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

There is an emergent property

  1. Apr 15, 2004 #1
    Wow, this forum's changed alot since the last time I logged-on...

    Anyway, since I may not be able to get back on the Forums again, I wanted to make sure that I explained something which I only sort of glossed over in previous threads, and which probably would have been useful in those threads, had it been further developed.

    You see, while I spent so much time showing that the supposed emergent property of "subjective experience" doesn't exist (indeed, it's only definition is blatantly circular, and so any argument built from it will inevitably be a straw-man), I forgot to emphasize that there is an emergent property related to consciousness, which might (just maybe) explain why it does not appear to be perfectly reducible. The emergent property, btw, is nothing more than a master algorithm.

    An algorithm describes a relationship of many parts in terms of one master "plan" of sorts, that the many parts are following (though, usually, the parts are not so much obeying a "plan" as the "plan" is being deduced from the behavior of the parts). Anyway, there are billions (perhaps trillions) of individual processes occuring between the individual units of thought, in the neocortex, and so it would be impossible to comprehend each individual action. Instead, the entire process is looked at, and the emergent algorithm is quantified as it's own entity (going by such names as "subjective experience" and simply "consciousness").

    Because the algorithm describes the behavior of all or many of the parts, in a pattern that they form together, it is not a property of any of the individual parts, giving the sense of irreducibility.

    Anyway, I figured I should state plainly what I had already implied sporadically. You see, this emergent (and irreducible) property has indeed been recognized by the scientists that I so often quote (Edelman, Tononi, Calvin, Dennett, etc). Dennett was referring to it when he created the intentional stance. Calvin and Edelman (along with all the other "Selectionist" scientists) are reducing the algorithm to more fundamental patterns, by relating it to a Darwinian process.

    The recognition that algorithmic structures are often treated as emergent, separate, properties, is also helpful in other areas of philosophy, btw. For example: life. A thing is alive if it performs the functions of a living thing, but none of those function (alone) is "living" only the collection thereof, and the subsequent algorithm describing their behavior.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 15, 2004 #2
    Apparently you are not coming back, but I'd really like to see you explain how you can deny the existence of subjective experience, and still be able to account for the existence of illusions and hallucinations. That would be interesting.
  4. Apr 15, 2004 #3
    As much as I'd like to, it's becoming increasingly difficult. Perhaps I will be able to resolve it, though, as I've found a new approach to the problem. Anyway, inspite of my typical absence, know that I am trying to come back.

    Did you happen to look through some of the older threads that I started (in which hypnagogue, Fliption, and Canute argued for a more Chalmerean approach ("Chalmerean" is my word for the philosophy of Chalmers), while I was trying to expound on a more Dennetian approach (philosophy of Dan Dennett). Anyway, if you haven't looked through those, I suggest that you do, but I will try to explain the basics here:

    My problem with the typical approach is that, no matter how good a job a scientist or philosopher does at explaining all the mechanisms of consciousness, Chalmers and his followers can always reintroduce this concept of "subjective experience" and say that they are not accounting for it. Well, I showed (perhaps not satisfactorily, but exhaustively) that "subjective experience" has no real definition. Rather, it does have a definition, but its definition is plainly circular, and thus has no substance (meaning that any argument built on the assumption that it even exists will inevitably be a straw-man).

    Instead of invoking this emergent property of "subjective experience" - which has no meaning, to my mind - I like the scientific, reductionist, approach, which explains all that needs explaining within the confines of the Scientific Method.

    A scientific theory of consciousness should include:
    1) The most discreet unit of consciousness.
    2) The specific behaviors required for computation of external stimuli.
    3) The specific behaviors required for memorization and recall of said stimuli.
    4) The behaviors which allow for creativity and innovation.
    5) The behaviors which allow for the compactification of this discreet, separate, information (for the purpose of easy recall) such that the illusion of a coherent, singular, thought may be processed.

    The theories that I've proposed (not of my own originality, but that of respected scientists and philosophers of the mind, put together into a singular understanding (by myself) which, at least, makes it clear that consciousness is explainable, if not explained) do indeed satisfy these conditions. The only condition I know of that they do not satisfy is that of explaining "subjective experience", but I don't think they should have to since "subjective experience" (defined as it is) has no more meaning than the letters that compose it.
  5. Apr 15, 2004 #4
    But you don't solve that problem by denying that subjective experience exists. That would make people think you are a zombie.

    But that is simply Chalmers' argument in disguise. You may not recognize the similarity but it is there. What Chalmers says is that it's perfectly possible to account for conscious behaviour without invoking subjective experience. The only difference between Chalmers and Dennett is whether experience exists or not. Both agree that it can't be explained.

    When you say "subjective experience" has no meaning, you are saying it's impossible to make true statements about it. I definitely don't think that is the case. It is true that hallucinations exist. How can you define hallucinations without invoking the concept of subjective experience?

    I agree with that, but the truth is that doing so amounts to nothing but a redefinition of what consciousness is. Explaining subjective experience is a completely different story, except that you need to understand consciousness - in a scientific manner - before you can understand what experience is.

    I don't disagree that the definition of 'subjective experience' is meaningless if it is strongly associated with consciousness. But I don't agree that you can get rid of the problem of explaining subjective experience by denying it exists.
  6. Apr 15, 2004 #5
    Wow confutatsis. Sometimes you amaze me. Nice posts.


    I liked reading your first post. You say you left this out of your past discussions but honestly I remember you denying the existence of emergent properties completely. Even when I tried to say that it was simply useful to refer to these properties with a single word and there wasn't necessarily any real "thing" existing, you insisted that assigning a word to it implied it existed as a separate thing. This post of yours was all I was trying to acknowledge. So I was glad to read this post from you. I agree with this and it only makes sense that the view that consciousness, subjective experience, life etc is the result of millions of complex parts should be a focal point for science.

    As I'm sure you know, I don't agree with your comments from there. I understand your point of view but the only way it stands up is if we assume you're a zombie. As Confutatis has astutely pointed out. This is simply another example of a reductionist trying to use the very hard problem of consciousness to undermine itself. The only way this can work is if your conclusion is built into your premises. You assume because science can't define it, then it doesn't exists. When the whole issue is that we know it exists and we can't scientifically define it. To deny the existence of something, as if you are a zombie, when you likely are not a zombie, just doesn't seem to be in the spirit of scientific inquiry. Even though it may be against the scientific method.
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2004
  7. Apr 15, 2004 #6
    master algorithm

    Hey Mentat, where you have you been besides, the middle of nowhere? :smile:

    I like your master algorithm, it sound like SAS. You have never mentioned this before, or have I missed one of your posts. You seem to be evolving. Is it my perception or are you prerparing to change your worldview.
  8. Apr 21, 2004 #7
    That's exactly what everyone else has said here, and (no offense) it really makes me wonder if they're really listening to what I'm saying.

    You are saying that I don't "solve the problem" by denying that "..." exists, right? Yet, as I pointed out in my previous posts, "..." doesn't have any meaning (since it cannot be defined outside of the plainly circular and illogical), so what really is left to be "solved"? I'm not denying the existence of something that has a clear definition, and which obviously plays an important role in the phenomenon at hand; I'm denying the existence of something that has no coherent definition and which needn't play any role the discussion.

    To assume the existence of "subjective experience" a priori, and then try to define and understand it, is to create a top-bottom argument (which is inevitably useless...a strawman).

    Right. I like Dennett's approach better simply because he doesn't invoke the use of any terms that are not logically definable.

    Dennett devoted the first chapter (or, rather, the chapter before the first) of his book, Consciousness Explained, to explaining how hallucinations can exist. His basic explanation is the re-stimulation of the areas that are usually stimulated by external stimulus. William Calvin goes further, explaining exactly how such re-stimulations occur (it's two do with the actual structure of the pyramidal neurons of the neocortex).

    Note, however, that a hallucination is never as potent as the actual experience. You cannot imagine being kicked in the stomache and actually feel pain because of having imagined it. This is, to put it simply, a variance in the algorithm.

    And, of course, you need to define what "experience" is in the first place, before I can see any reason for explaining it.

    As I've told some of the other members before (they've had much the same objections that you have, though I do compliment you on your manner of presenting them), you cannot "re-define" consciousness if you never coherently defined it in the first place. And, if "subjective experience" (a logically undefined (perhaps undefinable) term) is invoked in the current definition, then consciousness was never really defined in the first place.

    I ask you this then: How can there be a problem explaining something which is meaningless? Is it not better to discard the term that we clearly had no good use for in the first place, and move on without it?

    That is why I deny that "it" exists; because that is the logical thing to do when a meaningless term serves no purpose in the discussion...you discard it.
  9. Apr 21, 2004 #8
    Actually, s/he reminded me of you alot. Same argument, with the same eloquence of presentation.

    I continue to learn, and re-evaluate my thoughts and opinions. As it is, I stress that the only emergent property of the computation of the brain is the resulting algorithm. I also hold (as does Dennett) that the irreducibility of this algorithm (resultant from the fact that none of the parts contain the pattern, only the whole) is what confuses some in their search for an explanation of consciousness.

    Yes, that's true. The only real problem I have is the term "subjective experience". It's meaningless (so far as I've seen), and it's constant invocation just blurs the topic.

    I mean, seriously, if we were trying to explain some other phenomenon (any other phenomenon) and I kept interjecting that you still didn't account for "xxxxx" (which was a term I couldn't define, relating to a phenomenon I couldn't even prove existed), it would not only be stifling, but frustrating.

    Confutatis mentioned this, as have hypnagogue and Canute in the past. Well, if "zombie" means that I don't have "xxxx", then by all means let me be a zombie. I have no problem with that. In showing that "subjective experience" has no meaning, I should assume we would all arrive at the same conclusion: everyone is a zombie, since no one can display a non-existant quality.

    Not at all. I assume that since you ("you" refers to you specifically, along with anyone else subscribing to the Chalmerean view) can't define it, it doesn't exist.

    That kind of reasoning, to me, is at the heart of many a failed philosophy. One is reminded of the constant debate of what constitutes "life", and what doesn't. In truth, we should never have come up with the term in the first place, if we hadn't yet seen a specific, definable, phenomenon that was distinctly different from other phenomena.

    IOW, why come up with a word, that is supposed to serve as a distinction between one being and another, when we can't define the word, we can't explain it, we can't categorize it, we can't even prove that it exists in the first place. I guess we just like the word.

    When looked at in this manner, is it not the logical choice to drop such empty distinctions ("empty", as in devoid of meaning and purpose), and thus spare ourselves the trouble of looking for an explanation for a phenomenon that we made up?
  10. Apr 21, 2004 #9
    Hey Rader, long time no see :wink:. I've been around, I've just been barred from going on the PFs most of the time. I hope this situation changes, but I can't guarantee anything.

    No, I'm not really changing my worldview at all. My current assumption is still Materialism, I've just put more emphasis on the resultant patterns than I had previously.
  11. Apr 21, 2004 #10
    BTW, I had mentioned it before...

    Just wanted to re-iterate that, despite my staunch opposition to the idea of an "emergent property" that had a seperate existence to the physical functions of the brain, I had mentioned the emergent algorithms before. Indeed, I think I used that exact term when making reference to Calvin's theory of hexagons (specifically with regard to the "basins of attraction"...it's been a while since I've discussed it at all, but I do recall mentioning this point).

    Man I miss the PFs! I've got all these new ideas that I'd like to tell somebody, but (as always) nobody's going to get what I'm saying. And I don't really have time to post them and actually follow up on them here, so I'm still pretty stuck. :frown:
  12. Apr 21, 2004 #11
    I expressed surprised because as much as I agree with those comments, he/she has posted some things that don't seem consistent with this view at all.

    I can accept all this. The use of such "algorithms" will be useful for discussion purposes if nothing else.

    I'll try to explain what I mean and the problem I have with what you are saying. You keep saying that it has no meaning. What does it mean when we say something has no meaning? It means that it cannot be described with words or in terms of other things. Is this not correct? So what is the definition of any fundamental thing? There doesn't seem to be a way to define fundamental things.

    The reason that people keep saying that you would have to be a zombie is because the only way any of us know about consciousness is through our own personal experience of it. I experience "being". I assume you do to. There is no other reason, other than personal experience, for anyone to suspect that consciousness exists. There is no evidence of it anywhere in the material world. It cannot be objectively studied in any way. The only way it is known is through personal experience. So if you deny consciousness and subjective experiences then you are denying that you have them, therefore you are a zombie. The inability to know consciousness any other way is exactly the same reason it cannot be scientifically defined. A scientific definition requires it to be reductively described in terms of more fundamental things. So to say there is no hard problem because it can't be defined, is using the hard problem to kill itself. It's a view that basically assumes all things must be reductively described in terms of other things to be known or even exists. If this were true than nothing could ever be fundamental; not to mentioned it assumes it's own conclusion.

    I can personally define it. I think I remember you having an issue with "what it's like to be" and I remember it not making a lot of sense to me and seeming a bit like a stretch. I think I responded to it at that time.

    But life is a holistic term. It is a category label and therefore requires specific boundaries. Consciousness is a term meant to describe a very specific feature that I experience everyday. I personally know what this thing is and know what the word refers to when I use it. The fact that I can't describe it to a zombie doesn't mean it doesn't exists. The fact that it cannot be defined and explained to a zombie and yet I personally know it exists is the hard problem.

    The simplified formula is like this:

    Personally know consciousness exists + Can't define it = Hard problem

    No personal knowledge of consciousness + Can't define it = Doesn't exists

    So this is why people keep saying you have the position of a zombie because the only thing that separates the two views is personal knowledge of the existence of something that needs explaining.
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2004
  13. Apr 21, 2004 #12
    Hi Mentat. Sorry, I didn't see your reply to me, I must have missed it during the weekend. I hope you get a chance to read this.

    Nobody listens to anyone on philosophy forums, I learned that a long time ago. The good thing about it is that you can use other people's criticisms to further develop your views. Apart from that, it's just name-calling and misunderstanding.

    What's left to be solved, in my humble opinion, is the question of how a meaningless concept such as "..." can be used for meaningful communication. People refer to their experiences all the time, and they seem to know what they are talking about.

    I suppose what you really think is that "..." lacks, and cannot have, a scientific definition. That would make more sense.

    With this I wholeheartedly agree.

    I wasn't really talking about explaining hallucinations, I was talking about defining it. My understanding is that a hallucination is a special kind of subjective experience. I don't think we can define hallucinations in terms of neurology, even though we can certainly explain it in those terms, as you say Dennett did.

    So how would you define (as opposed to explain) "hallucination" without invoking the concept of subjective experience? Or "..." as you call it?

    Just playing the devil's advocate here: what do you mean by "the actual experience"? I don't understand it; please define your terms :smile:

    I'm sure you can, but you would never think you imagined it, you would think it was real. Happens to people with mental disorders all the time.

    But this is a side issue anyway.

    I'm not so sure about that. Wouldn't an explanation be a definition in itself?

    No problem here. Subjective experience can't have anything to do with consciuosness, I've been saying the same things myself.

    Yes, I agree entirely, but a lot of people will beg to differ. They will say "consciousness is subjective experience", and when you explain consciuosness without explaining subjective experience they will say, "ah, but you have not really explained consciousness".

    I think the whole problem is the idea that consciousness needs explaining in the first place. That trips everyone up. Instead of "Consciousness Explained", why didn't Dennett call his book "The Brain Explained", or "Human Behaviour Explained"? That, I just don't get.

    You remind me of some book I read a few years ago. At some point the author went on a long rant on why the word 'mind' should be dropped from our vocabulary; since science has proved that the brain and the mind were the same thing, we should just use 'brain' instead. That got me thinking how some sentences would sound funny, such as "I need some peace of brain" or "unicorns only exists inside people's brains". Also, can you imagine people going to the theater to watch a movie called "A Beautiful Brain"?

    In the end, this issue of consciousness is just a big battle of words. The issue is not what we know about it, but simply what names we should give to the things we know. Much, much ado about nothing.
  14. Apr 21, 2004 #13
    I'm sure Mentat won't succomb to this attitude. I think this is just an example of how people extrapolate their own motives and attitudes onto everyone else. I personally have had very engaging and enlightning discussions with people here. Discussions that have caused me to go out and buy literature and change my way of thinking. I'm sure this has happened in the reverse direction too.

    Grrrr. :mad: Railroading in progress.
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2004
  15. Apr 22, 2004 #14
    Just for the sake of clarification, I'm not interested in the issue of consciousness per se. The issue I'm interested in is far more important, but at the same time it is strictly subjective, meaning it's extremely difficult to talk about.

    Even though I can't explain what the issue is, I can point at some things an understanding of the issue would allow me to know. It's all about people:

    - why do they claim to know things they cannot possibly know?
    - why are they often obsessed with ideas that can't possibly matter to anyone?
    - why are they mostly silent about ideas that really matter?
    - why do they behave as it death was not a certainty?

    Yet none of those things is the issue. The issue has to with the fact that people try very hard to hide what they really have in mind. It's not enough for me to go around asking people what their real thoughts are, because what I really want to understand is why they are always trying to hide their real thoughts.

    Consciousness just happens to be one particularly useful clue to understanding the issue. Essentially what is being discussed in those threads here has nothing to do with science or consciousness per se; what people really have in mind when they talk about consciousness is death. You know that, I know that, everyone knows that, yet no one ever mentions the word 'death'. Why?

    I hope one day to be able to answer that question.

    Just as a side comment, I'm sure you couldn't care less about what consciousness really is; what you really want is to be convinced that you will continue to be conscious after your body dies. That's all there is to it, nothing more, nothing less. That's why you like the idea of a "hard problem". As I said, I used to like that idea myself.

    What is still a bit of a mystery to me is why people like Dennett, or Mentat, do not seem to like the idea that their consciousness may survive physical death. It would seem those people are only too happy to cease to exist, which is of course inconsistent with everything else they say, so there's got to be more to it.
  16. Apr 22, 2004 #15
    Can I assume that you're views are summed up in the Marion thread with the link? Somehow I think it doesn't sum up to your view. If not, then I think you still need to work on presenting a coherent summation of it or providing a link that does. That is if you keep insisting on inserting it into the topics like this.
    I know how you can get an answer. Ask yourself. It is obvious that you are talking about yourself here and once again extrapolating that to everyone else. I can't blame you here. It takes alot of work not to be egocentric.

    Once again you are simply extrapolating your own attitudes onto everyone else. To minimize a view that you disagree with to nothing more than a personal desire as if it doesn't have any intellectual merit is somewhat insulting. I personally don't believe I will exists after I die. Regardless of what we conclude about consciousness. I just can't imagine how my personal identity can be anything but my brain. But I have no doubt that is why you liked it. But I will debate the side that makes the most sense to me. Nothing more.

    This ought to clue you in that I am right. You are extrapolating your own experiences onto everyone else and so it only makes sense that there is a contradiction like Dennett and Mentat. I used to do this too but I have since learned that there are many people who really are just totally different from me. They don't think like me. They don't act like me. Everything is different. Mentat and Dennett take their views because they see intellectual merit in it or they have some other personal agenda(which may or may not have anything to do with death.) The same goes for me and everyone else here.
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2004
  17. Apr 22, 2004 #16
    I couldn't possibly have put it better than she does. That's why I posted the link. If you understand her point of view on consciousness, then you understand mine.

    Most people don't believe they will exist after they die, including most who claim they do. That's the whole problem.

    Reality is not constrained by the limited powers of your imagination.

    It's good for you that you know why Mentat and Dennett take their views. I personally don't have much of an idea. And I don't know where is the intellectual merit in denying that the self exists.
  18. Apr 22, 2004 #17
    Ok that's good to know. I just thought it left a lot of stuff out, as it never seems to stress the role of language that much. At least not into the absurdities I've seen you post. Although the guy who was remarking in red did seem to go into this direction and this person seemed to think that he disagreed with Marion. This was why I wasn't sure.

    So now we're liars? Heh.

    None of this is relevant. My main point was that my belief in my existence after death is not contingent on the results of a discussion of consciousness. It seemed you were tying the two together and I've given the reasons why they have nothing to do with one another. For me at least.

    There is no other option. Either they have their views for intellectual reasons or for personal agenda reasons. I don't know which one it is. I suspect it is the later although Mentat will disagree with me of course.
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2004
  19. Apr 22, 2004 #18
    Yeah, a lot of stuff out... how about these bits:

    "I have claimed that what I have to say provides a different perspective on the question of consciousness - one from which we may be able to cut through the confusion that usually surrounds the debate"

    When I say philosophers are confused about consciousness, I get treated as a lunatic. Despite the fact that many philosophers, such as this one, think exactly the same.

    "The problem with consciousness is not that it is mysterious and heat, say, isn't. Heat is mysterious in exactly the same way that consciousness is. Science is mysterious"

    Is it just me, or is she really saying "everything is a hard problem"?

    "Are Zombies logically possible? - No. There is no physical universe without consciousness, and no consciousness without the physical universe. The mistake lies in confusing knowledge with reality"

    When I said the same thing, you thought it was absurd.

    "Is consciousness surprising? - Yes, but it is so not because of some mysterious property. It is surprising because in order to construct meaningful explanations, we have excluded it from science at the very beginning of the scientific enterprise"

    How do you create 'meaningful explanations' without using language?

    "Is science a means to gather knowledge about reality? - No. Science is systematic knowledge about experience. The step from what we know to what exists in an absolute sense is always a fallacy"

    Isn't fallacy just another word for 'lie'? Do you think Marion Gothier is schizophrenic too?


    You have those to go by now. You may want to discuss those ideas in light of Gothier's paper, or not. It's up to you.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 22, 2004
  20. Apr 22, 2004 #19
    I didn't say it wasn't similar in parts. I said it seemed to leave stuff out.

    I'm referring mostly to the comments you made about how there is no subjective experience without language. I don't see this view anywhere in this article. I could have missed it. This is one reason I want to read it several times.

    As far as I'm concerned your views wouldn't classify you as a lunatic. But the inconsistent presentation of those views is suspect. Note the difference. This is why I'm glad you're presenting a link of someone else explaining it.

    Still do. But I'm still looking at the article because I want to understand the reasoning. That makes all the difference.

    The schizophrenic reference was directed at the inconsistencies in presentation; not the view itself. Just so we're clear. I am open to the view if I can ever understand it.

    And no, the two words are different. A fallacy is a statement or an argument based on a false or invalid inference. A lie is a statement made with the intent to mislead. So to call someone a liar is making a statement about their motives as well as the truth value of their statements.
    I will discuss them there. This is why I haven't disagreed/agreed with any of the statements from that article yet. This post is just to suggest that you're past comments are not necessarily synonmous with that article. But it doesn't matter. If you say it is then I will concentrate on that and forget the rest of the stuff.
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2004
  21. Apr 22, 2004 #20
    Forget about the language stuff. You think it was absurd because you didn't understand it. If you did, you would think it was rather trivial. So just assume it's a triviality and forget about it.

    I notice you do put a lot of emphasis on personal judgements.

    Whatever. How am I supposed to know what you think a 'lie' means? It's pointless to keep arguing the exact meaning of each word; the point being discussed is a lot more important. My point is that science is not a true description of reality; call it a lie, a fallacy, an illusion, an ontological error - it makes no difference to the argument!
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?

Similar Discussions: There is an emergent property
  1. Emergency (Replies: 5)

  2. Emergent Properties (Replies: 20)

  3. An Emergent God (Replies: 32)