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Sunday, November 27, 2011


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For purposes of this post, I'll pretend I am a (causal role) functionalist. I'm quoting original post via italics.

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?

In practice, functionalists tend to see mental events as essential to explaining nervous-system mediated behavior that occurs on relatively fast time-scales. This is not some a priori conceptual truth, but something we converge upon as we seek to explain behavior in neuropsychological terms, and we discover the utility of concepts like attention, sensory perception, belief, desire, etc that have antecedent use in psychology.

We can't make the division in terms of 'conscious' versus 'not conscious' events, because there are too many events people want to call mental that are not conscious (e.g., unconscious semantic processing).

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?

We know that sensory transducers and such will be relevant in the explanatory decomposition of that behavior. We could do psychophysics to show that you are unable to make such decisions based on photons hitting the back of your head, but very good at doing it based on what hits your retina.

The perspiration issue is interesting. It is a relatively slow, autonomic function, whose functional decomposition doesn’t tend to advert to things like attention, beliefs, desires, conscious access, etc... But if you were some Eastern guru who learned to gain voluntary control over perspiration, it would probably become relevant. Outputs aren’t intrinsically relevant to a mentalistic explanation: it depends on how they fit into the causal economy. This seems to cohere quite well with functionalism.

Then you bring up qualia:
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.

Your claim that the ‘glare quale’ can’t be resolved this way is a strong conclusion in need of an argument.

To be clear, the functionalist does not need to be an analytical functionalist and say that their concept or understanding of qualia is to be analyzed as some functional role/brain state. Rather, just like we empirically found that water is H20 even though 'water' isn't to be analyzed as 'H20', we are finding that experiences are identical to this neuronal process that serves such-and-such functional role.

But if you admit that the sensory quale has an intrinsic nature, then an Indiscernibility argument will show that it cannot be identical to any neuronal process.

I'd have to see things fleshed out. Can't the materialist just say this intrinsic property is a property of a neural process, like I suggested above? That's precisely the hypothesis at issue.

We don't have to see the quale as a brain process for it to be a brain process.

I hope to post something today on Paul Churchland's response to Jackson's Knowledge Arguemnt. That may help clarify matters.

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