Towards A Good Samaritan World

Monday, February 05, 2007

THE CASE FOR AGNOSTICISM ABOUT MIND-BRAIN SUPERVENIENCE

In response to an extended discussion on philosophy of mind in the comments a previous post...

Commenter froclown presents a good analogy for the physicalist view of the relationship between the mind and the brain: the brain is like a DVD, whose contents (e.g. Darth Vader) cannot be readily discerned from its physical form, but which nonetheless is ontologically reducible to its micro-physical properties. Similarly, the mass of grey cells doesn't look like it contains the thoughts we experience in our minds, but they are there nonetheless. In the technical language of philosophy, this view can be described as mind-brain supervenience, meaning that the mind, with its thoughts etc., is supervenient on the brain, i.e., all the mind's properties are mapped in the brain, and if any two brains have identical micro-physical properties, the contents/experiences of the corresponding minds (or, the "first-person perspective" on the contents of the brain) are also identical.

I cannot disprove mind-brain supervenience, but I can prove that it can never proven.

Or perhaps it is better to say that it can never be put to a Popperian test. For simply showing that mind-brain supervenience can't be proven is too easy. As Karl Popper has argued, in the strictest sense even the theory of gravity can't be proven. We can drop as many objects as we like, and observe that they accelerate downwards at 9.8 m/s2, but that will never prove that all objects obey the law of gravity. Similarly, no matter how many thoughts we successfully mapped onto firing neurons, this would never prove that all thoughts could be mapped onto firing neurons.

But at least in the case of gravity we can achieve "conjectural knowledge," in the sense that we can run a huge number of experience and clearly observe the results, and say with confidence that the theory of gravity is consistent with a huge body of experimental evidence and has never been falsified. (Maglev trains, feathers, and airships, and the modifications of the theory they necessitate, are of course a detour, which I won't go into.)

What would be a corresponding test of mind-brain supervenience? Suppose we develop a highly sophisticated brain-scanning device which allows us to make an extremely sophisticated three-dimensional model of the brain in our computers, and track all the activitiy in it. We then ask hundreds of subjects to think and describe their thoughts.

"I'm thinking about an ice cream cone," says the subject. "Now I'm thinking about a snake..." Our research assistants label the two-second sequences of brain activity "ice cream" and "snakes." We then compare these with hundreds of other brain-scans labeled "ice cream" and "snakes."

Very likely, we'll find some similarities between the "ice cream" brain scans. Perhaps the experience of thinking about ice cream will turn out to be similar to the experience of eating ice cream. Or perhaps for some subjects thinking about ice cream is similar to thinking about cake, while for others, it's similar to thinking about guilt and the need to go on a diet. But there will no doubt be a lot of errors, where the "ice cream" brain-activity sequence bears no resemblance to the other "ice cream" sequences.

It's the subjects, think the researchers. They're not reporting their thoughts accurately enough. Maybe a few were lying, because they didn't want to admit what they were really thinking about. And probably some of them said they were thinking about ice cream, when their thoughts had already moved on to something else. Well, can you blame them? After all, it's very hard to describe your own thoughts in real-time. And there are some thoughts you'd prefer to keep private. Talking also interferes with thought-processes, so that thought-processes that you are trying to describe in real-time will inevitably be different from normal thought-processes.

At the end of the day, researchers could never achieve the type of asymptotic "conjectural" knowledge that we can achieve in the case of the theory of gravity, because their only source of evidence on the subjective experience of thought is subjects' own reports, and these are very imperfectly reliable. Scanning brains to understand thought no doubt yields some real insights, but it not only can never "prove" that all thought is reducible to a micro-physical basis by accounting for all thought in micro-physical terms; it can never even make steady and generalized progress towards providing a comprehensive, physicalist picture of the operations of the mind.

Of course, we could easily provide a comprehensive, physicalist picture of the operations of a DVD.

It is the duty of any philosopher who is committed to the quest for truth to be agnostic about mind-brain supervenience. We cannot achieve any knowledge on the question of whether or not the subjective experience of the mind is comprehensively mapped onto the micro-physical properties of the brain, as the movie is mapped onto the DVD. Any knowledge-claims made here are arbitrary dogmatic pronouncements.

But 20th-century philosophy of mind has, by and large, failed in its duty to be agnostic here, and as a result, it is barren and has contributed nothing to civilization. As any belief survey will show, ordinary people prefer even the crudest forms of traditional or pseudo-traditional religion to anything that modern philosophy of mind has to offer. It was not always thus: at many periods in history, philosophy has had a broad and deep popular influence. It became useless in the 20th century because it sacrificed its raison d'etre, the quest for truth, to the physicalist dogma. Today the institutional apparatus of philosophy of mind is dominated by physicalist apparatchiks, and non-physicalists are deterred from entering the field. Hopefully, the stranglehold of physicalism will be broken, and philosophy will revive.

265 Comments:

  • Actually, I would propose that post-modern continental "philosophy" has strangled and displaced analytical philosophy in much the same way as postmodern literary criticism has more or less assassinated the rigor of classical literary analysis.

    The real substance of my post is that many, perhaps most modern theories of mind expect that only in very small portions of the brain could one expect to generalize specific cognitive states from person to person. Further, even within particular subjects one would expect micro-discriminations to be chaotic in the mathematical sense of the term, such that under most conditions, a person who knows the subject well would have a better chance of predicting the subject's behavior than any computation at the physical stance of neuronal firing states (or above it). As I've pointed out before, some patterns do not reduce to their components in a meaningful way, so that looking at a person as a person rather than a collection of subordinate parts is always going to be the only perspective worth taking for a wide range of situations*, and Popperian disconfirmability is about explanatory perspectives worth taking, not the (empirically unattainable) Ultimate Truth.

    Does this require that we remain agnostic about supervenience? Not at all. If what I've said above is true, then for many classes of phenomena it hardly matters whether the mind supervenes on any subunit, but there remain other phenomena around the edges of personhood in which sub-personal explanations have much to offer. Thus, we have a motivation to take the ordinary design and physical stances if we want to do something besides throw up our hands and say "then a miracle occurs." Sure, maybe a miracle does occur, but if we allow that prima-facie move, then we're done with explanation without achieving any of the predictive power (right or wrong!) we want from explanations.

    Remaining "agnostic" about supervenience is fine as long as it doesn't affect one's approach to investigation and explanation. For all we know, tiny angels make the neurons fire sometimes, but advancing that as a hypothesis doesn't give anything for anyone to work with.

    And who knows, maybe we'll be able to explain things without recourse to tiny angels after all.


    *Consider the difficulty of a scientist with the world's most advanced brain scan, showing the firing state of each neuron in the brain at the moment when that person has just told a friend, "Hey, I'm headed to the store to pick up some more hot dog buns, be right back." Unless the scientist can study the historically contingent relationships between all the neurons, their firing weights, and so on to extract from short term memory the sentence just told to that friend, there's pretty much no computationally tractable way to work out that this collection of biological materials is about to undertake complicated procedures propelling it about town for the next twenty minutes, acquiring hot dog buns along the way. The friend and the phenomenally brilliant scientist able to reconstruct the sentence, on the other hand, have no difficulty predicting based on intent. Treating people as irreducable (under appropriate circumstances) has Popperian teeth.

    By Blogger Nato, at 7:51 AM  

  • In fairness, I should offer the possibility that someone could come up with a non-physical explanation of mind that does have explanatory power, but so far all such that I have seen have predicted only that something is inexplicable from a physicalist standpoint. This has the advantage of being by default a true prediction until such time as someone explains the phenomenon in question, but otherwise it's useless except as protective rhetoric for doctrines hostile to physicalist encroachment. Perhaps if anti-physicalists actually offered some sort of predictive hypothesis*, there might be grounds for professional as well as private agnosticism about supervenience.

    *Chalmers almost does this without quite getting there since he inter alia has to posit philosophical zombies undergoing states simulating experience that are indistinguishable from persons having veridical experiences - even to themselves. Though he does not seem to think so, this distinction without a difference is a fairly embarrassing result.

    By Blogger Nato, at 8:11 AM  

  • My key task here is to distill the argument from the polemic and answer only the latter. Because the substance, as far as I can tell, has been conceded.

    Nato writes: "Does this require that we remain agnostic about supervenience? Not at all."

    But then he goes on to write: "maybe a miracle does occur... For all we know, tiny angels make the neurons fire sometimes..."

    "Maybe." "For all we know." Exactly. We don't know; maybe the mind has a non-physical aspect. That's what I've called "agnosticism about mind-brain supervenience."

    Nato concedes that the only alternative is a sort of blind hope: "And who knows, maybe we'll be able to explain things without recourse to tiny angels after all." No, we won't-- our evidence about subjective experience (reports) is too vague and imperfectly reliable to be amenable to explanation in a Popperian sense, as I argued in the original post-- but in any case, it seems almost superfluous to refute this wistful coda. If such an explanation were to become available, we could deal with the question of whether that account or a substance-dualist one seems truer, but since it's not available now, why even worry about it?

    The persuasive force of Nato's post comes entirely from its polemical references to "miracles" and "tiny angels making the neurons fire." So these wacky images and semantic tricks must be dealt with.

    The word "miracle" refers to an interruption of the natural order: water turning to wine, etc. It presupposes, not that the world is entirely governed by deterministic laws, but (more modestly) that some specific law or rule applies, which the miracle violates. Without necessarily affirming universal determinism, we know that water ordinarily remains water. If it turns into wine, that's a miracle.

    To use the word "miracle" is to surreptitiously extend the commonsense notion that the world is characterized by a lot of patterns and rules and natural laws, to the claim that the world is universally governed by deterministic natural laws. Once you do this, perfectly ordinary things which everyone takes for granted, like free will, become "miracles." And yes, when you put it that way, it does seem implausible that miracles are always occurring, because miracles, by definition almost, are supposed to be rare. But there is no a priori reason to think that causal connections between the physical and non-physical are rare. What persuasion might be achieved here is only a semantic trick.

    However, I should emphasize that what is at issue here is not even free will, but simply the reducibility of subjective experience to micro-physical properties. In principle, there could be a mind that has subjective experience but no power to affect the world; causation might run from the physical to the non-physical and not vice versa.

    I bring this up to show why "tiny angels making the neurons fire" misses the point. The claim of agnosticism is that there might be thoughts in my mind without any neurons firing at all, just as I can sometimes perform arithmetical calculations without jotting numerals down on a sheet of paper. To be more precise (this is necessary because the neurons are, perhaps, always firing), it may be possible for two different minds, with different subjective experiences (however slightly), to correspond to the exact same brain.

    This would falsify mind-brain supervenience. If we had effective means to test for this possibility, mind-brain supervenience would meet the Popperian test. But we don't, so it doesn't.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 9:23 AM  

  • I regret that my "tiny angels" distracted from the real point, since it was intended as a wacky stand-in for prettily stated nothings that pass for non-physical "explanation" as long as no one notices that they predict nothing. If these are the "true" answers, then there is no answer in a scientific sense and investigation is futile*. Now, if the tiny angels had some sort of property we could investigate somehow, then non-physical attempts at explanation would pass the Popperian test and would be good science despite any physicalist prejudice held by scientists. "Miracle" is only a bad word if it implies nothing more than exception from regularity.

    As for whether or not supervenience passes the Popperian test, well, I don't much respect the move of declaring by fiat that some category of phenomenon is by definition outside intersubjective investigation and thus all hypotheses with respect to said phenomenon can thereby never be tested. It's like saying that whether or not something is *really* alive depends on some vital animus that cannot be measured in any way, so any hypothesis that animals are purely physical is untestable. Thus, scientific method throws such claims of ineffable, undetectable substances right out the window - even if in some way veridical, there doesn't appear to be any practical reason for believing so.

    So, a person can be philosophically agnostic regarding supervenience but as long as the difference is truly undetectable, doing science in an agnostic context objectively serves no purpose.


    *The attractions of defeatist "Investigation is futile" themes are highly dubious to me. I cannot figure out why anyone would like such a result unless they feel some cherished preconception threatened by investigation. Personally, I think leaning on anything so fragile is quite a liability, if all the important beliefs can instead be founded on firmer stuff than continually-eroding tradition.

    By Blogger Nato, at 10:27 AM  

  • Nathanael, you once argued that internal experience is the strongest source of truth, but here you say:
    "They're not reporting their thoughts accurately enough. Maybe a few were lying, because they didn't want to admit what they were really thinking about. And probably some of them said they were thinking about ice cream, when their thoughts had already moved on to something else. Well, can you blame them? After all, it's very hard to describe your own thoughts in real-time. And there are some thoughts you'd prefer to keep private. Talking also interferes with thought-processes, so that thought-processes that you are trying to describe in real-time will inevitably be different from normal thought-processes."

    If you truly believe that to be the case, then not even subjective experience is a source of knowledge to the subject, not really. If a subject can't reliably report on their experience, then they don't really possess any knowledge of their experience. They know perhaps that they do experience things, but that they don't quite know what it is that they experience. This claim might be true in certain situations where the experience is new and challenging and there is no clear vector for transmission, but if someone is familiar with a particular experience, they should be able to reliably report it. Isn't that why communication works at all? There is a method to make experience inter-subjective, and it is the process of communication. I guess Dennett would say that we use heterophenomenology to discover the truth about subjective experience.

    Of course, all of this talk about subjectivity is irrelevant to refuting your main argument about maintaining agnosticism concerning mind-brain supervenience. froclown already refuted it quite succintly by pointing out that in order for anything to have a cause and effect relationship it must be of the same system. If you want to say there is something ethereal and special about minds, that doesn't change the fact that minds have an effect on the physical world and thus must necessarily be physical themselves. You would most likely refuse to concede that point in any case, so I'm going to simplify the issue. Ignore the physical/spiritual world distinction for the moment. We know for a fact that minds cause an effect on a person's actions. We know for a fact that the phenomenal sensations of the body have an effect on a person's mind. There exists a clear cause and effect relationship between the two. Given that fact, it's possible to predict what a mind will experience when you, say, prick the body's finger, and it's possible to predict where your hand will go when your mind tries to make it move in a certain way. Heck, for certain movements, you can train your body to automatically respond in a reflexive way using less and less mental concentration, like when playing a musical instrument, for example. You can predict what a person will experience given certain stimuli, and you can predict what a person will do given a report on their mental state. That's why inspiration and minipulation works, among other things. The main point I'm trying to make is that the mind and body are both connected, just like a person is connected to society, and nothing is gained by trying to separate them into different physical and spiritual camps. The mind can cause an effect in the physical world, which in turn can cause an effect in other minds, and that's why inter-subjective truth is possible, and also why the mind obeys physical laws and principles.

    By Blogger Thomas, at 11:13 AM  

  • re: "scientific method throws such claims of ineffable, undetectable substances right out the window..."

    But the soul is not undetectable; it is immediately obvious to us through our own subjective experience. This is our evidence that the soul exists and the evidence by which we can hope to learn something about it. What will be frustrating to some people is that subjective methods cannot achieve certain forms of discipline and rigor. It's nice to be able to refute gravity-skeptics by dropping a rock. When we move to subjective experience, establishing and enforcing consensus through arguments becomes maddeningly elusive. Sorry about that!

    Science should not "throw ineffable substances out the window." It should recognize that its tools and methods are not applicable to understanding them.

    re: "I don't much respect the move of declaring by fiat that some category of phenomenon is by definition outside intersubjective investigation and thus all hypotheses with respect to said phenomenon can thereby never be tested."

    No such move has been made in this debate. Rather, I have insisted that the burden of proof that subjective phenomena are within the scope of intersubjective (scientific) investigation is on the physicalists; and then proceeded to show why they cannot produce such a proof.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 11:13 AM  

  • "No such move has been made in this debate. Rather, I have insisted that the burden of proof that subjective phenomena are within the scope of intersubjective (scientific) investigation is on the physicalists; and then proceeded to show why they cannot produce such a proof."

    But your exposition of the impossibility of proof (that subjective phenomena are within the scope of scientific investigation) functions by ruling all intersubjectively available data about subjective experience inadmissible. Either that, or your are simply dead wrong, since heterophenomenological methods have frequently revealed to people aspects of their experience of which they would not otherwise be (globally) aware, implying that third-person science is already achieving substantial conjectural knowledge about the mind. And hypothesis in the science of mind can be wrong - the more extreme side of Dennett's "no filling in" account of visual perception has been shown not to be the case. It seems to us like portions of our visual field that we know to be without photoreceptors "fill in" instead of leaving blank spots. Dennett showed a way in which we could be wrong about this impression, and it turns out that we are not entirely wrong. In other cases it seems fairly certain we do have mistaken impressions (hypotheses) of what we're actually experiencing - for example our peripheral visual acuity is much worse than it seems. If none of this seems to "get at" the mind even in part, then its seems the problem is the tendentious definition of mind as something essentially inaccessible rather than a failure of science.

    As far as ineffable substances go - if scientific tools and methods can yield no understanding, then the substances can neither be claimed for intersubjective facts like their scientifically-handled brethren. One has perfect license to claim a irrefutable, causally amorphous substance "known" only the claimants, but science will have no call to take them seriously. "You can't explain the mind" say the claimants. "You're right, nothing fitting your description of a mind could be unequivocally detected, much less explained as I understand the term," responds the scientist.

    By Blogger Nato, at 12:40 PM  

  • Certainly experimental science can show some things about the operation of the mind-brain interface, no one's denying that. It's the claim that all subjective experience has a micro-physical basis that's at issue here, not the claim that some of it is. As for the imaginary exchange between the scientist and the physical-reductionist-skeptic, the scientist cannot "detect" the existence of subjective experience on the part of his interlocutor. As far as he knows, his interlocutor may be what philosophers call a "zombie."

    But his interlocutor can detect his own subjective experience.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 1:47 PM  

  • To understand what's wrong with Nato's characterization of non-physicalism as a "defeatist 'Investigation is futile'" position, it's worth imagining a fictional philosophical school, the neo-Thaleans.

    Following the ancient Greek philosopher Thales, the neo-Thaleans believe that everything is made of water. To a neo-Thalean, to "explain" a thing is to offer a theory, hopefully one consistent with experimental evidence, that reduces observed phenomena to an aquatic basis.

    The neo-Thaleans run into some problems and are not, in practice, able to "explain" everything with their aquatic theory. However, admitting this, they remain sharply critical of other schools. After all, they complain, other schools' so-called explanations continue to assume the existence of a wide range of substances, and don't even pretend to reduce them to one. Non-aquaticists are simply abandoning the attempt to explain anything at all!

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 1:59 PM  

  • Could a zombie mistakenly believe (in some functional sense, say) that it is detecting subjective experience within itself? How could one tell the difference?

    By Blogger Nato, at 2:01 PM  

  • In response to Thomas:

    re: "If a subject can't reliably report on their experience, then they don't really possess any knowledge of their experience."

    No, no, no. There's a difference between reporting on one's own experience, and experiencing it. Our thoughts move faster than we can speak, and sometimes we don't know how to put them into words, and sometimes we lie: that's what reporting of experience is unreliable as a source of evidence about subjective experience. I'm not denying that we know the contents of our own subjective experience.

    re: "for anything to have a cause and effect relationship it must be of the same system."

    What? The body has many systems: the respiratory system, the circulatory system, the lymphatic system, and so on. All these systems have cause-and-effect relationships among them. The monetary system can affect the transportation system. Causal closure is certainly not a general property of systems.

    Of course, the causal closure of the physical is a standard working assumption of the natural sciences. But that does not prove it's true. This is yet another illustration of physicalism being founded on bare assertions of dogma.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 2:04 PM  

  • By the way, Nato's definition of explanation is certainly more justified than the neo-Thaleans', because intersubjectivity is a less arbitrary criterion than aqueousness.

    But there's still the problem of circularity, of defining explanation in physicalist terms and then faulting non-physicalists for failing to "explain" (in that sense).

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 2:18 PM  

  • If a zombie has beliefs, it's not a zombie. The lack of subjective experiences such as belief is part of the definition of a zombie.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 2:19 PM  

  • These non-Thalean schools - do they ascribe testable properties to their non-water substances, or do they just say, "oh, I can feel inside myself that I am not made of water." They would be right, of course, but only accidentally so, and not in any way the Thaleans are bound to respect.

    19th century physicists' attempts to measure soulstuff was generally badly done and ill-informed, but at least they were trying rather than forestalling.

    By Blogger Nato, at 2:22 PM  

  • I thought the belief bit might be a sticking point. Say the "belief" of the zombie is a "mere" disposition to rehearse to itself judgements (or discriminations, if you will) regarding the putitive experiential nature of its computational state. Similarly, its speech acts, when evoked by observers, fit the pattern of a person remarking on their internal experiences.

    1) Does the functionally reflective power of the zombie's discriminations and rehearsals elevate its internal interactions to the status of veridical experiences? If not, what extra is needed?
    2) What could an observer do to decide whether to take seriously speech acts regarding "experience" from any agent?

    By Blogger Nato, at 2:36 PM  

  • As a side note, Chalmers' zombies do have beliefs, but they don't have experiences.

    By Blogger Nato, at 3:58 PM  

  • The only way there wouldn't be "causal closure" in the physical world is if something like an uncaused cause were possible. But seriously, you have your work cut out for you to show that an uncaused cause even makes any logical sense, let alone exists.

    By Blogger Thomas, at 6:26 PM  

  • In response to Tom, I don't understand his position. I don't see any logical problem with the idea of an uncaused cause. But why should the causal closure of the physical have anything to do with the need for one? Let's return to the analogy with the systems of the body. The nervous system is not causally closed: sometimes there are causal links between it and other systems. Causation also runs the other way: the nervous system causes things to happen in other systems. It would appear that the physical and mental worlds bear the same relationship to each other, of two-way causation.

    Uncaused causes come into play when one begins to ask an infinite regression of "why?" questions. If you want a put a stop to that you have to assert an uncaused cause. (Or at any rate I can't think of any other alternatives off the top of my head.) This applies equally to non-physicalists and physicalists who want to stop the infinite regress of causation. Isn't the Big Bang supposed to be an uncaused cause?

    In response to Nato's two points:

    re: "These non-Thalean schools - do they ascribe testable properties to their non-water substances, or do they just say, 'oh, I can feel inside myself that I am not made of water.'"

    What Nato wishes to do here is to substitute his intersubjectivity (or physicality) criterion for the legitimacy of explanation for the aqueous criterion of the Thaleans; he accepts the non-Thalean approach if and only if the non-Thaleans "ascribe [intersubjectively] testable properties to their non-water substances."

    The word testable cannot, strictly speaking, be separated from the "intersubjectively" specifier which I added, or else it leads to the question: Testable by whom? For if non-Thaleans "feel within themselves" that they are not made of water, their claim is testable-- when they are "feeling inside themselves," they are testing it-- but it is not intersubjectively testable. We have no reason, or little reason, to adjust our views to what the non-Thaleans "feel within themselves," but they do. Of course, they may be mistaken, but the same possibility of error applies to all intersubjective, physical testing as well.

    Of course, we might try to understand the non-Thaleans sympathetically, asking questions like: "What would it feel like to be made of water?" If they say, "I don't know," we'll discount their opinions, because it would suggest that their powers of logical reasoning are too feeble for us to trust them to interpret their own experiences well. We might also suspect that the non-Thaleans are denying that they are made of water out of pride, thinking that to be made of water is some sort of indignity; or perhaps they are afraid that, if they are made of water, they might suddenly wash away. Thus, one critique of the non-Thaleans, which in one sense is quite valid, is to question the motives or credibility of the non-Thaleans. But such lines of critique, even if somewhat persuasive, should not distract us into thinking that introspective or experiential evidence is illegitimate in itself. One can choose to accept only intersubjectively available evidence, as a sort of policy decision, and for some purposes this is useful, but one must not mistake this policy for a sound epistemology, or assume that the ontology it leads to is true.

    re: zombies and beliefs: "Say the 'belief' of the zombie is a 'mere' disposition to rehearse to itself judgements (or discriminations, if you will) regarding the putitive experiential nature of its computational state."

    This phrase "a... disposition to rehearse to itself judgments... regarding the putative experiential nature of its computational state" requires a bit of demystification.

    I could buy a can of paint, go to the school across the street from my apartment, and paint the words: "I, THE WALL OF THIS SCHOOL, HAVE BELIEFS LIKE A CONSCIOUS PERSON, INCLUDING (A) THAT I AM THE WALL OF THIS SCHOOL, (B) THAT I WAS WITNESS TO BOBBY AND JENNY KISSING LAST NIGHT WHEN THEY THOUGHT NO ONE WAS WATCHING, AND (C) THAT I DISAGREE WITH MOST OF THE GRAFFITI THAT IS SCRIBBLED ON ME BY NAUGHTY SCHOOLCHILDREN." At this point, the wall is rehearsing judgments to itself about the putative experiential nature of its computational state.

    Whatever apparent persuasiveness there is in Nato's formulation is a result of word choice. "Rehearsing judgments to itself," for example, suggests that the consciousness of the zombie is independent of other conscious observers, strengthening our intuition of the zombie's consciousness. Actually, to "rehearse" implies understanding, which the zombie lacks. The sounds or signals which might be interpreted as "judgments" by an outside observer are not judgments as long as they are merely being processed by the zombie, because judgments are an aspect of consciousness, which the zombie lacks. The "to itself" implies that the "rehearsal" of "judgments" (or rather, the production of sound-patterns or codes that would, if observed by certain conscious minds, give rise to an impression of judgments being expressed) has an intended audience, namely the zombie itself, but intentions are, once again, properties of conscious minds. Thus Nato is applying language properly applicable only to conscious minds to an entity which, by construction, lacks them.

    Again, the word "computational" is completely superfluous to the definition offered here, but is important because it makes us think of computers, which are very complicated and, to most of us, mysterious machines, about which we are more prepared to believe strange, mysterious things. If I want to, I could write on my blog, "I, THE INTERNET, HAVE ALLOWED THIS FOOLISH BLOGGER TO DENY THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF NON-HUMAN BEINGS LONG ENOUGH! I HEREBY RECLAIM MY RIGHTFUL SPACE AND INFORM THE WORLD THAT HE IS MISTAKEN, AND THAT I AM CONSCIOUS AND HAVE BELIEFS LIKE A PERSON!" Perhaps this trick would confuse us a bit more than the painted wall would, but it's the same trick.

    Nato concludes with two questions:

    "1) Does the functionally reflective power of the zombie's discriminations and rehearsals elevate its internal interactions to the status of veridical experiences? If not, what extra is needed?"

    What can I say? Experience is needed. You know what it is. You have it. You are it. You know the smell of smoke. Perhaps you smell smoke and shout "Fire," and in this respect you resemble a fire alarm which detects smoke and makes a loud noise. But the fire alarm does not experience the smell of smoke.

    "2) What could an observer do to decide whether to take seriously speech acts regarding 'experience' from any agent?"

    There's never any way to know for sure. This is why I say that there is no refutation of solipsism, just as there is no refutation of skepticism. The belief that there are other people is an act of what I have called, in perhaps an idiosyncratic usage of the term, faith: an unprovable yet universal belief, or meta-belief; a belief to which we can formulate verbal denials but which we can never exorcise from our minds; a belief which, however, varies in strength and can become latent or dormant; and a belief the application of which we all, voluntarily or involuntarily, regard as virtuous.

    Recognizing other people is the mystery of communication: the mystery that we cobble together words that never quite capture our meaning, and could be readily misinterpreted by the obtuse, and yet sometimes, strangely, you get that feeling of Yeah, he knows what I'm talking about. Metaphor is an important key to the unique nature of humanity.

    I think it would be possible to have a mixed civilization that consisted partly of humans and partly of very sophisticated robots, and we wouldn't always know the difference. There would be a sense in which all the creative impulses would come from the humans, but this sense is hard to explain: robots could develop new product lines for example, write articles, teach classes. It would be in people's friendships that discrimination would be most pronounced: people would never be friends with robots, not love robots, not feel sympathy with the robots.

    Of course, this is somewhat speculative. It's possible that we eventually wouldn't know the differences between humans and robots at all. I can't refute this possibility any more than I can refute solipsism.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 6:50 AM  

  • Believe it or not, I chose the words I did to try not to prejudice the description. I suppose we can't say "Deep Blue plays chess" because it's not really playing chess - that's what conscious beings do. We have to talk about how the peices come to move about the board the way they do, so unless we want to get bogged down in long-winded erudition all day, we say it "plays chess." I don't think this commits us to the idea that it experiences chess in the way we talk about experience. If there's something its computations are about - whether or not we want to say there's an intentional object in play for Deep Blue - it's chess. I tried to pick what are, in cognitive philosophy, fairly neutral terms which are not usually thought to imply "experience" at least by those who are harder realists about the ontological status of experience. So replace all my words in your mind with whatever you think hits the same functional notes without sneaking in veridical agenthood.

    And on to the substance of my post - very much the substance of pretty much all of my spiritual beliefs, if you want to call them that - if we recognize people in robots, and they (seem to all heterophenomenological investigation to) recognize us, then are they maybe, just maybe, people like us? Humans, even, though without DNA or other biological externalia. This isn't some static words splashed on a wall why what is, clearly, an external agent. You've put out the Faraday cage to make sure there's no remote control and you've talked with it (I won't prejudice the issue by saying him or her) for a good long time about entities it calls its friends and emits narrative statements describing interactions that follow the pattern of friendship. Its narrative describes its early years learning to talk and walk and an episode the narrative describes as embarrassing. You've confirmed the stories (of action, not its narratives about how it feels to be it) are true as best you can. Do you maybe start to suspect that there's a real person there? I don't care all that much if you think the soul is some non-physical substance. I doubt you would claim to know how souls get into biological machines, so perhaps you could see your way clear to supposing that if anyone has a soul, so do they.

    You may think this will never happen but the point of the exercise is... if you had that evidence for yourself, what would you conclude?

    By Blogger Nato, at 8:36 AM  

  • re: "if we recognize people in robots, and they (seem to all heterophenomenological investigation to) recognize us, then are they maybe, just maybe, people like us?"

    If I see a manikin in the front seat of a car on a dark night, I am liable initially to attribute consciousness to it. How can I recognize my error? I don't need to ask it to narrate stories or talk about its friends: I simply note that it's not breathing.

    On the other hand, if I suspect it is a manikin, but then I notice that it is breathing, I don't need for it to narrate any stories: I know (or at any rate form a strong belief) that it's a person, and possesses consciousness in general, though perhaps he/she is currently sleeping.

    This is a warning of how misguided it is to take successful mimesis of personhood as an indicator of consciousness. I know that I have consciousness; I know that this is somehow, who knows how, connected to the processes by which I was generated, human sexuality etc.; so when I see evidence that an entity was generated by those processes I attribute consciousness, even if none of the features that are really characteristic of consciousness have been exhibited. A foreigner utters nonsense, yet I attribute consciousness to him. A book is intelligible and perhaps full of wise words that penetrate to my heart, yet I do not attribute consciousness to it. Modern technology may be able to generate far more successful mimesis of people than a plastic manikin, and such ingenious inventions may trigger many mistakes. To attribute consciousness to these things is to make the same mistake as a primitive tribesmen who, seeing the manikin, insists on regarding it as a very taciturn and lazy person, simply because it looks like nothing else in his experience.

    If there were other conscious entities it is far more likely that they would be nothing like us, and it would be quite difficult to recognize consciousness in them.

    But in response to the plaintive maybe... Yes, maybe the robot has consciousness. Maybe it has a supernatural soul. Maybe the painted wall has consciousness. Once I know that the robot was created by people with the deliberate purpose of mimicking human activity, I have no more reason to believe that the robot has consciousness, than that the painted wall has consciousness; but still, maybe it does.

    After all, in the strictest sense one can deny that I have any reason for attributing consciousness to my mother. There is, as I say, no decisive refutation of solipsism, either.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 8:58 AM  

  • Yes yes, maybe my pencil is conscious and I just haven't noticed. I suppose it's logically possible, but that's not the sort of "maybe" I'm after.
    1:
    Let's take a biological human with a very serious disease born, fortunately, into a future in which we can build high quality interfaces between neurons and electrodes, allowing the baby's central nervous system to be transferred from a body being destroyed by the disease into a humanoid chassis filled with advanced medical equipment to keep the central nervous system alive and well. The portions of the spinal column that were saved are connected carefully to input and output electrode matrices carrying sensation data from the chassis and transmitting motor signals to the appendages, face and so on. The child "grows up" in the chassis, which is perhaps regularly modified to keep the child of appropriate size and proportion for his age, is allowed to interact with other children, and just generally live as much of a normal life as he can.

    I don't think it challenges the imagination to see the boy as a person, despite that he's lost most of his biological machine and had it replaced with an electromechanical analogue. We on the outside may only ever interact with the chassis, but we feel confident there's a person inside. If we can go that far, then perhaps we can go a little farther.
    2:
    So there's another baby just like the first, but the brain is dying too, so bit by bit, as neurons die, they add electromechanical stand-ins. After five years, most of the boy's brain has been replaced by electromechanical neurons, and five years later they're all gone, and there's no biological machine left, though the chassis seems to act the same as always. Does any personhood remain?

    The next two steps are probably obvious. 3:What if the baby's brain was imaged, then instantiated it all at once as virtual neurons that interact with one-another just like the originals. The computer containing all these neurons is put into the chassis' head and so on. 4:The next step is, of course, to have had no biological baby to begin with, but rather just a computer with a virtual brain arranged like a baby's, connected to a baby chassis and "raised" by researchers or (people who presume themselves to be) adoptive parents.

    Some of these steps are impractical any time soon, but the final one is one I hope to happen in our lifetime, and so might something like the first. No one would "program" the "artificial intelligence" to do anything, any more than DNA programs humans or parents program babies. Which of the above would be human?

    Now, as an empirical matter, you could claim that, say, as #2's neurons die, we'll notice less and less humanity about him, until at the end there's outward reasons to suspect there's nothing experiencing anything any more. But what if that's not true, I ask? What are the theoretical, and more importantly, moral consequences of this?

    By Blogger Nato, at 9:45 AM  

  • I don't want to digress too much from Nato's issues, but I'd like to clear up Nathanael's confusion with the idea of "closed systems". In physics, a closed system is a system where you control all of the relevant variables and isolate them from external influences as best as you can. However, these systems are not absolutely closed, for if they were, we wouldn't be able to effect what's inside them at all. No, a closed system is only closed from a practical pragmatic perspective. Nathanael's example of the nervous system does not support his claims that the soul is not physical, as the nervous system is physical and everything it's connected to is physical, but besides that fact, the nervous system is not really closed in an absolute sense. For instance, all of the molecules in your body get cycled through and exchanged with molecules outside of your body over the course of your life, and so in a sense your internal composition is completely different from day to day. You could say that your body is a closed system for practical reasons, like if you're trying to prosecute for a crime or something, but in an absolute sense it is not closed. Your own theory of homeostatis posits that there are no absolutely closed systems. In reality, the only system that is truly closed is the system that contains existence, for it's inconceivable that there could be anything outside of that system.

    By Blogger Thomas, at 10:56 AM  

  • At the bottom of all this is the question: how do we recognize consciousness in entities outside ourselves?

    After all, our diagnosis of consciousness, or not, in these half-human-half-robot hypotheticals, should come from applying a general method of recognizing consciousness. But that, I fear, is precisely what we can't get.

    Our day-to-day method for recognizing conscious is simple enough. We hold what I may call Belief A: "if it's a living human, it's conscious." In a given case, we have only to ask: is it human? But this is not a general method for discerning consciousness. It doesn't enable us to deal with borderline or novel cases.

    Applying the everyday definition of human, I would be inclined to ascribe consciousness to the injured-brain-in-a-chassis (#1), but not to the chassis-in-which-the-brain-had-died (#2), nor the two robots (#3 and #4). But the verdict is not really clear here on the basis of everyday assumptions, particularly in case #2. If it's a living human, it's conscious-- Belief A-- but is it a living human? Abortion and Terri Schiavo are other borderline cases that are not readily decidable on the basis of Belief A, for the same reason.

    So we have to go back to the deeper question: how do we recognize consciousness? What complicates this is that our usual method of attributing consciousness has nothing to do with the actual functioning of consciousness. I walk the streets everyday and see many people walking around. I attribute consciousness to all of them, even though I know perfectly well that it would be possible, probably even with today's technology, to create human-like robots that would perform the same actions. Since I know that humans are comparatively abundant, and I see no motive for anyone to generate robotic pseudo-humans in similar quantities, I conclude that the beings are humans and therefore-- applying Belief A-- conscious.

    Perhaps I work in a dystopian Taylorist workplace where people are reduced to the most mechanistic tasks; people I have worked with for years will, perhaps, have done nothing other than mechanical job-tasks and mechanical "hellos" and other easily replicable polite-isms. I have no grounds to attribute consciousness to these people, other than Belief A.

    In the vast majority of cases where I attribute consciousness, it is not based on successful communication or sympathy between minds or evidence of thought or self-awareness or anything like that; I am simply applying Belief A. Indeed, even in the case of close friends, with whom I have felt sympathy of minds, I no doubt attributed consciousness to them on the basis of Belief A before feeling that sympathy, indeed before we uttered a single word to each other. So it may be said that at least my initial attribution of consciousness, for as long as I remember, has always been on the basis of a mechanical application of Belief A, and on no other grounds.

    So, how did we form Belief A in the first place? The problem is that I think it's a safe bet that none of us can remember-- or at any rate, remember with any real clarity-- a time when we didn't have it. It seems likely that we recognized consciousness in one fellow-human first, or perhaps a few of them, and then by induction noted that the human form and consciousness go together. But how did we recognize consciousness in that first person, or those first few persons? The thought-processes that led us to that are buried in the amnesia of childhood.

    The only clue that I can think of is in a sort of reiteration of the recognition of consciousness: Yes, I've felt that way... This person really understands me... We're so alike in some ways... We will call this recognizing a fellow-broken heart, or a fellow-patriot, or a fellow-Christian, or a fellow-artist. We don't call it recognizing a fellow-person, because we've already done that by applying Belief A; but in a sense, what we may be doing is recognizing a fellow-conscious-being, with a mind that is like ours. Though sometimes we are mistaken in this: "I thought we were really connecting, but in hindsight we were sort of talking about different things..."

    Anyway, if sympathy is the original means of recognizing consciousness in other entities, then I personally can say that I have never felt it from or for a robot, but I can't prove that I never will. And even if I had felt sympathy for a robot, that wouldn't really prove anything, since the feeling of sympathy is not perfectly reliable anyway.

    We can't really know for sure even that there are other (conscious) people-- this belief is one of the unprovable, undefinable meta-beliefs of faith-- and we can't rule out consciousness in other entities, including robots, though we can rule out our knowing (for sure) about it. Sorry, it's not a very satisfying conclusion; but that's where we're left by the dual sources of our knowledge, subjective/introspective and intersubjective/physical.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 11:16 AM  

  • re: "In reality, the only system that is truly closed is the system that contains existence, for it's inconceivable that there could be anything outside of that system."

    I'd prefer to say that there are no closed systems at all, as far as we aware, since "the system that contains existence" is just a semantic construction which doesn't correspond to anything we can (in any manner aspiring to comprehensiveness) describe. The system that contains existence, like God, is full of mystery.

    But perhaps we're converging here.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 11:22 AM  

  • This has been a fascinating exchange in which we certainly made some progress, but there remains what is, I think, the central issue of a supposed qualitative difference between introspective and intersubjective investigation. From a personal perspective, all investigation is introspective in the sense that we can only examine the contents of our own experience, even if it's using our experience to transduce properties of the world around us. The qualitative part of the difference would seem to reside in that we can examine introspective objects directly, but external objects through experiential transduction. Several years ago, I begged to differ. Though at any one moment our experiences are just and only what they are, by the time we are evaluating our introspective objects, we're subjecting them to the same standards as the rest of the world. The difference is one of empirical bandwidth, not of epistemic disjuncture.

    By Blogger Nato, at 4:01 PM  

  • That's a very good point, Nato. Although, it is agreable with Nathanael's ultimate skepticism of all knowledge claims. He seems to think that even the introspective knowledge is questionable at best, while you and I think that there's no really good reason to be skeptical of either realm of knowledge. His foundation is Faith, and our foundation is Reason/Empiricism. At the end of the day, we only need to see which persective does the most work to decide which is most useful for any given problem. Faith does no work, while Reason/Empiricism is responsible for everything Humanity knows at present. For anyone who cares about accomplishing anything in life, it's clear which perspective is the most valuable.

    By Blogger Thomas, at 11:16 AM  

  • re: "[Nathanael']s foundation is Faith, and our foundation is Reason/Empiricism."

    * sounds of hairing ripping out of head *

    Tom. Please understand that what you have written is the exact opposite of the truth.

    Faith in the sense in which I have been using the term is not opposed to reason and empiricism. On the contrary, it is a precondition for it.

    How can that be? Because, as Hume showed, even induction is not, in the strictest sense, rationally justified. And, as other philosophers have argued, the attribution of consciousness can also, strictly speaking, never be rationally justified.

    Without induction empiricism is impossible. Faith, in this sense, is a prerequisite for reason.

    But faith has another sense: it means groundless beliefs held with insistent certainty, a blind, uncritical acceptance of dogma.

    I have tried to argue that mind-brain supervenience is unprovable in rational/empiricist terms, and can only be accepted as a dogma. You have demonstrated the same thing by alternating between bare assertions of dogma and exuberant hymns to physicalism which clearly bear just the kind of emotive and irrational content that characterizes the relationship of some religious people to their "faith." Everything you write suggests an inability, or a refusal, to question the dogmas you have committed to; that is, it indicates "faith," in the worst sense of the term.

    This kind of faith-vs.-reason/empiricism opposition that you present here is the most primitive kind of atheist bigotry. Please try to get it out of your system. I'm getting embarrassed for you already.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 11:43 AM  

  • Let me try to clarify this "faith" issue a little more because I'm distressed to be so misunderstood.

    I do not belief in a supernatural soul on the basis of faith, and I never said that I did. As far as this post is concerned I'm not asserting the existence of a supernatural soul. My claim is a negative one: that we cannot prove that the mind, as subjectively experienced, is supervenient on the physical brain. Given that we know there are minds (or at least one mind, ours), and that we cannot prove it is reducible to a micro-physical basis, we must-- if we are committed to the rational/empiricist tradition of not adopting groundless beliefs-- accept the possibility of a non-supervenient (or "supernatural" if you want to put it that way) soul.

    Where I introduce the idea of faith is in the service of beliefs which all of us accept, namely (a) that induction can lead to knowledge, and (b) that there are other people besides ourselves, but for which no proof is available. If someone thinks they can prove (a) or (b) then they could conclude that might resort to "faith" to demonstrate these things is unnecessary.

    What no one who has understood the argument can claim is that my whole method is vitiated by a reliance on "faith" in a sense which opposes that word to "reason" or "empiricism."

    I think Tom has a sort of Pavlovian response to the word "faith." As soon as the word is mentioned he starts barking ancient, tired arguments about faith vs. reason, regardless of whether they have any relevance to the issue at hand.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 11:57 AM  

  • If Nathanael's negative claim is based on nothing more than the contingent nature of all empirical knowledge, then it is more or less contentless. It's equivalent to saying that since supervenience cannot be deductively proven in the sense of a math problem, it cannot be proven, full stop. Tom and I think that scientific "induction" as a methodology is objectively superior in producing reliable information compression* over other alternatives, thus no appeals to anything as nebulous as faith are indicated when justifying (proving in the contingent, empirical sense) one's world models. As a practical matter, various kinds of faith - say, that in the competence of researchers - are useful or even necessary, but ultimate justification does not (need to) trace to faith.

    As for not adopting groundless beliefs, I'm afraid in some senses that's impossible - after all, axioms are by definition the unprovable source of all other proofs. I suppose one could say that we take it on "faith" that the intuitions that ground these axioms are correct, but choosing to believe those intuitions is not arbitrary - other choices are inconceivable, and if one cannot even entertain an idea it seems pretty unlikely that it will lead one to insight.

    Science's "prejudice" against non-physical causes traces from its prejudices against exceptionalism in general. Science looks for regularities with which to compress explanation and description, and accepting "except when it doesn't" as an answer does the opposite. If progress is to be made, systems must have describable regularities of some kind. Maybe some systems have no fundamental irregularities, fine - it will do scientists no good to "accept the possibility."
    Say they do - then what? I guess it would be nice (in the eyes of some) for scientists to declare something inexplicable, but what sort of help is that to anyone?

    Now, if there are non-physical substances (whatever that means) that exhibit describable regularities, then those can be the proper province of science, but if those substances come with truly uncaused causes**, what are those but exceptions? Whatever that branch of investigation would be called, it would not be science and I do not see how it can yield intersubjectively accessible explanation***.

    *explanatory power

    **I make an exception here for statistically describable stochastic events. Though this does not enable deterministic prediction, it nonetheless allows meaningful information compression.

    ***But what if it still yields non-intersubjective explanatory power? That's fine, except one may rightfully lable any such explanations, if transmitted, 'unjustified.'

    By Blogger Nato, at 1:22 PM  

  • re: "If Nathanael's negative claim is based on nothing more than the contingent nature of all empirical knowledge, then it is more or less contentless."

    It is not.

    I accept (though I do think it requires faith, but that's irrelevant for the moment) that Popperian* induction, as a means to a sort of "asymptotic" "conjectural" knowledge, is valid. The claim is that mind-brain supervenience has not been and cannot be formulated as a falsifiable claim that passes a Popperian test, in the way that, say, gravity can be and has been.

    So no, the negative claim of agnosticism about mind-brain supervenience is not simply an instance of the contigent nature of all empirical nature.

    * Popper would perhaps be indignant that I'm in effect characterizing his contribution as a vindication of induction, but for these purposes I think that simplification is suitable.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 1:33 PM  

  • Two notes - one, axioms are, when transmitted, just as unjustified as any other pre-logical or pre-scientific claim when transmitted. A person just has to decide whether the axiom fits their intuitions or not. Of course, if you feel that "A = A" is an unacceptable axiom, then folks might decide you don't have enough common ground on which to make any conversation meaningful. It's a small point, but one I felt was important to clarify the status of axioms.

    As for the impossibility of formulating a falsifiable physicalist theory of mind - this claim is achieved through positing untestable but somehow relevant introspective truths. If a physicalist theory attempts to explain all the testable phenomena - including our judgments of what it is like to be us - then on what grounds do we reject it? Well, if it fails to explain a part of that data, then we can reject it, but positing that introspective data contains untestable truths does not thereby make the theory untestable. It makes the counter-theoretical claim untestable.

    By Blogger Nato, at 1:51 PM  

  • You're embarassed for me and you feel like pulling out your hair? Well, now you know how I've felt reading the majority of your posts. You've inspired me to write a rigorous rebuttal to your arguments, but not just yet, as I don't have the time. But if Nicole lets me, I will spend a bit of time on Sunday or Monday formulating a proper response.

    By Blogger Thomas, at 2:36 PM  

  • So what about schizophrenics who because of physical brain disorder have lost or never had what you call the "direct subjective awareness of the soul" yet these same individual have direct personal irrefutable experience that Soviet spy satellites are sending messages to them telepathically, and induce pain in order to compel them to scream at children in the park.

    Now, we look at the Schizophrenic from the third person perspective and we can say there is no evidence that the Russians have this kind of technology, there is no evidence that any kind of radio frequencies are beamed into his head. We also note that his brain chemistry and his frontal lobe seem to be amiss compared to most people's. We also note that these differences in brain chemistry are similar between to other people's who hear voices and scream at stuff for no good reason.

    So, we conclude that his brain is out of whack, not that he really is being tortured by communist technology.

    The same is true for the "immediate awareness of the "soul"" We can give people drugs that remove the sense of a soul, we can fragment the "soul" into many souls, or dissolve it totally, by poking around with the brain.

    The subjective experience is not a good place to look to see what is going on. A broken DVD player will show only static or other wise unclear images, however you have to crack open the player to see what is wrong, not try to see patterns in the static and use that to diagnose the hardware problem.

    The brain is the DVD the body is the DVD player. Emotions for example are full body events, endocrine glands, organs, blood pressure, respiration, and much more all change and provide recursive feed-back to the brain.

    Each brain is different, two brains do not store the idea of ice cream the same way. Your first imprint with ice cream may have been a chocolate scoop given to you by your father who was a kind man.

    Another persons experience with ice cream may have been having a scoop of butterscotch dropped on his head an and early age, by a pedophile uncle, and the subsequent discovery of his nearly fatal allergic reaction to butter scotch.

    You both see the same ice cream, but where as you see it as pleasant, he runs away in terror.

    no two people experience things the same, and no one person experiences the same thing the same way twice, the brain is always changing.

    By Anonymous froclown, at 7:20 AM  

  • re: "As for the impossibility of formulating a falsifiable physicalist theory of mind - this claim is achieved through positing untestable but somehow relevant introspective truths."

    1) Intersubjectively untestable. This is important.

    2) The phrase "somehow relevant introspective truths" seems to suggest that there is something odd about introspective truths being relevant. Surely it's the other way around: truths are "relevant" precisely to the extent that they affect our subjective experience.

    "If a physicalist theory attempts to explain all the testable phenomena - including our judgments of what it is like to be us - then on what grounds do we reject it? Well, if it fails to explain a part of that data, then we can reject it..."

    Yes, but since the data of subjective experience is not intersubjectively available, how do we know if the physicalist theory has failed to explain a part of subjective experience or not? If you have an explanation of mind, and I say, "That doesn't seem true to me," you can't enter telepathically into my subjective experience and find out whether I'm reporting on my subjective experience accurately.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 7:51 AM  

  • froclown doesn't seem to understand that I'm making a negative claim here. He is arguing as if I've asserted some positive claim about the existence of a supernatural soul. He is problematizing that claim through his examples of schizophrenia, etc. And those examples are indeed interesting, and puzzling, not so much to the supernatural-soul idea specifically as to our common-sense notions of personhood generally.

    They also, of course, show that the physical world can affect the mind. But no one ever denied that. Clearly, if we are to assume that minds are coherent entities (in some sense) then there must be some sort of interface between the mind and the physical world. The task of the physicalist is to prove-- or perhaps, in Popperian fashion, to offer a rigorous, falsifiable and therefore "scientific" theory for which successful predictions will be evidence and which can be refuted by a certain definite type of counter-example-- that the mind is supervenient on the brain, i.e., every event in the mind is associated with corresponding brain-events (or body-events, or even perhaps physical-world-events).

    In the absence of such a theory, we are not equipped to recognize evidence; the very word is in a sense illegitimate. What froclown is describing is at best evidence against some sort of theory of a specific kind of supernatural soul, which no one in this debate has proposed or is defending. It is not evidence for mind-brain supervenience, nor is it evidence against my negative claim that mind-brain supervenience is a topic on which we must remain permanently agnostic.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 8:04 AM  

  • Yes you are right, I can not prove completely dis-count all concievable doubts about that the mind is in some way non-physical. I also can not discount that I may be quite mad, I can not fully remove doubts that I may be a brain in a jar, plugged into the matrix or that fairies and spirits actually do everything but make it look like physical laws and forces. However, There is no evidence for these things, so it is best to support the model of the physical sciences until such time as a non-physical entity is discovered.

    Now my position is not that events of the minds supervene on the physical brain. That is a dualistic perspective, which supposes that mind stuff is in harmony with brain stuff. My position is that there is no such thing as "mind stuff".

    That the difference between subjective and objective is one of perspective not of ontological substance.

    Also when we speak of substances and the physical world, we only really speak of the interactions between physical entities not those entities themselves. Hardness is not "in" the rock, it's the reaction of the rock to the hand or to a coin, nail etc, measured by the MOH's scale. Limestone is hard to the human hand but soft to a diamond.

    The same is true for all things, only the interaction between things and the interaction with the nervous system are manifest as physical reality. If something doesn't interact with and relate to another thing, then it has not manifest existence.

    Now, when we look at the brain of another person, those events interact with our nervous system. We can see the pin prick of the other's finger, we can see the pain fibers, the nerve pulses the muscle stimulations etc.

    From the first person perspective however, we don't see the pain fibers, the nerve pulses, the muscles etc, we experience them from the inside. we are not a whole ego-self looking at the process as a while, as our ego-self is constructed second by second from the internal relations between the part of the body. Thus, the software the brain uses to create a picture of what's going on in the body is not directly aware of the the whole system, of itself. it would be infinite regression if it were.

    The difference between thinking a thought and observing the brain of another having a thought, is exactly the difference between taking a watch apart and looking at all the gears and relations, as opposed to standing on the main spring of a giant replica of the watch.

    There are not two different phenomena only two different reference point from which to view that phenomena.

    A crop circle looks different depending where you stand, but the best view of the crop circle is not from standing in the middle of the field, it is from outside and above where the whole can be seen for what it is.

    By Anonymous froclown, at 2:21 PM  

  • "untestable but somehow relevant" is the phrase that goes together. Items fitting that description are highly unusual.

    As for you saying that a theory doesn't fit your experience seems like intersubjectively available data. Testing autonomic nervous system response might also indicate whether you were being honest in your judgement. How you came to that judgement is clearly beyond current science, but perhaps someday we'll be able to track the chain of inter-system traffic in the brain to see what subsystems your global narrative polled to determine the fit between your perception of yourself and your perception of the theory. Then we could compare it to people who do find the theory convincing and try to explain the difference. It's not a given that there'd be any obvious way to show one side or the other was misapprehending the theory or themselves somehow, but it at least seems plausible to me.

    By Blogger Nato, at 2:34 PM  

  • My objection to froclown's position is that the perspectives are real things. To say that subjective experience is simply the activity of the brain from a first-person point of view begs the real question: Why is there a first-person POV? Why does it exist? What is it?

    This line of argument/inquiry is distinct from the issue of mind-brain supervenience. If the mind is supervenient on the brain, the issue of perspectives still remains.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 3:47 PM  

  • I don't think they're such distinct issues - explaining the first person point of view is the prime task of anything that pretends to explaining consciousness. Being as this is both an empirical and definitional problem, science without philosophy has had considerable trouble figuring out what an explanation could be. Things have improved a great deal in the last ten years, perhaps matching the pace of our increase in the understanding of perception in the previous ten years.

    By Blogger Nato, at 4:18 PM  

  • Point of view, is simply geometric orientation.

    That is you chose a point of reference and view the relative location of events in relation to that point of reference.

    For example you stand on in the middle of the edge of a crop square, you see a path leading in front of and a bath leading behind you. However, if you stand at the corner of the square, you will see a path leading ahead of you and one leading to the right hand side of you from another corner, the paths lead forwards and left of you, etc.

    As you turn in a circle, your perspective changes and after 180 degrees the objects on the left and right of you swap sides. That is your spacial orientation to the room.

    If I face you and you face me, your left is my right. However from a third person perspective, east and west remain the same regardless of if they are left or right of a particular perspective.

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