Pharyngula

Aaron Kinney tells me that Egnor is still going on and on about dualism. He’s still floundering; are you surprised?

P.Z. Myers’ reply to my observation that ideas like altruism have no physical properties, like location, leaves a thoughtful observer to wonder: why do materialists have so much difficulty with this basic philosophical principle? It’s clear that ideas share no properties with matter. Ideas have no mass, or length, or temperature, or location. They’re immaterial. Clearly, under ordinary circumstances the brain is necessary for our ideas to exist, but, because matter and ideas share no properties, it’s hard to see how the brain is sufficient for ideas to exist.

It certainly is not clear that that is the case at all. He seems to be confusing a Platonic abstraction with the instantiation of an idea. Ideas in our brain are accompanied by crass, earthly chemistry: variations in metabolism, blood perfusion rates, chemical release, and patterns of electrochemical change. Ideas do not exist in our crania without those phenomena; they are not only necessary, but since there doesn’t seem to be any other kind of activity going on (at least, that is, ghostly soul-transmissions haven’t been detected), they also seem to be sufficient.

Egnor does make me laugh with his next example, though.

Yet Myers insists that altruism is located in the brain. He’s had some trouble with my previous thought experiments, so I’ll try another:

Imagine that we can do complete split brain operations. We can separate the hemispheres of the brain completely, and not just partially as we can do now with corpus callosotomies. We can then further subdivide the tissue, keeping the brain parts biologically alive, in quarters, eighths, etc. Ignoring for the time being what would happen to the person’s consciousness (which brain part would mediate the first person experience of the original person, if any?), what would happen to the original person’s altruism? Would each one-eighth brain have one-eighth the altruism? Would each lobe contribute one-eighth of the previous brain’s annual contribution to the United Way? Would the altruism stay in one of the lobes- the left occipital lobe, and leave the other lobes heartless? What if we kept dividing? Is there an altruism neuron? The question seems nonsensical. Altruism, as an idea, doesn’t have ‘parts’. Unlike matter, ideas can’t be divided or localized.

Egnor’s conception of how the brain works is so naive it’s embarrassing. You could apply his same logic to the function of the heart: we say it’s a pump for blood, but where is the pump? If we chopped the heart up into quarters and eighths, would each piece then be able to generate part of the pressure? Or would the pumping activity be found confined to one fragment? Can we find a single pumping cardiac muscle fiber? Obviously not, the whole premise is nonsensical. Therefore, we must conclude, the pumping activity of the circulatory system is not of or in the heart—the only alternative is that there must be a supernatural locomotor force in operation.

What really made me laugh when I read his example, though, are the echoes of Hans Driesch. Driesch was a great developmental biologist, who, in the 1890s, carried out a series of experiments that quaintly drove him into the arms of vitalism. He took a sea urchin embryo, and divided it into quarters and eighths (I think you see the similarity), and asked what each fragment would do. To his surprise, each piece developed into a complete (if small) sea urchin larva. This was mind-blowing at the time. It meant the potential of the whole was present in smaller portions of the embryo, and that one embryo contained the potential for many different individuals.

It drove Driesch mad to philosophy and natural theology. He proposed that there was a kind of vital spirit to the organism, called entelechy, that was above and beyond the material elements of the egg. He became one of the leading proponents of vitalism, espoused the existence of the soul, and even published some work in parapsychology — he went a little wacky. (But make no mistake, he was a good embryologist, and his idea that each cell had the potential to become a full adult has been vindicated).

Of course, now we know that Driesch’s experiments did not imply any supernatural agent at all—we know that each cell contains a copy of the complete genetic information for the whole in its nucleus. The larva itself is not the product of some maternal blueprint preformed in the egg (a point Driesch favored), it is not guided by an external agent (Driesch’s alternative), but it is produced by perfectly natural material interactions during development between the cells. There is no homunculus. The absence of a discretely localizable internal agent does not imply the existence of a force or blueprint outside of the embryo, though, because a modern understanding of developmental processes reveals that later complexity is an emergent property of complex interactions between the components of the genome and between individual cells. No magic needed.

Egnor’s silly dismantling of the human brain illustrates similar features. There is no “altruism neuron”, or “altruism nucleus” — altruism is the product of many interacting parts of the brain. That doesn’t make it supernatural.

Comments

  1. #1 Brain Hertz
    June 21, 2007

    I have just come up with a brilliant idea, which I quickly scribbled down on the whiteboard hanging on my office wall. If I take the whiteboard home with me, will the idea hang around in my office?

  2. #2 PZ Myers
    June 21, 2007

    Cut the whiteboard into pieces. Will the idea be partially expressed in each of them, or will it be localized?

    For that matter, is the idea in each letter of the words you wrote down?

  3. #3 Max Udargo
    June 21, 2007

    This Egnor guy is the brain surgeon, right? You’d think a brain surgeon would be familiar with a medical phenomenon commonly referred to as a “stroke.” You’d think he might have some experience with how neurological damage resulting from strokes affects the minds of those afflicted.

    My grandfather had a series of strokes a few years back. It affected not only motor skills, but his memory, thinking, and personality. He’s never been quite the same.

    We don’t have to speculate about how the brain works when parts of it are removed/disabled. There are real-world examples with which most of us are sadly familiar. Except brain surgeons, apparently.

  4. #4 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 21, 2007

    Hey, he’s advanced 2300 years!

  5. #5 Sean
    June 21, 2007

    I have now joined the chorus in expressing horror of Egnor and thought that this man saws skulls open and starts cutting through brain matter. Must have been some errant and uncharacteristic bit of optimism that he really could be competent in his trade, and only egnorant in his online screeds. But, alas, nope. The last bit of optimism just decayed into an energyless state. He frightens me.

    I had an idea once. Strong, earth-shattering idea. I wrote it down. The essence was in one word, “waffle”. In particular it was in the second f. To be precise it was in the funny little horizontal line that makes it look more like an f and less like a slightly melted l. I lost that bit of line. Shame really. It was a good idea.

  6. #6 Bill Dauphin
    June 21, 2007

    Cut the whiteboard into pieces. Will the idea be partially expressed in each of them, or will it be localized?

    Make a hologram of the whiteboard. If I’m correctly remembering the Smithsonian exhibit I saw on holography when I was in 5th grade, you can cut the hologram into little pieces and each piece will completely express the brilliant idea, albeit with degraded clarity.

    Does that count? ;^)

  7. #7 CCP
    June 21, 2007

    He proposed that there was a kind of vital spirit to the organism, called entelechy

    And here I thought that was George Clinton!

    I believe “emergent property” is the idea Dr. Egnor is missing here. (Guess we can’t blame his brain though).

  8. #8 Glen Davidson
    June 21, 2007

    Oh God, I wonder if the idiot has tried any of this with brains (granted, animal brains), or with his computer. ‘Where’s pi in this damned computer? It has to be somewhere, and I’ll find it if I have to dismantle each atom.’

    As for the concept that “ideas are immaterial,” I think that these types of people really are so ignorant as to believe that because ideas aren’t globs of matter, they’re “immaterial” in the Platonic sense. Let me explain something to you, Egnor, there’s such a thing as energy, it interacts with matter, and in fact it isn’t created or destroyed (hence it is exceedingly unlikely that sensory data disappears into another realm). Sensibly we can say that ideas are energy (though almost certainly stored in some state of matter), and in the broader sense of “materialism,” they are thereby “materialistic” (really, though, those words aren’t very useful at this level of discussion).

    Now that you know about energy, rethink everything you know about brains, matter, information, and ideas. You know, if you want to really stretch your tiny mind, think of these in terms of evolution, and I mean evolution without creationist mechanisms.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

  9. #9 Pete
    June 21, 2007

    There are a lot of philosophical complications here, and we have to be careful. The sarcastic quips on the linked site do not constitute a rebuttal, either.

    Both Egnor and dualism are hopeless, of course, but that does not mean that a naive “identity” theory of ideas is the only thing left. That is, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to say that altruism is “located” in the brain the same way that my computer is located on my desk. Altruism, like lots of other “things”, isn’t really a thing at all, it’s just a name we use to describe a certain class of behaviors.

    In a sense, altruism is immaterial, in the same way that “Democracy” and “The price of oil” are immaterial. That is to say, they are not made of any substance, whether material or ghostly; they are just words used to identify certain patterns.

  10. #10 commissarjs
    June 21, 2007

    Ahhh the thought experiment, the best kind of experiment. It can be used to bolster any crazy position.

  11. #11 TheJerrylander
    June 21, 2007

    I still do not quite get Egnor’s point. Obviously, the abstractness of ideas such as altruism is a function of the complexity of the brain, especially when rationalizing altruistic actions after their performance. As is the assignment of the tag `noble’ to acting altruistic.
    The formation of ideas so obviously is not immaterial, but a bio-chemical process – and the thinking process can be observed by the activation of neurons; not at a resolution that might be deemed sufficient, yet — but we are getting there.
    Now, is the brain alone sufficient for the existence of ideas? Well, considering the complex interactions between the brain and external stimuli, I would say that the brain is both necessary and, in conjunction with said outside environmental influences to which we react, sufficient for the formation of ideas.

  12. #12 Dayv
    June 21, 2007

    It’s like the man has survived to adulthood without ever getting even a rudimentary grasp on the concept of a system.

  13. #13 catofmanyfaces
    June 21, 2007

    It’s scary how some people can get a label that we made up for ease of conversing with an actual thing.

    There is no such thing as “Altruism” it is simply a man made label for a set of behaviors. That’s it. Thus, it can’t be located somewhere as that’s meaningless to the term.

  14. #14 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    June 21, 2007

    Egnor is to biology, as water is to fire.

    (Hey, it was Egnor who started this analogy thing! Though I admit I can probably not execute it with quite his flair of misappropriation.)

    If I take the whiteboard home with me, will the idea hang around in my office?

    Or, if you wipe the board, will the idea disappear?

    (For Egnor the answer is clearly “Yes”. Well, maybe it applies for him personally.)

    It drove Driesch mad to philosophy and natural theology.

    Heh! Funniest find on the web today.

  15. #15 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    June 21, 2007

    Egnor is to biology, as water is to fire.

    (Hey, it was Egnor who started this analogy thing! Though I admit I can probably not execute it with quite his flair of misappropriation.)

    If I take the whiteboard home with me, will the idea hang around in my office?

    Or, if you wipe the board, will the idea disappear?

    (For Egnor the answer is clearly “Yes”. Well, maybe it applies for him personally.)

    It drove Driesch mad to philosophy and natural theology.

    Heh! Funniest find on the web today.

  16. #16 woozy(still bending over to understand)
    June 21, 2007

    I, for one, am absolutely not understanding Engor’s point or what he is claiming.

    Altruism, as with all concepts such as government, bravery, interest rates, evil, crime, etc., have no physical existence and exist only as concepts. (Although, as concepts, they do exist.)

    So what? What is his point? It’s fairly obvious that one’s personal altruism (that is decissions to be altruistic) and bravery, etc. exist as thoughts in the brain although these thoughts are syntacticly different than the concept of one’s altruism which has no physical existence except as a concept but… so?

    What is his point and what is he trying to say?

  17. #17 Greg Laden
    June 21, 2007

    You could apply the same logic to a building, or, say, a fireplace, or a piece of shit. Well, maybe not a piece of shit. That’s more like how the brain actually works…

  18. #18 Happy Monkey
    June 21, 2007

    Another good example is a telephone call. While a telephone call is in progress, where is it?

  19. #19 uknesvuinng
    June 21, 2007

    (Disclaimer: I’m by no means greatly informed on neuroscience, so it’s entirely possible and somewhat likely I’ll have something a bit off. Still, I think the overall theme being expressed is correct.)

    If you think about it, ideas do have a sort of tangible existence. First, drawing a parallel from computing, let us take software and hardware. Hardware is the physical medium of computing. It is matter and energy interacting. Software is an abstraction of the various things that the hardware of the computer can do. However, the software does have a physical location as variations in charge on the plate of the hard drive (or pits on a CD, or *insert media here*).

    Now, in the human brain, can it really be much different. I mean, the brain isn’t built anything like your computer. It’s asynchronous and analog, and instead of software that can in some way be meaningfully distinguished from the hardware, it’s chock full of specialized regions that perform specific operations without consulting data storage for instructions. So, ideas do have a physical existence of source, as a specific arrangement of the matter and energy in the brain.

    Now, it’d be hard, if not impossible, to actually identify a specific idea within a brain, but we can find the location about which the idea is existing materially.

    Now, I have a question. Is Egnor really so ignorant of his field to actually believe the nonsense he spouts, or does he totally lack scruples and is knowingly pushing outright lies and misinformation for some kind of personal gain? I have a really hard time believing one could achieve such a position as he has and yet remain so woefully wrong about one’s supposed field of expertise.

  20. #20 CJ
    June 21, 2007

    I came up with a conclusive reductio ad absurum of Dualism last night, on the grounds of contingency and free will, but then before I could write it down I realized that the idea wasn’t located at any particular place inside my skull, and it got away, dammit!

    Anybody had my idea? It’s mine, and I want it back!

  21. #21 PalMD
    June 21, 2007

    Why does this surgeon have a strong desire to reopen the dualism/materialism debate anyway? Is he working his way up to proving the existence of the soul? Maybe when he is cutting open skulls, he could concentrate on the “matter” at hand. Not to deny his philosophical curiosity, but he is hardly the first, last or best person to have tackled this “problem”.

  22. #22 Ed Darrell
    June 21, 2007

    Remember how we used to say simple things “are not brain surgery?” It appears this guy thinks brain surgery isn’t brain surgery, either.

    Wouldn’t you love to be this guy’s auto mechanic?

  23. #23 Rey Fox
    June 21, 2007

    CJ: You might want to look into tinfoil hats as a way to keep a lid on those ideas.

  24. #24 Caledonian
    June 21, 2007

    There are a lot of philosophical complications here, and we have to be careful. The sarcastic quips on the linked site do not constitute a rebuttal, either.

    There are a lot of philosophical complications because philosophy never met a stupid idea it didn’t like. The actuality is quite simple.

  25. #25 MyaR
    June 21, 2007

    Egnor is to biology, as water is to fire.

    Shouldn’t that be as fire is to water? Since water puts out fire. Although really, it would depend on how much of each, wouldn’t it, since a large amount of fire would vaporize a small amount of water, and biology’s a lot bigger than Egnor, in ideas anyway.

  26. #26 skyotter
    June 21, 2007

    [first time poster]

    i’m going to open another can of worms by suggesting that “altruism” is, rather than a concept, a behavior

    and as a behavior it has physical existence ONLY when it’s being performed

    eg, “running” exists when you run, but when you slow to a walk the “running” vanishes (and is replaced by “walking”). a thought about running is not “running”; only the act of running is “running”

    (extra credit for figuring out “where” a thought exists, heheh)

    so unless someone is engaging in altruistic behavior, “altruism” doesn’t exist anywhere, not even in the mind. because, QED, thinking about altruism is not “altruism”

    [/first time poster]

  27. #27 sailor
    June 21, 2007

    Ed, if this guy dies with one achievement to his name it will be to have rendered “Its not brain surgery” meaningless.

    woozy
    “personal altruism bravery, etc. exist as thoughts in the brain although these thoughts are syntacticly different than the concept of one’s altruism which has no physical existence except as a concept but… so?
    What is his point and what is he trying to say?”

    Personally, I think he has a brain disorder in which he thinks in a concrete manner and cannot handle abstract concepts. This way he thinks of concepts as “things” and if they cannot be measured, they must not only be immaterial but have a concrete spiritual existence – the soul.

    People often choose careers to make up for their deficiencies, maybe that is why he became a brain surgeon.

  28. #28 GTMoogle
    June 21, 2007

    I think it all boils down to this: “it’s hard to see how…”

    That statement generally means “I don’t understand how…”, and what usually follows is the mind-boggling assertion that a conclusion can be drawn from it, other than that the speaker needs some facts clarified.

  29. #29 Liz
    June 21, 2007

    Now I just hope he is offering his own brain for this experiment. I would really like to see in which section of his brain this theory resides.

  30. #30 Matthew L.
    June 21, 2007

    What I especially like about Egnor’s brain-division thought experiment is that these are the same people who brought us “irreducible complexity”. I mean, I’m no expert, but I always assumed that if you chopped somebody’s brain into eight pieces that it would stop working.

    I know some intelligent dualists (in the philosophy department), but they mostly seem to be clinging to things like qualia which nobody is close to an explanation of yet, I’m mystified why Egnor just doesn’t rely on something safe (for now) like that?

  31. #31 Caledonian
    June 21, 2007

    I know some intelligent dualists (in the philosophy department), but they mostly seem to be clinging to things like qualia which nobody is close to an explanation of yet,

    But the existence of qualia hasn’t been demonstrated yet – and if we go by their definitions, it can’t be demonstrated, because the concept isn’t meaningful.

    Demanding an explantion for something no one knows exists – and that by most definitions can’t exist – doesn’t strike me as particularly intelligent.

  32. #32 Luna_the_cat
    June 21, 2007

    The more I read from this man, the more I am convinced he is either not the actual brain surgeon Egnor, or else, he is going/gone senile. A funtional brain surgeon couldn’t be this stupid. No way. One would hope. This really is appalling.

    skyotter — not a bad way of thinking about it. There seems to be a general view that the impulse toward altruistic behavior is pretty much equal to this “altruism” as discussed here, but you are right that the thing can’t really be said to exist unless you’re acting on it. The abstract concept of what altruism is, though, and separately the decision to act altruistically (which presumably exists before the action itself) can be said to have a purely mental existance, however.

  33. #33 SimonC
    June 21, 2007

    Sheeesh! This guy is wilfully stupid or downright evil. I wonder how he explains (from his own area of supposed expertise) conditions like Receptive Amusia? Does musicality and musical appreciation come down the Godphone as well?

  34. #34 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    June 21, 2007

    I personally think he began this argument as a run-up to an acceptance of homeopathy. Cut up the little pieces of the brain nearly endlessly and drop a single “piece” of brain that once was of a whole, altruistic, brain. Dump it in distilled water, apply it to the brain of a person who is pathologically not altruistic and cure the poor bugger.

    We could scrape skin cells of Jesus from the Shroud of Turin, cause i bet ol’ JC was 100% pure-dee altruism, and cure the entire world of all of its selfishness!

  35. #35 secondclass
    June 21, 2007

    But wait, there’s more. Egnor’s inquiring mind wants to know: “What is the evolutionary psychologists’ explanation for evolutionary psychology?” The fact that Egnor doesn’t know the answer is somehow supposed to reflect poorly on evolutionary psychology.

    Here’s the answer, Egnor: I’m sure that the history of evolutionary psychology, just like pretty much every other branch of science, is documented in the literature. Once you trace it to its origin, the question that remains is this: What is the evolutionary explanation for humans engaging in science? The answer is simple: Because it’s extremely beneficial for us as a species.

    Keep ‘em coming, Egnor.

  36. #36 woozy
    June 21, 2007

    Hasn’t dualism been debated for millenia and wasn’t it, like Plato’s cave, determined a century ago to be at best an interesting way to frame things but outside semantics logistics of no determinable or practical value?

    I remember at a job I had a decade ago. A coworker came up and asked me if I know anything about Newton’s laws of motions and the opposing aristotle viewpoints. I said I know “of” them basically and I could look them up if he wanted specifics. He then asked did Newton dispute Aristotle vis a vis laws of motion. I said that yes, that was my understanding. Aristotle, if I’m remembering correctly, thought bodies in motion proceded to inertia whereas Newton posited bodies in motion stay in motion unless of force such as friction slow them down or gravity sped them up. I think, Aristotle thought bodies under gravity … The coworker interupted me and said he had recently recieved a letter from an old headmaster from his childhood boy school in England. I nodded to go on. This headmaster, my coworker explained, was an Aristotlean and was writing a book to dispute Newton and explain the world in Aristotolean terms. The headmast is noting Einsteinism has upended Newtonism and claiming the world is ripe for a return to Aristotlism. I put my face into the “nod politely and don’t say a word” mode. The conversation was silent for a while. I, for politeness sake said, “I see….”. More silence. “I think he’s an idiot, myself” said the coworker. I gave a sigh of relief and told him that there was no need to think he was an idiot.

    Sheesh. I guess philosophical issues are never settled.

  37. #37 Caledonian
    June 21, 2007

    Hasn’t dualism been debated for millenia and wasn’t it, like Plato’s cave, determined a century ago to be at best an interesting way to frame things but outside semantics logistics of no determinable or practical value?

    No. It’s not of value even within semantics logistics.

  38. #38 Ginger Yellow
    June 21, 2007

    The more I read Egnor’s babbling, the more worried I become for his patients. The man clearly has no idea how a brain works.

  39. #39 Peter McGrath
    June 21, 2007

    “Yet Myers insists that altruism is located in the brain.”

    All the evidence so far is that Mr Egnor’s brain is located somewhere near his arse, which makes it easier for him to talk out of it.

  40. #40 Chinchillazilla
    June 21, 2007

    Egnor’s conception of how the brain works is so naive it’s embarrassing. You could apply his same logic to the function of the heart: we say it’s a pump for blood, but where is the pump? If we chopped the heart up into quarters and eighths, would each piece then be able to generate part of the pressure?

    He’s like the Auditors in Pratchett’s Thief of Time, reducing paintings to dust to look for one atom of ‘beauty’.

    I wonder how he thinks his thoughts get to his fingers so he can type them? Magic?

  41. #41 wrg
    June 21, 2007

    If you think about it, ideas do have a sort of tangible existence. First, drawing a parallel from computing, let us take software and hardware.

    I like the heart in the original post because it’s another biological example and so should be familiar to the biology crowd, but I as well was thinking of computing this time. However, rather than providing a defense of certain of Egnor’s claims, I consider that computation clearly rebuts his point.

    Consider an executable file, consisting of a million bytes or so that encode the instructions of some program. Physically, it could be stored in memory on an IC, on a disk, or elsewhere. It’s a sequence of boolean values, each on or off. Cut this file into pieces, ask which of these pieces contains the program, and you’re a fool. Each piece is, at best, a sequence of instructions with references to other data that can’t be resolved without the rest. To break it down into bits and ask which bit contains the program is ridiculous.

    The meaning of the program is in the sequence of bits constituting the entire thing. You need to have them all together properly in order for your program to run. However, you don’t need the angels to come down from heaven and bless a program for it to start. Get your crude material ICs to contain the right instructions, set the program counter to the right place, and the material wonder of electronics will get it done.

    Similar phenomena, where something assembled has properties that aren’t local to its components, are ubiquitous. The only thing Egnor gets right is that his question is, indeed, nonsensical.

    Sheeesh! This guy is wilfully stupid or downright evil.

    Those were initially my thoughts. Still, if stupid, he’d have to be pretty stupid indeed. I’d be disappointed if a sufficiently thoughtful child would take this seriously. If he’s evil, I think he might be underestimating the intelligence of anyone who bothers reading what he writes. Fooling the masses is one thing, but everywhere you look there’s something that is “greater than the sum of its parts”.

    Honestly, I’m coming around to thinking that the man’s just flipped. In order to justify his theological assumptions, he’s decided to charge right out of Plato’s Cave and to set up residence in the world where ideas are more real than things are. Therefore altruism, being an abstraction, must be real (just like souls!) and must exist in the world of forms, right alongside the four elements.

  42. #42 T. Bruce McNeely
    June 21, 2007

    I wonder if Dr. Egnor, as a neurosurgeon, can explain the profound personality changes after prefrontal lobotomy?

  43. #43 N.Wells
    June 21, 2007

    No, listen, Egnor’s explanation makes sense of all sorts of puzzling phenomena. All ideas are immaterial, so they cannot reside in the brain. Therefore they must be supplied from outside. Clearly, diplomas and scientific books and journals contain intelligence transmitters, which explains how professors get gradually smarter as they accumulate diplomas and build up personal libraries, and this also explains why they get intellectually lazy when they head off to the beach for a long vacation, far from the office. This explains why the universities with the very highest quality, broadest-band, highest-capacity transmitters (e.g., MIT, Harvard) cost so much (it is one of their biggest frustrations that no one ever takes them literally when they talk about the transmission of knowledge). In contrast, mass-produced, general-purpose, state university transmitters are much cheaper, and community colleges haven’t even been let in on the secret. Likewise, it also explains why scientific journals (with their narrow-band but special-purpose transmitters) cost so much more than magazines like People (which lack knowledge transmitters altogether.

    We still need to explain Egnor and Dembski. By his own admission, Dembski carries around an explanatory filter, which he needs to filter out rational explanatory ideas, in order to be able to write his stuff for UD and keep from giggling when he talks to his faithful. I suspect that he also uses a humor blocker. As for Egnor, my diagnosis is that he lives right above a stupidity transmitter.

  44. #44 RamblinDude
    June 21, 2007

    Egnor doesn’t care if his arguments make sense or not. His only agenda is that the arguing continues. He can say anything that promotes the existence of the soul because he knows that the Faithful don’t have the savvy or the will to think logically anyways.

  45. #45 Aaron Kinney
    June 21, 2007

    Oh, snap!

    I had never heard of Hans Driesch before. How sad yet understandable that Hans flipped out after seeing the urchins reform themselves.

    It seems that Egnor is pulling a Driesch, eh?

  46. #46 ken
    June 21, 2007

    According to Egnor, “ideas like altruism have no physical properties”. This implies that some ideas HAVE physical properties. So now we’re in the position of sorting the physical ones from the non-physical ones. This is certainly weirder and more twisted than anything Descartes or Plato came up with, no?

  47. #47 Tex
    June 21, 2007

    Didn’t Phineas Gage do almost exactly the experiment Egnor proposes over 150 years ago? His methods were crude, but quite effective for the time. His resolution may not be exactly at the level that would satisfy Egnor, but I believe his results were pretty conclusive.

    Details here: http://www.brainconnection.com/topics/?main=fa/phineas-gage

  48. #48 Brian
    June 21, 2007

    Er, I think that’s supposed to be read as “Ideas — such as for example altruism — have no physical properties.”

  49. #49 ken
    June 22, 2007

    Perhaps you’re right, Brian…Egnor seems to say ALL ideas are immaterial in other paragraphs. On the other hand, why should we assume that his paragraphs form any sort of unified whole?

    It seems like Egnor focuses on altruism because he wants to give it exalted status over ideas like “I want to wiggle my toes”. It’s a Godly attribute.

    It should be possible to stimulate various ideas with an electrode placed on the brain. According to Egnor, I guess, you’re actually stimulating your soul, which then stimulates you to have an idea.

  50. #50 Ken Watts
    June 22, 2007

    “But the existence of qualia hasn’t been demonstrated yet – and if we go by their definitions, it can’t be demonstrated, because the concept isn’t meaningful.”

    Okay, I’m going to stop lurking and stick my neck out here.

    Let me begin by saying that I usually find myself arbitrarily close to total agreement with what I read here, not just in this post, but in most, and in absolute disagreement with guys like Egnor.

    But this point always puzzles me.

    Qualia are, as far as I can see, the only thing in the world that we absolutely do know exist.

    Do you know what the color blue looks like? If I say something is blue, do you know what I mean? That experience, the experience of “blueness” is a qualia (qualium?). It’s a conscious experience, or a part of one, anyway.

    It may well occur (or emerge) because of certain processes in the brain–in fact I would be very surprised to learn that it didn’t. And those processes are probably distributed and dynamic. But our “materialistic” understanding of those processes are all based on a point of view: looking in from the outside.

    I look at the sky and see “blue”. But where is the “blue”? It’s not in the sky. It’s not even in the lightwaves (a specific frequency may be “in the light waves”, but not “blueness”, not the experience I have).

    It’s not in my eyes, it’s not in my brain (as described by science from the outside), it’s not the interaction of my neurons (insofar as we can observe or map that–even in theory). We may be able to correlate “experience of blue” with certain firing patterns or something, but that’s just correlation, not explanation. I can’t imagine a theory that would explain why I have the experience I have when I’m exposed to blue wavelengths, and not, say, the experience of “red” instead.

    We do have consciousness of color, pain, itches, and other experiences, and nothing in science has yet come close to reducing this to physical interactions, because physical interactions may be what it looks like from the outside, but experience is what it looks like, feels like, sounds like, from the inside.

    So when I hear someone say that qualia may not exist, honestly, I have to think that either they are simply allowing their habits of thinking to blind them to obvious facts, or they don’t really understand what qualia are, or they are mere automata, and simply don’t have the experience of consciousness that I have–that they have no interior life.

    My guess is that it’s some combination of the first two.

    I don’t mean to come off condescending, but I really think this is a blind spot for people who spend all their time and focus in the sciences, looking at everything from the outside. It’s also important to consult your own, internal, experience, as well.

    None of the above, by the way, should be taken to be a defense, in any way, shape or form, of Egnor.

  51. #51 Christopher
    June 22, 2007

    It’s interesting to me that most of you seem to have been drawn to the thought experiment part of this argument, because it’s the opening paragraph that fascinates me the most.

    I’m going to abstract his argument a little bit. Basically, he’s saying that brains have physical properties (Let’s lump all of these together under the label “property A”), and ideas do not. Therefore, it’s difficult to see how the brain can be the sole source of ideas.

    Or, to put it in a completely abstract way,

    “It’s difficult to see how an object with property A can give rise to an object that lacks property A”

    But, the thing is, it’s really easy to see how objects with a certain property can give rise to objects without it.

    For example, there’s that old saw about how table salt is made of two deadly poisons. There’s the fact that hydrogen and oxygen are both gasses at room temperature but water is not.

    How sad is it when vaguely remembering high school chemistry is enough to blow your complex philosophical theory out of the water.

    Of course, his thought experiment is extremely problematical, too, I don’t think I need to get into it, but it seems to suggest, ultimately, that patterns themselves can’t exist without dualism being true.

  52. #52 Coathangrrr
    June 22, 2007

    Caledonian said:
    There are a lot of philosophical complications because philosophy never met a stupid idea it didn’t like. The actuality is quite simple.

    That’s a nice philosophy you got there.

  53. #53 uknesvuinng
    June 22, 2007

    @#40

    I’m not really sure anyone thought computing supported Egnor’s position. If anything, computing is a shining example of the kind of emergent properties that can arise from crude matter.

    Anyway, thanks for the extension on my own post. Reading back over it again, I think the actual iteration of my point might have been forgotten in my typing of the second paragraph. An edit function would be rather nice at the moment. I guess that’s what I get for typing in a rush, though.

    Computing and AI are beyond strong evidence that no mysterious supernatural entities need be posited to explain the brain as the source of consciousness. While employing differing mechanisms, brains and computers perform the same essential task: They take in data, operate on it, and output new data. The human mind just has a more complicated “program”.

  54. #54 Bobby
    June 22, 2007

    It’s beyond imagining that a neurosurgeon would be unaware that a few carefully chosen cuts would not only destroy your altruism, but your entire mind or even your life… and that with far less cutting than his silly brain-dicing strawman argument requires.

    This seems to be nothing other than DI-style dishonesty, though perhaps I underestimate people’s ability to fool themselves when they’re desperate to do so.

    Also, why does he propose dicing the brain instead of the entire body, or the entire universe? ISTM that he’s tacitly assuming that altruism is “located” in the brain.

    And whyever does he suppose that “proving” that altruism isn’t localized in the brain makes it non-material (whatever he means by that)? It’s not like he has offered a hypothesis for how non-material altruism would work.

    This is just another DI-style argument that relies on applying a non sequitur to a flawed dismissal of reality.

    But for entertainment purposes we can wonder what keeps this non-material altruism from being left on the ground floor when we go upstairs, or left behind in interstellar space as the solar system travels around the galaxy. Does he suppose that altruism is subject to the pull of gravity? Can’t pass through walls and floors, despite being non-material? Or when we take the door, does our altruism take a short-cut directly through the wall? Is there some kind of rubber band that’s materialistic on one end and supernatural on the other, which attaches our altruisms to our bodies? If we find the materialistic end of the rubber band in a brain and trace it until it disappears, will we thereby discover the supernatural world?

    Sounds like great fun, for some amateurish science fiction.

  55. #55 Christopher
    June 22, 2007

    So, not having any background in philosophy, I have a question:

    Why limit qualia to conscious beings? What is to say that, say, atoms do not have experience of being attracted to toher atoms by various forces?

    And really, what’s the point of qualia, anyway? It just seems like another way to make obvious facts complicated and obscure, to me.

  56. #56 Stephen
    June 22, 2007

    First, drawing a parallel from computing, let us take software and hardware. Hardware is the physical medium of computing. It is matter and energy interacting. Software is an abstraction of the various things that the hardware of the computer can do. However, the software does have a physical location as variations in charge on the plate of the hard drive …

    Now, it’d be hard, if not impossible, to actually identify a specific idea within a brain, but we can find the location about which the idea is existing materially.

    Even if you focus on a single software instruction, at the nanosecond of execution, you actually can’t reduce it to a single location. It is at least in:
    – the executable file
    – the page file
    – main memory
    – CPU cache
    It may be in disk cache and a source file as well. And due to paging it may be at a different location in main memory every time it is executed. So where is it “really”?

    With scripting languages like SQL it is common to construct instructions on the fly. So where are these instructions when the program isn’t running?

    If even software instructions can’t be pinned down to a single location, why should anyone expect specific ideas to be so pinned down? Yet programs do in fact run on hardware. And there is no reason to suppose that minds run on anything other than brains. (Even if, in both cases, some don’t work very well.)

  57. #57 T_U_T
    June 22, 2007

    Re: #49

    Sorry, but you still sound a lot like egnor.
    Are you supposing that things are “from inside” are different, even completely unrelated to “from outside” ?
    I think this is only marginally less goofy than the original egnorianism

  58. #58 travc
    June 22, 2007

    It is indeed quaint, if somewhat depressing, to encounter people who have no concept of properties of organization of matter as opposed to properties elemental to matter. This crops up a lot in my personal pet peeve… the misuse of the terms Information and Complexity by people trying to be technical (most often biologists).

    An “idea” is encoded in the states of various bits of matter (neurons presumably most frequently, but words on a page or electrons in a computer work too). Without the physical instantiation, it doesn’t exist. Is that too hard to understand.

    Anyways, there is a cool little formula deriving the minimum amount of energy (or matter via E=MC^2) required to encode a bit of information… I wish I could remember it to trot out in response to people who go on about the insubstantial nature of information or consciousness or whatnot.

  59. #59 uknesvuinng
    June 22, 2007

    @#55

    Well, when the software isn’t actually being run, it exists on storage media, be it pits in a CD, charges on a hard disk plate, or whatever. When in use, you could put it in a lot of places, but the point still remains, there’s something physical that is the software. The final result of that software bears no resemblance to the electrons and circuitry that produces it, but it’s still there.

    The brain is more like a collection of specialized processing units (think GPUs which are designed solely for the purpose of processing graphics, and thus have specialized instruction sets to do just that as opposed to CPUs which are generalized so as to perform a variety of functions, but without specialization to do any particular task (let’s ignore added instructions sets like SSE and 3dNow and such as they aren’t critical to the function of a CPU)). Altruism would therefore “exist” in whatever part(s) of the brain specifically deals with such behaviors. Without those part(s) functioning properly, altruism would be broken or missing. I don’t mean to imply there’s a static location, but there is a physical manifestation of the idea.

    We could go unnecessary and talk about how the idea now also physically exists in our memories and whatnot as a result of dealing with the abstraction of it. But somehow a one post comparison has stretched out into 3 (or 4 counting #40). Besides, it’s unnecessary. :D

  60. #60 Matthew L.
    June 22, 2007

    Re: no. 56

    I think the point of the argument in no.49 is that we definitely have experiences, and that all our knowledge of the world comes from interpretation of those experiences. I agree that it seems silly to say that we don’t know if qualia exist, although it’s reasonable to ask how they happen or if they’re something distinctive, or just a simple result of brain processing. That is, I think it’s foolish to say that I don’t know if I have some experience of “redness” when I see red—the nature of that experience is fully up for debate.

    My suspicion is that qualia are fully materialistic in origin, but my only justification is that of “simplest ignorance”, that is, I don’t know what causes it, but I have no reason to posit something non-material to explain it.

  61. #61 NC Paul
    June 22, 2007

    Michael Egnor: Not a rocket scientist.

    (I’m sure someone’s thought of that before, but not on this thread – ha!).

  62. #62 josh
    June 22, 2007

    You know rocket science is fairly basic physics. I’ve considered trying to become a brain surgeon too, thus allowing me to win all arguements in pubs.

  63. #63 sailor
    June 22, 2007

    Josh, I’ll happily give you Egnor’s degree, he clearly has no idea how to use it.

    #49 the Qualia man. Consciousness is necessary for a complex brain to work. Take a big hammer and hit your left big toe as hard as you can. If you do it properly you will feel a lot of pain probably say “ouch” and then “why did I ever do something that dumb” and then figure out how to avoid doing it again.

    The pain was caused by a bunch of messages going down your neurons.

    Ask yourself this – how would all that work if there was no consciousness? In order for signals to be received, processed and acted upon in a complex manner there has to be awareness. You qualia is just your brain doing that processing.

  64. #64 Caledonian
    June 22, 2007

    Do you know what the color blue looks like? If I say something is blue, do you know what I mean?

    People who are colorblind often fail to realize it until it is rigorously demonstrated to them. Such a person would insist they could detect ‘blueness’, but actually wouldn’t.

    There isn’t any ‘blueness’. That is an illusion. You cannot describe any of the properties of ‘blueness’, no matter how hard you try, and this is because what you consider a sensation is just your brain making a reference to an activation state. No “sensory experiences” can be described except referring to other sensory experiences, because they have no properties other than being an association.

    There’s no ‘there’, there.

  65. #65 Bill Snedden
    June 22, 2007

    It seems to me that you’re missing the point. Experiencing the “illusion” of blueness is still an experience, and that’s what qualia are.

    To deny that first-person experiences exist seems rather pointless and somewhat self-contradictory. The argument shouldn’t be over whether or not they exist, the argument should be about what they signify. Do they, as Egnor would argue, signify the existence of an immaterial mind or are they something else?

    Dualism, despite assertions to the contrary, is most definitely not dead in the world of philosophy of the mind. To be sure, Cartesian dualism (the sort of “ghost in the machine” argument Egnor is making) is indeed all but dead (it’s being killed by neurobiology but the irony is likely lost on Egnor), but other forms like property dualism or emergent dualism are still being proposed and defended. Philosophers like Jaegwon Kim, David Chalmers, and William Hasker have all mounted robust defenses of one or more of these. What’s more, these theories are completely naturalistic; there’s no appeal to the “soul” or any other types of supernatural entities made to explain the processing of the brain or mind.

    I think that’s what’s really important, here. Egnor and others like him seem to believe that “magic man done it” actually solves problems like qualia, but in reality it doesn’t. Even if the mind were to be absolutely and completely immaterial itself, it wouldn’t have anything necessarily to do with whether or not it were to depend upon or emerge from the material and it certainly doesn’t add anything to our understanding of qualia. Adding a “supernatural” element doesn’t get us anywhere closer to explaining them than the scientific inquiry that might someday actually get us there…

  66. #66 Caledonian
    June 22, 2007

    Experiencing the “illusion” of blueness is still an experience, and that’s what qualia are.

    No, you’ve missed the point – the conviction that there’s an experience there is the illusion.

  67. #67 rpsms
    June 22, 2007

    I too think #65 has missed the point.

    If one can not describe the experience properly, it is a fault of language. The so-called illusion is caused by the limitations of language.

    Language relies on shared experience.

  68. #68 Caledonian
    June 22, 2007

    No, language relies on shared properties. By the use of language to manipulate properties, experiences can be transmitted.

  69. #69 Bill Snedden
    June 22, 2007

    Calendonian, you’ve contradicted yourself. To experience an illusion is no less an experience. Illusions cannot exist unless there are experiences.

  70. #70 Caledonian
    June 22, 2007

    You’ve failed to comprehend. There is no experience of qualia. The experience is of the conviction that there are qualia when there are not.

    The term is useless.

  71. #71 Coathangrrr
    June 22, 2007

    No, language relies on shared properties. By the use of language to manipulate properties, experiences can be transmitted.

    This is just wrong.

  72. #72 Brian W.
    June 22, 2007

    So has anyone asked Egnor if he thinks souls are exclusive to humanity? If he truely believes that altruism comes from having a soul then he’d have to agree primates have souls as well because they’ve been demonstrated to show altruistic behavior.

    http://www.livescience.com/animals/060302_helpful_chimps.html

    And wouldn’t ants or bees dying to protect their colony also be considered altruistic? So doesn’t that mean that they have souls as well?

    Correct me if i’m wrong, but isn’t that a logical conclusion to come to based on his ideas? And yet somehow i doubt he’d agree.

  73. #74 Bill Snedden
    June 22, 2007

    Caledonian:

    The experience is of the conviction that there are qualia when there are not.

    You appear to have contradicted yourself again. The “…experience…of the conviction…” is, again, itself an experience and thus a quale. Not only that, but to describe an experience as “illusory” implies that veridical experiences exist; again a contradiction.

    But perhaps I simply don’t understand your claim. You appear to be claiming that first-person experiences don’t occur. That taste, touch, sound, and sight are “illusions”. That seems nonsensical to me. Or are you actually arguing, as Dennett does, that the termqualia” doesn’t pick out anything in the real world? I can understand that, even if I don’t agree with it, but the argument that experiences don’t exist seems nonsensical on its face.

  74. #75 Cat Faber
    June 22, 2007

    Let me see if I’ve got Egnor’s argument straight. I have a radio here–its function is to convert variations in radio waves to variations in sound waves. I want to know where in the radio this function resides, so I fire up the table saw…

    (click) whnnnnnnnNERRRROWWWwnnnnnnnnn(click)

    and saw the radio in half.

    Now I plug the radio back in, and voila! Neither half of the radio contains the function!

    So, Egnor says that means that the function came from God? How did that work again?

  75. #76 Tulse
    June 22, 2007

    You qualia is just your brain doing that processing.

    Undoubtedly. But the only way we know to study the brain, or indeed any physical process, is to look at its objective features, things that can be observed by anyone with the proper tools. The problem is that qualia are, by their very nature, subjective — they themselves are not observable by a third party, unlike physical properties. So even though one might be a thoroughgoing materialist about qualia, believing they are caused by the brain, one can also be a thoroughgoing skeptic that any physical explanation of subjective experience is possible.

    (And as for property and emergent dualism, those positions seem to me to be no different that “mysterianism”, since practically all they say is that yeah, some matter can somehow produce qualia. This really isn’t a philosopical advance…)

  76. #77 CJ
    June 22, 2007

    Re: qualia,
    Nobody is denying that first-person experiences exist. The point is merely that they are the sum total of all the internal states at a point in time, and nothing more. There is nothing “extra” that needs to be accounted for with a term like qualia.

    If you disagree, what would you say to someone who insisted that a description of the operation of an automobile was somehow incomplete because it failed to account for the “go”?
    “The car is going,” they might say. “I understand that combustion of fuel produces energy, and the gears transform this into work that turns the driveshaft, and ultimately the wheels, but where’s the go?”

    I do not present this fairly crude analogy as conclusive, but I think it can provide a starting point for pinpointing the area of disagreement. Both sides can agree that the car goes, but one side insists that this is primary and ultimately unaccounted for by a mechanical description of the operation of the machine.

  77. #78 D.R.M.
    June 22, 2007

    I love how inarticulate Egnor is. He should have atleast kept up on analytic philosophy, so he could atleast express his arguments reasonably.

    The main flaw with Egnor and his Unsophisticated Platonic Realism is that it commits a category mistake. “Altruism” isn’t a concrete object so much as it is a categorization of numerous behaviours which share similiar properties. This, multiply realizable, concept is stored in the brain and realized as soon as a specific set of behaviours occur.

  78. #79 Tulse
    June 22, 2007

    CJ, the problem with your car analogy is that “go” can be operationally defined, and in a fashion that all can agree on the qualities it possesses. In other words, there is no more to “going” than carrying out some physical processes, and “going” can be completely described in terms of those processes.

    The problem with qualia is that there is literally a fact about the world, namely, what experience “is like” to the experiencer, that cannot be captured objectively. You can know all you like about bat physiology, and have as complete a physical description as you like of bat neurology, but none of that will tell you what it is like to experience the world via sonar (is it like seeing? like hearing? like something completely different?). Indeed, with a complete physical description, you presumably could predict to the limits of quantum phenomena what behaviour a bat will emit under any given conditions, but that complete physical description will still not provide you with any sense of what a bat experiences. We can, in other words, have a complete objective account of an organism, to whatever arbitrary physical limit you want, and yet still be completely ignorant as to what its subjective states are “like”. That is what the problem is. In a sense, the issue is that cars presumably don’t have experiences, whereas people (and presumably some other organisms) do.

    It is not necessary to resort to souls or God to account for this — one can still be a kind of materialist. However, simply hand-waving about “internal states” doesn’t solve the problem.

  79. #80 Olive
    June 22, 2007

    He seems to ignore the fact that we have cut some brains in half. There is some degree of evidence that the two halves, no longer able to collaborate on personality, each carry on their own. Only shared experiences give them any appearance of cooperation. No soul takes up the job of sharing one half’s information with the other. He must know this, given his job. How can he see a soul when all I see is distributed computing?

  80. #81 CJ
    June 22, 2007

    Tulse,
    Well, I’ve read Nagel and you’ve read Dennett, and I doubt we’ll resolve a milennia old philosophical debate in a comment thread on PZ’s blog, so I’m not going to belabor the point.
    Suffice it to say that I think this and assertions like it are overstated:
    “that complete physical description will still not provide you with any sense of what a bat experiences.” (my emphasis on what I find problematic)

  81. #82 slang
    June 22, 2007

    May I suggest that the Egnor entity might be an elaborate sham to tie up scientific resources that could otherwise be working on subjects that are really damaging to the cause that he tries to support?

    To support this claim I posit that the name “Egnor” is simply some phonics way of spelling “ignore”, thus attempting to set up the scientific community for the “We even told you to ignore him!” kind of rhetoric.

    A secondary piece of evidence supporting this hypothesis is that “Egnor” is the only word in this post that the Firefox web browser flags as ‘possibly spelled wrong’.

    (If this has been hypothesized by anyone else earlier I apologize for the seeming plagiarism, but I have honestly not seen this interpretation before.)

  82. #83 Aloysius
    June 22, 2007

    Tulse,

    “We can, in other words, have a complete objective account of an organism, to whatever arbitrary physical limit you want, and yet still be completely ignorant as to what its subjective states are “like”. That is what the problem is.”

    I think what previous posters have been getting at is that this problem isn’t actually a problem, because the question of “What is it subjectively like to be a bat?” cannot be answered in any meaningful way. It’s a nonsense question, just like “‘This statement is a lie’ is a lie” is a nonsense statement. (And I mean “nonsense” in the most respectful way; in mathematics nonsense is a specific and respectable endeavour.) What kind of an answer could anyone possibly give that would tell us anything? There is no way to discuss the issue in terms of subjective batness to anyone who isn’t a bat. Any answer anyone could give to me could only be in terms of humanish experiences…which would bar the answerer from having any subjective experience of batness in the first place.

    Tautologically, subjective experiences are subjective. They can never be faithfully transmitted, encapsulated, or described.

    It seems reasonable to conclude that they simply don’t exist in any relevant way, and that the fact that we think we have them is due to the way our brain keeps track of its own internal states.

    Is there any compelling reason to think they do exist, beyond the (unreliable) fact that we really want to believe we have them?

  83. #84 Coathangrrr
    June 22, 2007

    People who are colorblind often fail to realize it until it is rigorously demonstrated to them. Such a person would insist they could detect ‘blueness’, but actually wouldn’t.

    Actually, they would insist that they could see the color blue, or differentiate between green and red as is more often the case. i.e. They would insist that they could perceive a color. However, you are right when you say that they must have it rigorously demonstrated that they can’t really see said color. And I speak from recent experience.

    There isn’t any ‘blueness’. That is an illusion. You cannot describe any of the properties of ‘blueness’, no matter how hard you try, and this is because what you consider a sensation is just your brain making a reference to an activation state. No “sensory experiences” can be described except referring to other sensory experiences, because they have no properties other than being an association.

    There’s no ‘there’, there.

    Ok, I agree with you here, too. It is only a correlation of input to an “activation state”, a term I’ve not heard before, that creates experience. But, and this is a big one, your next comment seems to contradict this.

    No, language relies on shared properties. By the use of language to manipulate properties, experiences can be transmitted.

    I have to assume that by “shared properties” you mean of the object of a specific word. i.e. “Tree” denotes a set of things with shared properties, or “that tree”, when said tree is being pointed at, denotes a specific entity which has properties and which we call a tree because it shares properties with the set of things which “Tree” denotes. If this is so, and if not please correct me, then to say that “blueness” doesn’t exist is to say that it only exists insofar as humans have said it exists. It is some nonexistent thing which we have used to describe what we experience when we see a thing that refracts certain wavelengths of light. If this is so then the shared properties upon which language relies are not a function of the real physical world except insofar as they affect the state of our brain in a consistent manner.

  84. #85 Ken Watts
    June 22, 2007

    re: T_U_T #56
    “Are you supposing that things are “from inside” are different, even completely unrelated to “from outside” ?
    I think this is only marginally less goofy than the original egnorianism”

    Unrelated: No. Different: Yes, in the sense that if I imagine a green sphere, you could disect my brain, study the firing patterns, etc. and find nothing green in the pattern of firings. The inside experience is “different” in that respect from the outside. But thank you for finding me “less goofy”, if only marginally. “More goofy” would have been intolerable…

    re: Sailor (#62)
    “Consciousness is necessary for a complex brain to work.”
    I don’t find that argument convincing. A central processing of some type that is capable of distinguishing what is harmful for the organism, and of avoiding that in the future is obviously necessary. I don’t see what that has to do with qualia–the signal would be quite adequate, it seems to me, without the pain, that is, if the neuron actions really explain everything. I also don’t see how that is an argument that my experience of the pain isn’t real.

    re: Tulse and Sneddon
    Thanks for clarifying points I made much less clearly.

    I’m new here, so I don’t know if this is considered polite, or a faux pas. I’ve started a discussion on qualia at my own site: dailymull.com . If anyone is interested in contributing, you’re welcome, and if it’s rude to post this sort of invitation in this context, please tell me, and I won’t do it again (or be offended if it’s removed). I’ll still be following the discussion here, as well, of course, as long as it continues.

  85. #86 Ken Watts
    June 22, 2007

    Alovius (#82)

    The compelling reason is that we experience them. You can claim that this experience is an illusion if you like, but generally speaking most people find experience compelling until someone demonstrates clearly that it’s an illusion.

    If you saw and heard and smelled a bear in the room, and I said “it’s just an illusion” it’s very unlikely you would be satisfied. I would have to walk through the space where you thought you saw it, or something like that, to convince you.

    You might be convinced, if there were several people in the room who agreed that they didn’t see the bear, and you were the only one who did.

    But this case is just the opposite. I see blueness, you see blueness, everybody does. No one claims not to have any experiences, or to not know what we’re talking about when we talk this way. Even if some people did, there still a lot of people in the room who see the bear.

    That seems to me to put the burden of proof on those who want to think of it as an illusion. You need to do more than just patiently explain, you need to walk through the bear.

  86. #87 Caledonian
    June 22, 2007

    People find a lot of things convincing that we know just aren’t true. One good thing about studying human psychology is that you gain a new appreciation for the divide between perception and reality.

    And the simple truth is that there is no “like what it is to see blue”. ‘Like’ indicates a similarity or equivalence of properties, but all we can do with sensations is create metaphors and think synesthesically – in other words, compare them to other sensations. They cannot be described, because there’s nothing TO describe – just the recognition of properties.

    We process those properties without necessarily informing our conscious record of the fact, which is why blindsight happens. Our entire experience is just a collection of references to neural activation patterns. It isn’t “like” anything to see blue. Our visual centers recognize that a neural signal with specific properties is detected, and that’s all.

    There are no qualia.

  87. #88 llewelly
    June 22, 2007

    The problem with qualia is that there is literally a fact about the world, namely, what experience “is like” to the experiencer, that cannot be captured objectively. You can know all you like about bat physiology, and have as complete a physical description as you like of bat neurology, but none of that will tell you what it is like to experience the world via sonar (is it like seeing? like hearing? like something completely different?).

    Why do you believe that there is anything to that ‘is like’ experience which is not expressed in the internal states of the brain?

  88. #89 Tulse
    June 23, 2007

    Aloysius writes:

    There is no way to discuss the issue in terms of subjective batness to anyone who isn’t a bat. Any answer anyone could give to me could only be in terms of humanish experiences…which would bar the answerer from having any subjective experience of batness in the first place.

    Exactly, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t in fact anything that it is like to be a bat, but that we as third-party observers with radically different sensory systems can’t know. And that, in a nutshell, is the problem.

    Tautologically, subjective experiences are subjective. They can never be faithfully transmitted, encapsulated, or described.

    But nonetheless they are a feature of the world, at least as I experience it (and I presume you as well). So they are something that needs to be explained, but to which we cannot apply objective third party observation. That’s precisely the issue.

    Ken writes:

    You can claim that this experience is an illusion if you like, but generally speaking most people find experience compelling until someone demonstrates clearly that it’s an illusion.

    More to the point, even an illusion is an experience. There is nothing about qualia that demands they be veridical reports of the external world. People who suffer from phantom limb pain suffer real pain even if the apparent source of the pain is illusory.

    Caledonian says:

    We process those properties without necessarily informing our conscious record of the fact, which is why blindsight happens.

    So what? Blindsight tells us nothing about qualia — indeed, it makes the issue all the more problematic for those who thinks there isn’t a problem, since even though information gets through, clearly something is different in blindsight than in regular vision, a difference that has to be explained.

    Our entire experience is just a collection of references to neural activation patterns. It isn’t “like” anything to see blue.

    So you don’t have a different subjective experience from seeing blue compared to, say, hearing middle C? Or having a pin jabbed in your palm? Honestly?

    Our visual centers recognize that a neural signal with specific properties is detected, and that’s all.

    There are a vast number of neural patterns that don’t have any correlate in consciousness (I don’t, for example, generally know when my body detects an increase of blood sugar and releases additional insulin).

    There are no qualia.

    Not to be rude, but only someone in the grip of an ideology could say that. (It’s like when one used to talk to strict behaviourists.) Qualia are the thing we can be most certain about, the only things we can be completely certain about. Our experiences may not be veridical, but we can be in absolutely no doubt that we are experiencing them.

    llewelly says:

    Why do you believe that there is anything to that ‘is like’ experience which is not expressed in the internal states of the brain?

    To be clear, I do think that the brain in some fashion generates subjective experience — I’m a materialist (at least in some fashion). My only point was that we can never know from a third person, objective perspective, what that subjective experience is, and thus how the brain produces it.

    Put another way, if we had perfect physical knowledge of the internal states of the brain (and the rest of the body), we could presumably describe and predict perfectly the physical aspects of an organism’s behaviour. And in that description and prediction, there would be absolutely no need for terms describing subjective experience. Such terms would be superfluous to the physical description. We can, per Chalmers, imagine a world physically identical in every way to ours, but where the beings do not have subjective experience (Chalmer’s “Zombie World”). The question is, what is different about our world from Zombie World? If we agree that a perfect physical description would capture everything about objective behaviour that could be captured, then clearly at that level our world and Zombie World are identical. But almost everyone except Caledonian does have subjective experiences. So how can we account for this, when we agree that an objective physical description captures everything about behaviour?

  89. #90 Caledonian
    June 23, 2007

    More to the point, even an illusion is an experience.

    But it’s the experience that’s an illusion. Please get it straight.

    Not to be rude, but only someone in the grip of an ideology could say that.

    Or someone who’s familiar with the topic and understands the concept quite a bit better than you.

    Oh Christ, and now you bring up Philosophical Zombies. Think, people!

  90. #91 gotaku
    June 23, 2007

    Damn folk psychology.

    I have no reason to trust what by brain thinks about itself, as it has an ultimate capacity to lie.

  91. #92 thwaite
    June 23, 2007

    The “Zombie World” reminds me of the very old joke about Behaviorism (speaking of ideologies): A Behaviorist is a person who’ll lie back after sex and say “Well, it was good for you … was it good for me too?”
    Not having read Chalmers, does this get skewered anywhere there?

  92. #93 Christopher
    June 23, 2007

    I’m still deeply confused about why qualia matter.

    Especially, why do we assume they are inherently incommunicable, rather then being incommunicable simply because of inadequacies of human language and thought processes.

    In other words, in the thought experiment, we assume that even given complete information about color, she still does not experience the subjective nature of color.

    But what is the basis of that assumption? It seems to me to be almost question begging, as though the experiment assumes already that qualia are not sufficiently described by physical properties.

    But couldn’t this simply be a human limitation? Isn’t it possible that a sufficiently advanced species, with much more complex brains then ours, could in fact reconstruct the subjective experience of colour from a simple description of all the physics involved?

    Also, I’m very very confused about why this could possibly matter.

  93. #94 Christopher
    June 23, 2007

    Sorry, the thought experiment I was talking about is in here somewhere.

    How would a zombie world be different then ours?

    I’m really not sure there actually is a distinction between having subjective experiences and acting as if you have subjective experiences.

    At least, not one that could matter.

  94. #95 SmellyTerror
    June 23, 2007

    If all possible answers to a question are functionally identical, it’s not a question. It’s textual masturbation.

    1. I, for one, have subjective experience. My brother doesn’t.

    Prove me wrong.

    2. At 0330 GMT yesterday, the planet Earth was transformed into a giant marshmallow. This marshmallow has in all ways the properties of the planet it replaced, so you’ll never be able to test it. But it’s marshmallow. Seriously.

    Prove me wrong.

    3. You are a brain in a jar. Actually, you’re not even a brain, but the concept is beyond you so We’ll just say “brain” to give you an idea of the situation. Your entire stock of memory up to this point has been manufactured whole, and all inputs from this moment are being generated by Us. You have been in operation for only a couple of seconds. We’ve built the most utterly impossible virtual world for you – we find the very ideas of vision, planets, poo, existential angst, and blogs utterly laughable, those of Us who can even understand what they might be. We made you so We could have a good chuckle at your ridiculous situation. Nothing you believe is true. Nothing you think exists, does. You’re not even reading this, or thinking what you think you’re thinking – we’re just appending new memories as our whims dictate. You don’t exist.

    Prove me wrong.


    There comes a time when the answer is simply: who fucking cares?

  95. #96 Caledonian
    June 23, 2007

    How would a zombie world be different then ours?

    The thought experiment explicitly states that p-zombies behave exactly the same way as humans in all cases, they simply “lack conscious experience”.

    Which means “conscious experience” in the experiment isn’t responsible for any aspects of human thought and behavior, and in fact has absolutely no consequences on the mind or world outside the mind.

    Which is equivalent to defining it as nonexistent, since “not interacting with anything at all” is what we mean by not existing.

    Chalmers may possess sophistication, but all he’s done with it is create very sophisticated forms of stupidity. I have a very low opinion of the field for some very good reasons, and this is one example of why.

  96. #97 Ken Watts
    June 23, 2007

    Actually, althougth I, too, consider myself a materialist in some fashion, the zombie illustration may go a bit too far.

    There is some effect of qualia on the world–we are having this discussion, and most of us, at any rate, know what we are talking about. That argues that the experience is more than an epiphenomena–it’s affecting our behaviour.

    It also argues that we can communicate about qualia–though not in the same way we can communicate about objective matters.

    And I second Tulse’s comment about blindsight. It’s actually an argument in favor of qualia, since it’s equivalent to saying “there are some cases in which the system knows things without the usual qualia.”

  97. #98 Robert Medeiros
    June 23, 2007

    HappyMonkey:

    Another good example is a telephone call. While a telephone call is in progress, where is it?

    In ‘cyberspace’, poetically defined in the work that coined the term as a “consensual hallucination”. Redacted: feverish muttering about Teilhard de Chardin’s noosphere, etc.

    skyotter:

    and as a behavior it has physical existence ONLY when it’s being performed

    Since I’m a computer wonk, I naturally connected your hypothical actor performing an action with the idea of an interpreter running a program… It’s only peripherally connected to the topic at hand, but that idea brought to mind the paper Beautifying Gödel, which is probably the most accessible treatment of Gödel’s incompleteness theorems I’ve seen. I suspect there are others here that would find it interesting.

    For the science fiction fans: the novel “Signal to Noise” by Eric S. Nylund features a character whose brain starts to recursively subdivide in the fashion described by Egnor; the character wanted to be able to multi-task… I thought it was a pretty good read. I mean, it had a respectable amount of action, biological and computational hackery, the End of the World….

  98. #99 Caledonian
    June 23, 2007

    And I second Tulse’s comment about blindsight. It’s actually an argument in favor of qualia, since it’s equivalent to saying “there are some cases in which the system knows things without the usual qualia.”

    Then you don’t understand the argument. Blindsight isn’t about experience, it’s about conscious vs. unconscious awareness.

  99. #100 Keith Douglas
    June 23, 2007

    I could forgive some of this lunacy from an educated member of the public in almost any field. But from a neurosurgeon?? Holy incompetency, Batman!

    Glen Davidson: You’ve come dangerously close to treating energy as a stuff. It isn’t, it is a property. Recall the Einstein equation, E = mc2; since mass and the speed of light are properties, E has to be, out of semantic consistency.

    Pete: But the patterns are of matter, rather than, say, something “Platonic” like the fibonacci sequence. (Which, to a materialist, doesn’t exist per se, although it is useful sometimes to feign it does.)

    PalMD: Religious desperation, I think, explains this guy.

    woozy: There will always be cranks, but philosophical issues do take a long time to settle, if any ever convince everyone. That said, IMO the mind-body problem as traditionally understood is dead in the sense that people really should adopt something like the position I espouse (see my paper on neuroscience and philosophy) if they are at all honest. Of course, I would say we have a lot of other problems to work on in philosophy of mind, most noticably rethinking ideas about responsibility, will, etc. but not in isolation from neuroscience and psychology.

    ken: Descartes himself thought that a lot of what we do was automatic (he discovered reflexes, after all). I for one didn’t understand what his position on what the mind is supposed to do until I read his stuff on what is handled by the body (which very few people read in philosophy classes and so get a distorted picture). Contemporary dualists are often very slippery, because they know that any concrete suggestion is a “position of the gaps” at best. Take pope JP II, for example. He insists that there are psychological faculties not shared with other animals and which are the province of the soul. And yet, he refuses to give many details as to what they are.

    Ken Watts: You’ve fallen for the conjuring trick, as Dennett (following Wittgenstein) puts it. Or, put it the way that Paul Churchland does. Of course things are different on the inside as opposed to the outside – you’re got your visual cortex, your x, your y, etc. not mine! You might find reading the Churchlands’ and Dennett’s stuff on qualia, it would help you see past the trick …

    Bobby: It was known for a long time that there had to be some connection between the brain and behaviour; Descartes even postulated a seat of interaction (the pineal gland, selected because he thought other animals didn’t have one). Now the evidence is inescapable, but Egnor and his ilk try to shoehorn their ignorance into a “soul of the gaps” all the same.

    Christopher: Actually, David Chalmers does claim what you propose. Why electrons should have a “tiny amount” of qualia and us a large amount (by comparison) is neve rmade clear. (The whole position is IMO absurd, of course.)

    Tulse: Completely certain? Are you sure? I know of several demonstrations that can show to most people they aren’t.

    Incidentally, the “third party data can never tell me about what I experience …” etc. lines are in need of argument. Paul Churchland has a neat demo that predicts something completely novel about your experience …

  100. #101 Aloysius
    June 23, 2007

    Tulse,

    “Exactly, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t in fact anything that it is like to be a bat, but that we as third-party observers with radically different sensory systems can’t know. And that, in a nutshell, is the problem.”

    I think your problem is in fact the solution. You seem to be assuming that, because the question “What is it subjectively like to be a bat?” looks well-formed and seems to have meaning in the English language, then it must have some kind of content corresponding to a phenomenon in the outside world. That’s just not the case. We’ve agreed that there is no way to give a meaningful answer to that question. Perhaps that indicates that the question is intrinsically meaningless. You’re trying to splice together aspects of language and aspects of physical existence in a way that just doesn’t work. Our language is not an accurate reflection of the world. To take another example, photons of a specified wavelength exist in an objective way, but the concept of “blueness” does not. That’s not to say that “blueness” has no meaning in any sense, but we must not mistake it for anything but an artefact of our cognition.

    What could, hypothetically, convince you that qualia do not in fact exist? Is there any experiment that could be done, or logical argument that could be made?

  101. #102 Caledonian
    June 23, 2007

    Before we need to find an explanation for a phenomenon, we need to show that it exists.

    So: demonstrate to me that there is a sensation of “blueness”. Describe it to me, if you please.

  102. #103 Ken Watts
    June 23, 2007

    “That’s not to say that “blueness” has no meaning in any sense, but we must not mistake it for anything but an artefact of our cognition.”

    I can’t speak for Tulse here, but I certainly never argued that qualia were anything but an “artefact of our cognition” though I think that artefact has interesting implications. I, and I think several others, have only argued that saying qualia are an artefact of our cognition is not the same as saying they don’t exist.

    Dennett, and some others, seem to mean much more than that by the term, first giving it some sort of independent, quasi-physical existence, and then using that fact to deny that qualia exist. I don’t think they mean what I, and a lot of other philosophers, mean by the term.

    I really think something of the same type is going on in this discussion, though I certainly don’t think that’s all that’s going on.

    It’s important to be clear that some of us who find qualia impossible to deny (at least, so far) are merely claiming that our experience can’t simply be rejected on doctrinal grounds–because it doesn’t seem to fit a larger world-view.

    It’s also important not to assume that there is some sort of wishful thinking or some sort of philosophical position behind, what is for me, anyway, a simple inability to deny (so far) my own primary experience.

    I find the existence of qualia an uncomfortable, though not insurmountable problem. I just refuse to kid myself until I have real evidence.

    Any wishful thinking, on my part, would go in the opposite direction, though I have to admit to a certain delight in the anomaly.

  103. #104 Ken Watts
    June 23, 2007

    “Then you don’t understand the argument. Blindsight isn’t about experience, it’s about conscious vs. unconscious awareness.”

    This seems to me to be more evidence of the confusion about the meaning of the term qualia between the two positions. For me, qualia could quite possibly be defined as the difference between conscious and unconscious knowledge.

    To be conscious of something is, precisely, to experience the qualia associated with it. That’s all qualia are-the contents of consciousness.

    To know something was green, without being able to “see” that it was green, is, at the same time, to have unconsious knowledge, and to have knowledge without the accompanying qualia.

  104. #105 Caledonian
    June 23, 2007

    This seems to me to be more evidence of the confusion about the meaning of the term qualia between the two positions. For me, qualia could quite possibly be defined as the difference between conscious and unconscious knowledge.

    Then there’s no “problem” to be solved.

    The way you want to use the term is not at all the way the philosophers that are a fan of the idea use it – they really do think that qualia are some dualistic substance not part of the physical world. Yes, they’re that dumb.

  105. #106 Tulse
    June 24, 2007

    I think your problem is in fact the solution. You seem to be assuming that, because the question “What is it subjectively like to be a bat?” looks well-formed and seems to have meaning in the English language, then it must have some kind of content corresponding to a phenomenon in the outside world.

    It depends on what you mean by “outside world”. I exist in the world, and I experience qualia — that is a fact about the world that needs to be explained. I presume that you too have subjective experiences, or at least that the question of whether you have subjective experiences is one that has a truth value. So I don’t see how the question of “What is it like to be a bat?” is incoherent. Surely we ask each other what our experiences are like all the time, and that is simply a less extreme version of the question.

    To take another example, photons of a specified wavelength exist in an objective way, but the concept of “blueness” does not.

    That is completely correct, and essentially the problem. We all experience “blueness”, and recognize it as different from “redness”, but how it appear to differs from “redness” isn’t accounted for by the difference in the wavelengths of light. (For example, a proportional difference in the wavelengths of two different audible tones doesn’t produce a similar difference in our subjective experience of the sounds — one doesn’t sound “redder” than another.)

    What could, hypothetically, convince you that qualia do not in fact exist? Is there any experiment that could be done, or logical argument that could be made?

    Qualia simply are experience (or at least the building blocks of it), so it is hard for me to imagine how I could even be aware of an argument you make regarding the nonexistence of qualia without having a subjective experience.

    The way you want to use the term is not at all the way the philosophers that are a fan of the idea use it – they really do think that qualia are some dualistic substance not part of the physical world. Yes, they’re that dumb.

    Numbers and mathematical systems are not part of the physical world (and some of them are impossible in our physical world), but we seem quite happy to use their physical instantiations. Does that make mathematicians substance dualists?

    And you do presumably know that there are other forms of dualism than simple substance dualism, no? And that there are pretty much no philosophers who endorse simple substance dualism?

  106. #107 Caledonian
    June 24, 2007

    I exist in the world, and I experience qualia — that is a fact about the world that needs to be explained.

    No, you claim to experience qualia. THAT is the fact that needs to be explained. What exactly does it mean to “experience qualia” when you assert that qualia are the basic building blocks of experience? Without explaining what you mean by ‘experience’, the statement is self-referential.

    Numbers and mathematical systems are not part of the physical world

    Wrong.

    (and some of them are impossible in our physical world)

    Also wrong.

    Does that make mathematicians substance dualists?

    It’s rather a moot point, since the assertions you made leading up to this question are wrong, but of course the answer is ‘no’. Many of them are, nevertheless. They’re that dumb.

    And you do presumably know that there are other forms of dualism than simple substance dualism, no? And that there are pretty much no philosophers who endorse simple substance dualism?

    Irrelevant – dualism is wrong as a category.

  107. #108 Tulse
    June 24, 2007

    you claim to experience qualia. THAT is the fact that needs to be explained.

    I claim to have subjective experiences — I claim that I see colours, have pains, hear sounds, taste flavours, etc. Are you suggesting that I am intentionally lying about these claims, and that I am a mindless zombie? Remember that qualia do not need to be veridical, and that the whole “they’re just an illusion” argument completely misses the point, since illusions are still subjective experiences.

    As for numbers being part of the physical world, point to the number “3” — not a sign of it, or representation of it, but the number itself.

  108. #109 Caledonian
    June 24, 2007

    I claim to have subjective experiences — I claim that I see colours, have pains, hear sounds, taste flavours, etc. Are you suggesting that I am intentionally lying about these claims, and that I am a mindless zombie?

    Why is it that so many people, when confronted with the possibility that their claims aren’t true, immediately assume that they’re being accused of lying?

    Earth to Tulse: you could just be wrong.

    We already know you don’t have indescribable ‘experiences’ that cannot even in principle be explained to others.

  109. #110 Ken Watts
    June 24, 2007

    Caledonian:

    “We already know you don’t have indescribable ‘experiences’ that cannot even in principle be explained to others.”

    How do “we” already know that? In point of fact, when Tulse explains those experiences, I know what he’s talking about.

    So you are simply wrong about that.

    “Irrelevant – dualism is wrong as a category.”

    This kind of reasoning, the refusal to consider the existence of a phenomenon because it “just can’t happen” is the kind of thing Galileo faced, or the attitude toward action at a distance in Newton’s time.

    There are many kinds of “dualism”, including types that haven’t even been thought of yet, and it isn’t even necessary that qualia will end up pointing to dualism. It might just be another, as yet unexamined, aspect of materialism.

    But we won’t find out by closing our eyes, and refusing to admit we see, or feel, or taste, or smell anything.

    Dogmatism, even materialistic dogmatism, leads nowhere.

    Either you are a Zombie, and really don’t know what we are talking about, or you are capable of convincing yourself to ignore the web and woof of all of your own experience.

    It might be worth considering the possibility that you, also, could just be wrong.

  110. #111 Caledonian
    June 24, 2007

    How do “we” already know that? In point of fact, when Tulse explains those experiences, I know what he’s talking about.

    But that’s just the point – you don’t. You may believe you understand, because you associate his words with what you’re familiar with. People who are colorblind often think they understand what other people mean by ‘color’ as well, until it’s demonstrated to them that they don’t.

    This kind of reasoning, the refusal to consider the existence of a phenomenon because it “just can’t happen” is the kind of thing Galileo faced, or the attitude toward action at a distance in Newton’s time.

    The purported phenomenon in question contains a logical error – it’s impossible for it to occur. Perhaps there’s a similar phenomenon with a different definition that IS real, but if so, you haven’t spoken of it.

  111. #112 Tulse
    June 24, 2007

    You may believe you understand, because you associate his words with what you’re familiar with. People who are colorblind often think they understand what other people mean by ‘color’ as well, until it’s demonstrated to them that they don’t.

    This supports the notion of the ineffability of qualia — if a colourblind person who has all the physical information possible nonetheless cannot know what the experience is like, how does that not argue for there being a fact of the world that is not accessible to third parties? How does that not argue that the experiences of creatures with radically different sensory capabilities (such as bats) are inaccessible to humans?

    The purported phenomenon in question contains a logical error – it’s impossible for it to occur.

    Drop a brick on your foot and then tell us that.

  112. #113 Caledonian
    June 24, 2007

    if a colourblind person who has all the physical information possible nonetheless cannot know what the experience is like,

    1) You have all the information available to you, but you can’t tell us what the “experience is like”.

    2) Colorblind people don’t have the information available to them.

  113. #114 Ken Watts
    June 24, 2007

    Caledonian:

    Seriously, think about what you are arguing.

    You assume that there is no knowledge (even experiencial) that cannot be communicated through language, which is, in essence, an assumption that there is no such thing as private knowledge.

    You have absolutely no proof of this assumption.

    You then use this assumption as an axiom in an argument that qualia can’t exist–even if we experience them.

    Ultimately, this comes down to accepting a circular argument over experience.

  114. #115 Caledonian
    June 24, 2007

    You assume that there is no knowledge (even experiencial) that cannot be communicated through language, which is, in essence, an assumption that there is no such thing as private knowledge.

    You have absolutely no proof of this assumption.

    It’s not an assumption. You simply don’t perceive that the alternative introduces a contradiction.

    Private knowledge can’t exist.

  115. #116 Ken Watts
    June 24, 2007

    What’s the contradiction? I’m interested.

  116. #117 Caledonian
    June 24, 2007

    The required properties for knowledge to be inaccessible to others also make them inaccessible to the person who supposedly possesses it.

    If knowledge can exist that cannot be expressed in any language, it follows that it can neither be derived from a set of statements through logical operations nor produced in an associational fashion. It cannot be stored in memory, it cannot be recalled, and it cannot exist in any form, as being part of a set of interactions is required for existence and a thing which takes part in interactions can be described by referring to the change it makes to the system relative to what would happen if it weren’t there.

    No aspect of your thinking processes is private in this sense; it’s all part of a general reality in which we all exist.

  117. #118 Ken Watts
    June 24, 2007

    “The required properties for knowledge to be inaccessible to others also make them inaccessible to the person who supposedly possesses it.”

    I think I understand what you intend by this, whether I agree with it or not.

    “If knowledge can exist that cannot be expressed in any language, it follows that it can neither be derived from a set of statements through logical operations nor produced in an associational fashion.”

    Again, I think I know what this says, but in this case, I’m pretty sure I disagree. It seems to me that all language, in the normal sense of the word, is ultimately not derivable from a set of statements through logical operations. Even mathmatics ultimately is rooted in analogy.

    If analogy (positive and negative) is what you mean by “an associational fashion” then I would argue that you are mistaken on this point. It is not necessary for me to be able to communicate my internal experiences to you in order for me to be able to draw analogies between them. We’re speaking here, by the way, of the semantic, rather than the propositional level, and there is a fundamental sense in which I can never fully know exactly what you mean even about objective reality. My understanding of a simple word like “dog” is an analogy I have drawn between all the dogs I have ever experienced, and thus it is, in some measure, different than your understanding of the same word. You can never communicate your concept to me, exactly, and vice versa. This doesn’t mean that the concepts don’t exist, only that language is not adequate to the task (among other problems).

    “It cannot be stored in memory, it cannot be recalled, and it cannot exist in any form, as being part of a set of interactions is required for existence and a thing which takes part in interactions can be described by referring to the change it makes to the system relative to what would happen if it weren’t there.”

    If I understand this correctly, you’re claiming that a quale must have an effect on the brain, if it is real. I can see two ways in which to respond, without agreeing. The first one (which I don’t particularly like, by the way) is to say that if one quale affects another quale they would be interacting, and constitute a system, which was changed by that interaction.

    However, I really don’t think that answer, though logically valid, really fits the case. The other answer is that the existence of qualia do affect the brain. The proof of that is this very discussion. We wouldn’t be having it if I didn’t experience qualia.

    You’ll respond, I expect by saying that we’re having the discussion only because I hold the mistaken belief that I experience qualia. I understand that the conversation is not, per se, evidence that qualia exist–it could happen if they didn’t.

    My point is that you can’t make the claim that my position is inconsistent, based on the idea that I think there’s no interaction going on. I do think there is interaction–that’s how I interpret this whole conversation.

    “No aspect of your thinking processes is private in this sense; it’s all part of a general reality in which we all exist.”

    I’m not sure, here, what you mean by “in this sense”. But it seems obvious to me that language is an inadequate transmitter and storer of knowledge in general, and that most, if not all, of our concepts are less than fully transmittable, and to some extent private.

    I’m not yet convinced, though I remain open to argument.

    Do you?

  118. #119 Tulse
    June 24, 2007

    If knowledge can exist that cannot be expressed in any language, it follows that it can neither be derived from a set of statements through logical operations nor produced in an associational fashion.

    Tell me what the propositional content is when you drop a brick on your foot.

  119. #120 Ken Watts
    June 24, 2007

    Calcedon:

    Two afterthoughts:

    “being part of a set of interactions is required for existence”

    I’m not at all sure that this statement is true. I don’t mean by that that I have an argument against it, merely that I can’t imagine what (besides some arbitrary definition of “existence”) basis you have for saying that.

    “No aspect of your thinking processes is private in this sense; it’s all part of a general reality in which we all exist.”

    I’m also not at all sure that saying a thinking process is private, in the sense that it can’t be communicated through language, implies that it’s not part of the “general reality in which we exist”.

  120. #121 windy
    June 24, 2007

    We can, per Chalmers, imagine a world physically identical in every way to ours, but where the beings do not have subjective experience (Chalmer’s “Zombie World”).

    We can imagine it, but it would be a fantasy world, since our subjective experience must have a physical basis.

    That’s like imagining a world “physically identical in every way to ours” in which water does not form ice at low temperatures. It just happens to get solid, but it’s not “really” ice.

    The question is, what is different about our world from Zombie World? But almost everyone except Caledonian does have subjective experiences. So how can we account for this, when we agree that an objective physical description captures everything about behaviour?

    Simple. The premise of Zombie World is incorrect.

  121. #122 Jonathan Vos Post
    June 24, 2007

    “Make a hologram of the whiteboard…”

    There is a hypothesis of hologrammatic (holonomic) memory and cognition in humans, developed by Karl Pribram and David Bohm:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holonomic_brain_theory

    There is a Physics of a hologrammatic cosmos, and mysticism:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Holographic_Universe

    See also the history of “The Law of Mass Action” and the search for the Engram by Karl Lashley:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Lashley

    Egnor might have been taking a pinch of one and a dollop of another here, vaguely recollected from his Med School days (I mean before he became a “teacher”) and stirred with misunderstood newspaper stories.

    Brain Surgery: it ain’t Brane Theory.

  122. #123 Caledonian
    June 24, 2007

    “being part of a set of interactions is required for existence”

    I’m not at all sure that this statement is true. I don’t mean by that that I have an argument against it, merely that I can’t imagine what (besides some arbitrary definition of “existence”) basis you have for saying that.

    Imagine that I have an apple. Now imagine that I remove from the apple its capacity to interact with the rest of the universe – the apple exerts no influence on anything else, neither through currently-known nor currently-unknown forces.

    Now imagine the apple again, but make it nonexistent.

    What distinguishes the two conditions? What implication of one scenario isn’t also implicated in the other?

  123. #124 Tulse
    June 24, 2007

    That’s like imagining a world “physically identical in every way to ours” in which water does not form ice at low temperatures.

    The difference is that a world in which ice doesn’t form would not be physically identical to ours in every way. But as far as we can see, subjective experience is not needed to account for every physical fact of our existence.

    The premise of Zombie World is incorrect.

    You’re simply asserting the issue at question. How does our physical world make subjective experience a necessary component of it, when such subjective experience seems completely superfluous to a full physical description of the world?

  124. #125 Caledonian
    June 24, 2007

    The difference is that a world in which ice doesn’t form would not be physically identical to ours in every way. But as far as we can see, subjective experience is not needed to account for every physical fact of our existence.

    Your accounts and arguments are physical facts of existence. If subjective experience isn’t required to account for them, then your arguments are invalid.

    How does our physical world make subjective experience a necessary component of it,

    Why are you asking how a thing happens when you’ve just established that it doesn’t happen?

  125. #126 gotaku
    June 24, 2007

    “I claim to have subjective experiences — I claim that I see colours, have pains, hear sounds, taste flavours, etc. Are you suggesting that I am intentionally lying about these claims, and that I am a mindless zombie?”

    Tulse, do you have any real evidence that subjective experience actually exists? If not then what you believe is no different from a Cristian saying “Jesus exists because I feel him within me”. Is such a person “intentionally lying” and does such a statement say anything about whether Jesus exists?

  126. #127 Ken Cope
    June 24, 2007

    What distinguishes the two conditions?

    Come on guys, you can work it out. Cal typed very slowly, just for you!

  127. #128 Tulse
    June 24, 2007

    Caledonian writes:

    Your accounts and arguments are physical facts of existence. If subjective experience isn’t required to account for them, then your arguments are invalid.

    You’ll have to upack this more, as I don’t follow what you mean.

    gotaku writes:

    Tulse, do you have any real evidence that subjective experience actually exists?

    Only someone profoundly in the grip of an ideology could ask that question. Do you not feel pain? Do you not hear sounds? Do you not taste and smell and have all sorts of other experiences?

    Subjective experience is the only thing we can be absolutely certain of. Those experiences may be non-veridical, and arise because we are brains in vats, or caught in the Matrix, or subjected to Descartes’ evil demon, but we cannot be wrong that we are actually experiencing them.

  128. #129 Glen Davidson
    June 24, 2007

    Glen Davidson: You’ve come dangerously close to treating energy as a stuff. It isn’t, it is a property. Recall the Einstein equation, E = mc2; since mass and the speed of light are properties, E has to be, out of semantic consistency.

    Yes, I heard you the first time you said this mindless BS. Either learn some science or just learn not to say the same worthless junk about it that you do.

    I don’t treat it as “stuff” (nor come “dangerously close” to doing so–if I come at all close here it’s because I’m sensibly using the vernacular, and not caviling as you are doing) no matter how incompetently you read me. And it isn’t a property by any reasonable definition of “property” that is used in physics. If “property” is to be spoken about in the region of energy, the only reasonable statement would be that energy “has properties”. Even that is more of a convenience than telling us anything about energy, but at least it isn’t as bad a use of English as to say that “energy is a property” as you so incompetently do.

    What you seem to have a problem with is that you don’t understand that “m” and “c” aren’t necessarily “properties,” but rather that is a useless convention that you have fallen into using. What, for instance, is “c” a “property of”? What is “m” a “property of”? That one may say that “c is a property of light” really tells us nothing, because it isn’t really clear that it is a property of light at all, ruling the speed (and speed limit) of other phenomena.

    So is it a property of the universe? Well, how so? And what does it mean to “be a property of the universe” anyhow?

    Likewise with “mass”. It’s supposed to be what, a “property of matter”? More like, it’s a “property of the Higg’s boson,” or perhaps even more so a “property of broken symmetry”. Yes, but that’s only semantics, really, like too much of your philosophy. The truth is that “mass” could be considered “the property of” any number of phenomena, which tells us far too little. You’re trying to cram rather fundamental questions into the limited vocabulary of a sort of analytic philosophy, and trying to make pedantic points based on the arbitrary limits of your philosophy.

    Anyhow, you have the wrong equation for “E”, at least when you chooose to be pedantic about these matters. E=ymc^2, where I use “y” for “gamma” and “gamma” is the “Lorentz factor”. I bring this up because, of course, the Lorentz term shatters your claim about how “E” is an equation involving merely properties, even if I accepted such a banal view of what “m” and “c” are, which I obviously don’t.

    Your worst offense is supposing that I would agree to any of your terms, which as a continentalist I do not. I treat energy as much and as little like “stuff” as I do matter, that is, I’m fine with using normal English meanings without giving any quarter to notions that we “know what energy is,” or even worse, that we can understand energy, mass, or the speed of light as “properties”. Words like “properties” are just fine if we know how to limit what we think they “mean,” but they are not fine if we think we know that energy “is a property” just because it can be conveniently considered as a property of a system (as can mass and “c”), for instance. Yes it can be, but it can as easily and legitimately be considered to be a separate phenomena (“stuff,” even, if we don’t think we know what “stuff is”) which is thereby a “component” of any system involving energy that is being considered.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

  129. #130 Ken Cope
    June 24, 2007

    we cannot be wrong that we are actually experiencing them.

    What do you mean by we? How could the experiencing of the experience be at all separable from the experiencer? The subjectivitiness [/Colbert] of experience can be adequately described as objective processes that are properties of brains in electrochemical interaction with specific environments. Subjectivity and qualia are needless multiplication of entities, mere handwaving.

  130. #131 Ken Watts
    June 24, 2007

    Calcedon:

    You responded to one of my afterthoughts, but ignored the main response. I really would like to hear what you have to say about that.

    Also, are you just pulling our legs? How do I know that you aren’t just pretending not to believe in qualia?

  131. #132 Glen Davidson
    June 24, 2007

    The point about “qualia” that is important is that it in fact “encodes” data about the world which we rely upon to do “objective science”. To propose that they are “just subjective” is to fall for the conventional and useful distinction of “subjective” and “objective,” when no fundamental basis for this distinction can be given. What I’m saying is that there is nothing wrong about dividing experience into “subjective” and “objective,” however if I’m using those terms it is impossible to show how one ever makes the move from “subjective” to “objective” experience. It’s “all subjective,” or some would redefine the “objective” as the “intersubjectively valid” (and I use “valid” instead of “sound” for good reason, even if the term is yet inadequate)

    Everything we know about the world can be thought to be based “in the qualia”, depending on what is meant by “qualia” (and the definition is indeed difficult at the margins). Is “seeing blue” objective (using the term conventionally now)? Well, why not? How about “seeing straight lines”? We only “see straight lines” based on the “qualia that we see,” (or we know them by the qualia we feel, etc.). That’s why we can’t say that “qualia are simply subjective” in a meaningful philosophical or scientific sense, as they are one of the bases of “objective experience.”

    Our science is based upon the data encoded by the “qualia” and the mental spacing (plus the “lines” and other geometric phenomena that the brain uses to interpret them) of those “qualia”. Experience is made up of our perception of “qualia” and interpretation/manipulation of the information found in them, or in the data abstracted from these “perceptual qualia”. I really can see nothing more or less objective about “blueness” than about “lineness”, except that we have learned that “blueness” classifies a number of wavelengths under one designation, while our abilities to discern spatial differences is far more acute than our acuity in wavelength discrimination.

    So the point is not that “qualia” are subjective, but how it is that subjective experience is reassembled into a representative consciousness which knows “subjectively” very objective facts about the world.

    I do tend to put scare quotes around “qualia” because it seems to suggest knowledge that we don’t possess, like that we know the difference between qualia and abstract mental represenations, intentions, emotions, and what-not. I don’t like the term much because it typically is used too often as if it were better defined than it is. However, as a mere term of convenience it is still useful.

    We can deal with qualia in some manner simply because they do faithfully encode information that we use “objectively” in science , and so can presumably be matched up in the brain if we have the proper knowledge to do so. “Blueness” generally tells us about the reflectivity of wavelengths of light by a surface (and famously, not about the absolute percentages of “blue light” vs. the other wavelengths), and wherever consciousness of blue can be matched up with the signals carrying the information for “blueness” we have hope for matching up the “qualia” with the “objective data” producing that qualitative experience.

    And only by doing that (and perhaps also by understanding the cause, at least to some extent), will we know how to “define qualia”. Until then we use “qualia” in order to compare notes about “the objective world”.

    Just a note on color-blindness: One reason it may be difficult for the color-blind to recognize their lack is that it’s not clear that they’re completely lacking in any of the color qualia (conversely, adding a color cone to the eyes of lizards has apparently expanded the color discrimination of lizards–qualia don’t necessarily map exactly onto the sensory apparati).

    And, it is unlikely that anyone lacking in any color vision at all wouldn’t recognize their deficit reasonably well. They wouldn’t know what they’re missing (we don’t know what we’re missing compared to the avian four-color vision), but that they couldn’t tell colors apart when the same amount (so to speak) of light was being reflected would be obvious to them, when comparing their experiences to those of the “color-visioned”.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com35s39o

  132. #133 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 24, 2007

    I prefer my qualia stuffed with Cornish Game Hen, then stuffed in turn into a duck which is stuffed into a turkey, the whole assembly then basted and cooked throughout Thanksgiving Day.

  133. #134 gotaku
    June 24, 2007

    Only someone profoundly in the grip of an ideology could ask that question. Do you not feel pain? Do you not hear sounds? Do you not taste and smell and have all sorts of other experiences?

    My nerves will cause a cascade of neuron firing in my brain that will be interpreted as redness by my unconscious. You could say that the only reason redness exists is because my unconscious says it does. Now if my conscious is willing to trust anything my unconscious tells it without question, then you begin to understand why people think there is a thing called redness.

    I notice you completely ignored my comparison of you and a religious person. Think about it, you’re claiming something exists because you feel it does.

  134. #135 Interrobangq
    June 24, 2007

    For example, a proportional difference in the wavelengths of two different audible tones doesn’t produce a similar difference in our subjective experience of the sounds — one doesn’t sound “redder” than another.

    Oh, speak for yourself. They’re actually finding out that in some people’s cases, one note does, in fact, “sound redder” (for a loose, vernacular definition of those terms) than another, and they’re busily tracking the locations in the brain in which this “cross-compiling” (metaphorically speaking) takes place.

    Part of the problem here is that it’s damn near impossible to describe certain things in English without being metaphorical. I do not mean to be sloppy about my discourse, quite the contrary, but I keep running into these exceedingly basic metaphors — cognition as location, physical mediation as sight/sound/smell etc…

  135. #136 Caledonian
    June 24, 2007

    And, it is unlikely that anyone lacking in any color vision at all wouldn’t recognize their deficit reasonably well.

    Once again, we see that our intuition is no match for actual data. People without color vision often learn that certain words are associated with certain objects and respond accordingly. It’s not nearly as rare as you think.

  136. #137 S. Rivlin
    June 24, 2007

    Scientists should be thankful that once in while, despite the embarrassment attached to it, there are the Egnores among us who cross over to the “dark side.” That is because they are warmly embraced by the IDiots and makes our job easier.

    I have just finished reading the review by Sean B. Carroll in Science (June 8, 2007) of Behe’s book “The Edge of Evolution.” Clearly, Behe is another example of a scientist who makes our job of rebutting the IDiots’ message that much easier.

  137. #138 dm
    June 24, 2007

    I love the arrogance of some people on this board in dismissing philosophical considerations. Properties and relations [universals] form the basis of every coherent metaphysical system. They are necessary.

    Metaphysically necessary entities cannot be physical, because physicality is contingent (it is a property that depends on spatio-temporality, mass, energy, &c.).

    The world we live in is a contingent world. Abstracta, like the number 3, are not contingent, but exist in all possible worlds.

    Physicalism is not refuted by this consideration. It simply requires us to separate physicalism from the universals, point out that things like properties and relations may be explained by nominalism or conceptualism, and admit that it is called “the problem of universals” for a good reason.

    Flippant dismissal is immature.

  138. #139 Caledonian
    June 24, 2007

    Properties and relations [universals] form the basis of every coherent metaphysical system. They are necessary.

    They’re necessary – to metaphysics. You might want to take a closer look at what the word has come to mean.

  139. #140 Tulse
    June 24, 2007

    Ken Cope:

    The subjectivitiness [/Colbert] of experience can be adequately described as objective processes that are properties of brains in electrochemical interaction with specific environments.

    You can have perfect knowledge of the electrochemical features of a bat’s brain, and yet not know what the experience of having a sonar-based sensory system is like. So while it is no doubt true that qualia and subjectivity arise because of objective processes that are properties of the brain, this doesn’t tell us how those qualia arise. More to the point, it doesn’t seem like perfect knowledge of such objective processes would leave out any objective fact of the world, so it’s not even clear how qualia could fit into such an explanation.

    gotaku:

    My nerves will cause a cascade of neuron firing in my brain that will be interpreted as redness by my unconscious.

    “Interpreted”? “Redness”? Aren’t these precisely the terms in question? Isn’t this merely question-begging?

    Think about it, you’re claiming something exists because you feel it does.

    Drop a brick on your foot and then tell me whether qualia exist.

    Interrobangq:

    They’re actually finding out that in some people’s cases, one note does, in fact, “sound redder”

    I know of no synesthesia research that suggests that synesthetic experiences track objective properties, such that increases in tonal wavelength are proportional to increases in apparent visual wavelength (which was the claim I made). And given that most common forms of synesthesia involve such phenomena as the colouring of letters or numbers, where no such quantitative correspondence is even possible, I think my point still stands.

  140. #141 Caledonian
    June 24, 2007

    You can have perfect knowledge of the electrochemical features of a bat’s brain, and yet not know what the experience of having a sonar-based sensory system is like.

    Wrong.

    I wouldn’t bandy about terms like “perfect knowledge” if I were you.

  141. #142 Azkyroth
    June 24, 2007

    Imagine that I have an apple. Now imagine that I remove from the apple its capacity to interact with the rest of the universe – the apple exerts no influence on anything else, neither through currently-known nor currently-unknown forces.

    Now imagine the apple again, but make it nonexistent.

    What distinguishes the two conditions? What implication of one scenario isn’t also implicated in the other?

    I agree that the states are identical from any kind of pragmatic standpoint. I’m not sure I agree that they’re identical in principle, which seems to be the argument you’re making.

  142. #143 Amos
    June 25, 2007

    Think about it, you’re claiming something exists because you feel it does.

    If what you’re claiming exists is feeling itself, I’d say it’s a pretty damn good argument…

  143. #144 gotaku
    June 25, 2007

    “Interpreted”? “Redness”? Aren’t these precisely the terms in question? Isn’t this merely question-begging?

    Interpreted, meaning anytime a visual image contains the red part of the electromagnetic spectrum it will be considered to have a degree of redness.

    Redness itself exists because the unconscious says it does and anything your unconscious says is true from your conscious perspective.

    In other words, since it doesn’t exist outside your own conscious experience it’s no wonder language is incapable of describing it.

    Drop a brick on your foot and then tell me whether qualia exist.

    I would experience what my conscious would call pain, but the pain itself does not exist other then an illusion my unconscious has created for my conscious to deal with.

  144. #145 Ken Cope
    June 25, 2007

    You can have perfect knowledge of the electrochemical features of a bat’s brain, and yet not know what the experience of having a sonar-based sensory system is like.

    Who gives a rat’s ass what being a bat (or Thomas Nagel) is like? Why would anybody want to be a flapping insectivore filling a cave with the qualia of the stench of quano? I can provide for you many convincing (and preferable) simulations of flight; Egnor is at least qualified to trim away as much of your brain as you’d like if it’s something you’re dead set upon. But how much of you would there be to recall the event? How much of your prized subjectivitiness would have distorted being batty, without you having been Manbat, instead? Does an Apple G5 have qualia because it can’t know what it’s like to be a Commodore 64?

    As for a sonar-based sensory system it would be more useful exploring that of a dolphin. I would expect less distorted neural mapping of a human brain onto Flipper than Die Fledermaus. With stereophonation, a dolphin can ping her or his surroundings at AM radio frequencies. It may even be possible to “paint” a picture for a fellow dolphin to process with as much fidelity as skill would permit. Beyond some simple syntax, what would be the need for symbolic language, if I can place a fairly accurate dimensional representation in your brain with a few audio cues? I fully expect to see sonar as an optional human augmentation that would map easily enough into the visual cortex. I expect it would be more challenging for a dolphin to “be” a human. Our words are just non-dimensional noise to them.

    As for synaesthesia, there are far more varieties than merely the color of letters. My wife’s former co-worker had a quite useful skill for a producer, in that she was able to visualize events in time in patterns of space oriented about her personal world-coordinates — last Thursday lunch resided in a particular location behind her left shoulder and the like. She admitted this only after we found the book in her apartment that documented (among others) her case from her teens.

    Synaesthesia is easy enough to experience by ingesting the usual neurotransmitter analogs, and are much easier to understand if you have any familiarity with basic image manipulation software, like Photoshop. Why postulate some homunculus relying upon one-to-one correspondence with some event in space time, by whatever means you Mysterians are proposing to explain subjectivitiness. A large chunk of neural circuitry in the visual cortex is dedicated to edge and motion detection, color analysis (look up Edwin Land’s research on color constancy), etc. Chemically scrambling that patchbay for a few hours should show you how much work goes into constructing a simulation from multiple sensory cues, that is going on at all times.

    As for color blindness, a former co-worker of mine had red-green color blindness. He could point to a color wheel and show me the brown that red and green cued in his visual field. Bad handicap for an art director, but he was always able to work with a digital eyedropper and look at RGB or HSV values to do his job well enough.

    I’m afraid all this wanking about qualia isn’t going to change any minds until wetware can be hot-swapped.

  145. #146 Lepht
    June 25, 2007

    ‘Where’s pi in this damned computer? It has to be somewhere, and I’ll find it if I have to dismantle each atom.’

    no no, stupid, while you were doing all that heretical searching the immaterial idea of pi hath forsaken thee, and returned to its immaterial Maker. yeah.

    also, the analogy “Egnor:biology AS water:fire” conjured up a bizarre image in my head of Egnor as a giant slime-like ooze, glorping all over some poor cageful of lab bunnies and laughing (bubbles would come out) as the little experiment fodder was swallowed up. i think i should maybe go find some Coke. =]

    Lepht

  146. #147 DM
    June 25, 2007

    DM: Properties and relations [universals] form the basis of every coherent metaphysical system. They are necessary.

    Caledonian: They’re necessary – to metaphysics. You might want to take a closer look at what the word has come to mean.

    So…are you saying that there can be a world in which logical relations and properties do not exist? Logical laws of noncontradiction do not hold? Are you willing to re-write all of philosophical progress with this dangling implication?

    First, are you a physicalist?
    Second, do you actually agree that there are things like properties and relations?
    If so, do you believe that my property of being older than 25 is physical; that the relation of San Fran being north of Mexico is physical? If so, how so?

    If not, then we agree that physicalism is true of only the contingent world, and not abstract universals. But this has NOTHING to do with supernaturalism or dualism.

    Are Abstract Objects a Problem for Non-theists?

  147. #148 Caledonian
    June 25, 2007

    I agree that the states are identical from any kind of pragmatic standpoint. I’m not sure I agree that they’re identical in principle, which seems to be the argument you’re making.

    Can you think of even one consequence that differs between the two scenarios?

    If everything implied by A is also implied by B, and vice versa, A=B.

  148. #149 windy
    June 25, 2007

    The difference is that a world in which ice doesn’t form would not be physically identical to ours in every way. But as far as we can see, subjective experience is not needed to account for every physical fact of our existence.

    Then we can’t see far enough.

    Subjective experience may not be “needed” to account for every physical fact of our existence, the same way as the concept of “storm” may not be “needed” to account for every physical fact in the atmosphere if we have perfect knowledge of every molecule in it. That does not mean that physically identical worlds with no storms are a possibility.

    Subjective experience must emerge predictably from matter in children’s brains as they grow up. (assuming for the moment that “subjective experience” exists) Otherwise you are not just saying that philosophical zombies are an interesting thought experiment, it follows that they must be walking among us already. Of identical twins, one might be a zombie and the other not, if subjective experience is not a necessary consequence of certain types of brain activity.

  149. #150 Tulse
    June 25, 2007

    gotaku writes:

    pain itself does not exist other then an illusion my unconscious has created for my conscious

    It doesn’t matter if it is an illusion — what is at issue is how it has subjective qualities.

    Ken Cope writes:

    Who gives a rat’s ass what being a bat (or Thomas Nagel) is like?

    Those who are trying to understand qualia and subjectivity.

    Why postulate some homunculus relying upon one-to-one correspondence with some event in space time [...] A large chunk of neural circuitry in the visual cortex is dedicated to edge and motion detection, color analysis [...] Chemically scrambling that patchbay for a few hours should show you how much work goes into constructing a simulation from multiple sensory cues, that is going on at all times.

    First off, no one is proposing a homonculus (except for those who say that qualia and other conscious phenomena are “illusions”, since illusions require a someone to perceive them).

    Second, no one (apart from Egnor) is denying that qualia are somehow generated by the brain. The issue is that generation of subjective experience seems completely unnecessary to account for behaviour at a purely physical level.

  150. #151 Caledonian
    June 25, 2007

    First off, no one is proposing a homonculus (except for those who say that qualia and other conscious phenomena are “illusions”, since illusions require a someone to perceive them).

    Wrong again – and it involves your also being wrong about the homunculus fallacy.

    I think perhaps your opinions on this subject would be better appreciated in a discussion among theologians than logicians. You might want to consider directing your beliefs to that end of the spectrum.

  151. #152 MartinM
    June 25, 2007

    Second, no one (apart from Egnor) is denying that qualia are somehow generated by the brain. The issue is that generation of subjective experience seems completely unnecessary to account for behaviour at a purely physical level.

    That implies to my mind a one-way connection; the brain generates qualia, but qualia do not affect the brain. Else the effects of qualia on the brain would form part of a complete physical description, no?

  152. #153 gotaku
    June 25, 2007

    It doesn’t matter if it is an illusion — what is at issue is how it has subjective qualities.

    If you are willing to accept that it’s just an illusion, wouldn’t it be possible to probe the structure of the brain and discover whether or not two people share the same illusion/experience?

  153. #154 windy
    June 25, 2007

    The issue is that generation of subjective experience seems completely unnecessary to account for behaviour at a purely physical level.

    Is the concept of aggression necessary to account for animal behaviour at a purely physical level? Should we assume that baboons or somesuch are philosophical zombies if we can account for the incidence of aggression by the state of their brain?

  154. #155 Caledonian
    June 25, 2007

    That implies to my mind a one-way connection; the brain generates qualia, but qualia do not affect the brain. Else the effects of qualia on the brain would form part of a complete physical description, no?

    That means that the qualia have no influence over their thoughts and experiences that they related.

    It follows that their claims of possessing knowledge they cannot express are false, because the claims and the qualia have no logical connection – the claims proceed from their physical brains only, not the qualia.

    So they literally do not know what they are talking about.

    Qualia do not exist.

  155. #156 Tulse
    June 25, 2007

    Caledonian:

    Qualia do not exist.

    Again, drop a brick on your foot and tell me that.

  156. #157 Caledonian
    June 25, 2007

    According to your argument, my behavior after I drop the brick on my foot, including my account of what I experienced, was in no way affected by the qualia.

    So what difference would it make if I told you qualia existed? Nothing I said could logically be related to the qualia anyway. The claims that I had experienced qualia would be coming from a physical system that didn’t experience qualia, and so they would necessarily be wrong.

    This is becoming boring. Let me know when you’re ready to think about the implications of the positions you’ve espoused, and we’ll talk more.

  157. #158 Tulse
    June 25, 2007

    Caledonian, it’s a very simple question — do you or do you not have some subjective experience when you drop a brick on your foot? If you do, then all the argumentation in the world is not going to make that go away. You can argue that the phenomenon has been mischaracterized, but you can’t deny the phenomenon itself. To do so is to adhere more to a philosophy than to the evidence — and qualia are the only things we have direct evidence for.

  158. #159 windy
    June 25, 2007

    Caledonian, it’s a very simple question — do you or do you not have some subjective experience when you drop a brick on your foot?

    To put it another way, is a description of Caledonian dropping a brick on his foot complete without his subjective experience?

  159. #160 Tulse
    June 25, 2007

    windy, although I don’t think your formulation is equivalent to simply asking if Caledonian experiences any phenomenology, I do think it is a good way of posing the dilemma.

    Under a purely objective, third-party physical description, one doesn’t need qualia or subjective experience to account for the neuronal firings that result from a brick contacting Caledonian’s foot at relatively high speed — it can all be described purely in terms of electrochemical activity, just as the effect of a brick hitting a scale can be described purely in terms of mechanical (or electromechanical) activity. In such a description, there is no causal role for qualia, for subjective experience — everything, including his resulting behaviour, is just due to neurological activity, just as a thermostat’s actions are due to its physical properties.

    On the other hand, I know that when I drop a brick on my foot, I feel something — the external world changes not just the physical state of my body, but also produces a subjective experience. And presumably a thermostat does not have such subjective experiences — it doesn’t “feel” hot or cold. I take my experiencing of such phenomena to be a fundamental fact of the world — not one that is accessible to third parties, but a fact nonetheless.

    So, in terms of purely third-party-observable properties, qualia play no role in a description of Caledonian dropping a brick on his foot — one can provide a complete physical description of the event without resorting to qualia. But, despite his protestations, I do presume that Caledonian experiences something when that brick whacks his toes, so in those terms a purely physical description is not complete, even though there seems to be no causal room for those experiences.

    That is pretty much the quandary in a nutshell.

  160. #161 CJ
    June 25, 2007

    I do presume that Caledonian experiences something when that brick whacks his toes

    Grr.
    I took my leave of this on Friday, and I see the “qualia first” camp hasn’t advanced their position one iota.

    OF COURSE CALEDONIAN EXPERIENCES SOMETHING

    I can only see the stubborn insistence as an example of what Dennett calls “Cartesian Materialism.” It comes down to what you are willing to call “Caledonian” in the above formulation. If Caledonian needs to be a little homunculus inside Caledonian(n) (that’s Caledonian’s nervous system), in it but not of it, then yes, we have to account for the qualia-rich projections from the rest of Caledonian(n) to Caledonian –the “real seat” of Caledonian’s consciousness. But if Caledonian = Caledonian(n) it’s a non-problem.

    Proponents of qualia need to take some steps to show that Caledonian /= Caledonian(n). Otherwise we are justified in regarding items with “no causal room” (Tulse’s words) as artifacts of how nervous systems internally organize their past experiences.

    I realize that (as Dennett points out) there are no avowed Cartesian Materialists, and that no one will cop to actually conceptualizing qualia as some “extra” projection to the “real” consciousness inside (but separate from!) the totality of the nervous system, but without using such a crutch I don’t see how you can insist that items you will yourself admit have no causal role in the universe still need to be accounted for.

  161. #162 CJ
    June 25, 2007

    Additionally, (justifying my angry Grr) the style of argumentation that ascribes to those who disagree ideological commitment, or blindness due to same, is, in a phrase, ad hominem. It may be so or it may not be. But it does not address the content of the argument. Unless you first show that those who hold ideologies (or a given one) are always wrong or that all propositions considered ideological (or part of a given one) are factually incorrect, you’ve just managed to substitute a term of opprobrium for a responsible argument.

  162. #163 MartinM
    June 25, 2007

    Bricks are so dull. Let’s try a more interesting example; can the act of describing first-person subjective experience be described in purely physical terms?

  163. #164 Krazy Kat
    June 25, 2007

    is a description of Caledonian dropping a brick on his foot complete without his subjective experience?

    Let’s presume, for the sake of argument, that you all have generated enough wealth to justify your respective berths on Golgafrincham’s B Ark (even Cal; face it, none of you have any business being on the C Ark and as for the A Ark, well, you’ve all heard about the impending mutant space goat, right?). The occupants of the A Ark will want to make sure their telephones will be properly sanitized and that all axiomatic statements will be explicit and logically coherent.

    Some short time has passed en route. A consensus builds that, as nobody knows how to operate an airlock, a massive brick will have to be dropped on Caledonian’s foot.

    Much more time has passed en route, but the marketing department has been forced to compromise on just how much redness will suffice for the red of the brick. The reddest brick they can find is merely a mauvy shade of pinky russet. Some philosophers, who have taken one or two physics classes, participating despite the fact that a spherical brick could not be located, rig up a light that illuminates the brick and some of the environment at a wavelength close to 685nm.

    After much celebration and product placement on behalf of the sponsors of Caledonian Brick Dropping Day, the moment is at hand. There is some unpleasantness as it becomes apparent that, despite the red light (it’s looking like the scene out of The Godfather, by now), to most people, the brick only looks sufficiently red when peered at closely. From arm’s length, in the context of the other colors on the stage, the brick still looks to be more of a mauvy shade of pinky russet than the specified red.

    At this point, Caledonian is begging the participants to drop the brick on his head rather than his foot. As this is considered to be too merciful an option, the brick is hurled footward. Most people have failed to take into account the lack of gravity on the B Ark. As the brick bounces slowly off his foot and drifts toward his face, Caledonian notices that, as the brick begins to engulf his entire field of view, the color of the brick gradually shifts from a mauvy shade of pinky russet to a fully saturated, fresh-out-of-tube red, a redness than which there can be no redder. As it drifts away, it returns to its original mauvy shade of pinky russet.

    Is the purported qualia of the redness of red that is more often a mauvy shade of pinky russet, and the purported subjectivity of Caledonian’s perception of the phenomenon irreducibly complex, or will an intelligently designed mousetrap have to be clamped on to his foot instead?

  164. #165 thwaite
    June 25, 2007

    I encountered some qualia on a hike last week, pictures are here (scroll to bottom). I can’t describe how pretty the bright-morning hillside scene with the male qualia was, tho IMG_1601 is close. Oh wait, that’s a male quail. Still, it made such an impression, that it seemed worth sharing as best possible.

    Some people say such qualic impressions are related to art: artists attempt to re-create them, and also exploit our nervous systems to do so. This has non-human precedents: every mating dance and sexually-selected morphology comes quickly to mind (sic – but the immediacy of qualia is interesting, as discussed here by R.L. Gregory). We human observers are only assuming that the peahen is as impressed by the peacock’s tail as we are – but if such assumptions are permitted at all (and after the demise of 50 years of behaviorist psychology it is generally permitted) then this is a safe assumption.

  165. #166 CJ
    June 25, 2007

    From the link in thwaite’s post, for those who would like a clear example of crypto-dualism (Cartesian Materialism) from people who should know better. (Just in case I get accused of propping it up as a sraw-man, this is as clear an espousal of the idea as I could hope to find)

    Dr. Ramachandran and Mr. Hirstein derive the following account of the purpose of qualia. According to them, basic sense perceptions and lower-level neurological processing are translated into a higher level “briefing language” (i.e., qualia) addressed to the conscious mind. The qualia are used as inputs by the conscious mind in making decisions. (In a non-literal sense, qualia are like memos sent up from the lower orders to the corporate boardroom that will be used by the board of directors to make policy decisions.) Qualia are irrevocable because their point is to “neaten up” the lower-level sense data which is always, to a degree, ambiguous (“Is the box really yellow, or could it be white and we’re just seeing it under a yellow light? Or maybe the box is surrounded by a bright purple background, and the yellow receptors in our retinas are firing in response to the purple ones being overloaded. Or…”) So that our conscious mind can get on with making a decision, we stamp a conclusion on the data by making it a qualia (“the box is yellow”) and stop worrying about it. The qualia have to persist in a form of short-term memory because the decision-making apparatus of our conscious mind takes a few seconds to work.

    Find me “the board of directors” who need to get “memos” and we can talk about qualia. Until then, I will feel justified in condidering the whole topic an impediment to understanding.

  166. #167 Aloysius
    June 25, 2007

    Tulse,

    “You can have perfect knowledge of the electrochemical features of a bat’s brain, and yet not know what the experience of having a sonar-based sensory system is like. So while it is no doubt true that qualia and subjectivity arise because of objective processes that are properties of the brain, this doesn’t tell us how those qualia arise.”

    I mean this in the nicest possible way, but I don’t think you’ve thought this through all the way. You seem to be assuming that somehow or other the “experience” of being a bat or of blueness is some kind of actual information in the world, a thing that exists in a meaningful enough sense that we would not have this information just from perfect knowledge of the bat’s neurology. It doesn’t. Every bat has its own experience of batness, and no non-bat has any. The experience of being a bat is inseparable from being a bat. It is an amalgamation of various aspects of battitude, and has no independent character of its own.

    What do you even mean by the experience of batness? What I would experience, if by some miracle I were to become a bat myself? There’s no such thing. All the things a particular bat experiences in its life? The things common to the experiences of all bats? How would you specify those non-tautologically?

    You’re looking for information that simply doesn’t exist.

  167. #168 thwaite
    June 25, 2007

    Let me first concede that I’m not well-studied in this intricate subject, and am learning a bit from this discussion. I’ve no horse in the race, except that I start from the perspective that brains evolved more as adaptations to survive than as logic-machines to satisfy philosophical criteria.

    I think Ramachandran’s talking about the collective consensus by preconscious neural activity which implements decision-making about a third of a second prior to conscious awareness of having made a decision, as studied by Benjamin Libet.

    In the expanded book version of his 2003 Reith lectures, Ramachandran expands on his lecture 5’s discussion of qualia:

    “Ironically this idea implies that the so-called homunculus fallacy … isn’t really a fallacy. In fact, what I am calling a metarepresentation bears an uncanny resemblance to the homunculus that philosophers take so much delight in debunking. I suggest that the homunculus is simply either the metarepresentation itself, or another brain structure that emerged later in evolution for creating metarepresentations, and that it is either unique to us humans or considerably more sophisticated than a ‘chumpunculus'”.

    He then goes on to discuss how monkey alarm calls differ from human calls of alarm, in that Cheney and Seyfarth’s vervet monkeys aren’t consciously warning others, only calling reflexively since they purportedly can’t form such metarepresentations.

  168. #169 Ken Watts
    June 25, 2007

    CJ:

    Some observations-

    What distinguishes science from superstition is the insistence of science that the theory must be held accountable to the phenomena, and not vice versa.

    The discussion above could be summarized in one possible way, as follows:

    qualiaist: I observe A. Isn’t that interesting, and doesn’t that present some interesting problems for theory?

    anti-qualiaist: Such an observation is incompatable with my theory, therefore such an observation cannot happen, therefore you are mistaken, and at the very most have observed an illusion.

    Of course, there’s a lot more going on than that, but that is certainly one strain of the argument.

    At one point, in what was for me a slight digression from the main argument, I questioned on what basis Caldedon stated that existence required interaction. I don’t think it’s relevant to the issue, but it sounded more like something from Thomas Aquinas to me than something from the twentieth century.

    What was interesting to me was the thought experiment Calcedon provided in defense of the statement. It involved imagining an apple suddenly deprived of all interactions with its environment vs. an apple that had ceased to exist.
    The conclusion was that there was no distinction.

    And, indeed, there isn’t–if one begins by assuming there is no such thing as subjective experience. If that is the case, then viewing this experiment through the eyes of an exterior observer makes sense. But if one asks the question from another point of view–if, instead of an apple we asked what the difference would be for you, or for Calcedon, or for me if it were to happen to us–there is clearly a difference. In one case, the rest of the universe disappears, and in the other consciousness ceases.

    My point is that almost all of the arguments here against qualia have been theoretic (top-down), and have included an insistence on denying the relevance of experience, or it’s existence altogether. This is something that I seriously doubt the writers would have done on any other subject. They would have screamed foul if they had caught someone like Egnor doing it–and rightly so.

    It has also included, on at least one occasion, the claim that those of us who think qualia are a phenomenon that needs to be taken into account are indulging in “wishful thinking”. A rather bizarre claim, when you consider that more than one of us has declared ourselves materialists, and admitted that the issue causes us problems. On the other hand, believing that a common experience is just an illusion, when that experience is in direct conflict with one’s world-view could quite reasonably reflect wishful thinking–though no one has accused anyone of that, as far as I can recall.

    I tend to think that qualia do have a causal role–even while I struggle with the idea that they are just the other side of the coin of existence–because it seems to me that we wouldn’t be having this conversation otherwise. Tulse, at least in the post you quote him from, seems to disagree with me on that point. Tulse and I might have something to discuss there, but your response, that something of that nature (without a causal role) can’t exist, just strikes me as doctinaire, in contrast to Tulse’s acknowledgment of the issue, and of the problem that it just doesn’t fit his experience.

    Bottom line: Whatever the facts turn out to be, Tulse’s process looks a lot more scientific to me.

  169. #170 Caledonian
    June 25, 2007

    Oh, brother – now we have people suggesting that qualists are open-minded and the people opposing them are dogmatic, hidebound bigots. Just like all those scientists rejecting the possibility that “God did it”. Why can’t they be more openminded and stop saying that your position is absurd? They’re clearly just big meanies.

    The definition of ‘qualia’ as the term is currently understood in philosophy is logically contradictory – the thing described cannot exist because nonexistence is one of the necessary implications of the definition.

    I’m perfectly willing to have a discussion with anyone willing to think, but thinking isn’t what we’re seeing here. It’s just people making the same arguments over and over again, no matter how many times those arguments are shown to be wrong.

  170. #171 Ken Cope
    June 25, 2007

    I’ll ask some of my questions again.

    Is subjectivity, or a quale, irreducibly complex, or are you using it as shorthand for some other process/es? In 1993 Marvin Minsky, consulting with Walt Disney Imagineers working on our first VR project, asked me, “So, do you suppose consciousness is linear, or parallel?” (I’m glad I’d already read The Society of Mind.)

    Does your Cartesian Theater have THX certification? Is it IMAX or iPod? Do you have a good seat? How many people are in the auditorium with you when the house lights dim? Are you also the projectionist? Who makes the popcorn, and who books the movies? Who throws out the riff raff, and when was the last time you saw anything worth screening? Who makes the movies,and how is the projection? Which artifacts distract from your appreciation of the film? Are subjectivitiness and qualalalia more scientesque than other metaphors? Do they needlessly multiply entities, or are they grotesque simplifications that obfuscate rather than illuminate? What research program is yielded, what predictions made, how are they tested?

  171. #172 Ken Watts
    June 25, 2007

    Calcedon:

    I suggested that it is more scientific to fit theory to phenomena than the other way around–I certainly did not intend to call you, or anyone, a “dogmatic, hidebound, bigot”.

    I apologize if it came off that way.

    I do, however, think that insisting that a phenomenon be reduced to a single definition that you think can be logically disproved is not a reasonable tactic, if you are interested in a productive conversation. There are many different understandings of the term qualia in current philosphy, including mine and those used by others in this dialog.

    In my case, I don’t have a theory yet–or not one that I would want to put any weight on, but let me summarize what I mean without using the q-word.

    Suppose I had a complete, external, knowledge of your brain and all it’s interactions for a period of five minutes, during which you smelled apple pie baking, heard your favorite group on the radio, and stubbed your toe on a brick.

    Could I, from that external information, deduce what the pain of stubbing your toe felt like, what the apple pie smelled like, or what the music sounded like? Is there anything at all, in that external information–stuff like the firing rates of neurons, or the chemical composition of the brain–which would allow me to predict the nature of your internal experience?

    The answer is obviously no. Especially if you rule out my use of my own internal experience as a model. The information is simply not obtainable from the outside. On the other hand, if you knew something about brain structure, you might be able to deduce, from your internal experiences, what part of your brain I was poking around in with an electrode.

    There is obviously a subjective side to our reality, which cannot be deduced from, though it may be correlated with, knowledge of the brain from the exterior.

    So the exterior knowledge is, in some fashion, incomplete.

    Somehow, this subjective side has an effect of some kind on the behavior of those neurons, since I am now talking about it, and if it didn’t, I wouldn’t be.

    I make no claims as to the nature of this “subjective side”. I have no idea, though I doubt very much (major understatement there) that it is anything like a humunculus, or a “soul”.

    I do think that it’s a real phenomenon, and one worth investigating. The research program would be to find ways to either “walk through the bear” and prove it’s an illusion, or to correlate it with brain activity, and see if that gives any clues to what exactly it (the phenomenon, not some ‘entity’) is and how it works.

    The q-word, for me, and those others who use it in it’s broad sense, is simply a way of talking about a single instance of this phenomenon.

  172. #173 Caledonian
    June 25, 2007

    You can’t even get my name right.

  173. #174 Ken Cope
    June 25, 2007

    You can’t even get my name right.

    That shouldn’t be surprising, since the rest of the post “…isn’t even wrong.”

  174. #175 Amos
    June 25, 2007

    So far we’ve got “It’s a poor theory” vs “It’s not a theory at all. It is, in every sense of the term, phenomena. What it is is begging for a good theory.”

    Philosophy classes, philosophy dictionaries, “pro-qualia” books and online talks/lectures from the likes of Searle and others has exposed to me to (almost exclusively) the latter understanding of the term. But I’m no expert and that may just be self-selection going on.

    I’m not going to argue for one definition over another, nor am I going to try to clear things up. What I would like is to take this talking past each other to the next level. Could one side conduct this debate in German while the other tries French?

  175. #176 Ken Cope
    June 26, 2007

    All Nagel, Chalmers and Searle provide is that Mysterian glow, as warm as a NASA diaper, the smug qualalalia of “my subjectivitiness is impervious to the impertinent imprecations of mere science.”

    As for the French/German, use your Babel fish, and ponder the futility of attmepting to experience what it would be like to be one.

    English to French to German to English:

    But your new shoe industries are carried to the paragraphs, and your Bronzieren peels fast, and your wise men do not know themselves it feel, in order to be thick as clay brick.

  176. #177 Ken Watts
    June 26, 2007

    Caledonian: Sorry about your name. No excuse–I was just embarassingly sloppy.

    -Kne Wstta

  177. #178 windy
    June 26, 2007

    I do presume that Caledonian experiences something when that brick whacks his toes, so in those terms a purely physical description is not complete, even though there seems to be no causal room for those experiences.

    So let’s assume for the moment that Caledonian experiences qualia X when that brick is dropped. Doesn’t his experience affect his behavior in the future, for example, if he starts to avoid falling bricks? How can qualia then have “no causal room”?

  178. #179 Caledonian
    June 26, 2007

    windy, stop. Either they’re not being serious, and are forwarding incredibly stupid ideas in order to drag us down into this conversation, or they’re incredibly stupid, and unable to understand any arguments you generate.

  179. #180 Keith Douglas
    June 26, 2007

    Tulse: Yes, actually, a surprising number of mathematcians are Platonists, holding that numbers (or usually, these days, sets) exist independently of human cognition.

    Ken Watts: Whatever Caledonian (who is doing what JJC Smart does, BTW, when asked about qualia – hmmmmmm) is, he isn’t a zombie, since zombies are behaviourally indistinguishable from a normal human, ex hypothesi.

    dm: Assuming you mean by physical what I mean by material, why do you think that it is contingent? As far as we can tell, conservation laws are eternal, after all.

    “You can have perfect knowledge of the electrochemical features of a bat’s brain”
    — And not know what it is like to be one? Well, there are two ways, perfectly materialist, to answer that. One is the obvious: “how the heck do you know?” And the other, Churchlandian, answer, equally correct is to simply point out that you cannot know because you lack the brain connections it does. Knowing what our muscles feel like is a form of knowledge, and you would always lack that as a non-bat for very good materialist reasons.

    DM: To assert that properties are “abstract” is a bit weird, or at least question begging. My view on properties is somewhere between M. Bunge’s and D. Armstrong’s, both perfectly materialist positions. (And Armstrong canvases a whole bunch more, so materialism itself doesn’t constrain the view much …)

  180. #181 Caledonian
    June 26, 2007

    Ken Watts: Whatever Caledonian (who is doing what JJC Smart does, BTW, when asked about qualia – hmmmmmm) is, he isn’t a zombie, since zombies are behaviourally indistinguishable from a normal human, ex hypothesi.

    They’ve caught on to us, Pinky. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

    I think so, Brain, but where will we find qualia in our size?

  181. #182 Ken Watts
    June 26, 2007

    “So let’s assume for the moment that Caledonian experiences qualia X when that brick is dropped. Doesn’t his experience affect his behavior in the future, for example, if he starts to avoid falling bricks? How can qualia then have “no causal room”?”

    That, to me, is a big part of the puzzle.

    On the one hand, I can’t see the need for any experience side to things at all. Take pain, for example. Why isn’t whatever neural behavior (as viewed from the outside) that the pain accompanies adequate to affect future behavior, without the experience? I really can’t see the need for any experience.

    This seems to argue against an evolutionary explanation, or any selection advantage, to me.

    But that isn’t the only kind of explanation in the world. Perhaps advantage doesn’t come into it. Perhaps the nature of matter is such that experience “just happens” in the kinds of contexts that occur in our brains–or perhaps it’s always there, in some minimal way, but the structure of the brains gives it the kind of structure we experience–a form of emergence that is structural, rather than basic.

    Of course, everything I just said is based on a sort of epiphenomenal approach, but then I come back to the problem that we’re discussing those experiences, so they must affect the neural patterns somehow.

    And that’s where I hit a brick wall–sort of like the wave/particle duality experiments. What seems, in fact, to be happening doesn’t seem to make sense, and yet it does seem to be happening.

    It would be delightful to be able to prove that it’s just an illusion–a feeling that I’m sure early theorists had about the wave/particle problem. But I not only can’t see a way to prove that, it also seems that the very suggestion is evidence against it. As others here have said, what is an illusion, but a faulty experience? And, faulty or not, that still means it’s an experience…

  182. #183 Pinky
    June 26, 2007
  183. #184 CJ
    June 26, 2007

    There is obviously a subjective side to our reality, which cannot be deduced from, though it may be correlated with, knowledge of the brain from the exterior.

    So the exterior knowledge is, in some fashion, incomplete.

    Somehow, this subjective side has an effect of some kind on the behavior of those neurons, since I am now talking about it, and if it didn’t, I wouldn’t be.

    The entire point is, your premise is an unargued assertion based on “how it seems to you.” We will enthusiastically agree that it seems this way to you. If it didn’t, qualia wouldn’t tie us up in logical knots as so clearly evidenced in this thread.

    When a subject seems to lead nowhere, when you have to keep insisting that some category is primal and not subject to investigation, the best way to proceed is to examine your premises and remain open to the possibility that the way things seem to you, from the inside, are not, in fact, how things are.

    And, finally, your conclusion, that qualia just must “somehow” have “some kind” of a causal role: Why do you think you are in a position to tell the difference? Demonstrate that qualia were necessary to produce the speech acts you say were “somehow” caused by them.

  184. #185 Ken Watts
    June 26, 2007

    CJ:

    The comments you are responding to are not an argument in favor of my position, which is posted earlier, but a comment on windy’s post about “no causal room”, and in general about the question of causation in this context, and admitted problems that it causes in my own thinking.

    You must be confusing me with someone else when you say that I insist that “some category is primal and not subject to investigation”.

    I don’t insist that at all, and I would love to figure out how to move forward with such an investigation. (It occurs to me, while writing this, that it’s possible–I’m not making any kind of charge here–just possible that if you read what I said through an a priori assumption that one can’t investigate subjective phenomena, you might be able to read that into it. I don’t have that prejudice, however. There are lots of things that we have found ways to investigate that seemed inaccesible at first.)

    My “conclusion” occurs in the context of the post, and was not intended as a defense of my whole position. I’m perfectly aware that, if you refuse to aknowledge the existence of subjective experience, you can hold that everything I say about mine is just neurons wagging my jaw.

    My point was that if you accept that the experience is real, as I do, you then have certain difficulties. You have to deal with the question of whether it’s just a side effect of neural behavior, without any causal role itself.

    If you try to go that way you run into a problem.

    If the external view completely accounts for my behavior, then I shouldn’t be able to talk about the experience–it would be there, but since it couldn’t affect the externals (neuron behavior, etc. as measuralble from the outside), I would never be able to notice it, think about it, or talk about it.

    All of that was me, pointing out problems with my own stance–in fact, me, examining my premises (and where they lead) with an openness to the possibility that I am wrong–and doing it in public, where I know full well some people think I, and those on my side, are just idiots.

    It’s called frank discussion, with a desire to advance understanding of the topic, for myself and others.

  185. #186 Ken Watts
    June 26, 2007

    CJ:

    Sorry. That last line (in my previous post) was just snippy.

    I just thought it was a bit unfair to attack my admission of a weakness in my own view by portraying it as an argument in favor of that view.

    On the other hand, I don’t know that you were even doing it on purpose. You may have just honestly misunderstood me.

  186. #187 CJ
    June 26, 2007

    Ken Watts,
    I did not quote from your most recent post, which was a response to windy. I quoted from #171. Is that not “an argument in favor of [your] position”? If not, then point me to a number.

    I appreciate your interest in what you term frank discussion. Forgive me if I appear to be engaging in something else. However, “a desire to advance understanding of the topic” is simply not enough, if you will not (at least provisionally) abandon the mindset and the terminology that have been such an obvious barrier to just that.

    You have asserted that subjective experience “cannot be deduced from… knowledge of the brain from the exterior.” If that isn’t “not subject to investigation” then I don’t understand what you mean. Should we proceed by introspection? Surely you see the trap that qualia sets for us on those terms. THERE SEEM TO BE QUALIA, BUT THERE AREN’T. If that is true, and it’s the position I’m taking, then introspection is guaranteed to mislead.

  187. #188 CJ
    June 26, 2007

    Ken, okay.
    I can respect that you feel like I’m picking on just what you yourself admitted gave you fits about the whole thing.

    What I’m trying to get across is that those fits are inevitable as long as you won’t abandon the conviction that how things seem to you is how they really must be.

  188. #189 Ken Watts
    June 26, 2007

    I honestly don’t understand what you mean by that.

    Are you saying that I don’t really have any subjective experience?

    or

    Are you saying that the external view is really capable of predicting what that subjective experience is like?

  189. #190 Ken Watts
    June 26, 2007

    CK:
    “I did not quote from your most recent post”

    Yeah, my bad–I probably shouldn’t be allowed near a keyboard.

    “You have asserted that subjective experience “cannot be deduced from… knowledge of the brain from the exterior.” If that isn’t “not subject to investigation” then I don’t understand what you mean.”

    So I was correct in my parenthesis about why you interpreted me that way. You assume that there is no subjective experience, or that it is always and in every way unreliable, or that it cannot be investigated (or some combination of those) and from that you logically deduce that if something can’t be deduced from the “outside” view, then it’s “not subject to investigation” True?

    I agree that the logic there is impeccable, but I don’t accept any of the givens. I not only have subjective experience, but my knowledge of the objective world is based on subjective experience. If I want to know whether a liquid is acidic, I consult my experience of redness or blueness on the litmus paper. All that we know about those neurons, comes to us through our experiences–of experiments, textbooks, etc. If those experiences were, in every way, unreliable, than I could know nothing of the outside world.

    The remaining given, that subjective experience cannot be investigated, is also questionable. I can certainly investigate mine. You can certainly investigate yours. We can compare notes. There may be certain aspects of subjective experience that pose roadblocks–like whether your “green” and mine are the same, or even whether that is a meaningful question, but there’s plenty of other points that we can look into. Do you see what you call “green” under the same circumstances that I see what I call “green”.
    Are the differences between color and sound for you analogous to the differences for me? In fact, much of our knowledge of the world (for example, of optical illusions) is based on just such approaches.

    The question of blind sight is a perfect example of this. What is “blind sight” but the obtaining of information through sight without the normal subjective experience? What else can it mean to say that someone knew what they saw without “seeing it”?

    So, you hear me say it cannot be predicted from the outside, and interpret that as me saying that it cannot be investigated. But I don’t think that at all.

    If there is no subjective experience, and if that’s the position you are really taking, then I don’t know what you make of the blind sight thing, or how you function in the world. I don’t mean I think it’s impossible, just that I have no way of imagining something so alien to my own experience.

    “There seem to be qualia, but there aren’t”

    I don’t know what to make of that kind of statement. (I’m going to avoid the q-word here, since I think it causes misunderstanding.) “Seeming” involves subjective experience. So how if there is actually no such thing, I don’t see how there can “seem” to be such a thing.

  190. #191 tony
    June 26, 2007

    dear Ken

    You are arguing as is you have the intellect of a Ken doll.

    It’s very simple.

    Qualia are a ‘human defined concept’ with no meaning other than that which we impose…. saying oitherwise doesn’t make a difference.
    Otherwise your Qualia of ‘blueness’ would hold for cats, dogs, horses, and Kzin. Bogus.

    Regarding subjective/objective.

    Can you measure it? Can you define the method used and units of measurement so that the same measurement can be independently verified?

    If not – it’s subjective. No hand-wringing required.

    No one is saying there isn’t subjective experience. Only that YOUR subjective and MY subjective are not congruent, and have n o basis for OBJECTIVE measurement or analysis.

    Note — this does not mean that this will always be the case — we could OBJECTIVELY measure the firing of particular neurons that relate (in your subjective experience) to a picture of a naked man. We could do the same for me. We could then compare and contrast. That would be objective.

    Other than that – get the fuck out of my head – it’s private!

  191. #192 Sastra
    June 26, 2007

    “There seem to be qualia, but there aren’t”

    Years back, Saturday Night Live had one of those “fake” commercials which cleverly spoofed similar ads for pregnancy tests: a test for headaches. Various couples and individuals wondered aloud “I think I have a headache … but how can I be sure?” A few drops of urine on a slip of paper, and voila — “Honey, I DO have a headache!” Or “No, I don’t have a headache after all … it’s so good to know.”

    Perhaps we need a similar product for testing for qualia.

  192. #193 CJ
    June 26, 2007

    my knowledge of the objective world is based on subjective experience. If I want to know whether a liquid is acidic, I consult my experience of redness or blueness on the litmus paper.
    No, you consult the litmus paper. The redness or blueness you find there IS there. There’s no need to “make it again” in your mind somewhere.
    The question of blind sight is a perfect example of this. What is “blind sight” but the obtaining of information through sight without the normal subjective experience? What else can it mean to say that someone knew what they saw without “seeing it”?
    Defenders of the subjective who point to blindsight typically miss a salient feature of the phenomenon. Subjects in blindsight experiments have to be prompted to make their guesses! If blindsight patients volunteered their guesses, we wouldn’t believe they “really couldn’t see.” We would know they had some conscious awareness of information gathered via the eyes. They do not, yet they can make reports based on information that can be gathered no other way. “Seeing without seeing” is an oxymoron. They do not “know what they saw.” When prompted, they can make better than average guesses about objects that subtended their “normal” visual field, and that’s it.
    “Seeming” involves subjective experience.
    No, backwards. All that subjective experience involves is seeming. Your subjective experience is nothing more than “how it seems to you” when your nervous system is in a given state. Qualia are born from the mistaken belief that there’s “seeming,” but there’s also “how it really, really seems to me, right now.” The two are the same.

  193. #194 Ken Watts
    June 26, 2007

    CJ

    Now you’ve started sounding mystical to me.

    “No, you consult the litmus paper. The redness or blueness you find there IS there.”

    I was under the impression that all that is in the litmus paper is a tendency to reflect certain wavelenghs of light, and absorb others. Are you seriously arguing that there is a mystical “redness” there, as well?

    I doubt that you are. There’s nothing “red” about a wavelength of 650nm either. It’s just a measurement of length, not color.

    Nor is there anything “reddish” about the neurons triggered in my brain when the light from the litmus paper reaches my eyes. ( I’m not saying that we can’t map which neurons or patterns of firing or something are associated with the experience. Just that that mapping, which by the way involves the “investigation of subjective experience” is the only way to know that. We have to trust the objective experience of the subject being tested, in order to know which firing correspond to “red”)

    In fact, until we cross the threshold between the outside and inside world “redness” doesn’t exist.

    You are right that it doesn’t have to “made” in the mind “somewhere”–or at least I believe you are. The perception of the color is just how the subjective experience works. And I see no evidence of “somewhere” either. I have perceptions of locations–but that has to do with how I, or the subjective experience in my brain represents the exterior world. I don’t have any perception of location as “interior” as far as I can tell.

    “Your subjective experience is nothing more than “how it seems to you” when your nervous system is in a given state.”

    Okay. My point still stands. You argue that I only seem to have subjective experiences, but I don’t really. If the two are synonymous, doesn’t that argument fall to peices?

    I’m finding this discussion a little frustrating partly because I think most of the people on your side of the discussion still insist on assuming that I am talking about qualia as defined by Dennett or one or two of his opponents. I’ve been trying to avoid the word since I realized that, because I think the issue is more important than that, and because I notice a lot of the responses are addressing things I never said–particularly those responses which use the q-word.

    My basic argument is very simple. Our most direct experience of the world (which I have called subjective) contains qualities or experiences or whatever you want to call them like “red” and “pain” and “sweet” which do not exist outside of our experience.

    When we try to construct a description of the world that is based on viewing the world as an object (from the outside) we do not find that there is any “redness” (as we experience it) in the litmus paper, or in the lightwaves, or even in the neurons in our brains.

    Worse, there is nothing about the wavelengths, neurons, etc. which would lead to a prediction that a human primate would have the kind of experience I have when viewing something red.

    Conclusion: the exterior view is incomplete. There is something going on in the firing of a neuron, or in certain patterns of the firing of neurons, which just can’t be explained, or even observed from the outside. We know it’s going on, because we do observe it, but only from the inside.

    This is puzzling.

    I would like to understand it better, but so far the only help I’m getting (invaluable, by the way) is people telling me I’m talking nonsense–which makes me try and try to be clearer.

    Thanks for that.

  194. #195 tony
    June 26, 2007

    Ken

    I’d like to think you’re on the up-and-up… but you’re sounding more like a troll every post….

    rehashing exactly the same arguments ad-nauseum is not winning converts…. You may have noticed, we don’t really doconvertions here…. thats over at those religious sites…

    this here is science & controversy (and occasionally lots of sarcasm)

    Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I stand by what I said earlier. You sound like a fucking Ken doll. If you can think, please try to demonstrate with a different argument, if such is possible for you.

    thanks for listening!

  195. #196 CJ
    June 27, 2007

    Ken,
    I’ve now read your blog post on the subject, and I must observe that it’s worded much more strongly than anything you’ve written here. For example, while backing away from the term “qualia” here, there you write “Qualia are at the heart of the problem of consciousness.”
    And you construct egregious strawmen: “they argue that we only “think” we see a difference between red and blue, when in fact all that is really happening is certain patterns of behavior among the neurons in our brains. It’s something like Asimov’s Robots, explaining patiently that although they appear to have feelings and experiences, they really don’t.”
    This is certainly a dishonest representation of the positions I have advanced in this thread against your pleading. Perhaps you can point to another commenter who said that you “[don't] have feelings and experiences.”

    And you should seriously can this BS: (Large-type, red sidebar on the blog) “Can someone come up with the kind of evidence which will convince me (and my readers) that qualia are, in fact, an illusion?”

    If your readers are taking your word on the state of the discussion, they are in no position to even identify what “kind of evidence” was even applicable to the question. Especially since you not-very-sneakily poison the well: “I’m not talking about just-so stories, or about mere arguments (unless they are surprisingly valid and airtight). No mere apologetics for materialism.”

    Leaving your readers aside, I question your own comptence to determine when an argument leaks, and I offer as evidence your contributions here. If it weren’t for the fact that you make an almost perfect dualist stooge, I would have no regrets upon our parting ways. Good luck with those readers. I hope, for your sake, that they fail to learn anything interesting or important.

  196. #197 Ken Watts
    June 27, 2007

    CJ:

    “I’ve now read your blog post on the subject, and I must observe that it’s worded much more strongly than anything you’ve written here.”

    True–two reasons: It’s purpose was to begin a conversation, so it was worded strongly in order to get a response. That doesn’t mean I misrepresented my position–that was my position at the time it was written (A bit earlier than Fri, 06/22/2007 – 2:09pm, when it was posted), but it was worded strongly, you’re right about that.

    ‘For example, while backing away from the term “qualia” here, there you write “Qualia are at the heart of the problem of consciousness.”‘

    The “backing away” you descibe happened in this conversation, subsequent to that post. It reflects my growing realization that this forum has been heavily influenced by a handful of writers (whom I disagree with) about the meaning of the term. I’m interested in communication, so I backed away from the term in this conversation. I still use the term myself, not in the particular sense it’s used here and by Dennett, etc., but in the way it’s defined on the site. (actually, in a slightly better way–since a lot of my readers have no philosophic or scientific background I was less than precise there)

    On the other hand, I’ll have to think a bit before I can say if I still have exactly the same position I had when I when I wrote that post.

    And you construct egregious strawmen: ‘they argue that we only “think” we see a difference between red and blue, when in fact all that is really happening is certain patterns of behavior among the neurons in our brains. It’s something like Asimov’s Robots, explaining patiently that although they appear to have feelings and experiences, they really don’t.’
    This is certainly a dishonest representation of the positions I have advanced in this thread against your pleading. Perhaps you can point to another commenter who said that you “[don't] have feelings and experiences.”

    It isn’t a dishonest representation of your position, because it isn’t a representation of your position at all.

    It was my interpretation of a post by Caledonian, quoted below:

    “But the existence of qualia hasn’t been demonstrated yet – and if we go by their definitions, it can’t be demonstrated, because the concept isn’t meaningful.

    Demanding an explantion for something no one knows exists – and that by most definitions can’t exist – doesn’t strike me as particularly intelligent.”

    It’s possible my post is unfair to Caledonian, because I was still laboring under the impression that we meant the same thing by the q-word at the time. If Caledonian thinks it’s unfair, I will rewrite the post, or, better yet, post his clarification.

    “you not-very-sneakily poison the well: “I’m not talking about just-so stories, or about mere arguments (unless they are surprisingly valid and airtight). No mere apologetics for materialism.”

    Actually I don’t see that as poisoning the well. It’s merely a requirement that something substantive be offerred. If you look over the discussion here, you will see brilliant argumentation such as “You sound like a fucking ken doll” side by side with real attempts to engage the question. I want to avoid that on my site, at least as long as the contributions are given the dignity of being posted individually (I may change my mind when I install comments).

    Any of your posts here would have been posted readily, CJ, had they been submitted there.

    The apologetics line is simply me, clarifying to my readership (many of whom are still religious, or recently ex-religious) that I object to mere apologetics from materialists just as much as I object to them from Christians.

    I am not a dualist, as I have said before. I think the materialist world-view, to which I ascribe, is currently incomplete. The answer to that is not to discount the evidence which we all have access to, but to figure out how it fits into a materialist view.

    You have been among the most intelligent and rational voices to disagree with me here.

    I hope we meet again.

  197. #198 Caledonian
    June 27, 2007

    The people who want there to be something magical about their existence will never acknowledge mundane explanations of cognition, even if mundanity ultimately reveals uncountable wonders.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.