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Can consciousness cause?

  1. Feb 16, 2005 #1


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    If the physical world is causally closed, then there is a physical reason we talk about something called "consciousness." Any claims we might make that it can't be physically explained become somewhat outlandish, since the reason we make these claims can be.

    But even if the physical isn't closed, we still identify consciousness with intrinsic properties that aren't defined solely by their causal roles. For example, the color yellow is more than just "that which causes us to judge things yellow." There is something it is like to be experiencing the color yellow. The problem is that anything we can say about yellow, or a yellow experience, or consciousness in general, must have been caused by something, be it physical or non-physical. If there are intrinsic (ie, non-extrinsic, or non-causal) properties, how could we ever talk about them, or even know about them?

    The problem is more tractable if it's broken up into two parts. First, does the specific nature of an experience have an effect. That is, if someone saw green as what I call red, could they still conceivably behave the same as me? The answer to this seems to be yes, and is evidence that there can be properties that do not cause and yet we can still know about (ie, I know what green looks like to me). There is nothing my inverted spectrum twin could say that would cause me to realize we see the color differently, and hence there is no infringement on the causal closure of the physical world. And yet, there is still a natural difference between me and him.

    The more difficult question is "Can the existence or absence of experience have an effect?" The trouble is, while we can't convey the specific nature of an experience, which meshes well with that nature not being able to cause, we can tell people that we have experiences. How can it be that intrinsic properties cause us to talk about their existence? What causes us to believe in things that can't cause?
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2005
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  3. Feb 16, 2005 #2

    If the (metaphysically neutral) world is causally closed, then there is a (metaphysically neutral) reason we talk about something called "consciousness."..which may be that exists and we are aware of it.
    And which may or may not be capturable by the language of physics.

    OTOH any claim that we can physically explain the reason for
    such claims is outlandish since physics does not concern
    itself with consciousness,but with mass. charge, spin and so on.
    We might be able to give a very cumbersome and uninfomative account of why (causally) such-and-such a series of phonemes issued from so-and-so's
    mouth in terms of neural firings and so on, but it is unlikely to say
    much about reasons, which are psychological, and not explicitly within
    the vocabulary of physics. It could be objected that whatever reasons
    are, and whatever consciousness is, they are implemented neurally,
    and that some kind of bridging theory that matches nerual firings
    off against experiences and reasons is therefore possible. However,
    such a theory would be a solution to the Hard Problem. See
    Davidson's Anomolous Monism.

    Or caused by something which has a physical AND a non-physical explanation.
    You have slid from "not defined solely by causal role" to "non-causal".
    Something like a pain is both a quale and has a very obvious causal role.

    This is not psychologically realistic. eg someone who saw geen as red
    would think of green as a "warm colour". See "Consciousness Reconsidered",
    by Owen Flanagan.
  4. Feb 16, 2005 #3


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    First, from the other thread:

    Yes, but the problem is, how do we know there are aspects of consciousness that can't cause? What causes us to talk about them?

    Back to your reply here:

    "Experiences" and "reasons" (by which I assume you mean something like "intentions") are not the same thing, and there is no hard problem of intentions. Intentions could conceivably be explained by starting with mass and charge, moving up to atoms, chemicals, complex biochemicals, cells, and then the brain. The reason this could be possible is that intentions are defined by their causal roles. That is, when I intend to do something, it means I am in a state that causally inclines me to do that thing with a higher probability, or something roughly like that. But experiences (including the experience of an intention) are not defined by such a role. Dennett might say experiences are those things that cause us to say we are having experiences, but this is clearly oversimplifying.

    I've read those types of arguments, but it is perfectly conceivable that someone could see green, be taught all their life that this is called "red" and is "warm" and never think twice about it. Warm is just a label we assign to the colors "red", "orange", etc, whatever they happen to look like to each of us.

    A more powerful argument I've heard against the inverted spectrum argument is that there are more shades of blue than, say, red, so phenomenal red could not fill all the roles of phenomenal blue. However, this just seems to be reflecting a lack of imagination. Even if not, it is not inconceivable to imagine a twin who looks at the sky and sees some color I can't even imagine, but is capable of having as many different shades as my experience of blue.
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2005
  5. Feb 17, 2005 #4
    You're asking the wrong guy: I don't think there are.

    Maybe, maybe not. Davidson's Anomolous Monism is all about intentionallity.

    That might explain the causal role of intentions, but for Davidson it is a
    defining an necessary characteristic of a physical explanation that it
    does not use intentional terms, like "thought", "belief" etc. So a complete
    theory would have to "bridge" intentional terms to physics, just as
    a solution to the HP would have to relate experience to physics.

    You could be inclined to do A rather than B as a result of being drunk. That
    doesn't really capture intentionallity.

    Whatever. There is no good reason to suppose epiphenomenalism is true, so there is no good reason to believe in the real possibility of inverted spectra.
  6. Feb 17, 2005 #5
    First-person conscious experience is not reducible to physical descriptions, but it is absurd to think it is epiphenomenal. It is necessarily connected to the world described by physics (specifically our body/brain), but science proceeds assuming physics is causally closed at the micro-level.

    What is the way out? It could be that there is an aspect of causation which is unacknowledged presently, but is manifested in complex natural systems. This aspect may be a combining, binding or organizing property responsible for the seemingly irreducible (emergent) macro-level behavior of these systems. From the perspective of the system itself, this aspect of causation is manifested as experience.

    (here I must plug the reading group discussion of "a place for consciousness", a book which has a much more sophisticated treatment linking a new theory of causality to the problem of consciousness).
  7. Feb 17, 2005 #6


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    I know, and I felt a little bad posting this now, since I'm participating in that discussion, but I wanted to know of any other possible theories. Obviously Rosenberg's isn't embraced by all philosophers who believe in the hard problem, so how do they resolve this paradox?

    It is also for other people who aren't participating in the Rosenberg discussion. If there isn't any interest from these people, maybe we can bump this thread back up after the discussion is over and talk about all the ways the paradox can be resolved, including Rosenberg's.
  8. Feb 17, 2005 #7


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    Well that makes you an eliminativist, and our ideologies are so different, we'll never come to any agreement here.

    How do you bridge from "quark" to "table"? Table is not a word in physics, and yet no one should deny we'll be able derive facts about tables with physics. If you want to derive every possible fact from the physical facts, including ones like "Most dining rooms have tables" and "John Smith intends to ask Sally Sue to be his wife", you need to include definitions of all the terms involved with your available information. This isn't extra information you're stealing from some non-physical source, it is just a way of putting these facts into the particular form that makes it easiest for us to talk about them.

    It is usually impossible to specify necessary and sufficient conditions for some object to be x. But we don't need strict conditions, as long as we know what it takes to be x. We might be at a point where we're looking at all the atoms in some drunk guys head and we say "well he seems to fit the textbook defintion of having an intention, but he's drunk, so I'll say he doesn't." There's nothing wrong with that. And some might say he still can have an intention, but then you can hardly blame that on the physical. It just means that particular fact doesn't have a well defined truth value.
  9. Feb 18, 2005 #8
    I don't think there are aspects of consciousness which don't cause.
    Obviously I'm not an eliminatavist - I think "consciousness is a real feature of brains".

    A theory that could explain thoughts, ideas and feelings in terms
    of physics would have to be able to predict entirely new thoughts (etc)
    generate by novel brain-states. What vocabulary could express such thoughts?

    The textbook defintion of inetionality or purpose involves consciousness, not just
    a disposition to behave in certain ways.
  10. Feb 18, 2005 #9

    Or it could be that the fact that consciouness isn't captured by physical
    descriptions is a limitation of physical descriptions. An explanation
    in terms of subjectivity ("I went ouch! because I felt a pain") and an
    explanation in nerual terms ("I went ouch becuase my C-fibres were stimulated") are two different accounts of the same event. Since there is
    not a phsyical event and a separate mental event, the "closure" of the
    physical explanation does not exclude the mental explanation.
  11. Feb 18, 2005 #10


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    That obviously depends on how you define consciousness. If you think it is nothing more than the web of causal connections in our brain, you are an eliminativist. If you think there is something intrinsic about experiences, that goes beyond what they do, then you aren't.

    I don't know, ask a neuroscientist. They study the brain, including thoughts, ideas and feelings, and their basis is physics, just like a chemist or biologist. Words aren't the problem, it's explaining events in a systematic way, and there are no indications this won't be possible for the brain.

    Seperate them out, into p-intentionality (the experience) and a-intentionality (the causal state). That is, unless you believe you can't act like you intend to do something unless you're experiencing that intention. But that would be hard to show, unless you could somehow prove the people around you are conscious.
  12. Feb 18, 2005 #11
    Well, the spooky 'DRIVER INSIDE A DRIVER' version of Dualism (the Cartesian type) tends to suggest this. That Consciousness does possess causal power. That if you are driving, for example, the car's driver is driven by something external to the driver. The mind. Aristotle's Soul is slightly more sophisticated in that certain aspect of it is 'FORMLESS', NEUTRAL and IMMORTAL in a non-material sense. Aristotle argued that this aspect of the soul is formless and only takes the forms of things when they are being perceived. The eye, for example, takes the form of a red car when the red car is being perceived. The same is true about thinking. During thinking, the soul takes the form of whatever we think about. This is sort of way by which Aristotle distinguished PERCEPTION via visual organs from THINKING via the intellect. In a sense, they are just capacities. But he controversially upheld the Intellect as an aspect of the soul that is immortal, independent and post-exist mortal material body.

    Occassionalism (Malebranche and others) claims that the soul is devoid of causal power and that God is constantly respossible for maintaining causal relations between the mind and the body, including when we are not consciouslly or visually attending to things.

    Well, all well and good. On a whole and deeper reflection, it is just plain strange that something could be part of something and be causally redundant. The BIG question now is WHAT TYPE OF CAUSE are we talking about?:

    1) CONTRIBUTORY CAUSATION: Are we talking about things coming together to form something else by everyone of it actively particiapting in making this possible? Something is partly the cause of another thing when it does something that helps create or bring that thing into existence, or temprorarily or ephemerally participate in keeping that thing going, or both (participatively creates and participatively keeps it going).

    2) SINGLE (WHOLE) CAUSATION: Something is wholly the cuase of another thing if it single-handedly creates and maintains that thing. It may form part of the thing or may not form part of the thing but nevertheless manages to externally create and control it. All the working parts of what is created and controlled in this way are functionally redundant, regardless of whether the creator forms part of it or not. The creator and controller of the thing concerned.

    NOTE: The problem in being a creator of any sort is that you may be independently observed and judged according to how well or good or perfect what you create works. It is universally, a very serious responssibility because you are not only expected to wholly or perticipatively create but also to wholly or participatively take charge and control of what you create. Those who invent belief systems should take note of this. It is intellectually very tasking, and we must be very careful as we fundamentally but consequentially owe those we propagate such beliefs to a DUTY OF CARE.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2005
  13. Feb 19, 2005 #12
    I'm not sure this affects your point but - these are only superficially different accounts. Both require that you are conscious so in this context there is no real difference between them. They can be elided by saying "I, whoever or whatever 'I' is, experienced myself saying ouch! and conclude that the reason I did this was because I felt pain which, given that according to science pain is non-causal, I will intentionally assume was caused by my C-fibres being stimulated". The problem is the same for both accounts. It is not why we went ouch, but how we know we went ouch.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2005
  14. Feb 19, 2005 #13
    I've already explained what I think. I am neither an eliminativist nor a metaphysical dualist.

    It's a rhetorical question; the point is that it is supposed to be
    imposible in principle. Of course neuroscience hasn't advanced to anything like the stage of having that predictive kind of theory.
    BTW, it's kind of amusign that you think that all neuroscientists are
    happy to work with folk-psyhological terms, when eliminativists are always insiting that none of them are.

    I don't see what you mean. If you make up your mind to do something , and
    do it, it is intentional. If it is a mere reflex action , it isn't.

    Huh ? If they are walking and talking they are conscious. As usual,
    you seem to be insisting that consc. is epiphenomenal, so, as usual,
    I will have to point out that I disagree.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2005
  15. Feb 19, 2005 #14
    To you perhaps. Yet they are the starting point for eliminativism, epiphomenalism, etc.

    No, according to certain philosophers it is. They may insist that they
    are being scientific, but scientists may not see things the same way.
    All psychologists tacitly assume that human subjects are conscious,
    because they expect subjects to understand and follow their instructions.

    But that can be verified independently of what seems to me to be the case.

    The Hard Problem is the nature and role of the feeling. All other
    asepcts of consc. are behavioural and therefore more easily dealt with.
  16. Feb 19, 2005 #15


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    I'm not sure what you're trying to say anymore. You seem to think you've found an explanation of consciousness (brain states looked at from a different point of view), but then you claim these brain states cannot be physically explained. Are you saying both consciousness and the accompanying brain states are unphysical? If so, then I could see why you would believe they could be aspects of the same thing. But I'm making the assumption that brain states are physical. It is an argument for another thread, but I could point you to David Chalmers' paper: Facing up to the Problem of Consciousness. In the introduction, Chalmers, someone who takes consciousness and the hard problem very seriously, admits and explains how things like reportability and intentions (at least their functional roles) could be explained physically.

    The problem is that if you accept that brain states are physical, and can be explained in terms of atoms interacting by forces, then it is very difficult to see how this is another way of looking at consciousness. Perhaps it is, but it is far from obvious how this could be, and you have not taken it any further than to say "they are different aspects of the same thing." How this could be is the hard problem.

    But whatever one's take on the relationship is, they still have to answer the question in the title of this thread. Because consciousness, the thing they're trying to explain, is characterized as being more than just it's functional role. But how can something that has no functional role cause us to talk about it's existence? Even if some parts of consciousness are functional, the question still applies to the parts that are not. It seems awkward to say there is a causal property of consciousness that makes us talk about the non-causal part, unless you can describe a way in which these are inseperable, and in which the causal part couldn't exist even in principle without the non-causal part. Otherwise we're back to epiphenomenalism.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2005
  17. Feb 21, 2005 #16
    yes,they can be explained in that the Easy Problem behavioural aspects of consc. can be explained causally.

    No they can't in that a physical account of consciousness does not capture
    the Hard problem Phenomenal aspects.

    I am saying that there are no physical things and no non-physical things.
    (There are no French or German things either)
    There are things which we can look at in a physical or non-physical way.

    I am not claiming to solve the HP, just to state it in a way that avoids
    eliminatavism, dualism, and epiphenomenalism.

    Everything that actually exists is more than its functional role, because
    funcitonal roles are abstractions.

    Again, there is no inference from "not entirely characterised by a functional role" to "entirely lacking a functional role".

    Which parts of consciousness are entirely lacking a functional/causal role ?
    I see no evidence for the problem in the first place
  18. Feb 21, 2005 #17
    It is generally suppose that the causal powers of an entity 'latch onto' the
    properties of that entity (it has the particular powers it has by virtue of the properties it has), and that the properties it has cannot be defined in terms of further causal
    powers without leading to a vicious regress. So we would should expect
    to find some properties that are not defined in terms of causal powers (although they are still causally relevant in that they explain why entities have the
    causal powers they have).
  19. Feb 21, 2005 #18
  20. Apr 12, 2005 #19
    Aristotle introduced the word "metaphysics" meaning "beyond physics". Since that time many things have come to be understood and things which were once "metaphysics" and thought to be "occult" are now very much a part of physics. Once, electricity and magnetism were thought to be very much a part of the "occult". And now chemistry, after first graduating from the "occult" field of "alchemy" into the more exact field of "chemistry" has become a fundamental area of physics "physical chemistry". Why should any of you believe the process is over? In many chemical laboratories today, the question, to actually do the experiment with real chemicals or to calculate the result on a computer, is a budget question. When neurosicence reaches that stage (and to think it cannot seems to me to be quite foolish), does consciousness not become a "physical" concern. :wink: The only cavil I might have is that the "physics" academy might move itself completely into a religious mode and "exact thinkers" would have to come up with a new title. :biggrin:

    Have fun -- Dick
  21. Apr 12, 2005 #20
    Much of what you say is concerned with the inadequacies of language itself. I think that you and I see a lot of things in a very similar manner. So far I have found nothing you say to be poorly thought out. I appologize again for not paying attention.

    Have fun -- Dick
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