Re: Dreaming On

From: David Nyman <>
Date: Fri, 21 Aug 2009 16:39:15 +0100

2009/8/21 Flammarion <>:

>> My rhetorical question was "how do we reach a state of certainty about
>> 'what it is to be' on the basis of 'what it is to describe'.
> Why do we need certainty?

OK. Perhaps: how do we achieve the most inclusive understanding possible?

>> To which
>> my response is that we can't, because in the area of the first person
>> we have indubitable acquaintance with at least some aspect of the
>> former.
> That doesn't support the conclusion by itself. You also need to argue
> for lack of certainty in descriptions
>> And in my view, this acquaintance is so alien to 'what is
>> described'
> with regard to consciousness , or generally?

With regard to consciousness. But I have more to say on that below.

>> that the assumption of the gap being bridged on the basis
>> of *any* model of observability can only be a brute apriori
>> assumption.  Now I know that many people aren't troubled by this, and
>> some just are.  Frankly, by this stage I'm ready to put it down to
>> differences in imaginative style, what we're trying to achieve
>> personally with our thinking, or something equally idiosyncratic.  I
>> don't really believe it can be resolved entirely by persuasion.
> Do you concede that many aspects of mind -- cognition, memory and so
> on --
> are not part of any Hard Problem?

Yes, absolutely. But I think our basic divergence is that I say you
can't end up at these destinations unless you buy the ticket at the
point of departure - the ticket being what I've called self-access
(i.e. as a characteristic of the situation as a whole, not of parts
taken in isolation). Look, when I asked you "how far down in our
analysis of the material do we have to go before the entities are no
longer material?" your reply was in effect "all the way down". In
essence, I don't think I'm saying anything different vis-a-vis
consciousness. Of course, as you imply in your question, nothing
complex comes for free, and we need to build up mechanisms, devices,
structures from their material-conscious building blocks - all the
'easy' stuff - to arrive at mind itself. I say a bit more on this

>> > Realism doesn;t need the
>> > existence of a non-mental world to be a certainty, it just needs
>> > it to be more plausible than the alternatives.
>> Yes, in general I agree with you.
> Then what is the significance of Ontological Certainty?
>>But I suppose on the mind-body
>> question, the various positions that I've successively tried to hold
>> on to (and I think I've traversed most of them over the last 30 years
>> or so) having become less and less plausible to me.  I don't want to
>> be a mysterian, but I think that the assumption that with a bit more
>> effort we've got the mind sorted on the basis of current theories will
>> turn out to be more like Lord Kelvin's notorious dicta on black-body
>> radiation and the ether wind.  Actually, if that were the case, it
>> would be a good omen, because that presaged relativity and QM.
> I think physicalism has been generally succesful and as much
> of it should be retained as possible. hence the need to focus
> on the key issues in the MBP

Yes, I wouldn't disagree with the spirit of that. But I also say we
must continue to be alert to the possibility of gaps in some of our
basic assumptions. I think part of the trouble is that to be
successful at anything, one has to push like mad, and this inevitably
leads - most especially when a particular approach has been very
successful - to the tendency to push it beyond usefulness. It probably
can't be avoided. All I'm saying is that there is a long-standing
metaphysical corrective that has always stood to one side of
physicalism, and from time to time it's worth carefully reconsidering

>> Yes, but my view is that mind-body shows us that to consider the
>> referent of a theoretical statement to be something 'external' is in
>> fact the category error - i.e. the view from nowhere again.
> Referents are external by definition. So you must be sayign that no
> theory ever has a referent. But you have not said why.

I'm drawing attention to the fact that 'external' and 'internal' are
epistemic polarisations which, in terms of any consistent monism, must
be seen as aspects of a unique ontic continuum. When we carefully
examine what is entailed in conscious 'observation' we find that the
very act of qualitatively reifying or embodying local representations
entails the draining of proper ('internal') qualities from their
putative referents, thus 'externalising' them and abandoning them to
the realm of the 'non-conscious'. So the 'red apple' is embodied
'redly' in my consciousness, but the qualitative embodiment of the
referent is not thereby locally realised. This is the fons et origo
of the MBP, IMO. More below.

>> Someone
>> (can't remember who) put it like this: "what is the external world
>> supposed to be external to?"
> My head

Yes, but try to see that in the context of what I said above. What
I'm saying requires a shift in viewpoint. If you don't make it - even
experimentally - what I'm saying will inevitably sound like gibberish.
 OTOH, trying it for size doesn't commit you to the purchase.

>> Look, it may well be that you're capable
>> of doing this sort of category-juggling in your head whilst still
>> using the standard theoretical language.  Part of the trouble is that
>> I'm never quite sure if others are doing this, which is why I try to
>> proceed in a painfully step-by-step way in enquiring into it - which
>> probably makes me sound like the village idiot to you.
> Hmm. Well, I still think you are repeating standard map-territory
> fallacies.

Well, without the shift in viewpoint, there can be no agreement on
which is the map, and which the territory.

>> > How do you know? If you can't detect some mysterious inner essence,
>> > how do you know there is one?
>> I certainly wouldn't put it like that.  I don't think that the view
>> from nowhere can 'detect' anything of the sort precisely because it
>> doesn't - can't - say anything about the 'inner' at all - i.e. its
>> externalised: that's its point.
> YOu still haven't said about how you got into contact with the inner--
> or at least any "inner" other than your own.

Well, I'm not arguing for solipsism, so I reason on the basis that my
inner isn't that much different to yours. As for getting into
contact, perhaps this is the crux. I think that your view of
consciousness is that it is mere epistemology, and hence that it can't
in and of itself tell us anything fundamental about ontology. Well
you know of course that this is disputed - Bishop Berkeley, Vedanta,
the perennial philosophy, etc - and on what I think are good logical
grounds. If I assume that my experience is a matter *merely* of
observation, I can't help getting into an infinite regress of
observation - i.e. of epistemology. Consequently I'm forced to the
view that my fundamental relation to the qualitative is ontological,
and that the analysis of the qualitative into context and content is
what actually constitutes the apparent epistemological-ontological

Further, since I'm a monist, I must believe that if this applies to
consciousness, it must also apply to whatever it is that the
epistemological content refers to, and consequently it is this that I
must make sense of in any comprehensible account of the 'mental' and
the 'material'. Now, it's at this point that, adopting a
'materialist' stance, I might say to myself "well, all this is
obviously untrue because the universe would be a mass of qualities -
which it clearly isn't - and things wouldn't merely manifest and
behave objectively and materially - which they obviously do". But on
reflection, there's no contradiction here, because the very nature of
the epistemic-ontic split lies in the abstraction of quality from the
observable - it's represented qualitatively, but what-it-represents -
i.e. its referent - is what's left over relationally when the quality
is abstracted. And this is why any account constructed entirely from
relational properties must be incomplete.

Now clearly, if we can't agree on something reasonably close to the
foregoing as our point of departure on the way to what would be
acceptable as RITSIAR, it's hardly surprising that we find ourselves
in conflict further down the line. Nonetheless, I'm interested to
know, even though you clearly disagree with the analysis, if you
reject this out-of-hand as a coherent point of view. Do you think it
is demonstrably wrong, or simply an unnecessary assumption? If the
former, what specifically is wrong with it?

>> Theories represent the limit of what
>> the world can *tell* us, not the limit of what it *is*.
> Theories don't necessarily tell us the whole story. However
> you seem to have decided they necessarily don't.
> If you can't peak over the horizon. how do you know there
> is anything there?

No, really, this isn't it. The horizon is still there, and one seeks
to peek beyond it. I'm just saying that there's a gap that can't be
bridged by any quantitative-relational theory. It takes a shift in
viewpoint - or rather, a proper appreciation of what our 'viewpoint'
really implies - to acknowledge the gap. Without the shift, one ends
up either explaining it away, or vaguely hoping that it will be
bridged by more or different relationships.

>>  Do you
>> really suppose that you are limited in any such way?  That your
>> existence as it is known to you by acquaintance is entirely exhausted
>> by what I can glean by interacting with you or bouncing signals off
>> you?
> Do you think that if you scanned my brain right down to the atomic
> level,
> you still wouldn't have captured all the information?

Yes, that's exactly what I think. I realise, as I've said, that it's
arguing against the 'causal closure of the physical', but I think that
it's quite reasonable so to argue, as this assumption itself is
central to the MBP - see Chalmers for a review. There's often a weird
sort of self-abnegation that creeps into attitudes at this point, as
though to say "why should we suppose that mere human experience itself
sheds any light on the workings of the mighty and terrible universe
that glides on serenely without us?" But on reflection this is to
carry modesty beyond sense, because we're just a part of all this and
consequently what is true for us must be true - mutatis mutandis - for
the rest of it. In fact the whole of science - nay the whole of life
- rests on a version of this statement of faith.

And all that's required conceptually, I think, is to realise that
causality can't be 'closed' in the absence of mutual accessibility
between the interacting entities. The metaphysical intuition here is
of a self-accessible continuum nonetheless differentiated by
self-encounter ('self' because the differentiation doesn't really
create 'separate entities'). The fundamental justification here is
that any other assumption just makes the whole universe disappear -
i.e. without it, any conjectured universe, and everything in it, would
be zombified - i.e. beside the point, Occamistically speaking.
Furthermore, we have absolutely no reason to suppose that this is
contradicted by physical theory - there's nothing whatsoever in the
observable or theorised behaviour of fundamental explanatory entities
that implies that mutual accessibility isn't a prerequisite (i.e. not
merely an accompaniment) for the mutual 'activity' that is the limit
of what is entailed by 'observation'.

Consequently the qualitative basis of ontology is simply never
observed, because it is the unobservable *context* of observation.
It's not just the fish not seeing the water, it's the fish not seeing
the fish.

>> What we know by indubitable acquaintance is something absolutely
>> qualitatively different to what is described theoretically - it has to
>> be - and whereas of course I'm not implying that this acquaintance
>> gives us the ante on the whole nature of existence, I do believe that
>> it should be a salutory corrective to any notion of the 'completeness'
>> of our theories of observation.
> And the corrective to that corrective is that it must all be the same
> information -- just somehow presented differntly.

Yes, I agree, but with the caveat that you mustn't leave anything out,
as I've said above. We're not that far apart, actually, once you
adjust for language and the status of the notorious 'gap'.

>> You see, the thing that interests me about comp isn't that I know that
>> it's true.  Rather it's because I think that it confronts the
>> mind-body issue without sweeping the real problems under the rug.
> CMT has next to nothng to say on the issue
> of phenomenal consciousness and so
> does Brouno's "comp"

Yes, I agree. One must be careful not to conflate the PM+CTM debate
with the status of phenomenal consciousness. Bruno says that comp is
able to situate the quale, but that of course is a world away from
explaining it. My view, as I say above - is that the qualitative lies
completely outside the domain of explanation, because it is in fact
the domain itself - i.e. the context within which all explanation
occurs (or more strongly - is instantiated).

>> > That has not been demonstrated at all. At best you have an argument
>> > that they are not necessarily RITSIAR. Which is straightforwardly
>> > given
>> > by the observation that theories are less than certain. All you have
>> > writen
>> > boils down to the fallacy that "no necessarily true" implies
>> > "necessarily untrue"
>> No, I think it boils down to the fact that no theoretical entity
>> should ever be seen as RITSIAR - only in some relation to it.
> That is the very fallacy I was complaining about. You are taking
> "not necessarily real" to imply
> "necessarily unreal". (NB: RITSIAR is not intended as a claim of
> certainty. If you are just saying nothing is certain, you are nto
> saying much).

Well, I should sympathise with your complaint if in fact I was
claiming that, but I'm not. I'm just saying that *any* theoretical
entity - which is the limit of can what we possess epistemologically -
is necessarily an incomplete representation of what we take it to
refer to, for the reasons I've given.

>>  The
>> difference between physics and comp is that in terms of the former
>> there's virtually no way of expressing this thought coherently,
>> whereas in terms of the latter it's a key aspect of the theory.
> Since the thought is unfounded, I don't see why that is an issue.

No, if that is your view, I can see why you would think that.

>> >> The unique feature of consciousness is not - as you claim - its
>> >> 'epistemic' certainty, but its status as what is *ontologically
>> >> certain*.
>> > Whatever that means.
>> It means its status as evidence by acquaintance of at least some
>> indubitable aspects of 'what it is to be' something.
> All that is delivered induibably is how things seem. Consciousness
> does not offer any gold-plated insight into what things are. including
> itself.

This is perhaps an example of the 'self abnegation' I refer to above.
Whilst there clearly is nothing 'gold plated' about any particular
insight available *through* consciousness, we must nonetheless keep
tight hold of the fact that it is consciousness that is the unique
*vehicle* for such insights - and indeed for any hold on reality that
we possess. And one cannot coherently claim that this vehicle is
essentially radically other than it *appears*, because in this case to
appear is to *be* - and of course vice versa. So the extrapolation
from this is that the fundamental intuition of 'existence' on which
all - and I do mean *all* - the others parasitise, is that 'to be is
to appear'.

Of course this is hardly a new idea, but I feel that it is usually
(though by no means always) somewhat thoughtllessly dismissed, and
hence its consequences don't get fully worked out. There appears to
be a sort of 'embarrassment issue' connected with it in
'professionally respectable' circles! It is assumed - on no evidence
- that it must somehow contradict the known facts without adding
anything to understanding, because nothing was missing before. But
neither of these assumptions is the case IMO. Consequently I regard
this approach as a needful metaphysical illumination of - not a
replacement for - relational theories be they comp, PM, or whatsoever.

>> >>To regard consciousness itself (or in Bruno's terms the
>> >> ontological first person) as merely the object of 'knowledge' is to
>> >> commit the fallacy of taking 'observation' in a naively literal sense:
>> >> i.e. to require there to be an 'observer'.  But this, self-evidently,
>> >> can only lead to infinite regress.  Consequently, consciousness does
>> >> not consist in the 'observation' of epistemic entities, but in their
>> >> instantiation.
>> > Whatever that means. Surely if soemthign is insantiated, it exist and
>> > is therefore ontological.

Yes, that's what I'm saying of course. Epistemic entities are
instantiated in consciousness - it is their ontic context. Further,
as I've said above, it is the *unique* ontic context. Of course this
is what is claimed by Plotinus, the Vedantic literature etc, and I'm
saying it bears careful scrutiny.

>> I mean that consciousness isn't what we observe in others - or in the
>> functioning of our brains - it's what they experience.
> Consciousness doesn't seem to be the funcitoning of brains. But then
> diamond doesn;t seem to be the same as graphite.

Now we're back with the first-person / third-person distinction.
Surely you see the difference? Sometimes you seem to argue for
elimination, sometimes for dual-aspect. Which is it to be?

>> But this view relies on
>> the denial (in an unavoidably Freudian sense) that the physical is
>> known exclusively in terms of conscious representations on which all
>> extrapolation to an 'observable' reality rests.
> No it doesn't. Why shouldn;t consciousness know the non-conscious?
> You are blurring epistemology and ontoloy again. I can paint
> the Taj Mahal in oils, that doesn't mean
> here is anything oil-painting-ish abotu the Taj Mahal.

Well I hope you can see now that I'm not in the least claiming that
the conscious can't know the non-conscious. Rather, I'm trying to
clarify their relation. If I'm claiming that 'consciousness' (for
want of a less contentious term) is the unique ontic context, then it
would appear that to ascribe non-consciousness to anything is no
longer tenable. But this is not so - rather, we need to think in
terms of what is relevant in context. So it is relevant in context
that, for example, I possess a conscious representation of the Taj
Mahal, but what isn't relevant in context is what that representation
is conscious-of - i.e. it has become in effect non-conscious. If one
looks from the representation towards its referent, the same
reciprocal set of relations will obtain for it, in its own context.

In your oil painting example, the painted Taj Mahal is the Taj Mahal
as represented in consciousness (i.e. in the context of the painting).
 But - monistically speaking - the 'external' Taj Mahal - the subject
of representation - itself has no place to exist outside the
generalised painted context. So it turns out - and this is where the
analogy breaks down - that the referent is another aspect of the
larger canvas, not 'external' to it. Now of course the devil is in
the detail - there's always the 'easy' problem! - but in general
'epistemic' and 'ontic' are *functionally* polarised aspects of a
single category - the painted canvas in your analogy, in which the
canvas represents the continuity and the painted lines the

At the risk of repeating myself (I suppose this must be irony!) I'm
not peddling anything new here, I'm just amplifying my own formulation
of the world-view of half the planet throughout half of history. But
I think it's worth spelling out, because - properly appreciated rather
than dismissed - it is the necessary corrective to many of the MBP

>> Since such representations are not in themselves observable (though of
>> course not unknowable) it is unreasonable to suppose that any
>> putatively 'final' ontology known entirely on the basis of observation
>> could ever be considered a complete account of the situation.
> Who says they are unobsrvable? We can introspect them qua
> consciousness, and observe their neurological basis to boot.

Ah. It's the regress. They're not fundamentally 'observed', because
of the regress. They're fundamentally be'ed (you see - we don't have a
word for it). IOW, to observe is to *be* the representation. That's
what makes it an ontic category, and that's what makes epistemology a
*functional* (what-it's-for) aspect of the ontic . What-it's-for is
to function as a reference to a more inclusive generalised context
'external' to the representation, but within the same ontic category.

>> Look, for most of my life, most of my heroes have been the champions
>> of science.  I'm the last person to rubbish this effort.  All I'm
>> saying is that in the mind-body domain the carefully designed
>> methodology of 'vexing nature' is seeking to get a 'theory of
>> everything' for free - because if you really believed that physics
>> could account for 'everything' on the basis of' any possible set of
>> observations, then IMO you don't take the 'gap'  - between the
>> observable and the ontologically real  - that seriously.
>> Actually,
>> thinking about everything you've said, I conclude that you don't take
>> it seriously in that way. And that means that I'm worrying about
>> something unnecessarily in your view because you say it's just a
>> category error.  OK, we can agree to disagree.
> OK, good. That saves me some typing. There is a gap
> between the way consciousness presents itself to the observer
> and the way it appears in descriptions. That doesn't necessarily
> mean we are dealing with an ontological divide, and it doesn't
> necessarily
> have to be part of some wider gap betwee any kind of description and
> any
> kind of reality.

I agree about the ontological divide, as I hope you see now, but not
about the completeness of the descriptions. The ontological point of
departure is the crux, I think.

>> > No, it is nto the standard one in the literature. You are just
>> > commiting a basica fallacy -- saying that because the map is not
>> > itself real, it cannot *represetn* a real territory.
>> No, I'm not saying that.  I'm casting doubt on whether the mapping to
>> the territory can be complete.
> Now you are. You have been variously doubting whether maps can be
> the whole truth. or true at all in different passages.

I regret that you feel I do not display the same consistency in
argument as you. However if you press me I would say that the mapping
can be at worst incoherent, or at best incomplete. I'm not sure if
that captures all the nuance of "not true at all" or "not the whole
truth", but it's the best I can come up with.

>> >> I'm saying that all that can 'emerge' from one class of description is
>> >> another class of description.
>> > The physical is not a description/map. Physics is the description/map.
>> True.  But we have no direct access to the physical-in-itself through
>> description, theory or mapping - only (in certain of its aspects)
>> through consciousness.
> How could we have got so far without the "access" argument?
>> This is the facer
>> for physics, because of course it is precisely committed to
>> restricting itself to accounting for what is observed, and I
>> understand the power and intent of this approach.  But to extrapolate
>> from this to the causal closure of a physical ontology of everything,
>> independent of consciousness, is fatal to a coherent resolution of the
>> mind-body issues IMO.
> You are assuming that consciousness is unobserved. But as I pointed
> out in the brain-scannign argument, there is good reason to think
> that all the *information* in phenomenal cosnciousness is in fact
> physically available. What is missing in physical descriptions is
> the mode of presentation of that informaiton  to the first person.
> A red quale doesn't convey information over and above "that is red".

We're getting into the third-person / first person confusion here. I
assume you mean by consciousness in "consciousness is unobserved" its
putative observable correlates - which of course are ex hypothesi
observable. Your brain scanning point is similarly circular - IOW if
you take consciousness to be exhausted by its physical correlates then
obviously a complete account of these is equivalent to "all the
*information* in phenomenal consciousness is in fact physically
available". The bit you choose to gloss over is "the mode of
presentation of that information to the first person", as though it
were self-evident that this could be exhausted by third-person
description, and all that is missing is some processual account of its
'mode of presentation'.

I agree of course that "a red quale doesn't convey information over
and above "that is red", but this is because information - i.e. what
can be taken out-of-context - can only ever be ostensive in this way.
That's how it operates - it relies on *pointing* towards (i.e.
referring to) something that is instantiated qualitatively. The
redness consists in *being redly* - the abstractable content consists
in pointing and saying "like that". It's like a set of instructions
for *reproducing the experience in context*. And that - for perfectly
sound logical reasons - is why it can never be captured as
information. It's at this point that some people panic and become
eliminativists. I know you're not one of those, but then the problem
is that if you don't claim ontic primacy for qualitative existence,
you've backed yourself into unacknowledged dualism.

BTW, essentially similar issues are at the heart of my "little
theological divergence" with Bruno. I'm biding my time to see how the
seven-step math plays out before re-engaging on this.

>> The 'arbitrariness' is inherent in the burden of
>> >> the term 'functionalism', which is intrinsically neutral as to the
>> >> details of physical implementation.
>> > No, there are two quite differnt claim here:
>> > 1. A function can have multiple instantions
>> > 2. Anything can instantiate any function.
> It's a pity you didn't comment on that.

Well I wasn't sure what you meant. Does 2) refer to the 'rock'
argument? Well, if a rock consistently output the results of
calculations I tapped into its surface, I might be convinced it
instantiated the relevant functions. Actually, a calculator is a sort
of rock that does precisely that, so maybe that says something about
the difference between 1) and 2).

But my complaint doesn't consist in the denial of 1), but rather in
its consequences for CTM+PM. IOW, if CTM+PM consists in the
conjunction of the two claims that a) specific physical processes
instantiate an (invariant) conscious state and b) any one of the
(variable) collection of physical processes functionally equivalent to
a specific computation instantiates the same (invariant) conscious
state, then c) I find this claim to be incoherent in virtue of its
sweeping the incompatibility of 'invariant' and 'variable' under the
rug. It highlights the invariance of computational outcome of a class
of processes whilst ignoring the physical variability of each process;
since it is the latter that is postulated as responsible for
consciousness, the former is irrelevant to the case. Gedanken
experiments like MGA and Olympia seek to make this more explicit by
reductio, but personally I find the contention prima facie


> >

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Received on Fri Aug 21 2009 - 16:39:15 PDT

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