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Mar5-04, 09:39 AM
P: 3,715
I'm sure we all know that Dennett was not the first Materialist philosopher of the mind. His theory is unique, but it is not without precedent. One example of a previous Materialist philosopher, who (I think) may shed considerable light on the issues that have been discussed in many previous threads, to do with consciousness and subjective experience.

The philosopher was David Hume. I think I mentioned him briefly before, on another thread.

Hume's ideas on consciousness seem integral to Dennett's philosophy, yet I don't think Dennett ever mentioned Hume in his books...this is perhaps because Dennett came up with his theory on his own, and certain parts just happened to have already been discovered by Hume in the 18th century.

Anyway, there are (at least) three points that were addressed by Hume, in his writings, that I feel are relevant here. Before we get to those, I need to do some preliminary defining of terms.

In Hume's philosophy, the term "impression" refers to those stimuli which immediately impress themselves on our sensory organs (e.g. the pain of being poked in the finger is an impression). On the other hand, there are also "ideas" (notice how he avoided the trap that Locke had fallen into, of lumping all sorts of thought and experience into "ideas"), which are either "simple" or "complex", and which are defined (basically) as those thoughts that are not impressed upon us by external reality, but which are purely subjective (produced inside the brain without external stimulus). A "simple idea", by Hume's definition, is (basically) one that is identical (except in degree) to a previous impression. A "complex idea" is one that is not identical to a previous impression, but which can be reduced into many "simple ideas" which can be traced back to some past "impression". Indeed, all thought, in Hume's paradigm, could either be traced directly back to an identical (except in degree) impression, or to a simpler "idea" - which could then be traced back to an impression.

He put a bit of (IMO, unnecessary) effort into proving that all simple ideas are identical (except in degree - what I mean by this, btw, is that (for example) when you imagine being kicked in the gut, you don't actually feel pain (no matter how vivid the imagination); ergo, the degree is different, but you would still not be able to imagine being kicked in the gut, if it had never been "impressed" upon you) to previous impressions, and that the impression must always precede the idea, but I don't think I need to dwell on that too much, for now.

Now to the three relevant points:

1) From Hume's paradigm, we get that any "idea" (a subjective experience that is not equal to a previous "impression") can be reduced, and eventually traced back to some objective phenomenon. Even my use of the English language, in such a manner as to explain these things to all of you, is a complex "idea" that can be broken up into simpler "ideas", which can be traced back to impressions.

2) From Hume's paradigm, we get that, when one strips away all "impressions" and innate behavior (i.e. nature and nurture) one does not have some naked "self" left over, but has nothing, since there is nothing more to the self or the mind than these things.

3) (My favorite) From Hume's paradigm, we get that questions of the form "how/why did the 'impression' get comprehended as it did in the first place?" are completely moot. The famous example of different shades of might easily be convinced that the "impression" of each different shade is necessary for the "ideas" of different shades, in later life. However, some may still ask "how did the mind ever see 'blue' in the first place?" or "how did that particular wavelength translate to 'blue', when first 'impressed' in the viewer?". Hume's answer (in a nutshell), "how else should it have looked?". Think about it, if that wavelength of light didn't look that way, it would have to look some other way, and we'd still be asking the same question. So, it looks the way it does because it doesn't look any other way. Simple as that.

The other senses are much easier to deal with than sight, which is why I chose a visual example. But it seems rather simple, that the visual cortex does what the visual cortex is supposed to do: process incoming stimulus from the retina - which has already done some processing of its own - and categorizing for future reference (whether as an "idea" or another "impression" of the same color).

Take all of this and tie it in with all of the other philosophy and theory that I've discussed in previous threads (that of Dennett, Calvin, and Edelman to name a few), and I just don't see the "hard problem" as having any weight anymore.

P.S. Those other threads, if you haven't been there yet, are:
"Faulty expectations of a theory of consciousness", "'What makes a liquid liquid?' questions, and The Flaw in the Definition of Consciousness

And those are just the ones I've started. There are plenty more of them.
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