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Chapter 5: On the Possibility of Panexperientialism

  1. Feb 25, 2005 #1

    hypnagogue

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    The thrust of Liberal Naturalism, as it has been presented thus far, has been that phenomenal consciousness can only be satisfactorily accounted for by introducing some new, fundamental, nonphysical aspects to our theories of nature. In the process of constructing such new fundamental theories, however, we may find some surprising or counterintuitive results. In particular, we might end up at a panexperientialist theory. Panexperientialism is the view that experience outruns cognition-- that experience does not belong only to cognitive systems like human brains. (Panexperientialism is not to be confused with panpsychism; the latter holds that minds are more ubiquitous in nature than we might think, while the former only holds that some form of subjective experience is more ubiquitous than we think. The 'ubiquitous' subjective experience posited by panexperientialism need not be nestled in thinking, cognizing minds.)

    Given that infusing our theories of nature with new, fundamental aspects to account for consciousness in the human case may very well lead us to similarly view phenomenal consciousness itself as a rather ubiquitous fundamental aspect of nature, we need to verify that panexperientialism is even a viable option to begin with. Is it a coherent view? Does it withstand criticism? In this chapter, Rosenberg investigates possible critiques against panexperientialism and ultimately finds it to be a coherent theoretical possibility.

    Before he begins this discussion, he introduces a new term: "qualitative field." A qualitative field is a bounded collective of experienced phenomenal qualities. E.g., my subjective experience is a qualitative field, as distinct from the qualitative field that constitutes your subjective experience. So this is essentially another term for subjective experience or phenomenal consciousness, although with a more explicit acknowledgement of the boundedness of experience (as discussed in chapter 4). Using this term will also make some discussions flow more naturally; for instance, we can ask "what is it that differentiates two qualitative fields?" instead of saying "what is it that differentiates the bounded p-consciousness of one system from that of another?"

    Is There Evidence for Panexperientialism?
    The first set of critiques against panexperientialism that Rosenberg addresses is 1) there is no evidence for p-consciousness outside of cognitive contexts, and 2) panexperientialism is incoherent because it supposes experiences without appropriate (cognitive) experiencers. Objection 1 is easily dispatched by noting that every theory of p-consciousness, save perhaps solipsism, goes beyond the direct evidence. Our only immediate evidence that subjective experience exists is in our own, first person cases. As a result, what we consider to constitute evidence for p-consciousness in cases other than our own depends heavily on theory. For instance, the basis for objection 2 is founded in the theoretical (not empirical) notion that only cognitive systems can support p-consciousness. Accordingly, if we can find a simpler, better motivated, and more coherent theory that implies that certain non-cognitive or otherwise surprising systems support experience, we should accept these consequences as discoveries about nature. Doing such is in accordance with the necessarily deep link between the nature of our theories of consciousness and what we count as evidence for p-consciousness in cases other than our own.

    Is Panexperientialism Coherent?
    Next, Rosenberg addresses the concern that the notion of experience existing outside of a cognitive context is incoherent. Can it really be that experience could exist without, in some sense, being essentially mental or cognitive? Rosenberg offers four observations aimed to dilute our confidence that all kinds of experience must be fundamentally mental.

    1. Our concepts of experience are highly open ended. Because of the fundamentally bounded nature of p-consciousness, we cannot peer directly into other qualitative fields. We must, for instance, allow that a manta ray sensing electromagnetic radiation might have corresponding experiences that are completely foreign to us, just as a blind man must allow that those who can see have experiences that are completely foreign to him. Accordingly, we must allow that simpler and simpler beings might have more and more primitive forms of experience. As we move down this scale, there is no clear boundary at which point we are definitively forced to stop attributing experience. Our confidence may grow weaker for systems that increasingly do not resemble us, but weak confidence for a proposition does not amount to clear logical grounds for rejecting it outright.

    2. It could be that there are certain types of experiences that are completely alien to what is presented in human experience. We do not have to suppose that every experiential event that occurs in a panexperientialist world is some diminished analogue of human experiences, like 'a little pain' or 'a little speck of blue.' Rather, the kinds of experiences that might obtain in non-cognitive systems could be so foreign from human experience as to be inconceivable for a human. The strange nature of such qualitative fields need not be limited to just their qualitative character; they could very likely be non-mental, and particularly non-intentional, in a way that would be essentially impossible for a human to fully empathize with.

    3. The best way to conceive of a non-mental qualitative field is by way of analogy. Rather than try to directly conceive of what such qualitative fields Y belonging to systems X would be like, we can draw out their abstract resemblance to our own, human experience using the analogy, 'Y is to system X as experience is to the human mind.' In so doing, we directly acknowledge that we cannot fully understand such qualitative fields, since we cannot experience them firsthand and directly feel their qualitative character. However, we also maintain that we understand them in an abstract way, as standing in the same sort of relation to the systems to which they belong as our own subjective experiences stand in relation to our own brains/minds.

    4. The best name for non-cognitive qualitative fields is protoconsciousness. This term is suggestive of the assertion that they are not being experienced by a cognitive mind, but instead are rather primitive states of 'pure experience.'

    Rosenberg concludes that observations 1-3 suggest that resistance to panexperientialism arises from cognitive rigidity rather than conceptual incoherence. It seems our concepts of experience can tolerate a panexperientialist expansion with falling into incoherence. Resistance to panexperientialism, then, seems to be grounded in biases formed from our own fixed positions as cognitive experiencers. We are so used to associating subjective experience with minds that it may make us uneasy to attribute experience to non-mental systems, but this unease is not grounded in purely logical concerns.

    Rosenberg also cautions that we need not assume that every conceptual object, such as a rock or thermostat, is a subject of experience on a panexperientialist view. Depending on the details of the theory, large scale systems that support bounded, experiencing individuals might be rare. It could be that a panexperientialist view only attributes qualitative fields to large scale systems such as the ones we would otherwise expect-- humans, some animals, some computers, etc.-- and only adds unexpected, non-cognitive subjects of experience at the smallest scales of nature. (Although such protoconscious phenomena would not have thinking minds, they would still count as subjects of experience insofar as they would be bounded qualitative fields.)

    Protoconsciousness and Rrepresentationalism
    Because protoconscious properties can exist outside of cognitive contexts according to panexperientialism, they might not have certain features that we normally associate with consciousness, particularly representational or intentional features. But on some views, representational features are essential to phenomenal properties, and thus phenomenal properties without representational content cannot exist. Call any variety of such a view representationalism. If representationalism is right, it follows that protoconscious properties cannot be phenomenal properties. Therefore, any panexperientialist view must answer to representationalism if it is to get off the ground. Rosenberg has three possible responses to the representationalist challenge against panexperientialism, each of which he regards as adequate.

    1. Protoconscious properties do, in fact, have intrinsically representational features, but these are just not used unless in they are placed in the proper cognitive context. In this case, the representational features of protoconsciousness would be like the charge of an ion that is located in an environment where its charge cannot interact with other charges. On this view, there is no challenge to representaionalism, so it need not be argued against.

    2. Representationalism is problematic for the human case, and thus we should not hold it to be a serious threat against panexperientialism. Rosenberg's main ammunition againt representationalism here comes from case studies of synesthesia. Synesthesia is a condition in which a person experiences various kinds of cross-modal perception; for instance, hearing a sound might invoke a visual sensation of color, or smelling an odor might invoke a tactile sensation of shape. Importantly, synesthetes can press their cross-modal perceptions into representational services. For instance, one synesthete named Carol, who experiences the visual color orange upon feeling pain, reports a story where she used her synesthetic perception of orange to diagnose nerve damage of one of her teeth at the dentist. Carol's experience suggests that the same representational content can be expressed with varying phenomenal contents, undermining the representationalist claim that representational contents determine phenomenal contents.

    Another synesthete, DS, experiences visual shapes upon hearing sounds, and conceives of the shapes as fundamentally constituting part of what it is to hear. DS's testimony seems to undermine a further representationalist claim that phenomenal contents determine representational contents. It is not clear that the shape aspect of DS's heard shapes represent anything about the sounds he hears, nor that they represent in a way consistent with the manner in which an analogous, 'normally perceived' visual shape represents a physical object.

    3. Even if representationalism is true for human consciousness, there is no basis for generalization to non-cognitive cases. Generalizing from the human case to make conclusions about all possible types of phenomenal properties is problematic, because the human case makes for a highly biased sample set. Because we can only access first person information about consciousness in our own cases, and because our own cases are unfailingly instances of cognitive minds, we may be led to believe that all types of phenomenal properties must be representational-- but this conclusion suffers from the same methodological problems as concluding that (eg) all bears are white, upon making extensive observations of bears in the North Pole.
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2005
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 26, 2005 #2
    In view of the last sentence, surely :

    "Rosenberg also cautions that we need not assume that every conceptual object, such as a rock or thermostat, is a subject of experience on a panexperientialist view."

    should read

    "Rosenberg also cautions that we need not assume that every conceptual object, such as a rock or thermostat, is a cognitive subject of experience on a panexperientialist view."
     
  4. Feb 26, 2005 #3

    hypnagogue

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    No, it was right the first time. What this means is that we don't have to suppose that something like a rock is a bounded, experiencing subject like a human brain is. (It may or may not be, depending on the details of the particular panexperientialist theory.) For instance, perhaps on one theory, the rock's atoms (or some other physical components of it) are each subjects of experience but do not unite in the appropriate way to form one macroscopic, unitary subject of experience.
     
  5. Mar 1, 2005 #4
    The objection to panexperientialism in its cruder forms is that the idea
    of thinking atoms or feeling rocks is stupid. So the panexperientialist genrally responds by saying that rocks and atoms only have a very simple kind of
    consciousness -- he positions himself as a panprotoexperientialist.

    However, the distinction you are making above seems to be one of
    scale and structure only, not of quality. Atoms are not "united" or "macroscopic". Either scale makes a difference, and
    atoms are not fully conscious, not cognitive, because they are too
    tiny, and my original ammendment is on the nail. Or it doesn't,
    and the thinking atom charge sticks.

    While we are on the subject, what is the motivation for supposing that
    everything has some form of consciousness, and not just that
    experience or qualia can exist outside human subjects ?
     
  6. Mar 2, 2005 #5

    hypnagogue

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    Panexperientialism is not to be confused with panpsychism. The view you are depicting here is the latter, not the former. Panexperientialism does not claim that thinking is ubiquitous in nature, but rather that subjective experience is (in some form or another).

    Issues of scale and unity come into play when considering what it is that constitutes the boundaries of subjective experience. (See the thread on chapter 4.) In particular, it seems intuitive that scale should make a difference to the structure and nature of various systems' subjective experiences, but in light of the boundary problem, it's not at all clear what constitutes a naturally individuated qualitative field. The point here is that it could very well be that something like a rock would not provide the proper conditions to maintain an individuated qualitative field analogous to the way that our brains provide such conditions, even though we tend to regard rocks as perceptual or conceptual 'individuals.' Rosenberg does not fully address the boundary problem until the second half of the book, when he formulates a new theory of causation and brings it to bear on the issues surrounding subjective experience.

    Although Rosenberg does not give a full treatment in this chapter, your questions about atoms should have pretty clear answers from the summary I provided. First of all, atoms are not regarded as cognitive, but nor is cognition regarded as a requirement for a system to be 'fully' p-conscious. Cognition might be required for things like intentional or representational contents of consciousness, but not for raw subjective experience itself. Having said that, Rosenberg does align his arguments with the intuitive idea that if an atom really did have some sort of qualitative field, it would be of a rather simple, primitive character that us humans could not fully conceive of. (See the section titled 'Is Panexperientialism Coherent?')

    There is no well-detailed motivation for panexperientialism provided in this chapter. Rosenberg only notes that, if we reject physicalism and take the stance that we need some kind of new fundamental ontology to account for p-consciousness, we very well might wind up at a panexperientialist theory. (If experience is really a fundamental aspect of nature like charge or string vibrations or whatever, it's a strong theoretical possibility that it is similarly widespread in nature.) Having anticipated this possibility, Rosenberg decides to evaluate whether panexperientialism is really a consistent theoretical option on closer analysis. More explicit motivation for panexperientialism is provided in the next chapter and in the second half of the book.
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2005
  7. Mar 2, 2005 #6

    hypnagogue

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    By the way, just to make sure everyone notices it, please note changes to the discussion guidelines.
     
  8. Mar 6, 2005 #7

    hypnagogue

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    I have no objections to the arguments in this chapter, and judging by the response, not many other readers do either. I'll have a thread for chapter 6 up some time tomorrow.

    By the way, it's worth noting that the arguments in this chapter, and many of the book's subsequent arguments, build from the anti-physicalist arguments in chapters 2 and 3. So a physicalist (particularly an eliminative materialist) might not be swayed by the arguments in this chapter, but his objections are grounded in ideas that have already been addressed. Even if one is not prepared to accept the anti-physicalist position just yet, however, the material in this book can be regarded as a useful analysis of the kinds of considerations that would be important if we chose to reject physicalism. Seeing where this path can take us, and how it can let us address some of the deeper mysteries about p-consciousness, might prove fruitful for those who are still sitting on the fence about physicalism.

    edit: Sorry for the late edit. The above initially read, "So an anti-physicalist would probably not be swayed by the arguments in this chapter..." What I meant to write was 'physicalist,' not 'anti-physicalist.' Hopefully that was clear from context.
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2005
  9. Aug 21, 2006 #8
    Amy Kind: Panexperientialism is incoherent

    Amy Kind wrote an essay responding the theses of Rosenberg in this chapter.
    http://phil-rlst.claremontmckenna.edu/akind/
    “Panexperientialism, Cognition, and the Nature of Experience”, forthcoming in Psyche

    She finishes her essay with this criticism
    As far as I understand Rosenberg he accepts that there may be experience without a-consciousness, but denies that there can be experience without p-consciousness. P-consciousness is the core feature of experience (e.g. responsible for the unifying of experience). But:

    Background of this assumption is that according to Rosenberg there might exist experience that is
    This is quoted from a summary of Rosenberg's thinking. I would read this sequence as "worth of the name 'consciousness' in commonsense". The point of Rosenberg's remark seems to me that non-cognitive consciousness/experience is possible.

    The talk of "pure experience" does may refer to experience without consciousness i.e. to experience without representational and phenomenal content. But then it refers to the pure receptivity (of an individual in Rosenberg’s theory) that is no concrete being in the world.

    Who want to defend the argument of Amy Kind?
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2006
  10. Aug 21, 2006 #9

    selfAdjoint

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    Her final objection to Rosenberg's panexperientialism is that we - human beings whose experiences are inseparably unified with phenomenal apperceptions - cannot make coherent sense of the concept of something that putatively has some "proto-experience", something which proto-experiences its environment in some way, without any phenomenal content at all, and without any other "richness" that may inhere in whatever part of human mental experience can be separated from the phenomenal. And I agree that we can't. But then we can't come to a well-defined agreement on quantum mechanics either. And she has earlier given Rosenberg a pass on not having to define what he means by protoexperience, since he (she grants) may say that it's required by a parsimonious explanation of the facts, and scientists are nowadays cool with explanating the ignotus by the ignotum when parsimony drives. See virtual particles and quarks. Seems to me she can't have it both ways; if he doesn't have to define it, then her very general arguments about its incoherence don't hold water, or if we must take them seriously, she should go back and reword her free pass.
     
  11. Aug 21, 2006 #10

    hypnagogue

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    Thanks for the find, Tychic! For those interested, the Kind paper is here : http://phil-rlst.claremontmckenna.edu/akind/Panexperientialism.doc

    I found the paper to be somewhat perplexing. It reads as if the author has thoroughly read the first half of A Place for Consciousness but has neglected to carry out a good, thorough reading of the second half, in which Rosenberg puts forth his synthesis of consciousness and causation. It may have been beyond the paper's scope to address this aspect of Rosenberg's work in detail, but the problem is that many of the objections raised in the paper are addressed rather directly by considerations made in the second half of the book.

    Taking a look at Kind's objections in turn :

    The objection here is that asserting that an atom is conscious (or experiences) holds no meaning since it doesn't add anything to our ability to describe or predict its behavior, or otherwise make intersubjective claims about it upon which we can all agree.

    This objection rings hollow to me, however, because we could just as well say the same of human beings. Asserting that my nextdoor neighbor experiences does not seem to be meaningful in Kind's sense, since I can just as well speak about all the relevant third-person facts about my neighbor without asserting that he experiences. I think attributing experience to a system does indeed make for a meaningful claim, albeit not meaningful in the sense that it makes a difference for the description or prediction of some third-person observable. (Of course, herein lies the kernel of the fundamental dispute about phenomenal consciousness, in thinly veiled form.)

    Panexperientialism is just the view that experience is ubiquitous in nature, and so by definition does not entail a unique view on how higher-level experience might emerge. I might hold that "panatomism," the view that atoms are ubiquitous in nature, is true; but endorsing this view says nothing about how I answer the "atom combination problem" of how atoms combine to form tables and mountains and such. The atom combination problem is a legitimate one for panatomism, but the fact that panatomism itself does not directly address the atom combination problem is no serious charge against panatomism. All that is needed is some supplementary view (e.g. quantum physics) that is consistent with panatomism and can satisfactorily address the atom combination problem.

    And Rosenberg does indeed supply such a supplementary view in part II of the book, which is just his theory of causal significance in conjunction with his carrier theory of causation. This metaphysical system addresses the question of how it might be that higher-level experience could arise from lower-level experience, although it does remain agnostic on some of the finer details (e.g. whether the relation between levels is one of weak or strong emergence).

    As an aside, Kind is incorrect to claim that a panexperientialist view that cannot answer the combination problem is no better off than physicalist views with regards to answering the hard problem of consciousness. The hard problem is not synonymous with the combination problem. If the combination problem can be phrased "how is it that the building blocks of experience come together to form human consciousness?", then the hard problem would pose the deeper question "how is it that experience, in any form you'd like to consider it, exists in the first place?" By definition, panexperientialism does answer the hard problem rather directly (by claiming that experience is just a fundamental feature of the world), even if the combination problem is a substantial further problem to address. It is up for debate whether physicalism can satisfactorily address the hard problem; certainly it does not do so by definition.

    Kind's main objection to Rosenberg's development of panexperientialism, though, is that it is incoherent to assert the existence of experience in the absence of cognition. However, I'm not sure that her reading of Rosenberg here is entirely accurate or that her arguments are terribly cogent.

    Now, it's always been my understanding that p-consciousness (phenomenal consciousness) is just synonymous with terms like "subjective experience" and "raw feels" and so on, and is specifically meant to pick out the purely first person experiential aspect of consciousness while leaving all the cognitive/intentional residue under the umbrella of a-consciousness (access consciousness).

    If this is what Kind understands p-consciousness to mean as well, then the above claim is flatly wrong and there is nothing much more to say.

    Evidently, she understands p-consciousness to mean something else, but I'm not sure quite what. I think she may interpret Rosenberg to be claiming something like "there can be experience without awareness," but again this turns on what one means by "awareness." Certainly the relavent awareness would not be a kind of self-reflective or higher order awareness, as that would require cognition.

    I think Kind has in mind a very simple first-order awareness of experience. Awareness is necessary for experience at least in the minimal sense where "awareness" (e.g. of phenomenal property P) equates with "experience of P"-- if you have no experience (awareness) of P, then there is no meaningful sense in which you could be said to be experiencing in the first place. But Rosenberg would agree with this.

    The locus of Kind's objection seems to be that she holds that there must be cognition in order to support awareness in this minimal sense, whereas Rosenberg does not. Rosenberg assigns this minimal sense of awareness a fundamental role in his ontology-- it is the experiencing subject, the carrier of receptivity-- so he does have this base covered. So Rosenberg's protoconscious entities are indeed "aware" in this sense, contra Kind's assertions (unless I'm misreading her). I'm not sure Kind presents a really cogent argument for why awareness in this sense must be cognitive in nature.

    Kind goes on to speak about a problem regarding subjects of experience (though again, the link this analysis bears to cognition is by no means explicit to me):

    "But without consciousness..." I suppose means "but without awareness..." in the minimal sense of "awareness" described above, and so this objection seems to be an empty one. On Rosenberg's view, there is a minimal sense in which the non-cognitive subjects of experience are "aware" or "conscious."

    Kind also completely neglects the bulk of the ideas put forth in part II in the above passage. On Rosenberg's framework, every phenomenal experience is experienced by a subject of experience, and this subject of experience can be identified with the causal structure Rosenberg calls a natural individual. In the hypothetical example above, the "instantaneous sparks and flickers" produced by molecular interactions would not be freefloating, but rather would be objects of experience for some experiencing subject(s). They would not be dissociated from any given system, but rather each phenomenal property would be associated with some natural individual. Depending on the details, the natural individual with which each experience would be associated could very well be the "molecules themselves"; Rosenberg's causal framework also allows the causal interaction between the molecules to constitute a natural individual, and so the interaction itself could be a kind of subject of experience with which the "sparks and flickers" are associated. Kind has simply grossly misread (or under-read) Rosenberg here.

    Kind goes on to raise the unity of consciousness, particularly the unity of the subjective instant, as problems for Rosenberg's panexperientialism. But once again, these objections betray either misunderstanding or neglect on Kind's part. The unity of consciousness is an issue dealt with explicitly and extensively in the second half of the book. Likewise, Rosenberg gives an explicit treatment to the subjective instant in one of the later chapters. Kind's arguments seem to boil down to claims like this:

    In short, Kind's arguments seem to boil down to raw assertions that X cannot be explained without cognition (without any further substantive elaboration), and that panexperientialism does not/cannot explain X (when in fact Rosenberg does invariably explain X within a panexperientialist framework, in part II of the book). I do not hold that Rosenberg's ideas in part II are bulletproof by any means, but if Kind takes issue with them, she would do best to acknowledge them and address them directly.
     
  12. Aug 21, 2006 #11

    hypnagogue

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    Just to clarify, Rosenberg does not claim that there can be experience without phenomenal content. Rather, he regards the existence of a phenomenal content as logically entailing the existence of an experiencer, and vice versa.

    Also, as an aside, it is probably not fruitful to think of some "protoexperiential" subject as experiencing its environment. As humans, we say that we experience our environment, but this is because we are cognitively structured in such a way as to have our phenomenal content coincide with representational content about the environment (at least in many/most cases). Raw experience in itself need not be about the environment, let alone about anything at all (even in the human case-- see e.g. brain stimulation studies). On Rosenberg's view it is most accurate to say that a natural individual (proto-)experiences its own effective properties, where effective properties are those properties that may place causal constraint (e.g. the physical properties studied in physics).
     
  13. Aug 22, 2006 #12
    Hi Tychic, Hypnagogue.
    Thanks for the feedback.
    I think it is important to get a good understanding of what Rosenberg means by the basic, raw sense of experiencing.
    In my opinion, Kind somehow misrepresents it.

    Perhaps the whole issue is claiming for a prior, the clearest possible, definition of the terms involved: awareness, consciousness, cognitive/subjective experience, etc from the standpoint of human mind, and to try to extrapolate it to an intuitive idea of what a basic, raw subjective experience might be.

    This somehow lacking conceptual clarification, for some, was already addressed, I recall, in the first chapters of the book’s discussion.

    By the way, I was just reading a paper that could give some insight about the characterization of p-consciousness, a-consciousness and subjectivity, which tries to expand the field of subjectivity (subjective experience?) even to what we usually qualify as unconscious. Perhaps Rosenberg’s idea of experiencing would be closer to this subjectivity (subjective experience) rather than to the usual understanding of conscious experience.

    Joseph U. Neisser, Unconscious Subjectivity. Psyche 2006,12,3.
    Abstract: Subjectivity is essential to consciousness. But though subjectivity is necessary for consciousness it is not sufficient. In part one I derive a distinction between conscious awareness and unconscious subjectivity from a critique of Block’s (1995) distinction between access and phenomenal consciousness. In part two I contrast two historically
    influential models of unconscious thought: cognitive and psychoanalytic. The widely held cognitive model does not cover, as it should, the class of "for me" mental states that remain unconscious. In particular, personalist approaches to emotion require a theory of unconscious subjectivity to handle the case of unconscious emotion.

    http://psyche.cs.monash.edu.au/articles/Neisser.pdf
     
  14. Aug 23, 2006 #13

    selfAdjoint

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    Well in that case aren't you a little hasty in eliminating the environment? Consider a rock on a ledge, and the same rock in free fall (perhaps disturbed by a water spate or something). Surely its experience, reflecting its internal physical states, differs? For example what was expressed as potential energy (as humans view it of course) is now partly expressed as kinetic energy.

    There is an interetation of quantum physics that goes
    1. Only history can be an observable.
    2. history is the trace of the past interactions and the system's contingor for the next interaction.
    3. Every system in an interaction brings its own history to it; the interaction is contingent on all these hisotries and each system receives a a new history as a result of the interaction (very much like prior and posterior in Bayesian statistics, but this is thought of as physical/observable, not informational).

    Can natural experience be built up from some basis like this?
     
  15. Aug 24, 2006 #14
    Hi you all, thanks for the discussion.
    I think we agree in our innocence of the exact meaning of Amy Kind’s incoherent experience without consciousness in Rosenberg’s book.
    I want to summarize the necessary aspects of experience, i.e. p-consciousness:
    • phenomenal content (phenomenal qualities),
    • first-person perspective (and in this sense subjective),
    • unifying aspect as common receptivity (the field character),
    • active aspect as effective properties.
    SelfAdjoint, your proposal sound like Whitehead. I appreciate his process philosophy as far as I understand it and I think Rosenberg’s proposal is compatible with your three points. (Rosenberg can allow experience of the present but that is not necessary for him.)
    I myself would like to be a bit more cautious in words. Do you really say that a physical thing experiences its environment because of its propensity to interact with all other things according to the laws of gravitation? I do not. I agree with Hypnagogue who indicates that experiencing the environment includes intentionality and representational content that may be absent in a causal interaction of an effective property with the environment.
    And I would like to avoid to say that each natural individual experiences or observes (or even memorizes) its history.
    Three lines of counter-arguments
    - Perhaps there are no natural individuals but only agglomerations of natural individuals on the level of Newtonian physics.
    - A qualitative difference does not mean that there have to be a difference in representative content of the interacting natural individual. The difference may be only in phenomenal content.
    - In Rosenberg’s theory there are constraints on effective binding so that each individual can only experience constraints from individuals of the same level (or the level below in another interpretation). In this sense nobody experiences her/his special environment insofar as this environment is not of the right level to become subject of experience.
     
  16. Aug 27, 2006 #15

    hypnagogue

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    Well, I suppose this is a largely a terminological issue-- what does one mean by "experiencing the environment"? I prefer an interpretation of the statement "X experiences Y" in which Y is directly that thing which X experiences, whereas you seem to favor an interpretation in which Y may be any event in the causal chain that culminates in X's experience. On my view, it is technically most accurate to deny that even humans really experience their environment-- rather, I would say that a human only ever experiences some aspect of his own brain, and evolution has just conspired to make this experience of brain states/events fortuitously isomorphic with events in the environment. I think you would largely agree with my underlying point of view on this matter, and where we differ most is just a linguistic issue of how we would like to interpret the phrase "X experiences Y."
     
  17. Aug 27, 2006 #16

    selfAdjoint

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    I agree with you that what we call our experience is a long way from first hand, and I attribute that to the complex machinery that turns, say, a photon falling on a retina into what we call a visual perception.

    But what aspect of this can we attribute to something that does not have that complex interior machinery? Large scale inorganic systems (e.g. rocks) are accounted as decohered; no quantum effects to be expected within the life of the universe. And the statistical mechanics of crystal structure, etc. does not give us much hope for complex interior states. Indeed such a system has no experiences that I can identify EXCEPT changes of state; interactions with its "environment".

    What am I missing? Can Rosenberg's account be explained without Rosenberg's special causality?
     
  18. Aug 27, 2006 #17

    hypnagogue

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    But of course, the same visual perception could be elicited by applying the proper kind and degree of electrical stimulation somewhere downstream of the retina-- all that matters in the end is that the neural correlate of the visual perception be activated, whatever that neural correlate might be. Rosenberg's argument with regard to panexperientialism in general is just to recognize this link between physical systems and experience on the one hand, and on the other to deny that this link is one that is necessarily constrained to certain special cases (i.e. the class of "cognitive" systems).

    When you say "experiences" do you mean subjective, qualitative experiences in particular? If you're using the term more generally we might wind up talking past eachother.

    In any case, I don't think what you've said is contrary to Rosenberg's view or mine. Couldn't we say the same about the human brain-- that it cannot experience anything but (changes in) its own state?

    As to the question of things like rocks experiencing, according to Rosenberg only natural individuals are unified subjects of experience. The question of whether things like rocks or tables experience as a single unit would come down to the question of whether they are the types of systems likely to be natural individuals, and on Rosenberg's view they would not be.

    I'm sure that many of Rosenberg's ideas on consciousness could be exported in some form or another without upholding his ideas on causality. However, to a significant degree his account of phenomenal consciousness is his account of causality, and the real elegance and uniqueness of his ideas flow from the manner in which he weds the two together.
     
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2006
  19. Aug 29, 2006 #18

    selfAdjoint

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    I keep coming back to this topic because it is fascinating to me, and I keep quitting because the decision always seems to boil down to something like this. Where does Rosenberg get his dichotomy between "natural" individuals and whatever other category he has. It it just a list of names he made up, is it things that behave a certain way, what? If somebody says to me such and such a particle is a boson, not a fermion, I pretty much know what he's getting at, and there's something called the spin-statistics theorem (i.e. a coherent formalism that accounts for the different behavior of fermions and bosons), together with other factors about particle type (spin, vector or scalar, conservation laws, etc) which I can refer to if I have doubts. But with philosophy it pretty much comes down to the philosopher trying to persuade you of his particular opinion.

    What does it mean to experience as a unit? Does this acknowledge the fallacies which our nervous systems foist on us, like the "filling in" of the visual background, and even the editing out of Libet's delay?
     
  20. Aug 29, 2006 #19

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    Rosenberg grounds his notion of natural individuality in receptivity. In Rosenberg's causal framework, receptivity is that which allows effective properties to place causal constraint upon each other. A natural individual is an instance of receptivity that "binds" some set of effective properties. This is a "natural" individual because it is a set of properties that is individuated from its environment by its inherent causal structure.

    If you are interested in pursuing this further, I would encourage you to read the summaries for chapters 9 - 12, where Rosenberg's causal framework and its relationship to experience is put forth in some detail. Conceptually, the framework is not as arbitrary as it might seem on a cursory glance, but rather it is well developed, well motivated IMO, and worth looking into. Empirically, the causal framework is not without its question marks; however, Rosenberg does offer a preliminary sketch for how we might empirically ascertain good candidates for natural individuality in chapter 14, so the whole affair is not entirely divorced from empirical considerations either.

    By saying "experience as a unit," I just mean to refer to a single, coherent subject of experience. For instance, I experience as a 'unit,' as do you. Put us together in the same room and we do not experience as one combined unit; we remain separate "islands" of experience. (For more on that, see chapter 4 on the boundary problme.)

    In the context of panexperientialism, the question of whether a rock experiences as a unit is like asking whether the constituents of the rock come together to form one single, coherent unit of experience (analogous to how my bodily constituents come together to support my unitary field of experience) or whether the rock's constituents are more like a conglomeration of "islands" of experience (analogous to how you and I do not come together to form one unitary subject of experience but rather remain separate "islands").

    I'm not sure those phenomena are important to the concept. Whether or not my visual system "filled in" unattended portions of the visual background or not-- regardless of the details of the nature of the experience-- the total experience would still be experienced just by "me," a single, unitary experiencing subject.
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2006
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