• Apustimelogist
    430
    So the central argument against physicalism is the irreducibility of consciousness experiences to physical facts about our brains.

    However, it seems reasonable to suggest that conscious experiences are perceptual representations of information from the outside world; we would probably be all direct realists if it weren't for illusions and other quirks which betray the fragility of perception. We can further motivate this representational view through the knowledge we have from neuroscience about how perceptual qualities are directly related to different physical stimuli at our sensory boundaries e.g. colors and wavelengths etc.

    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? The information in a photograph doesn't contain any direct information about the physical medium it is being represented on, and neither should it if it is caused by information from the outside world.

    Perceptual representations of trees can be reduced to the constructs of biology, chemistry and physics that occurs within a tree because those things are what trees in the outside world are made of. Why should a representation of a tree be reducible to brain components which have nothing to do with the tree and are physically separated from it? If that were the case, wouldn't that mean the tree were reducible to multiple mutually exclusive physical arrangements of matter - that seems implausibly incoherent to me? I use the example of a tree but that should be the case for any representational experience that is caused by information at sensory boundaries. Wouldn't it be bad evolutionary design if our perceptual representations were giving us information about what was going on inside our own head as opposed to the things in the world they are supposed to represent? Wouldn't doing so require an implausible neuronal architecture also, transmitting information about its own goings on, which would then interfere with the useful information coming into the brain from the outside world?

    I think we can then question the effectiveness of the main argument against physicalism because it assumes that our experiences should be reducible to information about the brain. But if experiences are information about the outside world, I don't see why this reducibility should actually be the case from our subjective perspectives at all, regardless of the metaphysical nature of the universe. If our experiences are always going to be irreducible regardless then how can this irreducibility be used as an argument against physicalism?
  • Wayfarer
    21.5k
    I think we can then question the effectiveness of the main argument against physicalism because it assumes that our experiences should be reducible to information about the brain.Apustimelogist

    But your whole OP actually questions reductionism. You ask:

    why would I expect such a representation to be reducible to the brain activity that supports it?Apustimelogist

    Isn't that just what reductionism is arguing for? It's physicalism which argues that experience is nothing but neural goings-on. So the very fact that experience is irreducible to physicalism, is not a counter-argument, but a re-affirmation of the argument.

    Oh, and welcome to the Forum.
  • simplyG
    111
    It’s quite a fascinating post that the way we perceive a tree which happens in the visible spectrum of light is it’s most accurate of such a depicted tree with all its foliage, branches etc.

    Yet our vision has also a limit here as we do not have the sensory ability to see the roots of the tree at first instance. So trees are not concepts of ideas but actual real things. At least I think that’s what you’re getting at.

    You also refer to meta cognitive processes such as where in the mind/brain this tree is being perceived which is undisclosed to us perhaps due to evolutionary efficiency of the way our brains are structured.

    To answer your question I think brain processes and vision are interlinked and in constant interplay during visual stimuli presented to the senses. If you close your eyes whilst looking at the tree, the tree disappears. Perhaps a brain scan during such vision can interlace with the tree being viewed in the brain itself in real time or not.

    The real issue for me is not with sensory inputs when it comes to physicalism but abstract ideas generated by minds such as math or our ability to compute in the form of mental arithmetic on the fly such as 7+7 etc.

    These I believe are irreducible to physicalism but other sensory stuff may be such as the taste of sweetness.
  • Wayfarer
    21.5k
    From Bernardo Kastrup:

    If you are sad – very sad inside, to the point of despair – and you look at yourself in the mirror, you may be crying. So you will see tears flowing down your face and contorted muscles, but not for a moment would you think that those tears and contorted muscles are the whole story. You know that behind those tears, there is the thing in itself – the real thing – which is your sadness. So the tears and the muscles are the extrinsic appearance, the representation of an inner reality.

    But that reality is not in another world. It’s right here. From a first-person point of view, it is the thing in itself – the sadness in itself – but it presents itself to observation as what we call ‘tears’.

    This analogy can be extended to all manner of experiences. So every experience is, in some sense, a wave of neural activity, and also sensory stimulation, memory, anticipation, and many other factors. Each of those factors is, from one perspective, physical, comprising sensory and neural reactions. But what the experience is, can only be understood first-person, as an experience, not as the third-person observation of neuro- and physiological data.
  • Apustimelogist
    430


    Thank you for the welcome. The point I try to make is that if experiences are representations of things in the outside world then maybe they can never be reduced to brains. Yes, you can say - "well I have experiences and that is that" - but a physicalist could just say that his experiences are his brain. You would tell him he is wrong because experiences don't reduce to brains but if this irreducibility is something a physicalist expects or is consistent with physicalism then the argument wouldn't work.
  • Wayfarer
    21.5k
    but a physicalist could just say that his experiences are his brain.Apustimelogist

    But a physicalist doesn't say that. A physicalist says that experience can be described wholly and solely in physical terms. To that extent, yours is a straw man argument - you're misrepresenting the argument that you're wanting to criticize.
  • simplyG
    111


    Does the fact that a physicalist have no answer to say literary creativity or art highlight where it falls short as a credible philosophical concept ? For me it does because creativity is higher form of process than mere experience (a la Kant metaphysic).

    Although I have questions too regarding this, if ideas exist a priori than wouldn’t this point to genetic markers passed down through millennia ?

    An example of this exists in some birds whose chicks are immediately scared upon seeing a certain shape in the sky meant to represent an eagle.

    Not sure if this applies to humans but the above example is a real one in the natural world.
  • Apustimelogist
    430
    To me, it might just be required that a physicalist believes everything is physical. You might expect everything should be describable in physical terms but what if there are good reasons that they cannot be? That doesn't necessarily stop them being physical just that our ability to explain or describe things doesn't come for free. Maybe we are what its like to be physical things.. we just can't explain it or describe properly the relation.
  • Wayfarer
    21.5k
    Although I have questions too regarding this, if ideas exist a priori than wouldn’t this point to genetic markers passed down through millennia ?

    An example of this exists in some birds whose chicks are immediately scared upon seeing a certain shape in the sky meant to represent an eagle.
    simplyG

    Very interesting questions. I think the naturalist response is that there is no need to introduce anything like the philosophical a priori to account for instinctive animal behaviours - that these can be explained in purely natural terms as behaviours that have evolved over millions of years of natural selection. But there are some very interesting lines of inquiry in that area if you study it deeply. After all, most of modern biological nomenclature and classificatory science began with Aristotle, refined and elaborated considerably, but the vestige of Plato's forms is still visible to the discerning eye, I would think. This is where philosophy of biology is a very fascinating field of study.

    it might just be required that a physicalist believes everything is physical.Apustimelogist

    We need to get clear on what 'physicalist' and 'physical' mean. Basically 'physicalism' or 'physicalist reductionism' asserts that the only ultimately-existing things are physical in nature, and that higher-level functions such as mind and organic life emerge from or supervene on the physical.

    One of the basic assumptions of physicalism is that what is real, apart from being physical, is also completely describable in objective terms. The representative physicalist is Daniel Dennett - indeed, it was his kind of argument that David Chalmers had in his sights. And Dennett says

    In Consciousness Explained, I described a method, heterophenomenology, which was explicitly designed to be 'the neutral path leading from objective physical science and its insistence on the third-person point of view, to a method of phenomenological description that can (in principle) do justice to the most private and ineffable subjective experiences, while never abandoning the methodological principles of science.'

    So, if there are 'good reasons that they cannot be' explained like that, as you say, then you're actually questioning physicalism, not the argument against physicalism.

    Maybe we are what its like to be physical things.. we just can't explain it or describe properly the relation.Apustimelogist

    And that is actually nearer to the outlier philosophy called 'mysterianism'.
  • Apustimelogist
    430
    But if the reason something cannot be explained is not about ontology but about limits in explanation then I don't think that is an argument against physicalism. If information processing is a physical thing based on particular architectures then it is plausible that there are limits on what it can explain just like how a cat brain cannot explain things a human brain can. You might not expect some kind of machine learning architecture to explain itself without the right kind of structure either. If a physicalist thinks that our brain does all the information processing then if there are plausible reasons to suggest that there are limits on the kinds of reports a brain can generate about the information it processes or things it does, then it might seem reasonable from a physicalist point of view to say that they believe everything is physical - because thats what all the scientific evidence suggests - but my brain architecture is just physically incapable of producing the kinds of reductions, explanations or descriptions that you might want and perhaps should not be capable of doing that if it needs to be representing veridical information about the outside world.
  • Wayfarer
    21.5k
    But if the reason something cannot be explained is not about ontology but about limits in explanation then I don't think that is an argument against physicalism.Apustimelogist

    But the whole point of physicalism *is* to explain something in physical terms. Otherwise it's not 'an explanation'. So if you're saying, it's physical in principle, but can't actually be explained by physicalism, then you're not offering a defense of physicalism, beyond saying that you hope or believe it is true. It's like what Popper calls 'promisory materialism'.
  • I like sushi
    4.4k
    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? The information in a photograph doesn't contain any direct information about the physical medium it is being represented on, and neither should it if it is caused by information from the outside world.Apustimelogist

    This is precisely the point of phenomenal consciousness not necessarily telling us anything about a physical world but rather representing it.

    The argument does not refute physicalism outright it just presents a problem of irreducibility within materialist views. Phenomenology makes no assumptions about some proposed ‘existing world’ and works purely with experience as the core of our worldly knowledge. It is hard to refute that we all act as if the world is a physical certainty though.

    The way I see it is that we necessarily operate ‘as if’ things exist and said things exist due to our ability to question them NOT because we have apodictic/irrefutable knowledge of them.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    12.8k
    Wouldn't it be bad evolutionary design if our perceptual representations were giving us information about what was going on inside our own head as opposed to the things in the world they are supposed to represent?Apustimelogist

    Consider the way that you read. Do you read words as sounds? What's that all about, seeing things as sounds? Did the brain get so confused that it can't tell the difference between a sight and a sound? You could say that the sound in your own head is a representation of the thing outside your head, the written word, but what kind of representation is that, to represent a seen pattern as a heard pattern? Well, the representation, which is the sound in the head, simply represents what is seen by the eyes, which is an image in the head, so one representation just represents another representation.

    If a representation represents another representation, how do you get to the point of concluding that there is something outside the head which is being represented? Suppose the brain just likes to produce things in a willy-nilly way, like the way pure mathematicians produce axioms, with complete disregard for anything supposedly real, in a supposedly real external word. Then, if those created things prove to be useful to the being possessing them, that might be an evolutionary advantage. However, we still cannot conclude that there is anything being represented, by those created ideas, images, or whatever you want to call them, we just have useful tools. Nor can we conclude that there is an real, external, physical world.
  • wonderer1
    1.8k
    Nor can we conclude that there is an real, external, physical world.Metaphysician Undercover

    And yet, according to the Philpapers survey it seems the majority of philosophers somehow manage to conclude, what you say can't be concluded.

    External world: idealism, skepticism, or non-skeptical realism?
    Accept or lean toward: non-skeptical realism 760 / 931 (81.6%)
    Other 86 / 931 (9.2%)
    Accept or lean toward: skepticism 45 / 931 (4.8%)
    Accept or lean toward: idealism 40 / 931 (4.3%)
  • Apustimelogist
    430
    But you are presupposing that everything has to be explained in some kind of reduction but the point is that if what we experience are representations or information about the outside world then such a reduction is incoherent. Its not like there is some explanation or reduction out there in principle that we just dont know, its that such a reduction does not make logical sense, like how paradoxes don't make logical sense. If such a reduction is not coherent then I dont think the failure of that reduction can be an argument against physicalism.
  • Apustimelogist
    430
    This is an interesting and good point. We can only go by the evidence of what science gives us which looks like a complicated picture of an outside world beyond our experiences. I agree that there is nothing that necessarily makes our representations actually exactly true, objective, totally veridical representations of what is going on - I think that is probably impossible for various reasons and perhaps the ways we can view the world are chronically underdetermined/indeterminate. Nonetheless, I don't think it is unreasonable for someone to defend a physicalist view, depending on how they conceptualize it, given the success of the natural sciences and what they seem to say. My focus on this post was that if someone chose to be a physicalist, then the irreducibility of experience would be the main argument against their view, and I was looking at a counterargument.
  • Wayfarer
    21.5k
    But you are presupposing that everything has to be explained in some kind of reductionApustimelogist

    Nope. Just pointing out that physicalist explanations claim to do what you say they're not capable of doing. But then you go on to claim that this inability is itself an argument for physicalism, but that is incoherent.
  • Apustimelogist
    430
    I think your view is too restrictive of physicalism; how would you characterize what my view is saying then? I would say its plausibly fully physicalist because the reason for the inability to reduce I think can be explained physically, for instance through the limitations of what a computing / information processing device can or cannot do. Look at the photograph example too - the explanation for the information a photograph contains is obviously physical - a photograph doesn't contain information about the medium it is represented on for physical reasons, it doesn't contain information about objects obscured from view for physical reasons.
  • Wayfarer
    21.5k
    how would you characterize what my view is saying then?Apustimelogist

    As a muddle.
  • Apustimelogist
    430
    Yes, I think there is an important point here if I understood correctly. We can say we have experiences but I don't think they necessarily tell us anything much at all about anything and I think even if experiences are so immediate and visceral to us, they don't necessarily allow us to make conclusions about the nature of the universe. In fact I would say I am inclined to say reducibility or explanation never comes for free and any reductions we make requires prior assumptions that don't necessarily seem well justified - all knowledge is susceptible to the munchausen trilemma.
  • Apustimelogist
    430
    Well, all I can say is I disagree then. I think the photograph metaphor seems a coherent analogy of the view and that I think it is consistent with someone being a physicalist.
  • wonderer1
    1.8k
    Well, all I can say is I disagree then. I think the photograph metaphor seems a coherent analogy of the view and that I think it is consistent with someone being a physicalist.Apustimelogist

    As a physicalist I can say that you are correct.
  • Joshs
    5.5k


    I think we can then question the effectiveness of the main argument against physicalism because it assumes that our experiences should be reducible to information about the brain.
    — Apustimelogist

    But your whole OP actually questions reductionism
    Wayfarer


    I would say its plausibly fully physicalist because the reason for the inability to reduce I think can be explained physically, for instance through the limitations of what a computing / information processing device can or cannot do.Apustimelogist

    Perhaps your non-reductive physicalism is compatible with that of Davidson?

    Non-reductionist philosophers hold firmly to two essential convictions with regard to mind–body relations: 1) Physicalism is true and mental states must be physical states, but 2) All reductionist proposals are unsatisfactory: mental states cannot be reduced to behavior, brain states or functional states.[53] Hence, the question arises whether there can still be a non-reductive physicalism. Donald Davidson's anomalous monism is an attempt to formulate such a physicalism. (Wiki)
  • Gnomon
    3.7k
    The point I try to make is that if experiences are representations of things in the outside world then maybe they can never be reduced to brains. Yes, you can say - "well I have experiences and that is that" - but a physicalist could just say that his experiences are his brain. You would tell him he is wrong because experiences don't reduce to brains but if this irreducibility is something a physicalist expects or is consistent with physicalism then the argument wouldn't work.Apustimelogist
    I'm currently reading a book by Mathematician Charles Pinter, subtitled "How the Mind Creates the Features & Structure of All Things". And it's the creative aspect of the brain processing which produces mental experiences that are completely different from the physical source. I won't go into the details here, but basically the brain converts incoming isolated bits of information (e.g. photons) into integrated packets of meaning (e.g feelings, experiences, sensations) that are relevant only to the observer, and not inherent in the source.

    Pinter uses the 20th century psychology Gestalt Theory of Peception to make his case. A Gestalt is simply a holistic collection of parts with a meaning that is not in the parts --- hence the experience or sensation cannot be reduced to the physical properties of the incoming photons or electrons that originated in an external object. In other words, the Representation (Map ; concept) is not the same as the Object (Terrain ; thing). The mental map excludes a lot of the physical properties, and artistically adds some interconnections & re-arrangements that are relevant only to the Perciever. The Whole is more than the sum of its parts.

    The takeaway from this understanding of Perception as Interpretation, implies that the translated*1 subjective meaning (Qualia) cannot be reduced to the properties of the object (Quanta). Experiences are meaningful (significant) to the Subject, but meanings are metaphysical/immaterial, not physical/material. There's definitely a correlation between physics & metaphysics, but the creative causation (translation) by the brain produces novelty (a system, instead of merely reproducing the original. The brain is a machine for making meanings, but meaning is not the ding an sich. :smile:

    *1. Translation often adds personal significance & feelings of the translator to the literal words of the author. The human brain is born with compartmentalized categories, which are later filled with personal experiences & feelings & prejudices. The image below is an example of the brain adding its own expectations to the incoming data. There is no triangle in the image.


    THE TRIANGLE IS NOT OUT THERE, but added by the brain as a new meaning that is inferred, not seen
    Gestalt-laws-ensure-that-the-viewer-perceives-a-white-triangle-despite-no-such-figure.png
  • Apustimelogist
    430
    Yes, I guess it is a kind of non-reductive physicalism but the root of the irreducibility is explicitly to do with information processing. I see the surface resemblance to Davidson's view but I anticipate there's probably a fair amount in his view I would disagree with. I cant say I'm too familiat with it though, it seems like quite an involved view of the mind/brain.
  • Apustimelogist
    430
    There's definitely some stuff in what you have written which resonates with the direction I want to go in generally when it comes to my philosophy of mind - what kinds of information are available to us and how tjat impacts the explanations we can give about what we perceive. Only I would resist the idea of meaning being immaterial. I'm sympathetic to view that kind of deflate the status of meaning as a thing.

    How do you do itallics here?
  • Wayfarer
    21.5k
    How do you do itallics here?Apustimelogist

    Notice when you're in Edit mode, the I symbol in the Edit bar - select required text and click it, or enclose expression in (i) (/i) tags

    Have a look in the help section https://thephilosophyforum.com/categories/44/help for tips and tricks.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    12.8k
    THE TRIANGLE IS NOT OUT THERE, but added by the brain as a new meaning that is inferred, not seenGnomon

    That thing is cool. I actually see a difference in the white between inside and outside the triangle, as if there's a line marking the edge of the triangle. But then I can make the line go away if I want to.
  • Wayfarer
    21.5k
    I don't think it is unreasonable for someone to defend a physicalist view, depending on how they conceptualize it, given the success of the natural sciences and what they seem to say.Apustimelogist

    What you're saying is that you have faith in science, given its results, and science generally presumes a physicalist stance. So that even while you recognise something like the 'explanatory gap' or 'the hard problem of consciousness', you think physicalism is a pretty safe bet regardless. I don't know if that really amounts to much of an argument for physicalism. And it says nothing about alternatives explanatory frameworks. If there were a satisfactory non-physicalist account, such as those of analytical idealism, then that ought to be considered.

    subjective meaning (Qualia) cannot be reduced to the properties of the object (Quanta). Experiences are meaningful (significant) to the Subject, but meanings are metaphysical/immaterial, not physical/material. There's definitely a correlation between physics & metaphysics, but the creative causation (translation) by the brain produces novelty (a system, instead of merely reproducing the original. The brain is a machine for making meanings, but meaning is not the ding an sich. :smile:Gnomon

    :clap:

    Also, notice the heading in Pinter's book, Symbols in Nature, towards the end:

    Symbolic systems are among the oldest inventions of nature. Evolution could never have gotten off the ground without the molecular genetic system, which is a paradigm example of a symbolic scheme. The double helix is a symbolic structure, essentially an extended proposition, which contains the description of an organism’s entire body plan. — Pinter, Charles. Mind and the Cosmic Order (p. 150). Springer International Publishing. Kindle Edition.

    He doesn't really develop the idea, but it converges well with biosemiotics.
  • RogueAI
    2.7k
    Physicalism/materialism has so far been unable to explain consciousness. At what point should we abandon the metaphysical assumption that matter can be conscious and/or generate consciousness? What if, 1000 years from now, there still is no consensus on how matter produces consciousness. Would you still be a physicalist/materialist?
  • Mww
    4.7k
    At what point should we abandon the metaphysical assumption that matter can be conscious and/or generate consciousness?RogueAI

    I’m not aware of a metaphysics assuming that. If it doesn’t, it can still be abandoned, just not for those reasons.
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