Re: What do you lose if you simply accept...

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Sat, 21 May 2005 13:31:34 +1000

Bruno Marchal wrote:

>Le 20-mai-05, à 02:59, Stathis Papaioannou a écrit :
>>OK then, we agree! It's just that what I (and many others) refer to as
>>qualia, you refer to as the difference between a description of a thing
>>and being the thing. I hate the word "dualism" as much as you do (because
>>of the implication that we may end up philosophically in the 16th century
>>if we yield to it), but haven't you just defined a very fundamental kind
>>of dualism, in aknowledging this difference between a thing and its
>>description? It seems to me, in retrospect, that our whole argument has
>>been one over semantics. Dennett (whom I greatly respect) goes to great
>>lengths to avoid having impure thoughts about something being beyond
>>empirical science or logic. David Chalmers ("The Conscious Mind", 1996)
>>accepts that it is actually simpler to admit that consciousness is just
>>an irreducible part of physical existence. We accept that quarks, or
>>bitstrings, or whatever are irreducible, so why is it any different to
>>accept consciousness or
>>something (which is more of a mouthful) on the same basis?
>Yes but then why not take everything for granted. I do think Chalmers just
>abandons rationalism, unlike Dennett in Brainstorms (but then a little bit
>too in "Consciousness explained" ... explained away as he realises himself
>at the end of the book (at last).
>Frankly Stathis, is that is your last move, I prefer the short answer by
>Norman Samish's wife: "because".

People certainly seem to take their consciousness seriously on this list!
I've now managed to alienate both the "consciousness doesn't really exist"
and the "it exists and we can explain it" factions. I did not mean that
there is no explanation possible for consciousness. It is likely that in the
course of time the neuronal mechanisms behind the phenomenon will be worked
out and it will be possible to build intelligent, conscious machines.
Imagine that advanced aliens have already achieved this through
surreptitious study of humans over a number of decades. Their models of
human brain function are so good that by running an emulation of one or more
humans and their environment they can predict their behaviour better than
the humans can themselves. Now, I think you will agree (although Jonathan
Colvin may not) that despite this excellent understanding of the processes
giving rise to human conscious experience, the aliens may still have
absolutely no idea what the experience is actually like. For example, if
they lack any sense of vision, they cannot possibly know what it is like to
see red. This is the difference between 1st person and 3rd person
experience. At this point, Bruno, you may go further and say that the
1st/3rd person difference is not irreducible or inexplicable, but can be
shown to be a theorem in mathematical logic. This is a spectacular result,
and it is at a deeper explanatory level than the description of the neural
or computational basis of 1st person experience. However, does it help our
blind aliens understand what it is like for a human to see red? It is that
aspect of 1st person experience which cannot possibly be understood or
communicated in any way other than through oneself *being* the system that
has the experience which Chalmers calls the "hard problem" of consciousness.

--Stathis Papaioannou

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Received on Fri May 20 2005 - 23:39:36 PDT

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