Dennett and Seeming

On my other blog and I noted a couple of times frustration with Dennett’s rejection of qualia because of his use of the word “seem”. He’ll say that some kind of ‘experience’ seems a particular way, but it really isn’t that way based on some kind of cognitive science experiments. But since qualia are one dimensional, it doesn’t matter how that seeming matches up with reality, it just matters that something ‘seems’ that way at all.

Funny enough, in The Conscious Mind, Chalmers notes this confusion in Dennett’s writing at the bottom of page 190. Paraphrased* he says that Dennett’s use of the word “seems”, “balances on the knife’s edge between phenomenal and psychological consciousness”. But Chalmers insists his usage is completely psychological. He seems to thinks the persuasiveness of Dennett’s argument is captured in an equivocation between the two senses of the word. Explaining how things seem in psychological consciousness is uninteresting (philosophically) to chalmers. And he feels proceeding as Dennett does merely begs the philosophical questions.

I’ll go so far as to share Chalmers’ frustration with Dennett but I think Dennett realizes that he’s not answering the philosophical questions the way his colleagues might want him to. In fact, might it not be begging the questions in the other direction to insist that there is a way those things ‘seem’ phenomenologically? Afterall, Chalmers’ main argument, his zombie argument, doesn’t tell us anything about what particular phenomenal experiences exist. Only that it’s logically possible for the set of the phenomenal to not exist in a physically identical world. That doesn’t guarantee us that every quale Chalmers considers a quale is in fact one.

Chalmers brings in a bizarre discussion about his twin zombie world where he’s sitting at his desk writting a book about phenomenal consciousness but where no phenomenal consciousness exists. So, all that stuff in chapter one about bright red apples and intense smells on a spring day Chalmers discusses could have been produced psychologically by his zombie twin. I admit this is given in an abstract discussion on what’s logically possible, however, what I wonder is whether or not it’s possible, in some way, for the contents of chapter 1 to have been produced in part by Chalmers’ psychological consciousness without directly reflecting what’s going on in Chalmers’ phenomenologically.

If it is, then on a per case basis, whether something seemed a particular way qualitatively or psychologically is up for grabs. It’s consistent with Chalmers’ zombie argument that qualia exist but not every nuance of ever report be qualia inspired. And if such cases existed, then coming at it from Dennett’s angle would be worthwhile, and an ultimately an inductive case about qualia generally could be made.

Granted, Chalmers writes his book to those who “take conscious seriously”, so I’d think Dennett doesn’t qualify from the outset from Chalmers’ perspective. His book is geared more to those who think qualia are reducible rather than nonexistent. If it’s not agreed from that outset that there is a phenomenal world, then the zombie argument is a nonstarter. So all Chalmers and Dennett can do probably is beg questions against each other from accross the divide.

I haven’t yet decided who I think will win out.

*unfortunately my circumstances right now make it difficult for me to have books by a computer in order to give exact citations from them.


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