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

From: Lee Corbin <>
Date: Sun, 22 May 2005 12:18:08 -0700

Stathis writes

> There are some things that can be known by examination of an object, and
> there are other things that can only be known by being the object.

Okay; but some examples are probably necessary. (1) Only Mozart can
know what it's like for the Mozart auditory system to hear C-sharp
on a harpsichord. (2) only a human being can know the feeling that
a human has at the loss of a family member.

(Those are the best I could do; can anybody come up with better ones?)

Note that my first example had this same peculiar linguistic structure
of "what-it-is-like-to-be". Not necessarily an indictment; but
something to notice. As for my second example: are feelings knowledge?

> When the object is a human brain, this latter class of things
> is consciousness. (When the object is something else, this
> latter class of thing is... well, how would I know?)

> I think that the distinction between these two types of knowledge
> is surprising, and I would never have noticed it had I not been
> conscious myself.

As you write (below), it's possibly debatable whether this
really is *knowledge*. Certainly it does not resemble the
usual kind of knowledge that is communicated from one person
to another. But here is my analysis of what knowledge is:

Knowledge is an internal map of something usually outside
of the skin. But then, a gunshot patient may also obtain
knowledge provided by his doctors of the exact location of
a bullet in his brain. Still, this is *knowledge* of what
conditions obtain in the physical world, encoded into a
yet different area of the patient's brain.

Are there other examples of knowledge? This is important
because, of course, one may be pressed to make the case
for consciousness *itself* to provide special knowledge
(of the non-communicable variety).
> The response of those who think that consciousness is nothing special to the
> above is that it is not surprising that there is a difference between a
> description of an object and the object itself, and that what I have called
> "knowledge" in reference to conscious experiences is not really knowledge,
> but part of the package that comes with being a thing. I can't really argue
> against this; as I said, it is just a different way of looking at the same
> facts.

Good. You anticipated my question. But your answer is oddly
interesting in a certain way: I would never have conflated this
question about "what is knowledge" with the difference between
"the description of an object" and "the object itself". Yet, it's
true: they are both examples of "the map" versus "the territory".

I wonder if this knower/known distinction can help even further.
After all, I might claim that in all the cases of this suspicious
different kind of "knowledge", it's as if those who see "the problem"
are trying to establish this difference between the knower and
the known in a case in which there isn't any actual difference.

In fact, the whole erection of the notion of *qualia* seems now
to me to be an effort to impose the knower/known dichotomy where
it doesn't apply. Hence the peculiar English language construction
of "what it is like to be a...".

(A good test to apply to doubtful cases where there may simply
be a semantic problem is to demand restatement using other terms.
For example, I am highly critical of the word "rights" used in
the abstract, such as "what gives X the right to do A?". So I
challenge people to try to say the same thing without using
the word "right". As near as I recall, they don't succeed without
greatly reducing the impact of what they want to say. So perhaps
a good challenge is this: we could try to articulate Nagel's
question without the construction "what it is like to be...".)

> Much has been written about particular formulations of the mind/body problem
> (or, if you prefer, "problem"). For example, Douglas Hofstadter's commentary
> on Thomas Nagel's famous essay, "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" (which I
> looked up at your suggestion) makes the point that the logic of the titular
> question itself is muddled: if Nagel were a bat, he would not be Nagel, and
> he would therefore not be Nagel asking the question. If Nagel were actually
> asking what it would be like for him to stay Nagel and experience being a
> bat, perhaps by having his brain stimulated in a batty way, then that is (a)
> a different question, and (b) in theory possible, and not the intractable
> problem originally advertised. This is fair enough, so I shall try to avoid
> talking about qualia in the way Nagel does. However, I can't get rid of the
> idea that there is something special and fundamental about first person
> experience.

Yeah! I know the feeling! :-) I myself can't shake the feeling
that there *isn't* anything special about first person experience.

Thanks very much both for your effort to consult that source,
and, as usual, your perceptiveness and eloquence in explicating
a difficult matter.

Received on Sun May 22 2005 - 15:21:08 PDT

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