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Retail and Global Skepticism

  1. Oct 5, 2003 #1


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    Here is a discussion by Richard Rorty of the philosopher Donald Davidson which suggests that we should forget about Descartes and the notion of inner impressions versus the outside world.
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  3. Oct 5, 2003 #2


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    I can't say I agree with everything in this article.

    I agree that words acquire their meanings in this way. All the same, however, once words are acquired in this way they do go on to be paired off with particular experiences or objects.

    For instance, if men and women consistently use "blue" in the same way on the same occasions, then they mean the same objective thing by blue (in this case, they have agreed to call light of so-and-so wavelength "blue"). But this is just a behavioristic account of language. Once the word "blue" has been acquired, it is indeed 'paired off' with the individual's conscious perception of blueness.

    But one individual's conscious perception of blueness can (in principle) differ from another's. So although objectively/behavioristically two such speakers would 'automatically mean the same thing by "blue",' in actuality they would be associating the word with different internal conscious perceptions. If one could perceive directly what the other experienced as 'blueness,' he would certainly not say that this other person meant the same thing by "blue." (He would say, for example, "that's not blue, that's green!")

    I realize that this is exactly what this Davidson fellow argued against, and that this article can't really capture his philosophy in any depth. But the above points seem so obvious as to be incontestable. This theory of language looks to me suspiciously like a simple behavioristic account that denies the existence or importance of conscious states.

    Once again, I have to say 'hogwash!' Same behavioristic symptoms as above. It's easier to recognize the flaw by inverting the situation. Imagine that we meet another intelligent form of life, and assume that this life form has absolutely no emotional analog of 'shame.' They can certainly learn much of our language, and even learn the behavioristic indicators of human shame, but this race can never really grasp what it feels like for a human to be in shame. This is precisely because they do not have the proper internal emotion to 'pair off' with the word 'shame,' once they have acquired a rough understanding of it in the objective/behavioristic sense.
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2003
  4. Mar 17, 2004 #3
    Well, I just happened to stumble upon this thread while doing a search, and I have to argue a point here:

    Such differences in "internal conscious perceptions", whatever they may be, hardly seem important to me. As long as colors can be agreed upon, thus allowing people to create understanding between themselves while operating in the world, I don't think we have to worry about whether two people are experiencing different internal perceptions when they refer to various colors. For example, if one person asks another person to hand him a blue crayon, all that matters is that both agree on which one is the blue crayon. It seems insignificant whether or not both people's internal perceptions are the same.
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2004
  5. Mar 18, 2004 #4
    I agree with zk4586 point that as long as one knows how to use the word "blue", one has the concept of "blue". But, I must say that this argument, as true as it is, will not persuade hypnagogue. To hypnagogue and others like him – those Dennett calls “the new mysterians” – we holists will always be ignoring the defining aspect of consciousness: phenomenological data. Hypnagogue seems to admit that we holists have a handle of on the behavioral and objective aspects of meaning but not on the “true conception” of meaning, the ineffable core of human experience that breaths life into terms. I don’t know how to debate this point, namely, because I have no idea what use phenomenological data is to meaning. The only way we can ever know if someone has the concept of a word is if they know how to use that word. All of this talk about “what it is really like” seems like quixotic foolishness to me.

    Hypnagogue said:
    And he is mostly right. Rorty’s article can’t capture Davidson’s (or Wittgenstein’s thought) and either can a few forum posts. However, his is only partially right to say that we deny the importance of conscious states. We do not deny we have mental states - we just think of mental states in vastly different terms. Hypnagogue thinks that we miss “what it is like” for an individual to see the color blue. What exactly is seeing this color blue? Who is this personage watching the Cartesian theatre? In our opinion once we have mapped out all of the causal relations of a mental state we have mapped out the mental state. We’re done. What else could be done? How could a mental state be defined more than this? Even hypnagogue would have to admit that we could never describe “what it is like” to see the color blue. He believes that seeing blue is intrinsic and ineffable. This is why we holists view hypnagogue and those who side with him as mystics tilting at windmills.
  6. Mar 19, 2004 #5

    Les Sleeth

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    When you say "internal conscious perceptions hardly seem important to me," it seems you are saying this in relation to the importance of language. I believe what hypnagogue is talking about however is the nature of consciousness. I don't think he would disagree with you that for practical purposes, at the moment of asking for a crayon the issue of how conscious experience works makes much difference to getting the crayon one asks for. At the same time, the fact that we get the expected crayon doesn't tell us all that went on in consciousness which allowed such an action to take place.
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2004
  7. Mar 19, 2004 #6

    Les Sleeth

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    Calling your view of consciousness “holist” is about as apt as a skeleton claiming to define humanness. I say that because you seem so obsessed with structure and "parts" that you don’t see, or feel, the integrating aspects that fills the gaps between parts.

    So, you “have no idea what use phenomenological data is to meaning”? Your tone indicates you interpret that to mean we who disagree with your dis-integrated approach are deluded. But it could be that the new mysterians are mystifying to you the same way an ape is mystified by why he can’t pick up water with a fork.

    Exactly! That is the question you and Mr. Dennett are trying to get around. You don’t have a way to answer “who is this personage” and so you have decided to create a model that denies the nature of experience. In other words, since your model cannot explain all that is present in consciousness, you simply deny that the aspects exist at all!

    The map of California is not California. And then, California is not merely my journey from one point on the map to another point on the map. The map isn’t even close, and can never come close, to describing the “whole” of California.

    What difference does it make whether or not he can describe what blue is like? If I needed you to understand me or know what I know before I could properly exist, then you might have a point. But I am perfectly able to live relying on my own certainty. Description only means something when we are communicating, it has nothing to do with the existence of an object or quality.

    I see your hiatus hasn’t brought you much humility.
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2004
  8. Mar 19, 2004 #7
    I don't intend to speak for RageSk8, he's perfectly capable of answering LW Sleeth's criticisms on his own, but for my part I must respond to the following:

    I don't deny that such conscious states exist (nothing in my first response would suggest that), I simply think that the most important - and yes, the most practical - questions about consciousness address relations between individuals. In my view, one need not concern oneself with the nature of consciousness, merely the outward manifestations of consciousness (particularly language). So to ask a question regarding internal conscious perceptions is to ask the wrong kind of question and to ignore the only interesting (and informative) aspects of consciousness.
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2004
  9. Mar 19, 2004 #8

    Les Sleeth

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    First let me say that my criticism of RageSk8 was not intended to be associated with you. If it seems hard, it is because of what I see as his arrogant attitude, one which I have witnessed plenty of times in the past. A slight problem here at PF (IMO) is teenagers (or close to it) who, hiding behind the shelter of their computers and IP's, behave like know-it-alls or, it seems, vent their frustrations with parents and adults on the people here. I am pretty sure you and I disagree, but I don't see that as a problem, but rather as an opportunity to trade ideas.

    I know your view is that "one need not concern oneself with the nature of consciousness, merely the outward manifestations of consciousness." I say, if you want to run your consciousness that way, fine. The problem is, you are agreeing in essence with Rorty's point that we define consciousness, for humans in general, as that which is MOST intended for language and human interaction. I see that as arrogance.

    I say that because I personally do not want to make the priority for my conscious development interacting with others (and consequently language). You can do that if you want, Rorty can do that if he wants, RageSk8 can do that if he wants . . . but I decline the opportunity. There are plenty of others who agree with me too.

    This attempt to define consciousness as language and human interaction is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to model a human as a machine. It is the latest functionalist/behaviorist strategy to convince us poor ignert humans there is no inner being. The truth is, those so determined to do that only know they haven't figured out how to be aware of innerness; they do not know anything about, nor do they investigate properly, those who have achived something inwardly.

    Personally, I prefer to make the first and foremost priority for my conscious development learning how to be content and happy within myself, and how not to be dependent on others (or anything else) for that. My second priority might be human interaction; I do consider it important . . . just not first. So that's why I say to attempt to define what the priority of consciousness should be for all of us arrogates others' right to decide for themselves how they should and will develop it.
  10. Mar 19, 2004 #9
    Sometimes I have the feeling that people who deny the ineffable aspect of experience are not really conscious, they just behave as if they were.

    A blind man knows quite a lot about the color blue. Does that mean you have to be a mystic tilting at windmills to believe that vision tells you something you can't possibly learn with language?
  11. Mar 19, 2004 #10
    What exactly does a blind man know about the color blue?
  12. Mar 19, 2004 #11
    My arrogant tone? There is obviously arrogance on both sides. There always will be in debate as people naturally believe they are right and the other is wrong. My description of those on your side as “quixotic” is completely accurate from the perspective of those on my side. Just as you thinking of my views as ‘misled arrogance’ is the expected and natural response. If you look at my post I take care to explain the divergence between the two conceptions of consciousness. I am all for the presentation of each conception and, in fact, encourage it (as shown here where I present your side's argument against Turing to promote intellectual diversity). Come on, you can’t honestly believe that “a slight problem here at PF (IMO) is teenagers (or close to it) who, hiding behind the shelter of their computers and IP's, behave like know-it-alls or, it seems, vent their frustrations with parents and adults on the people here.” I have no problem with honest debate, but I do have a problem with toning down debate so people don’t feel threatened or looked down upon. That’s BS. It doesn’t happen in actual academic debates and shouldn’t happen here. Anyways, back to the discussion…

    This is pretty close but misses and important aspect of our argument. What Dennett has done is present a new set of metaphors to talk about consciousness (a better set of metaphors in Dennett’s and my opinion). This is called philosophical therapy – the ‘cleaning up’ of old, outdated, messy metaphors and the pseudo-problems they create. Are you denying that your view of consciousness has a historical heritage with roots in Descartes? Descartes created a new vocabulary for describing the mind. There is no doubt that this vocabulary has gone through changes since first conceptualized, but those who agree with Dennett, Rorty, and Davidson see the basic model as fundamentally flawed. So, yes, we do attack the very questions that lie at the core of what is traditionally thought of as consciousness, but we also redescribe consciousness, conceptually recreate it in a different more useful form.

    This is equivocation. A “map” of California is not equivalent to a map of causal relationships. To put it in a different way, I think it is good enough to explain why it appears as if there is phenomenological data. You don’t.

    Well, no. To quote Rorty: “ostensive definition requires a lot of stage-setting in the language, and that ostention without stage-setting (as when one says ‘forget about how it might be described; just concentrate on the feel of it – on what it is like’) does not pick out an entity.” This is what I mean by “holist.”
  13. Mar 19, 2004 #12
    You have a strange view of language. Language is intimately tied with other interactions with world. Anyways, zk4586 said it best, "What exactly does a blind man know about the color blue?" My brother is red/green color blind. He sees our Christmas tree every year as "brown." In this case, he does not know the concept of green (at least in this instance) because he cannot play a language game where one identifies a Christmas tree as green. I fail to see how this challenges our position at all.
  14. Mar 20, 2004 #13

    Les Sleeth

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    I do believe it because I’ve wasted hours and hours of my time trying to reason with kids who lack enough life experience to know if their theories actually work, but who nonetheless advocate them here with the zealousness of someone who knows. Maybe “toning down” might stand for speaking with some degree of acknowledgement that one just might not know everything there is to know about a subject.

    Your description might be expected, but I don’t think you are correct when you say it is accurate, no matter which “side” from which it derives. Aren’t we doing epistemology? In such a case, one cannot claim the validity of a general (wholesale) statement based on incomplete retail data.

    If antiquity does not make ideas true, then neither does fashionability. I say Dennett’s ideas are not better metaphors, but spin that attempts to establish a philosophical foundation for his variety of physicalism.

    I deny it absolutely. My view of consciousness stems from the time I have taken to directly experience it. How is one going to understand one’s consciousness by contemplating it theoretically? If to know the reality of things outside us we must “observe,” must we not also experience the nature of consciousness to know anything about it?

    Very funny. What exactly is “more useful”? Useful to what or whom? If I were a politician, I would define “useful” as that which gets me votes. Useful to Dennett and yourself seems to be what supports your theory of consciousness.
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2004
  15. Mar 20, 2004 #14

    Les Sleeth

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    I suspect what Confutatis meant was that a blind man can have a zillion concepts about the color blue, and talk about it, without having the slightest bit of experiential knowledge about it. Language might be tied to our interactions with the world, but that doesn't mean conscious experience must be tied to interactions with the world. The challenge to your position is found in the fact that you can't demonstrate conscious experience must necessarily be linked to what one thinks or says.
  16. Mar 20, 2004 #15
    I still don't see how this is in any way true. What concepts can a blind man have about the color blue without experiencing it (through the senses)? How can he talk about the color blue?

    And let us all just keep in mind that we're debating a question with very little, if any, real importance. There's no reason for hostility from anyone.
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2004
  17. Mar 20, 2004 #16

    Les Sleeth

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    I've listened to a number of songs Stevie Wonder wrote where he created verses based on visual information, including color. I used to wonder myself what sort of mental images he'd imagined for those verses. I can only guess obviously, but possibly he questioned others about color, and possibly he took clues from his other senses, such feeling the heat of the sun and then associating it with his concept of color. However blind persons do it, they are able to develop color concepts without experience.

    I agree about the hostility. However, I disagree that the question of consciousness is of little importance. Many of us recognize it as the place where physicalistic theory breaks down. Dennett and others are trying to make the case that the brain can be the cause of consciousness. My opinion is that the only way he can do that is to first deny the existence of those aspects of consciousness he can't explain with physicalist theory.

    My objection to Rorty's point in this thread is the assumption that the primary functions of consciousness are language and thinking. A computer can talk and think but doesn't know it does. Self-knowing that can evolve understanding, wisdom, joy, love etc. as it learns is what the computer lacks, and it is also what the brain model of consciousness lacks. This evolved self knowledge doesn't need to speak or think, it just knows the way one just knows how to ride a bike once it's learned. I speak with understanding, but the understanding itself is not a thought and it is not language. It is a sort of conscious singularity (like love or joy) that is already in place. Those of us who believe in and want to develop this inner ability to know are who Dennett wants to label the new mysterions. I want to label him the new computer wanna-be.
  18. Mar 20, 2004 #17
    I agree that that probably is how Stevie Wonder worked visual information, including color, into his songs. Knowing that color plays an important part in people's lives, he asked friends what they associated with certain colors and emotions and so forth. But that doesn't mean that Stevie Wonder understands the concept of a particular color. Because he's blind, he can't tell you the color of something unless he's been told by someone else what the color is. He can sing, "The woman in red, The woman in red, Like fine wine she's going straight to my head," but that doesn't mean that he understands the concept of the color red, merely that he's been told that attractive women can often be found wearing a red dress (and no doubt has had "experience" with this fact). But he has no way of generalizing (on his own) his experience of color so that he can apply it to new things. He can't take part in a language game which uses color (and certain other things dependent on the sense of vision).

    I say that the question of consciousness is of little importance for two reasons: 1) Even when simply confining oneself to the realm of philosophy, there seems to me far more important questions to ask (e.g. How should one live? What constitutes a just society? And so forth). 2) I doubt we'll ever come to any kind of consensus about the nature of consciousness and even if we did, I don't think it would really change the way we live our lives.

    I've already said that I believe the primary functions of consciousness are language and thinking. I don't need to go over that again. But I must object to the idea that a computer will never be able to attain certain features of human consciousness (such as emotion or self-awareness). There is definately a difference of complexity at work here, but I can't make sense of the notion that this difference is necessarily absolute.
    "Turing shows that if a computer can add, subtract, multiply, and divide, and if it can tell the difference between zero and one, it can do anything. You can take that set of mindless abilities and build them up into structures of indefinite discriminative power, indefinite discerning power, indefinite reflective power. You can make a whole mind ... you can get ideas to think for themselves."
    --Daniel Dennett, in an interview with Harvey Blume.
  19. Mar 20, 2004 #18

    Les Sleeth

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    I think you are making Confutatis' point for him. My interpretation of what he was trying to say is that one cannot have real knowlege of color without the experience of color. That is what is wrong with a model of consciousness as mere thinking and language. You can think and talk all day about the color blue, you might even manage to formulate the perfect blue concept, but you will still not know the color blue. That's because the impression of blue in consciousness does not get there via a concept, it gets there through experience.

    Jumping ahead to your belief below about computers achieving consciousness, if a human can't know the color blue through thinking and language, how is a computer going to think its way to knowledge of the color blue?

    Those philosophical questions you cite as more important all involve humanity. To understand what is best for humanity we need to understand what humanity is at the core. This is the real reason for the debate about consciousness -- it is a struggle to decide everything from how we educate our children to what sorts of social design best fit human nature.

    We'll have to disagree about the primary function of consciousness. I think I can prove you are wrong, and I will attempt to do so in new thread. I'll be interested in your opinion.

    Just like those who claim we've all but proven life comes about through abiogenesis, so far all we get from Dennett et al. is exaggerated claims. To them I say, do it! Until they do, it is all speculation and they should stop pretending they have figured out what consciousness is.

    Also, Turing did not show a computer "can do anything," he showed a computer should be capable of any sort of computing the human mind can do. I personally do not believe consciousness is built up from the complexity of computing operations. I think it comes about through the generalization of experience.
  20. Mar 20, 2004 #19
    After re-reading Confutatis' post, I don't think I missed what he was trying to say.

    It seems to me that Confutatis is saying there are certain intrinsic properties in consciousness directly related to the concepts that we acquire through experience. But I think he's making an unfortunate distinction between what we experience and how we describe what we experience.

    A computer depends on imputs provided by a user. These inputs are interpreted by interplay between the hardware and the software. To me, this seems akin to sensory experience being interpreted by interplay between innate concepts and social constructs.

    We have produced a number of very good ideas (supported by well-reasoned arguments) about what is best for humanity, none of which require us to get clear on the nature of consciousness.


    There just seems to me no reason to rule out the possibility that computers may one day acquire emotions and become self-aware. Though, as you say, this goes back to ones particular conception of what constitutes consciousness and of how consciousness arises.
  21. Mar 22, 2004 #20
    What I'm saying is that knowledge is not evidence of consciousness. The fact that a blind man knows a lot about 'blue' without ever seeing it proves my point. What a blind man does not know about the colour blue cannot be communicated, and that must necessarily mean conscious experience is ineffable.

    Why 'unfortunate'? You mean there's no distinction, or the distinction should be ignored?
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 22, 2004
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