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Is the Hard Problem Just Silly?

  1. Dec 19, 2004 #1

    selfAdjoint

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    Is the "Hard Problem" Just Silly?

    I have been reading Chalmer's "Facing up to the Problem of Consciousness", kindly linked to by hypnagogue. Starting out, Chalmers says:

    He says there are no deep problems, only technical ones, in the way of establishing these phenomena.

    Then he describes the "hard problem": the feeling or experiencing of consciousness. He quotes Nagel's formulation: "There is something that it is like to be conscious". And goes on to suggest that this something cannot be expressed as a logical consequence of the "easy" phenomena above.

    But suppose we built an AI that had all of the easy phenomena aced, and was recursive besides. By recursive I mean that it doesn't jus access mental states like retrieving data, but can create new mental states that have a subject/content relation to given existing mental states. Goedel created recursive relations when he mapped logic into arithmetic so that the arithmetic operations and rules faithfully mirrored the logical ones. Thus arithmetic had logic within it as an arithmetic content. And I visualize a recursive mental state having expressed within it as lower level content the reality of other mental states, be they feelings,memories, sensations or whatever.

    Chalmers would agree that it is possible, even if technically difficult, to build an AI that manifests his easy phenomena, and it is a fact that recursive programs can be built, so I don't see any problem with stipulating that.


    Now I say, pretty much echoing Dennet, the experience of being conscious, the something that it is to be conscious, is what that AI would itself experience while it was executing. And our experience of consciousness is what we experience when our a-consciousness runs on the wetware of our nervous systems. Call it emergent if you like; it's not a static logical consequent, but a dynamic activity of a recursive system.

    Sometimes beginners on the physics boards complain that physics accounts for electromagnetism and gravity but it doesn't explain them. What they mean by explain, they can't explain (heh!) though they try mightily. But we all know what they mean: there is something that it is like to be heavy and gravity doesn't account for that. But that is just a beginner problem in physics. Could the hard problem be just a beginner problem in cognitive science?
     
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  3. Dec 19, 2004 #2
    I'm sure you'll get some good responses from this but I would like to ask a question. When I think of something emerging from something else, it outlines a causal relationship. This implies that this mechanism can be functionally described. Is this not correct? Correct me if you think my definitions are off. Chalmer's argument is that consciousness cannot be functionally described in principle. I just don't think I understand how we can have a causal relationship that cannot be understood in principle. It's seem unscientific to say that A leads to B by some magical principle that we cannot describe. It just "emerges" but the mechanism for that emergence is beyond explanation.

    Given the problems of describing consciousness in any functional way, the emergence view seems like just another way of describing the view that consciousness is fundamental to nature.
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2004
  4. Dec 19, 2004 #3

    loseyourname

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    It does imply a causal relationship, but it can be a very complicated relationship. The simplest example of an emergent property that I can think of is the surface tension of water. Even with this property, there are several levels of causation. The high electronegativity of the oxygen nucleus relative to the hydrogen nucleus causes the electrons to be near the oxygen end of the molecule more often than they are near the hydrogen ends. This causes the molecule to form a weak dipole with a positive end and a negative end. This, in turn, causes the molecules to attract each other. When a large collection of water molecules is placed near air, they are attracted to each other far more strongly than they are attracted to the air molecules. This results in surface tension.

    A more complicated example would be the social behavior of colonial insects. This results from the complicated interplay of millions of genes and thousands of individual organisms, refined by billions of years of evolution. It would likely be impossible to describe the causation of an emergent property like this from first principles. Impossible in practice, that is, although it is certainly possible in principle.

    That's where you seem to have a misconception of what an emergent property is. Emergent properties, as detailed above, can certainly be explained in principle, but sometimes the causation is so intricate that, practically speaking, it probably isn't going to happen, at least not without leaving a good deal out of the equation.

    There's another mistake. Emergent properties are anything but fundamental. They only exist because of the complex interplay between fundamental particles and fundamental laws. In fact, the electronegativity of the oxygen and hydrogen nuclei in water are themselves, strictly speaking, an emergent property, resulting from the chromodynamics of the quarks making up the protons and neutrons, which themselves may very well result from an even more fundamental set of laws that we have yet to discover.
     
  5. Dec 19, 2004 #4
    You say I have a mis-understanding of what an emergent property is and I'll concede this may be true, but the words that follow don't explain what my misconception is. It actually says exactly what I agree with.....

    "Emergent properties, as detailed above, can certainly be explained in principle, but sometimes the causation is so intricate that, practically speaking, it probably isn't going to happen"

    This is not inconsistent with what I think an emergent property is. It should be possible in principle to explain. The fact that it may never be possible practically speaking isn't relevant to the topic because that's not the argument that Chalmers makes about consciousness.

    Sure it's a mistake. I'm claiming it's a mistake that self adjoint is making. I understand that a view of emergence would contradict one of being fundamental. My point was simply that the "emergence" view on consciousness does not meet the definition because it still cannot be explained in principle. This makes it a view closer to "consciousness being fundamental" that just happens to mis-use the term emergence.
     
  6. Dec 19, 2004 #5
    I had an extended conversation on this subject with Chalmer a number of years ago and (unsuccessfully) tried to convince him of this very issue. My position is pretty well expressed in some comments I made to a paper by Marion Gothier

    http://home.jam.rr.com/dicksfiles/Marion/science.htm

    I tried to reach her directly but have been unable to contact her. That is why I posted her paper with comments on my website (looking for interest). I think there is some serious things to talk about behind these phenomena.

    Have fun -- Dick
     
  7. Dec 19, 2004 #6

    Les Sleeth

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    Pretty provocative thread title there SA. However, it doesn't quite beat out my thread title at the old PF "Why Materialists Can't Think Properly." :cool:

    The hard problem could be a beginner's problem, as you say. It could also be that the objectivity of those who don't want to acknowledge just how "hard" the problem is are victims of blind faith in physicalism. :wink:
     
  8. Dec 19, 2004 #7

    loseyourname

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    Well, I'll leave adjoint to defend himself here, but I will say that the argument that something cannot be explained in a given way in principle is almost always a lack of imagination argument. Philosophers have been posing problems for thousands of years that science could not explain in principle that science nonetheless managed to explain, if only tentatively in some instances. adjoint doesn't seem to think, and I might agree with him (although I'm not as certain as he is) that consciousness could very well be just another one of these and that there is no special aspect to it that lies beyond the potential explanatory capacity of a physical theory. In fact, even attempting to spell out what might be the explanatory limits of physical theory is a dubious endeavor at best, because, practically speaking, we have no idea what a physical theory can or cannot explain in principle. The best we can say is that physical theory can only explain physical things, but I think you will agree that that isn't saying much.

    I haven't read Chalmers specifically, and I'm going to have to get around to that, but as of now, every argument I've ever seen for consciousness being unexplainable by method x in principle (whether method x is physical theory or anything else) is just a variation on the lack of imagination argument. It's only a small step up from argumentum ad ignorantium.
     
  9. Dec 19, 2004 #8

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    It is a contradiction in terms to explain a non-functional phenomenon. If our description is at all relevant to the phenomenon, it must have had an effect on our ideas and discussions. Truly non-functional facts can never be accounted for, at least by any method I can imagine. That is what makes this the hard problem, or in my opinion, a non-problem, because I don't believe that non-causal consciousness can be coherently talked about.
     
  10. Dec 19, 2004 #9
    I see this as simply accepting on blind faith that science will work a miracle here based on the past. Perhaps it is true, but it's not good rebuttal to the philosophical issues.
    I'm going to steer clear of the "physical" word. But I think it been observed that science doesn't tell us about intrinsic properties. If you disagree with this and believe this may change then that's that.

    I don't agree with this logical fallacy label. The arguments supporting the hard problem are a bit stronger than simply having a lack of evidence. I would recommend reading Chalmers yourself.
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2004
  11. Dec 19, 2004 #10

    selfAdjoint

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    Fliption, the philosophers in all ages have given themselves airs and tried to talk down to the scientists like this. But the scientists just go one discovering new facts that dissolve former philosophical arguments like acid. That' not magic, just the confidence that nature is NOT magical.
     
  12. Dec 19, 2004 #11
    I'm just pointing out that you aren't dealing with the issues. To simply claim that all philosophers in the past have been wrong is a cop-out. On the contrary, if we've learned anything about science in the past it's that all your current notions are most likely wrong.

    Also, I used the word 'magic' to descibe your theory. Not mine. When you claim that something can emerge this implies that a mechanism for emergence exists. Yet there are reasons to believe that this mechanism cannot exist, in principle. These reasons have not been dealt with here. Hence this emergence may as well be "magical".


    Also, if someone wants to post examples of major philosophical issues that have been eliminated by science please post them. I'm drawing a blank.
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2004
  13. Dec 20, 2004 #12

    hypnagogue

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    I'm not sure why you think recursitivity has to be added into a system that has a-consciousness down pat. Presumably, a system that executes the same kind of a-conscious information processing as a human brain will already have recursive mechanisms built into it, e.g. for implementing a representation of self that includes subject/content relations.

    You assert that an a-conscious system will automatically be p-conscious, but I don't see the meat behind this assertion. Certainly, there is no contradiction in assuming the opposite. Our AI bot could just as well be a zombie, could it not?

    I don't know what you consider a static logical consequent to be, but at bottom, this is all about logical consequence. It's about seeing if Q follows from P. In loseyourname's example of water's surface tension, we see rather clearly that surface tension is a straightforward logical consequence of the structures and functions of water molecules and air molecules. The properties of the molecules are logically consistent with the macroscopic presence of surface tension, and logically inconsistent with the absence of surface tension (in ideal conditions, I suppose, which is all that's important to our discussion here).

    Contrast this with the issue of consciousness. P-consciousness does not follow straightforwardly from a-consciousness. If we consider a physical description of an a-conscious system, we will find that it is logically consistent both with the presence and absence of p-consciousness. Therefore, we are not justified in saying that P logically follows from A; there is no logical consequence that implies one result and rejects the other. (If there is, please demonstrate it.)

    At this point, one might object that although we cannot currently demonstrate such a logical entailment from a-consciousness to p-consciousness, we may be able to do it someday. But the core of the hard problem is the notion that the existence of p-consciousness cannot logically follow from any purely structural and functional account. Why not? The general shape of the argument is that any account of structure and function can only logically entail further facts about structures and functions, and that the facts about p-consciousness are not exhausted by structural and functional facts; therefore, not all the facts about p-consciousness can be entailed by structure and function alone.

    Let's abandon the ambiguity of 'explanation' for the moment and stick with logical entailment. Is the behavior of mass under the influence of gravity logically entailed by anything in the physical account of nature? Sure it is. If we take as axiomatic the propositions that mass curves spacetime in the way described by general relativity, and that bodies travel along geodesics, then (for instance) it follows as a logical consequence that the moon should move about the earth in the way it is actually oberved to move around the earth.

    One might object that spacetime curvature (or some deeper phenomenon underlying that) is not a logical consequence of anything else in the physical account (i.e. is taken to be fundamental), and thus is never explained. That is certainly a pertinent observation. But failure of explanation for those phenomena that are taken to be fundamental certainly seems to be entirely acceptable; after all, we must take at least some phenomena to be fundamental in our account of nature, lest we fall into an infinite regress.

    So we should always expect, and even be comfortable with, the notion that fundamental things (for whatever is considered 'fundamental' at a given time) should go unexplained. But in the materialist/physicalist paradigm, p-consciousness is not taken to be such a fundamental phenomenon, but rather is regarded as existing as a consequence of brains, or certain kinds of information processing, or whatever. As such, the paradigm can certainly be fairly critiqued for not yet coming close to 'explaining' p-consciousness (that is, not yet showing how p-consciousness logically follows from brain activity, or information processing, or whatever, in the same way that surface tension has been shown to logically follow from the properties of water and air molecules). In short, complaining that physics does not explain gravity (or spacetime curvature, or whatever you take to be fundamental here) is not analogous to complaining that physics does not explain p-consciousness.

    Nagel's "what it is like" only pertains to subjective experience. Unless you mean to imply that beginning physics students get hung up on the thought that there is some p-conscious, experiential aspect to heaviness that is not explained by physics, your analogy here fails.
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2004
  14. Dec 20, 2004 #13

    hypnagogue

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    The popular example here is vitalism. It was thought at one time that life could not be accounted for in physical/mechanical terms alone, so some thinkers posited the existence of a special essence, an 'elan vitale,' to fill in the conceptual gaps. Of course, the elan vitale wound up becoming a sort of a God of the gaps, in that its supposed role in the function of life continually shrank as new scientific advances showed how physics/biochemistry alone could satisfactorily account for previously mysterious aspects of life (such as growth, reproduction, etc).

    Materialists like to argue against the hard problem by drawing up an analogy with vitalism. They argue that subjective experience is just another elan vitale that will disappear as science continues to make progress in the study of the brain.

    As Chalmers points out, however, this analogy is actually disanalogous. For one thing, the major problem faced by vitalists was how to account for certain structures and functions (relational properties). They couldn't figure out how life does the stuff it does. On the other hand, the hard problem is about how to account for intrinsic subjective experience, which cannot be characterized just in terms of structure and function. For this reason, we can expect the hard problem to be resistant to scientific investigation in a way that the problem of life has not been.

    Additionally, the elan vitale was nothing more than an explanatory posit to try to make sense of unexplained phenomena. Vitalists observed life, could not make sense of it in just physical/mechanical terms, and said "well, if we suppose that this thing called the elan vitale exists, maybe that will solve our problems." The elan vitale was a sort of hypothesis to try to make sense of some data, so once better hypotheses were found to fit the data, the notion of elan vitale was easily discarded. In contrast, subjective experience is not an explanitory posit; it is the explanatory target itself! The existence of subjective experience is not a hypothesis, but rather, it is the raw 'data' that we start out with and try to make sense of. We cannot throw subjective experience out the window as was done with the elan vitale, because it is not a conjecture, but a given.
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2004
  15. Dec 20, 2004 #14

    Les Sleeth

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    It’s interesting how fast a body begins to decompose after death. In a matter of hours it will begin to smell of rot. All the chemicals are there, but the body has plunged into a backward disorganizing descent that is nothing short of juggernautical. Was an unrecognized organizing force there before death?

    Elan vital was brought into modern philosophical discussion by Nobel laureate Henri Bergson in his book Creative Evolution (which I’ve read and enjoyed). He introduced elan vital specifically to account for that upward organizing push behind the chemistry (and evolutive "upwardness") that physicalists have yet to account for. Bergson was no Biblical creationist, and was in fact greatly influenced by Darwin.

    Despite Chalmers’ inability to recognize it, “livingness" is not explained by describing all the interactions between the parts. (He should be careful because functionalists are trying that tactic with consciousness, “dismissing” it as an illusion given by the brain.) Hey, great idea . . . if you can’t explain something, just dismiss it!!! :rolleyes:

    When someone can demonstrate the organizational quality which pulls all those chemicals together into functioning systems, then and only then is elan vital (or whatever one wants to call it) allowed to be "dismissed" as a concept. Until then that dismissal" seems like audacious territory-grabbing, or blind-as-a-batness caused by looking only at processes, and/or self deception by physicalist theorists.
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2004
  16. Dec 20, 2004 #15

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    I'm no biologist, but I'm pretty sure the reason we decompose after we die is that the heart is no longer pumping blood and the cells starve and die. I don't see a need for a mysterious "elan vital," nor do I see how such an ill defined concept would be helpful even if there were a gap in the explanation.

    Their idea is "we think with our brains." Whether you believe this or not, it's a logically conherent possibility. If it is true, then there would be two possible reasons we believe things. Either they are true, or, our brain is wired in such a way that we come to believe them. I don't think you are fully acknowledging the explanatory power of this point of view. You can feel whatever deep truths you want to when you reflect on yourself, I'm not denying that. But this theory says that is just your brain following the laws of physics. And that strong intuitive feeling that this isn't true: no different. Is this the only possibility? No. Is it logically flawed? No.

    You're looking for a purpose where there need not be one. Evolution and genes have organized systems to degress of amazing complexity. But just because it's complex doesn't mean the underlying rules aren't simple and copmletely understood, at least to any relevant level of detail.
     
  17. Dec 20, 2004 #16

    loseyourname

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    Well, as you can see above, not everyone thinks like has been explained. Some people still insist there is a something that is life, an intrinsic lifeness above and beyond function that does not emerge from structural properties. This is the same thing with electromagnetism. We can explain the chromodynamics of quarks, but there are novices on PF that will continue to insist that there is something intrinsically electromagnetic that isn't being explained. Heck, there have even been threads questioning the isness of water and saying that physical accounts of molecular structure weren't enough.

    The thing that people don't seem to recognize is that some intrinsic properties have been explained. The wetness of water, an instrinsicproperty of water, is explained by the relational properties of structural components that are not themselves water. Physicalists would seek an explanation of consciousness in the same vein. The intrinsic properties of subjective experience are thought to likely be the same as the instrinsic properties of any other explained holistic phenomena, emergent from the relational properties of structural components that are not themselves subjective experience.

    Now there are intrinsic properties that cannot be explained as being emergent. There are fundamental intrinsic properties, fundamental in that they are not themselves emergent from any relational property because they are the intrinsic properties of the most basic components of material reality, whether they be quarks, strings, loops, illumination, whatever. This is what Rosenberg is getting at.

    *Note: Organisms decay quickly after death due to the ceasing of metabolism. It takes an incredible amount of energy being constantly produced by a living body to resist the forces of entropy. As soon as the heart stops pumping blood to every part of the body, there is no longer oxygen to strip electrons from macromolecules in the mitochondrial matrix and no more energy is produced. It is amazing how quickly entropy goes to work and perfectly understandable that men would have thought elan vital was required to keep it at bay. Well, now we know that elan vital is nothing more than oxygen.

    **Caveat: Obviously this isn't true of anaerobic life-forms that do not use the Krebs cycle or an electron chain.
     
  18. Dec 20, 2004 #17

    loseyourname

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    A quick accounting of folk-theories displaced by science:
    1. Elan vital
    2. The ether
    3. Phlogiston
    4. Caloric
    5. The demonic possession theory of mental illness
    6. Animism
    7. The geocentric universe (and the cosmic sphere)
    8. Biblical creation
    9. Praying for rain, castrating oneself to ensure a good harvest, human sacrifices to appease volcanoes, etc.

    A good example of philosophical problems that were thought to be intractable are Zeno's paradoxes. For an example of the scientific method displacing common sense, "intuitive notions," I'll use the Aristotelian theory of motion:

    Aristotle thought that force must constantly be applied to an object to keep it in motion. Projectile motion posed a problem for him because nothing was applying force to objects in the sky, yet they remained in motion. To explain this, he postulated what he called "impetus," an unidentifiable analogue of elan vital that applied force from the inside of an object. To account for the fact that objects did eventually fall, he said that impetus must slowly dissipate somehow. You can say there was a hard problem of impetus, in that some force clearly existed that was applied to a projectile to keep it in motion, but nobody could identify what it was or where it came from.

    Well, 1500 years later Newton came along and overhauled the laws of motion and said that common sense intuition was wrong, that in fact, an object would remain in motion unless a force was applied to it. This seems obvious to us now, because it's been taught since childhood, but studies clearly show that most people still intuitively feel otherwise. We can only hope that the hard problem of consciousness doesn't take as long to solve.
     
  19. Dec 20, 2004 #18

    Les Sleeth

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    I don't want to argue this here, but you should know by now what I claim is missing. The day you or anyone else can demostrate simple chemistry and natural conditions organizing themselves with the kind of quality that leads to functioning, adapting, reproducing, metabolizing systems, then you've got my vote for a life model that doesn't require something additional to explain that organizational quality.

    You've got the one-by-one chemical processes explained, you don't have the organizational properties of life explained by physical principles. Boy does it get frustrating :cry: to hear someone repeatedly ignore the stated problem of the physicalist life model, and instead cite again and again and again . . . that "we can explain all the physical processes." Well, fine, but that ain't what's in question! :rolleyes:
     
  20. Dec 20, 2004 #19

    Les Sleeth

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    Feeling a bit condescending today are we? Elan vital is not a folk theory. Bergson's work was thought highly enough of to win him the Nobel prize.

    And why do you think the idea of some sort of organizing force was "displaced" (whether it's called elan vital, as Bergson did, or whatever you want to call it)? Why it's due to an incestous agreement among physicalists who decided to "dismiss" elan vital and then replace it with a theory that doesn't explain life's organization either! Now there is arrogance if I've ever seen it.
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2004
  21. Dec 20, 2004 #20

    loseyourname

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    If by "day" you mean hundreds of millions of years, we'll see. In order for it to not take as long as it took in nature, you must realize that some manipulation of the system is required, but I know you won't accept such a system as genuinely natural. Abiogenesis researchers are damned if they do, damned if they don't.

    I can explain how an individual organism becomes organized from the day of conception to the day of death. In fact, if you give me the time to do the relevant reading, I can explain it for any organism that has been looked at closely enough. The only thing that can't be explained is how the very first living organism came to be living. What we have done is produce mononucleotides, amino acids, and phosphate backbones from scratch, and in separate experiments, polynucleotides from mononucleotides. Furthermore, protobionts have been produced from introducing lipids and amino acids into an aqueous environment. There are several small steps from a protobiont to a living cell that have yet to be demonstrated, but as noted, given that it took hundreds of millions of years to happen in nature, this shouldn't come as much of a surprise.

    But anyway, back to my original statement. I can explain exactly how an individual organism comes to have the organizational properties that it has from conception to death, without invoking anything vital.
     
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