• Marchesk
    2.8k
    Keith Frankish and Daniel Dennett are too proponents that conscious experience is an illusion produced by some yet to be discovered mechanism in the brain. By this, illusionists mean that we're being fooled by a cognitive trick into believing we have experiences of color, sound, pain, etc, leading some philosophers to propose there is a hard problem of trying to explain those experiences inside a scientific framework (the terminology of physics, chemistry, biology and neuroscience or cognitive science). Consciousness is compared to a magic show, where the brain fools us using some slight of cognition we're not aware of.

    The goal is to dissolve the hard problem without just handwaving it away or giving into some form of dualism. But taken illusionism to its logical conclusion has serious ramifications for knowledge. When I perceive an apple, I'm not just aware of the apple's color or its taste, I'm also aware of it's shape and weight. Some qualities of human experience are the basis for science. But if color and taste are illusions, what reason would we have for supposing that shape and weight are not? After-all, we know about apples by experiencing them via our sensations of color, taste, etc.

    I don't see how they can get around this. Maybe there is a p-zombie argument for justifying beliefs?
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k
    What would be the difference between an illusion of consciousness and consciousness, or an illusion of an experience of color, etc. and just an experience of color?

    It's not at all clear what the heck the distinction would be.
  • Theologian
    160

    What would be the difference between an illusion of consciousness and consciousnessTerrapin Station

    Ooh, good point!

    In a way, you could even say that the illusion theory is just pushing consciousness away one step. What then is experiencing the illusion?

    I speak with no direct knowledge of Frankish and Dennett's work, so some caution is in order. But on the face of it it seems like a redundant middle step that explains nothing.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k


    The whole gist of saying that something is an illusion is that we're saying our mental phenomenon--which could be a perception--turns out to get things wrong. For example, we perceive water on the road up ahead, but it turns out that there's no water in the road; it's just refracted light due to road/air temperature differences on a hot day.

    But when we talk about something like experience of a color, we can't say that we have a mental phenomenon that turns out to be wrong, because all we're talking about in the first place is the mental phenomenon. If we're granting that we have the mental phenomenon of color (so that we can have an "illusion"), then we can't turn around and say that we don't have the mental phenomenon of color.
  • Shamshir
    757
    The distinction is - the object opposed to a reflection.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k


    The "object" would be "the experience of a color," right?
  • Janus
    8.3k
    If we're granting that we have the mental phenomenon of color (so that we can have an "illusion"), then we can't turn around and say that we don't have the mental phenomenon of color.Terrapin Station

    It's even more basic than that. Colour is a real phenomenon by any account and not a merely "mental" phenomenon.
  • Marchesk
    2.8k
    It's even more basic than that. Colour is a real phenomenon by any account and not a merely "mental" phenomenon.Janus

    That's debatable and a minority position called color realism. Wavelengths of light and reflective surfaces are real. Whether either of those could be said to be colored in the way we experience color is controversial.

    Compare this to feeling hot or cold, which relates to the amount of energy the particles in a volume of space has. Our experience of the energy can result in feeling cold or hot, but the space doesn't feel that way. Similarly, our experience of color relates to visible light reflecting off surfaces of objects.

    Even granting color realism, it certainly wouldn't apply to all of our conscious sensations. Kicking a rock and feeling pain is a perceiver dependent experience, not a property of the rock.
  • Marchesk
    2.8k
    In a way, you could even say that the illusion theory is just pushing consciousness away one step. What then is experiencing the illusion?Theologian

    Frankish says that the Illusionist argument can't just be pushing the hard problem back one step, so what's being claimed is that the illusion is that we have an experience at all. It's a cognitive trick. Dennett and Frankish use the metaphor of a magic show with slight of hand being used to fool our brains.
  • Marchesk
    2.8k
    If we're granting that we have the mental phenomenon of color (so that we can have an "illusion"), then we can't turn around and say that we don't have the mental phenomenon of color.Terrapin Station

    This is a good point, but I think they're using illusion in the sense of a magic trick which creates an experience of real magic that's actually smoke and mirrors where the audience is fooled because they can't think of how it's being pulled off. Similarly, our brains are tricking us into thinking we're having these experiences of color, smell, pain, etc.

    As such, we're philosophical zombies according to the Illusionist. Even David Chalmers has referenced this argument on a recent podcast, saying that it's important and interesting because it provides an argument for the neurological mechanism that would cause his zombie twin in the zombie universe to argue for the hard problem!

    To which the Illusionist would respond that the real world Chalmers is being fooled into thinking he's not in the philosophical zombie universe. I think the p-zombie argument is problematic, because of this, but I otherwise agree with Chalmers.
  • Theologian
    160

    On the face of it this position has serious logical flaws. But... it would be wrong to pre-judge without reading their argument. Can you give us a reference? A specific paper?
  • Marchesk
    2.8k
    This link is to a PDF of Dennet's review of Keith Frankish's survey of the Illusionist argument.

    https://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/dennett/papers/illusionism.pdf

    He's a link to a 22 page PDF with Keith's argument. I haven't read this one yet as I'm a lot more familiar with what Dennett has had to say over the years, which was always along these lines.

    https://nbviewer.jupyter.org/github/k0711/kf_articles/blob/master/Frankish_Illusionism%20as%20a%20theory%20of%20consciousness_eprint.pdf
  • Janus
    8.3k
    That's debatable and a minority position called color realism. Wavelengths of light and reflective surfaces are real. Whether either of those could be said to be colored in the way we experience color is controversial.Marchesk

    What is meant by "real" may be debatable, but according to any ordinary definition colour is real and not merely a mental phenomenon, since some at least of the processes which give rise to colour as a phenomenon are physical
  • Coben
    847
    That's debatable and a minority position called color realism. Wavelengths of light and reflective surfaces are real. Whether either of those could be said to be colored in the way we experience color is controversial.Marchesk

    Nothing is quite like we experience it. All vision shows things from an angle based on where our eyes are, rather than, say, from all directions at once. Everything is filtered, selected, interpreted. This would mean that nothing that we refer to is real. Since, it seems, actual qualities of the objects of perception lead to our seeing of specific colors, it seems to me there must be some color realism. It would be wrong to think that if there were no experiencers than the empty earth would have trees that look green - to no one, I guess - but it is not a random trait or aspect. Qualities of the things lead to our experiences. Which is the best we can hope for and would constitute a kind of realism, since no perfect realism is possible. Or I suppose I would put it that it's not binary, with perfect realism vs. some non-realism. There are degrees.
  • fresco
    458
    Surely the 'undermining of epistemology' can be more significantly attributed to pragmatists like Rorty (Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature) than by those who focus on ' consciousness' like Chalmers or Dennett. A significant aspect of the pragmatist position is that the 'reality debate' is futile. What matters is what works, and that is decided by paradigmatic consensus.
    As for the references to 'color vision', this has certainly been a microcosm for epistemological debate between phenomenologists and physicalists. And it is interesting to me that Wittgenstein allegedly rejected aspects of his his own Tractatus after contemplating Goethe's (non Newtonian) 'color theory'.
  • Harry Hindu
    2.2k
    Consciousness is compared to a magic show, where the brain fools us using some slight of cognition we're not aware of.Marchesk
    What does it mean for our brain to fool "us"? Are we not our brain along with the rest of our body? Why would the brain want to fool itself? It seems like an awful lot of energy put into the brain just fooling itself.

    The goal is to dissolve the hard problem without just handwaving it away or giving into some form of dualism.Marchesk
    It seems to me that the hard problem is the result of dualism - not the other way around.
    When I perceive an apple, I'm not just aware of the apple's color or its taste, I'm also aware of it's shape and weight. Some qualities of human experience are the basis for science. But if color and taste are illusions, what reason would we have for supposing that shape and weight are not?Marchesk
    The sensation of shape and weight are not the shape and weight of the apple, just as the redness and taste are not the ripeness of the apple. They are all effects of the body's interaction with the apple and the light reflecting off of it. Redness is about the ripeness of the apple and the reflected light and your visual system. Any difference in any of those three causes leads to a different effect. Shut the lights off and the apple is black, not red, even though it's ripeness has not changed.

    So some sensory impression isn't just about the object itself. It is about our body's state of awareness, which sensory system is providing the information (visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory, etc.) and it's state, and the medium in which the information travels to reach our senses, like the light and air around us. This is how illusions occur - by thinking that the experience is about the object itself, when it isn't. A bent straw in water isn't about the straw, it is about the light. We see light, not objects, and shape and color are visual sensations that come from the information in the reflected light in the environment. When we understand that we see light and not objects, then mirages and bent straws in water are what you would expect to see. The "illusion" becomes a natural effect just like every other phenomenon in nature. Consciousness also has causal power. Ideas shape the world, and where are those ideas formed if not in consciousness?
  • Marchesk
    2.8k
    What is meant by "real" may be debatable, but according to any ordinary definition colour is real and not merely a mental phenomenon, since some at least of the processes which give rise to colour as a phenomenon are physicalJanus

    Sure, but what Illusionism is denying is our experience of color, which I think also undermines the warrant for believing in the processes which give rise to color as a phenomenon.

    Seems like we agree on that.
  • Shamshir
    757
    The "object" would be "the experience of a color," right?Terrapin Station
    Object would be colour. Illusion would be the mock-up of colour.
  • Janus
    8.3k
    If I didn't perceive colour then how could I, for example, peruse colour charts and match and choose colours to paint my house? To deny that just seems absurd.
  • fresco
    458

    Of course you can operationally 'perceive colour', but it has been experimentally shown that that perception is ia funcrion of physiology, wavelenth, situational factors, and cultural experience. (Ref; Varela).
  • Janus
    8.3k
    Sure, I haven't disagreed with any of that.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k


    But the claim talked about in the initial post is the claim that the experience of color is illusory. In other words, it's a claim that we don't really have the experience, even though we think we do.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k
    This is a good point, but I think they're using illusion in the sense of a magic trick which creates an experience of real magic that's actually smoke and mirrors where the audience is fooled because they can't think of how it's being pulled off. Similarly, our brains are tricking us into thinking we're having these experiences of color, smell, pain, etc.Marchesk

    I don't believe that makes the idea any clearer. We're creating an experience of . . . real experience? But we're saying that you don't really have the experience?? What is the "real magic" part that we're denying here? It can't be experience if we're saying that we have an experience of it.
  • Shamshir
    757
    I'll give you my own little explanation and you take it from there.

    Being is first-hand, whereas what is perceived is second-hand.
    Your experience relies on what is perceived, hence it is second-hand and illusory.

    Is your experience real? Sure.
    Is the illusion of colour based on colour? Sure.
    But it's indirect knowledge; all illusion means is 'distorted image', with reflections on glassy surfaces being the prime example.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k


    That's not what this thread is about though. The idea in this thread is that Dennett and others are saying that your experience is not real as an experience. The claim is that you don't have an experience; the notion that you do have an experience is an illusion.

    Here's a brief article about it:

    https://curiosity.com/topics/theres-no-such-thing-as-consciousness-according-to-philosopher-daniel-dennett-curiosity/

    What I've been arguing here is more or less in the vein of what they give as Nagel's view in that article.
  • Shamshir
    757
    And I told you, it's because it's an indirect experience.
    Now, how you deal with that is your own issue - I just provided the distinction.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k


    You're talking about our relationship to things that aren't ourselves --the idea that we can get something outside of us wrong via our perceptual faculties. That's not at all what Dennett is saying.
  • Harry Hindu
    2.2k
    Dennett and Frankish use the metaphor of a magic show with slight of hand being used to fool our brains.Marchesk
    A sleight of hand is a kind of distraction, not really an illusion. The magician distracts your attention while they do something else where you arent looking. Why and how would the brain distract itself just so it could do something else?

    It is also refuting "I think therefore I am", and I thought that any doubting of that includes thinking and thinking takes the form if our sensory impressions. Its nonsensical.
  • Harry Hindu
    2.2k

    Dennet's next metaphor: If our brain is a smartphone, then consciousness is the screen. In other words, consciousness is not how our brain works, it's only how we interface with it. — curiosity.com

    What is the "we" that interfaces with our brains? If the interface is real, then how is it an illusion? How does this interface differ from what "we" are and what our brains are? Where is this interface in relation to the we and the brain?

    We only know about brains because of our experience of them. So how does Dennett explain how he knows he has a brain that he interfaces with? The "fact" that he has a brain would be part of the illusion.
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