of days.
"

Sure, take your time, there's a lot, and I just finished a 2-week vacation so I might not be as quick/detailed moving forward anyway...

But I must comment right away on some of your response as it's already clear we diverge on what we are talking about, and that will be the cause of our differences. Everything we 'know' is coming to us through our consciousness, but that is not to say that the 'existence' of consciousness is independent of the brain. That's precisely why I started with the admission that we cannot ignore our own mind as a starting point, and irrefutable fact about who we are. But now that we know we know, that we can conceive of theories and explanations about the real world, of what it means to exist, it's irrelevant to just repeat that consciousness is how we 'know'. Of course, but the question of reducibility of the mind to the brain is about 'existence'.

im-skeptical and 7th stooge mentioned similar things, with different words:
"[...] materialists seek to explain ALL of reality (ie, the entirety of the phenomenon we call mind), not just some subset of it. [...]
they assume that materialism is all-explanatory from the outset [...]
"

Joe also said:
"[...] because you have consciousness and you access the Wroclaw through consciousness. That is by definition is mind [...]"

But how does your mind 'exist' in the first place? You implicitly assume the primacy of consciousness when you state that you access the World through consciousness, as if it necessarly comes first, exists first, and then discover the existence of the World. By definition, yes, that works because you start with that as a starting point. Yet, I argue, you cannot have consciousness without your human brain, so it creates a paradox where reality might not be real, and it thus adds this extra layer on top of it, without defining it properly, given that you, as human, cannot even think about things you have never experienced at all. On the assumption of the primacy of the material, we find you, the human mind Joe, to be the product of the human body, and brain, that you have. Your capacity to experience the world and think abstract thoughts, as complex as it is to explain, makes you 'you'.

So when you move on to this:
"that is not brain function alone because we you are aware of the discussion, you are not just giving automatic answers,In fact I don't think an unconscious brain function could answer diametrically, conscious thoughts from building blocks are not the same as consciousness itself, it's just the materiel of subject matter."

You are circling back on your base assumption. It's not brain function alone because you start with something that you define, implicitly, as not brain function alone. Plus, it's impossible for any of us to prove that we are more than the building blocks of consciousness, given that everything you think of is actually some mental representation of something you experiences physically/materially.

Hugo Pelland said...

7th Stooge said...
" it's designed to show that there are new facts about the world that mary learns when she first sees red that she did not know before, even though she knew everything there was to know about the structure and function of seeing red"

Yes, that's my understanding too. And the point is that one cannot 'know' everything about the physical world if restricted by some physical limitations. That's why the example of 'what it is like to be a bat' actually supports the materialist framework. We cannot know about that not because there are more than the physical, it's actually because we cannot physically experience what the bat experiences. Mary, in theory, cannot either by just 'learning' about these facts; she would have to experiment that herself.

I used another example before, where I think it makes it even more obvious: knowing that someone has the memory of something is nowhere near the same as knowing what they know, as we have not had the same experience. It would actually create contradictions. Mary could not possibly know what it feels like to be in love with Mary for instance, of what it's like to be gay and heterosexual at the same time. The physical imposes limits on what we can know.

" You talk about the "primacy" of consciousness vs. the "primacy" of the material. Why does one have to have primacy over the other?"

There might be other options; I am no professional philosophers... but what I am trying to figure out is how can we define what 'existence' mean, at its most basic. Given that, philosophically speaking, there is no way to disprove we are brains in a vat, for instance, we have to start with some assumptions as to what the basic existence we want to talk about is. Given that we all 'think' and have this undeniable first-person experience, it's tempting to start there, and that's what we all do instinctively I would say. Hence the point 1) in my long posts above.

However, we can do better. We can, temporarily, remove ourselves from the equation and try to understand what the best explanation is, objectively, for everything that exists after a basic assumption. By starting with the world outside of our mind, what we see, touch, smell, we can create a framework anchored in something that is not dependent on our own consciousness for its existence. And we actually can justify our consciousness without any issue. Hence, there is no contradiction, and I think this works beautifully.

Hugo Pelland said...

One more thing, under the primacy of consciousness, one could, in theory, be able to think of things that are not physical, as the mind is supposed to be something independent of the brain function and thus not limited by it. The answer is obviously that the physical brain prevents complete access to that mind that is more than just physical. But then what's the point? The mind is more than just what the brain can do, but the brain prevents us from doing more with our minds than what the brain allows? Isn't that strange, a cope out? It ads some complexity where none is required. And given everything we now know about brains, it just seems less and less likely that this make any sense at all.

im-skeptical said...

He did actually write that we are all zombies. He might have added "in a way." Obviously an attempt at being provocative but there must be a kernel of truth to it as far as his own thinking; otherwise why write it? He also wrote that phenomenology doesn't exist, even if consciousness does.

This reveals your utter and complete misunderstanding of what said. His point is that if the philosophical definition of "qualia" were correct, then we would all be zombies. But he emphatically believes that is not the case. He also said that his statement would no doubt be misinterpreted. And he was right.

Joe Hinman said...

But I must comment right away on some of your response as it's already clear we diverge on what we are talking about, and that will be the cause of our differences. Everything we 'know' is coming to us through our consciousness, but that is not to say that the 'existence' of consciousness is independent of the brain. That's precisely why I started with the admission that we cannot ignore our own mind as a starting point, and irrefutable fact about who we are. But now that we know we know, that we can conceive of theories and explanations about the real world, of what it means to exist, it's irrelevant to just repeat that consciousness is how we 'know'. Of course, but the question of reducibility of the mind to the brain is about 'existence'.

yes and you want to truncate existence OT the surface only,you want to have the shere fact of physical existnece be all there is with no depth nothing beyond it,

Hugo Pelland said...

Haha, seriously Joe? The '...you want to...' failed mind reading again? Within just a couple of days!?

You could just say 'agree to disagree' and move on, which is what I will do, given that you now don't want to discuss such complex topics... in depth.

im-skeptical said...

Hugo, what Joe means by "depth" is God. He says atheists only see the surface, which is the material. You have to look beneath the surface to see the true depth of things that includes the non-material aspect.

Hugo Pelland said...

Sounds like that yes! *smh*

Joe Hinman said...

'Saying that depth means God is a simplification and for a war horse atheist like Skep it's just a rhetorical device. Tillich made a statement that if you know being has depth you can't be an atheist. So Skep cuts to the chase ignores all that messy thinking and just translates depth into God.

Depth means more to it than just the surface level of existence. for example being is adenoidal,there are modes of being such necessity and contingency. Skpie is right when he says"You have to look beneath the surface to see the true depth of things that includes the non-material aspect." But it;snot as though the terms depth and God are synonymous.


Joe Hinman said...

Haha, seriously Joe? The '...you want to...' failed mind reading again? Within just a couple of days!?

You could just say 'agree to disagree' and move on, which is what I will do, given that you now don't want to discuss such complex topics... in depth.

I don;t know what you are saying,every time I try tostarta discussion you make to something wron,iu think youwant to write huge tonsof verbageandIm not suppose tosay anythiung,ng,.

Hugo Pelland said...

It's fine Joe, we don't need to understand everything. There are much more important things going on. Sam Harris (again) for instance has been talking about Trump in recent podcasts it seems. I watched 2 recently, it might be good for your resistance page.

This one especially, please take the time, it's worth it
https://www.samharris.org/podcast/item/the-road-to-tyranny

And the one before too, #78

Cheers

Joe Hinman said...

7th stooge knows the consciousness topic better than anyone, you chased him off posting so much. Harris stupid, he does not understand the basics of any issues beyond technical aspects of science.

Joe Hinman said...

go ahead and stick consciousness, answer the points I made. respond to 7th Stooge's statements.

im-skeptical said...

Here's a question for you, Joe. What makes 7th stooge such an expert? How would you know? And why does his blog belong to you?

im-skeptical said...

Skep cuts to the chase ignores all that messy thinking and just translates depth into God. ... Depth means more to it than just the surface level of existence. for example being is adenoidal,there are modes of being such necessity and contingency ...

Messy thinking? I think for once you're right. Being is adenoidal? Maybe this is just my stupidity, but I think you're just tossing around meaningless words in an effort to make yourself sound impressive (and it isn't working). And as for modes of being, I fully understand the concept of necessity and contingency, but I haven't heard of them being described as "modes of being". Heidegger, whose you love to drop from time to time, does discuss modes of being, but I think that has nothing to do with necessity and contingency. Which makes me wonder if you actually have any idea what you're saying.

7th Stooge said...

This reveals your utter and complete misunderstanding of what said. His point is that if the philosophical definition of "qualia" were correct, then we would all be zombies. But he emphatically believes that is not the case. He also said that his statement would no doubt be misinterpreted. And he was right.

The "philosophical understanding of qualia"? Qualia is a hotly debated philosophical topic, so there is no one understanding of qualia. Dennett believes that qualia are reducible to behavioral dispositions. What do you think he meant when he said we are all zombies? What is the "philosophical understanding of qualia"? have you read "Consciousness Explained"?

im-skeptical said...

Yes, I read "Consciousness Explained", and it's clear that if you read it, you didn't understand him. Dennett doesn't believe that qualia exist (at least in the sense that philosophers use to convey some kind of non-physical aspect to perception). He said that IF such a notion of qualia were true, THEN we are all philosophical zombies, because we all have the physical apparatus of perception, but there is no further immaterial aspect of our perception. But that is precisely what supposedly distinguishes a zombie from person. Dennett doesn't believe that there is any actual difference. In fact the very notion of a philosophical zombie is absurd.

Hugo Pelland said...

Joe Hinman said...
"Harris stupid, he does not understand the basics of any issues beyond technical aspects of science."
The podcast I linked to has nothing to do with science or consciousness, I was trying to be nice and point out that there are things we agree on that matter a lot more right now: US politics under Trump. How could you miss that from the post? Anyway, that was the point, so I repeat; this might be good for your resistance page:
https://www.samharris.org/podcast/item/the-road-to-tyranny
And it's not even about Harris, it's the interviewee, Timothy Snyder, who is really clever and interesting.

"7th stooge knows the consciousness topic better than anyone, you chased him off posting so much."
So you are trying to read his mind as well? Can't you let him speak for himself? Looks like you were wrong anyway, he wrote back here already... And your comment was so absurd anyway; as if writing a few comments would chase someone away, or that it would matter if he did!

7th Stooge said...

I think I did understand him. He assumes what he calls his "third person absolutism" going in, and so he begs the crucial question, ie whether or not qualia and phenomenology are in fact entirely understandable in terms of third person concepts. He doesn't grapple with the central question but assumes the matter from the outset. What if a philosopher were to proclaim himself a "first person absolutist" at the outset of his investigations into the nature of consciousness? What fallacy would you say he was committing? (Note: You cannot assume that your position is right in your answer because we are trying to determine whether or not your position is right.)For Dennett, there is and can only be structure and function and behavioral dispositions, so that, to have them fit his procrustean bed, he must disqualify qualia as something other than third person facts.

7th Stooge said...

When you wrote "the philosophical definition of qualia," I first began to wonder... Because there is no one philosophical definition of qualia. Most philosophers are some version of reductionist or eliminativist like Dennett. The definition is what the debate is about!

7th Stooge said...

Yes, that's my understanding too. And the point is that one cannot 'know' everything about the physical world if restricted by some physical limitations. That's why the example of 'what it is like to be a bat' actually supports the materialist framework. We cannot know about that not because there are more than the physical, it's actually because we cannot physically experience what the bat experiences. Mary, in theory, cannot either by just 'learning' about these facts; she would have to experiment that herself.

I don't agree that the point about bats supports a materialist framework. Nagel's point is that consciousness is essentially tied to subjective points of view. That's what its essence is. There's an ontologically irreducible first person (subjective) aspect to reality. Any attempt to understand consciousness that leaves out this aspect is leaving out the essential aspect.

Hugo Pelland said...

7th Stooge said...
"I don't agree that the point about bats supports a materialist framework. Nagel's point is that consciousness is essentially tied to subjective points of view. That's what its essence is. There's an ontologically irreducible first person (subjective) aspect to reality. Any attempt to understand consciousness that leaves out this aspect is leaving out the essential aspect."

The point about bats was certainly not made to support a materialist framework, but my point is that I don't see a contradictions, and I also agree with the 'ontologically irreducible first person (subjective) aspect to reality'. That's why I wrote: "if it does happen that the theory does end up explaining that undeniable consciousness experience that is 'me', the mind 'me', then the theory is tentatively successful and, perhaps, even more successful than the primacy of consciousness"

And again, that's why I always bring up the issue of 'primacy', where the subjective first person aspect of reality is not in question, but rather placed at different hierarchical levels. As thinking minds, we are trying to make sense of what 'existence' really is. It could be that minds exist regardless of any material reality, or that our material reality exists regardless of minds. Neither starting point can be proven, so we have to assume one and see where that takes us.

Btw, I was curious to see if you have a blog of your own and I see that you are also contributing to http://resistance-not-futile.blogspot.com/ so I must salute yours and Joe's essential efforts on that front. And you should spend the time to listen to Timothy Snyder...

im-skeptical said...

The definition is what the debate is about!

I don't think that is the issue for Dennett. He says that qualia (as such) don't exist. Obviously, he is not debating the definition as understood by people like Joe. He is saying that it's a wrong-headed notion. This issue arose from what Joe said in the OP: Dennett seems to say “we are all zombies, no one is conscious.” He equates qualia with conscious experience (and I think that is the general position of dualists and theists). But Dennett does believe we are conscious. That's what his book is about. To deny that is to say that you don't understand him.


He assumes what he calls his "third person absolutism" going in, and so he begs the crucial question, ie whether or not qualia and phenomenology are in fact entirely understandable in terms of third person concepts. He doesn't grapple with the central question but assumes the matter from the outset.

I disagree. Dennett does not deny that there is first-person experience. But he does deny that consciousness must be explained in terms of the first-person. We all agree that there is something ineffable about first-person experience. But it is a leap to assume that this implies that consciousness is beyond scientific understanding (from a third-person perspective). Herein lies the problem. Because that's the straw that theists grasp at.

Joe Hinman said...

Btw, I was curious to see if you have a blog of your own and I see that you are also contributing to http://resistance-not-futile.blogspot.com/ so I must salute yours and Joe's essential efforts on that front. And you should spend the time to listen to Timothy Snyder...

I'll check him out

Joe Hinman said...

I disagree. Dennett does not deny that there is first-person experience. But he does deny that consciousness must be explained in terms of the first-person. We all agree that there is something ineffable about first-person experience. But it is a leap to assume that this implies that consciousness is beyond scientific understanding (from a third-person perspective). Herein lies the problem. Because that's the straw that theists grasp at.

No it's not anytime there is non understanding it;ps the who seeks to explain who has the BOP. the only burden for the ignorant is to say hey I still do[t get it,we know the explanatory gap is still there because it can;'t be answered with brain function,

im-skeptical said...

Joe,

This isn't a question of "burden of proof". Materialists have an explanation, albeit not yet fully fleshed out (so to speak). And theists have their own explanation that is far less satisfying from an intellectual standpoint - unless you think "God did it" satisfies your desire to understand the mechanisms of consciousness. If you want to complain about explanatory gaps, then you shouldn't go around claiming "God did it" whenever you aren't satisfied with the current state of scientific discovery. To say that science can't answer it or will never answer it is just wishful thinking. Because you want to believe your God is the answer, but your God of the gaps is forced to abide in an ever shrinking realm of scientific ignorance.

Joe Hinman said...

the phrase "God did it:and the stupid ass bull shit claim that our answer is that.It;s the rhetoric of ignorant atheist palaver, it is not what any theist ever says,it's just moron atheists who can't follow complex ideas looking past all the theological ferment and boiling it down to something he can mock.

Joe Hinman said...

To say that science can't answer it or will never answer it is just wishful thinking. Because you want to believe your God is the answer, but your God of the gaps is forced to abide in an ever shrinking realm of scientific ignorance.

so you have faith in science your savior to come through in the end,I always encourage people to take faith in their religious faith whatever it may be. From a philosophical stand point there is nothing unscientific about positioning the notion of a question science can't answer.

im-skeptical said...

so you have faith in science your savior to come through in the end,I always encourage people to take faith in their religious faith whatever it may be. From a philosophical stand point there is nothing unscientific about positioning the notion of a question science can't answer.
- Projecting again, I see. No, Joe, I don't have any faith of the kind you are talking about. I have evidence. Science has a pretty damn good track record for providing explanations of how things work. The record of religion is to retreat in the face of scientific discovery. You can go ahead and pose a question you think science can't answer. But if it's a question about things in our world work (such as mind), I'm betting that in the long run you'll be proven wrong.