Re: Can we ever know truth?

From: Brent Meeker <>
Date: Tue, 15 Aug 2006 23:23:25 -0700

Colin Hales wrote:
>>Colin Hales wrote:
>>>In brain material and brain material alone you get anomaly: things are
>>>what they seem. 'Seem' is a construct of qualia. In a science of qualia,
>>>what are they 'seeming' to be? Not qualia. That is circular. Parsimony
>>>demands we assume 'something' and then investigate it. Having done that
>>>need to hold that very same 'something' responsible for all the other
>>>'seeming' delivered by qualia.
>>>Seeming sounds great until you try and conduct a scientific study of the
>>>'seeming' system.
>>>Colin Hales
>>I don't understand that? Qualia = "directly perceived seemings". I don't
>>what you mean by a "science of qualia" - why we would need one?
> You think we don't need a science of qualia?

No, I said I didn't understand what you meant - and now I don't think you do
either. You have apparently come to the recent realization that science just
creates models and you never know whether they are really real (and most likely
they aren't) but for some reason you have seized upon qualia as being the big
problem. You don't know whether electrons or tables or the Sun is really real

If science explains qualia - and I think it will - the explanation will be in
terms of a model in which this or that variable produces this or that qualia -
like 700nm photons hitting your retina causes red qualia. I understand now
that's not what you want. So maybe you could give an example of what a theory
in the "science of qualia" might be like.

>It's the single biggest problem
> there is: we don't have one! Science cannot make any justified,
> authoritative prediction as to the phenomenal life of a rock, a computer,
> the internet or the plumbing in Beijing or, especially, a scientist.

That's because you don't want to use an opertional definition of "phenomenal
life" and science can't work on just words defined in terms of other words.

>Take a
> look at Science magazine's July 2005 issue where 125 questions were posed
> that face scientific inquiry over the next quarter century. The top two
> questions:
> 1. What is the universe made of?

Stuff that kicks back when you kick it.

> 2. What is the biological basis of consciousness?


> Q2 = "what is the physics of qualia?", is delivered by the answer to Q1, in
> the behaviour of whatever the universe is made of, of which brain material
> is constructed. This is one question, not 2.
> 'Seeming' = is a) directly the experiences bestowed upon us by qualia and
> b) inductions(models) we make from the behaviour of the appearances thus
> provided.
> The latter assembled as empirical laws or just 'intuited' from qualia...
> does not matter. Result is the same....which is
> fine....until....
> turn the qualia (the evidence making system) on itself in a
> scientific study of the evidence making system (qualia) to try and get a
> science of qualia. Then the system breaks down: you can't see it. All you
> see is the brain delivering it to a 3rd person. This is the anomaly.

I don't see it as an anomaly. It's no different than the rest of science -and
the rest of common sense.

> This means that we have literal screaming proof that the universe is not
> made of 'seemings'.

Nobody (except some mystics and idealists) every said it was.

>It's made of a separate 'something'

Or a lot of separate somethings - like strings or particles or fields.

>and we have license
> to scientifically consider potential 'somethings' and any underlying
> fundamentals that may apply to the generation of qualia.

I think that's whay neurobiologists do.

> It doesn't make any existing law of science invalid. It just means we
> haven't got the complete picture (set of laws) yet.
> ============================================
> Here's another way to see it:
> Every scientific question ever posed about any 'thing' X has two questions
> to ask, not one. These are:
> Q1. What is X? A1. That which behaves Xly
> Q2. What is it like to be X? A2. It is like Xness
> The physical sciences have neglected the second question for every
> scientific exploration done to date. "What is it like to be X?", as a piece
> of anomalous data is _only_ visible when X = "the brain", where we even have
> a special word for the answer to Q2 Xness = "the mind".
> This has been culturally neglected in relation to all other X, such as X =
> 'an atom' and X = 'a coffee cup'. It may not be 'like anything' to be these
> things. That is not the point. The point is we can make no scientific
> assertion about it ......yet.

What's the operational definition of "being like" something?

> We get a definite answer to Q2 only in brain material. This, I hold, is the
> route to answering it for everything else. Like what is it like to be a cold
> rock cf a hot rock? And so on...

You many hold it, but why should anyone else?

> ==========================================
> Here's yet another version of the anomaly:
> To illustrate the absurdity of the position of saying that 'models are
> it'... consider qualia speaking Xness into your head directly.

Qualia don't speak as far as I know. Maybe you meaning "hearing a voice", which
I suppose is a class of qualia.

But qualia are not well defined. When I look over there in the kitchen I'd say
my qualia is "seeing a table". But if I reflect on it, maybe it was seeing some
pieces of wood, or again maybe it was seeing some color patches in my visual
field, or maybe it was seeing a family gathering place.

>This is
> equivalent to another human(an utterer) _pretending_ to be X. This is
> yelling "X is true" at a scientist. As a result the scientist creates a
> model for something behaving X-ly. It's quite predictive. Successful.
> But look what happens if you now do a science of qualia...behold there's an
> UTTERER in there pretending! Look what it did an "X is true" dance!
> And underneath it looks nothing like Xness at all! We have found a separate
> causal basis (the utterer) for qualia! Eureka. Lets tear this pretender
> apart and see what makes it tick.
> Now go back to brain material. Xness is experienced. We look for the utterer
> but we can see no Xness. Just brain material. Accepting (demanding!) qualia
> as scientific evidence whilst denying that qualia are scientifically tenable
> is like accepting the statement 'X is true' and whilst denying that
> anyone/thing said it!
> To make qualia scientifically tenable you have to be allowed to look at 'the
> utterer'...structures delivering qualia... this is implicit evidence, as
> opposed to explicit evidence.... but no less compelling. The fact that we
> can't see qualia when we open up a brain is OUR problem, not the universe's.
>>I said
>>"the way things seem" is a model, i.e. a construct. The model is
>>what we assume and that's what we investigate. I can't tell
>>whether you're agreeing with me in
>>different words or trying to point to some correction?
>>Brent Meeker
> What I'm saying is that a policy, a cultural attitude, preference or habit
> in scientists that....
> 'things "are" what they seem as described by a model that correlates with
> appearances'
> perfectly fine for every case but one. When you try and do science
> (the regularities of qualia as 'seemings') on the 'seeming system'(qualia).
> Then it breaks down...not wrong... just completely impotent (circular) as an
> explanation. You can't explain appearances with appearances.
> Qualia, the biggest problem, are a cultural problem first, then a technical
> problem.
> So I suppose if I'm 'correcting' anything, all I'm doing is pointing to an
> instance of that very cultural assumption at work in a dialogue on an email
> forum......A whopping great hole in the form of a assumption that models
> 'are' it....which persists in spite of blatant evidence to the contrary in
> brain material.

What evidence would that be?
> The answer to Q1 'what is it all made of' is within biology because qualia
> are the one and only pure expression of the deepest/complete possible
> structure of whatever it is the universe is made of...

Just because they are epistemologically prior, doesn't mean they are
ontologically prior.

> Does that make sense?

Not to me.

Brent Meeker

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Received on Wed Aug 16 2006 - 02:25:28 PDT

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