Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Rosenberg on Edelman?

  1. Jun 18, 2005 #1

    selfAdjoint

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    Via Wikipedia I discovered that well-known neuroscientist Gerald Edelman has a materialism-based theory of consciousness in which he explicitly accepts qualia. I got his book The Remembered Present out of the library and am currently reading it. So far his account of the first person experiences he calls qualia sound very much like the qualia I have seen in the discussion on Resenberg's book. So I wonder if anyone could tell me if Rosenberg discusses Edelman's construction, and if so, what his opinion is of it? Thank you.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 18, 2005 #2

    hypnagogue

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Edelman has two entries in the references section of Rosenberg's book ("Neural Darwinism: Population Thinking and Higher Brain Function" and The Remembered Present). Unfortunately, Edelman is not listed in the index, and I cannot recall offhand where or in what context Edelman is mentioned. I'll keep an eye out in future readings, though.

    Just curious, what about Edelman's ideas reminds you of Rosenberg?
     
  4. Jun 19, 2005 #3

    selfAdjoint

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    Oh he doesn't in general. Rosenberg is high philosophy, trying to establish a new ontology, and Edelman is speculating within the scientific materialist tradition. Both very smart guys (Ashkenazi overclocking?). But here is Edelman's description of qualia in Remembered Present:
     
  5. Jun 20, 2005 #4
    Ironically...

    Just this weekend I was reviewing the latest on Edelman and his colleague's work and was very thrilled. They've applied information theoretic analyses to neuronal group theory and the characteristics of the NG's in the thalamo-cortical system they've identified match nicely the predictions one would make by applying the Theory of Natural Individuals. For example, each NG that is part of the proposed consciousness system is part of a larger thalamo-cortical system in which each group has a state almost wholly dependent on the state of each other member of the group, and which the entire set of NG's interact as a whole with other brain systems; they hypothesize a massively asymmetric dependence between NG's in the group relative to any NG outside of the group, measurable by the extent to which any particular NG's entropy can be predicted by measuring the entropy of any other NG in the group; the state of each NG is a function of the state of the entire thalamo-cortical group of which it is a part; information that enters any one NG is shared by all others in the group; the contribution of qualitative character from a group is hypothesized to be its constraint contribution on the joint state of the thalamo-cortical system as a whole, and so forth. It matches the characteristics of a symmetric natural individual very closely. It was a very thrilling read for me, and I'm very much excited by Edelman's work.

    --Gregg
     
  6. Jun 20, 2005 #5

    selfAdjoint

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    This is wonderful news, Is any of this research surveyable online? We have here users like hypnagogue who have read your book deeply, and others like Monica who are capable of following the brain research with deep insight. And I can sort of limp along behind in both areas. This "consilience" (forgive me) of fields would be a fine thing to review on these boards.
     
  7. Jun 20, 2005 #6
    Edelman review

    Bernie Baars has written a very helpful review of Edelman's recent work:

    http://www.nsi.edu/users/seth/Papers/accs03abs.pdf

    Irrespective of its (I think obvious) consonance with the theory of natural individuals, Edelman's work and Baars review are wonderful in their own right.

    --Gregg
     
  8. Jun 21, 2005 #7
    I hope you be understanding and don't consider this too much boldness on my behalf. I'm just reading Rosenberg's book, and much of it with the help of Hypnagogue and all other members of PF in the book discussion group. So I'm but a simple aficionado, and ,might be very wrong in my interpretations or Rosenberg's theory. Anyway, I think you are nice, understanding guys here in PF, and forgive my mistakes.

    Just to point that though, as Rosenberg himself has commented in this same thread, Edelman's ideas could very well match Rosenberg's theory of 'natural individuals', I think that there might remain certain divergence referring to the concept of qualia (once again the old qualia...).
    I quote form Seth and Baars, "Neural Darwinism (ND) and Consciousness", Consciousness and Cognition, 14, 2005.
    www.nsi.edu/users/seth/Papers/SethBaars.pdf

    "The qualitative feel of conscious events is less easily explained. Why should sensation accompany the complex discriminations enacted by a dynamic core, but not the discrimination of light from dark by a photodiode? Edelman and Tononi suggest that the answer lies in the complexity (in the technical sense) of the discrimination. A sensation of redness does not correspond to a discrimination among a small number of colors; rather, it is entailed by the state of the entire dynamic core. The qualitative feel of a conscious event is a consequence of the vast amount of information disclosed by the core by being in one state out of very many possible states.
    The relationship of 'entailment' appears to be critical to the conception of qualia in ND. For Edelman (2003, 2004), qualia are high-dimensional discriminations that are entailed by neural activity in the core. They differ because their underlying neural systems differ. Qualia are entailed by this distinctive form of neural activity in the same way that the structure of hemoglobin entails a certain spectroscopic response: One is not caused by the other, rather, one is an inevitable property of the other. This concept implies that neural systems underlying consciousness were selected in evolution to carry out discriminations in a high dimensional space of possible inputs, yielding adaptive advantage."

    I understand that for Edelman it is that 'high-dimensional discrimination' what constitutes 'qualia', and that it is 'entailed' by neural activity in the dynamic core. But it seems to me that, for Rosenberg, subjective experience cannot be entailed just by the physical. Of course, we could think that neural activity is not just plainly physical activity, but I don't think this aspect is adressed by Edelman's proposal. Am I too wrong? Perhaps you have some other understanding.
     
  9. Jun 21, 2005 #8

    selfAdjoint

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    antfm, it seems to me you are correct. Seth and Baars dismiss the hard problem as like expecting a description of tornados to be windy. That may be crass of them to a philosopher, but I think it captures the position Edelman holds, as well.
     
  10. Jun 22, 2005 #9
    The point about qualia is that they are not conveyed by 3rd peson descriptions.
    To object that this is equivalent to saying that a description of a quale
    does not make you actually have a quale, is to assume that the only
    way a quale can be known is by subjective experience. But this intrinsically
    subject aspect of qualia *is* the Hard Problem. The "hurricane" objection does not
    dissolve the HP, it relies on it !
     
  11. Jun 22, 2005 #10

    selfAdjoint

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    The fact that you can't give a third person description of a private first person experience is only a problem for those who feel science is incomplete if it can't do this. I don't find it a problem at all, hard or otherwise, and apparently neither do the people who work with Edelman.
     
  12. Jun 22, 2005 #11
    Have you seen The Final Cut? I know it’s only a movie, but if the technology depicted here is possible, or any other future technology that would be able to give a first person experience, then science can indeed do this!
     
  13. Jun 23, 2005 #12
    It what sense could science possible be said to be complete in spite
    of not being able to do this ? As far as I can see it boils down the circular proposition that science can solve all the problems which were suitably scientific in the first place. Which is OK if you regard science as one of
    a number of approaches to understanding reality, but very much not OK
    if you are going metaphysical conclusions from the successes or failures of science. To say that qualia don't exist because they cannot be explained
    scientifically is completely cart-before-the-horse. It is the existence of unexplained
    phenomena which is the criterion of the success of science; science is not
    the criterion for whether phenomena exist in the first place.
     
  14. Jun 23, 2005 #13

    Les Sleeth

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    :surprised I'm suitably shocked that we might actually agree on something. :smile:

    My regular complaint since I've been here is the tendency of __________ (fill in the blank with the philosophical belief of your choosing) to "dismiss" anything as unsubstantial, nonexistent, irrelevant, contraindicated, etc., that someone's favorite epistomological method can't account for.

    In the past, Metacristi has argued that empiricism deserves "epistomological privilege." In terms of investigating physical reality, I think he's correct. But the fact that empiricism reveals nothing but physicalness can't be fairly interpreted to mean there is nothing but physicalness!

    The only possible, logical, honest, unbiased interpretation is . . . empiricism is only capable of revealing the physical aspects of reality. A dispassionate opinion must admit that empiricism's results may demonstrate both its strengths and its limitations.
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2005
  15. Jun 23, 2005 #14

    selfAdjoint

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    Well folks, Tournesol and Les, can philosophy actually exhibit a first person quale? Rosenberg's or anybody else's? If so where can I experience it? If I read Rosenberg or Searle or Chalmers will I experience a quale not my own? But if not, then isn't it just the pot calling the kettle incomplete?
     
  16. Jun 23, 2005 #15

    Les Sleeth

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    "Exhibit" is an empirical standard, one based on externalization and sense observation. You are demanding something that is based on what you already believe is the only way to "know" something (i.e. empircally).


    You can experience it. Do your senses relate information to you about the size, weight, colors, etc. of your granddaughter? But beyond the data your senses feed you, is there some other "quality" you feel about your granddaughter?

    As long as you've lived SA, I really can't understand why you would doubt the quality of appreciation (which is what I boil qualia down to . . . who cares what we call it). Appreciation is the difference between a dead life (or a computer) and an alive life for consciousness. No matter what info the senses send us, without the ability to appreciate the info's quality we are not conscious.
     
  17. Jun 23, 2005 #16

    selfAdjoint

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    Les, you seem to think that I deny qualia. I don't. The question before the house is whether science is incomplete because it can't demonstrate or exhibit qualia, beyond just describing them. See the parable about the color blind expert on color. And my point is that talking about ontology doesn't display qualia either. That neither the study of how things work, nor the study of What It All Means has anything to contribute to exhibiting qualia that are NOT internally generated to the public. Maybe techology will someday do this, but if it does, you can bet there will be plenty of people ready to call the qualia reporting robot a lying zombie.
     
  18. Jun 24, 2005 #17
    Nothing I said implies that any other approach is more complete. However, it could be argued that conveying other people's qualia is the basic job of art
    (which would make it clear why they are such a problem for science).
     
  19. Jun 24, 2005 #18

    Les Sleeth

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    The question seems a little ambiguous though. Is a hammer "incomplete" because you can't unscrew a 1/2 inch nut with it? If you take the hammer to a job that only requires 1/2 inch nuts to be unscrewed, then one would say it's the wrong tool for the job, not that the hammer is incomplete. Science is a tool, so I think the question should be stated as: "can science reveal all that's knowable?" Or, alternatively, "Are there other means of knowing than what empiricism relies on?"

    I'd have to admit that if a machine could exhibit qualia, then there must either be something physical about, or some physical counterpart to, qualia. But in the absence of exhibiting or physically accounting for qualia, I also don't see why anyone should have total faith that machinery or empiricism is going to do it. As you likely know, I believe the proper stance is neutrality about the question, and that the only reason some people insist qualia are physical is because they are already committed to the physicalist position.


    I believe you are correct about that. I don't believe the rationalistic approach some here favor is ever going to exhihit qualia. It just might be that neither science nor the rationalists are never going to explain qualia (well, they might "explain" it but without being able demonstrate it's true).

    One thing I love about empiricism is the search to experience what has been hypothesized to be true. The rationalists don't seem to bother; they are light years ahead in theory of what anyone has experienced. We know confirmation by experience produces knowledge, but we don't know rationalism achieves much.

    Along those lines, I say that only if we discover a reliable way to directly experience qualia can we ever get anywhere. But in terms of knowledge, must the object of experience be externalizable (as science requires) in order to qualify as having epistomological value?

    If qualia are strictly internal, and if only each individual human being has access to his own qualia, then does that render the inner, non-externalizable experience of qualia useless to knowing? It means science isn't going to reveal them is all. The only reason I can see that's a problem, as I suggested above, is if someone is determined to explain everything empirically, and then if they can't they want to "dismiss" whatever is slipping through the science cracks.
     
  20. Jun 24, 2005 #19

    selfAdjoint

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    Okay, but just one other thought. Suppose Edelman or somebody is able to really pin down the mechanisms of what he calls higher consciousness (his "primary consciousness" is what some animals may have, and is mostly "unconcious" to our own awareness). Suppose this is so convincing that almost everybody accepts it; he can show exactly what goes on when we perceive exactly this shade of red, and all the other scientists agree, the super MRI-Xray-CT-EEG scans show that he's right, the phenomena he predicts when this shade of red is viewed are what the machines measure, every time.

    Now are you going to be in the equivalent of the creationist-ID camp, fighting the rear guard action just because you don't like mechanical explanations? Or in general is there ANY evidence for a mechanical explanation of consciousness and qualia that you would accept?
     
  21. Jun 25, 2005 #20
    I have never claimed that qualia are beyond the reach of any future science. However, there seems to be a specific problem with mathematical/structural/functional accounts being particularly inapt for conveying qualia -- and how can you explain them without conveying them ?
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?