Tuesday, 22 July 2008

The Hard Problem of Feeling; or, What is it Like to Be a Batty Philosopher?

Philosophers are troubled from time to time by the question of whether there is progress in their field. Not long ago I was much impressed with Galen Strawson’s lament about the regress that he sees in the philosophy of mind:
The fundamental positions in the mind-body debate have been marked out for a long time, and the quality of the present-day debate is embarrassingly lower than it was in the seventeenth century.
[...]
Everything that matters can be put far more simply and more clearly than it is being put in the present debate, with its atrocious muddling of metaphysical issues with epistemological and semantic issues and its for the most part witheringly unhelpful, rococo, scholastic, multiply duplicative and multiply inconsistent terminologies. [1]
I am happy to find, therefore, that a cognitive scientist has taken a small step back which, if followed, might allow a clearer picture of just what is at the heart of the so-called hard problem of consciousness. Professor Stevan Harnad has taken it upon himself to insist that feelings be called feelings, and moreover, that any claim to a physical explanation of consciousness must give a physical-functional account of them.
What makes the hard problem hard is precisely the mysterious difficulty of explaining feelings functionally. [2]
In order that there be conscious thought or perception, there must be something it feels like to think or perceive something; yet it is conceivable that cognition or perception could have a functional-propositional or just a functional relationship with the world without having any associated feeling. Indeed there seems to be no physical-functional reason why there should be any feelings at all, that is to say, why there should be consciousness in the world. As Thomas Nagel put it:
If we acknowledge that a physical theory of mind must account for the subjective character of experience, we must admit that no presently available conception gives us a clue how this could be done. The problem is unique. If mental processes are indeed physical processes, then there is something it is like, intrinsically, to undergo certain physical processes. What it is for such a thing to be the case remains a mystery. [3]
It may strike you as just obvious that feelings have physical-functional bases or that felt experience is a physical-functional process; for, if you have taken physicalism — or materialism as it used to be called [4] — as your metaphysics, and yet have come to regard it as an empirical-scientific concern, then you will surely hold that everything in the world is ultimately physical in terms of the conceptions of conventional physics — mass, energy, motion, and so on — out of which by some physical laws of emergence all functions have arisen. Yet even pain, a feeling which might seem as explicable in physical-functional terms as it is obvious to the subject of it, remains wholly mysterious.
[A] functional explanation of pain might go something like this: Pain is a signal that tissue has been injured. It is useful to an organism’s survival and reproduction for the organism to minimize tissue injury, to learn to avoid what has caused injury in the past, to avoid contact between an injured body part and other objects while the part is still damaged, and so forth. The sensorimotor and neural machinery for accomplishing all this, including the computational mechanism that would do the learning, the remembering, the selective attending and so forth, could all be described, tested, confirmed and fully understood. The only part that would remain unexplained is why pain feels like something: the functional explanation accounts for the functional facts, but the feeling is left out. And so it goes: every time you try to give a functional explanation of feeling, the feeling itself turns out to be functionally superfluous. [5]
In regard to some of the difficulties involved, it is interesting to note, as Bertrand Russell noted [6], that in the early twentieth century, whilst psychologists were coming to regard mind as more and more material, seeking to reduce it the physical, physicists were coming to regard matter as less and less material, and even in some cases coming to regard it as mental. In other words, the physicists were shifting the terms of the physical upon which the psychologists were seeking to set the terms of the mental. [7]
.....
II
Philosophy and psychology in the twentieth century descended into the strangest denial in the history of human thought. [8] Out of scientism grew an argument of bare attitude, “a form of intellectual pathology”, [9] to which all manner of dressing has been added. That argument, so far as I can determine it in its simplest form, is this:
It would be gratuitous to postulate the existence of that which has no physical-functional role to play in our scientific picture of the world.
.....
Feeling (mentality, subjectivity, or suchlike) has no physical-functional role to play in our scientific picture of the world.
.....
Therefore, it would be gratuitous to postulate its existence.
One must marvel at that conclusion: gratuitous to postulate the existence of that in the world of which one is most certain, of which one cannot be mistaken — not as to its source, but as to its existence. One could be mistaken in every other belief about the world, and yet one retains incorrigible knowledge in one thing: one feels. Indeed, compared to doubting the existence of feeling, doubting the soundness of one’s soundest arguments against the existence of feeling is a breeze. [10]
.....You might think I am exaggerating something here: that no one has ever denied his own consciousness. I must say that I doubt that anyone has ever actually believed in such a denial. There is to me a suspicion that those of a man’s highest theoretical or metaphysical assertions which ascend far above his everyday experience of the world rarely if ever descend to actual belief. [11] Yet the thought has been expressed many times, not in the madhouse, but in the mainstreams of psychology and philosophy: from the Vienna Circle, through to J.B. Watson, B.F. Skinner, and Gilbert Ryle, down to Richard Rorty and Daniel Dennett. As Professor Rorty hopefully expressed it:
[S]ensations may be to the future progress of psycho-physiology as demons are to modern science. Just as we now want to deny that there are demons, future science may want to deny that there are sensations. [12]
Maybe this future science could put recalcitrant believers to an inquisition in which, by use of thumb-screws, the silliness of their beliefs could be proven to them. There you may protest that I am making a mockery of what Professor Rorty meant, and, insofar as it is possible to determine what he ever meant by anything [13], I agree that, in a sense, he was right: the hard problem of feeling is no problem at all if one doesn’t think it is one; for, without thought, there are no problems. He is right too that a change of vocabulary in favour of what we have already decided to be the case — such that we say “C-fibres firing” instead of “feeling” — can work to remove any thought of how or why the firing of C-fibres feels like anything at all. If we were a little more sophisticated, we could even eschew mention of C-fibres altogether and, along with Professor Dennett, speak instead about “the sum total of all the idiosyncratic reactive dispositions inherent in [one’s] nervous system as a result of [one’s] being confronted by a certain pattern of stimulation”, [14] and we could be satisfied, not because we have explained anything, which we have not, but because we have switched the vocabulary to a reaffirmation of what we already believe. All the same, the mystery is not solved; it is just that we have a well-told but vague story that satisfies our metaphysical commitments.
.....In the story told by Professor Dennett, there is no hard problem of consciousness, or indeed consciousness at all, since there are no feelings — or “qualia” or “qualitative states” or “phenomenology” — at all; rather the problem just seems hard, and it just seems as if there were consciousness. [15] But this much is true: the problem does seem hard, and it does seem as if there were consciousness, wherewith one might like to consider that it is the existence of this seeming as an aspect of feeling which poses the hard problem and which is of the very essence of consciousness. It is unfortunate for Professor Dennett that it is an existence that he must affirm in order to deny.
There seems to be phenomenology. . . . But it does not follow from this undeniable, universally attested fact that there really is phenomenology. [16]
Thus: There is seeming such that it can seem to me that there is seeming, but it does not follow that there really is seeming. Make of it what you can.
.....One could object that what Professor Dennett and all other eliminativists really mean to say is that feeling is something the nature of which is reducible to non-feeling in the same way that life is reducible to non-life. [17] If that were really all they meant to say, then they would be mere reductivists about feeling and not eliminativists, and they would spend their days in search of the secret of emergence by which chalk might be transmuted into cheese. There is one good reason, however, why they are not mere reductive physicalists, and it is the same intuitive reason why dualists, neutral monists, idealists, panpsychists, and sundry others are not reductive physicalists either: to say that feeling is something the nature of which is reducible to non-feeling is to say that it does not exist; for feeling is something the nature of which it feels to be, or it is nothing at all. In the case of the eliminativists, however, the intuition tends to pass unspoken, but if spoken — to be denied.
III
Suppose that intelligence is a purely physical-functional process. Suppose furthermore that the physical world is as our physicists conventionally describe it: there is no feeling — or “experiential quality”, if you prefer — at a fundamental level, nor then at such a level are there any felt qualities of sight, sound, smell, touch, etc. (There are no blue protons, for instance, nor slightly miffed electrons.) [18] Imagine that out of this unfeeling, non-experiential quantity of physical stuff, evolution has brought forth on a gaseous planet far from our own a super-intelligent life-form without consciousness. No experiential qualities — or “feelings”, if you prefer — have somehow emerged for it out of the aforementioned physical world. It is a being of pure function. It is alive, but there is nothing it is like for it to be alive. It feels nothing, nor does anything seem to it. (You may be surprised at the constitution of this alien, and yet, given what we have supposed, shouldn’t you be more surprised at your own?) Naturally this super-intelligent but unfeeling life-form is functionally aware of its environment. It has evolved such that it detects — is functionally aware of — objective resistance, electromagnetic radiation, pressure waves, free-floating molecules, and so on. It is just that there is nothing it is like for it to detect anything: there are to it no qualities of touch, sight, sound, smell, and so on, all of which must be felt, just as there is nothing it is like for a computer-system to detect something in its environment and to perform certain functions on the data it receives. (A smoke-detector, for instance, does not smell anything, though it is functionally aware of smoke-particles.) Imagine furthermore that our alien, in addition to its customary super-intelligence, has a sensory apparatus that allows it to detect over time the position of every particle of physical stuff in its close environment such that it knows all the physical facts thereof and from which it can also deduce by all physical laws the functions of any physical system present therein. [19] Now, if your imagination is not already stretched to incredulity, imagine furthermore that our alien meets Professor Daniel Dennett.
.....Having encountered our philosopher, the alien sets about determining all the physical facts about him. There can be no inter-subjective communication of any information between the two: the encounter is not a meeting of minds; for at least one of them doesn’t have one. So here then we come to the crux of the problem: from knowledge of all and only the physical facts, does the alien know not just of the existence of feeling, but also what it feels like to feel like the philosopher?
.....It seems at this point that we reach rock-bottom intuitions, and so it is at this point that each side accuses the other of begging the question against it. Intuitively it seems to me that a being without feeling cannot know what it feels like to feel like a being with feeling, even given that the former knows all the physical facts about the latter. But here the physicalist will rightly say that I am begging the question against him, and there is little reason to suppose he will be satisfied with my intuition even if he himself shares it. So it just won’t do merely to say that this is how it seems to me, though it might in the end be all that I have left to say. Still, I think I can say something more.
.....If there is something it feels like to be Daniel Dennett, then there is something known by him that he knows only by acquaintance: how anything feels to him. He has direct knowledge that his feelings exist, and of how they feel, even if he knows nothing of — or is utterly deluded about — their causes. This direct mode of knowledge-acquisition of feelings is itself part of what it feels like to be him. Therefore for the alien to know what it feels like to feel like the philosopher, the alien must know by acquaintance what the philosopher knows by acquaintance, that is, it must know the feelings directly, such that it feels them in the same way, since that is itself part of what it feels like to be the philosopher.
.....Since the alien knows all and only the physical facts about the philosopher, and if there are no facts about him in addition to the physical ones, then there are no facts in virtue of which the alien could not know what it feels like to feel like him. Yet if our alien does not feel anything beforehand, then it does not know beforehand what it feels like to feel anything; therefore, in order to know what it feels like to feel, it must come to feel.
.....Therefore, if physicalism is true, we must expect not only that direct knowledge of feeling by acquaintance can in principle be gained through indirect knowledge of feeling merely by description, but also that such knowledge can in principle be gained by an unfeeling but intelligent being in possession of all and only the relevant physical facts without prior recourse to analogy with precisely what it lacks, such that it gains precisely what it lacks merely by learning new physical facts about the world. Therefore, if physicalism is true, such a being, which has beforehand not even an inkling of a suspicion of a mystical leap to so strange and gratuitous a conception as feeling, must come not only to feel but also to feel what Daniel Dennett feels, such that it comes to feel what it feels like to see red, what it feels like to think of the taste of pea-soup, and what it feels like to write a book that boldly claims to explain consciousness, but which does not. If all that were not strange enough, it follows that, in order to know exactly what it feels like to feel like Daniel Dennett, the alien would have to be Daniel Dennett, which would be absurd, though it would at least give grounds to my feeling that there has always been something very strange about him. [20]
.....In all this there are assumptions, some implicit, to which objections can be raised. I leave it to you to determine them. (Of course, since this is a reductio ad absurdum, there are assumptions to which you are meant to object.) There is, however, one assumption that I think might conceivably not hold: there is something it is like to be Daniel Dennett. That there is nothing it is like to be Daniel Dennett would at least have the merit of explaining the nature of some of his arguments. Naturally the objection to this assumption applies only to the use of him or any other third person as an example. It does not apply to me: I know that I have feelings. And, dear reader, if I am to know by commonsense, I am sure it does not apply to you either.
.....
IV
The urge for explanation, like all others, demands satisfaction, and yet, unless one is capable of explaining all the phenomena of the world, the urge must become frustrated, whereat, if not tamed by humility, it becomes the motive for self-deception or even dishonesty.
[I]t seems to me, rightly, that the longer the world stands, the more fabrications will be made. [21]
Even the hardest head becomes susceptible to the just-so stories it tells itself. The standard of satisfaction, erstwhile set at the level of nothing but genuine explanation, is lowered so that a matter might be re-interpreted as if it were another matter entirely, one more easily solvable yet retaining the same name. [22]
.....Physical science has its proper limits in the study of “physical stuff”, i.e., that which is defined as such by its having functional or relational properties that are amenable to observation, measurement, and third-person terminology; it does not address itself to what lies beyond such. [23] As Erwin Schrödinger noted, the initial gambit of science was to remove the subject of cognizance from the picture of the world entirely — “the high price paid for a fairly satisfactory picture”. [24] Yet a practical scope for the purpose of depicting the physical world has become to many a metaphysical view of the whole. If, however, we are to outguess the nature of future understanding, then we might speak of an understanding that does not conceive of science as handmaiden to the metaphysical assumption of physicalism.
.....If it strikes you that I have taken a mystical turn, do not concern yourself: I shall not try to flog you any crystals or mess with your aura. Yet if it is mysticism to believe in both the existence of feeling and of its irreducibility to physical stuff as outlined above, then all I can say is that mysticism seems to me more sensible than physicalism — “the philosophy of the subject who forgets to take account of himself.” [25]
.....

[1] Galen Strawson, “Panpsychism?”, in Consciousness and its Place in Nature, ed., A. Freedman (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2006), p.200.
[2] Stevan Harnad, “No Easy Way Out”, The Sciences, 41:2, 2001. (As for connotations, the word “feeling” suffers because it connotes to many people soft-headedness, laymanship, and some idea of its being somehow more unscientific than other words.)
[3] Thomas Nagel, “What is it like to be a bat?”, The Philosophical Review LXXXIII, 4, October 1974.
[4] Here I take “materialism and “physicalism” as synonyms; but the change from materialism to physicalism does represent some significant shift in conceptions.
[5] Stevan Harnad, op.cit; original emphasis.
[6] Bertrand Russell, The Analysis of Mind (Oxford: Routledge, 1992), Preface.
[7] Here I concentrate on feeling, but I can think of no satisfactory account of meaning, intentionality, and purpose either.
[8] Cf. “At [the denial of the existence of experience] we should stop and wonder. I think we should feel very sober, and a little afraid, at the power of human credulity, the capacity of human minds to be gripped by theory, by faith. For this particular denial is the strangest thing that has ever happened in the whole history of human thought, not just the whole history of philosophy.” Galen Strawson, “Realistic Monism: Does Physicalism Entail Panpsychism?, in Consciousness and its Place in Nature, ed., A. Freedman (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2006), p.5.
[9] John R. Searle, The Mystery of Consciousness (London: Granta Books, 1998), p.112, in reference to Daniel Dennett.
[10] It would be gratuitous for an entity without feeling to postulate its existence, for, without feeling, there is no ground for a belief in it; but for an entity with feeling, the denial of its existence is absurd.
[11] Everyone, for instance, when he stubs his toe, is a dualist with no questions asked, for he cannot help but separate the world into two distinct entities.
[12] Richard Rorty, “Mind-Body Identity, Privacy and Categories”, Review of Metaphysics, XIX, 1, September 1965, reprinted in Materialism and the Mind-Body Problem (2nd Edition), ed., D.M. Rosenthal, (Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Co., 2000), p.179. (Cf. Behaviourism, which ignores mental states “in the same sense that chemistry ignores alchemy, astronomy horoscopy, and psychology telepathy and psychic manifestations.” J.B. Watson, “Is Thinking merely the Action of Language Mechanisms?” British Journal of Psychology, 11, 1920, quoted by William Lyons, Matters of the Mind (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2001), p.42.)
[13] I am not the only one who finds it difficult to fathom what Richard Rorty meant to say by anything he said — and perhaps I am not alone in suspecting that this is precisely what he meant to achieve by everything he said.
[14] Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained (London: Penguin Books, 1993), p.387, original emphasis. (More of the same: “When you say ‘This is my quale [feeling]’, what you are singling out, or referring to, whether you realize it or not, is your idiosyncratic complex of dispositions. You seem [it feels like to you] to be referring to a private, ineffable something-or-other in your mind's eye, . . . but this is just how it seems [feels like] to you, not how it is.” ibid., p.389; original emphasis.)
[15] Professor Dennett doesn’t quite put it that way: he continues to use the word “consciousness” as if he hadn’t denied it. For a sense of the frustration at Professor Dennett’s evasions, equivocations, and blusterings, see Professor Harnad’s amusing commentary on Dennett’s forthcoming paper, “The Fantasy of First-Person Science”. (Stevan Harnad, “The Mind/Body Problem is the Feeling/Function Problem”, at the University of Southampton website.)
[16] Dennett, op. cit., p.366. (In defining “phenomenology”, Dennett says (ibid., p.45) “we can follow recent practice and adopt the term . . . as the generic term for the various items in conscious experience that have to be explained.” I.e., feelings.)
[17] Professor Dennett does indeed use just such an analogy, but only in the hope that, in lieu of explanation, he might persuade us that feeling poses no explanatory problem. The analogy with life is a poor one, however. Life in terms of a physical-functional process is quite easily reducible to non-life in the same terms. The same cannot be said for feeling.
[18] I recall that Colin McGinn mentions something of the kind in his mockery of panpsychism.
[19] Technical details are sketchy at this point, though we may presume our alien has never heard of Heisenberg.
[20] My own view is that the alien would learn nothing of Professor Dennett’s feelings. File Report to Central Administration: Carbon-based life-form. Functionally primitive. Edible.
[21] [“. . . wie mich dünkt, mit Recht, daß je länger die Welt stünde desto mehr Erfindungen würden gemacht werden.”] G.C. Lichtenberg, Sudelbücher, (Frankfurt am Main und Leipzig: Insel Verlag, 1984), J 1250 from Sudelbuch J, (1789-1793), p.441.
[22] E.g., “One way is to change the subject, swap an easy problem for the hard one (but keep calling it the hard one anyway), and then solve that easy problem instead. The second way is simply to provide an easy solution, but interpret it as if it had solved the hard problem.” Stevan Harnad, “No Easy Way Out”, ibid.
[23] “Whether we are studying a material object, a magnetic field, a geometric figure, or a duration of time, our scientific imagination is summed up in measures; neither the apparatus of measurement nor the mode of using it suggests that there is anything essentially different in these problems. The measures themselves afford no ground for a classification by categories. We feel it necessary to concede some background to the measures—an external world; but the attributes of this world, except in so far as they are reflected in the measures, are outside scientific scrutiny.” Sir Arthur Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1928), p.xiii.
[24] Erwin Schrödinger, Mind and Matter, in What is Life? With Mind and Matter, and Autobiographical Sketches (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), p.119.
[25] Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Vol.II, tr. E.F.J. Payne (New York: Dover Publications, 1966), p.13. (“Materialismus ist die Philosophie des bei seiner Rechnung sich selbst vergessenden Subjekts.”; Die Welt als Wille und Vortstellung, Bd.II., in Sämmtliche Werke, ed., E. Grisebach (Leipzig: Reclam, 1891.), p.21.)

22 comments:

Recusant said...

It seems to me that you feel that Professor Dennett is not as bright as he seemingly feels himself to be.

But then I'm not very bright and, according to his feelings about the nature of the world and cosmos, it seems to be that he wouldn't feel you were very bright either.

Deogolwulf said...

Ha, most likely! Of course, he is a very clever man, and I doubt it would seem to him otherwise.

Recusant said...

But then being a bright is, according to him, only available to materialist atheists like himself.

You see, as we are not wearing the correct tie, we cannot be allowed into the club. Still I quite like the colour scheme of my Burkean Chestertonian club tie.

Deogolwulf said...

Quite right, Recusant. But then I wouldn't like to be a member of any club of which the members were mostly self-congratulatory muppets calling themselves "brights".

Pietr said...

They deny everything they use to deny everything

Ilíon said...

Deogolwulf: I just wanted to express my admiration and appreciation for that.

Deogolwulf said...

Ta very much!

Lord James Bigglesworth said...

Yet even pain, a feeling which might seem as explicable in physical-functional terms as it is obvious to the subject of it, remains wholly mysterious.

Yes it does indeed. We were talking yesterday about the power of being able to overcome certain of our ailments by positive thinking, by having a windfall or enjoying a good wine in company.

I'd like to recount that this occurred to me recently, where all manner of ailments disappeared as if by magic when a positive gettogether was on the day's agenda later.

Malingerer? Possibly but there is definitely something in it all. Faith healing - what about that? All hogwash?

I believe feeling exists quite independently of physical functionality or at least has the power to influence it.

addofio said...

Very refreshing. The best sense I've read on the internet on this topic in a long time. And with just enough bite to the prose to be entertaining also.

IMO, anyone who denies the existence of his or her own consciousness or feelings has exempted themselves (pardon the pronoun) from any attribution of rationality. One's own existence and consciousness are the most empirical of empirical facts, on which all else rests. Deny mine if you will--I of course know better, but I can at least see another's denial of my consciousness as (marginally) rational. But deny your own? And expect me to believe you? You've definitely wandered through the looking glass

Have you read the book "A Mind So Rare: The evolution of human consciousness" by Merlin Donald? It's the best thing I've read on the subject, partly because he draws on many areas--philosophy, evolution, cognitive psychology, neurology, and others--to tackle it. It always puzzles me why philosophers, or physicists, think the questions of consciousness are purely philosophical Qs, or Qs of physics.

Ilíon said...

(I apologize upfront for the brevity of this post and that due to that it may not be entirely clear what I mean to get at.)

I wonder, Deogolwulf (and your readers, of course):

Have you yet noticed or realized that the argument you lay out here is a decisive -- and fatal -- refutation of atheism, of the denial that there exists a Creator/God?

If one claims to be a logically consistent atheist, then one's metaphysic must be 'materialism/physicalism' -- which is to say, one must assert that 'mind' is not basic or fundamental to the nature of reality. Now, that particular metaphysic can't stretch to give us a "satisfactory account of meaning, intentionality, and purpose" -- which no doubt goes far in explaining why the "top drawer" atheists tend to deny that these things (and consciousness, in general) even exist -- and here we see that the metaphysic can't even account for mere "feelings!"

As Addofio rightly says: "... anyone who denies the existence of his or her own consciousness or feelings has exempted themselves (pardon the pronoun) from any attribution of rationality. One's own existence and consciousness are the most empirical of empirical facts, on which all else rests."


We, each of us, *know* beyond any possibility of error that we, ourselves, exist. If we know nothing else, we know this (and, all other knowledge we may ever attain builds upon, depends upon, that knowledge). But, a logically consistent atheism compels us to categorically deny that we, our very own selves, exist!

But, this is absurd: we exist; we *know* that we exist. And so, we know that anything which tends to the denial of our own existence is at error in some way or another.

With atheism, this denial of our own existence follows logically and inescapably from the fundamental premise (i.e. "There is no God"); that is, this aburdity is inherent, inescapable, and irreparable. The atheist can fix the error only by abandoning the atheism.

addofio said...

As a confirmed agnostic, let me respond to Ilion:

It's not at all inconsistent to disbelieve in a Creator God, and still believe that mind and consciousness are real and not reducible to physics. I could believe in a god that is not a creator god, or I could believe that mind and consciousness are perfectly natural emergent qualities of the physical world, yet not themselves physical. Your argument is no doubt convincing to you; but there simply is no argument, and no evidence, that compels anyone to believe one way or another regarding the existence or non-existence of God or gods. Which to me means that there is nothing inherently irrational about in either theism or atheism (or agnosticism) per se. It is perfectly reasonable to believe as you do for yourself; it is not, however, reasonable for you to insist that I must also believe it.

Kairosfocus said...

Gentlemen

Interesting. Very interesting.

Well done, Deogolwulf.

Addofio, the issue is not whether there are other possible worldviews out there that must then meet their own difficulties, on their own merits or on a comparative basis, but the factual adequacy, explanatory power and indeed coherence of that dominant, evolutionary materialistic scientism that dominates the western world's current mindset. And, in that context, a reductio argument backed up by reference to actual leading evolutionary materialist thinkers is entirely appropriate.

As to the onward argument in brief, "I could believe that mind and consciousness are perfectly natural emergent qualities of the physical world, yet not themselves physical," this is, I am afraid a resort to inadvertently distracting word magic.

Why do I say that?

First, by use of Q-mech etc, we can reasonably explain how the properties of common salt emerge from those of Na and Cl, under certain circumstances. But, the properties and first person experiences of consciousness are RADICALLY different from those of matter and energy in interaction under blind mechanical necessity and chance circumstances. Such emergence as one may assert needs significant warrant, on pain of the term simply being yet another distraction from the substantial issue, as the original post pointed out.

So far as I am aware, no-one has as yet provided such warrant. (Had that been done, we would not see the sorts of arguments Dennett is using.)

The matter goes deeper yet.

One of the key felt experiences is that of following and so consciously understanding a course of argument, and then, on reflection, consciously deciding to accept or reject the logic involved. That is, significantly free and responsible choice is deeply, inextricably -- and I daresay irreducibly -- involved.

Thence, if one does not in reality have such choice on matters of cognition, one ends up in the self-referential absurdities of choice and reason becoming untrustworthy delusions driven by forces that reduce in the end to chance plus mechanical necessity. In which case, why do you FEEL it is important to argue and plead for reason in this thread?

So, how, then, do you argue: there simply is no argument, and no evidence, that compels anyone to believe one way or another regarding the existence or non-existence of God or gods?

Just a thought . . .

GEM of TKI

addofio said...

kairosfocus:

I attempted a reply to your question, but it somehow didn't survive the word verification process. I'll try again.

Pure logic only takes us so far, and whether or not it is compelling to a second person depends essentially on agreement into the undefined inputs and assumptions upon which the logic operates. Even in mathematics, that most purely logical of disciplines, there exist true but unprovable statements, and entire mathematical systems which are based on differing assumptions, but which are equally valid mathematical systems. If this is true when reasoning about mathematics, how much more likely is it to be the case when we reason about the "real world"? And still more when we reason about spiritual matters?

I personally find the debunking of arguments both for and against the existence of God to be far more convincing than the constructive areguments themselves. Such beliefs are, IMO, more a matter of faith than reason, and reasonably so. One person may find such an argument convincing, another not, without the resulting belief of either person being necessarily irrational.

I wrote a longer post relevant to this some time ago, if you are interested:

http://addofio.wordpress.com/2007/03/26/belief-and-certainty/

(That's not a link; I don't know how to do that in a comment, and some bloggers don't allow links in comments anyway.)

If you find that my thoughts on this matter render me irrational--well, we may have to leave it at that.

Ilíon said...

Addofio: "That's not a link; I don't know how to do that in a comment ..."

Try this -- except replace the square brackets ("[" and "]") with angle brackets ("<" and ">"):
[a href="http://addofio.wordpress.com/2007/03/26/belief-and-certainty/"]Belief and certainty[/a] resulting in this: (Self-contradiction about) Belief and certainty

Deogolwulf said...

Gentlemen, I thank you for your thought-provoking comments. Related to this matter is an interesting discussion at Malcolm Pollack's blog, here. (Number of comments is already over 100.)

Anonymous said...

Which would you say is more likely: The non-existence of sensations, or the existence of demons?

ip

Ilíon said...

Anonymouse,
That question is silly. And illogical. And possibly irrational.

George Weinberg said...

Imagine that out of this unfeeling, non-experiential quantity of physical stuff, evolution has brought forth on a gaseous planet far from our own a super-intelligent life-form without consciousness. No experiential qualities — or “feelings”, if you prefer — have somehow emerged for it out of the aforementioned physical world.

But if Dennet's ideas about consciousness are close to correct, as I suspect they are, such a being could not exist. If qualia come about as a result of "the sum total of all the idiosyncratic reactive dispositions inherent in [one’s] nervous system as a result of [one’s] being confronted by a certain pattern of stimulation”, any intelligent being would experience qualia.

Deogolwulf said...

Mr Weinberg, you are welcome to object to the assumption of the existence of such a being. The question then is: if such a being could not exist, why not? After all, it is logically possible that such a being exists; indeed, not only is its existence logically possible, but also, given what we have assumed by standard physicalism, and were it not for our own felt consciousness, it seems logically more parsimonious that only such a being could exist, and that it would be gratuitous to postulate the existence of any being that was not so constituted. If, however, such a being is physically impossible, then we need to say why, since, given what we have assumed by physicalism, it is not physical-function that is the problem; it is precisely the existence of feeling that is without explanation. We should, as I pointed out, be more surprised at our own constitution. Professor Dennett’s string of words is not an explanation, it is a change of vocabulary and a reaffirmation of an assumption. It explains precisely nothing about feelings (or “qualia”, if you prefer). I think you are on the wrong track, if I may say so, in mentioning his “ideas about consciousness”, because, so far as I can tell, he doesn’t have any. He has many ideas about something he calls “consciousness”. As Galen Strawson puts it, Dennett “looking-glasses” the word “consciousness” to mean something that involves no consciousness. Why? Because consciousness is a damned difficult thing to fit into standard physicalism. (See also Harnad, footnote 22, and the links to his papers.) Dennett does not say that qualia (or “feelings”, as I prefer) come about as a result of dispositions and blah-di-blah; he denies that they come about at all. He does not say that any intelligent being would experience qualia; on the contrary, he says that no being experiences qualia, that qualia are nothing but blah-di-blah. If Dennett’s ideas about “consciousness” are close to correct, as you put it, then not only could such an intelligent but feelingless being exist, but, according to him, you are one.

Ilíon said...

Deogolwulf (to Mr Weinberg): "... As Galen Strawson puts it, Dennett “looking-glasses” the word “consciousness” to mean something that involves no consciousness. Why? Because consciousness is a damned difficult thing to fit into standard physicalism. (See also Harnad, footnote 22, and the links to his papers.) Dennett does not say that qualia (or “feelings”, as I prefer) come about as a result of dispositions and blah-di-blah; he denies that they come about at all. He does not say that any intelligent being would experience qualia; on the contrary, he says that no being experiences qualia, that qualia are nothing but blah-di-blah. If Dennett’s ideas about “consciousness” are close to correct, as you put it, then not only could such an intelligent but feelingless being exist, but, according to him, you are one."

Exactly.

If "physicalism" or "naturalism" or "materialism" (or as I generally prefer, "atheism") were indeed the truth about the nature of reality, than beings such as ourselves, as we experience and understand ourselves to be, logically cannot exist.

And yet we do exist. And we do experience ourselves to *be* selves: to be free and rational agents who know and understand and reason. And we do understand those qualities to be what makes us what we are: we understand the abnegation of those characteristice to be the abnegation of our very own selves.

Ergo, either:
1) our experience and understanding (however imperfect that understanding is) of our own precise selves is not only incomplete, but false (*),
2) "physicalism" (aka "atheism") is false.


(*) This is why "physicalists" must always end up declaring that "consciousness" is an illusion, that there exists no "self." This seems to satisfy them -- because the goal is to protect physicalism (which is to say, the goal is to protect the denial of "theism"), not to arrive at a more accurate understanding of reality -- but it does raise the interesting question: "Just who is it who is suffering the illusion/delusuib that *I* exist?"

David said...

Hi,
I apologize for intervening in the discussion, but I could need some help with philosophy.

Why exactly does it need to be like something to see red?
What answer is expected to the question, what is it like to ...?

It's possible to describe it in quite some detail: it's a color, it has a certain wavelength, there are some processes in the eye and the brain, why is that not enough?
If you would want to know to the last detail how it feels to be me, you would need to be me. That might be mysterious, but not more mysterious than the fact that it is not possible for a stone to be at the place where there is another stone already.

David

PS: Does anybody know whether the observer effect in quantum physics also works with a chimpanzee as an observer? with a fly? with a camera?

PPS: I don't think Dennett means to say that you have no feelings, but that there is disagreement in the definition of feeling.

D said...

Intervening was probably the wrong word for the last comment was a month ago:-)