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An idea about consciouness and materialism

  1. Feb 18, 2005 #1
    Ok so I was sitting by my computer, and I suddenly thought "um this image I am seeing when I look at the monitor, or the sounds of cars I hear outside, where are they in the physical world exactly?"

    To better explain, let's think about it logically.. What components are part of creating this image I am seeing with my eyes?
    1. You have the outside world, the particles, then the photons bouncing around and on my retina.
    2. You have my brain, and the chemical and biological workings inside that brain, which makes my brain "see" this image.

    But where is the image itself?
    How can we say everything is physical, when the image itself can not be seen physically. We can only see hints of it. We can even describe the universe down to the smallest string or particle, yet the image itself, the first person experience of me seeing with my eyes, can not be seen in the phsical world.

    Or can it?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 18, 2005 #2
    Ok I like to expand on this a little bit.

    The obvious answer to my question is that we need some sort of device to instead of having the brain receive and process the eye information, rather have it routed to a monitor or something.

    So a new question arises; Has there been any research on this? Does anyone have a clue how you might build such a device?
  4. Feb 18, 2005 #3


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    An image on the monitor isn't the same thing though, it's just excited atoms emitting photons. You haven't truly duplicated the experience until you look at the monitor and experience the image, but then you're back where you started.

    The problem is that the physical only consists of things like "mass" and "charge", which are only defined by relationships. But it seems like there's more to an experience than pure relationships ( or "bare differences"). You can explain all the things you might do if you have a certain experience, but there's also something it is like to have the experience that doesn't seem to be covered by these facts. This is called the hard problem of consciousness. There are some who think you can create experience out of the bare differences of the physical, and there are others who think we'll need to go beyond physics to answer this question.
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2005
  5. Feb 18, 2005 #4


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    StatusX, those that think you need to go beyond physics, do they offer any suggestions of where to look? Surely they must mean, beyond current physics, but still physics. You know, I don't wish to sound inappropriate but it seems to me that a lot of people (Chalmers, Dennett, others) talk about what is and isn't consciousness but say little about devising experimental procedures to find it. Frankly, I think we're close in differential equations but I don't want to step on toes here.

    My edit: I don't know enough about Chalmers and Dennett's work to comment about them, it's just everything I've read so far show's little in the way of suggesting ways of empirically "simulating" consciousness and that is what I feel is the way to "discover" what it is in it's essence.
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2005
  6. Feb 18, 2005 #5


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    Experimental study of consciousness is a tough one, and I haven't heard any compelling proposals either. The problem, of course, is that the only experience we can ever know about is our own. We could run all the simulations we want, but how would we know what they experience?

    And as for differential equations being close to a tool that we could study consciousness with, again, the problem is that consciousness is more than relationships and rates of change. What differential equation could describe a pure field of orange, like one you'd exerience if you put orange cellophane over your eyes and stared at a white wall? I'm not just saying I can't think of one, I'm saying such an experience is characterized completely intrinsically. I'm not talking about light waves of a certain frequency, although they may instantiate the state, or any other mathematical or causal relationships. A field of orange can only be experienced directly, otherwise there is no way to convey what it is.
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2005
  7. Feb 18, 2005 #6


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    Well StatusX, I'd like to comment further about math being used as a tool to study consciousness but I really think they don't like me talking math here. Perhaps its inappropriate in fact to do so in a philosophy forum and I really don't want to disrupt the dialog. I really should just stay my behind in differential equations but you know, I've been interested in neuroscience for many years and find some of the threads here fascinating. Hard to stay out.

  8. Feb 19, 2005 #7


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    Of course talking about math is appropriate, so long as it advances your argument. Please feel free to use whatever resources you deem necessary to make your case.

    Let me add a disclaimer to that last sentence (it's not aimed at you, saltydog, just the general audience). Of course, it goes without saying that any resources may be used to advance an argument so long as they comply with the posting guidelines of Physics Forums in general and the philosopy forums in particular.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2005
  9. Feb 19, 2005 #8


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    Having said that, however, it might be more appropriate to hold such a discussion in its own dedicated thread.
  10. Feb 19, 2005 #9
    If we used math to examine the consciousness we would only be able to describe the triggers of the consciousness, not consciousness itself. If you are trying to define consciousness itself with math, I think you are trying to measure something which is unmeasurable.

    In seeking wisdom thou art wise; in imagining that thou hast attained it - thou art a fool.
    Lord Chesterfield
  11. Feb 20, 2005 #10


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    Alright Hypnagogue, I do feel I need to offer an explanation to StatusX:

    I really meant integro-differential equations but wanted to avoid such a mouth-full. You know, like:

    [tex]\frac{dy}{dt}=F(y,t)+\int_c^t K(t,s)y(s)ds[/tex]

    The marvelous thing about these is that they embody history. That is, the behavior of the system is dependent on how it behaved in the past. Look at the equation: the rate at which y changes is affected by the sum total (integral) of what it did in some (past) interval (c,t). Regular differential equations do not have this feature and only project forward based on a current state (well, delay systems are exceptions but I digress). Many phenomena in nature are such that the past determines the future. You know, like metal fatigue and genetic endowment. Neurons are like this too: their behavior is dependent on the stimulation they received in the past, the "use it or loose it" mantra. Now, I don't wish to imply that simple equations such as these will offer much insight into mind, but I'm optimistic that more complex "coupled non-linear" systems will.

    Last edited: Feb 20, 2005
  12. Feb 20, 2005 #11


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    I have no problem with math explaining neurons. Of course, it is very unlikely any type of equation will do the job. Even for something as simple as the game of Life, the only way to predict future states is to actually run it, no equation can do the job. But some form of math, based on the principles of physics, will one day explain everything from why we laugh to why we talk about consciousness.

    The question is, does this cover everything? Do the mathematical relationships between neurons explain what yellow looks like? The answer seems to be no, since all any physical theory could explain is what systems do, and a yellow experience is more than just what it causes us to do (eg, say something is yellow). I've made a thought experiment to help make this clearer (hopefully).
  13. Feb 20, 2005 #12


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    You seem to have bought the argument that because epiphenominalism cannot see the experience of yellow, there is some "thing" that it is, that science will never understand. But the particular congeries of neural feedback loops in my short term working memory module, which is what I think "seeing yellow" is, will eventually be decoded by advanced brain imaging of conscious cooperating subjects, and shortly after that they will be able to generate "the yellow experience" by tuned stimulation. This is going to happen before many of you would believe. They still won't have captured the experience itself, but they will have its neural causation down to the molecule. And that's all there needs to be.

    Can consciousness cause? We see the yellow light, rather than the green or red one, and we slow down. This happens because we have the experience of yellow, because that particular neural pattern circulates in the parts sof our brain it does. Not because we concentrate on "what it's like" to experience yellow ("what it's like" is just another congeries of nerve activities). Surely seeing yellow is causative, but "what it's like" is an epiphenomenon. If it had physical causes they could be tapped to determine things about it!
  14. Feb 20, 2005 #13


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    Yes, thanks for the thought experiment. I've read it in the past and will spend more time with it.

    I'm familiar with the argument, "the only way to know is to let it run on its own". I'm not implying that we "predict" conscious behavior, only "simulate" its basic architecture which I suspect may be in the form of dynamics. The connections between neurons seem to be the critical component in mind as I believe many in the field would agree. Since neurons are dynamic entities, the architecture thus gives rise to a dynamic impact. I'm not saying math relationships between neurons will explain "what yellow feels like" but rather the resulting dynamics modeled by the equations may resemble the neural dynamics in the brain which give us the sensation of experiencing yellow.

    Now, I'm not good with IDEs. It just happens that in my opinion, IDEs seem the best candidate for modeling neural circuits because of the history component I mentioned. Maybe not, but at least it's an idea in which to approach mind from an empirical perspective.
  15. Feb 20, 2005 #14


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    I don't understand. Are you claiming there is something being missed by a purely functional explanation, but it isn't important for some reason? How can you justify ignoring a natural phenomenon?

    It's paradoxical, no doubt. But the question is, can everything we know be deduced from things we do? If you assume the world is a purely functional, causal flux, with no intrinsic grounding, then the answer is obviously yes. But it is at least possible that we know things, like what colors look like, that can't be determined from what we do. Of course on the other hand, it can be deduced from things we do that we believe we know this.

    Faced with this paradox, you can either decide we really don't know what colors look like, which I don't see how you can justify to yourself (can you look at a color right now and tell me that you really don't know what it looks like?), or you can decide our current understanding of the universe is limited in some way. Historically, paradoxes have arisen in many fields, from math to biology, and resolving these paradoxes has driven much of the progress of modern science. Giving up in the face of this paradox would be like claiming motion is impossible because of Zeno's paradox. Since motion clearly is possible, we would have to find another way to resolve it.
  16. Feb 22, 2005 #15


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    I ran into this article today. It's about synesthesia, a condition in which people seems to feel, hear and taste color. To me, that is simply explained by faulty neural connections although I also suspect we could verify that hypothesis via PET scans: Does the "olfactory" center light up when she's "smells color"? Surely they must have tried that already. Hum, maybe it's a little more complicated than that.

    Some use the experience of color as a paradigm for consciousness. I wonder how synesthesia affects that paradigm?

    Here's the web article:

  17. Feb 26, 2005 #16
    Have not read full thread yet, but want to point out that you are on a slipper slope by suggesting that since you can't preceive the image, you presume that you have some monitor tht makes the perception possible. This leads to the obvious question: How does the monitor perceive? Well it has a monitor with which it pecceives ....etc....etc...etc...with out end or resolution of the original problem. (Usually called the "infinite regress trap.")

    I will read rest of thread and later remove this post if too redundant, but must leave house immediately now.
  18. Feb 26, 2005 #17
    Think of images as causally and relationally COMPOSED or COMPOSABLE FORMS. Metaphysically, they are catigorised into two fundamnetal tyeps:




    We know that something of any sort cannot be composed from 'Nothingness' or 'Nothing'. We know that something of any sort is eternal and quantitatively and logically irreducible to Nothingness. We also know that something of any sort is prone to CHANGE and that it can change from one thing to another or from one form to the next, but what is not yet clear is whether anything that is prone to change can take a PERMANENT (UNCHANGING) FORM? This is what I called in my earlier response to someone's posting on the same subject: The PRICELESS QUESTION that demands an immediate answer.
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2005
  19. Feb 26, 2005 #18
    physical descriptions

    And some who think the world is already beyond what is captured by physical descriptions.
  20. Feb 26, 2005 #19
    If there wasn't anything it is like to see yellow, you could not base
    any conscious decision on something's colour. see the "3 laws of qualia" by Ramachandran.

    You just said it has physical causes:

    (But the particular congeries of neural feedback loops in my short term working memory module, which is what I think "seeing yellow" is, will eventually be decoded by advanced brain imaging of conscious cooperating subjects, and shortly after that they will be able to generate "the yellow experience" by tuned stimulation. )

    Surely you mean physical effects.
  21. Feb 26, 2005 #20
    philocrat you keep talking in every thread about these temporary forms and final forms, and honestly i've no clue what you're on about.

    care to elaborate a little?
  22. Feb 27, 2005 #21

    Also you tend to make unsupported flat broad statements, one after the other, such as:
    (1) "We know that something of any sort cannot be composed from 'Nothingness' or 'Nothing'."
    (2) "We know that something of any sort is eternal and quantitatively and logically irreducible to Nothingness."
    I would think that the production of an electron and positron out of "nothing" (vacuum polarization) and some other virtual particles at least calls your unsupported statement (1) into question.
    About (2) I can not even agree that once an atom exists, it can not be transmuted into another chemical type. Is Argon the same as Chlorine?
    Now taking another, more macroscopic example, Ceaser's last breath - If none of those expired atoms were removed from the atmosphere, then it is highly probable a few of those atomms are in your lungs right now. Is Ceaser's last breath a "something of any sort" or not?
    If it is, does it still exist "eternal" as you state. Is it distinct from Brutus's last breath? (I am assuming that when Brutus later died he had even more of Ceaser's last breath in his lungs than you do.)
    Is the atmosphere both of their last breaths?
    I hope you see why I, lke Bolo, can't follow your thoughts.

    A few more examples and less eruridite terms would sure help me understand you. No offense intended and I wish to publicly thank you for responding to a PM requesting help with posting mechanics. I too am only trying to be helpful with these comments and questions. I hope and trust you will take them in this spirit.
  23. Feb 27, 2005 #22
    Well, there is a fundamental distiction between:




    My argument is that proposition (2) is metaphysically, logically and epistemologically impossible. The fact that the human intellect, sense organs and their extenstions (all known scientific instruments) logically and empirically give up at COP (Critical Observation Points) is no license for us to naively ground proposition (2) as the gospel truth. Ofcourse, you and Bola are quite free to disagree with me on this one, but that's my current position, anyway. It would take a concrete argument to convince me otherwise.
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2005
  24. Feb 28, 2005 #23
    Sorry, but the three big words of you post, that I made bold above while quoting it, do not pursuade me, when I can measure in the lab the effect of vacuum polarization, VP, for second part of my reply.
    I can't get much more concrete that to point to VP. I.e. the spontaneous creation of a positron/electron pair out of nothing. If you do not think this is a "something from nothing" counter example which can sink a ship build with a zillion big words, proclaiming "impossible to get something from nothing" please explain why.
  25. Mar 2, 2005 #24
    Oops I didn't see this one..
    I meant if we, as humans, were to view brain images and sounds like each individual person does, what kind of device would we have to create, and is such a device possible?
    Merely that we can create an analog to the brain in a monitor with the device.
  26. Mar 2, 2005 #25
    Well, if you ran to your science instructor or peer-reviewers and said:

    Hoooooreeeeeh, I have just experimentally created a positron/electron pair out of nothing!

    In Philosophy this would be an incredible claim. For many metaphysicians and epistemologists would ask you:

    (1) Did you REALLY SEE the source and verified that the actual source of these microscale particles was ABSOLUTELY EMPTY?

    (2) Does inability of the experimenter (you) to see and verfiy things in our physical world beyond COP suddenly amount to ABSOLUTE EMPTINESS or NOTHINGNESS?

    (3) How Good and precise are your visual organs and their extensions such that they can penetrate Microscale Reality beyond COP?

    And so on. These are hard-headed metaphysical and epistemological questions that their answers cannot just be conjured up in a flash, let alone any chance of they being true at all. Even if you succeeded in convincing your fellow scientists that you have ready-made and complete answers to these questions, in philosophy this sort of claim would be a non-starter.
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2005
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