Re: Dreaming On

From: 1Z <>
Date: Thu, 6 Aug 2009 02:09:18 -0700 (PDT)

On 31 July, 14:44, David Nyman <> wrote:
> On 31 July, 11:43, 1Z <> wrote:
> > There are many bad solutions too. Finding a good solution
> > means having an exat grasp of the problem, not saying in some
> > vague way that mind and matter are different things.
> Do elaborate. It would be really helpful to have an exactly stated
> exposition of the problem as you grasp it, with any explicit angles of
> attack you may have to propose.
The Soft, Medium and Hard Problems of Consciousness
The problem of mind and consciousness is one of the most important in
philosophy, because the stubborn inexplicabiliy of some aspects of
consciousness has important metahysical ramifications, which
themselves have knock-on effects in other areas. Given the current
state of play in philosophy, mind-body issues are almost all that
hinders an all-encompassing physicalism. Physicalism has wider
implications. For instance, it ahas the capacity to imply that
determinism is true and free-will false, possibly in conjunction with
other theories, which itself would have major consequences in ethical
and political thought. Moreover, alternatives to physicalism -- such
as idealism, the idea that "all is mind" and mind-matter dualism --
are obviously shaped by the mind-body problem. From a modern point of
view, where Man is no longer the Centre of All Things, it seems odd
that anyone would want to make human mentality a central feature of
the universe, as both of those alternatives do. Yet, they cannot be
rejected without some sort of solution to the Mind-Body problem.

Consciousness presents a number of features and problems. In
increasing order some of them are:-

    * What you are aware of, and what you are aware with.
    * Behaviour: Consciousness as opposed to unconsciousness.
    * Sense of Self
    * Intentionality
    * Binding/synthesis
    * Phenomenality

The mere fact that consciousness is multi-faceted has implications: if
it is a "rag-bag" of features, it is unlikely to be a basic
constituent of the universe as some people maintain.

People who have read Marx or with leftish political leanings often use
"consciousness" to mean the mindset of an individual or group -- so
that is is possible to "raise" one's consciousness by becoming aware
of more or different things. For the purposes of investigating the
metaphysical implications of the Mind-Body Problem, that is not what
the word "consciousness" means . We take it to mean what you are aware
withnot what you are aware of.

The word "conscious" can also be used to indicate that someone is
awake and interacting with their environment, as opposed to somnolent.
If this were all the philosophical problem consisted of, it would be a
lot simpler! The philosophical problem is about the nature of the
faculty of consciousness, not whether it is "switched on" -- whether
someone is displaying it at a certain point in time. Nonetheless, this
tells us that there is an external behavioural aspect to
consciousness. We should not think of it as a deely hidden,
impenetrable mystery. Hopefully, we should not think of it as nothing
butbehaviour either. We can and do attribute consciousness to other
individuals (quite possibly including non-humans) on the basis of
their behaviour, but what we attribute to them is not just behaviour
-- it is an "inner world" of thoughts and feelings we introspectively
detect in ourselves, and link with certain kinds of our own external

The sense of self is perhaps the easiest feature of consiousness to
deal with. It is easy to see why organisms need a sense of self --
they would not want to absent-mindedly chew off one of their own
limbs, as Daniel Dennett reminds us. We can naturalistically
understand consciousness as a kind of virtual reality system, and the
sense-of-self as a kind of figure that is manipulated within the
simulation to explore counterfactual situations. We can imagine
information processing-systems that process information about
themselves, that have an internal self-representation. Indexical
pronouns, and recursive functions show how self-awareness can be
leveraged syntactically.

The sense of the self is made to explain other aspects of
consciousness in "homuncular" theories in which an inner self lends
intentionality, phenomenality and so on to consciousness in some
inexplicable way. This class of theory is often and rightly criticised
for its infinite regress, yet remains eternally popular.

Of course I have been talking about the "sense of self" in a rather
fictive sense, not as an actually existing entity. But, as
philosophers from Buddha to Hume have noticed, an inner self -- above
and beyond both the body and mental contents such as thoughts and
feelings is not discernable. There may be a thought "I am" which
accompanies all other thoughts, as Kant believed (or a felling or
quale that fulfils a similar role) -- but they are thoughts and
feelings of self -- not selves ! Of course such an inner self is not
detectable objectively within the brain, which seems to be fairly
decentralised organ, either,

I strongly suspect that people who believe in an inner self, do not
detect an inner self as such within themselves. Rather they feel they
must have a "little (wo)man" inside them to make everything work; i.e.
it is a theory masquerading as a fact.

Intentionality is regarded as the very mark of the mental by some.
Intentionality means "aboutness", the ability of mental contents such
as thought and beliefs to be about something. If you think about a
rock, you do not have a rock in your head, you have, in some sense, a
thought. Intentionality is closely allied to the ability to form
representations -- examples of external representations include words
and pictures --which is not particularly mysterious. Whilst
intentionality has its puzzles, it does not challenge physicalism in
any basic way. Moreover, it is now universally acknowledged that there
can be unconscious mental contents, and therefore unconscious
inentionality. So intentionality is part of the problem of mind rather
than the problem of consciousness.

At one time, teleology was regarded as the mark of them mental, and as
the nub of the mind-body problem (or, rather, a wider life-mecahnism
problem). It is now regarded as resolvable by a reduction of teleology
in favour of mechanistic causation. "Teleological" entities have some
internal representation of a a future state, and act in order to bring
it about. Nothing more than mechanism is needed to explain that. We
have been able to build teleological devices since the 50s.

Binding or synthesis is the way that different sensory modalities
combine into a unified representation of the world. This was known to
ancient philosphers like Aristotle, who thought it required a "sixth
sense", to modern philosophers like Kant who called it the Synthetic
Unity of Apperception, and to neurologists who call it the Binding
Problem. A magic homunculus, a central Scrutiniser suggests itself to
some as an solution to this problem; everything comes together at the
Central Scrutiniser. But, as usual, this is not very explanatory. Does
the Scrutniser have another scrutiniser within it ?

Ultimately the Binding problem is structural and behavioural, and
therefore within the grasp of a scientific approach. The real problem
-- the Hard Problem -- is subjective experience.

Whilst subjective experience can be analysed into aspects that are
unchallenging physically (see Appendix) there are other aspects which
are much more problematical. The technical term for aspects of
subjective experience is "qualia".

Qualia Introduced
Qualia are the way things seem to us, experiences considered purely as
experiences. They are conceptually distinct from the physical
experiences outside the cranium that cause them (if any--dreams and
hallucinations are qualia as much as anything), and are also defined
without prejudice to whatever intra-cranial events may or may not
accompany or implement them. That is to say, they are not defined as
neurological events (although the definition does not preclude their
being identified with such events by some process of explanation). An
example would be the way lemons taste to you, as opposed to their
chemical composition.
C.I Lewis' Original Definition of Qualia

    "There are recognizable qualitative characters of the given, which
may be repeated in different experiences, and are thus a sort of
universals; I call these "qualia." But although such qualia are
universals, in the sense of being recognized from one to another
experience, they must be distinguished from the properties of objects.
Confusion of these two is characteristic of many historical
conceptions, as well as of current essence-theories. The quale is
directly intuited, given, and is not the subject of any possible error
because it is purely subjective."

Infallibility and other Epistemic Issues
People like Dennett make much of the infallibility clause ("is not the
subject of any possible error"). He argues that because we could be
wrong about qualia, the whole notion is dispensible. However, we could
be wrong about anything. We make mistakes about external objects, does
that mean an external world is dispensible? An epistemological verion
of Fank Jacksion's Mary woudl nto be know what qualia are either,
despire being familiar with every shade of infallibility and
ineffability. What qualia re explains their inieffability, not the
other way round!
What is the problem of qualia?
The problem of qualia is the problem of their relationship to the
physical description of the world. Many people have the intuition that
showing a brain-scan of someone, John, eating lemons to someone else,
June, with no sense of taste would not tell June what lemons taste
like even if she knew everything there is to know about neurology.
This intuition is called the 'explanatory gap'. Many people also have
an intuition that everything can be explained by the behaviour of
matter at the most fundamental level, i.e that all sciences will
eventually be reduced to physics. This intuition is called
reductionism and has the clear implication that there cannot
ultimately be any explanatory gaps. If you have both intuitions, you
are going to have a problem with qualia.

What Qualia Are and Are Not
Is there a need for the word "qualia": What qualia are not
I do need the term qualia to clearly differentiate the experiential
aspects from

   1. The physical properties of objects that are giving rise to
experiences. This is a point brought out in CI Lewis's definition.
Under "naive" that is, pre-scientific theories, it is assumed that
things are as they seem; the perceived properties of objects start off
attached to the object itself, and are just copied by perception. This
simple picture was picked apart by the development of a scientific
picture of how the sense organs work.
   2. The neural correlates of the experience -- considered as such.
To say that a quale is a different thing from nueral behaviour simply
begs the question against some proposed solutions to the MBP, such as
token identity theory. However, experiences do not seem like neural
activity. Our ancestors had all sorts of experiences without realsiing
there are such things as neurons. So long as "qualia" labels the way
things seem they can be held as being not necesarily the same as their
neural correlates, without begging any questions about what they
"really" are.
   3. The behavioural accompaniments of experience. This is relevant
to Dennett's thinking, in that he associates experience with the
tendency to produce reports.
   4. Information or knowledge (cognition as opposed to perception).
Being told about the Eiffel Towers is not the same as sseing it,
althought the same information may be conveyed. Cognition is not
phenomenally vivid in normal people. There is a condition called
synaesthesia where words, ideas, etc are phenomenally vivid. Trying to
identify phenomenality with cognition would render this well-attested
psychological peculiarity incomprehensible.

Qualia and Intentionality
Straightforward identification of qualia with brain states is hindered
by the fact that brain states do not have the properties qualia seem
to have; for instance if a green triangle, is seen, there is nothing
in the brain that is green and triangular, either. (Nor is there
necessarily any external object with those properties within the field
of vision). A similar problem also occurs with intentionality.
(Intentionality labels the tendency of thoughts or words to be about
something). To think about rocks is not to have rocks in the head.
This does not startle us because we are used to the fact that symbols
and represetations are not the same as the things they represent. You
cannot sit on the word "chair". So all that is needed to solve this
puzzle in the case of intentionality is the idea that the mind/brain
is some kind of symbolic or representational system.

Can this trick be made to work for qualia? The essential problem of
qualia is their inability to be expressed in language; that is the
problem from which the privacy of the mental stems, and from which the
subjectivity of the mental further stems. It could be argued at a
stretch that qualia are the intentions of a "language of thought", a
language that underpins our mental processes but to which we do not
have conscious access. However, a complete physical description of the
brain must include such a language-of-thought as one of its aspects,
so this theory contains the implication that qualia could be captured
in physicalese (since they are already captured in a language-of-
thought which itself is captured by a complete physical description).
If the indescribability of qualia is already present, and most severe,
in physicalese, it is very difficult to see how accessing the LOT via
physicalese would help.
Qualia and naive realism
Naive realism is the view that we perceive things just as they are. It
is undermined by a number of essentially scientific discoveries:-

   1. Optical illusions are not properties of the object being viewed.
The whole point of the Muller-Lyer illusion is that the lines are
really of equal length. If the apparent inequality is a real property
of the diagram, whence the equality?
   2. People see the same thing differently. Three people looking at a
coin might see an oval, a circle and a rectanlge. Yet these cannot all
be the actual shape of the coin.
   3. The phenomenal appearances of dreams, hallucinations cannot be
properties of real, external objects. Hence the hard problem of
consciousness arises from the combination of a scientific world-view
and introspective access to consciousness.

In total, these create a need for some concept of perceived qualities
even if it is not a concept of qualia. Possible alternatives include
"sense data", "Percepts, and so on.
Negative definitions and limiting concepts: "Qualia" as a non-
referring term.
Outright qualia-denial is quite implausible; it is the claim that
smells don't smell and pains don't pain. A related manoeuvre is to
deny the usefulness of the word "qualia". The word is often used to
point out something which is unexplained within current theories of
consciousness, something unknown. How can a word which doesn't mean
anything be of any use? Surely it can be eliminated without changing

There is a distinction between two different kinds or shades of
meaning made by Frege. "Reference" is the external-world object a
symbol is "about". "Sense" is the kind of meaning a symbol has even if
does not have a reference. This shows that a referentless term can
still be meaningful, but it does not quite show that there is a
benefit in employing such terms. (After all, many examples of
referntless terms are obviously useless -- words such as "pixie",
"unicorn" and so on).

We need to be aware of the limitations of our knowledge. We need a
vocabulary to indicate those limitations. Without one, we might
prematurely decide that we understood everything. There is a
philsophical tradition of such negative or limiting concepts, with
Kant's noumenon perhaps being the most famous example.

But, continues the argument, such terms are scientifically useless
even if they are employed by philosophers.

The demand that all scientific terminology be pre-equipped with
referents is self defeating. The purposes of many scientific
programmes is precisely to find the referent of some term. Science
progresses by investigating mysteries, not by sweeping them under the
carpet. We don't know what "dark matter" names, but we need a label
for the mystery so we can get on with investigating it. Our ancestors
didn't really know what "water" means. Where would we be if some proto-
Dennett had advised them to abandon the term?
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Received on Thu Aug 06 2009 - 02:09:18 PDT

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