Does eliminative materialism become panpsychism?

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09 Mar 2017, 10:52 pm

I was on another forum where someone was trumpeting how much he liked Daniel Dennett's writings and ideas on consciousness and how he felt that it explained away the 'hard' problem of consciousness quite well. I understand that Dan has been writing for over 50 years, is highly published, but I had yet to really find a lecture or much of anything where he explained particularly clearly how his particular examination of mechanism in the brain eliminates the I experience or large swaths of it as an illusion. I could be misrepresenting him on this point, just that I feel like I've had an easier time making sense of Noam Chomsky's more oblique ideas than I have with Dennett's explanation of how it's illusory. I want to trust that for everything he's written and as busy as he's been researching and publishing that I'm just missing something but it seems like I'll see people of similar caliber refer to his outlook pretty much the way I've seen him explain it.

I got to thinking about how if you make two claims, a) that consciousness is purely material and b) that it's non-reductive to mechanism, it seems like you'd be forcing it back onto the substrate as an inherent trait in the proteins and fatty acids that make up neurons. I find this particularly suggestive with Dennett because he goes farther - ie. suggests that consciousness is just what these biological mechanisms do and that there's nothing to examine which seems to have embedded within in the notion that consciousness is just one of the many things that matter does, which stated that loosely either projects quite the deepity or makes you wonder, if that has to be the case, whether consciousness is a much broader event than neurochemical activity. The guy in this video actually articulated my thoughts quite well, and did so about three weeks ago:




I was wondering if anyone wanted to chew over some of the details of these two philosophies and see what you all think. For example, would any ideology that suggests consciousness to be latent in matter be inherently panpsychist? At what point would you draw the line, or can you, between eliminative materialism and panpsychism?


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10 Mar 2017, 6:56 am

I think this is somewhat muddled thinking.

Premiss 3 is the first sign of trouble...

He's playing with some ideas that there are a few concepts that are close to axiomatic in the scientific tradition:
There are natural causes for things that happen in the world around us.
Evidence from the natural world can be used to learn about those causes.
There is consistency in the causes that operate in the natural world.

Given this, I think we can say that we don't "take it on faith" that others have subjective experience, any more than we take it on faith that there are Higgs bosons or seven earth-like planets around TRAPPIST-1. Inference based on observation has always been central to the process.

It's an important detail.

Then he seems to confuse the "no special woo" assumption of naturalism with the idea that there should be no categorical differences and all things are somehow the same if they are made of the same basic stuff.

This is silly.

All the observable universe is made of matter and energy in some form, but there are big differences between a kilo of neutronium, a kilo of cheddar, and a kilo of hummingbirds. The way the particles and fields are arranged actually makes a difference.

There are differences between the way hair behaves and the way muscle behaves. There are differences between living hair and muscle and dead hair and muscle.

There is good observational reason to infer that consciousness resides significantly in the brain. Despite the obscurantism of "logic" such as that presented here, there are related experiments that have been done again and again...

There is good data on which to base the inference that consciousness is the result of some process in the nervous system.

Since all matter doesn't have a nervous system, it doesn't really make sense to try to construe naturalism as a basis for an argument that all matter or all matter and energy must somehow be conscious in some way.

It's a huge and unwarranted leap that only seems to make sense because the idea is so appealing to the person who thought of it. It doesn't hold up to inspection.

This gets back to the problem of consciousness discussion we had earlier and I think the same conclusions still apply.


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10 Mar 2017, 6:09 pm

You might be able to help me then in what I'm not understanding about Dennett.

What people call the hard problem is the suggestion that there should be any subjective experience at all. I think my own argument is to say that claims of conscious experience being an illusion seem to be, on their face, either vacuous or denying that there's anything to filter down. If it's vacuous we're in a very strange position culturally and politically, to the point that we're trying to erect barricades to certain kinds of people rather than doing what we're supposed to be doing which is proper inquiry and being skeptical of everything all the way around. If it's not vacuous then we're dealing with an idea that seems like it's scarcely been articulated effectively and I'd hope we could flesh it out a lot better as this thread progresses than it's generally been so far as I can tell between TED, Dennett, the Churchlands, etc..

Where I think you might have been talking past the idea, I think it would be equally absurd to say that a kg of cheese or a kg of lead is as conscious as a human being, or even a rodent for that matter. As far as we can tell neurons seem to be a powerful mechanism for articulating a type of activity where consciousness itself is what we experience as that activity. I think the author of the video was just stating that if we're going to call consciousness 'what matter does' and dismiss the hard problem with that we've opened up a different can of worms - ie. consciousness is not what matter does, it's what neurons and neural structures do, if you're an emergentist, and then you have to explain the magic of neurons that gives us something that we have no material basis for making sense of. While evolution can yield great results, albeit it's quite a cold and abusive process, I don't think it can give us something that's not a latent state in nature.

One thing that I was going to include in my first post was a video I found on something called the RNA world hypothesis.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1xnYFCZ9Yg&t=84s

The above seems to suggest that you have at least some of the kinds of behavior and activity that you have inside of single cells occurring independent of cells anywhere that you'd have the right types of hydrocarbon chains forming. The question I have to chew on with that - what is a brain or even a single neuron other than a constellation of specialized forces along these lines? I hope I don't have to clarify this but I will just in case - I don't believe a chain hydrocarbon is a thinking, feeling, social entity. What I don't think there's a particularly good case for is that getting a hole bunch of them together makes something otherwise obscene to nature happen. I'd have to assume that conscious 'I' experience is not something outside of nature's laws, unless we want to obscure it by claims that there is no such thing as conscious experience which IMHO is a really bizarre end to go to in defending a theory.

What I think consciousness or the roots of it going all the way down would suggest is that consciousness shatters into trillions of pieces at death rather than ceasing to exist. It's not an argument that would particularly be comforting to a cookie-cutter theist or someone whose terrified of personal dissolution but we'd still be nonetheless dealing with claims that are qualitatively quite different from stating that what didn't exist before exists now (in some cases) and will cease to exist entirely at some point in the future. In a lot of ways that second claim is a lot more radical than what actually happens when a person dies without the help of nuclear fission or fusion - ie. the body decomposes.

What I'm really trying to explore here partly goes back to a topic on a similar video I watched before by Kurzgesagt titled 'What Is Life? Is Death Real?' which probes the question of whether life and death themselves are technically illusory (if consciousness is an illusion, or if it's eternal at some granular level).


I really hope that didn't go out to too many different topics, I'm just trying to explain the territory as I'm seeing it. Also I'd really hope that I can get the benefit of the doubt as to the sincerity of my curiosity.


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10 Mar 2017, 6:17 pm

A side note on the video:

With point 3) I think he was referring to segregation - ie. I absolutely cannot project myself into anyone else and be them. From that standpoint, while the evidence is highly persuasive that other people are conscious (let alone a person becomes a putz, a menace to themselves and others, and completely miserable if they don't follow that logic), you can't prove it to yourself empirically any more than to say that the odds seem nearly impossible of it being any other way. It's not a wide leap of faith at all but it's there nonetheless.


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11 Mar 2017, 4:07 am

when peddling back to religious magical thinking,
there's layers and layers of complications, like keeping all ghosts up all the time,
or how to have more faith in believing away from the possibility of free will


when anyone starts reasoning at concious-checkpoint
maybe its a control-tower loop

one more game of boxes which
reasons toward the same every time
judging the appearances while ignoring that it's just another step
in the shadows of other steps
and not bringing light or anything to the light



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11 Mar 2017, 10:38 am

traven wrote:
when peddling back to religious magical thinking,
there's layers and layers of complications, like keeping all ghosts up all the time

^^ This is precisely what I'm talking about with politics injecting itself in obnoxious ways and stopping discussion/examination. The suggestion above seems to be that any skepticism as to why conscious experience should exist at all in the universe, outside of eliminating it as an illusion, is falling back on religious magical thinking. If I have that right it's profoundly circular logic and it also seems to implicitly assume that the universe somehow consciously cares about our historical evolution, our conquest of religious superstition with science and then reductive materialism and better keep meeting our expectations - or else! I don't think dogmas and facts have much in common and if anything they have away of deceiving people into thinking they rationally debated an idea when what they really did was a dogma show-and-tell.

traven wrote:
or how to have more faith in believing away from the possibility of free will

Free will is completely incoherent. Why bring it up?

traven wrote:
one more game of boxes which
reasons toward the same every time
judging the appearances while ignoring that it's just another step
in the shadows of other steps
and not bringing light or anything to the light

All that's a bit cryptic but I'm reading that right, isn't that exactly the point of discussing ideas - ie. seeing that people don't get stuck championing ideas that are either dead, dying, or counter-factual?


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11 Mar 2017, 10:54 am

Nobody's got a clue, about almost anything on this subject. Humans are dumb as s**t, the most you get are pretty words to give you the illusion you understand something.


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11 Mar 2017, 11:07 am

What I don't get about it - I don't see the logic that if anything other than complete and utter unimportance/irrelevance is cast on consciousness that it'll somehow lead to a world of witches burning scientists at the stake.


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11 Mar 2017, 1:38 pm

I think it might be helpful to introduce some comments by Ramsey Dukes about Magical (or magickal, if you prefer) thinking and moving into a "post truth" world.

Circling back to some earlier conversation we've had on these topics, I'd say that although Ramsey Dukes and Jordan Peterson base their systems on very different foundations, the point that Dukes is making about varieties of truth and the utility of magical thinking to him is almost identical in form (certainly from the point of view of a person based in scientific thinking and the idea of objective, measurable external truth) -- the key idea is that there can be things which are true from the perspective of their philosophical systems that are not objectively true.

Dukes does some thinking through of why this notion is distressing to people based in religious or scientific frameworks, too.

I could talk through an understanding of Dennet's main idea and my own ideas about it, but I suspect that you are not really interested in that, because I think I could convince you that there is no merit at all in the argument posed by the chap in the video about panpsychism and that there is a perfectly reasonable line of thought that suggests that self awareness of the kind we think is so important can be seen as the result of a chain of Darwinian evolutionary trials that takes those self replicating amino acid chains and over billions of years of variation produces organisms with nervous systems.

[edited for pedantic clarity]If one wants to look at the behaviour of RNA segments and find "purpose," then one is already missing the point.


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11 Mar 2017, 2:27 pm

Adamantium wrote:
I think it might be helpful to introduce some comments by Ramsey Dukes about Magical (or magickal, if you prefer) thinking and moving into a "post truth" world.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxznxmZYJaE&t=29s
Circling back to some earlier conversation we've had on these topics, I'd say that although Ramsey Dukes and Jordan Peterson base their systems on very different foundations, the point that Dukes is making about varieties of truth and the utility of magical thinking to him is almost identical in form (certainly from the point of view of a person based in scientific thinking and the idea of objective, measurable external truth) -- the key idea is that there can be things which are true from the perspective of their philosophical systems that are not objectively true.

Dukes does some thinking through of why this notion is distressing to people based in religious or scientific frameworks, too.

Thanks for the interview and I'm sure it's a good commentary on the forward evolution of how we deal with the disparity between raw objective truths versus equally real subjective needs, but we're getting completely off topic here.

The topic I proposed, I'll rephrase it in perhaps the most clean and direct way I have so far - if you're an eliminative materialist there's no other possible substrate for a conscious experience to be tethered to other than matter. It inherently suggests that we're dealing with a situation where matter, coming together in certain active combinations and cycles, creates a self-aware experience. That's what I want to discuss, it has nothing to do with utility of magical thinking - we've talked about it in other threads, it was appropriate there, it's a distrction here because it seems to prevent us from discussing the topic at hand.

Adamantium wrote:
I could talk through an understanding of Dennet's main idea and my own ideas about it, but I suspect that you are not really interested in that, because I think I could convince you that there is no merit at all in the argument posed by the chap in the video about panpsychism and that there is a perfectly reasonable line of thought that suggests that self awareness of the kind we think is so important can be seen as the result of a chain of Darwinian evolutionary trials that takes those self replicating amino acid chains and over billions of years of variation produces organisms with nervous systems.

That's pretty cynical and I'm really sorry that you'd come at this from the given assumption that anyone who'd come up with a point you'd disagree with is doing so from conviction and willful blindness.

Yes - please describe to the best of your understanding what Denett's main idea is and what your main ideas are. That's what I wanted to discuss, and I'd have to be a complete hypocrite to have asked for that several times already and not actually want it.

Adamantium wrote:
[edited for pedantic clarity]If one wants to look at the behaviour of RNA segments and find "purpose," then one is already missing the point.

I'm sorry, but this is just bad. Where in this thread was purpose invoked? Who brought it into the equation? Unless it's somewhere in something I or someone else said in the thread so far it's pure and simple projection and, like the magical thinking inject, it's a distraction from the topic at hand.


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11 Mar 2017, 3:46 pm

A side note on Ramsey Dukes:

I fundamentally have to disagree with him on a lot of what he said. For instance he's overcomplicating what should be a much more neat and clean point - that philosophic living is a different way from adherence to authority by way of a holy book or adherence to strict materialism which has a refusal to discuss or entertain anything that isn't directly measurable, and, people are rediscovering it as an option between two extremes which in and of themselves are of little use outside of their own narrow contexts (or in the case of religion - for certain types of people but not others). Even there I think he's also having a lot of trouble in understanding what an arcanum is as a teaching device, ie. an attempt to zip a very complicated subject into a few key phrases that people uncover the meaning of for themselves as they explore it. I like Jordan Peterson far more than this guy because he talks about very real things, ie. evolutionary drives and imperatives, how they abstract into Maslow's hierarchy of needs, how that's created complex societies that attempt mutual benefit but also won't uniformly fit any particular container in their beliefs or preferences - which is why liberal republican democracy and non-crony capitalism, to the extent that the work world can employ people, is the best system until such a time where a basic income has to be supplemented for work.

My problem with magical thinking the way he's describing it is that he's not making the claim that it has to generate a useful program that leaves you better off than before but something more like people are up for anything and just want something to move them along from where they're at or feel stuck at. The better way to look at it IMHO - there are higher level organizations of information that need to be answered to and can't be stomped into the gravel by insistance that they're higher orders made of smaller things thus illusory, nonexistent, or unimportant - that goes back to how we're animals and can't do a thing about whether our sex drives, hunger, thirst, or hopes and dreams are rational at their basis as these are inherited problems, and deeply sticky ones, rather than delusions. His equation with it as coinciding with post truth is part of what shows me that he's not making a good case - ie. there are things which are very subjectively true or very subjectively false and everything between, it's not a free-for-all it's just highly complex. Kabbalah, for example, suggests that you should avoid extremes and seek the center, and it's a very quick and intuitive way of self-diagnosing your psychological states to self-medicate with symbols and ideas that counter the imbalance. Similarly there are a lot of procedures, visual exercises, etc.. in western esotericism that are great for helping you take very abstract territories and confine/organize them into something you can explore in much more granular ways than you otherwise could unless you had such a container that could both confine and give shape while also allowing useful pivots through free-association. I don't think this guy is making good arguments for more useful human operating software or better social meme structures as what I'd want. He's also invoking purpose, perhaps that's where you got that idea from, which can really only be established once you actually examine a thing and see that it has a useful and practical connection. You can't assume out of the gate that something is real or useful until you check it out yourself and verify that there's something to it. To just say it's chaotic and therefore offers a lot of possibility is akin to saying BS is a miracle fertilizer.

Despite authoring a promising book on an important topic I get the impression that it's an angular and mismatched disappointment if it's as he described it here.


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11 Mar 2017, 4:14 pm

Oh dear, I've given offense and evidently came across as simply rubbishing your idea--the last thing I had intended.

Unfortunately, I have a cold this morning and am communicating poorly. Please accept my apologies for the offense given, it was not at all intended. I have undoubtedly left key parts of the chain of thought unsaid in the false expectation that those thoughts are transparently obvious and will have occurred to everyone else (because everyone else thinks just as I do...)

I think Dennet's main argument is that self-aware consciousness is not a thing external to the electrochemical software and cellular hardware of our nervous systems, but rather a property of that kind of system when it is running within normal parameters.

One of the devices that he uses to illutrate his point is the American flag illusion: stare at the image here for 5 or 10 seconds and then look at a white surface and you will see a red, white and blue American flag.
Dennet notes that we can share this experience and talk about aspects of it (is the lower most horizontal bar next to the blue field of stars red or white?) even though the red, white and blue flag doesn't have any objective existence outside of our consciousnesses.

The point of that discussion is not "consciousness is illusory" but rather that there is a thing there, even though it isn't an external thing. We can take it apart a bit and recognize that the negative afterimage that we perceive as the American flag has to do with the way our brains perceive light. There is a pigment in our optical receptors that is exhausted when they are overstimulated and takes some time to replenish and while that is happening we see an afterimage dominated by the colors opposite to the ones that oversaturated our receptors. That false signal gets processed through the primary optical pathway and visual cortex just like a real signal from photons and so we "see" a thing that is not there.

Once, this mechanism was completely mysterious, now many of the parts of it are somewhat understood. A skilled FMRI operator can read the visual cortex and get a crude idea of what the mind is seeing or envisioning (this example is a bit old, but I think the most advanced research in this area is not public ATM: example. More recent research on visual perception of 3 dimensional space here.)

We can say that the "flag that isn't there" that we can share experience of and discuss with others is in fact physically there in the brain of each person who perceives the illusion. It's externally measurable in the pattern of signalling in the brain.

It might be argued by fans of the "hard question" that the mapping of this kind of perceptive process in the brain is irrelevant because it describes how the cellular networks and there chemical activity processes signals and what patterns of those signals are equivalent to images, but says nothing about the qualia that constitute an awareness of visual perception.

There is room for debate there, but to me that seems to be mostly a "god of the gaps" kind of argument: it's OK to raise this objection, but the trajectory of research and growth of knowledge about neurobiology seems to me to suggest that the patterns that constitute qualia will also be measurable in time.

That's a slightly scary prospect that makes me think of Zamyatin's "We"-once we know how to measure qualia with any precision, might we then be able to externally alter such qualia? The dystopian possibilities are limitless.

But it does look like that is where research into consciousness will ultimately go. We already know that consciousness is a process that we can crudely intervene in when necessary. I have undergone general anesthesia for surgery, and the intervention was totally effective. The docs went through the preliminaries, then it was suddenly hours later and I was having a hard time focusing my eyes, having been instantaneously transported from one part of the hospital to another and transformed from a low-pain, clear-headed person to a groggy person in a lot of pain. The time in between just did not happen for me because my consciousness had been successfully interrupted--switched off and then on again.

This happens all the time and no metaphysical procedures are involved. the temporary termination of conscious awareness is achieve through controlled physical interventions. Certain chemicals are introduced to the blood, certain gasses to the lungs, and out you go.

That's an old example, but still good evidence that awareness really is a function of the physical system.

It's important to note that the key idea is not that "consciousness is product of matter" but consciousness is product of particular configurations of complex nervous systems. It's a potential state of certain arrangements of matter, not somehow a natural property of all matter. As far as can be observed, when you glom a bunch of stuff together, you don't get awareness. That's where the difference between the kilo of cheddar and the kilo of hummingbirds comes in. A mycologist would note that there is very likely life going on in the cheddar, but there's evidence of any kind of awareness. Hummingbirds, though? They seem to have somewhat simpler minds than ours, but still to be animated by minds of a kind, with some degree of awareness.

I suspect we will learn more about this and many of my suppositions will be proven wrong, but a naturalist narrative for the evolution of consciousness that makes sense to me is to see that sensing systems tied to simple programs to facilitate consuming energy, avoiding predation and reproducing were useful to our remote evolutionary ancestors. Over time these sensory systems got more complicated and developed a capacity to model external reality and forecast events, once that capacity was in place, the potential to model the perceiver was there and that maintaining a model of one's self in the environment is what we perceive as consciousness. The old programs still run and are part of our emotional being, but there are many levels of program running in the brain and consciousness is just one of the systems that are running in parallel. There was no gene for programming the internet, but there was a general modeling of external reality gene and the rest flowed from that.

I don't really understand the objection that some people have to the idea that consciousness is property of a kind of program running in the brain. Interfering with the opreation of parts of the brain certainly causes a demonstrable change in qualitative experience. That seems like a pretty strong clue to me.

Does that help?


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11 Mar 2017, 5:04 pm

This post is a lot better and yes, it does help.

Adamantium wrote:
Oh dear, I've given offense and evidently came across as simply rubbishing your idea--the last thing I had intended.

It wasn't offense so much as frustration. I felt a bit like I'd posted in health and fitness about mountain boarding and received diatribes about kite-surfing in response. I was more or less just trying to figure out how to bring the conversation back on point.

Adamantium wrote:
It might be argued by fans of the "hard question" that the mapping of this kind of perceptive process in the brain is irrelevant because it describes how the cellular networks and there chemical activity processes signals and what patterns of those signals are equivalent to images, but says nothing about the qualia that constitute an awareness of visual perception.

There is room for debate there, but to me that seems to be mostly a "god of the gaps" kind of argument: it's OK to raise this objection, but the trajectory of research and growth of knowledge about neurobiology seems to me to suggest that the patterns that constitute qualia will also be measurable in time.

I don't think there's a god of the gaps argument unless someone's actually trying to argue for god in the gaps. What I was trying to say earlier, exactly to this point - for what we know of matter qualia shouldn't exist at all. We'd want to figure out why it exists and what on earth would make it possible. We have a lot of great stories about how qualia come together in complex webs but not a why answer, and when we have a why answer we'll probably be forced to take them back to their components which puts the thing back where it started - ie. if it comes from matter behaving in certain manners it doesn't make sense that it, like anything, can emerge out of whole cloth. It's precursors are either in matter, in some aspect of field interaction, ultimately something that we can call bedrock.

Adamantium wrote:
That's a slightly scary prospect that makes me think of Zamyatin's "We"-once we know how to measure qualia with any precision, might we then be able to externally alter such qualia? The dystopian possibilities are limitless.

Agreed. The potentials for abuse there span as wide as the imagination of the potential abuser.

Adamantium wrote:
But it does look like that is where research into consciousness will ultimately go. We already know that consciousness is a process that we can crudely intervene in when necessary. I have undergone general anesthesia for surgery, and the intervention was totally effective. The docs went through the preliminaries, then it was suddenly hours later and I was having a hard time focusing my eyes, having been instantaneously transported from one part of the hospital to another and transformed from a low-pain, clear-headed person to a groggy person in a lot of pain. The time in between just did not happen for me because my consciousness had been successfully interrupted--switched off and then on again.

This happens all the time and no metaphysical procedures are involved. the temporary termination of conscious awareness is achieve through controlled physical interventions. Certain chemicals are introduced to the blood, certain gasses to the lungs, and out you go.

That's an old example, but still good evidence that awareness really is a function of the physical system.

I went through that when my appendix burst and it's a strange journey. One minute you're talking to nurses as the knock-out in your IV kicks in and there's no line between there and sleep and no memory of falling asleep, just a direct transition from talking, something completely obscure in between, to waking up post surgery.

I still think here that this is a story of what can be done to consciousness and illustratively assists the correlation between brain states and qualia but it doesn't touch the underlying problem of why qualia exist at all. When you really think about the question of why qualia exist at all a lot of things that we've been dead certain about, at least contextually, seem a bit less certain including the idea that there aren't analogous processes that could institute the same degree of complexity needed for consciousness to occur without being a spool of complex hydrocarbons. I would not run out and project animism on the whole world but we have to admit that qualia are a bit like unicorns and green polar bears that fart skittles when we think of the universe from a physicalist vantage point.


Adamantium wrote:
It's important to note that the key idea is not that "consciousness is product of matter" but consciousness is product of particular configurations of complex nervous systems. It's a potential state of certain arrangements of matter, not somehow a natural property of all matter. As far as can be observed, when you glom a bunch of stuff together, you don't get awareness. That's where the difference between the kilo of cheddar and the kilo of hummingbirds comes in. A mycologist would note that there is very likely life going on in the cheddar, but there's evidence of any kind of awareness. Hummingbirds, though? They seem to have somewhat simpler minds than ours, but still to be animated by minds of a kind, with some degree of awareness.

There's evidence to support that insofar as we can't tell how any path of communication would work for cognizance. The catch 22 however with that is that without some type of nervous system, or some correlate like what plants might have, a rock, a gust of wind, or anything else doesn't have anything that we're aware of to pipe up and say "Yes! I'm here!" as that requires a network, like that of neurons, to be able to muster the environmental control to act as an agent. We have good reason to believe that something like a boulder, if it had consciousness at all, would be in something as deep or deeper a state of sleep than you or I were for our surgeries but I don't know that we'd have any way of relating whether a brick of lead or a brick of cheese has absolute zero for awareness unless we really got to know our qualia and were able to say conclusively that there were other, very physical, phenomena so tightly correlated with them that we could say without a doubt whether or not a thing was conscious even if it had no biomechanical wherewithal to tell us so. That last part might be confusing if you'd think yes - we already have it! Neurons! I still think we're a good ways away from being able to tell why neurons can hold, or generate, qualia and it seems really difficult to buy into the idea that without that exact structure that something as fundamental as qualia would disappear in the absolute sense. Getting back to the parlance we were talking about earlier - having qualia completely disappear with neurons seems a bit too, well, magical on the front-end of how they ever came to exist at all.



Adamantium wrote:
I suspect we will learn more about this and many of my suppositions will be proven wrong, but a naturalist narrative for the evolution of consciousness that makes sense to me is to see that sensing systems tied to simple programs to facilitate consuming energy, avoiding predation and reproducing were useful to our remote evolutionary ancestors. Over time these sensory systems got more complicated and developed a capacity to model external reality and forecast events, once that capacity was in place, the potential to model the perceiver was there and that maintaining a model of one's self in the environment is what we perceive as consciousness. The old programs still run and are part of our emotional being, but there are many levels of program running in the brain and consciousness is just one of the systems that are running in parallel. There was no gene for programming the internet, but there was a general modeling of external reality gene and the rest flowed from that.

I don't really understand the objection that some people have to the idea that consciousness is property of a kind of program running in the brain. Interfering with the opreation of parts of the brain certainly causes a demonstrable change in qualitative experience. That seems like a pretty strong clue to me.

I don't even think there's anything wrong with the naturalist story, it just seems that it makes a lot of dogmatic assertions about the nonexistence, than existence, and return to nonexistence of qualia that just doesn't seem tenable in light of what we know about the universe - ie. that you don't have anything come from something that doesn't at least in some way explain its properties. To do so summons ridiculous images of a scientist outside the closed door of his lab, standing between it and a mob carrying torches and pitchforks shouting "You shall not pass!". To me that's not science, it's politics. Unfortunately when politics goes subconscious people can't see it anymore and it gets woven into their assumptions in such a way that it guides their behavior and knee-jerk reactions in such ways that they seem to completely or almost completely lack awareness of.


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11 Mar 2017, 6:53 pm

techstepgenr8tion wrote:
I don't think there's a god of the gaps argument unless someone's actually trying to argue for god in the gaps. What I was trying to say earlier, exactly to this point - for what we know of matter qualia shouldn't exist at all.
No, it's not precisely the god of the gaps problem, but it's similar to it. The supposed problem is know as the "explanatory gap" as described by Joseph Levine.

I don't think there is any solid ground for saying that we know something about matter that precludes the existence of the perception of being-the key part of the idea of qualia, it seems to me.

Quote:
I still think here that this is a story of what can be done to consciousness and illustratively assists the correlation between brain states and qualia but it doesn't touch the underlying problem of why qualia exist at all. When you really think about the question of why qualia exist at all a lot of things that we've been dead certain about, at least contextually, seem a bit less certain including the idea that there aren't analogous processes that could institute the same degree of complexity needed for consciousness to occur without being a spool of complex hydrocarbons. I would not run out and project animism on the whole world but we have to admit that qualia are a bit like unicorns and green polar bears that fart skittles when we think of the universe from a physicalist vantage point.
I think this is really barking up the wrong tree.

I suggest that it's not hard to see why living systems would evolve senses.
Once you have self replicating systems with senses and a facility for processing the data from those senses, it's not absurd to imagine that the ability to model external reality based on that processed information could be helpful to the organism. There are forces that would tend to produce more generalization of processing and better algorithms for analysis and modeling. The organism would still need to manage loops for regulating homeostatic systems etc. It doesn't seem that complicated to suppose that once the organism itself is part of the model the sorts of feeling state that seem so special.

It's perhaps worth noting that qualia are poorly defined and a slippery basis for discussion, but to the extent that we can define the term, it's about the experiential quality of perceiving or thinking about models of perception or processing language. All the sensory sources of qualia and the aparatus for perceiving them are clearly physical. The systems in the brain that support language, or sight or hearing or touch or proprioception are clearly physical. Mess with Broca's or Wernicke's area and it becomes clear that language processes are physically based. Mess with the hippocampus and your ability to recall what you have been thinking (and perhaps who you are) goes. I don't think it's controversial to recognize that sensory perception, language and memory are happening in the firing of neurons and the release or depletion of neurotransmitters in those areas of the brain.

The qualia argument seems to be that the redness of red or what it's like to see red is the thing that can't be explained by the perception system. Even though red green color blindness strongly suggests that the redness of red is not necessarily what we tend to naively imagine, the clear indications that language and memory take place in specialized areas of the brain just as sight occurs in the visual cortex is suggestive, I think.

Language is one of our great vehicles for the communication of ideas. If the ability to understand it or make it is demonstrably the function of certain areas of the brain, why is it so challenging to admit the possibility that ideas and experiences are also the function of areas of the brain?

Quote:
I still think we're a good ways away from being able to tell why neurons can hold, or generate, qualia

I don't think we are as far as you think. But you don't have to imagine that a neuron can hold qualia, but rather that a network of millions of neurons can hold varying levels of energy in patterns that collectively form our experiences, thoughts, perceptions and basic awareness.


Quote:
I don't even think there's anything wrong with the naturalist story, it just seems that it makes a lot of dogmatic assertions about the nonexistence, than existence, and return to nonexistence of qualia that just doesn't seem tenable in light of what we know about the universe - ie. that you don't have anything come from something that doesn't at least in some way explain its properties.

Well yes, but the way you explain the properties is important.
You could watch any number of individual starlings and dissect them as finely as you like and not find a murmmuration in them and yet:


I'm suggesting that consciousness might plausibly be like a murmmuration of neurons. It's not true to say it isn't there, but it's also untrue to say that it's resident in individual neurons. It exists as behavior in the network.

Nature is full of such phenomena. Galactic clusters don't exist in stars or galaxies, but in the clumping of many galaxies observed on a very large scale. Atoms aren't in electrons, neutrons or protons, but emerge from the properties of those particles as they interact. There are endless parallels. I really don't think it's some terrible stretch to suppose that it's a natural function of brains, or somehow requires some mental contortions.

Consciousness as a natural property of complex nervous systems seems to fit the observable universe better than consciousness as some sort of supernatural extra stuff, or something that exists in all matter but only becomes evident in neuronal networks in nervous systems.


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11 Mar 2017, 8:31 pm

Adamantium wrote:
I suggest that it's not hard to see why living systems would evolve senses.
Once you have self replicating systems with senses and a facility for processing the data from those senses, it's not absurd to imagine that the ability to model external reality based on that processed information could be helpful to the organism.

I'm trying to avoid being rude in my response here but you start this line of reasoning with self-replicating systems with senses. They have qualia, there's something it's like to be them. They probably don't have nervous systems, and we're seeing behavior that looks like learning nearly down the single-celled level, we may see that as well before the decades through. Past that the complexity of experience that trillions of neurons can provide or how that experience can be modified by turning certain brain-centers off or damaging them is somewhat beside the point.

We're still evading the underlying point - there shouldn't be anything that it's like to be anything.


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