Language

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?

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Qualia and Externalism

February 21, 2007

I may be generalizing here, but it seems to me the folks over at Brain Pains are both strong content externalists and proponents of qualia. I’m trying to figure out how they’d go together. I’ll be honest and say today is the first time I ever thought about it and I just don’t see how they’d co-exist. I’m sure there is a good explanation, but…

Recall, content externalism is the belief that mental content is constituted in part by external factors. Following Putnam’s twin earth, if water is xyz on another planet and not h2o, then the two thoughts of water by a creature in either situation with identical internal states are different. The attraction, I suppose, it to ward off relativism. If a first intension {water-h2o} is wrong, then a secondary intension {xyz} closes the deal independent of our faults, so we don’t have to worry about the “world changing” {Kuhn} as our scientific theories update.

Now, I don’t know what Putnum explicitly thought about qualia, but I do know he invented functionalism, so that implies he either reduced or eliminated qualia. But what about for those who believe in nonreductive or nonphysical qualia and content externalism?

– qualia are part of our mental content
– qualia are indubitable to us
– mental content is external

These premises result in at least what really seems like a contradiction. If “red” is red because it seems that way to me and nothing more {qualia} then how can it be ‘outside the head’ {external}?


The Matrix and Qualia

February 17, 2007

In the Movie The Matrix, Cypher discusses how he monitors what’s going on inside the virtual world:

there’s way too much information to decode the Matrix. You get used to it, though. Your brain does the translating. I don’t even see the code. All I see is blonde, brunette, and redhead.

Whenever I think of computationalism I think about this scene. I don’t of course, think anyone could ever actually read “computer code” that fast nor would it make any sense to work in machine language if visual Basic will suffice. But, I think there are a ways in which the scene is instructive.

Let’s assume there is no such thing as qualia. It is reasonable to me that something like qualia or phenomenal experience would yet be reported anyhow. When laboring in everyday thinking about history and philosophy, we can describe many of our thoughts in a few sentences. But when it comes to the vast amount of information our sensory ASICs process, such as the visual field during freeway driving, we’d be helpless to communicate the details in language without some kind of shortcuts. As the relevant information density increases, the more would-be experiential terminology would be needed to communicate. An omniscient bicycle metaphysician who has never rode a bike and an omnipotent BMX racer who’s never studied physics would both have to take great shortcuts to coach an understudy, or even to think about coaching an understudy in concepts, and their programs I’d wager would be similar.

Returning to the Matrix, if Cypher really could translate all that code as it scrolls by, how else could he report it but as experience? I think there is a parallel in Dennett’s theory on blindsight. As the baud rate is turned up by the objects moving faster accross the visual field, the (star) subjects report “experiencing” it. Perhaps in a similar way, communicating in a foreign language with the aid of translation dictionaries is thinking – really hard thinking – but speaking naturally in one’s own language seems to have a subtle phenomenal aspect to it in addition to a thinking aspect.

One objection might be that Cypher clearly intended his remarks to be metaphorical and not literal. But one dimensional qualia, mistaken perceptions of mistaken perceptions to any order of iteration couldn’t be much more than metaphor anyway. Hitting my fingers with a hammer hurts like hell. There’s no better way to put it. We can match up these experiences but there is no intrinsic stability therin. And finally, there is the other side of the coin. Neo, the omniscient one. As Neo’s knowledge increases to superhuman proportions (think of Mary’s knowledge of color as she gulps down color equation after equation), instead of seeing “redhead” or “agent”, the phenomenal world disappears and he sees ‘reality’, the code. You know, everything is in slow motion. Slow down the baud rate of sensory input and the illusion of qualia becomes intuitively information processing.

Contemplating a zombie world devoid of “inner life” is supposed to be possible to do, according to the gap theorists, but it’s also suppose to be an exercise in absurdity. Ha-ha-ha, zombie A.G. hits his finger with a hammer and screams but doesn’t actually “feel” any pain. The above is a way to begin conceiving of a world that is exhausted by the psychological but where phenomenal reports are essential to the way it works.


Davidson, Beliefs, Qualia

February 14, 2007

Brain Hammer has a good post up on qualia, sort of building on Dennett’s ideas. It made me wonder about the following:

Assume Davidson is right and beliefs presuppose language. On a elimitivist account, there are only pain beliefs. From the paper being summarized on Brain Hammer, there aren’t rocks in your head, only beliefs about rocks. And there are likewise only beliefs about pains. If a language is required, or plays a strong role in the formation of beliefs, then animals and babies don’t hold any kind of relation to pain but adult humans do.

Even if you don’t buy Davidson’s argument, it seems clear that adult humans are capable of holding much more articulate and stronger beliefs in light of language and culture than babies or cows. It just doesn’t seem possible that the ‘agony’ I ‘feel’ when getting kicked in the shin is present relative to the complexity of my belief structure with little to no input from my nervous system per se. And the nervous systems of babies and cows along with their reactions to sharp objects are similar enough to my own to convince me something similar is going on in them as in me when I get stabbed.

(note i tried to respond to questions posed to me there but either i didn’t pass moderation or the post got lost in space)


Dennett and Seeming

February 12, 2007

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.