I recently came across a passage in Russell's Mysticism and Logic which you may find interesting. In the essay "The Ultimate Constituents of Matter," Russell writes (p. 144), "… the existence of sense-data [qualia] is logically independent of the existence of mind, and is causally dependent upon the body of the percipient, rather than upon his mind.” [. . .] On the contrary, I propose that any tenable definition of qualia must construe them as mental items, i.e. items whose esse is their percipi. [. . .]
What are your thoughts on this argument?
I think you are confusing qualia with sense data. I grant you that qualia are mental items, and that they cannot exist apart from minds. But sense data are not qualia. First of all, Russell does not use 'quale' (singular) or 'qualia' (plural) in the two essays you mention. But he does tell us what he means by 'sense data': ". . . I believe that the actual data in sensation, the immediate objects or sight or touch or hearing, are extra-mental, purely physical, and among the ultimate constituents of matter." (10th ed., 128)
Suppose I am staring at a blue coffee cup. The particular blue that I visually sense, precisely as I sense it, is a sense datum: it is the direct or immediate object of my visual sensing. It is distinct from the sensing. The sensing is something I undergo or experience or live through; it is part of my mental life. As such it is mental in nature. The sense datum, however, is not mental. It is not an episode of experiencing or part of an episode of experiencing; it is the direct object of an experiencing. For Russell, the blue sense datum is not only not mental; it is physical: it is a proper part of the coffee cup. I read Russell in these essays as a bundle theorist: physical objects are bundles of sense data both synchronically and diachronically.
Note also that while a blue sense datum is blue, a sensing of a blue sense datum is not blue. (An adverbialist who speaks of sensing-blue-ly gives up the act-object schema that Russell presupposes.)
Sense data, then, are objects of sensings. For Russell, they are extra-mental and indeed physical. Qualia, however, are the phenomenal characters of experiencings. For example, the felt quality, the what-it-is-like, of a twinge of pain, precisely as it is felt. Or the smell of burnt garlic. Or the taste of licorice.
There are many tricky questions here. Suppose I am given a piece of black, semi-soft candy and asked what it is. I put it in my mouth to find out. I discover that it is a piece of licorice. I seem to have discovered something objective about a physical object, namely, that this bit of candy is licorice. This would suggest that the object of my gustatory sensing is extra-mental and indeed physical. Or should we say merely that I had a gustatory experience with a certain phenomenal character and that the characteristic taste of the thing I put in my mouth is wholly mental in nature?
The qualia-based objections are supposed to pose a 'hard' problem for defenders of physicalism. The implication is that the problems posed by intentionality are, if not exactly 'easy,' then at least tractable. An earlier post discussed a version of the knowledge argument, which is one of the qualia-based objections. (Two others are the absent qualia argument and the zombie argument.) It seems to me, though, that intentionality is also a damned hard problem for physicalists to solve, so hard in fact as to be insoluble within physicalist constraints and another excellent reason to reject physicalism.
Before proceeding I want to make two preliminary points.
The first is that the untenability of physicalism does not entail the acceptability of substance dualism. Contrapositively, the unacceptability of substance dualism does not entail the tenability of physicalism. So if a physicalist wishes to point out the problems with substance dualism, he is free to do so. But he ought not think that such problems supply compelling reasons to be a physicalist. For it is obvious that the positions stand to each other as logical contraries; hence both could be be false.
We were talking about Frank Jackson's Mary. Now I introduce Marty, a Martian scientist who like Mary knows everything there is to know about human brains and their supporting systems. So he knows all about what goes in the human brain and CNS when we humans suffer and enjoy twinges and tingles, smells and stinks, sights and sounds, etc. We will suppose that Marty's sensorium is very different, perhaps totally different than ours. He may have infrared color qualia but no color qualia corresponding to the portion of the EM spectrum for which we have color qualia. Marty also knows everything there is to know about what goes on in my head when I think about various things. We may even suppose that Marty is studying me right now with his super-sophisticated instruments and knows exactly what is going on in my head right now when I am in various intentional states.
Suppose I am now thinking about dogs. I needn't be thinking about any particular dog; I might just be thinking about getting a dog, which of course does not entail that there is some particular dog, Kramer say, that I am thinking about getting. Indeed, one can think about getting a dog that is distinct from every dog presently in existence! How? By thinking about having a dog breeder do his thing. If a woman tells her husband that she wants a baby, more likely than not, she is not telling him that she wants to kidnap or adopt some existing baby, but that she wants the two of them to engage in the sorts of conjugal activities that can be expected to cause a baby to exist. Same with me. I can want a dog or a cat or a sloop or a matter transmitter even if the object of my wanting does not presently exist.
So right now I am thinking about a dog, but no presently existing dog. My thinking has intentional content. It is an instance of what philosophers call intentionality. My act of thinking takes an object, or has an accusative. It exhibits aboutness or of-ness in the way a pain quale does not exhibit aboutness of of-ness. It is important to realize that my thinking is intrinsically such as to be about a dog: the aboutness is not parasitic upon an external relation to an actual dog. That is why I rigged the example the way I did. My thinking is object-directed despite there being no object in existence to which I am externally related. This blocks attempts to explain intentionality in terms of causation. Such attempts fail in any case. See my post on Representation and Causation.
The question is whether the Martian scientist can determine what that intentional content is by monitoring my neural states during the period of time I am thinking about a dog. The content before my mind has various subcontents: hairy critter, mammal, barking animal, man's best friend . . . . But none of this content will be discernible to the Martian neuroscientist on the basis of complete knowledge of my neural states, their relations to each other and to sensory input and behavioral output. To strengthen the argument we may stipulate that Marty lacks the very concept dog. Therefore, there is more to the mind than what can be known by even a completed neuroscience. Physicalism (materialism) is false.
The argument is this:
1. Marty knows all the physical and functional facts about my body and brain during the time I am thinking about a dog. 2. That I am thinking about a dog is a fact. 3. Marty does not know that I am thinking about a dog. Therefore 4. Marty does not know all the facts about me and my mental activity. Therefore 5. There are mental facts that are not physical or functional facts, and physicalism is false.
Credit where credit is due: The above is my take on a more detailed and careful argument presented here by Laurence BonJour. Good day!
My problem, roughly, is that I don't understand how a physical particular (a brain, a region of a brain, a brain event, or state, or process) can instantiate one or more irreducibly mental properties. Why should there be a problem? Well, if a physical particular is exhaustively understandable in terms of physics (and the sciences based on it) then there is just nothing irreducibly mental about it, in which case it cannot instantiate an irreducibly mental property.
At the end of that post I provided an answer to that question:
Mental properties are functional properties. So when we say that x, a brain event say, has a mental property, all we mean is that it stands in certain causal relations to sensory inputs, behavioral outputs, and intervening brain events. So what makes the brain event mental is simply the relations in which it stands to inputs, outputs and other brain events. Once you grasp this, then you grasp that the brain event can be wholly physical in nature despite its having a mental property. Mental properties are not intrinsic but relational.
The answer, in short, is that mental properties are not intrinsic properties. But then I wrote,
Unfortunately, this won't do. Felt sadness has an intrinsically mental nature that cannot be functionally characterized. A subsequent post will spell this out in detail.
This is the subsequent post.
Suppose Socrates Jones is in some such state as that of perceiving a tree. The state is classifiable as mental as opposed to a physical state like that of his lying beneath a tree. What makes a mental state mental? That is the question.
The functionalist answer is that what makes a mental state mental is just the causal role it plays in mediating between the sensory inputs, behavioral outputs, and other internal states of the subject in question. The idea is not the banality that mental states typically (or even always) have causes and effects, but that it is causal role occupancy, nothing more and nothing less, that constitutes the mentality of a mental state. The intrinsic nature of what plays the role is relevant only to its fitness for instantiating mental causal roles, but not at all relevant to its being a mental state.
Consider a piston in an engine. You can't make a piston out of chewing gum, but being made of steel is no part of what makes a piston a piston. A piston is what it does within the 'economy' of the engine. Similarly, on functionalism, a mental state is what it does. This allows, but does not entail, that a mental state be a brain or CNS state. It also allows, but does not entail, that a mental state be a state of a computing machine.
To illustrate, suppose my cat Zeno and I are startled out of our respective reveries by a loud noise at time t. Given the differences between human and feline brains, presumably man and cat are not in type-identical brain states at t. (One of the motivations for functionalism was the breakdown of the old type-type identity theory of Herbert Feigl, U. T. Place. J. J. C. Smart, et al.) Yet both man and cat are startled: both are in some sense in the same mental state, even though the states they are in are neither token- nor type-identical. The functionalist will hold that we are in functionally the same mental state in virtue of the fact that Zeno's brain state plays the same role in him as my brain state plays in me. It does the same mediatorial job vis-a-vis sensory inputs, other internal states, and behavioral outputs in me as the cat's brain state does in him.
On functionalism, then, the mentality of the mental is wholly relational. And as David Armstrong points out, "If the essence of the mental is purely relational, purely a matter of what causal role is played, then the logical possibility remains that whatever in fact plays the causal role is not material." This implies that "Mental states might be states of a spiritual substance." Thus the very feature of functionalism that allows mentality to be realized in computers and nonhuman brains generally, also allows it to be realized in spiritual substances if there are any.
Whether this latitudinarianism is thought to be good or bad, functionalism is a monumentally implausible theory of mind. There are the technical objections that have spawned a pelagic literature: absent qualia, inverted qualia, the 'Chinese nation,' etc. Thrusting these aside, I go for the throat, Searle-style.
Functionalism is threatened by a fundamental incoherence. The theory states that what makes a state mental is nothing intrinsic to the state, but purely relational: a matter of its causes and effects. In us, these happen to be neural. (I am assuming physicalism for the time being.) Now every mental state is a neural state, but not every neural state is a mental state. So the distinction between mental and nonmental neural states must be accounted for in terms of a distinction between two different sets of causes and effects, those that contribute to mentality and those that do not. But how make this distinction? How do the causes/effects of mental neural events differ from the causes/effects of nonmental neural events? Equivalently, how do psychologically salient input/output events differ from those that lack such salience?
Suppose the display on my monitor is too bright for comfort and I decide to do something about it. Why is it that photons entering my retina are psychologically salient inputs but those striking the back of my head are not? Why is it that the moving of my hand to to adjust the brightness and contrast controls is a salient output event, while unnoticed perspiration is not?
One may be tempted to say that the psychologically salient inputs are those that contribute to the production of the uncomfortable glare sensation, and the psychologically salient outputs are those that manifest the concomitant intention to make an adjustment. But then the salient input/output events are being picked out by reference to mental events taken precisely NOT as causal role occupants, but as exhibiting intrinsic features that are neither causal nor neural: the glare quale has an intrinsic nature that cannot be resolved into relations to other items, and cannot be identified with any brain state. The functionalist would then be invoking the very thing he is at pains to deny, namely, mental events as having more than neural and causal features.
Clearly, one moves in a circle of embarrassingly short diameter if one says: (i) mental events are mental because of the mental causal roles they play; and (ii) mental causal roles are those whose occupants are mental events.
The failure of functionalism is particularly evident in the case of qualia. Examples of qualia: felt pain, a twinge of nostalgia, the smell of burnt garlic, the taste of avocado. Is it plausible to say that such qualia can be exhaustively factored into a neural component and a causal/functional component? It is the exact opposite of plausible. It is not as loony as the eliminativist denial of quali, but it is close. The intrinsic nature of qualitative mental states is essential to them. It is that intrinsic qualitative nature that dooms functionalism.
I conclude that if the only way to render property dualism coherent is by construing mental properties as functional properties, then property dualism is untenable.
I made the point that the vocabularies of phenomenology and neuroscience are radically disparate, such that nonsense arises when one says things like, 'This burnt garlic smell is identical to a brain state of mine.' To which a Viet Nam veteran, altering the example, replied by e-mail:
. . . when a neuro-scientist says your smelling this odor as napalm is nothing but a complex neural event activating several regions of the brain..., he isn't claiming you can replace your talk about smells with talk about neural signals from the olfactory bulb. Different ways of talking have evolved for different purposes. But he is saying that beneath these different ways of talking & thinking there is just one underlying reality, namely, neural events in our brain.
The idea, then, that is that are are different ways of referring to the same underlying reality. And so if we deploy a simple distinction between sense and reference we can uphold the materialist/physicalist reduction of qualia to brain states. Well, I have my doubts . . . .
I agree with Thomas Nagel, John Searle, and others that conscious experiences are irreducible to physical states. I have endorsed the idea that felt pain, phenomenal pain, pain as experienced or lived through (er-lebt), the pain that hurts, has a subjective mode of existence, a "first-person ontology" in Searle's phrase. If this is right, then phenomenally conscious states cannot be reduced to physical states with their objective mode of existence and third-person ontology. As a consequence, an exclusively third-person approach to mind is bound to leave something out. But there is an objection to irreducibility that needs to be considered, an objection that exploits Frege's distinction between sense and reference.
The basic idea is that linguistic and epistemic access to one and the same item can be had in different ways, and that duality of linguistic and/or epistemic access need not be taken to argue ontological duality in that to which one gains access. Reference to one and the same item can be routed through different senses or modes of presentation (Frege's Darstellungsweisen). Different terms, with different senses, can be used to target one and the same referent. 'Morning Star' and 'Evening Star,' though differing in sense, can be used to refer to the same celestial body, the planet Venus.
Why not say something similar about the physical state I am in when I feel pain? Why not say that there are two ways of accessing the same physical state? The one mode of access is via neuroscience, the other is 'from the inside' via the pain's qualitative feel to the one who endures it. If so, there are not two states or events one physical and the other mental differing in mode of existence; there is exactly one state or event, and it is physical. Dualism is avoided. The upshot is that, contra Nagel, the third-person physicalistic approach to the mind does not leave anything out. One may go on to tax Nagel, Searle, and Co. with illicitly inferring a difference in mode of existence from a difference in mode of linguistic/epistemic access. Something like this objection is made by Christopher Peacocke in his review of Nagel's The View from Nowhere (Philosophical Review, January 1989.)
It's a nice try, a very nice try. And it is exactly what one would expect from someone who takes an objectifying third-person view. What's more, it would be in keeping with Occam's Razor if mind could be seamlessly integrated into nature. Unfortunately, the pain I am in is not a mode of presentation, or means of epistemic access, to the underlying brain state. Thus the Fregean analogy collapses. The sense of 'morning star' mediates my reference to Venus; but my pain quale, even if it is caused by the brain state, does not mediate my reference to it.
Let me see if I can make this clear. The suggestion is that the same physical reality appears, or can appear, in two different ways, a third-person way and a first-person way, and that this first-person way of access is no evidence of a first-person way of being. One problem is the one I just alluded to: there is no clear sense in which a pain quale is an appearance of a brain state. The former may be caused by the latter. But that is not to say that the pain quale is of the brain state. The felt pain does not present the brain state to me. It does not present anything (distinct from itself) to me. After all, the felt pain is a non-intentional state. No doubt it has a certain content, but not an intentional or representational content. One can describe it without describing what it is of, for the simple reason that there is nothing it is of. An intentional state, however, cannot be described without describing what it is of.
The Fregean sense/reference analogy therefore breaks down. The basic idea was that one and same reality can appear in different ways, and that the numerical difference of these ways is consistent with a unitary mode of existence of the reality. A felt pain, however, is not an appearance of a reality, but an appearance that is a reality. The appearing of a felt pain is its being, and its being is its appearing. And because this is so, the felt pain is a distinct reality from the brain state. Not only is it a distinct reality, it is a distinct reality with a distinct, irreducibly subjective, mode of existence.
Nagelus vindicatus est. There is something essentially incomplete about a third-person approach to reality. It leaves something out, and what it leaves out is precisely that which makes life worth living. For as Wilfrid Sellars once said to Daniel Dennett over a fine bottle of Chambertin, "But Dan, qualia are what make life worth living!" (Consciousness Explained, p. 383)
Thomas Nagel’s “What is it Like to Be a Bat?” (Philosophical Review, 1974, reprinted in Mortal Questions, Cambridge, 1979, pp. 165-180) is a contemporary classic in the philosophy of mind, and its signature ‘what is it like’ locution has become a stock phrase rather loosely bandied about in discussions of subjectivity and consciousness. The phrase can be interpreted in several ways. Clarity will be served if we distinguish them.