• Marchesk
    2.5k
    I was at the bookstore and saw Daniel Dennett's 1991 book, Consciousness Explained. Having a few minutes, I turned to the chapter and read his account of colors.

    Dennett states that prior to evolution, it's a mistake to think of the world as being colored in any way that we experience color. Rather, color evolved as a coevolutionary coding scheme between plants and animals. Flowers guide insects to nectar using a color scheme, just as fruits guide mammals to spreading their seeds. Of course the actual evolutionary account is going to be a lot more complex, but those two examples suffice.

    As such, color is the result of animals who evolved the means to detect the visual coding scheme of other organism, depending on the species needs. Dennett says that nature doesn't produce epistemic engines, rather it produces creatures who perceive the world according to their "narcissistic" needs. This goes for the other sensor modalities as well.

    Therefore, the scientific account of color is going to be a complex explanation of the coding scheme in question, such as the trichromatic colors humans see that we call visible light.

    This raises several questions/issues for me.

    1. Does it dissolve the hard problem of consciousness by providing a scientific explanation for colors, sounds, smells, etc?

    2. Does this entail that direct perception is false, being that secondary qualities (color, taste, etc.) are not properties of things themselves, but rather coding schemes that relate to the chemical makeup of sugar or reflective surfaces of leaves (using the two examples above)?

    3. We know that color experience is produced after the visual cortex is stimulated. This can the result of perception, memory, imagination, dream, magnetic cranial stimulation, etc. If a person's visual cortex is damaged enough, they lose all ability to have color experiences, including being able to remember colors. It's hard to avoid concluding that color experiences are generated by the brain. But that sounds like the makings of a cartesian theater, which Dennett has spent his career tearing down.
  • Wayfarer
    7k
    Dennett says that nature doesn't produce epistemic enginesMarchesk

    You do wonder how evolution produced a being that could write a book by that means. But then if such a being did evolve and did write a book, it might be only to satisfy a narcissistic need. It couldn't after all have anything meaningful to say, because 'meaning' is only an adaptation.
  • Marchesk
    2.5k
    I didn't want to go down the meaning rabbit hole in this thread. I'm aware of that sort of criticism. What I'm wondering is if Dennett's approach can dissolve the hard problem by showing how color, sound, etc is explained.
  • Wayfarer
    7k
    Dennett dissolves the 'hard problem' much more simply than that - simply declares that there is no such problem.
  • Forgottenticket
    132
    Good thread,

    firstly, Dennett is inconsistent with applying the Cartesian theatre. Look at his past adoration for the global neuronal workspace theory of consciousness and tell me how that is not the CT.
    Anyway I'm not impressed by the Hard problem as it is phrased. Though the bottom up evo-psych explanation doesn't make sense from a philosophy of action pov either. We see phenomenal objects and respond to them as phenomenal objects and not biological code. I don't think it's controversial to say color was created by natural selection provided NS accounts for more than just random mutation but purposeful selected choices by the organisms.
    Look at this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wq6V4OD_DSs
    It's undeniable a phenomenal Jesus appears and that's what is being discussed here. When I type this post I am reacting to the image of Jesus and not say- it's dimensions, hue, tone, (bit pieces). How on earth can evolution avoid addressing phenomenal objects?
  • Marchesk
    2.5k
    Look at this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wq6V4OD_DSs
    It's undeniable a phenomenal Jesus appears and that's what is being discussed here. When I type this post I am reacting to the image of Jesus and not say- it's dimensions, hue, tone, (bit pieces).
    JupiterJess

    Are objects of veridical perception phenomenal? It seems that way if color, sound, etc. are phenomenal.

    I suppose an evolutionary account would say those kinds of illusions are a byproduct of how our visual system works. Sometimes it can be fooled. As for how we turn colors into shapes and what not, that would probably involve different brain regions dedicated to the task.

    But why it's sometimes phenomenal and sometimes not? I don't know. Dennett liked to say there were computing "agents" in the brain, and once one got focus, the contents of that "agent" would be phenomenal, to paraphrase his argument. But why getting focus would led to a phenomenal experience still seems unexplained.
  • macrosoft
    674
    1. Does it dissolve the hard problem of consciousness by providing a scientific explanation for colors, sounds, smells, etc?Marchesk

    What is explanation? I'd say he adds meaning to the situation, but I still don't feel satisfied. What would an answer to the hard question even look like. Can being itself or the space in which all questioning and explanation takes place be explained? If explanation is just a tool, just an implicit rule for pressing buttons, then that's something else. If it is supposed to obliterate wonder, I'm guessing that 1000 years from now (if we are still around) that the same issue will be in play.

    2. Does this entail that direct perception is false, being that secondary qualities (color, taste, etc.) are not properties of things themselves, but rather coding schemes that relate to the chemical makeup of sugar or reflective surfaces of leaves (using the two examples above)?Marchesk

    Even if they are also coding schemes in one framework, they are 'directly' exactly what they already are. Can Dennet give an account of meaning itself? That 'inner' dimension in which his theory is intelligible for us? Is such an account thinkable? It would of course presuppose meaning.

    3. We know that color experience is produced after the visual cortex is stimulated. This can the result of perception, memory, imagination, dream, magnetic cranial stimulation, etc. If a person's visual cortex is damaged enough, they lose all ability to have color experiences, including being able to remember colors. It's hard to avoid concluding that color experiences are generated by the brain. But that sounds like the makings of a cartesian theater, which Dennett has spent his career tearing down.Marchesk

    Good point. It makes sense to me that we could lose color through brain injury, and that colors are somehow generated by the brain. I even understand that of course a scientist would want to explain these things. On the other hand, one gets the sense sometimes that there is such a fear of ghosts and so on that basic facts are avoided as much as possible.
  • jamalrob
    1.9k
    2. Does this entail that direct perception is false, being that secondary qualities (color, taste, etc.) are not properties of things themselves, but rather coding schemes that relate to the chemical makeup of sugar or reflective surfaces of leaves (using the two examples above)?Marchesk

    But the chemical makeup of sugar or reflective surfaces of leaves are properties of those coloured things.

    Being coloured a particular determinate colour or shade … is equivalent to having a particular spectral reflectance, illuminance, or emittance that looks that colour to a particular perceiver in specific viewing conditions. — Evan Thompson

    It's the leaves--not an "idea" or representation--that are green, but they only look green to certain perceiving beings in certain environments. Thus, colour is entirely relational. According to taste one could see this as a deficiency in the language--because of the way we use "colour", we can't say whether colour belongs solely to us or to the things we're looking at--or else one could see it as expressing the essentially relational nature of perception.

    3. We know that color experience is produced after the visual cortex is stimulated. This can the result of perception, memory, imagination, dream, magnetic cranial stimulation, etc. If a person's visual cortex is damaged enough, they lose all ability to have color experiences, including being able to remember colors. It's hard to avoid concluding that color experiences are generated by the brain. But that sounds like the makings of a cartesian theater, which Dennett has spent his career tearing down.Marchesk

    I don't think saying that the brain produces the experience of colour entails that there is an interior spectator. I imagine Dennett might say, not that the brain produces colours for us to look at internally, but that the relevant events in the brain just are those colour experiences. That's not how I would put it myself, but I don't think the Cartesian theatre is entailed either way.
  • Marchesk
    2.5k
    I don't think saying that the brain produces the experience of colour entails that there is an interior spectator. I imagine Dennett might say, not that the brain produces colours for us to look at internally, but that the relevant events in the brain just are those colour experiences. That's not how I would put it myself, but I don't think the Cartesian theatre is entailed either way.jamalrob

    Perhaps not, but it does still leave all of Chalmers' arguments for the hard problem in play. How do we account for brain events having color experiences?

    But the chemical makeup of sugar or reflective surfaces of leaves are properties of those coloured things.jamalrob

    Yes, but our experience isn't of the chemical makeup, but rather of color. And if that color occurs in the brain, then it's hard to see how we could be directly perceiving a red apple.
  • jamalrob
    1.9k
    Yes, but our experience isn't of the chemical makeup, but rather of color. And if that color occurs in the brain, then it's hard to see how we could be directly perceiving a red apple.Marchesk

    I don't see why. Evan Thompson's description is consistent with an account of perception that has been described as "direct". But then, different people mean different things by "direct perception". The substance of my post was the bit about colour being essentially relational.

    Perhaps not, but it does still leave all of Chalmers' arguments for the hard problem in play. How do we account for brain events having color experiences?Marchesk

    I'm not sure. With some kind of combination of evolutionary biology, ecology and phenomenology, I'd guess. That's handwaving, I know.
  • Marchesk
    2.5k
    Thus, colour is entirely relational. According to taste one could see this as a deficiency in the language--because of the way we use "colour", we can't say whether colour belongs to us or the things we're looking at--or else one could see it as demonstrating the essential relational nature of perception.jamalrob

    The Cyreneacs liked to say they were sweetened or reddened instead of the apple being sweet or red, which acknowledges that color and taste are properties of the perceiver, which John Locke also pointed out. Dennett starts by mentioning Locke's primary and secondary qualities.

    I don't see why. Evan Thompson's description is consistent with an account of perception that has been described as "direct". But then, different people mean different things by "direct perception".jamalrob

    Because color and taste are in the brain, not out there in the world.

    But then, different people mean different things by "direct perception".jamalrob

    Indeed, we've had this discussion before. But I take it to be a dispute over whether something mental or the object itself is the content of perception. Since objects aren't actually colored or sweet, I have some problems with the second option.
  • jamalrob
    1.9k
    Because color and taste are in the brain, not out there in the world.Marchesk

    Why do you reject the relational account, under which colour is a property of perceived things, as perceived in a certain way in a certain environment?
  • Marchesk
    2.5k
    Why do you reject the relational account, under which colour is a proprty of perceived things, as perceived in a certain way in a certain environment?jamalrob

    Because that property is generated in the brain. Also, consider that perceptual relativity means that an objects relational properties can vary.
  • jamalrob
    1.9k
    I think you're missing the point.
  • Marchesk
    2.5k
    I think you're missing the point.jamalrob

    What is the point then?
  • jamalrob
    1.9k
    I can't think of a way of saying it more clearly.
  • Marchesk
    2.5k
    I can't think of a way of saying it more clearly.jamalrob

    Then I don't agree with the point that relational properties means direct perception is the case, because what I'm aware of is dependent on the kind of perceiver I am, and not the object itself.
  • jamalrob
    1.9k
    The relational account holds that the leaves themselves are green (under certain conditions etc). This entails that it is not something mental that is perceived, which is your definition of indirect perception.

    Thus direct perception on this account depends on both perceiver and perceived. As seems kind of obvious when you think about it.

    And if the fact that different perceivers perceive in different ways were enough to kill off direct perception as a philosophical position, then the fact that dogs can't see green would have resolved this issue a while ago.
  • Marchesk
    2.5k
    The relational account holds that the leaves themselves are green (under certain conditions etc). This entails that it is not something mental that is perceived, which is your definition of indirect perception.jamalrob

    Well, they are green under certain conditions for the sort of eyes and nervous system I possess. The reason for supposing the green is mental is because it's being generated in the brain, and yet it's not reducible to neurons firing, at least as far as current neuroscience goes.

    If the relational account can show that green, taste, etc. are not mental, then Dennett is a long ways toward dissolving the hard problem.
  • jamalrob
    1.9k
    The reason for supposing the green is mental is because it's being generated in the brainMarchesk

    Our bodies (eyes, brain, etc) respond in specific ways to our environment. To me that doesn't make colour merely of the body. It is how we see things, and the way we see things is owing to the way our brains and eyes are (and how we behave). But still, it is the things that are green.

    NOTE: Haven't we been here before March, many many years ago? :rofl:
  • Marchesk
    2.5k
    But still, it is the things that are green.jamalrob

    Let's try this for temperature. Three people are in a room. One complains that it's hot, another that it's cold, and third that the temperature feels just fine.

    Who is right? We can consult the thermostat and all agree that it measures the room temperature at a certain degrees F or C. But what of our experience? Do we suppose that the room itself is either cold, hot or just right?

    Of course not. Things feel cold or hot to humans because of the kind of temperature ranges we can survive in, and what the status of our individual bodies are at that moment. If I just walked out of a freezer, the room will probably feel warm.

    And we also know from physics that heat is really the amount of energy in a system. It doesn't make sense to ask whether the sun feels hot or space feels cold, absent an animal that can feel hot or cold when exposed to either (assuming it survives).

    As such, when we say it's cold outside, that's an experience of our bodies reacting to the amount of energy in the environment. We perceive cold water, but that experience of cold is from us. And thus we can agree with the Cyreneacs and say, "I am cold". Therefore, our perception has a component that isn't in the water itself, since water can't feel cold or hot.
  • jamalrob
    1.9k
    Therefore, our perception has a component that isn't in the water itself, since water can't feel cold or hot.Marchesk

    Well yes, perception is relational, depending on both perceiver and perceived (I'd also want to add the environment and the actions of the perceiver, but we can leave it aside for now).

    Temperature perception is variable in a way that colour perception is not, and this is expressed in the way we talk and think about hot/cold vs green/blue/red etc.
  • Marchesk
    2.5k
    Temperature perception is variable in a way that colour perception is not, and this is expressed in the way we talk and think about hot/cold vs green/blue/red etc.jamalrob

    So would you say that we directly perceive the red apple, but not the cold water, which might feel warm to someone used to ice swimming in Siberia?
  • VagabondSpectre
    1.3k
    1. Does it dissolve the hard problem of consciousness by providing a scientific explanation for colors, sounds, smells, etc?Marchesk

    It doesn't dissolve the hard problem, though it does indicate that at least everything pertaining to consciousness but the hard problem is solvable.

    We can imagine physical mechanisms which discriminate between different wavelengths of light, and we can even imagine plausible evolutionary histories...

    The hard question would be, why does our experience of color feel like an experience at all?

    2. Does this entail that direct perception is false, being that secondary qualities (color, taste, etc.) are not properties of things themselves, but rather coding schemes that relate to the chemical makeup of sugar or reflective surfaces of leaves (using the two examples above)?Marchesk

    The chemical makeup and other spectral properties of objects are indeed properties of objects. When photons strike an atom or molecule, it can be absorbed, reflected, or some combination of both. When white light strikes a "green" object a certain portion of its energy is absorbed and the rest is reflected as a photon with a different wavelength. That change in wavelength carries information about the chemical and molecular makeup of the object it last struck, and it is that information color discriminating eyeballs have tapped into. It might be fair to say that our phenomenological perception of color is an abstraction, but it is not fair to say that it does not convey information about the external world.

    3. We know that color experience is produced after the visual cortex is stimulated. This can the result of perception, memory, imagination, dream, magnetic cranial stimulation, etc. If a person's visual cortex is damaged enough, they lose all ability to have color experiences, including being able to remember colors. It's hard to avoid concluding that color experiences are generated by the brain. But that sounds like the makings of a cartesian theater, which Dennett has spent his career tearing down.Marchesk

    In light of damage to the brain eliminating one's ability to have color experiences, Dennett would probably say that this validates his view that the hard problem is itself a fundamental misunderstanding (that the mechanisms of our behavior are the experiences, and without them the Cartesian homunculus ceases to apparently exist).
  • jamalrob
    1.9k
    No, it's the water that is the object of perception in cases both of feeling that's it's cold and feeling that it's warm.

    EDIT: in fact, the framework of direct vs indirect takes us down the wrong path here, I think. So yeah, temperature perception is a good example.
  • Marchesk
    2.5k
    No, it's the water that is the object of perception in both cases.jamalrob

    Yes, but the feeling of the water comes from us, and we're aware of it in perception. That suggests we're aware of something we might be tempted to call mental when perceiving temperature.
  • jamalrob
    1.9k
    The feeling is a property of a system involving the perceiver in an environment, so no, I wouldn't accept your formulation.
  • Marchesk
    2.5k
    It doesn't dissolve the hard problem, though it does indicate that at least everything pertaining to consciousness but the hard problem is solvable.

    We can imagine physical mechanisms which discriminate between different wavelengths of light, and we can even imagine plausible evolutionary histories...

    The hard question would be, why does our experience of color feel like an experience at all?
    VagabondSpectre

    Yeah, that sounds correct. And Chalmers arguments for the hard problem escape Dennett's assessment in that book. We still want to know how/why red is an experience.
  • SteveKlinko
    349
    This raises several questions/issues for me.

    1. Does it dissolve the hard problem of consciousness by providing a scientific explanation for colors, sounds, smells, etc?
    Marchesk
    If the Scientific explanation, for something like the experience of the Color Red, consists of an analysis that ends with particular Neurons Firing then that would not solve the Hard Problem. The Scientific explanation must go beyond the Neurons and tell us How it is that Neural Activity can produce a Conscious experience like Redness. What property of Neurons produces this Redness and How does a particular Conscious Mind perceive this Redness thing. We need to give more importance to the Experience itself. Start with the Experience and work back to the Neural Activity. How can that experience of Redness ever come out of Neural Activity? That is the Hard Problem.

    2. Does this entail that direct perception is false, being that secondary qualities (color, taste, etc.) are not properties of things themselves, but rather coding schemes that relate to the chemical makeup of sugar or reflective surfaces of leaves (using the two examples above)?Marchesk
    Direct perception is obviously false with any analysis of the chain of processing from Retina to Cortex to Experience. The Experience is at the end of this chain of Processing and is always a Surrogate for the External World perceived thing. We never Directly See anything.

    3. We know that color experience is produced after the visual cortex is stimulated. This can the result of perception, memory, imagination, dream, magnetic cranial stimulation, etc. If a person's visual cortex is damaged enough, they lose all ability to have color experiences, including being able to remember colors. It's hard to avoid concluding that color experiences are generated by the brain. But that sounds like the makings of a cartesian theater, which Dennett has spent his career tearing down.Marchesk
    Science can tell you what the resultant Neural Activity is for the Perception of the Color Red, but Science can only speculate that there is some undiscovered Property of Neurons that produces the actual Experience of Redness. Science does not know How Neural activity produces Redness. There is a Huge Explanatory Gap here.
  • Michael
    7.6k
    The chemical makeup and other spectral properties of objects are indeed properties of objects. When photons strike an atom or molecule, it can be absorbed, reflected, or some combination of both. When white light strikes a "green" object a certain portion of its energy is absorbed and the rest is reflected as a photon with a different wavelength. That change in wavelength carries information about the chemical and molecular makeup of the object it last struck, and it is that information color discriminating eyeballs have tapped into. It might be fair to say that our phenomenological perception of color is an abstraction, but it is not fair to say that it does not convey information about the external world.VagabondSpectre

    Different animals (and even different people) experience that wavelength in different ways. Does it make sense to say that two different organisms are given the same information about the object being looked at despite seeing it to be different colours (e.g. orange for one, red for the other)?

    At best there's indirect knowledge after finding out what kind of wavelength elicits what kind of colour experience in oneself. But prior to any kind of scientific analysis of light and perception, what does me seeing a thing to be green tell me about that thing, other than that it is such that I see it to be green?
  • frank
    2.3k
    Does it dissolve the hard problem of consciousness by providing a scientific explanation for colors, sounds, smells, etc?Marchesk

    Did he mention that eyes independently evolved more than 50 times? The insect eye is not the forerunner of human eyes. Fish eyes are.

    I think he needs to address that before claiming to explain sight. What are the similarities in eye development? How are they different?

    Qualia is a separate issue.
bold
italic
underline
strike
code
quote
ulist
image
url
mention
reveal
youtube
tweet
Add a Comment

Welcome to The Philosophy Forum!

Get involved in philosophical discussions about knowledge, truth, language, consciousness, science, politics, religion, logic and mathematics, art, history, and lots more. No ads, no clutter, and very little agreement — just fascinating conversations.