• Janus
    15.7k
    Yes, that's a good point. Although I doubt that question (what a quantum field really is?) makes any sense. I was trying to say that there comes a point in any epistemic hierarchy where you can't reduce or describe any further. Quantum fields (currently) get to that baseline physically and what-it's-like-to-be gets to that phenomenally.Christopher Burke

    I would prefer to say "what it is to be conscious" than 'what it is like to be conscious". It is definitely something to be conscious as opposed to not being conscious; to be an animal or human being as opposed to being a rock or even a tree. That is certainly how it seems to us.

    Isn't (phenomenal) consciousness what-it's-like-to-be sensing, perceiving, conceptualising, theorising, with attendant affect at each cognitive level?Christopher Burke

    I'd say rather that phenomenal consciousness is to be sensing, perceiving and reflective linguistically mediated consciousness is to be conceptualizing, theorizing, although I also think there is a prelinguistic mode of conceptualizing and theorizing.

    The issue I see is the tendency to draw ontological conclusions based on our intuitive understanding of what it means to be conscious. I don't think there is any unequivocal way to talk about this. On the one hand we can say that conscious beings have a different kind of being than unconscious beings, and on the other hand we can say that they don't.

    What do we mean by being? That's what it seems to come down to. And there are different usages, and no one usage can be shown to be privileged. I think what underlies peoples' obvious obsessions with these kinds of undecidable questions is the concern about death, about personal, or some other kind of, survival of death and the existence of "higher meaning".

    Apart from those concerns I can't see what significance the question could have for human life. Does it not really boil down to what ontological standpoint seems more consistent with a belief in
    a transcendent possibility or higher purpose to life?
  • Janus
    15.7k
    Perhaps we can work on this. Perhaps a starting point could be asking: Is there a difference between, say, an electronic device with a sensor that can distinguish different frequencies of the visible spectrum, and is programmed to initiate different actions when detecting different frequencies; and me performing the same actions when I perceived the same frequencies? Or is my experience the same as the electronic device's?

    I believe this is the same idea as what Douglas Hofstadter said in
    I Am a Strange Loop:
    'having semantics' (which means the ability to genuinely think about things, as contrasted with the "mere" ability to juggle meaningless tokens in complicated patterns...)
    Patterner

    Electronic devices don't care about anything, desire anything or want to avoid anything; animals and humans do. That seems to me to be the most salient difference and that is what I think it means to experience: to feel, to care, to want, to avoid and so on. I don't believe machines do any of that.

    Do machines merely "juggle meaningless tokens"? The tokens they juggle have meaning to us. Do they mean anything to machines? Is it not so that things are meaningful to us only insofar as we care about them, feel something about them, whether it be pleasure, displeasure, desire or aversion?
  • Corvus
    3k
    Question is: If these experiences are representations of things in the outside world, why would I expect such a representation to be reducible to the brain activity that supports it?Apustimelogist

    The word "reducible" sounds problematic. Why do they have to "be reducible"?
    Could they be viewed as "being caused by" ?

    "If these experiences are representations of things in the outside world (OP), and are caused by "the brain activity that supports it" (OP) - Doesn't it sound more feasible? And it would be reasonable to expect such causal events.


    If our experiences are always going to be irreducible regardless then how can this irreducibility be used as an argument against physicalism?Apustimelogist

    They aren't, hence it can't.
  • Apustimelogist
    359
    Which indicates the most coherent categorisation of the human condition (I believe): we are what-it-is-like-to-be our representations. A bit of reality representing those bits of reality we encounter, including ourself.Christopher Burke

    Yes and I think we cannot know what that what-it-is-like bit really means as I believe you suggested somewhere earlier

    Better to see it as correlating parallel representationsChristopher Burke

    Well I think this is more or less what reducing is when we believe that this correlating as cogently justified under some context. Now the question is whether there is some justification for reducing the tree to a brain. There is some sense in which it can be because there is a mapping between information in the outside world and your brain states which is physically mediated (i.e. by travelling light, surface reflectance properties, receptor stimulation and neural potentials). However, this isn't the same as the mapping when I construct a description of a tree. The physical mapping aforementioned is incidental since the tree itself is independent of my brain and the physical means information is carried to my brain. The question is, why when I am trying to desceibe a tree, the description I get is my brain. Given the independence suggested just now, there is no actual reasons. Trees are not brains and are totally separated. If my experiential states are representations of trees that map to components of trees, there is no reason why I should be able to examine my experiences and find that I can reduce it to brain activity, because my experiences are simply not about my brain if they are not representations of it.
  • Apustimelogist
    359


    When I am talking about reduction here, I am talking about an explanatory relationship. If experiences are purely representations or information about trees, then why should these representations carry information (that can be explained by) about brain states. Trees are the way they are totally independent of my brain. Trees have a shape that is nothing to do with my brain. If I then explicitly represent that shape information, that shape information should have no information about the inside of my brain in it.
  • Corvus
    3k
    Having seen the tree, the brain will convert the image into the ideas of the tree in perception, memory or imagination i.e it will become a mental state which is totally different from the physical state of the brain. 

    The tree couldn't possibly walk into the brain, and start growing in the brain as another tree or copy of it just because the brain saw it, and it is seen to be the representation or information of the tree :rofl:
  • Christopher Burke
    18
    The word "reducible" sounds problematicCorvus

    Well I think this is more or less what reducing is when we believe that this correlating as cogently justified under some context.Apustimelogist

    I agree with Corvus. I think 'reducing' should be confined to when one is accounting for a thing by referring to that thing's subparts. Eg an atom is reduced to subatomic particles, a sentence reduced to its words, a structure reduced to its components. Correlations on the other hand are correspondences between two different things. Eg smoking correlates with lung cancer. One correlate is not reducible to another: smoking is not reducible to cancer. Smoking is reducible to the sub-behaviours that comprise it: stick fag in mouth, light end, suck. And neither is cancer reducible to smoking because cancer reduces to pathologies in cells, biochemicals, etc. One may subsequently adduce a causal relationship between the two different things (smoking causes cancer), but causation isn't reduction either (even though it might require reductions to clarify it).

    Likewise with your example. Your phenomenal image of a tree is not reducible to a some putative neuro-endocrinal arrangement which stores your image of the tree. It is perceptually reducible to sub-images of bits of the tree (ie of branches, leaves, fruit, etc). You could also conceptually reduce it by identifying its component botanical elements and processes; then further reduction into biochemicals; then into biophyical particles/fields/whatever elements you choose to put at the bottom of your epistemic reduction.

    A neuroscientist might correlate your reporting of a tree image with a representation (scan) of your neuro-endocrinal arrangement. But there's no reduction here, merely correlation.

    If experiences are purely representations or information about trees, then why should these representations carry information (that can be explained by) about brain statesApustimelogist

    I can't see how your phenomenal image of a tree contains any information about its putative storage in your brain. Even a neuroscientist can't do that. What gives them the information about the neural correlate(s) of that perceptual image is their study of neurology, not any image of a tree, phenomenal or physical. Information about your correlated brain state can only be gleaned by observing that brain state in some way. Your phenomenal image is what-it-is-like-to-be the bit of reality that is also described physically as an embodied neurological nexus. Correlations between the two are therefore expected, but not reductions.

    And that is why Physicalism's claim to be a complete is flawed. No physical concepts can be applicable to the phenomenal image. You can measure lengths, mass, density, age, etc of your tree, but you can't measure your phenomenal image of it.
  • Patterner
    599
    Electronic devices don't care about anything, desire anything or want to avoid anything; animals and humans do. That seems to me to be the most salient difference and that is what I think it means to experience: to feel, to care, to want, to avoid and so on. I don't believe machines do any of that.Janus
    Is it possible that electric devices (or anything) have subjective experience and awareness of things, but don't care about, desire, or want to avoid anything?
  • Christopher Burke
    18
    I would prefer to say "what it is to be conscious" than 'what it is like to be conscious".Janus

    Yes, maybe I was a bit careless there. The trouble here is that we are paddling around at the bottom of the epistemic well. There are no sub-concepts to fall back on, so we end up swapping synonyms. So 'sentient', 'aware', 'conscious', 'what it's like to be' are interchangeable, although some philosophers discern subtle differences. What I meant was 'what-it-is-like-to-be a complex enough bio-agent when normally awake or dreaming'. There's obviously potential circularity there. Define 'awake' or 'dreaming' and you get back to consciousness and what-it-is-like-to-be. But all these indicative symbols point to something we all 'know' without recourse to any symbolic representation of that state of being ... simply by being it.

    I'd say rather that phenomenal consciousness is to be sensing, perceiving and reflective linguistically mediated consciousness is to be conceptualizing, theorizing, although I also think there is a prelinguistic mode of conceptualizing and theorizing.Janus

    I couldn't parse your sentence clearly, but you seem to propose 'phenomenal consciousness is to be' rather than 'phenomenal consciousness is what-it's-like-to-be'. However, since seemingly unconscious artificial recognition systems sense (ie detect) and perceive (ie identify a concrete particular), I don't think we can use just 'to be' to characterise consciousness. Personally, I do like the 'like' in what-it-is-like-to-be (what's not to like?) for that very reason. A current-level AI detection system is nothing it is like to be (we assume). But perhaps I should future-proof my earlier attempt at definition, so ... consciousness is 'what-it-is-like-to-be a complex enough system when normally awake or dreaming'. That's the end of my symbolic representational road.

    Please don't ask how complex the system has to be!
  • Christopher Burke
    18
    Is it possible that electric devices (or anything) have subjective experience and awareness of things, but don't care about, desire, or want to avoid anything?Patterner

    How could we ever know?
  • Patterner
    599
    Is it possible that electric devices (or anything) have subjective experience and awareness of things, but don't care about, desire, or want to avoid anything?
    — Patterner

    How could we ever know?
    Christopher Burke
    Well, yes. Perhaps I didn't word my question well. I think Janus is saying the terms are not defined well. I'm trying to see if we can come up with anything. I'm not asking if we can recognize what it's likeness or subjective experience that lacks cares, desires, or wants in electric devices, or anything else. I'm asking if what it's likeness or subjective experience can exist without those things.
  • Janus
    15.7k
    Is it possible that electric devices (or anything) have subjective experience and awareness of things, but don't care about, desire, or want to avoid anything?Patterner

    I don't know, but I tend to think that out of all the raw sensory data that enters via the senses, only the tiny portion which is meaningful in some way, that is which is cared about, is attended to, and that that attention constitutes awareness or consciousness.

    But all these indicative symbols point to something we all 'know' without recourse to any symbolic representation of that state of being ... simply by being it.Christopher Burke

    I agree with that. Experience I understand to be non-dual, while all our ways of talking about it are dualistic, which is inevitable given that we think in binaries: yes/ no, true/false, subject/object, on/off, good/evil. light/dark, pain/ pleasure etc., etc.

    So, anything we say about it is going to be in some sense a distortion, a misrepresentation. And that's why, to get back to the OP, I say that the irreducibility of phenomenal experience does not refute physicalism any more or less than it refutes idealism. Both physicalism and idealism are under-determined, distortive characterizations of what is there for us.

    Personally, I do like the 'like' in what-it-is-like-to-be (what's not to like?) for that very reason.Christopher Burke

    There is no accounting for taste as the saying goes. Personally, I just prefer to say there is an essential feeling or affective aspect to consciousness which we share with animals and which I imagine machines lack; that seem more parsimonious and less potentially misleading to me.
  • Patterner
    599
    Is it possible that electric devices (or anything) have subjective experience and awareness of things, but don't care about, desire, or want to avoid anything?
    — Patterner

    I don't know, but I tend to think that out of all the raw sensory data that enters via the senses, only the tiny portion which is meaningful in some way, that is which is cared about, is attended to, and that that attention constitutes awareness or consciousness.
    Janus
    Although I don't think I agree, let's just go with this. Is this not a coherent answer that distinguishes what it's like from merely seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, and smelling?
  • Janus
    15.7k
    Although I don't think I agree, let's just go with this. Is this not a coherent answer that distinguishes what it's like from merely seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, and smelling?Patterner

    I don't see the idea that there is an affective element to consciousness as distinguishing what it is like from merely sensing. I think sensing is always already affective and so I would not say that machines sense anything. Machines may have sensors that detect photons, sound waves, molecules and so on, but that is not what I would call sensing. I don't deny the term could be used other than the way I do, but if you want to use the term 'sensing' differently then we will just talk past one another.
  • Christopher Burke
    18
    I think sensing is always already affective and so I would not say that machines sense anything. Machines may have sensors that detect photons, sound waves, molecules and so on, but that is not what I would call sensing.Janus

    I think it's fair enough to distinguish differences between human, animal and AI sensing, but they do share the common function of detecting the presence of something outside themselves. A sensory biological cell performs exactly the same function as an artificial sensor. It's what happens to the sense data immediately after the instant of interaction which differs.

    Apart from the physical differences between biology and technology, affect is almost certainly the distinguishing criterion, because that is about motivation of and evaluation by the sensing individual in terms of their individual needs. It is hard to attribute any motivation and evaluation to simple organisms or current AI. But I suspect it must be necessary once brains developed and intramental modelling of the environment started.

    Affect is attendant at all levels of cognition - sensation, perception, conceptualisation and theorisation. With the most abstruse philosophical issues, I might casually believe that I think and write about them to get as near to rational coherence as possible in my theory. But of course that purely rational explanation is not quite right. I actually think and write about philosophical issues because I desire that theoretical coherence. It feels more comfortable than cognitive dissonance ... for a philosopher anyway. (Generally, alas, people seem to have a very high tolerance of cognitive dissonance: cf politics and religion!)

    This can be fascinatingly accounted for in informational terms. Coherence/order requires less energy to represent and process than incoherence/disorder. Those who know a bit of physics will recognise the entropy connection here and Newton's Second Law of Thermodynamics. Crudely the latter states that the universe tends to increasing disorder, ie greater entropy. Organisms (while alive) need to be highly ordered to survive so use lots of energy to counter the ever threatening entropy. To conserve energy, organisms try to reduce their informational processing needs. Representing orderly situations requires much less information (and therefore energy) than chaotic ones. Affect is the evaluative process here: we feel more comfortable being certain about our situation (ie having sufficient information about it) than being uncertain ((ie not having sufficient information about it). We are much more likely to have sufficient information in orderly (low entropy) situations than in chaotic (high entropy) which threaten our stability. We tend towards our comfort zones in which we feel safer, because it minimises energy usage. This is a very simplified version of Karl Friston's Free Energy Principle, which is much more complicated and comprehensive. (For a gentle introduction cf https://www.aliusresearch.org/bulletin02-fristoninterview.html.)

    Incidentally this illustrates how efficacious an informational paradigm is, since it can straddle the psychical and physical.
  • Patterner
    599
    I don't see the idea that there is an affective element to consciousness as distinguishing what it is like from merely sensing. I think sensing is always already affective and so I would not say that machines sense anything. Machines may have sensors that detect photons, sound waves, molecules and so on, but that is not what I would call sensing. I don't deny the term could be used other than the way I do, but if you want to use the term 'sensing' differently then we will just talk past one another.Janus
    Do you prefer the terms "detectors" and "detecting"?
  • Apustimelogist
    359
    I think 'reducing' should be confined to when one is accounting for a thing by referring to that thing's subparts.Christopher Burke

    Yes, this is what I have been talking about all along. But at the same time, a reduction is a special case of a correlation in the way you're talking about. You have two different representations, the original one and the reducex one and you are creating a mapping between them which is as you would describe a correlation.

    No physical concepts can be applicable to the phenomenal image.Christopher Burke

    I don't think any concepta can be to be honest, and in light of that, I don't think you can say the physicalists picture is more flawed in another. There is no alternative kind of more complete picture I think.
  • Christopher Burke
    18

    Indeed, all conceptual representations may be flawed ... but some are more flawed than others.

    Physical concepts (from folk physics to quantum fields) are obviously hugely propitious. But that mode of representation is insufficient to represent all of life as experienced.

    Consciousness needs another mode of representation, ie phenomenal concepts, to describe it: love, hope, fear, disappointment, uncertainty, attending to (a tree), etc. Some philosophies maintain that this is all there is: ie psychism. I agree with you that this is just as flawed as physicalism for parallel reasons: psychical concepts don't apply to tables, stars or atoms.

    These two modes of representation can have convenient mappings between them, but to claim either can be reduced to the other is false. A reduction may be a sort of mapping, but not all mappings are reductions. I think we probably agree about all this.

    But physicalism claims otherwise, sometimes using unconvincing fudge about 'emerge from' and 'supervenes upon' etc to address its rather large hole: the explanatory gap of consciousness. So, despite your posts, I cannot see how you maintain that this doesn't refute physicalism.

    [1] Physicalism claims that physical representations can account for everything.
    [2] We need non-physical psychical representations to account for some things.
    [3] Ergo physicalism is a false claim.

    Alternatively:
    [1] Physical representation is based on observation.
    [2] Consciousness/phenomenality/subjectivity/'what-it's-like-to-be-ness' cannot be observed.
    [3] Ergo physicalism is a false claim.

    Where is my error?
  • Apustimelogist
    359
    But that mode of representation is insufficient to represent all of life as experienced.Christopher Burke

    Well this is fair but I think it is also in some ways a straw man because most people who say they are physicalists will not have some kind of naive physicalism where they believe the only way to describe the world is with physical concepts. Of course we can talk about organisms, the weather, love, sport, green... whatever.

    Maybe it refutes physicalism in thr way youre thinking about it but I think most physicalists would find that characterization of the issues extremely trivial. I could come to the point of [3] coherently by this type of thought process but then when I look around, what do I see? The world is full of physical things and everything seems to be grounded in the physical, even my consciousness with respect to brains.

    I have actually said earlier in the thread that technically I shouldn't call myself a physicalist but i keep finding myself on this side of these debates which just reflects my intuitive leanings as opposed to a rigorous ontology.

    A more rigorous view would note the difficulty in defining "physical" coherently but then I think this is going away from what motivates the physicalist perspective: that a functioning model of how the world works doesn't require dualism or some separable phenomenal machinery to it that is independent from our physical models. There is nothing else to explain about consciousness.
  • wonderer1
    1.8k
    [1] Physicalism claims that physical representations can account for everything.
    [2] We need non-physical psychical representations to account for some things.
    [3] Ergo physicalism is a false claim.
    ...
    Where is my error?
    Christopher Burke

    I would correct your first two premises as follows:

    [1]Physicalism claims that physical representations processes occuring in nature can account for everything.
    [2]For practical purposes we need to resort to simplistic non-physical psychical representations to account for some things, because we don't have detailed data about what is going on in our brains, nor do we have brains capable of processing such a mountain of data in an expeditious way.

    So you would at least need to add some additional premises to reach your conclusion.
  • Christopher Burke
    18
    physicalists will not have some kind of naive physicalism where they believe the only way to describe the world is with physical conceptsApustimelogist

    Then surely they are not physicalists. They are people like us who think that physical representations are extremely effective with much of life, but not all of it. Physicalism plus is no longer physicalism by any definition I can think of. Once you concede that a purely physical stance is insufficient, how can you be a physicalist? I agree entirely that 'physical' needs a lot more work to define it, but whatever the definition is, it seems to me that there will be aspects of life which physical concepts don't account for. If you can actually provide a sufficient definition of the physical, then you have solved the Hard Problem.

    I think the crux here is the implicit assumption that physical = real. I don't judge that there is any warrant for that ontological belief for several reasons:
    - History shows the hubris of humans claiming to know what reality 'really' is. All sorts of ontologically dualistic systems positing earthly and transcendent realms were fervently believed contemporaneously to be reality. The success of science, and its worthy claim to monism, lulled us into the arrogance of Empiricism ... yet another claim to be able to circumvent perception and 'know the noumena'.
    - Physical representations keep changing. 19th century physicists would have said the world is really made of atoms. Modern physicists would regard that as simplistic and have recourse to the much more epistemic concepts of fields and information. Has fundamental reality changed as we've changed our theories about it? A bit implausible.
    - The neo-Kantian paradigm, ubiquitous in current neuroscience, psychology, ethology, etc, which assumes that our relationship to reality is essentially representational, is very well grounded in experiment.

    All this is of course not to deny extramental reality per se, but merely to posit that each sufficiently complex organism interacts with it by intramentally constructing a model of it ... their own Weltenschuuang. We as bio-agents are no different. Reality, since we have good grounds for assuming it contains conscious agents, is more complex than solely physical concepts can handle. How many more centuries of Physicalist failure are we going to tolerate before accepting that there is something more complicated going on with reality?
  • Christopher Burke
    18
    [1]Physicalism claims that physical representations processes occurring in nature can account for everything.
    [2]For practical purposes we need to resort to simplistic non-physical psychical representations to account for some things, because we don't have detailed data about what is going on in our brains, nor do we have brains capable of processing such a mountain of data in an expeditious way.
    wonderer1

    Re your version of [1]: Can processes per se account for anything? I agree with Hume that causation is essentially epistemic. We can have a useful account (ie a symbolic representation) positing that A causes B. But causation is a not necessary concept. In a block universe where time is represented, A and B are part of a single spatio-temporal 'thread'.

    Re your version of [2]:
    'Practical purposes' do indicate something important about how we interact with extramental reality. I don't think they can be dismissed so easily as irrelevant to our understanding. You say "we need to resort to simplistic non-physical psychical representations", but most psychologists would dispute that pejorative classification as simplistic ... as would I.
    we don't have detailed data about what is going on in our brainswonderer1
    Even if we had a complete model based on all possible data from observation, would we know what it is like to be that bit of reality?

    “The last dollop in the theory [of Physicalism] – that it subjectively feels like something to be such [neural] circuitry – may have to be stipulated as a fact about reality where explanation stops.”
    Steven Pinker, 2018, Enlightenment Now: the Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress
  • Apustimelogist
    359
    Once you concede that a purely physical stance is insufficient, how can you be a physicalist? I agree entirely that 'physical' needs a lot more work to define it, but whatever the definition is, it seems to me that there will be aspects of life which physical concepts don't account for. If you can actually provide a sufficient definition of the physical, then you have solved the Hard Problem.Christopher Burke

    Because this is to say that your conceptualizations are the same as your ontology of the world. For instance, everyone believes in feelings which you might label "love", in everyday life peopke may not be able to or want to characterize that physically. But that doesnt mean you dont believe in a universe where there is something called love floating about with its onwn separate ontological being to physical things. Its still something that is embedded in the physical very much so. The fact I can make a conceptual separation is just trivial.

    I think the crux here is the implicit assumption that physical = real.Christopher Burke

    No I think its about needing something more than the physical to explain reality. Yes obviously we have things above physics like biology and aocial sciences bit they all seem to be grounded in the physical.

    - Physical representations keep changing. 19th century physicists would have said the world is really made of atoms. Modern physicists would regard that as simplistic and have recourse to the much more epistemic concepts of fields and information. Has fundamental reality changed as we've changed our theories about it? A bit implausible.Christopher Burke

    Again, its about needing something more than these models, regardless of what those models say specifically.

    Reality, since we have good grounds for assuming it contains conscious agents, is more complex than solely physical concepts can handleChristopher Burke

    I don't really understand what extra things would be needed to explain conscious agents above things related to the natural sciences, math, computation, information theory etc.
  • wonderer1
    1.8k
    Re your version of [1]: Can processes per se account for anything? I agree with Hume that causation is essentially epistemic. We can have a useful account (ie a symbolic representation) positing that A causes B. But causation is a not necessary concept. In a block universe where time is represented, A and B are part of a single spatio-temporal 'thread'.Christopher Burke

    I agree. There is much we can't be certain about regarding the nature of reality. Still, we are talking about the way a physicalist sees things.

    Re your version of [2]:
    'Practical purposes' do indicate something important about how we interact with extramental reality. I don't think they can be dismissed so easily as irrelevant to our understanding. You say "we need to resort to simplistic non-physical psychical representations", but most psychologists would dispute that pejorative classification as simplistic ... as would I.
    Christopher Burke

    It wasn't meant as a pejorative. Just a statement about what the situation is. Hopefully scientific psychologists would recognize, along with Einstein:

    The scientific theorist is not to be envied. For Nature, or more precisely experiment, is an inexorable and not very friendly judge of his work. It never says "Yes" to a theory. In the most favorable cases it says "Maybe", and in the great majority of cases simply "No". If an experiment agrees with a theory it means for the latter "Maybe", and if it does not agree it means "No". Probably every theory will someday experience its "No"—most theories, soon after conception.

    Psychologists are considering what is going on, in systems much more complex than Einstein considered. Simplistic psychological theories are the most we can reasonably hope for at this point in human history. I'm not saying that psychologists are not doing a great job at improving our understanding of our minds. It's just the nature of the situation humanity is in.

    Even if we had a complete model based on all possible data from observation, would we know what it is like to be that bit of reality?Christopher Burke

    Not comprehensively. We aren't capable of fully knowing what it is like to be each other. But that's a limitation that comes with having a physical mind.

    “The last dollop in the theory [of Physicalism] – that it subjectively feels like something to be such [neural] circuitry – may have to be stipulated as a fact about reality where explanation stops.”
    Steven Pinker, 2018, Enlightenment Now: the Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress
    Christopher Burke

    I think Pinker is overly pessimistic. There is much understanding to be gained beyond where Pinker suggests explanation might stop.
  • Janus
    15.7k
    It's what happens to the sense data immediately after the instant of interaction which differs.Christopher Burke

    I agree. With humans, as soon as the sense data reaches awareness it is always already imbued with meaning. With machines it simply never reaches awareness unless it is ours or some other animal's.

    I actually think and write about philosophical issues because I desire that theoretical coherence. It feels more comfortable than cognitive dissonance ... for a philosopher anyway. (Generally, alas, people seem to have a very high tolerance of cognitive dissonance: cf politics and religion!)Christopher Burke

    Coherent theories can be wrong; most probably are. Or if not wrong then under-determined. For those who like thinking rationally consistency is important. I don't think those who think little experience cognitive dissonance, because consistency is not important to them, or they don't think enough to see that there are inconsistencies between their different thoughts or beliefs.

    Yes, maybe I was a bit careless there. The trouble here is that we are paddling around at the bottom of the epistemic well. There are no sub-concepts to fall back on, so we end up swapping synonyms. So 'sentient', 'aware', 'conscious', 'what it's like to be' are interchangeable, although some philosophers discern subtle differences.Christopher Burke

    I think terms find their meanings, their senses, in relation to contexts, to associative networks of understanding. That's why any term will mean more or less differently to different people.

    When we reach epistemic "bottom", so to speak, I think we confront our basic (rationally) groundless presuppositions. I don't see this as the place to find certainty, self-evidence, but rather the place that lets us see other possibilities. other basic presuppositions, other perspectives, and the basic groundlessness of all perspectives.

    Of course, this won't satisfy those who are uncomfortable with uncertainty.
  • Christopher Burke
    18
    But that doesnt mean you dont believe in a universe where there is something called love floating about with its onwn separate ontological being to physical things. Its still something that is embedded in the physical very much so.Apustimelogist
    I'm afraid this "separate ontological being" makes no sense to me. If you do believe in such a realm, surely you are back to something like a Cartesian dualism, which then requires some formally inexplicable relation between the two different onticities ... such as 'embedding' in your proposal. Such a belief would violate Physicalism's claims of an exclusively physical monism. This is an indication of why I abstain from ontological declarations: I regard them as ultra vires.

    I don't really understand what extra things would be needed to explain conscious agents above things related to the natural sciences, math, computation, information theory etc.Apustimelogist
    Explanation is hypothesising about posited causal relations between observables. Consciousness is not observable. Can you weigh a thought? The extra ideas (things?) you requested are found in psychology, which tries to map between psychical concepts representing subjective experience and physical concepts representing neuroscientific observation (ie NCCs - neural correlates of consciousness). But that doesn't imply the former are physical or even that they are caused by or embedded in the physical. It merely implies that some complex bits of reality need parallel representations (mind/brain) to exhaustively describe them and deal with them practically.

    Supposing a neuroscientist is looking at a brain scan which detects intensive neural behaviour in specific areas. S/he might be able, on the basis of previous identification of NCCs, to then say "Aha ...the 'owner' of the brain is probably feeling love", or another specific emotional state. This predictability has strong experimental support. But that doesn't mean that the emotional state is physical, merely that there is a mutual supervenience between two modes of representation, one psychical (non-observational) and the other physical (observational). You might say; "Ah ... but the physical observables are the real thing!" However if you did that, you would be denying your own subjective experience as real because it isn't observable (by any normative meaning of 'observable'), even by you.

    For Physicalism to be up to the job of describing all of reality, it seems to me that it must do one of the following:
    - Expand it's conceptual repertoire to include psychical concepts (btw this is what most versions of panpsychism try to do) ... but then it no longer falls under any normative definition of 'Physicalism'.
    - Hope that mind can eventually be explanatorily reduced to (not just mapped onto) physical concepts ... but you and I don't believe that's possible; a long history of scientific 'failure' casts a severe doubt about the possibility; and I think it is logically incoherent.
    If one of these get-outs works for someone, fine. But the cognitive dissonance is not to my taste.
  • Christopher Burke
    18
    We aren't capable of fully knowing what it is like to be each other. But that's a limitation that comes with having a physical mind.wonderer1
    I would prefer to say that it is not possible to know what-it-is-like-to-be a different bit of reality because we only know what-it-is-like-to-be the bit of reality which is ourself. However the ability to think about (intramentally represent) this with psychical concepts allows us to putatively attribute similar psychical concepts to other bits of reality: ie we can empathise and have a 'theory of mind'. Furthermore with detailed observations and imagination, talented authors can even write fictional accounts of other minds providing readers with alternative virtual vicarious subjectivities. I agree with the rest of your post.
  • Christopher Burke
    18
    Coherent theories can be wrong; most probably are. Or if not wrong then under-determined. For those who like thinking rationally consistency is important.Janus

    I agree with that ... even coherent theories can be wrong, but only empirically based ones. Mathematical and logical theorems are, by definition, coherent and correct because they are a chain of valid deductions. If they are incoherent, they are not theorems. Unlike all empirically based theories, theorems are not defeasible and universally accepted once proven (by those who understand them).

    The situation gets of course a lot messier with empirically based theories, but here again coherence is the only game in town. Now however, coherence means logical conformity with those existing theories regarded as true and consistency with relevant data - ultimate exterosensory data. This makes such theories more plausible of course, but as you say, doesn't guarantee truth. A vast ocean of epistemology opens up in trying to define truth, but for current purposes: a true theory is one with high levels of predictive and retrodictive success. This seems to bring in a necessary probabilistic aspect to theorisation.

    So far, so robotic. It gets messier still when the various elements of a theory ('theory' defined in the widest possible way as an efficacious model of some bit of reality) become affectually 'weighted' by the theoriser (ie implicitly or explicitly assessed in terms of its costs and benefits to them). Rational cognition has to then achieve some construct which optimises the total affectual 'weight'. Hence the same facts can lead to different theories because of differing personal values. As you state:
    I think terms find their meanings, their senses, in relation to contexts, to associative networks of understanding. That's why any term will mean more or less differently to different people.Janus
    Connotations count as much as denotations ... maybe even more in most ordinary situations.

    By gaining coherence, we hope to also gain correspondence between our theory and its referent extramental states of affairs, but we can't check that directly. So coherence is our only yardstick for truth: to seriously doubt its reliability is the road to madness and damnation! A little fly in the ointment here is that at bottom, coherence relies on logic and any formal system suffers Gödelian incompleteness. But if anyone judges coherence to be unreliable, just try incoherence!
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