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Contrast between science and philosophy

  1. Mar 9, 2005 #1

    selfAdjoint

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    I have just been reading in this wonderful memoir of Francis Crick in the New York Review of Books, how real scientists responded to a case of an artist who had lost the ability to see colors. And then I read hypnagogues's defense of the latest chapter in A place for Consciousness, in which he asks us to consider that an atom may experience the quale of being in a molecule, or presumably an electron the quale of having its spin axis oriented in a particular direction. And insofar as they are represented by these two texts, and ONLY in that regard, I say Bully for science! And Phooey to philosophy!
     
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  3. Mar 9, 2005 #2
    I don't disagree with you at all; except for one strange thing. My degree is in theoretical nuclear physics and yet my "sheepskin" says "Doctor of Philosophy". :confused: Personally, I think a lot of sloppy thinkers have given "philosophy" a bad name. :tongue: All hard scientists should be philosophers and all philosophers should be "hard scientists". I think the people raised to the intricacies of "hard science" dropped the ball because they couldn't think of decent ways to handle the problems raised there. They just decided the problems couldn't be handled so they ignored them. :rofl:

    Have fun -- Dick
     
  4. Mar 10, 2005 #3

    Pengwuino

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    I thoght Doctor of Philosophy was called that because the Greeks (or possibly Romans) called anyone who was of the 'highest level' in a subject a Philosopher and only recently (relatively) did philosophy become a seperate subject on its own.
     
  5. Mar 10, 2005 #4
    Most people don't understand the issue of being "exact"!

    Yeah, that's a pretty accurate reflection; however, the issue I bring up is why the "hard scientists" (those who are very careful about their pronouncements) dropped the issues modern "philosophers" talk about. Notice I said "talk about" not "think about"! :rofl:

    Have fun -- Dick
     
  6. Mar 10, 2005 #5

    Pengwuino

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    Oh i see

    What are some examples that you can think of??
     
  7. Mar 10, 2005 #6

    hypnagogue

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    selfAdjoint, I appreciate that you are following along with the "A Place for Consciousness" discussion, as the ideas and arguments found there lie on the opposite pole from your own preferred philosophical stance of eliminative materialism. However, I must express some doubt as to the weight that your implied critique carries, since it is evident from your post that either you have not been reading the discussion very closely, or perhaps you have and you've simply misunderstood. If you reread the post of mine that you refer to in this thread, you will find that I certainly have not argued for what you claim I have argued for. In fact, much of chapters 5 and 6 are devoted to explicitly trying to steer the reader away from the conceptual mistake you have made here.

    (In a nutshell: the kind of experience posited for non-cognitive systems is certainly not one that carries representational content, and nowhere in my hypothetical example of the atom did I claim that an atom could have an experience as of being in a certain molecule, or an electron an experience as of being in a certain state. I only wished to establish a psychophysical relationship between physical state and an unspecified, non-representational experiential state of the same general sort as that between the human brain and human subjective experience, as implied by scientific study of the brain.)

    At least you have not made a sweeping critique of philosophy; you have put philosophy down, as you say, only insofar as it is represented by this text (actually, only insofar as it is represented in my own summaries and presentations of this text; have you been reading the book itself?). But by the same token, you have not understood the text, so really you are not saying 'phooey' to anything but your own incorrect interpretation of it.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2005
  8. Mar 10, 2005 #7

    selfAdjoint

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    In what way is an "unspecified non-representational experential state" not an experience? What does representation have to do with it. If the electron has an "experential state" is that represented in its Hilbert space of states? Has it eigenvalues? Can we measure or observe it and collapse its experential wavefunction? Come on!

    No I'm saying phooey to the desperate need to erect a phony reification of ongoing neural processing, trying to save transcendence from ever encroaching neurological research, and in order to "find a place" for that improper construction, to do violence not only to physics but to common sense.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2005
  9. Mar 10, 2005 #8

    hypnagogue

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    You portrayed what I wrote as saying that an atom might have a "quale of being in a molecule." Perhaps I read too much into that strange phrasing, but it sounds as if you take this to mean that an atom might have an experience that it is part of a molecule, similar to how I might have an experience that I am part of an extended environment. But that implies that the experience has intentional content-- that the atom's experience is 'about' being in a molecule. That is not what I meant to say at all. What I meant to say in this hypothetical example was that there might be some minimal sense in which it is like something to be an atom, and that the atom's primitive experience might covary with some aspect of its physical/functional state, just as our more advanced experiences covary with some aspect of the brain's physical/functional state.

    Of course, I am not committed to believing that atoms really do experience in this way. This was just a hypothetical example designed to show how the principle of covariance of human brain function and human subjective experience might be generalized to non-cognitive systems in nature.

    Could an atom's experience be measured? No more so than a human's experience can be measured. If we could somehow measure subjective experience, then consciousness would not be so controversial, and could be exhaustively explained with a scientific treatment. As this is not the case, if we want to try to understand consciousness, we must necessarily move beyond what can strictly be shown or implied by science, at least for the time being.

    In what sense do you mean 'reification'? Is it inconsistent to view qualia fundamentally as a process and still believe in the relevance of the hard problem?

    As for a 'desperate need' to 'save transcendence from ever encroaching neurological research,' sorry, but that is nothing more than a bad caricature. You would do better to focus on the merit of the arguments than try to create 'phony' psychological diagnoses of everyone who happens to disagree with your worldview. The findings of neuroscience are embraced by anyone who is serious about studying the mind; what is at issue is what these findings reveal to us, what they can entail, and how these things can account for what we know from first person experience.

    What violence is done to physics? As far as I can tell, the only philosophical view of consciousness that does violence to physics is interactionist dualism. One does not have to be an interactionist dualist to deny physicalism, and "A Place for Consciousness" is not a book about interactionist dualism. Physicalism is contested, but physicalism is a philosophical worldview, an interpretation of physics. One can be an antiphysicalist and retain the utmost respect for physics.

    Bringing common sense into the argument does not do you any good either. General relativity and quantum physics do considerable violence to common sense. On the other hand, if you want to talk about common sense being violated, I can think of no greater offender than eliminativist materialism.
     
  10. Mar 10, 2005 #9

    selfAdjoint

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    Question then Hypnogogue, If what it is like to be an electron is not experienced by the electron then what is it? This seems to be reification, not of a process, but of a simple phrase in English. You say "There is something it is like to be an electon in a particular state" and I say "Well, sure, that's a way to put it". I take that "something" to be just a lexical device. But then you talk about the reality of "what it is like". And that sounds to me like Parmenides saying "Non-being does not exist" because the Greek phrase comes out that way. Misplaced reification both times?
     
  11. Mar 11, 2005 #10
    There is a Middle Road between reifying something, treating it as a thing,
    and dismissing it entirely. Are hurricanes, epidemics, inflationary cycles, or contracts
    "things" ?
     
  12. Mar 11, 2005 #11
    There is a Middle Road between reifying something, treating it as a thing,
    and dismissing it entirely. Are hurricanes, epidemics, inflationary cycles, virtual particles or contracts "things" ?
     
  13. Mar 11, 2005 #12

    selfAdjoint

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    Point taken, but us the subjunctive mood a thing?
     
  14. Mar 11, 2005 #13

    hypnagogue

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    "What it is like" is a specific phrase used in philosophy of mind, coined by the philosopher Thomas Nagel, and is essentially meant as a synonym for subjective experience. If system X has phenomenal, subjective experience, then it is like something to be system X, and vice versa. The reason for using the term is that it emphasizes a useful way to think of subjective experience in a general way. When I say my visual field has certain phenomenal qualities, or that it feels a certain way to put my foot in sand, the common denominator is that it is like something for me to experience these things; if you were to put yourself in my shoes, you would find that I am not 'dark' inside as if in a dreamless sleep, but rather that I have an experiential, phenomenological life.

    Hopefully that addresses both of your points. Of course it is the case that if it is like something to be an electron, then the electron has some form of experience. And the meaning of the phrase "it is like something to be an electron in a particular state" has a specific meaning in philosophy that your later consideration does not seem to recognize.
     
  15. Mar 11, 2005 #14

    selfAdjoint

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    Well you slide smoothly from your having inner experiences to the electron having experiences, which I guess shows what philosophical definitions can do! But of course I have inner experiences too, and attribute them to ongoing processes in my brain, including such things as invoking various (competing a la Dennett) sensory and other memories, and inviking uppperstages of my language modules (so I can 'tell myself a story" about my ongoing inner life, not to be confused with subvocalisation), and so on. This suffices for me; I don't need to introduce new ontological categories. And I view it as almost a reduction ad absurdam of such categorizing that you should come to speaking seriously about the experiences of electrons.
     
  16. Mar 12, 2005 #15

    hypnagogue

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    The slide is not exactly smooth; you are taking things out of context. My original discussion was taking place within the context of discussion of "A Place for Consciousness," specifically chapters 5 and 6, which are dedicated to critically analyzing the internal coherence and likely credibility of panexperientialism. It's not as if panexperientialism is flippantly proposed in a vacuum. Specifically, your concern that the mere mention of panexperientialism is grounds for a reductio ad adsurdum is addressed in chapter 5.

    Rosenberg has a nice discussion of this issue at the beginning of chapter 4, which I mentioned in my chapter summary, and I'll expand on here.

    The introduction of ontological categories is not something to be taken lightly, but nor is introducing anomolous modes of explanation, which is a tactic employed by arguably every physicalist explanation of phenomenal consciousness. These range from claiming that our brains are just not constructed in such a way as to understand consciousness, to postulating primitive, unexplained identities, to merely denying the manifest existence of self-evident observables.

    We do not see these manner of explanation for any other phenomena; they are only invoked for the problematic case of consciousness, apparently in an attempt to salvage the otherwise attractive philosophical position of physicalism. So these explanations are ontologically conservative, but at the expense of being methodologically radical, as they violate established standards of good theory construction. Rosenberg's paradigm of Liberal Naturalism recognizes these modes of explanation as anamolous and ad hoc, and rejects them; in so doing, it is methodolocially conservative, but to fill the ensuing explanitory void satisfactorily, it is necessarily ontologically radical. Rosenberg has a nice slogan to capture all of this concisely: "One might say that Liberal Naturalism is metaphysics in the service of explanation, whereas physicalism is explanation in service to metaphysics."
     
  17. Mar 12, 2005 #16

    selfAdjoint

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    Well I see the relationship of consciousness to the brain as like the relation of color or texture to the apple. A property that can be characterized ("Is this kind of apple as sweet as that kind") but is entirely derivative, has no independent existence, and can be developed from physical concerns ("The sweetness of that kind is due to the climate they are ripened in, it concentrates the sugars"). The concept of the texture of an electron would be silly; it doesn't have the physical underpinning to support the idea.

    Experience, either as a noun or a verb, is something that belongs to higher mentalities, I think any chordate might be allowed to have experience, pending investigation, but I would wonder about plants and bacteria and such.
     
  18. Mar 14, 2005 #17
    So which existing, physicalistically acceptable, category contains or explains experience ?
     
  19. Mar 14, 2005 #18

    selfAdjoint

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    I don't do categories. That way lies Hegel, or maybe Marx.
     
  20. Mar 15, 2005 #19
    So your version of phsyicalism is asserted without any categories whatsoever (not just "no new ones" as per #16) ? How does that work ?
     
  21. Mar 15, 2005 #20

    selfAdjoint

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    My experience is in fact in complex interactions that form in my brain. You can assign that to any number you like, but the point is that the "Something it is like" is to me just a verbal designation used to talk about this process. It has no more existence in the world than an adjective does, and should never be confused with the physical property the adjective names. "Red" is not what I perceive (through constucted and processed nerve events) an apple to be. We CANNOT identify our language with our experience; language (via the activation of the higher language centers) plays a part in defining our experience but only a part. Many other constructions and memories also play a part. Consciousness is a collective noun for this congeries of processes.
     
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