The Problem of Other Minds

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  • #26
Les Sleeth
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Jeebus said:
As of late, I have been reading a lot of Michael Lockwood's work, and the problem I see now, is that consciousness in its form doesn't really formulate any algorithmic encodings of any mathematical consciousness explanation, or your coinage I liked "consciousness meter". Nonetheless, if it possible to measure the senario's of consciousness, then it is equally possible to say that they should have a computational formula to equate with brain subjectivity and awareness. The software for consciousness, paraphrased by Lockwood should have natural substrates in its "information-theoretic" data.
I am not sure I fully understand your point, but I'll answer you as though I do :wink:. When you say, "Nonetheless, if it possible to measure the senario's of consciousness, then it is equally possible to say that they should have a computational formula to equate with brain subjectivity and awareness," the problem I see is that you have assumed what you are able to measure is all there is. It might very well be that all you are measuring is all that's measurable, and after that there's still something left which cannot be measured. In fact, the functionalist model is exactly based on only that which can be measured. However, it still doesn't explain consciousness, which is why some of us believe there is "something more" to consciousness which is unmeasurable.

Jeebus said:
Now, anything physical isn't going to measure consciousness, as far as we know, so my question is: if reflections of human psychology can 'measure' consciousness, then why isn't physical processes compatible with physical actions? If the brain neurons signal functions, the physical action should give away the consciousness experience, shouldn't it? Now, how we define and measure this is the problem, but isn't that a formulation of how consciousness works in its form, agreed?
Physical processes are compatible with physical actions. The problem is, you seem to have equated consciousness with physical action. We can measure some actions of consciousness, such as those associated with physcial action, but there are other aspects we cannot yet measure.

Jeebus said:
If the mind is organizational and humanly-constructed categories exist, then consciousness is and can be 'measured', right? Consciousness is epistemically possible; and the solution should be retrospectively obvious, shouldn't it, if physical interactions equate with mind data? Consciousness should be instrumental, in the sense its performed and done: the problem is figuring out how to play it, right?
Again, some aspects can be measured. What physical/brain action is right now causing your consciousness to "know" you are alive? During all the physical stuff you do all day, you know you exist . . . where is the physical brain referent for that?
 
  • #27
hypnagogue
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Jeebus said:
if reflections of human psychology can 'measure' consciousness, then why isn't physical processes compatible with physical actions?
There is a sense in which, say, verbal reports 'measure' subjective experience. But this, and all other brain functions that might be similarly tied to experience, are only measurements in an indirect sense. They are objective footprints of consciousness rather than the phenomenal creature itself. My self-consistent use of the word green, for example, does not tell you what color quality I am referring to; perhaps my green is your blue. A direct measurement of consciousness would be able to settle this dispute conclusively, but the indirect means we have at our disposal can't do the job. This is why, for example, the notion of a zombie has thus far been upheld to be logically (if not nomologically) consistent.

(By the way, I borrowed the 'consciousness meter' terminology from Chalmers, who may have borrowed it from someone else in turn.)
 
  • #28
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LW Sleeth said:
I am not sure I fully understand your point, but I'll answer you as though I do :wink:. When you say, "Nonetheless, if it possible to measure the senario's of consciousness, then it is equally possible to say that they should have a computational formula to equate with brain subjectivity and awareness," the problem I see is that you have assumed what you are able to measure is all there is. It might very well be that all you are measuring is all that's measurable, and after that there's still something left which cannot be measured. In fact, the functionalist model is exactly based on only that which can be measured. However, it still doesn't explain consciousness, which is why some of us believe there is "something more" to consciousness which is unmeasurable.
Yes, I agree, but wouldn't their likely be a model of consciousness based on some functions (e.g. the Sigmund Freud iceberg model of the mind) only equating it with perception, knowledge, semantics, and the unknown quantity of consciousness using some type of structural computation?

Physical processes are compatible with physical actions. The problem is, you seem to have equated consciousness with physical action. We can measure some actions of consciousness, such as those associated with physcial action, but there are other aspects we cannot yet measure.
No, I said consciousness is a part of physical actions based off the consciousness mind, so the consciousness mind and physical interactions are directly parallel and based upon the conscious of brain activity.

Again, some aspects can be measured. What physical/brain action is right now causing your consciousness to "know" you are alive? During all the physical stuff you do all day, you know you exist . . . where is the physical brain referent for that?
Precisely. That's why I said if the consciousness problem is ever solved it would likely have a formula, possibly. I can't give you that answer, because consciousness, as you said, and I have said hasn't been measured or solved, if it were, I would be able to tell you or vice versa.
 
  • #29
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hypnagogue said:
There is a sense in which, say, verbal reports 'measure' subjective experience. But this, and all other brain functions that might be similarly tied to experience, are only measurements in an indirect sense. They are objective footprints of consciousness rather than the phenomenal creature itself. My self-consistent use of the word green, for example, does not tell you what color quality I am referring to; perhaps my green is your blue. A direct measurement of consciousness would be able to settle this dispute conclusively, but the indirect means we have at our disposal can't do the job. This is why, for example, the notion of a zombie has thus far been upheld to be logically (if not nomologically) consistent.
I agree. But don't you think its possible to come to terms of accord of what your green is and my green is? Like reference points on which objective object is green to you and you equate that object of green, and I see your connotation of the pigment green, and I say, "Oh, that green."

While I understand we can't do this for consciousness, I think it can be done, sometime. It would be like a sensory gateway chamber opening up and I see your green and you see my green and then the basis of that comes up from now understand each person's viewpoint. This would no longer, if done to every subject formulate into subjective experience/assumptions, would it?
 
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  • #30
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Confutatis

I don't know why you are so determined to disagree with all other philosophers. If there is any published thinker who does not agree that the other minds problem is intractible or that experiences are incommensurable please let me know, I'd be interested to read them.

If you want to argue that the other minds problem can be solved then you will have to demonstrate how you would solve it. How would you go about proving that someone else is conscious? Scientists cannot do it yet, for all we can ever have are first-person reports.

Don't forget that science asserts that consciousness is not causal, i.e. the presence of consciousness cannot be inferred from an entity's behaviour in principle.
 
  • #31
selfAdjoint
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Don't forget that science asserts that consciousness is not causal, i.e. the presence of consciousness cannot be inferred from an entity's behaviour in principle.

You keep asserting this, and I keep saying it isn't so. What is your evidence? (not your own explanation, but evidence that "Science" says this!).
 
  • #32
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selfAdjoint said:
Don't forget that science asserts that consciousness is not causal, i.e. the presence of consciousness cannot be inferred from an entity's behaviour in principle.

You keep asserting this, and I keep saying it isn't so. What is your evidence? (not your own explanation, but evidence that "Science" says this!).
Behaviourism, epiphenomenalism, causal completeness, strict physical determinism, hetero-phenomenology, Objectivism, the notion that brains cause minds and the definition of science itself are all predicated on the assumption that consciousness is non-causal.

Have you tried arguing that consciousness plays a role in human evolution on the biology forum? I have, and it is considered to be an unscientific idea not required in neo-Darwinist theory.
 
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  • #33
Les Sleeth
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Jeebus said:
Yes, I agree, but wouldn't their likely be a model of consciousness based on some functions (e.g. the Sigmund Freud iceberg model of the mind) only equating it with perception, knowledge, semantics, and the unknown quantity of consciousness using some type of structural computation?
I am not sure if my brain is starting to fail me, but it seems like you agree with me (as above) and then say the opposite of what I mean. I probably don't understand what you are saying.

My point is that functions do not seem to add up to consciousness.

Jeebus said:
No, I said consciousness is a part of physical actions based off the consciousness mind, so the consciousness mind and physical interactions are directly parallel and based upon the conscious of brain activity.
:tongue: That's what I thought you said.

Jeebus said:
Precisely. That's why I said if the consciousness problem is ever solved it would likely have a formula, possibly. I can't give you that answer, because consciousness, as you said, and I have said hasn't been measured or solved, if it were, I would be able to tell you or vice versa.
And actually I was saying that no formula we find seems to add up to consciousness, so it might very well be that there is something that establishes consciousness which we will never be able to measure and therefore create a formula to represent.

Part of the debate that is going on is trying to decide if consciousness is created by the brain, or if consciousness is something self-existent, pre-existent (to the brain), something very basic, something possibly even universal that is only given "shape" by the functions of the brain.
 
  • #34
confutatis
Canute said:
I don't know why you are so determined to disagree with all other philosophers. If there is any published thinker who does not agree that the other minds problem is intractible or that experiences are incommensurable please let me know, I'd be interested to read them.
I'm not disagreeing with all other philosophers! If I contemplate the same problem from the same perspective, of course I end up with the same conclusions. But there are different perspectives.

I don't know about "published thinkers"; I got those ideas from Dennett so there's a name for you. I do not agree with everything he says, but I realize he has something important to say, something that matters even to people who do not agree with everything he says.

If you want to argue that the other minds problem can be solved then you will have to demonstrate how you would solve it.
As stated, the problem of other minds can't be solved! I have never made any claims to the contrary.

How would you go about proving that someone else is conscious?
How can you prove that other people are conscious if you have no way to prove that you are conscious?

The standard answer to that question is "I don't have to prove that I am conscious, I just know it". That answer implies you know what being conscious is. But you also think that, whatever being conscious really is, it can't be communicated through language. Now my question is, if "being conscious" is a concept that cannot be expressed in language, how exactly did you find out you are conscious? How could other people explain to you what "being conscious" feels like, if the feeling of being conscious can't be expressed in language?

People are making too much out of what I'm saying. It's actually quite simple. If I tell you I feel this "thing", you ask me to explain what the "thing" is, and I tell you the "thing" can't possibly be explained, what sense does it make for you to claim you also feel the "thing" but you're not sure I feel it? Isn't it clear we're not talking about the same "thing"?

Scientists cannot do it yet, for all we can ever have are first-person reports.
Scientists will never be able to do it. No matter how sophisticated our theories about the mind may be, people will always be able to lie. If a scientist tells a subject "my observations imply you are now thinking about X", there's no way for the scientist to know if the subject isn't lying when he says he's not thinking about X at all.

Don't forget that science asserts that consciousness is not causal, i.e. the presence of consciousness cannot be inferred from an entity's behaviour in principle.
If consciousness is not causal, then it can't be explained. But if it can't be explained, how was it that people have explained it to you?
 
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  • #35
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confutatis said:
How can you prove that other people are conscious if you have no way to prove that you are conscious?

The standard answer to that question is "I don't have to prove that I am conscious, I just know it". That answer implies you know what being conscious is. But you also think that, whatever being conscious really is, it can't be communicated through language. Now my question is, if "being conscious" is a concept that cannot be expressed in language, how exactly did you find out you are conscious? How could other people explain to you what "being conscious" feels like, if the feeling of being conscious can't be expressed in language?
Ok, let me ask a question so I'm clear on exactly what your point is.

Are you saying:

1) That consciousness must be able to be communicated because we all have a conception of it. or...

2) Since consciousness cannot be communicated and yet we still all have a conception of it, then we must really be conscious.

Which one is it?
 
  • #36
confutatis
Fliption said:
1) That consciousness must be able to be communicated because we all have a conception of it.
That is true of any concept. If you say you understand a concept, you are also saying it has been successfully communicated to you.

2) Since consciousness cannot be communicated and yet we still all have a conception of it, then we must really be conscious.
No meaningful concept which cannot be communicated exists, for the very fact that it is communication itself which gives meaning to concepts.

Which one is it?
#1 is closer. The fact that you know what 'consciousness' means implies there's absolutely nothing "ineffable" about the concept.

If you ask a child, up to a certain age they don't know the answer to the question "are you conscious?". I'm not sure when they first grasp the meaning of the word, but I'm quite sure it's late in childhood. So you once did not know if you were conscious, and you certainly did not learn what being conscious means by looking inside other people's heads. At one point in your life, you knew you were conscious not because you "just knew it", but because you saw that your behaviour was very similar to the behaviour of other people who described themselves as conscious. This much should not be difficult to understand; what follows takes a bit of mental effort.

As you kept growing up and getting older, eventually you associated the word "conscious" with something of a more introspective nature, until a point when you no longer have to look at your own behaviour to know if you are conscious or not. You just feel it "inside". That's perfectly sensible, and leads up to the realization that a person may be conscious without showing any external signs. But what exactly happened then? I can see no sensible way to put it other than to say that, when you finally realized the disconnection between mental states and behaviour, you have also finally understood what people around you were trying to say when they used the word "conscious" - they were not talking about their behaviour, they were talking about their mental states.

That is my perspective, and looking at the world from it I do not understand how it is possible to raise the possibility that the people who taught you what "consciousness" really means are not conscious themselves. That sounds to me like nonsense. Their ability to explain their internal mental states to you is the proof that they have those mental states. Nothing further is needed.
 
  • #37
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Ok, I think I understand and I agree with parts and disagree with others.


confutatis said:
#1 is closer. The fact that you know what 'consciousness' means implies there's absolutely nothing "ineffable" about the concept.
Then I think ineffable is not a good word for consciousness. I think when the word has been used in prior posts, it was meant that it could not be communicated in a such a way that a zombie would know what it means. A reductive, scientific explanation for light with x wavelength to a blind man will never communicate what "redness" is like. But a person who is not blind can understand "redness" not through the verbal description but through the experience that they learn to attach to the word "red". So I agree that it isn't ineffable, technically. But I think the spirit of the word's use was that it couldn't be communicated to a zombie. (I'm not sure this keeps a zombie from adopting the word, however. So there's no major breakthrough here)

If your view is accurate then how do you explain where the word "consciousness" came from to begin with? Who was the first person to use it? And why would they use a concept that they had not been taught?



If you ask a child, up to a certain age they don't know the answer to the question "are you conscious?". I'm not sure when they first grasp the meaning of the word, but I'm quite sure it's late in childhood. So you once did not know if you were conscious, and you certainly did not learn what being conscious means by looking inside other people's heads. At one point in your life, you knew you were conscious not because you "just knew it", but because you saw that your behaviour was very similar to the behaviour of other people who described themselves as conscious. This much should not be difficult to understand; what follows takes a bit of mental effort.
I don't think I agree with this. If you had asked me to describe how it worked for me I would have described it in reverse. This follows from my question above.
 
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  • #38
confutatis
Fliption said:
Ok, I think I understand and I agree with parts and disagree with others.
That's a good start.

Then I think ineffable is not a good word for consciousness. I think when the word has been used in prior posts, it was meant that it could not be communicated in a such a way that a zombie would know what it means.
Well, this goes back to my original point, the thing I tried to prove with a logical argument: the fact that a person understands what "consciousness" means implies they are not zombies.

(I noticed I accidentally replaced my first post with a copy of the second. I don't know how I did, and I wonder if it had any negative effect on the discussion)

A reductive, scientific explanation for light with x wavelength to a blind man will never communicate what "redness" is like.
That is because explanations are just a particular form of communication between people, and as such have to be interpreted by the listener/reader. What a blind man can know about redness happens to be everything that can be explained to anyone about redness. Why expect more?

But a person who is not blind can understand "redness" not through the verbal description but through the experience that they learn to attach to the word "red".
Actually, you need both. Have you ever seen how children struggle to learn to distinguish colors? Their difficulties have nothing to do with experience, and everything to do with language.

So I agree that it isn't ineffable, technically. But I think the spirit of the word's use was that it couldn't be communicated to a zombie. (I'm not sure this keeps a zombie from adopting the word, however. So there's no major breakthrough here)
I'm quite confused as to why you think a blind man cannot know what red is, and yet a zombie can. If you know the truth about consciousness, and a zombie has no way to know other than through semantics, how do you think a zombie can possibly fool you? How exactly would a zombie know what the word "conscious" means, if the zombie is not able to make that final step between "conscious behaviour" and "mental state" I mentioned in my last post?

Can you see that what I'm saying is nothing extraordinary? It's just commonsense. What's extraordinary, at least in my opinion, is that so many people believe in the logical possibility of a world full of zombies. I for one see no logic in it, no logic at all.

If your view is accurate then how do you explain where the word "consciousness" came from to begin with? Who was the first person to use it? And why would they use a concept that they had not been taught?
I can't answer those questions without entering into speculation. All I know is that I can take for granted that nobody is born knowing what 'consciousness' means. That little trivial fact has proven to be hard enough to explain, and there's an entire history of philosophy trying to clear up that issue.

I don't think I agree with this. If you had asked me to describe how it worked for me I would have described it in reverse. This follows from my question above.
I take this to mean you think you first realized you felt "something", then searched for a word for it, and found that 'consciousness' fits well with your experience. You may not believe me when I tell you this, but I have never heard the word 'consciousness' until a few years ago. Before then, I never felt I had something I could not describe with any other word. And to this day the only use I have for it is in forums like this. That's why I think this problem of consciousness is nothing but a problem of semantics, a word in search of real meaning. But of course I may be wrong.
 
  • #39
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confutatis said:
That is because explanations are just a particular form of communication between people, and as such have to be interpreted by the listener/reader. What a blind man can know about redness happens to be everything that can be explained to anyone about redness. Why expect more?
Yes, all of this true. But the purpose for saying that about consciousness is because all natural phenonmenon can be explained to a blind man. A blind man can get a reductive explanation for how an automobile works and know as much about it as you do. But such an explanation can never be given for consciousness or experience. This simply illustrates the problem of consciousness and the reasons why it is different from everything else that science has attempted to explain.


Actually, you need both. Have you ever seen how children struggle to learn to distinguish colors? Their difficulties have nothing to do with experience, and everything to do with language.
Now this is where I thought the thread was going very early on and I disagree completely. Talking about how the nature of semantics lends itself for one to reasonably believe that zombies don't exists is one thing, but claiming that it actually impacts the experience itself is a line I can't cross.

I'm quite confused as to why you think a blind man cannot know what red is, and yet a zombie can. If you know the truth about consciousness, and a zombie has no way to know other than through semantics, how do you think a zombie can possibly fool you? How exactly would a zombie know what the word "conscious" means, if the zombie is not able to make that final step between "conscious behaviour" and "mental state" I mentioned in my last post?
I never said a zombie could understand what red is. But I'm not convinced that a zombie couldn't adopt the word consciousness and attach it to its on conception of what that might be just like I might attach the word "red" to a color that you would call "green". As a matter of fact, I am beginning to highly suspect some of the materialists who participate in this very forum are zombies because they can't possibly be talking about the same thing that I am.

I can't answer those questions without entering into speculation. All I know is that I can take for granted that nobody is born knowing what 'consciousness' means. That little trivial fact has proven to be hard enough to explain, and there's an entire history of philosophy trying to clear up that issue.
No one knows what the word means, I agree. You aren't bothered that your theory means the word should never exists?

I take this to mean you think you first realized you felt "something", then searched for a word for it, and found that 'consciousness' fits well with your experience. You may not believe me when I tell you this, but I have never heard the word 'consciousness' until a few years ago. Before then, I never felt I had something I could not describe with any other word. And to this day the only use I have for it is in forums like this. That's why I think this problem of consciousness is nothing but a problem of semantics, a word in search of real meaning. But of course I may be wrong.
Absolutely I think that's how it happens. I realize it first. I understand what you're saying and I can relate personally. I also did not walk around thinking I had this thing that needed a word attached to it. It is such a part of who I am that I took it for granted! But this doesn't mean that I couldn't identify it eventually by pondering what makes me (and apparently the person next to me) different from the rock I hold in my hand. In my case, I probably heard about it in school and when I read what it was I said "Oh Yeah, I know what that is and I agree it's a good question." But it's obvious that the concept originated from people pondering the thing that sets them apart from other things. Again I have to ask, where else could the word come from?
 
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  • #40
Les Sleeth
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confutatis said:
If you ask a child, up to a certain age they don't know the answer to the question "are you conscious?". I'm not sure when they first grasp the meaning of the word, but I'm quite sure it's late in childhood. So you once did not know if you were conscious, and you certainly did not learn what being conscious means by looking inside other people's heads. At one point in your life, you knew you were conscious not because you "just knew it", but because you saw that your behaviour was very similar to the behaviour of other people who described themselves as conscious. This much should not be difficult to understand; what follows takes a bit of mental effort.

As you kept growing up and getting older, eventually you associated the word "conscious" with something of a more introspective nature, until a point when you no longer have to look at your own behaviour to know if you are conscious or not. You just feel it "inside". That's perfectly sensible, and leads up to the realization that a person may be conscious without showing any external signs. But what exactly happened then? I can see no sensible way to put it other than to say that, when you finally realized the disconnection between mental states and behaviour, you have also finally understood what people around you were trying to say when they used the word "conscious" - they were not talking about their behaviour, they were talking about their mental states.

That is my perspective, and looking at the world from it I do not understand how it is possible to raise the possibility that the people who taught you what "consciousness" really means are not conscious themselves. That sounds to me like nonsense. Their ability to explain their internal mental states to you is the proof that they have those mental states. Nothing further is needed.
I won't go too far with this, but I have read most of your posts, and others to you, and I would like to suggest that you are having a problem distinquishing between two utterly different types of conscious activity. Before you assume what I am about to say is just my opinion, I suggest you review the substantial amount of epistimological thinking done over the last 200 years by everyone from Locke and James to Ayer and Popper. Everyone, and I mean virtually every respected thinker, distinguishes between experience and understanding; more importantly, it has long been established that experience is essential to real understanding. This fact is exactly the basis of empiricism, which has more than proven its efficacy.

Language is the "outer" indication of the "inner" achievement of understanding, so yes, when someone can verbalize accurately, it is a signal they've achieved understanding (and it does allow them to help others understand). The problem is, understanding is not the first thing consciousness does. The infant you speak of who cannot understand how/why he learns, nonetheless is perfectly capable of learning experientially, and he can do so without a single other human being around to observe, compare himself to, or emulate. He has no word or concept for hunger, no other children to learn from, but he knows he wants something, and after experiencing eating, he then knows what he longs for.

In these discussions, it seems you only want to talk about how understanding and language develop, as though that's all there is to consciousness. But it has long been obvious to everyone else that understanding without experience cannot get far because experience is what feeds the understanding process information. Do you understand first, and then get information? Or is it the other way around?

Maybe understanding and language is your passion, but I believe your points about them would go a lot further if you accepted the premier role of experience in how consciousness achieves understanding and language.
 
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  • #41
confutatis
LW Sleeth said:
Maybe understanding and language is your passion, but I believe your points about them would go a lot further if you accepted the premier role of experience in how consciousness achieves understanding and language.
I agree with everything you said in your last post, so I can only take the fact that you think you disagree with me as evidence that you do not fully understand what I'm saying. Please don't take that as derogatory, I take all the blame for not exposing my ideas in a clear way.

Language is not my passion but understanding is. I love to understand things, and I often find that the very thing that keeps me from understanding something is language. Or rather, the thing Wittgenstein referred to as "the bewitchment of thought by language".
 
  • #42
confutatis
Fliption said:
Yes, all of this true. But the purpose for saying that about consciousness is because all natural phenonmenon can be explained to a blind man. A blind man can get a reductive explanation for how an automobile works and know as much about it as you do. But such an explanation can never be given for consciousness or experience.
That's a little beside the point. The point is that any explanation is nothing but a long succession of symbols on a piece of paper. By themselves, the symbols are meaningless. The difference between spoken words and meaningless babbling is not in the sounds themselves. So you have to explain the process which turns the physical representation of language, as visual or auditory symbols, into meaningful communication. And you can't explain that process without invoking the concept of consciousness.

This simply illustrates the problem of consciousness and the reasons why it is different from everything else that science has attempted to explain.
I disagree, but not for the reason you think. I think consciousness can be explained just like anything else, there's nothing particularly special about it. But that in no way implicates, as materalists think, that it means there is no God, spiritual reality, afterlife, or whatever. I definitely don't think one thing follows the other. If you are able to experience a spiritual reality, assuming it exists, you can talk about it to other people who also experience it. You can define new terms and think of their relationships with pre-existing terms. You can come up with theories that match your spiritual experiences. The ability to talk about spiritual things doesn't make them less spiritual. That's the thing materialists don't seem to understand.

Talking about how the nature of semantics lends itself for one to reasonably believe that zombies don't exists is one thing, but claiming that it actually impacts the experience itself is a line I can't cross.
That is because you think of language as something which exists independent of the mind of the speaker. To be conscious is to be able to talk in a meaningful way. That's the reason we think people are conscious. That's the reason we think people are not conscious when they sleep. That's the reason we're not sure animals are conscious. That's the reason we think machines are not conscious. That's the reason some people suspect computers may one day be conscious. It's written on the wall: consciousness is closer to language than it is to anything else.

Here's a quote for you:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

But I'm not convinced that a zombie couldn't adopt the word consciousness and attach it to its on conception of what that might be just like I might attach the word "red" to a color that you would call "green".
Well, to understand why that is not possible you have to think about the entirety of your knowledge and see if you can swap words and still remain consistent in your usage of them. You think you can swap 'red' with 'green' and remain consistent - I'm not entirely sure about that but I'll concede the possibility. But exactly which word can you swap with 'conscious' and still remain consistent?

No one knows what the word means, I agree. You aren't bothered that your theory means the word should never exists?
Why should I be bothered?

But it's obvious that the concept originated from people pondering the thing that sets them apart from other things. Again I have to ask, where else could the word come from?
God. I'm serious.
 
  • #43
Les Sleeth
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confutatis said:
. . .So you have to explain the process which turns the physical representation of language, as visual or auditory symbols, into meaningful communication. And you can't explain that process without invoking the concept of consciousness.

. . . I think consciousness can be explained just like anything else, there's nothing particularly special about it. . . . If you are able to experience a spiritual reality, assuming it exists, you can talk about it to other people who also experience it. You can define new terms and think of their relationships with pre-existing terms. You can come up with theories that match your spiritual experiences. The ability to talk about spiritual things doesn't make them less spiritual. That's the thing materialists don't seem to understand.

. . . To be conscious is to be able to talk in a meaningful way. That's the reason we think people are conscious. That's the reason we think people are not conscious when they sleep. That's the reason we're not sure animals are conscious. That's the reason we think machines are not conscious. That's the reason some people suspect computers may one day be conscious. It's written on the wall: consciousness is closer to language than it is to anything else.
Even though I'm using your answers to Fliption to respond to, it was after your last post to me I thought I might just have started to understand where you've been coming from.

If you recall, we all started debating in SelfAdjoint's thread referencing Rorty's article where he agreed with Dennett (and Wittgenstein) that language most defines consciousness. I disagreed strongly, and I believe others debating you do too, so you've been almost alone defending the language assertion (but so what, that doesn't mean you aren't correct).

To make your case, however, you've (as you did in your responses to Fliption) explained in a great many and articulate ways what the relationship of language is to consciousness. Most of what you say seems pretty on target in that respect (to me anyway). The point is, all you've talked about is the relationship of language to consciousness, to which you've heard us repeatedly say "we agree."

For me at least, what has been frustrating is to agree with the points you make about language and yet still not be able to address issues I see which your explanation does not account for (in terms of defining consciousness). That's because when these issues are brought up, you explain once again, though in a new way, what the relationship of language is to consciousness without really answering the objections being raised to your model.

So why did your last post to me, along with the quotes I singled out from your response to Fliption, make me think I understand a little more where you are coming from? It seems to me you are quite fascinated with the "understanding process." Hey, join the club -- the understanding addiction club -- of which I am a charter member (Fliption is the president).

Do you know how someone can become so taken with something that's all they look at? I had a cousin who was so taken with the statistics of pro baseball players and teams he never got around to playing or watching much baseball actually played. When you talked to him, baseball was statistics. His exclusive focus on statistics gave him an expertise that couldn't be denied, but it also made his focus so narrow he couldn't contemplate the overall game of baseball. For example, when we were around my grandfather, he was always impressed about how much my cousin "knew" about baseball. I played baseball but didn't know anything about stats. Who really knew more? The answer to that, I believe, is we both knew different aspects.

Similarly, I think your love of understanding (and the relationship of language to understanding) has made you over-focus on the understanding aspect of consciousness. We understanding addicts sympathize, but we've also stepped back to see there are other aspects of consciousness. With great reluctance we have to admit there are more basic things than understanding which make consciousness possible. One of those things is experience. Another, I believe, is "knowing." I see consciousness progressing like this: experience, understand, know.

I was thinking about his last night and I asked myself if I had to give up one of the three -- experience, understanding or knowing -- which would I choose? That's a tough one because as much as I love understanding, I don't believe I'd be conscious at all without experience, and I don't believe I'd learn without knowing. But I do believe I could experience and know without understanding, or at least intellectual understanding. I qualified understanding as "intellectual" because I am not convinced one can't understand non-intellectually. In chimpanzee families, for instance, subordinate males know not to mate with females unless, that is, the dominant male isn't around. The apes can't explain to me why they are sneaking around, or teach other apes to do it verbally, but they come to know how to do it nonetheless, and other subordinate males will learn to do it faster after observing fellow chimps.

What I am trying to say is that it almost seems like we've been having two different conversations. You are championing understanding, and how special it is. We, on the other hand, are trying to discuss what it is that allows us to be conscious of the world around us, and inside us. You seem to be pointing at what makes us uniquely human. We are talking about what allows us to even be aware we exist.

I am not saying you are wrong to agree with Rorty or Wittgenstein. But it isn't enough to only explain the wonderful potentials of language and understanding to make your case (especially since you are preaching to the converted). You have to explain to us why experience and knowing are not MORE basic, as we claim they are, because that was the original debate. You might for instance, counter my little problem above of which consciousness traits we could do without (experience, understanding, or knowing) and still be conscious. According to my theory, we cannot possibly be conscious without experience; we could not learn without knowing, but I think we could still be conscious; and I think we could be conscious without understanding and language, but we wouldn't be human.

confutatis said:
Here's a quote for you: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
Ahhhhhh, the proverbial can of worms. If you know anything about the orignial meaning of this "Word," Logos, then you know it doesn't represent language in Greek philosophy or necessarily in Christian theology.
 
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confutatis said:
That's a little beside the point. The point is that any explanation is nothing but a long succession of symbols on a piece of paper. By themselves, the symbols are meaningless. The difference between spoken words and meaningless babbling is not in the sounds themselves. So you have to explain the process which turns the physical representation of language, as visual or auditory symbols, into meaningful communication. And you can't explain that process without invoking the concept of consciousness.
I'm not sure what any of this means or how it relates to my comment. So help me out a little on this one.

I disagree, but not for the reason you think. I think consciousness can be explained just like anything else, there's nothing particularly special about it. But that in no way implicates, as materalists think, that it means there is no God, spiritual reality, afterlife, or whatever. I definitely don't think one thing follows the other. If you are able to experience a spiritual reality, assuming it exists, you can talk about it to other people who also experience it. You can define new terms and think of their relationships with pre-existing terms. You can come up with theories that match your spiritual experiences. The ability to talk about spiritual things doesn't make them less spiritual. That's the thing materialists don't seem to understand.
I'm not sure you understood what I meant. I agree that experience can be part of a communication system between people who have experiences. What I'm talking about is not just any sort of loose semantic explanation, however. I am talking about a scientific explanation. Science does indeed impose limitations on itself on what it gets involved in and how it is engaged. The point being expressed by most here is that consciousness cannot be explained within the current materialist paradigm upon which science is based.


That is because you think of language as something which exists independent of the mind of the speaker. To be conscious is to be able to talk in a meaningful way. That's the reason we think people are conscious. That's the reason we think people are not conscious when they sleep. That's the reason we're not sure animals are conscious. That's the reason we think machines are not conscious. That's the reason some people suspect computers may one day be conscious. It's written on the wall: consciousness is closer to language than it is to anything else.
I couldn't disagree more. Language is simply one behavioral characteristic of at least one conscious being(yourself). You can't possibly conclude that consciousness and language are essentially synonymous or co-dependent from this fact alone. I personally, seriously doubt that animals are not conscious. I just don't consider language to be a crutch that consciousness needs to stand on.

Well, to understand why that is not possible you have to think about the entirety of your knowledge and see if you can swap words and still remain consistent in your usage of them. You think you can swap 'red' with 'green' and remain consistent - I'm not entirely sure about that but I'll concede the possibility. But exactly which word can you swap with 'conscious' and still remain consistent?
I'm not sure I know what you mean by "swapping" words. But I'll say this again: I am almost convinced that some of the materialists participating in this forum must be zombies because they can't possibly be talking about the same thing that I am when they speak of consciousness.

Why should I be bothered?
Why should you be bothered? I don't understand why you would ask this. Your view makes a statement about the way things are which is inconsistent with my own (and others)experiences. And when we follow it though logically, your view has no way to even begin. This discredits it completely. Why wouldn't you be bothered?

God. I'm serious.
Ok, well if this is why you aren't bothered then I don't really have a comment. I'll just say that it seems to me that there are at least 3 or 4 different points you are trying to make through these threads. You've presented them as if they're one and I'm having trouble tying all of it together into any major point or conclusion. Now "god" has been inserted as a necessary plug and this is the first I've seen of this. I would just ask once again that you attempt to lay out all your premises and logically lead to your conclusion. If god is a premise then say that as well.
 
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LW Sleeth said:
For me at least, what has been frustrating is to agree with the points you make about language and yet still not be able to address issues I see which your explanation does not account for (in terms of defining consciousness). That's because when these issues are brought up, you explain once again, though in a new way, what the relationship of language is to consciousness without really answering the objections being raised to your model.
Yes, I think I can relate to this. I do feel like I agree with most of what's being said about language. I just can't make the connections from these statements to the apparent conclusions.

It seems to me you are quite fascinated with the "understanding process." Hey, join the club -- the understanding addiction club -- of which I am a charter member (Fliption is the president).
Yes this is true. When I applied for the role of president I was told I was over-qualified! To this statement I simply said "I don't understand why you say this. Help me understand." They gave in immediately.
 
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Sleeth - Just to say I thought that your last post gave a good summary.

Posted by Confutatis - If you are able to experience a spiritual reality, assuming it exists, you can talk about it to other people who also experience it. You can define new terms and think of their relationships with pre-existing terms. You can come up with theories that match your spiritual experiences. The ability to talk about spiritual things doesn't make them less spiritual. That's the thing materialists don't seem to understand.
This is sort of true and sort of not-true. You can talk about a spriritual experience but only ineffectively. Talking about sex is not the same as having it (thank God).

It is acknowledge by mystics that deep experiences can be talked about to some extent ('The Tao must be talked' etc) but the words are not the thing, and must be innacurate. At the limit the words have to be actually contradictory, as you'll see if read Taoist or Buddhist writing. The experience they discuss cannot be put into words truthfully, since the words inevitably mis-represent what they are referring to.

Because of this it's not quite right to say what you said about materialists. There is a certain level of experience at which the experience cannot be put into words at all without contradiction, and therefore it is idealists who usually argue that experience goes beyond language, not materialists, who in my experience usually argue the opposite, as I thought you were doing.
 
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Les Sleeth
Gold Member
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Fliption said:
Yes this is true. When I applied for the role of president I was told I was over-qualified! To this statement I simply said "I don't understand why you say this. Help me understand." They gave in immediately.
:confused: = I don't understand.
:smile: = I do understand.
:biggrin: = We all understand!
 
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Les Sleeth
Gold Member
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Canute said:
Talking about sex is not the same as having it (thank God).
For some people it is! :wink:
 
  • #49
confutatis
Canute said:
This is sort of true and sort of not-true. You can talk about a spriritual experience but only ineffectively. Talking about sex is not the same as having it (thank God).
Exactly what are the cases when talking about the thing happen to be the same as the thing being talked about?

It is acknowledge by mystics that deep experiences can be talked about to some extent ('The Tao must be talked' etc) but the words are not the thing, and must be innacurate.
Again, what are the things for which the word is the thing?

There is a certain level of experience at which the experience cannot be put into words at all without contradiction, and therefore it is idealists who usually argue that experience goes beyond language, not materialists, who in my experience usually argue the opposite, as I thought you were doing.
There is no experience which can be put into words! Spiritual experiences are no different. You are giving words a magical power they simply don't have, and then saying that magical power of words doesn't work for spiritual experiences. Well, it doesn't work for any experience!

Close your eyes and think about the word "warmth". Do you feel warm simply by thinking about the word? Are you surprised the word "warmth" doesn't make anyone warm? Of course not!

Now close your eyes and think about an experience that cannot be put into words, then let me choose an arbitrary word to refer to that experience. I'll call it "ohmygod". Are you saying that if my experience of 'ohmygod' is close to your experience of it, we still can't talk about it the way we talk about warmth? That somehow 'ohmygod' is special in a way warmth isn't? Sorry, I think that's nonsense.

There's only one kind of experience which cannot be communicated with words: the experiences only you have and nobody else does. Most people don't take those kinds of experiences seriously for the simple fact that, unless you're God, those experiences can't be real.
 
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confutatis
LW Sleeth said:
Canute said:
Talking about sex is not the same as having it
For some people it is!
Experiencing sex gives you the ability to talk about it. To anyone who also experiences it. Thank God, for the experience and for the ability to talk about it.

:tongue: :tongue: :tongue:
 

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