[FoRK] The State of Consciousness Studies

Stephen D. Williams <sdw at lig.net> on Mon Jul 16 17:26:16 PDT 2007

Lion Kimbro wrote:
>  Honestly, when I read your post, I think you're just
>  as confused as you seem to believe that I am.
If you say so.  I don't think I'm confused.
>  * You regularly confuse behavior for consciousness.
I say that certain behavior indicates consciousness.
>   * You don't understand the difference between the hard
>    problem from the soft problem.
The only difference is one of a meta / derivative kind of level of 
abstraction.  It has been theorized that humans developed higher mental 
abilities so that they could predict the world better and reason about 
the mental state and intentionality of both animals and other humans.  
This has great survival value.  "The God Delusion" - Dawkins covers this 

> The term *hard problem of consciousness*, coined by David Chalmers 
> <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Chalmers>^[1] 
> <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_problem_of_consciousness#_note-0> , 
> refers to the "hard problem" of explaining why we have qualitative 
> phenomenal experiences 
> <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consciousness#Phenomenal_and_access_consciousness>. 
> It is contrasted with the "easy problems" of explaining the ability to 
> discriminate, integrate information, report mental states, focus 
> attention, etc. Easy problems are easy because all that is required 
> for their solution is to specify a mechanism that can perform the 
> function. Hard problems are distinct from this set because they 
> "persist even when the performance of all the relevant functions is 
> explained".^[2] 
> <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_problem_of_consciousness#_note-1> .
> Various formulations of the "hard problem":
>     * "Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life
>       at all?"
>     * "How is it that some organisms are subjects of experience?"
>     * "Why does awareness of sensory information exist at all?"
>     * "Why do qualia <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qualia> exist?"
>     * "Why is there a subjective component to experience?"
>     * "Why aren't we philosophical zombies
>       <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophical_zombie>?"
>     * "There is something it is like to be a bat", or other conscious
>       organism (Thomas Nagel <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Nagel>)
> ^...
According to
the opposite of "hard" is "access".

The so-called "hard problem" is a trivial pursuit as far as I can see.  
As noted on Wikipedia, the definition of "qualia" varies widely based on 
speaker, but I think this would match some definitions:  I could design 
a robot that uses a randomly chosen-at-birth symbol and scale (linear, 
non-linear, random, noisy, inverted, notched, etc.) system for various 
senses.  Two of these robots would have different qualia but could have 
a general enough sensory processing system to learn to operate the same 
way (with limits of noise, missing information, etc.).

I have a good friend who mentioned one day that he has a congenital 
condition where he sees purple spots, like bad pixels, all through his 
vision.  He has always been this way and didn't realize for a long time 
that other people didn't also see those dots.  I've searched and found 
no mention of this on Medline, Google, or anywhere.  Even though it is 
hard for me to imagine this, he explained it well enough for me to get 
the idea and for me to ask questions to try to determine, physically, 
where it was happening.
>  * You don't even care about the question of Consciousness;
>    You simply are operating from, "Science has the answers
>    to everything;  What's important here is that people aren't
>    confused, and talk about consciousness confuses people."
I don't have a problem with people being confused, just with confusing 
people with nonsense.
Many people lack a well-developed BS detector. (Nonsense (NS) is a 
subset of BS.)  Critical thinking, science, and most business is all 
about BS detection.
> You don't even know the first things about these debates.
If your discussion has any accuracy, I have learned quite enough about them.
> You don't even see "the point" in any of this?  This is as laughable
>  as your belief that Greek philosophers have nothing worth
>  understanding.  As far as I can tell, you, like Megatron, believe
>  that there's nothing but accumulation of power, utility, and 
> "rationality."
>  Again, you fail to see that all rationality is towards irrational ends.
I didn't say they had nothing worth understanding.  Your mental summary 
of what I said might say that, but my statement was more nuanced.
> I see clearly why many anti-transhumanists distrust the
>  transhumanists.  I'm not one of those, but I can see their point.
>  You leap to conclusions;  No, I don't believe that "God" is
>  Consciousness, though I can understand how people might
>  name Consciousness God.  I have no single definition of God;
>  God is a term that is applied in many contexts for different
>  purposes.
I indicated that it seems that part of your justification for believing 
(theistically / pan-theistically) was your conceptions of 
consciousness.  You are free to disavow that impression, but instead you 
have created a strawman that is not what I said.
>  You appear to me like a scared little boy, or like young Francis
>  Crick, furious with his elders, striving to do science to prove
>  them wrong.  I'm glad he found DNA, it was a wonderful
Heh.  Interesting choice.  "He turned out to be right, but he was a bad 
boy anyway for bucking the Sacred Thinkers."
Scared?  Little boy?  Lol...
>  contribution.  But I'll look to Chalmers and crew for the discoveries
>  in Consciousness, which will require equal parts philosophy and
>  hard science to make any headway into.
I'll look to critical thinking and, from what I can see so far, reject 
Chalmers along with Tipler and other muddled thinkers.  (Tipler seemed 
to start at a reasonable mind exercise and then drank too much of his 
coolaid and slipped into the deep end.)
>   On the subject of Consciousness--
>  You guys REALLY need to get a grip.  One guy here said
>  that "The actions of Neurons **IS** Consciousness."
>  Thus there's no explanatory gap, and thus there's nothing
>  to be understood.  It's just false dualism.
Sounds good to me.
>  This is an absolutely absurd argument, and I can't believe
>  that Jeff Bone labeled it "cogent." (Or at least, I infer that he
>  did.)
>  An experience in the head is a **dramatically** different thing
>  than a brain in the hand.
A brain in the hand is dead.
>  If you're holding a brain, that's one thing.  A brain is a material
>  thing.  It has weight, substance, and so on.
>  An experience is another thing entirely.  We cannot point
>  to an experience.  We cannot locate it in space.  It's the most
>  intimate part of our existence.
We cannot point to the Internet.  We cannot point to programs running on 
a CPU.  We cannot...
Wait, yes we can.  We can even take an EEG and show brain waves, O2 
uptake, etc.  We can study how memory, senses, emotions, etc. work.  A 
modern computer processor is already too complicated for hardware ICE 
(in-circuit-emulator, I used real ICE for Z80's in 1984.)  Just because 
our brain is too complicated, integrated, sensitive, and wet for us to 
debug and trace directly does not make it a metaphysical miracle.
>  We understand clearly that the organ of the brain is tied
>  to our experience.  We have good reason to believe that for
>  every thought we experience, every vision we see, that there
>  is a circuit moving in the brain, and that, furthermore, we will
>  be able to track it down and watch it happen.
We may never be able to track it down and watch it happen.  So what?  
Mind probes, in a deep sense, may never happen until we start merging 
circuitry with our brains, which may also never happen.  So what?
>  Is all this talk of consciousness "unnecessary dualism?"
>  Are we positing a mental world of mental stuff, that then
>  transmits information down to the brain?
>  When people dismiss dualism, they are dismissing this
>  notion of an "other world."
Depends on what you mean of the "other world".  If you mean spirit 
world, which is one thing that dualism can refer to, then yes, I dismiss it.
>  But a new distinction has come, called "property dualism."
>  And it says, "Conscious experience" is a different thing
>  than "The motion of brains."
> Non-reductive physicalism is the predominant contemporary form of 
> property dualism according to which mental properties are in some 
> sense identical with neurobiological 
> <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neurobiological> properties, but are not 
> reducible <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reducible> to them.
> Reductive physicalists <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physicalism>, by 
> contrast, maintain that mental properties are entirely reducible to 
> neurobiological properties, in much the same way that water is 
> reducible to H_2 0 and light is reducible to electro-magnetic 
> radiation. Mental properties, it will turn out, are nothing over and 
> above the various physical states of the brain.
> Non-reductive physicalists deny that mental properties are reducible 
> to physical properties in this manner. They maintain that mental 
> properties /are/ something over and above their neurobiological 
> counterparts, comprising their own ontological 
> <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontological> class of property.

You seem to be referring to "non-reductive physicalism", which I think 
is nonsense.
I am a reductive physicalist, by which I fully expect that there are 
various emergent properties and don't expect to find neat, untangled, 
simple mechanisms for things.  Non-reductive physicalism seems to be 
divided into "emergent materialism", which is reasonable and refers to 
complexity / form / function issues, and the other more 
mystical-sounding non-reductionism.
>  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Property_dualism
>  This is NOT talk of a "mental plane of existence," or anything
>  like that.  But it is a recognition that conscious experience
>  is actually a different thing than the neural correlate of
>  consciousness.
Why do you think that?  Why do you think that point of view deserves 
Where are the facts?
How do you know?
>  Your temper is hot, I know that.  "This doesn't even matter.
>  I JUST WANT RELIGION TO DIE!  You're confusing people!"
Religion is already dead, many people just don't know it yet.
A number of these theories appear to be trying to sneak the supernatural 
in under the radar.

These various theories require certain assumptions.  Occam's razor, and 
myself, favors the explanation with the simplest assumptions.  You 
haven't provided references or arguments that clearly defend your position.
>  I understand that you're thinking this way, I hear you.
>  I'm even somewhat sympathetic to your line of thought.
>  But I think it's clouding your understanding of the problems of
>  Consciousness, and you're coming unhinged from reality.
In what way?  What specifically?  How will my actions be irrational and 
divorced from reality by not buying into dualism et al?
> When people stubbornly insist that Consciousness is
>  the same as the brain, end of story, no further explanation
>  needed, FULL STOP, --
>  That's just wrong.
Prove it.
>  That's not science.
It's a theory that is consistent with the facts, straightforward, and 
requires no metaphysical leaps.  Sounds like science to me.
>  That's not the science I signed up for, at least.


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