Re: More on qualia of consciousness and occam's razor

From: Eric Cavalcanti <>
Date: Wed, 4 Feb 2004 10:25:45 -0200

Entering the discussion here...

----- Original Message -----
From: "Pete Carlton" <>

> But even this goes way out in front of what we can possibly know. You
> say we have no idea what these feelings are like to experience--but why
> should we assume we even are entitled to ask this question?

And why assume that we are not? I prefer not to have
my right to ask waived. If I cannot ask it, then I should
understand why not, and that would be an answer in a
> To borrow a bit from Wittgenstein -- imagine you have completely
> translated these aliens' language, and they tell you that each of them
> has a box with something inside it. Although they talk a lot in rather
> vague terms about what's in their box, they insist you can't really
> know what is inside it. Now what is the logical conclusion here:
> a) There may or may not be something in the box.
> b) There's definitely something in the box, and I have absolutely no
> idea what it is.
> What on earth could possibly make someone conclude (b) here? It's not
> logical at all. Yet this is what people conclude when they bend over
> backwards talking about "qualia" and how ineffable they are.

And you seem to conclude a (c) hypothesis: "there is
definitely nothing inside the box". I stay with (a). And
to try to find out if there is something there or not, we
need to talk about it, and "qualia" is the word for the
hypothetical contents of the box.
> > So, in addition to the empirical data, there is this extra bit of
> > information, neither contained in the data nor able to be derived from
> > it using the laws of physics: what it actually feels like to be the
> > one experiencing the subjective sensation. If someone can think of a
> > better way to describe it than "extra bit of information" or can come
> > up with a way to formalise it, I would be happy to hear about it.
> A better way to describe what, exactly? "What it actually feels like"?
> But why do you first commit yourself to the view that this question
> makes any sense?

Suppose a blind man did understand all the chain of events
that lead from the light reaching the eyes to the retina, then
to the brain and finally to the qualia of red. Would he see the
red? Why not?

I can imagine that I have my vision scrambled in such a way
that red is exchanged with blue. Red is the color that I associate
with an apple, and blue to the sky. I can imagine that the sky
appeared to have the color of an apple and an apple appeared
to have the sky's color. But if that happened, from then on, I
could change the names of the colors in such a way that I still
called the apple 'red' and the sky 'blue'. If there is no such a
thing as 'qualia', then nothing really happened. But I could tell
that things are different. In what sense could they be different?

> > I suppose there will still be some who insist that if you know all
> > about the physiology etc. behind the alien response to gamma rays,
> > then you know all there is to know. I think this response is analogous
> > to the "shut up and calculate" attitude to the interpretation of
> > quantum mechanics.
> Yes, I am one of these people. You say "if you know all about", and
> you must be taken seriously here: you would really have to know >all<
> about it. But if you did, you would be able to entirely trace the
> causal pathway from the receipt of the gamma rays, to whatever internal
> responses go on inside the alien's body, to the subsequent report of "I
> feel that pleasant, odd-multiple feeling". Let's say you had that
> entire explanation written out. And "subjective experience" doesn't
> appear anywhere on this list. So what reason on earth do you have to
> assert that it exists?

When the alien says "I feel that pleasant feeling", he is just
saying that he knows that chain of events is happening
in his body right now. Suppose you are watching him with
equipments that let you know that same thing. Could you
also say "I feel that pleasant feeling" too? Why not, if there
is nothing beyond the chain of events? What could make the
alien's knowledge different from yours? One obvious answer
is that "he is the organism where those events are happening".
But this means that each organism is entitled to "feel
something" about himself , an experience that is inaccesible to
others, no matter how comprehensive their knowledge is. But
that is something that you are claiming that does not exist.
How can we explain this without something as "qualia"?

Sorry for making so many questions. I don't intend to be
pedantic, but I really don't know the answers.

> Of course subjective experience exists in a way -- but it's just a way
> of talking about things. It isn't a "primitive". When I see red, I
> have a subjective experience of red, sure -- but all this means is just
> that my brain has responded to a certain stimulus in the way it
> normally does.

And maybe it is not all that this means...

Received on Wed Feb 04 2004 - 07:51:53 PST

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