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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

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Hi Bill,
Great post. I wonder if you could say more about 3: what it would mean for some thing x to have an explanation in terms of a distinct thing y. Do you mean an explanation of the nature of x, or an explanation how x came to exist? Or both? If consciousness exists contingently it does seem that there has to be some explanation of how it came to exist, or why it has always existed; but it's not clear to me that (if it exists contingently) its nature or essence has to be explained in terms of something else. (Although I guess it's also not clear to me that its existence could have that kind of explanation if it's nature or essence didn't also.)

Bill, I hope you'll forgive me for weighing in on this again; I know I've tried your patience on this topic before.

Regarding 4): might it not be, pace Maxwell and others, that there is indeed a physical explanation, based on some unknown property of matter suitably organized, for the arising of consciousness? Lord Kelvin's skepticism regarding the age of the Earth, for example, was due to his era's scientific ignorance of radioactive decay and its important contribution to the Earth's heat budget. Might it not be possible, at least in principle, that matter gives rise to consciousness in virtue of some physical property or process as yet undiscovered? Is it really inconceivable that we may someday be able to look at a physical system and know with certainty that a given stimulus will produce in it a particular subjective experience? (I make no assurance that this will be the case, and offer no promissory note -- but is it not at least possible?)

Regarding a congenitally blind person not "knowing" redness: why is such ignorance, perhaps due to a perfectly physical cause such as missing optic nerves, evidence that conscious subjectivity itself cannot possibly have a basis in physics and biology? Fix the machine, and you'll get the qualia; the technology already exists in rudimentary form. I'll readily grant that it may be impossible to imagine what it's like to experience the qualia of senses we don't have, but the leap from that to Maxwell and Nagel's audacious assertion -- "It follows that no set of physical statements, however comprehensive, can predict that a poppy is red" -- still seems, to me, simply to offer ignorance as proof of unknowability. We may very well be able make exactly that prediction someday, just as we might be able to predict that a newly invented compound will taste bitter, etc.

Jacques,

I am dealing in the post with the existence of non-intentional states of consciousness, e.g., felt pains and felt pleasures. I am not concerned with the qualitative character of pains, pleasures and other so-called qualia but with their existence. Of course, a quale cannot exist without having a definite qualitative character. My question is why there are such subjective states. Is it just a brute fact, or does it admit of explanation?

For example, if you said that a felt pain is identical to a brain state, then then that would be an attempt at explanation.

Malcolm writes,

>>Might it not be possible, at least in principle, that matter gives rise to consciousness in virtue of some physical property or process as yet undiscovered<<

Yes it is possible, and some would say it is actually what happens. But the problem is to understand how this is possible. The problem is to render it intelligible.

One view is mysterian: there is a wholly naturalistic explanation of how consciousness arises in terms of (occult) properties of matter, but we will never understand the HOW of it. (See the second graphic above; click to enlarge)

On the other hand, if it is impossible for us to understand how something is possible, then that can be taken to be a pretty good reason to deny that it is possible.

If you pin your hopes on future science to explain how consciousness arises from matter when you have no idea what this explanation could look like, then this appears to be something more like faith and hope rather than sober science.

Perhaps my thoughts and my sensations are just states of my brain. But it is unintelligible to me how this could be so. Now you can argue in two ways. From unintelligibility to impossibility to my thoughts and sensations not being identical to brain states, or you can go mysterian: they must be; it is just that it will a remain a mystery to us how.

>>Fix the machine, and you'll get the qualia<<

That suggests that you don't understand the Knowledge Argument. Constructing a machine that generates qualia give us no insight into how qualia, which are essentially subjective, arise from objective processes.

The claim is not that it is impossible to build a machine that is conscious; the claim is that, if you pulled that off, you would not thereby generate any insight into qualia arise from physical states.

Dr Vallicella,

This is the first time I'm commenting on your blog which I've been reading for years almost every day.

There is a quite popular argument concerning consciousness/brain state identity: if they are identical, then there is nothing to explain about their identity, they are just identical. What needs explanation is only why we have such a strong intuition concerning their non-identity. That seems to indicate a possible solution between brain/consciousness non-identity and mysterianism.
I'm not a materialist, but I don't know what is the best response to dismissing explanations concerning identities.
The best I can think of in this case is arguing that if two so differently meant things such as conscious episodes and brain states are identical, then any two things might be identical (like the number five and my favorite tree in the garden). But this is totally absurd: it leads to the loss of any conception of intelligibility, and makes any rational enterprise impossible.

But if this is answer is not good enough, maybe a materialist can reasonably deny [2]:
Consciousness is necessarily identical with brain states, since a conscious episode is a brain state: their non-identity is unintelligible. In any possible world where sufficiently evolved beings exist, consciousness automatically exists too.
Is this nonsense?

Balazs

Bill,

...if it is impossible for us to understand how something is possible, then that can be taken to be a pretty good reason to deny that it is possible.

Is it? I'm not so sure. Five centuries ago, for example, it would have been impossible to understand how I might chat with someone on the other side of the world. Would we have been justified in insisting it was impossible? Until the 19th century it was considered altogether impossible that we might ever be able to determine the composition of the stars -- and then along came Fraunhofer.

If you pin your hopes on future science to explain how consciousness arises from matter when you have no idea what this explanation could look like, then this appears to be something more like faith and hope rather than sober science.

That's a fair point. But what scientist would ever try to crack one of Nature's mysteries if he didn't have faith in the power of patient inquiry, and hope that Nature's book is legible?

The claim is not that it is impossible to build a machine that is conscious; the claim is that, if you pulled that off, you would not thereby generate any insight into qualia arise from physical states.

No? As an engineer myself, I can assure you that it was no engineer or applied scientist who ever said that. It is by tinkering, and seeing what works and what doesn't, that we get hints from Nature as to what's going on under the hood, ideas about where to focus our inquiry, and starting points for theory. If we discover that by passing an electric current through a coil of wire we get a magnet, that's enormously helpful. Likewise, I think that our ability to delete or reactivate consciousness, or induce particular subjective states, by tinkering with specific parts of the brain is a good example of this sort of beginning -- as well as being strongly suggestive that there is in fact a physical substrate to subjective awareness.

I'm not being deliberately obtuse here; I recognize that the subjectivity of consciousness makes it radically unlike anything science has ever studied. I agree also, without hesitation, that the problem of consciousness is difficult and mysterious and may, for all we know, baffle us forever. But that isn't what Nagel et al. are saying: they are insisting that a naturalistic account of consciousness is literally and demonstrably impossible, forever -- and I think that's more than they can know. (It also puts an onus on them, I think, to explain why consciousness is so reliably and predictably sensitive to physical interference.)

To quote Arthur C. Clarke:

"If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible, he is almost certainly right; but if he says that it is impossible, he is very probably wrong."

At the intersection of philosophy and science, might this not apply to elderly but distinguished philosophers as well?

"Of course, a quale cannot exist without having a definite qualitative character."

I would go further, and I think you'd agree: a 'quale' cannot exist except as some definite qualitative character, or state of mind constituted simply by that qualitative character. The felt pain of a particular headache, for example, just is some set of experiential properties--the way it feels to the subject, or what it's like for the subject to have the headache. At least, I don't understand the idea that the headache (qua felt pain or sensation) could 'really' be something other or more or less than that specific set of qualities or appearances (or whatever we call the way it feels, what it's like). But if we grant this--again, I think you do grant it?--the idea that the felt pain is really some state of the brain must be false. (Since clearly there is no necessity that the way it feels exists given merely that the state of the brain exists, since a brain state isn't a feeling or appearance...)

"My question is why there are such subjective states."

If what I said above is right, isn't this question equivalent to the question of why experiential qualities or appearances ('ways things feel', 'what it's like')? So I'm not sure why you say

"I am not concerned with the qualitative character of pains, pleasures and other so-called qualia but with their existence."

Not sure because I think their existence = the existence of qualitative characters, so asking why they exist just is to ask why these qualitative characters exist. What seems mysterious to me anyway is precisely that qualitative character (or whatever we call it) doesn't seem like the kind of thing that could be caused to exist by anything... So what these states are like seems relevant.

If you're saying we can just investigate the question of why these things exist setting aside any questions about their nature, that's confusing to me. Could you explain more what you have in mind?

Jacques,

I don't understand the idea that the headache (qua felt pain or sensation) could 'really' be something other or more or less than that specific set of qualities or appearances (or whatever we call the way it feels, what it's like). But if we grant this--again, I think you do grant it?--the idea that the felt pain is really some state of the brain must be false. (Since clearly there is no necessity that the way it feels exists given merely that the state of the brain exists, since a brain state isn't a feeling or appearance...)

How about this: let's say that certain arrangements, states, and configurations of matter give rise, somehow (and of course I realize that's a big "somehow") to consciousness. This is to say that such systems have a property that other arrangements of matter do not: namely, that these special systems have both an objective and subjective aspect. In this way, qualia are simply the subjective aspect of a particular brain state: they are what this staggeringly complex system, in this physical state, seems like to itself. In this way the quale and the brain state aren't actually different things; they are instead the same thing seen, as it were, from different angles.

If so, then your assertion that "clearly there is no necessity that the way it feels exists given merely that the state of the brain exists, since a brain state isn't a feeling or appearance..." may be unjustified; it may indeed be the case that a brain in a particular physical state does entail the existence of reliably correlated qualia. (After all, in our state of ignorance, how can you know that it doesn't?) Perhaps trying to imagine a brain in such a state without the corresponding qualia, which you seem to assume is possible, will actually turn out to be like imagining a floating iron bar. (This same objection can be raised against Chalmers's zombies: that until we know where consciousness comes from, we don't actually know that they are really possible at all.)

Balázs Gimes,

Thank you for reading!

>>The best I can think of in this case is arguing that if two so differently meant things such as conscious episodes and brain states are identical, then any two things might be identical (like the number five and my favorite tree in the garden). But this is totally absurd: it leads to the loss of any conception of intelligibility, and makes any rational enterprise impossible.<<

You're on the right track. If x = y, then they share all properties; mental states and brain states do not share all properties; ergo, they are not identical. For example, my occurrent believing that such-and-such is either true or false; but no brain state is either true or false; so my episode of believing cannot be numerically identical to any state of the brain.

Of course if it is true that m = b, then they must share all properties. But then you are saying something unintelligible.

Of course one could say it is a mystery. It is like the Trinity or the Incarnation. It makes no logical sense to us, but it is true all the same. It's a mystery.

>>Consciousness is necessarily identical with brain states, since a conscious episode is a brain state: their non-identity is unintelligible. In any possible world where sufficiently evolved beings exist, consciousness automatically exists too.
Is this nonsense?<<

The Necessity of Identity (Kripke) is extremely plausible: if x = y, then this cannot just happen to be the case. Hesperus is Phosphorus; so in every poss world in which 'they' exist, 'they' are numerically one and the same celestial object, the planet Venus!

But surely it is conceivable that highly evolved animals with internal computational processes do their processing 'in the dark' with no consciousness.

To me it is blindingly evident that it is utter nonsense to identify a mental state with a brain state. This forces you either to go mysterian or to deny the identity.

"Let's say that...these special systems have both an objective and subjective aspect. In this way, qualia are simply the subjective aspect of a particular brain state: they are what this staggeringly complex system, in this physical state, seems like to itself."

Okay, but then the quale or conscious state would just be the purely subjective aspect, no? It would be that aspect of my brain's functioning or states that constitutes the felt headache, the experiential headache. So now we could ask _why_ this particular kind of subjective experience (or any) goes along with the "objective aspect". I want to clarify something though. The question is not just how or whether the objective "gives rise" to the subjective (as you put it at first). A purely physical state might cause a qualitative conscious state even though they are different things. (In fact I think they'd have to be different if one causes the other.) Here the question is how the subjective aspect could just _be_ something purely physical or objective, as some philosophers think. More generally, how could the subjective thing be anything other than what it appears to be--the way it seems to the subject, the way it feels or appears, what it's like for him, etc. This is what I just don't understand. I think our _concept_ of conscious experience (in the relevant sense) is the concept of the way things appear or what it's like. And in that case, it makes no sense to distinguish between appearance and reality here--e.g., it seems to you that your felt pain is not a brain state, or an aspect of a brain state, but in reality it's a brain state, or an aspect of a brain state, or whatever.

This is why I think I can know that my brain being in some state B doesn't _entail_ the existence of some particular quale Q. There's nothing for me to be ignorant about, since I am thinking only of something that (necessarily, conceptually) is exhausted by its apparent properties, and this thing does not appear to me to be any kind of brain state.

"Perhaps trying to imagine a brain in such a state without the corresponding qualia, which you seem to assume is possible, will actually turn out to be like imagining a floating iron bar."

This comparison is strange to me. A floating iron bar seems possible in a way that it doesn't seem possible for my qualia to be brain states. If the laws of nature were different iron bars would float, I guess. But there's no logically possible world where a certain felt pain is something other than that felt pain, e.g., some purely physical arrangement of my brain. I realize it may sound like I'm begging the question here, but I just feel I can't _understand_ the idea that a felt pain is 'really' something more or less than the feeling I'm having. To me it's like saying that the number 3 is 'really' a tomato. Or worse--like saying that a feeling just isn't a feeling, or that it's a feeling but also something that isn't a feeling... Sorry if I'm missing your point. But are you saying then that you think it _could_ be that the felt pain (or 'subjective aspect' of the pain) is identical with something other than the way it feels to the subject?

Jacques,

We pretty much agree.

>>The felt pain of a particular headache, for example, just is some set of experiential properties--the way it feels to the subject, or what it's like for the subject to have the headache.<<

Yes, that is basically right apart from quibbles about sets and properties. A felt pain is not a set if sets are abstract objects. A felt pain is an individual phenomenal datum that is exhausted in its appearing. Here, esse = percipi.

>>At least, I don't understand the idea that the headache (qua felt pain or sensation) could 'really' be something other or more or less than that specific set of qualities or appearances (or whatever we call the way it feels, what it's like).<<

Yes. Its reality is its appearing, its esse = percipi. The being of the phenomenal datum is exhausted in its appearing.

>> But if we grant this . . . the idea that the felt pain is really some state of the brain must be false. (Since clearly there is no necessity that the way it feels exists given merely that the state of the brain exists, since a brain state isn't a feeling or appearance...)<<

I agree. A felt pain cannot be identical to a brain state since they differ property-wise. I am assuming the Indiscernibility of Identicals, a principle than which no more luminous can be conceived.

Further, if they were identical that would have to be necessarily the case, and that is hard to swallow since it is conceivable that the brain state exist without the corresponding pain quale.

>>I think their existence = the existence of qualitative characters, so asking why they exist just is to ask why these qualitative characters exist.<<

That sounds right to me. In other words, there is no hidden reality to qualia. It's all on the table open to view. There is no need for an ontology that digs deeper than their phenomenology.

>>What seems mysterious to me anyway is precisely that qualitative character (or whatever we call it) doesn't seem like the kind of thing that could be caused to exist by anything...<<

What you are doing is giving a solution to my tetrad. You are rejecting (3). You are maintaining in effect that the existence of qualia is a brute fact. Why are there irreducible qualia? There just are!

Right?

Scientistic/naturalistic types balk at this because it implies that there is something real that cannot be accounted for by natural science.

Bill,

But surely it is conceivable that highly evolved animals with internal computational processes do their processing 'in the dark' with no consciousness.

Agreed. But we do a lot of that also, I think.

For example, my occurrent believing that such-and-such is either true or false; but no brain state is either true or false; so my episode of believing cannot be numerically identical to any state of the brain.

Aren't you begging the question here? What if our whole experience of "believing such-and-such" is in fact simply the subjective "aspect" of a brain state?

Also: can we not have unconscious beliefs, beliefs that never rise to the level of conscious awareness and articulation, but which we act upon as surely as if we held them firmly in our minds?

You will reply, probably, by saying again that it is just obvious that there is no way any state of mere matter can have intentional content. And I will reply that it isn't obvious at all -- certainly not proven, at the very least -- and that I think that we may very well have in our skulls a rare and remarkable counterexample. (I will also ask if you think that insects, who demonstrate intentionality with things like the bee's food-dance -- which is clearly "about" the location of food -- are conscious enough to meet your criteria.)

I should be clear here that I am not insisting on the physicalist account of consciousness; I'm just arguing that the case against it is far from closed.

A correction; when I wrote that "I am not insisting on the physicalist account of consciousness", I should more accurately have said "on the possibility" of such an account.

I freely admit that, so far at least, there isn't any persuasive physicalist account of consciousness.

I am happy you boys have brought in the FBI: the floating bar of iron.

Jacques sez: >>This comparison is strange to me. A floating iron bar seems possible in a way that it doesn't seem possible for my qualia to be brain states. If the laws of nature were different iron bars would float, I guess. But there's no logically possible world where a certain felt pain is something other than that felt pain, e.g., some purely physical arrangement of my brain.<<

Right. The laws of nature are nomologically necessary but metaphysical contingent. Or at least it is conceivable that there be an FBI even it is not really possible. But it is inconceivable that a felt pain be a brain state. It makes no sense. It is unintelligible. It would be like saying that some numbers are anorexic or that some day a prime number will be discovered that is identical to a prime minister or a piece of prime rib.

One option here is to go eliminativist. Dennett the Sophist in some passages seems to bite this bullet. But eliminativism is but a confession of failure.

Bill,
I guess I might be rejecting 3 (i.e., if x is contingent there's an explanation for x in terms of distinct y) or else 2 (i.e., consciousness exists contingently). But I don't feel confident rejecting either. Both really do seem plausible, and I don't know how to square that with my intuitions about consciousness. Maybe I have in mind a further aporia, something like this:

(i) Any conscious state C is nothing more or less than the way things seem or feel to someone on a given occasion.
(ii) If x is nothing more or less than the way things seem or feel to someone, the subject already fully understands the nature of x just in virtue of how things seem or feel to him.
(iii) We don't understand the nature of conscious states.

And I think this does have to do with the question of how consciousness is generated by physical or objective reality (if it is). Suppose the felt headache is caused by a certain kind of brain state B. How could I really understand the _nature_ or _essence_ of the felt headache without at least knowing in general how that kind of thing is causally related to its physical cause, or at least being able to imagine how it could be caused by its cause? And if the felt headache = the way it feels or seems to me in the moment, I surely do fully understand it. But I don't understand how it could be caused by a brain state, let alone how it is caused. So I could say it's not caused by a brain state, that it's epiphenomenal; but that's _also_ something that I don't know, something that I can't know just by having the relevant experience.

Whether I say it's just a brute fact that conscious states exist, or that they exist as a result of something I can't even imagine, in any case I'm going beyond what I know just by having experiences. And if any such further knowledge is possible, it seems that either (i) or (ii) is false. And if I say that I _do_ understand the nature of conscious states, contrary to (iii), that seems false too. Because (it seems to me) I just don't understand! I don't know how they fit into the rest of the world, how their nature is related to the nature of other things I seem to understand, how they're caused or if they're caused--things I should presumably understand if I fully understand their nature. So there's the mystery of consciousness and also the mystery of how there could be any mystery of consciousness.

Bill,

Just to get this out of the way: yes, eliminativism is a "confession of failure". Whatever else might be said about our subjective experiences, I think there can be no question that they exist. On that I am sure we agree.

Jacques: I think you (and Bill) have misread me here. It wasn't the quale that I suggested was like the FBI: it was the brain state. In other words, it may be, given the laws of nature, that it is impossible for my physical brain to be in a particular state -- a state in which, among other things, consciousness is up and running -- without certain correlated qualia also existing as well. (In the same way, Chalmers insists that zombies are possible -- physically identical to us in every way, but without consciousness. I say that may well be impossible in actuality just as much as the FBI is.)

You both seem very confident that, as Bill said, "...there is no hidden reality to qualia. It's all on the table open to view. There is no need for an ontology that digs deeper than their phenomenology."

I dispute this (or, more precisely, I dispute that we can be certain of it as you seem to be). I think there is an easily conceivable sense in which qualia are a special kind of dynamic property of the physical system of the brain -- a property that can only be perceived subjectively, by the consciousness that the system itself gives rise to.

This may turn out to be false, but I can't see how it is impossible or incoherent.

Jacques,

Your last comment suggests that we are in close agreement since what I want to say is that the problems of consciousness and mind are genuine but insoluble by us. Actually, that is what I want to say about all philosophical problems . . . .

Jacques,

I've just re-read the last paragraph of your comment from 12:12:

If the laws of nature were different iron bars would float, I guess. But there's no logically possible world where a certain felt pain is something other than that felt pain, e.g., some purely physical arrangement of my brain. I realize it may sound like I'm begging the question here, but I just feel I can't _understand_ the idea that a felt pain is 'really' something more or less than the feeling I'm having.

Yes, this does seem to be begging the question -- the question being whether or not physical systems and states can have properties that are only subjectively perceptible. From the outside, your headache looks like dilated arteries, active C-fibers, etc., but from the inside -- from the subjective perspective of the conscious mind running on the very same brain -- it "looks like" pain.

Sorry if I'm missing your point. But are you saying then that you think it _could_ be that the felt pain (or 'subjective aspect' of the pain) is identical with something other than the way it feels to the subject?

We are tripping, I think, over the word "identical". I hand you an ice-cube. Is its property of coldness identical with the icecube?

What I am saying is that a brain in a physical state that causes a headache has a property that is subjectively (and perhaps necessarily) perceived as pain. I am proposing that there are some physical systems (perhaps only brains, for all I know) that can have special properties of this sort: properties that are available, as subjective experiences, to the consciousness running on the system itself.

Does this mean that the pain is "identical" to the brain-state? I think it's easy to be hampered by language here. The way I would put it is that when the conscious brain perceives itself from the inside, the form this perception takes includes qualia, such as pain.

This hybrid of objectivity and subjectivity is radically unlike anything else in the world. It isn't surprising that it is so difficult to find the right language to describe it.

Does this help?

Malcolm,

Correlation is not identity. (The burglar and his footprints are correlated but not identical.) Two different claims:

A. There are qualia but they are identical to brain states.

B. There are qualia but they are correlated (either by nomological or by metaphysical necessity) with brain states.

I thought we were discussing (A). My claim is that (A) is unintelligible.

When I said that there is no hidden nature to qualia I was speaking of qualia themselves, qualia as such, the felt pain, for example, just insofar as it is felt and just as it is felt. I was denyIng that the quale really is a brain state (in the way lighTNING REALLY IS AN ATMOSPHERIC ELECTRICAL DISCHARGE). That is consistent with saying that the quale has a correlated brain state without which the quale would not appear.

But if I say the latter I haven't explained the quale in terms of the brain state. I haven't explained how this particular quale arises from or emerges from a particular brain state. The word 'emergence' just names the problem, doesn't solve it; it papers over the mystery. Scroll up and click on the second graphic.

Malcolm,
I think we're talking past each other. Suppose that, as you're suggesting, brains sometimes have some property P that has both a subjective and an objective aspect. Subjectively, P appears to me as a felt headache. Objectively, P is something else. Now that seems perfectly coherent to me. However, if this is how we describe the problem, it's not P itself that is the 'quale'. Rather, the relevant quale is just the felt headache--which I guess would be some special subjectively accessible property P*, which is a property of property P. And I'm saying (with Bill) that the nature or essence or being of P* is just some way that things feel or seem to me, i.e., the way it feels when I have a headache.

So it could well be that, in some presently unknown or even unimaginable fashion, brains sometimes produce P*. I have no problem with that idea. But what I find unintelligible or incoherent is the idea that P* itself--as opposed to P, or the brain state that produces P or produces P*--could be something other than the way it feels for me in that moment to have a headache. Is P* a physical property? In that case, its nature must be something other than the way it feels, since can I know whatever there is to know about how it feels but I may know no physical facts about my brain. But its nature just _is_ the way it feels. Anyway this is the problem I think. I'm not claiming it's impossible that conscious states are caused somehow by brains, but that it's impossible for those states themselves (or the purely subjective properties that they have) to be identical with brain states. And I don't think the problem is the language of identity. Identity seems clear enough. For example, if x = y then x and y have all and only the same properties. If P* is a physical property, then some physical property is such that I know everything there is to know about it just by having a headache. But there's no physical property like that, surely?

Bill,

What's so difficult here is the recursion involved; while "identical" is perhaps the wrong word, I also think it may be wrong to say that consciousness and brain-state are wholly distinct.

If the complete state of a conscious brain can be thought to include consciousness itself -- not as something causally "downstream" from the brain-state, but as an intrinsic attribute or property of it -- then qualia could be thought of as the brain perceiving itself, or perhaps "modeling" or "representing" itself, in that consciousness. In this way the two are united and inseparable -- but I'm not sure it would be right to use the word "identical".

Please forgive me if I seem stupid or obstinate here, as I fear I might be. I find it very difficult to find the right language for this, and I am certainly not trying to sweep the mystery of consciousness under the rug. The "magic" step in the drawing above obviously wants an explanation, and I'll be the first to admit the we haven't got one yet. I'm merely unconvinced that such an explanation is impossible in principle, and only trying to imagine what possible form it might take.

Malcolm,

It is perfectly reasonable to keep searching for a possible explanation and not give up prematurely.

Perhaps some sort of double aspect theory would be a way between identity and distinctness.

And interesting fact to keep in mind is that much that goes on in the brain does not mentally manifest itself. So what distinguishes brain events that mentally manifest and those that don't?

By the way, I would never ever call you stupid. To the contrary. But maybe a little obstinate on occasion [grin].

Jacques,

A problem with moderated comments is that they come out in batches, and so it's hard to keep in sequence.

Suppose that, as you're suggesting, brains sometimes have some property P that has both a subjective and an objective aspect. Subjectively, P appears to me as a felt headache. Objectively, P is something else. Now that seems perfectly coherent to me.

Good, we are together so far.

However, if this is how we describe the problem, it's not P itself that is the 'quale'.

This, I'm not so sure of. Part of the problem, I think, is the distinction you are making between the "me" in "P appears to me" and the conscious brain itself. I would say, rather, that what you call P* is just P as witnessed from within by the very same conscious brain that P is a property of. If P is a physical property, then there are things you can know about it both objectively and subjectively; in this case, what you can know about it subjectively is that it hurts. So you don't know everything about P just by having a headache; you only know its subjective aspect, and when you say that "its nature just _is_ the way it feels", you are mistaken: the way it feels does not in fact exhaust its ontology. (It says everything you can say about the way P feels, but there's more to P than this subjective aspect.) To know the rest, you need to get some tests, or read about headaches.

It's as if you are proposing a sort of Russian doll here: first the brain that has the dilated arteries and the flaring C-fibers (P), and then another witness to which all of this is presented, with P* being instantiated in this second, inner chamber. I'm saying it's all one system, which exists objectively while perceiving itself, recursively and subjectively, all at the same time.

Thank you, Bill.

Hi Malcolm,
I think you're misunderstanding me. Suppose, again, that P is a property with both objective and subjective 'aspects'. Then I'm saying that the quale = the subjective aspect, or the way the subjective aspect is experienced, or something like that. This is because the very idea of qualia is defined purely in terms of the subjective or experiential or phenomenal. That's just what we mean when we introduce terms like qualia (or 'what it's like'). And this is why it seems unintelligible (to me) to say that the nature of the quale could somehow transcend its felt or phenomenal properties: by hypothesis, it's the kind of thing that is composed solely of those properties (or, if you like, the way those properties are felt or experienced by someone on a given occasion).

"If P is a physical property, then there are things you can know about it both objectively and subjectively; in this case, what you can know about it subjectively is that it hurts."

Yes, there might be things about _that_ property that I don't know. This is why I proposed a distinction between that one--property P, the physical property--and some other property P* defined by the purely phenomenal or subjective or experiential features of P. Only P* would count as a quale, while P would be merely something that causes or is correlated with a quale.

"I'm saying it's all one system, which exists objectively while perceiving itself, recursively and subjectively, all at the same time."

For all I know that's in fact how it works! But what I'm trying to say is that regardless of any such hypothesis, we still have the mystery of the purely subjective dimension. Even if it's just one system perceiving itself, the way that the system appears to itself phenomenally can't be reducible to or identical with anything other than the relevant qualia. (For reasons I've tried to present above, e.g., I must know everything about the qualia, since their being is necessarily exhausted by how things appear to me, but I don't need to know anything much about anything else such as the objective or physical aspect of the system.) I don't understand why it matters whether maybe it's all just one system, one perceiver self-perceiving, or whether it all has some other ontology. The basic problem is the same regardless. We want to know what the quale _is_ but it seems it can't be anything other than what it appears to be, and anything like a brain or 'system' or whatever is necessarily something other than what it appears to be. (Or that's what I'm trying to argue.)

Jacques,

I agree with you.

>>And this is why it seems unintelligible (to me) to say that the nature of the quale could somehow transcend its felt or phenomenal properties:<<

Right, the esse of the quale = its percipi. Its reality is exhausted by its appearing. It is not really something else such as a brain state. And it doesn't matter whether it has a cause or doesn't have a cause or is an aspect of something else.

The quale is irreducibly subjective, and this is what pisses off (so to speak) naturalists who think that absolutely everything can be understood without remainder in a wholly objective, third-person, view-from-nowhere sort of way.

This what makes the Hard Problem hard, indeed insoluble. It is empty blather to say that in the fullness of time it will be solved since it makes no sense to say that the objectifying language of neuroscience can express the phenomenal features of qualia.

Question for Malcolm: Do you think that it is possible with fast enough computers to reach the end of the natural number series? I hope you say no. The answer is No because it is a priori impossible. The Hard Problem is like that. If you understand it you see that it is insoluble by us given what we understand physics and chemistry and electro-chemistry and neuroscience to be.

And if you say that neuroscience will evolve then you are just gassing off about a 'possibility' that you cannot coherently articulate. You have left science behind and you are doing 'theology.'

Well, gentlemen, I am at Logan Airport about to board a flight to Vienna, to visit my daughter, her husband, and our 13-month-old grandson. I think this is just as well, as we seem to be at loggerheads here; my view remains that qualia are simply "what it's like" for a conscious brain to observe its own state, and that the ontology of qualia is therefore not exhausted by their seeming.

But it has been an interesting conversation, as always, and I will mull and reflect some more upon your remarks. Perhaps I am indeed in error. Such things are always possible.

Thanks! -MP

It's been a fun discussion Malcolm. Thanks to you too. Enjoy Europe, as much as that's still possible these days. All the best to your family.

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