nothing exciting..

November 9, 2007

two posts ago, I recapped what is perhaps the ultimate summary of phil mind. That was the “Diet Qualia” comments I had. Why should anyone hold out for a “bridge law”, or something that can really explain qualia?

 The best answer I can give is that there is probably bound to be an explanation. But I don’t have a very high view of explanations. Language can describe experience, but not irrespective of everyone bringing their experience to the table first. What equations and formulas can intuitively do today may not be what they can in a hundred years. I suppose what I need is some kind of fairly clear — to the extent that this isn’t a self-defeating project — example of how, historically, a clear analysis was only acheivable by certain shared assumptions, or experiential starting points of the time. I realize that this is where my previous continental wanderings might come in, but I’m not looking for a cheap victory.

 Anyway, what I’m thinking will happen is that, at some point, certain basic building blocks will become “intuitive”, and that from there, an understanding of qualia will be built. I predict this will happen around 2075. Like millenialists, that’s not so far as to be unmeaningful, but probably enough outside of my lifetime that I can’t be proven wrong.

The Fan

August 6, 2007

It’s pretty hot and stuffy lately so I’ve got one of those big stand up fans blowing on me at night. It’s pretty loud but I’m a deep sleeper so it doesn’t really bother me that much. Lately I’ve been waking up up two or three times during the night for a minute or so. Somehow, I have it in my mind to attend to the noise of that fan as soon as I wake. I wake up, and for the space of some undetermined amount of time I hear nothing but I know there is a fan there making noise and I know that I’m awake. And then after this small amount of time, I’ll hear the fan. I swear if fades in, but I need to pay closer attention to be sure about that.

Qualia: A rip off Post

August 2, 2007

I just barely got a password going again to access my account. That’s how lazy I can be. Pete’s blog, Brain Hammer led me to this post on splintered mind:


I could just comment over there, but since I can’t think of anything to say and I feel I need to write a post, I’ll just respond here. I liked this post a lot. If I’m unpacking it right, here’s the issue:

You’ve got qualia, full-blown non-physical perceptions that can be inverted and so on independent of the physical world.

You’ve got zero-qualia, the Dennett kind which are psychological judgements we make about ‘experience’ which leads us to believe there is full-blown qualia.

Then you’ve got this weird critter, diet qualia. This, he argues, is the physicalist compromise. The “what-it’s-like” qualia. Now, as I understand Nagel, this “what-it’s like” stuff, difficult as it may be for us to comprehend, could one day become tractable via bridge laws.

But just what are diet qualia, anyway? How are they different from zero qualia?

One (non) answer is that it’s a placeholder. Dualism seems too rash and elimitivism seems to harsh, so there’s got to be a physical explanation. Diet qualia: it don’t put on pounds (multiply entities) yet keeps all the great taste you’ve grown to love drinking classic!

We won’t know how diet qualia can be something other that subjective raw feels, because we don’t have that first bridge law yet.


Possibility and Monsters

June 28, 2007

I keep wanting to think that David Chalmers, in a brilliant insight (zombie argument), figured out precisely what’s wrong with modal logic instead of proving anything about consciousness. But without being able to make that stick, perhaps he did indeed disprove physicalism. I just came across this post from last year on Reality Conditions discussion “possibility”.

Dennett is cited saying,

Smiling demons, cow-sharks, Blockheads, and Swampmen are all, some philosophers think, logically possible, even if they are not nomologically possible, and these philosophers think this is important. I do not.

And there is some discussion on how science would be skeptical of distinquishing between metaphysical and nomological necessity.

I’d like to say that logical possibility, as entailed by conceivability doesn’t see far enough down the road and what might at first seem logically possible might not be once more facts are on the table. But what other thought roads besides zombies and swampmen might such a position seal off?

What about the Flying Speghetti Monster? Surely he isn’t nomologically possible. Are we inclined to say that in some circumstances, depending on what our point is, we can rely on mere logical possibility? In this case, we might backpedal and say that we can make the same point with Russell’s teapot which isn’t quite so fanciful. But is Russell’s teapot nomologically possible? It seems physically possible, but even given the contingency of the laws of nature, it probably isn’t (or wasn’t) since it had to get into orbit by real, physical means.

But to back off further would amount to destroying the thought experiment as the whole point is to trade credulity on conceivability. Even in a reductio ad absurdum, we must bank on the possibility of our wacky scenario.

And what about innocent counterfactuals? Yes, I could have spared the two Hell’s Angels bikers in the bar last night, but I was really mad about their opinions on dual-sports. My brain had to be in the state it was. The more facts revealed on the incident, when understood all the way through, pretty much lock the events of last night into exactly what they were.

In everyday scenarios we back off on counterfactuals all the time. Yeah, the guy didn’t have to thrust the knife for the 15th time – ohhh, he wasn’t on his medications? And we also, depending on our vested interests, can be either extraordinarily sympathetic to or skeptical of logical possibilities.

I don’t know what the answer is, just throwing it out.

Lowering The Bar Pt. 2

May 30, 2007

I’ve been alcohol free for over a week and have had a couple good nights sleep so I wanted to reformulate my argument against qualia presented in my last post. Now I’m left without excuse if it totally sucks.

My assumptions, since definitions can vary, are that qualia are apprehended through pure introspection and that they are indubitable.

The one-sentence encpsulation of my argument is this: If it is reasonable that we can lower the bar for Mary, if there is a what-it’s-like qualitative experience more slippery to reduce than seeing red, then nothing is needed beyond physical and psychological explanations for consciousness.

What I’m saying is kind of bone-headed in the sense that it’s merely a trivial denial of my assumptions that qualia are indubitable. It seems to me, that to be indubitable is like being invincible. You can’t be anymore indestructable than industructable, and you can’t be more sure than 100% certain. So all qualia should be equally indubitable as a spectrum of indubitability appears to be a mere self-contradiction. So we should be able to introspect, and list without hesitation exactly what we know indubitably from introspection. There should be no sensible way to talk about lowering the bar.

The common examples of qualia are seeing red or pain. How could anyone deny pain? But how could anyone deny any other experience? Anything that qualifies as qualia should be immediatly and transparently apprehended as such. If there are mental entities which we can’t quite place in the correct psychological/phenomenal baskets then it would seem that psychology can give us all the results needed.

So as an example, from SEP,

Galen Strawson has recently claimed (1994) that there are such things as the experience of understanding a sentence, the experience of suddenly thinking of something, of suddenly remembering something, and so on. Moreover, in his view, experiences of these sorts are not reducible to associated sensory experiences and/or images.

Anyone reading this can settle the matter within themselves trivially by merely introspecting and clearly identifying “remembering” as indubitable experience or not every bit as easily and transparently as classifying seeing red or digesting a hamburger. If there is any hesitation, “Well, maybe there is something it’s like to remember but then again…” then this is to secretly admit that there is a spectrum of mental events where some seem, in a psychological sense, to be more qualitatively real than others, contradicting the necessary condition of indubitability. And skepticism sets in immediatly after “seeing red” which could simply be more intuitively tricky.

Lowering the bar for Mary

May 25, 2007

To respond to Enigman, yes, where anger ends and irritation begins is something I’m interested in for what-it’s-like in addition to seeing red. I didn’t spell out the intent of my last post. I wrote it a few hangovers ago, but I think my intent was to lower the bar for Mary. It might be the case that Mary intuitively fails because her brain is wired so precisely for color perception that there is no conceivable way to compensate for it through her other abilities. In other words, knowing red might be such a radically good knowledge the way we know red, that it appears to be irreducible when compared with other things that we know. Kind of like, Captain Picard apears so powerful to the natives that the cheif mistakenly makes an ontological distinction between Picard and his own people.

So yeah, red is the obvious example to use, to make physicalism appear intuitively silly. But I’d like to reverse the project. Let’s lower the bar drastically and find the minimal cases that constitute what-it’s-like and see if it makes sense if that could be reduced.

What my trick is supposed to be, and I may be up in the night on this, is that all matters of phenomenal consciousness should be equally irreducible in an intuitive way. And if it begins making sense that we could lower the bar and introduce cases where maybe it’s phenomenal or maybe it isn’t, then we’re already admitting defeat to physicalism.


May 7, 2007

Where is the line drawn for what constitutes “what it’s like to be” something? What it’s like to see red seems the obvious example of a what-it’s-like phenomena. But what about knowing a language or having a particular culture? Is there what-it’s-likeness in knowling a language beyond the veridical aspects, such as directly perceiving words by hearing or sight?

Representing Representation – Mary’s Room

April 6, 2007

Some comments on Pete Mandik’s paper The Neurophilosophy of Subjectivity. Here Peter struggles with some of the main issues I’m interested in albeit more professionally and coherently. An unjust summary of points made in the paper: Phenomenal Raw Feels don’t exist as mere sensory input devoid of higher level mental processes. If this is true, then would it be possible to replicate an “experience” purely at a higher level? Pete answers in the affirmative, at least to an extent. Mary, by her study, could have more what-it’s-like knowledge than a control subject who isn’t a brilliant color scientist.

How higher level representation might represent “phenomenal” representation? Pete remarks,

If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, then isn’t it cheating to say that whatever a picture P represents, the same thing can be represented by the description “whatever P represents”? Even if the “whatever P represents” move is somehow disqualified, the following move remains open: just add words to the description. Why couldn’t a sufficiently long description represent all of the same things without itself being a picture?

The context of that comment is a discussion he has of Dennett’s Jello box. Tear a Jello box in half, and the tear line is infinitely complex, each side becoming the detector for the other. So it is with our perception of red. Red is what it is because one side of the Jello box is a set of physical properties of the environment, and another side is our sensory input and brains which evolved in an environmental context. I think it’s within Dennett’s observation that if we could perfectly describe one side of the tear, we’d be able to anticipate the other. That’s one way in which higher level representation might represent the knowledge of redness. But is the perfect memory, or imagined concept, exactly the same as staring at a red dot – can it duplicate the Raw Feel?

Mary’s room frames the problem of qualia in terms of knowledge. And solving the problem in the above way has Mary knowing red the same way the rest of us know red while not presently looking at something red. It’s tempting to raise the bar and demand Mary induce the experience of red without looking at something red. Or to “know” red the same way we know red while staring at something red.

Following up on Pete’s comment in this way, how could words, some other way of representation, represent the same thing as whatever is going on while staring at the red dot?

Could, as Pete suggests, words stand in for whatever is going on to create the picture? And in real time, in order to mimick the Raw Feel of looking at red?

The answer I try to convince myself is true, is yes, to both. My strategy is to grapple with the kind of representation going on in a Raw Feel, the kind of hardware necessary to produce the Raw Feel, and ultimately, question the project of representation altogether by confusing the symbol with what’s being represented. Some of this is groping in the dark I admit as I’m not 100% certain of what I’m trying to say.

1) What we convince ourselves we see isn’t necessarily what we’re really seeing. As Dennett argues, we don’t really see every detail in a complex rug pattern. As I understand, he argues that even a Raw Feel, to stare at a field of wheat, doesn’t put one million little wheat grains in our head .GIF style, but rather our Raw Feel works like a .JPEG. This is a consequence of the experience happening between high and low level brain functions. At the high level, all kinds of cultural, language, and other things are working to shape the experience. So the complex picture that words can’t describe, is already in part, a kind of word, or language. Like in a .JPEG, let some symbol or number stand for a whole lot of wheat shafts. Let something else help shape differing shades of brown throughout the picture and the thousands of edges that aren’t really continously and individual “before our minds eye”. In this way, by lowering the bar of what constitutes a picture, we can see more easily how words might be able to access the high level functions involved during a Feel.

2)Hardware. It’s probably ridiculous to believe that by pure mental manipulations, we can give ourselves the same thing as a stare at a field of wheat. Though the brain devoid of real inputs can come close, for those who have had vivid dreams. And those, like me, who have had intense episodes of sleep paralysis and hag dreams, it’s even easier to imagine internal experience with “experiences” that arn’t pain or sound but God knows what. So again, perhaps this lowers the bar of Raw Feels a little more.

But if we still can’t get concepts to jump high enough, we can call upon hardware substitutions to aid, so long as the hardware is sufficiently different and we rely on it for processing power rather than it’s specific function. For instance, if I lost my sight tommorow, and God zapped me with the ability to echolocate, how different would my experiences be? (assuming others couldn’t see me making the noises!)

When I’ve brought up the Cypher analogy (from the Matrix), I’ve intended to cover points 1) and 2) together. Cypher claims that all he sees is “Blonde” and “Red Dress” while he stares at the code streaming by. The hardware substitution here is just beefing up his normal capacity so it makes sense for him to supersonically speed-read and process. The visual aspect of his experience is unrelated to visually seeing red. The code is the words, and the Matrix experience is the picture. So equiped with superhardware (that I’m adding), he’s trained himself to unconsciously translate fine grained language in real time so efficiently that it’s, by his report, no different than seeing “red”. And no doubt as time goes on, simple substitutions work their way in as placeholders for complex information analogous to the way digital compression works in order to form more effective experience. The same perhaps could be acheived with supermemory.

3)The final point is that if Cypher can see red by reading matrix code, red as a standard to be acheived is tied to his history as a sighted person navigating the world. But what is the true experience of the world? It would seem that Cypher and the later Neo both understand the code perfectly well but translate in opposite directions. Neo just processes code when he effortlessly battles the agents at the end instead of seeing a picture. The point at which they forget which mode they’re in, where working with symbol substitutions or filled in pixels begin to run together is where the computational thesis gains force.

Is Modal Logic – Lame?

March 19, 2007

By this question, I don’t mean so much the ontological commitment – modal realism ect., but just merely, working out problems by adding up the sum total of a bunch of formally stated premesis, especially with modal qualifiers.

I’m all for tightening up arguments and precision. I know…

But I just can’t force myself to study the subject very deeply.  I’ve studied logic with quantification and all that abit, and it’s a little bit interesting in its own right, but here’s the thing. How many philosophy oriented deductive arguments past two or three steps have made a serious difference – or contribution for that matter?

It seems to me that it’s rare to even get agreement on problems that are stated with two or three premesis.  And that’s just standard quantification. Now add in “possibly” and so on, and how many formally stated arguments out there past three steps are generally agreed upon as being true?

Robert Lanza Discovers Idealism

March 14, 2007

See this article in The American Scholar.

A stem cell researcher has discovered the novel idea that the world in whole or in part is a mental construct. Anticipating Immanuel Kant a few hundred years after the fact, Lanza suggests that the mind creates the spacio-temperal world where the rest of reality plays out.

In regard to Lanza’s fascination with Zeno’s Paradox, granted, biology majors wouldn’t necessarily study Aristotle, but aren’t they required to take at least a semester of business calculus?

And quantum mechanics isn’t so mystical these days. The controversial observer-relative “collapse of the wave function” found in the copenhegan interpretation of quantum mechanics isn’t nearly as fashionable to physicists today as it was thirty years ago. Interpretations of QM are the realm of metaphysics, not squarely laboratory and mathematical science.

However, more importantly than the fact that Lanza fails to slay his beast, his arrow doesn’t even release in the right direction. Paraphrasing Chalmers, he sets up his objective:

These theories reflect some of the important work that is occurring in the fields of neuroscience and psychology, but they are theories of structure and function. They tell us nothing about how the performance of these functions is accompanied by a conscious experience

As a solution he offers:

Space and time, not proteins and neurons, hold the answer to the problem of consciousness. When we consider the nerve impulses entering the brain, we realize that they are not woven together automatically, any more than the information is inside a computer. Our thoughts have an order, not of themselves, but because the mind generates the spatio-temporal relationships involved in every experience. We can never have any experience that does not conform to these relationships, for they are the modes of animal logic that mold sensations into objects.

In other words, like Kant, Lanza skirts physicalism and wanders the terrain of functionalism. Chalmers would no doubt have to ask him, “After you’ve delineated the function of the ‘mind’ generating spacio-temperal relationships, where is the conscious experience?” So for all of the gap theorists out there, it looks like consciousness, unfortunately, is still a mystery.