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Chapter 1: A Place for Consciousness

  1. Jan 14, 2005 #1


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    In this opening chapter, Rosenberg touches on what phenomenal consciousness is and the philosophical problems it poses, and proceeds to develop a sketch of how his conceptual framework will place it within the natural order.

    What is phenomenal consciousness (also known as p-consciousness, subjective experience, raw feels, and qualia)? Rosenberg gives various ways for understanding what is meant by the term, including Thomas Nagel's dictum of "what it is like," the method of introspectively cataloguing the qualities apparent in one's own immediate experiences, and conceptually isolating phenomenal consciousness from other senses of the word consciousness (e.g. Ned Block's "access consciousness").

    P-consciousness presents us with the mind-body problem. What is the ontology of the mind, what is the ontology of the physical world, and how are they related? Can we create a coherent paradigm in which both can be seen to be the natural consequences of the same fundamental building blocks?

    Rosenberg poses Liberal Naturalism as the paradigm from which he will address the problem. This view demands that we come to a coherent and complete account of subjective experience without making ad hoc claims that jut discontinuously from what we otherwise know about the world. Interactionist substance dualist acounts are almost universally considered to violate the second criterion; Rosenberg argues that physicalist accounts violate the first; and it is arguable that views such as epiphenomenalism violate both. Thus, when Rosenberg comes to satisfy both conditions, he will have arrived at a truly unique and novel theory in that it will neither suppose that subjective experience is physical, nor that it interacts with the physical.

    Rosenberg sets out to achieve a non-ad hoc account by motivating the case, on grounds independent from the mind-body problem, that the physicalist understanding of the world is incomplete. In particular, he argues that our understanding of causality is conceptually deficient, and proceeds to create a new account of causality that is not. This new account of causality rests upon three bases: effective properties, receptive properties, and carriers. Of this triumvirate, physical theory includes only effective properties, and the two aspects it omits will prove to be crucial in establishing Rosenberg's Liberal Naturalist account of subjective experience.
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  3. Jan 14, 2005 #2
    I'll start with a few questions/clarifications. When the different philosophical positions are introduced in this chapter I found myself still searching for what it really means to be a physicalist and therefore what it really means to be physical. Since there will be substantial material here arguing why physicalism is wrong, I found myself searching for what it really means. At first I find comments like this:

    "Physicalism, which holds that everything is physical in some sense." (Page 6)

    Other comments similarly seem to be circular. It isn't until I get to page 9 where the 3 distinctions of aspects of consciousness are listed that I see a possible way for the author to distinguish non-physical things from physical things. But I can't be sure if that's where this will lead since this is just an introductory chapter and he doesn't ever directly make it clear what the definitions are. I just don't want to get into the later chapters and find out that once again we are all talking about different things when we say "physical".

    Also, the concept of "causation" is never directly described. I know what this word means but I can't be sure I know what the author means when he uses the word. What is meant by this word and what philosophical issues of causation is he talking about here in this quote from the preface?:

    " This may seem like an unlikely project because the two problems of consciouness and causation are each tough philosophical checstnuts individually."

    Any thoughts?
  4. Jan 14, 2005 #3


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    There is a lot that's left ambiguous in this chapter, necessarily so, as it's only intended as a sweeping overview of the rest of the book. Rest assured, we'll going into these things in quite some detail in the coming chapters.

    The meanings of "physical" and "physicalism" are discussed at length in chapters 2 and 3. We'll discuss this in more detail later, but briefly, physical properties are understood to be the types of properties included in the fundamental ontology of physics. (As physics is not yet complete, its ontology is bound to change, but the types of things in its ontology will share some basic similarities with the ones it has now.)

    Physicalism is the view that all facts about the world are either facts about physical properties, or are directly entailed by these physical facts. Once we specify what we mean by "physical," it is not circular to define physicalism in this way.

    It should be clear after chapter 2 what counts as physical. When we get into the second half of the book, we'll see that physical theory is essentially a theory of what Rosenberg calls effective properties. Physics is not a theory of receptive properties or carriers, because neither of these is included in its fundamental ontology, and neither of these is entailed by its fundamental ontology. Thus, only one of the proposed three aspects of causation can rightfully be called 'physical,' and so the others are non-physical. Again, this will make more sense later on.

    We'll be going into causation extensively in part II of the book, which is still a ways off. For now, if you're interested, you can skip ahead and read sections 9.1 - 9.6 for a discussion about causation.
  5. Jan 14, 2005 #4
    OK, I suspected ths might be the case but just wanted to be sure.

    I'm ok with waiting and following along as the argument builds. I just didnt want anyone to assume that I knew what causation means in this context and then start building an argument on it.
  6. Jan 14, 2005 #5
    For those who might have second thoughts about reading this and participating. This is a quote from the first chapter that gives a general indication where this will all lead.

  7. Jan 15, 2005 #6
    Reading the beginning of the book there were one or two comments which caught my attention. It is probably not worth getting too deeply into the issues they raise until they reappear later and are covered in more detail, but these are just some first reactions.

    "What ties the physical and nonphysical together is a deeper kind of thing of which they are both aspects."

    This encouraged me to read the rest. The author suggests, or seems to suggest, that it is not correct to characterise what is fundamental to our existence as either physical or non-physical. This makes much sense to me. However it is not clear to me that he gets to grips with what it implies as the book unfolds. But then, quite a lot of his argument went over my head, so this discussion may help clarify this.

    I was a little discouraged by this:

    "Phenomenal consciousness is not necessarily consciousness of anything. For example, when I close my eyes I see diffuse shapes... These are experiences and thus elements of phenomenal consciousness, even though they do not represent anything."

    I suppose this could be just a poorly chosen example, but it seems to me a mistake pure and simple. Consciousness of a diffuse shape is consciousness of something, whether it represents something else or not. Perhaps he sorts this out later, but I felt it to be an unfortunate comment coming so early in the book. I would argue that distinguishing between consciousness and its contents is of fundamental importance in any detailed discussion of it.

    I am also worried, on the basis of the preface and Ch.I, that he is arguing for monism. This will come out in the wash, but if he is arguing for this then I feel he's flogging a dead horse. (Of course it's too early to start picking his ideas apart, but this is just first reactions.)

    It worries me that his metaphysic is a little shaky when he says:

    "Effective and causal properties must be carried by fundamental intrinsic properties."

    What is an 'intrinsic property'? It seems to be an oxymoron. It simply begs the ontological question that he is purporting to answer to say that properties are epiphenomenal on properties and so on ad infinitum, with no ultimate 'thing' to underly them or have them. If he is suggesting this then we are back with the old problem of attributes and have not moved forward. But again, perhaps he sorts this out later. (Presumably his argument is that properties are dependent on his ultimate 'substance', which is neither physical nor non-physical.)

    My metaphysical suspicions were also aroused by his question - "How can the world have both physical and phenomenal aspects?" The assumption built into this question, which is that what is physical is 'real' as opposed to phenomenal, needs some unpacking. Because he asks this question I wonder if he ever does this. We'll see.

    That's about all I have to say about the beginning.
  8. Jan 16, 2005 #7
    Actually, I was a confirmed physicalist before starting Gregg's book. My
    interest was in AI and I rejected any kind of dualism. In terms of the
    philosophy of mind, physicalism means that the mind is created/generated
    by the brain and that consciousness has a physical basis and that there
    is no other source. Another source means two, and is called dualistic.
    This is an involved area of philosophy and the word "supervenience" arises.
    I think causality is at the core of reality and philosophy which enticed me
    to start reading "A Place For Consciousness" abbreviated APFG I guess.
    I think current physicalism does not provide a complete answer.

    I think a book discussion might be fun!
    Regards, Stephen
  9. Jan 16, 2005 #8
  10. Jan 16, 2005 #9


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    The actual quote is "Phenomenal consciousness is not necessarily consciousness of anything else." (In the text, "else" is not in boldface, but it is italicized.) What he intends to say here is that qualia are not necessarily representations of phenomena outside of consciousness. edit: In another words, even though some qualia can be taken to be representations of phenomena existing outside of the mind (e.g. one's visual experience of a chair is a representation of an objective chair), we cannot entirely characterize p-consciousness in representational terms. The contents of consciousness can play the role of representations in the proper cognitive context, but they cannot be most fundamentally characterized as representational.

    The distinction between experiential consciousness and its phenomenal contents is actually quite explicitly expressed in Rosenberg's theory of consciousness, as we'll see later on.

    He is arguing for a form of monism, but I don't know why you'd find that troubling. (Would you prefer substance dualism?) In fact, earlier in your post, you expressed enthusiasm for the statement "What ties the physical and nonphysical together is a deeper kind of thing of which they are both aspects"; what could this point to other than a kind of monism?

    Perhaps you feel other monist philosophies have failed, but I wouldn't feel confident that they've worked out all the permutations. In any case, if monism leaves a bad taste in your mouth for whatever reason, you can consider Rosenberg's framework as a kind of aspect dualism instead.

    As for the rest of your post, I think you may be taking us a little too far afield. Now isn't the time to get into questions about intrinsic properties and the like in very much detail; let's save the detailed discussion of those issues for when we arrive at the point where they are discussed in detail in the book.
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2005
  11. Jan 16, 2005 #10


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    By the way, everyone, if you quote text from the book, please include the number of the page it was taken from to make it easier for the rest of us to find the quotations in the book. Thanks.
  12. Jan 17, 2005 #11


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    I, too, have a problem with this example. What he describes are called "phosphenes"; From "The Neuroanatomy of Phenomenal Vision: A Psychological Perspective"(PDF)* by Petra Stoerig:

    ...veridical vision—the situation in which light falling onto the retina is transduced into nerve impulses, and eventually transformed into visual qualia. But there are other means [called "nonveridical vision"] to evoke phenomenal vision. Afterimages are seen although the stimulus that induced them has disappeared. Phosphenes are phenomenal events, caused by mechanical, electrical, or magnetic stimulation of the retina or the visual cortex. Visual dreams are phenomenal, and result from involuntary intrinsic neuronal activation, as do hallucinations, while visual imagery may also be phenomenal, and is caused by voluntary intrinsic activation.

    So one difference between veridical visions and phosphenes is that phosphenes can result from direct stimulation of the visual cortex, bypassing the retina, while, by definition, veridical vision must include the retina. But this is not the case in the example.
    In the example, the difference is the kind of stimulus which stimulates the retina. I don't see how this difference leads to the conclusion that phenomenal events caused by veridical visions (photic stimuli) are (or can be?) representations of phenomena outside of consciousness while phenomenal events caused by phosphenes (mechanical stimuli) aren't (or can't be) representations of phenomena outside of consciousness. The detection of both light and pressure (or changes in pressure) can be accomplished by unconscious instruments, no? Aren't both light and pressure something else?
    If I ran a phosphene program (which simulates all those diffuse shapes) on a virtual reality visor, er, I don't know enough to describe this properly, but I think you get the idea- if wearing the visor and putting pressure on my eyes produce identical visual experiences for me, how can one and only one of those visual experiences be representational?

    How is your "phenomena existing outside of the mind" different from "phenomena existing independently of the brain"?

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  13. Jan 17, 2005 #12
    Well, that's a great start. The first thing I do is misquote the author. My apologies, and well spotted.

    I can see now that my post might have given the impression of jumping to conclusions and nitpicking, or of being overly crititical before the author has had a chance to lay out his ideas properly. This was not my intention. However I find that in most books on this topic significant assumptions are made right at the beginning which remain unexamined and forgotten to the end. Perhaps we shouldn't start being critical of GR's assumptions yet, but I do feel that it's important that they do not go unnoticed, since they will be important all the way through, and in the end they will need to be justified.

    Hmm, perhaps you're right and this is what he intends to say. However it is not what he says. He says that consciousness need not be consciousness of anything else, and then gives an example in which he is conscious of something else. This is misleading. If it is not just a slip of the pen and he really does think that consciousness of visual after images etc. is not consciousness of something else then this is going to affect his entire thesis.

    Whether or not this 'something else' is representational of something outside consciousness is not the issue here. Qualia are by definition intentional objects (or so I thought, am I wrong about this?), so of course qualia are 'something else'.

    This will all sort itself out later. But I wanted to draw attention to it now because I have a feeling that it will turn out to be a central issue later on.

    I see what you mean, but this sentence of his does not suggest monism to me. (That's one for later). My objection to monism are various, and of course not everyone will agree with them, but it must be worrying at least that so far no philosopher has constructed a monist (or strictly dual-aspect) cosmology or metaphysic that does not give rise to all the same metaphysical contradictions as dualism. Perhaps, as you suggest, there is a way around these contradictions, but I don't share your confidence in GR's (or anyone else's) ability to solve problems that no other philosopher in history has been able to solve. But who knows. I'm happy to wait an see. Again, I just wanted to put this issue on the list for later examination rather than just let it slide by.

    That's a fair point, and I'm happy to wait. However the author makes some clear statements in these introductory pages and he presumably meant them. Perhaps he clears up this particular matter later, but here he says very clearly that ontologically speaking extrinsic properties are dependent on intrinsic properties. I don't think we can or should ignore such statements. They are important statements which affect the plausibility of his overall hypothesis, since presumably they are not contradicted by anything that comes later. We don't need to sort this out yet, but we do need to note that if he sticks to this view of properties then this will become an important issue as he moves on to the ontology of consciousness and matter. For now I'm quite happy to move on. I know that I do not understand some of his ideas yet, so I'm keeping an open mind on them.

    PS Thanks for your excellent and clear opening summary.
  14. Jan 17, 2005 #13
    honestrosewater wrote:
    How is your "phenomena existing outside of the mind"
    different from "phenomena existing independently of the brain"?

    Rosenberg collaborated with Chalmers and I think they have similar
    meanings for their technical terms. "Phenomenal consciousness" is
    a technical term, and together with "psychological consciousness"
    attempt to define different aspects of consciousness, what you
    feel, like sadness, rather than the thinking about of events which
    make you feel sad. This feeling aspect, is called qualia, and it is
    the hard part in explaining the mind-body problem. Gregg, I think,
    is trying to introduce and distinguish two internal conditions or
    properties of consciousness at his point. I don't think his focus
    applies to your question. I think perceiving some part of external
    reality is different that storing that perception as a representation
    of reality that is categorized, which I think falls under psychological
    consciousness. I think Gregg is talking about stimuli being received,
    experiencing, is different than the process of interpretation which
    analyzes/processes the experienced data. I think the error in his
    example is that he could have given a more practical/usual one, that
    wouldn't have sidetracked discussion onto the novelty of his example.
    I researched this and made some notes below on P-Consciousness.

    "Chalmers distinguishes between a phenomenal concept of mind
    (the way it feels) and a psychological concept of mind
    (what it does). Every mental property is either a phenomenal
    property, a psychological one or a combination of the two.
    The mind-body problem is therefore made of two parts, one
    that deals with the mental faculties and one that deals with
    how/why those mental faculties also give rise to awareness
    of them. The same distinction applies to consciousness, with
    psychological consciousness being commonly referred to as
    "awareness"; but phenomenal consciousness always comes with
    psychological consciousness. Awareness is having access to
    information that may affect behavior. There two ways of being
    conscious of something: by sensing it, or by thinking about it.

    Ned Block introduced the technical sense of the term
    "phenomenal consciousness" (or P-consciousness) in the course
    of contrasting it with what he called "access consciousness".

    P-consciousness is experience. P-conscious properties are
    experiential ones. P-conscious states are experiential, that
    is, a state is P-conscious if it has experiential properties.
    The totality of the experiential properties of a state are
    "what it is like" to have it. Moving from synonyms to examples,
    we have P-conscious states when we see, hear, smell, taste,
    and have pains.

    A mental state is conscious if it has a qualitative feel-
    an associated quality of experience. These qualitative feels
    are also known as phenomenal properties, or qualia for short.
    The problem of explaining these phenomenal properties is just
    the problem of explaining consciousness. This is the really
    hard part of the mind-body problem. (Chalmers 1996, 4)

  15. Jan 17, 2005 #14


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    Sure, and that's great; being critical of assumptions and putting the material through the wringer, so to speak, will only benefit everyone here. However, having read the book (albeit in pre-published form), I can attest that pretty much everything said in this chapter is examined explicitly in much greater detail down the line. Perhaps the only exception is the discussion on what is meant by "phenomenal consciousness," which is more a matter of defining terms than making arguments. You should treat this chapter as a broad overview of the discussion to come rather than as actually constitutive of that discussion.

    I don't think qualia are intentional objects by definition (by the most bare definition, they are just those qualities that can make themselves apparent in conscious experience), although one might make an argument that they are intentional.

    In any case, Rosenberg makes it pretty clear that when he says "Phenomenal consciousness is not necessarily consciousness of anything else" (p. 3), their status as representations is precisely what is at issue. He goes on to say, "These are experiences and are thus elements of phenomenal consciousness, even though they do not seem to represent anything" (p. 3). Clearly what he means by the first statement, then, is that phenomenal consciousness is not necessarily representational, i.e. qualia need not play a representational role in any given cognitive context. Pointing this out serves to establish qualia as mental objects that can be employed to play a representaional role in the proper context, as opposed to supposing that qualia are nothing more than the actual carrying out of a representational role itself.

    I'm glad to see that you're willing to suspend your disbelief (so to speak) and give the book the benefit of the doubt. I think you might be pleasantly surprised.

    I'm not familiar with the kind of general critique against monism that you're alluding to here. If you feel so inclined, perhaps you might start a thread about it in Metaphysics & Epistemology?
  16. Jan 17, 2005 #15


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    This gets into issues of what it means to be representational. For instance, one might argue that in order for X to represent Y, X has to systematically co-vary with Y. The phenomenal content of veridical vision satisfies this requirement, but phosphenes do not; if they did, placing constant pressure on the eyes should lead to a constant phenomenal percept, but phosphenes are in a constant state of flux even when pressure is constant (try it). Other various characterizations of representation will probably yield the same sort of result.

    In any case, I think this paragraph was meant to appeal to immediate intuition more than it was to actually assert something conclusively with argumentation, and shouldn't be taken for anything much more than that. Rosenberg argues for essentially the same proposition-- qualia are not fundamentally representational-- in section 5.4 at some length, so we can address the issue properly when we get that far.
  17. Jan 17, 2005 #16
    Fine. I'm trying to get the the bottom of what he is calling consciousness, that's all.

    Yes that's very clear. However his example immediately muddies the waters. "Anything else" than what? Can you clarify this point? If he meant to say that qualia are not necessarily representations then fair enough, if he meant, for this is what his sentence says, that consciousness is not necessarily anything other than consciousness of consciousness then that's a far more interesting and deep point, with implications for the whole book.

    Bit off topic, although it might not be so later, but it hardly needs me to make a critique of it after Parmeneides, Leibnitz, Spinoza et al.

    But I'll shut up now until Ch.2. Promise.
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2005
  18. Jan 18, 2005 #17


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    If, with my eyes open, I press my finger against the left corner of my eye (indirectly, through the skin surrounding my eye, of course), I see a dark spot appear. The characterisitcs of this dark spot (X) systematically co-vary with the location and amount of pressure applied (Y); The size of the spot increases with an increase in pressure, decreases with a decrease in pressure, and the location of the spot remains roughly diametrically opposed to the location of the pressure being applied. Ditto for two spots (beyond that, my fingers get in the way). Ditto for both eyes at once. Ditto with the eyes closed. In all cases tried, this type of phosphene behaves predictably. You can try it for yourself.
    Do you know that the changes in phosphenes occuring when pressure is applied across the whole front of the eye are not caused by unconscious eye movements or an actual but consciously undetectible variance in pressure you're applying or the movement of the fluid (aqueous humor) in the eyes or the circulation of blood or the overlapping of several of those predicatable dark spots or a combination of these or other explicable physical phenomena?
    I would ask similar questions of similar examples. Perhaps I'm missing the point.
    Canute started it. o:) Er, I mean, what I've read about Rosenberg makes me think he chose this example more carefully than you suggest, but, even if it's worth arguing about this, I can't see myself winning that argument anyway.
    Canute has already asked my other questions.
  19. Jan 18, 2005 #18


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    Perhaps it's rude of me, as an outsider to this seminar, to comment, but I do have this question. Why is it considered OK for the author to be vague and use circular definitions in the introductory chapter of a book aimed at a professional audience? Can you imagine a corresponding book on quantum theory that said something like "Superposition is the property of states which are superposed" in its introductory chapter?
  20. Jan 18, 2005 #19
    These subjective experiences are quite different from one another, is it for that reason he uses them to suggest that, other minds on other levels could have experience, or is there something else?

    What is his definition? Is it simply his theory put forth in this book?

    Put in another way then, is the meaning of subjective experience, is consciousness?

    Where is the qualia of intentional objects, when a baby cries or dreaming or rubbing your eyes? What is an intentional object?
  21. Jan 18, 2005 #20
    The term 'intentional' has a strange meaning in philosophy of consciousness. This is confusing because it has a well established and clear meaning in English, but it's too late to do anything about it now that Brentano has redefined it.

    It's also easy to be confused about what the word means (in the details I am) because, like so many terms relating to consciousness, different writers use it in different ways. Basically, it seems to me, if something is an intentional object it is a mental object, an object of our consciousness, a thing we are conscious of. A more colloquial term is 'aboutness', as in - what our experiences are about. I hope this is close.
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