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Chapter 2: The Argument against Physicalism

  1. Jan 21, 2005 #1

    hypnagogue

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    This chapter serves as the entry point into Rosenberg's development of a Liberal Naturalist theory of consciousness and nature as a whole. Rosenberg argues that physicalism cannot do the job of accounting for p-consciousness, which will motivate the case for constructing a substantial new theory of the world that can readily accommodate it.

    Physicalism is the view that all the facts of nature are physical facts, or are entailed by the physical facts. Physical facts are facts about those phenomena considered to constitute the fundamental ontology of physics, such as mass, spin, and charge, including the causal powers governing their respective behaviors, such as gravitation and electromagnetism. Physicalism, then, claims that the only fundamental 'building blocks' of the world are those phenomena taken to be fundamental by physics, and that every non-fundamental phenomenon in nature-- be it a chair, an economy, or a subjectively experiencing mind-- can be constructed by the proper configuration of these fundamental, physical building blocks.

    Rosenberg attacks physicalism directly by arguing that the general kind of facts a physicalist theory has at its disposal are not sufficient to entail the general kind of facts that obtain about phenomenal consciousness. Thus, his argument is inherently different in character from Frank Jackson's Knowledge Argument and David Chalmers' Conceivability Argument, and cannot be dismissed as an argument from failure of imagination.

    The general form of Rosenberg's antiphysicalist argument is as follows.

    Rosenberg uses Life as a kind of toy physics whose essential properties we can grasp and analyze cleanly, without carrying any of the conceptual baggage or unwarranted/unnoticed assumptions that might come with our conception of the world's actual physics. He then imports the basic structure of his analysis of Life's toy physics into his analysis of 'actual' physics to come to the same general conclusion about what it can say about p-consciousness.

    Life is a kind of cellular automaton with its own well-defined 'space,' 'time,' causal properties, and causal rules, which together comprise a sort of 'laws of physics' for a Life world. A pure Life world is defined as a world whose fundamental ontology consists only of those facts stipulated by Life's 'physics.' Pure Life worlds consist only of 'bare differences,' meaning that all of a pure Life world's properties are stipulated to exist in a purely formal, schematic, relational, contentless manner. Bare differences can be understood as differences that are stipulated to exist at the very 'ground level' of a world, rather than differences that arise as a result of some further internal structure or grounding intrinsic content. They are not differences that obtain because of some more basic facts; rather, they are the most basic facts.

    Rosenberg argues that p-consciousness contains qualitative content that can be epistemically accessed via observation, and that bare difference alone cannot entail facts about such content. He acknowledges that families of qualia (e.g. the set of all colors, the set of all tastes) exhibit various inter- and intra- family difference relations, but argues that these relations are not merely formal or schematic, but rather that they obtain in virtue of the particular properties of the observed qualitative bases. On this view, we might say that qualia are not just schematic/formal relationships, although the manner in which their inherent properties are naturally related to eachother do happen to instantiate such relationships. Thus, in the sense that bare differences are contentless and ungrounded, qualitative differences are contentful and grounded-- they are not bare, but rather they are ontologically 'rich,' derivative on a qualitative, intrinsic basis. According to Rosenberg, we cannot derive such a contentful basis from an entirely contentless schema. It therefore follows that the facts of a pure Life world do not entail facts about p-consciousness.

    Rosenberg goes on to argue that a pure physics world-- a world whose fundamental ontology consists only of those facts stipulated by physics-- cannot entail facts about p-consciousness, for the same general reason that facts about a pure Life world cannot entail facts about p-consciousness. He argues that the facts of a pure physical world consist entirely of bare differences; they are a stipulated set of relational, formal, schematic facts with no grounding, intrinsic basis. Thus, a pure physics world is saddled with essentially the same problem as a pure Life world: its ontology of bare differences cannot entail the observed qualitative content of p-consciousness. Since physicalism essentially claims that nature is a pure physics world, and since p-consciousness is observed to exist in nature, it therefore follows that physicalism must be false.
     
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  3. Jan 21, 2005 #2
    Apologies but I'm still a little unclear about what p-consciousness is and what it is not. I really do want to get to grips with this but always have a problem whenever the term appears, and whoever is using it. This is partly my stubborness (I'm reluctant to split consciousness into a, b, c, d and so on), but also for another reason.

    If p-consciousness has a meaning as a term it is because it is contrasted with something else, let's say a-consciousness. But if a-consciousness is an aspect of consciousness then it is a-consciousness and p-consciousness together that add up to consciousness. If this is not the case then why have two terms? It then becomes unclear how one could explain one without explaining the other and the whole distinction between them starts to look a bit odd. Chalmer's prefers the term 'experience' to p-consciousness and so do I. Can I assume in this discussion that p-consciousness means experience, or 'what it is like', and that the 'p' word is superfluous?
     
  4. Jan 21, 2005 #3

    hypnagogue

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    I don't have time now for an extended reply, but briefly, yes. P-consciousness refers to the same thing as "what it is like" and Chalmers' use of the word "experience."

    The 'p,' however, is not superfluous. Consciousness is a vague word that picks out many meanings, and not all of its meanings are equivalent with "what it is like" and Chalmers' "experience." For instance, sometimes "conscious" is used synonymously with the word "awake," but this is not what we mean by experience; it's coherent to deny that, say, there is something it is like to be a dog, but also to acknowledge that a dog cycles through stages of wakefulness and sleeping. The 'p' in p-consciousness just means that we are isolating that meaning of the word "consciousness" that is identical to what we mean by "what it is like" and "subjective experience."
     
  5. Jan 21, 2005 #4

    selfAdjoint

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    I want to be clear here about these "bare differences" of physicalism versus the "content-ful differences" of p-consciousness. Take the prototype quale, color. Coming to the eye is a bare difference, frequency. The retina has opsin molecules specialized to react to different frequencies (only a few different frequency bands); the whole frequency distribution is reductively coded into the response of the molecules to these discrete bands. The contortions of each opsin molecule causes an electrical signal (more bare difference) to be sent to the visual cortex. Neurons in the visual cortex perform an arithmetical subtraction of the different band signals, and these (bare!) difference signals are sent on. Ultimately (we don't have detail from here on) there may be a small group of cells that constitute our understanding of red, and the activation of this group constitutes the presentation of "red" to our consciousness - all bare differences so far. What is the content that can be RELIABLY inferred for the quale red aside from the fact that this node has been activated? Is the content derived from some direct apperception of the exterior world, apart from the visual system? Or is it just "what it is like" to have the "red" coding neurons active?
     
  6. Jan 21, 2005 #5

    hypnagogue

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    selfAdjoint, please observe the forum guidelines and post any questions and commentary you might have in Metaphysics & Epistemology if you are not reading along with the group. If you have indeed purchased the book and are reading along, please notify me and accept my apologies. Thanks.
     
  7. Jan 22, 2005 #6
    OK. I'm happy with that. (We disagree on whether it's coherent to say there is nothing that it is like to be a dog, but that doesn't matter).

    Do you think it would be fair to say that Rosenberg's argument here, if we swap the terms around, is that physics is founded on the study of bare differences, and that therefore it does not have a fundamental ontology?
     
  8. Jan 22, 2005 #7

    honestrosewater

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    1 and 2 "lie at the same distance from each other" as 2 and 3, so 1+2=2+3. That's what it seems he's saying. :confused:
    Edit: Er, I didn't mean to point out anything about the particular structure of arithmetic, it's just handy as a generic example. I don't want to get sidetracked so I'll try something else.
    If colors can be structurally distinguished from each other, a structure composed of different colors is a different structure. If colors can't be structurally distinguished from each other, how does his example get off the ground? If a red dot is not a yellow dot is not a green dot, a field of red dots and yellow dots is not a field of green dots and yellow dots; The two fields are not identical structures. He seems to be doing what he has just finished complaining about: "Reification of the difference structure as basic ignores the grounding of those differences in each specific case and so ignores the content instantiating those structures." He is ignoring the structural role the colors play. In the original structure, colored dots- not mere dots- are the fundamental structures. In the new structure, red is yellow is green. He has removed the structure not the content- as far as the structure is concerned, fundamental structures have no content. I'm almost certain he knows better, and it's just that I'm missing something, but I can't figure out what. It doesn't yet even seem to matter that there are two levels of colors (dot-level and field-level). Maybe I should just skip the examples. :rolleyes:
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2005
  9. Jan 22, 2005 #8
    Isn't he saying the opposite to this, that there is a difference between 1+2 and 2+3 that depends on the nature of the integers involved, and not just on the relationship between the them?
     
  10. Jan 22, 2005 #9

    loseyourname

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    I think that trying to find examples of the abstractions Rosenberg presents is proving to be rather cumbersome. Colors can be reduced to patterns of bare differences in quantum numbers from photon to photon. In fact, I don't even think he is really claiming that colors cannot be reduced. He is claiming that the experience of color is what cannot be reduced, and in general, that experience itself cannot be reduced, whether it be the experience of color or the experience of anything else. A lot of his examples are coming across this way. With the phosphenes, I think it is well-known that they are representational of physical events taking place somewhere in the optic structures. Even imagined images can be correlated with specific brain events. Many of his examples seem to run counter to his arguments in this way. In fact, I almost feel like I can follow better simply by taking heed of his abstractions and largely ignoring his examples, but obviously I'm not going to do that.

    Anyway, to address the argument presented here:

    1. The facts about a pure Life world do not entail facts about phenomenal consciousness.
    2. If facts about a pure Life world do not entail facts about phenomenal consciousness, then facts about a pure physical world do not entail facts about phenomenal consciousness.
    3. Therefore, facts about a pure physical world do not entail facts about phenomenal consciousness. (p. 18)


    I've raised my objections to this briefly in a couple of other threads. I don't see how the truth of 1 is clear. I'm not sure how we could ever know exactly what a Life world could produce. In fact, that's the very appeal of the Life world. I'm not saying that I think a Life world does entail facts about consciousness, but where is the proof that it does not? I had the impression in the other thread that Gregg was claiming that a mathematical proof of this does exist. I find myself wondering, though, how that could even be possible. What kind of math can demonstrate either the existence or non-existence of consciousness?

    My objection to 2 is a little more pointed. In fact, I think it is demonstrably false. Unless he really can produce a mathematical proof, he seems to be contending that 1 is true simply because we've never observed consciousness to exist in a Life world. But we've also never observed breathing, or bubble baths, or novels to exist in a Life world. Using similar reasoning, this argument could be constructed:

    1. The facts about a pure Life world do not entail facts about breathing.
    2. If facts about a pure Life world do not entail facts about breathing, then facts about a pure physical world do not entail facts about breathing.
    3. Therefore, facts about a pure physical world do not entail facts about breathing.

    As valid as this argument is, it is hardly compelling. I'd like to know why he thinks his argument is.
     
  11. Jan 22, 2005 #10

    hypnagogue

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    Yes, he is arguing that physics has an ontology of bare differences, and that subjective experience cannot be reduced to bare differences.

    It depends on what we mean by representational. I think the sense of the word Rosenberg meant in chapter 1 is close to this one: "A state has a representational property when, to put it intuitively, it has a meaning or somehow stands in in some process for something else, such as an object, or a `proposition' ± a putative fact" (from http://people.cornell.edu/pages/beh24/rep.pdf). One interpretation might further say that a qualitative experience Q is representational for a subject S if S takes Q to have some sort of meaning. It would seem to be safe to say that a visual experience as of a rock is representational for all cognitively normal, non-infant humans: we take such an experience to mean that there is a rock in the external world, sitting in front of us. But for a person who is not particularly educated about physics or physiology and does not hold supernatural beliefs, the experience of phosphenes probably has no particular meaning; it's just an experience, and not indicative of anything beyond itself. For such a person, phosphenes are not representational, as the word is defined above.

    Rosenberg argues for the claim that the facts about a pure Life world do not entail facts about phenomenal consciousness in section 2.5. If you are not convinced by the argument, can you pick out what specific points of the argument you have issue with? Can you produce counterarguments to these?

    The argument is not sufficiently general that we can rephrase it as "if facts about a pure Life world do not entail facts about X, then facts about a pure physical world do not entail facts about X," for any phenomenon X. It should be clear from section 2.5 that the argument gets its traction from consideration of bare differences and qualitative content. If your argument about breathing really did use similar reasoning, it would argue that facts about breathing include facts about qualitative content. At this point it would run into trouble, because we don't seem to have any reason for believing that the process of breathing involves anything qualitative. However, Rosenberg argues that we do have reason for believing that phenomenal consciousness has qualitative content, again in section 2.5.
     
  12. Jan 23, 2005 #11
    Am I the only one struggling to understand? Heh. I'm no where near being in a position to critique this idea yet. I bow to those who can. :smile:

    As is obvious from some of the responses here, it seems a key point to this argument is Premise 2: Consciousness contains qualitative content (page 19). There is discussion in this section for 2 pages about the concept of "Observables". I need help here. I'm not clear on exactly what is meant by this term(other than the obvious meaning :uhh:) nor why it is relevant to a qualitative content argument. Can anyone help me out here?

    Depending on my understanding of premise 2, I may or may not have issues with premise 3: Bare difference does not entail qualitative content.
     
  13. Jan 23, 2005 #12

    hypnagogue

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    Rosenberg defines what he means by observables at the top of page 20. He argues that we are justified in believing that p-consciousness has qualitative content on the basis of first person observational evidence, so he needs to defend the premise that they are even observable in the first place. (As he mentions, some philosophers find the claim that qualia are observables to be problematic.)
     
  14. Jan 23, 2005 #13

    hypnagogue

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    My understanding is that it is correct to say that physics does have a fundamental ontology, albeit one based on bare differences. You could say that the fundamental ontology of physics is bare or barren or somesuch, but you couldn't say that it doesn't have a fundamental ontology at all.
     
  15. Jan 23, 2005 #14
    Hmm. I'm struggling with that. It seems inevitable that physics has no fundamental ontology, precisely because it deals only in differences, i.e. with relatives rather than absolutes. We cannot say that a bare difference is a 'thing', so there is no 'thing' for physics to take as fundamental. I thought this was GR's point, that bare differences were not sufficient to explain the universe as we know it through our experience. To be honest I didn't think this view was even contentious, since we've always known that science, or rather, the methods of science, could only deal with (relative) properties and attributes, not with what has those properties and attributes. I thought that GR was using this argument, but relating it specifically to experience. Is this not the case?
     
  16. Jan 23, 2005 #15

    hypnagogue

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    From pg. 32: "Ontology is the study of what exists, with particular emphasis on the different ways different kinds of things exist. Metaphysicians (and scientists) engage in ontology by constructing or endorsing theories about the world, and we usually say that each theory presupposes or has an ontology. A theory's ontology sets out the things whose existence we are committed to if we choose to accept the theory as true."

    Following this, we could say a theory's fundamental ontology sets out the fundamental, or non-derivative, things whose existence we are committed to if we choose to accept the theory as true. Physics clearly has a fundamental ontology, then, which includes mass, charge, etc. If we accept physical theory as true, we are committed to believing that mass and charge exist, and also that they are part of the fundamental, irreducible 'furniture' of the world. (Later theories may overturn this and establish something like strings as fundamental, but as long as something is taken to be fundamental, then we have a fundamental ontology.)

    That these fundamental things in physics are relational and not intrinsic is a claim about the nature of physics' fundamental ontology, not a claim about its actual existence.

    Yes, that is his point. Any confusions or misgivings you have here seem to be more terminological (how we define 'fundamental ontology') than substantive (what difference this issue actually makes to the argument).
     
  17. Jan 24, 2005 #16

    honestrosewater

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    But as far as arithmetic is concerned, the nature of the rationals (incl. the integers) is only the relationships between them; There is nothing more to them. 0 and 1 can be defined in terms of other rationals (as additive and multiplicative identities) and all other rationals can be defined in terms of 0 and 1. I think that's his point- math (incl. arithmeic) is a "bare difference" structure, and, if I understand "bare difference", I agree. I think his dot structure is supposed to be a bare difference structure as well.
    If, as far as the dot structure is concerned, 0 does not equal 0 does not equal 0, then 0000 does not equal 0000 as he says:
    If, as far as the dot structure is concerned, 0 does equal 0 does equal 0, then the example doesn't show what he says:
    since the structure didn't start with colors. The colors were only different to the person observing them, never to the structure. So have I missed the point or taken the example too far or what? Are his examples not relevant to his argument at all? BTW I'm not trying to pick all the examples apart, if it seems that way; I actually tried to shake this one off and moved on, but it continued to bother me.
    I guess I should hurry up and finish the chapter. :redface:
     
  18. Jan 24, 2005 #17
    Yes, I'm aware of the definition on page 20. I'm just not sure I understand it. "Observable" seems to mean what I think it means but I don't see any words connecting "observable" to "qualitative content". The text just seems to assume that one leads to the other. Which is why I wasn't sure I was understanding the definition of "observables" because I'm not seeing the necessary connection. Are bare differences not observable?
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2005
  19. Jan 24, 2005 #18
    I'm struggling with all of this but would mention one thing, since it relates to what I was trying to clarify earlier. If qualia are observables then consciousness is not qualia (unless one wants to argue that qualia observe themselves). This implies that studying qualia is not studying consciousness, and that to study consciousness we must observe it directly, not just observe qualia. Hence the need to rid oneself of qualia in order to reveal what remains once they've gone. This is why I'm not entirely comfortable with calling consciousness phenomenal-consciousness. It seems to muddy the waters. But this is probably just a side issue here.
     
  20. Jan 24, 2005 #19
    I don't know about proof, but I find the following persuasive:

    (p.22)"...our acquaintance with the phenomenal qualities yields information about them as contents occupying slots within these difference structures. Reification of the difference structure as basic ignores the grounding of those difference structures in each specific case and so ignores the content instantiating those structures."

    It isn't that the life world couldn't support experience if its difference structure was instantiated in the right stuff. The point is that it is a bare difference structure floating untethered to any content. It is our first person experience which provides the evidence that such a contentful grounding exists in the actual world.
     
  21. Jan 24, 2005 #20

    honestrosewater

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    I don't know if everyone reads the footnotes, but footnote #5 went the furthest towards clearing up observables for me.
    I can't help but wonder what the difference is between "being an observable" and "being observable".
    It could have to do with what I think Canute is asking: If consciousness contains qualitative content, what contains consciousness?
     
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