# Facing Up to the Problems of Facing Up to the Problems of Consciousness

hypnagogue
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Logical consistency is a weak criterion. Many things which are logically consistent are not true of the universe we experience. Taxicab topology for example. The fact that the zombie world is consistent with physicalism is of no force whatever against physicalism unless you can show that zombies actually exist.
Of course, no one supposes that zombies exist. But the actual existence of zombies has nothing to do with it. This is a point about a theory about reality and its adequacy to account for that reality, not reality itself.

In the case of topology, we have a pretty good model of what physical conditions make for what type of topologies. We can say, "because conditions such-and-such obtain under the influence of known physical laws, the topology of universe X is so-and-so." We have a well-behaved function that maps each set of unique physical conditions onto its own topology. You put in conditions A, and topology B pops out like clockwork; if you get topology C, it's because you've done the math incorrectly. The fact that the physical laws allow topologies not observed in our universe is not problematic, because we can explain

1) why these topologies are not observed. They are not observed because they follow directly from conditions that do not obtain in our universe.
2) why the topology that we do observe is observed. It is observed because it follows directly from conditions that obtain in our universe.

In the case of consciousness, we do not have a similar scenario. If you start from just a physical description of the brain, you have no a priori reason to believe that anything like subjective experience should directly follow. You input the physical description, and what you get back is a zombie. Sure, you can ad hoc it and say "whenever these conditions obtain, subjective experience results." But this is hardly a satisfactory account.

If we were working with topologies, this would be like having the equations tell us that conditions A should lead to topology B, but oops, actually it's empirically known that they create topology C-- worse, we have have no idea why this is the case, and worse still, no rearranging of the equations consistent with the current theory can get us from A to C. But rather than try to radically revise our theories to account for this mystery satisfactorily, we content ourselves to maintain our current set of equations, with a discontinuous, ugly, and unexplained exception for the anomalous set of conditions. Worse, we insist that our set of equations is entirely correct, even though it produces the wrong answer for the anomalous case without the ad hoc patch up.

loseyourname said:
But you can disprove empirical hypotheses. The hypothesis that all corporeal objects behave according to Newtonian mechanics was disproven by finding instances in which there were corporeal objects that did not.
I understand your comment but I don't understand why it's a relevant response to my comment.

I This hypothesis itself is very difficult to disprove, maybe even impossible, simply because I don't see any way to exhaustively test every possible physical explanation.
If we agree that this argument is valid, then we will never be able to prove the emergent theories wrong. We can always say "We just haven't come up with it yet".

What you cannot do is claim that a hypothesis is logically impossible because a competing hypothesis is logically possible.

That is essentially the form of the specific argument of Chalmer's that I was criticizing, and is clearly not a valid argument form.
I don't see this being the case at all. You may be able to question an assumption, but I don't see anyone claiming that consciousness cannot be reductively explained simply because we have a consistent theory suggesting consciousness as fundamental. Seems like a strawman.

loseyourname
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
hypnagogue said:
Any physicalist account of consciousness will be logically consistent with a zombie world, regardless of ad hoc plug ins.
No, it won't be. In fact, I have no idea how you could even contend such a thing, given that you have never seen a physical account of consciousness. None has ever been given. People have asserted and made arguments that such an account exists, but they have never actually said what it is.

By way of comparison, a physicalist explanation of the macroscopic properties of water need not baldly state that when H2O molecules coalesce under the proper conditions, properties like fluidity arise. Rather, properties like fluidity are shown to be a direct logical consequence of the properties of the constituent molecules.
I know this. A physical account of consciousness would do the same thing. It would show that consciousness is a direct logical consequence of lower-level physical properties.

A physicalist account of consciousness may state that when the proper conditions in the brain obtain, consciousness arises as a consequence. But there is no logical contradiction in assuming the contrary view; we can just as well suppose that such-and-such brain conditions hold, and that there is no consciousness.
Sure, if they just state that it is so. But that isn't an explanation, is it? Once an actual explanation is given, it will be demonstrated that consciousness is a direct logical consequence of physical conditions and at that point there will be a logical inconsistency in assuming these conditions can exist without consciousness.

There is nothing in the physicalist account of the brain that forces us to accept the existence of consciousness analagous to the way the physicalist account of H2O molecules forces us to accept macroscopic fluidity as a consequence.
Sure, but that is only because we don't know a whole lot about how conditions in the brain create certain experiences. By the same token, if we had no theory of electrochemistry, we could easily say that it is logically consistent to postulate that the molecular structure of water molecules could be present without wetness.

If you wish to press the case and insist that an ad hoc statement about consciousness prevents physicalism from being consistent with zombie worlds, then we're still left with a big problem. Physicalism depicts consciousness as an emergent property of brain function, but cannot come up with any theoretical reason why this should be the case. That makes for a nice http://iserver.asa.edu.py/physicsweb/miracle.gif [Broken], but it doesn't make for much of a serious paradigm.
So what? Should we not have guessed that wetness was a property of the structural organization of water molecules before we had a theory of electrochemistry? An early anti-physicalist chemist could have made exactly the same argument you are making and he would have been wrong. Not to say that you are wrong, but you seem so convinced that you are not.

There are many phenomena thought to be physical and emergent without a comprehensive theory of how the emergence takes place. Most animal behavior falls under this category. We cannot simply lay out the molecular conditions within a given organism at a given time and say "here, this behavior will emerge." This isn't a good reason to think that animal behavior is not an emergent property of a physical system.

Dropping the view that consciousness is an emergent property of physical brain function circumvents this problem, but once we make this move we're no longer in the realm of physicalism.
It doesn't circumvent the problem. We're still left with the same problem. You have no explanation. Postulating something to be fundamental is no more of an explanation than postulating it to be emergent. Which hypothesis you prefer is simply a function of what makes more sense to you. There is no good reason to logically prefer one position over the other.

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hypnagogue
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
loseyourname said:
No, it won't be. In fact, I have no idea how you could even contend such a thing, given that you have never seen a physical account of consciousness. None has ever been given. People have asserted and made arguments that such an account exists, but they have never actually said what it is.
I've never seen a mathematical proof that tried to demonstrate how to derive an imaginary number from the reals, but I'm fairly certain none will ever be forthcoming. If one is, I'm fairly certain it will be wrong. There are just principled reasons to believe this to be the case, and no amount of time, effort, or ingenuity will change that.

I know this. A physical account of consciousness would do the same thing. It would show that consciousness is a direct logical consequence of lower-level physical properties.
A successful physical account would do that, anyway. Anyone can try to make a physical account of p-consciousness that delivers the goods, but I don't expect any of them to be successful, on the basis of principled arguments to this effect. I do expect a number of physical theories that might appear compelling on the surface but ultimately don't deliver.

Sure, if they just state that it is so. But that isn't an explanation, is it? Once an actual explanation is given, it will be demonstrated that consciousness is a direct logical consequence of physical conditions and at that point there will be a logical inconsistency in assuming these conditions can exist without consciousness.
No, it's not an explanation, but you seemed to have characterized the physicalist view as merely stating the case rather than explaining when you said:

"In fact, physicalist theories of consciousness specifically state that consciousness is the product of exactly these structural and functional qualities and that any time we have these qualities, we have consciousness."

I'm sure that many physical explanations of p-consciousness will be on offer in the coming years, but I'm not convinced that they'll show anything about p-consciousness to be the direct logical consequence of brain activity.

if we had no theory of electrochemistry, we could easily say that it is logically consistent to postulate that the molecular structure of water molecules could be present without wetness.
That is true, but by choosing to focus on this you miss the real force of the argument (see below).

So what? Should we not have guessed that wetness was a property of the structural organization of water molecules before we had a theory of electrochemistry? An early anti-physicalist chemist could have made exactly the same argument you are making and he would have been wrong.
An anti-physicalist could not have made the same argument. To begin with, there is nothing more to wetness than structure and function. To explain wetness, we just need to explain tendency to drip, slickness of surface, etc. These are just dispositional properties. The anti-physicalist argument is about explaining intrinsic properties, so this is a clear disanalogy.

The anti-physicalist chemist might just suppose that wetness has intrinsic properties that need explaining, but this is no different than the vitalist who supposes an elan vital. In both cases, the intrinsic entity has been artificially introduced into the discussion, and is just as easily dismissed. Subjective experience is not introduced into the discussion in this way; rather, it forces itself into the discussion as an observable phenomenon in nature. We can still dismiss it in a sense if we wish, and some people choose to do precisely this, but unlike the elan vital, it will not go away so easily.

Not to say that you are wrong, but you seem so convinced that you are not.
I admit that I could be wrong. It just doesn't seem very likely. The logic of the anti-physicalist argument is compelling, and I haven't seen any effective counter-arguments (most don't even address the argument on its own terms, like the vitalism strawman). It seems about as obvious to me as it is obvious that you just can't derive an imaginary number from the reals, no matter how hard you try, even though I must admit that there is probably still a lot to be learned about the reals.

There are many phenomena thought to be physical and emergent without a comprehensive theory of how the emergence takes place. Most animal behavior falls under this category. We cannot simply lay out the molecular conditions within a given organism at a given time and say "here, this behavior will emerge." This isn't a good reason to think that animal behavior is not an emergent property of a physical system.
Sure, but here you have a tentative explanatory bridge between microscopic structure and function, and macroscopic structure and function. No problems there in principle, even if there are lots of details to work out. Even if our current ideas turn out to be wrong somehow, there's no reason to think a complete explanation won't be forthcoming someday. Building an explanatory bridge from structure and function to intrinsic properties is another story.

It doesn't circumvent the problem. We're still left with the same problem. You have no explanation. Postulating something to be fundamental is no more of an explanation than postulating it to be emergent. Which hypothesis you prefer is simply a function of what makes more sense to you. There is no good reason to logically prefer one position over the other.
You're right that postulating something to be fundamental is not an explanation. But I have to disagree that choosing between fundamental and emergent for a theoretical model is merely a matter of taste. If the general structure/function argument is right (I believe it is, of course), then the emergent view is logically impossible, and the fundamental view becomes the only coherent choice.

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loseyourname
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
hypnagogue said:
You're right that postulating something to be fundamental is not an explanation. But I have to disagree that choosing between fundamental and emergent for a theoretical model is merely a matter of taste. If the general structure/function argument is right (I believe it is, of course), then the emergent view is logically impossible, and the fundamental view becomes the only coherent choice.
Okay, we're running in circles again, so I'm just going to respond to this last bit. We're left with the same old argument again:

Physical facts are facts about structure and function.
Therefore, facts about consciousness are not physical facts.

You've already admitted that this argument rests on the assumption that facts about consciousness are not facts about structure and function. Since physicalism states that all facts are facts about structure and function, the physicalist could simply counter:

Physical facts are facts about structure and function.
Therefore, facts about consciousness are physical facts.

You seem to believe that the former argument is to be preferred because it is self-evident from empirical observation that facts about consciousness are not facts about structure and function. Well, evident to you does not equal self-evident. In fact, it is not at all evident to me or to many other people. There are plenty of people out there who find it equally self-evident that facts about consciousness are facts about structure and function. In fact, to anyone that is a physicalist, this is self-evident. Personally, I'd rather leave the matter up in the air for now as I haven't seen a particularly compelling argument from either side.

The only fact here is that the truth of the second premises in the above syllogisms are not self-evident in either case. Both are assumptions upon which their respective metaphysical theory rests and nothing more.

ghrosenb@hotmail.com said:
For me, rejecting Dennett's methodological stance becomes a question of intellectual integrity. --Gregg
Hooray. Enough beating around the bush. Dennett's book is intellectually dishonest and his arguments are easy to dismiss. His book is founded on unsupported assumptions, is full of patronising, offensive and feeble sideswipes at those who disagree with him, and is chock a block with the sort of 'sleights of hand' that Chalmer's complains are common in the literature on consciousness. It does not explain anything, but merely illustrates that hetero-phenomenology is not the way to explain consciousness.

" ince heterophenomenology is a way of interpreting behaviour (including the internal behaviour of brains, etc.), it will arrive at exactly the same heterophenomenological world for Zoe and for Zombie-Zoe, her unconscious twin." (95)

Here we have a clear statement asserting that hetero-phenomenology is not an explanation of consciousness, but rather of behaviour, and that it is therefore just as useful for explaining zombie behaviour as it is for explaining human behaviour. Thus is it made clear that heterophenomenology is not a theory of consciousness and does not acknowledge the existence of subjective experience. Retro-phrenomenology is what I'd rather call it.

Congratulations Gregg on writing a book that's very definitely in a different class to Dennett's.

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The only significant 'Theoretical Framework' worthy of pursuing is that consciousness serves a Contributory Purpose to whatever system that it is installed in, otherwise it would be completely useless to that system. What role does consciousnes play in the human system than to contribute to the onverall 'KNOWLEDGE BASE' of the beholder? Consciousness has to be looked at in terms of its Purpose. What is it for? How much information does it contribute into the 'SURVIVAL BANK'?

The KNOWLEDGE BASE is all there is to life and the potential survival of such a life. The most important issue at stake here is:

HOW MUCH DOES CONSCIOUSNESS CONTRIBUTE INTO THE KNOWLDGE BASE?

Worst still, we don't even know whether the MEMORY in the human body is 'FIXED' or 'POOLED', let alone how much of it is enough. It would be very interesting to know how much 'LIFE-CRITICAL INFORMATION' consciousness puts in such a memory cumulatively. We need to quantify it. The wild horse called consciousness that we have let loose is heading in the wrong direction and is dangerously diverting all our intellectual resources away from the real issues:

1) How is the memory configured in the human material body? Is it a FIXED LOCATION MEMORY' or is it a POOLED MEMORY?

2) The Environment that every human being is physically installed is dynamic and danger-prone such that the only way to survive in such an environment is to be continuously aware of it and monitoring it. If this is true, how much memory do we need to gather and store life-critical information cumulatively towards knwoing in full all there is to know in order to permanently survive in such an environment?

3) What role does consciousness play in reliably mapping life-critical information onto the memory for the survival benefit of the beholder?

These are issues that are far more important than this self-serving talking shop about 'hard problem' of consciousness nonesense. Sooner or later we would have to turn our attention to these issues, the most important being how to re-engineer the entire human system to work better!

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What you say is that consciousness is causal. You're going to have a hard job convincing a physicalist of that. You have missed the fact that neo-Darwinism gives consciousness no role at all in the evolution of species.

You say that C is critical to survival in a threatening environment. Perhaps. But if so then presumably nematodes are conscious, and you'll also have a job persuading many people of that. But you are right that consciousness is important to knowledge. Without it there wouldn't be any such thing as knowledge.

If you think we could re-engineer human beings to "work better" than many millions of years of happy accidents could manage then you're a optimist big time, and have seriously misunderstood the hard problem.

Canute said:
What you say is that consciousness is causal. You're going to have a hard job convincing a physicalist of that. You have missed the fact that neo-Darwinism gives consciousness no role at all in the evolution of species.

You say that C is critical to survival in a threatening environment. Perhaps. But if so then presumably nematodes are conscious, and you'll also have a job persuading many people of that. But you are right that consciousness is important to knowledge. Without it there wouldn't be any such thing as knowledge.

If you think we could re-engineer human beings to "work better" than many millions of years of happy accidents could manage then you're a optimist big time, and have seriously misunderstood the hard problem.
Yes, let Nature or Creator fix it! so they always say. Well, let us all cross our legs and wait then. At least this is also an option, and as I have consistently argued elsewhere, no one has any right to deny us this option.

Fix what? Wait for what?