[FoRK] Why is there any experience of it, at all? (was: GEB, etc.)

Russell Turpin <deafbox at hotmail.com> on Mon Jul 9 16:10:18 PDT 2007

Lion Kimbro:
>The hard question of consciousness is, "Why is there any experience of any 
>of it, at all?"

One answer is that subjective experience of one's perceptions are necessary
to communicate with others about them. A thermostat just senses temperature
and responds without knowing what it is doing. Flies likely do much the
same. But consider a more complex animal, that needs to communicate some
internal state. We needn't suddenly jump to people. Consider cats. They
normally play. But suppose one is injured, so normal play results in more
pain than usual. To let its playmates know that, it cannot just respond to
the perception without the response being mediated by somewhat higher
cognitive processes, that allow a response different in that context than
in another context. Such an animal, if it is smart enough, even has the
option of pretending or exaggerating internal states it doesn't experience.
But even for the communication of them, perception has to include sensation,
i.e., awareness of the perception.

That is what always bothered me about the philosophical example of soulless
zombies. There is a very real sense in which we know that the zombies are
indeed experiencing some internal world, merely from the fact that they can
appropriately report on their perceptions. For them to communicate 
and be able to say "I see red" when appropriate, means that they are indeed
aware that they are seeing, and of what color they are seeing, since they
are able to work that into their communication with others. That implies
some internal world, not just perception and reaction.

That doesn't mean that what it is like for a soulless zombie to see red is
what it is like for the rest of us to see red. Perhaps the qualias differ.
Perhaps the experiences differ. Of course, it's also possible that most or
all of us are soulless zombies. I know I see red. I have no way of knowing
whether that experience has the same depth and reality and je ne se quoi as
when some ensouled individual sees red. ;-)


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