The raw-experience dogma: Dissolving the “qualia” problem

by metaphysicist6 min read16th Sep 2012341 comments


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1. Defining the problem: The inverted spectrum

Philosophy has been called a preoccupation with the questions entertained by adolescents, and one adolescent favorite concerns our knowledge of other persons’ “private experience” (raw experience or qualia). A philosophers’ version is the “inverted spectrum”: how do I know you see “red” rather than “blue” when you see this red print? How could we tell when we each link the same terms to the same outward descriptions? We each will say “red” when we see the print, even if you really see “blue.”

The intuition that allows us to be different this way is the intuition of raw experience (or of qualia). Philosophers of mind have devoted considerable attention to reconciling the intuition that raw experience exists with the intuition that inverted-spectrum indeterminacy has unacceptable dualist implications making the mental realm publicly unobservable, but it’s time for nihilism about qualia, whose claim to exist rests solely on the strength of a prejudice.

A. Attempted solutions to the inverted spectrum.

One account would have us examine which parts of the brain are activated by each perception, but then we rely on an unverifiable correlation between brain structures and “private experience.” With only a single example of private experience—our own—we have no basis for knowing what makes private experience the same or different between persons.

A subtler response to the inverted spectrum is that red and blue as experiences are distinct because red looks “red” due to its being constituted by certain responses, such as affect. Red makes you alert and tense; blue, tranquil or maybe sad. What we call the experience of red, on this account, just is the sense of alertness, and other manifestations. The hope is that identical observable responses to appropriate wavelengths might explain qualitative redness. Then, we could discover we experience blue when others experience red by finding that we idiosyncratically become tranquil instead of alert when exposed to the long wavelengths constituting physical red. This complication doesn’t remove the radical uncertainty about experiential descriptions. Emotion only seems more capable than cognition of explaining raw experience because emotional events are memorable. The affect theory doesn't answer how an emotional reaction can constitute a raw subjective experience.

B. The “substitution bias” of solving the “easy problem of consciousness” instead of the “hard problem.”

As in those examples, attempts at analyzing raw experience commonly appeal to the substitution process that psychologist Daniel Kahneman discovered in many cognitive fallacies. Substitution is the unthoughtful replacement of an easy for a related hard question. In the philosophy of mind, the distinct questions are actually termed the “easy problem of consciousness” and the “hard problem of consciousness,” and errors regarding consciousness typically are due to substituting the “easy problem” for the “hard,” where the easy problem is to explain some function that typically accompanies “awareness.” The philosopher might substitute knowledge of one’s own brain processes for raw experience; or, as in the previous example, experience’s neural accompaniments or its affective accompaniments. Avoiding the “substitution bias” is particularly hard when dealing with raw awareness, an unarticulated intuition; articulating it is a present purpose.

2. The false intuition of direct awareness

A. Our sense that the existence of raw experience is self-evident doesn’t show that it is true.

The theory that direct awareness reveals raw experience has long been almost sacrosanct in philosophy. According to the British Empiricists, direct experience consists of sense data and forms the indubitable basis of all synthetic knowledge. For Continental Rationalist Descartes, too, my direct experience—“I think”—indubitably proves my existence.
We do have a strong intuition that we have raw experience, the substance of direct awareness, but we have other strong intuitions, some turn out true and others false. We have an intuition that space is necessarily flat, an intuition proven false only with non-Euclidean geometries in the 19th century. We have an intuition that every event has a cause, which determinists believe but indeterminists deny. Sequestered intuitions aren’t knowledge.

B. Experience can’t reveal the error in the intuition that raw experience exists.

To correct wayward intuitions, we ordinarily test them against each other. A simple perceptual illusion illustrates: the popular Muller-Lyer illusion, where arrowheads on a line make it appear shorter than an identical line with the arrowheads reversed. Invoking the more credible intuition that measuring the lines finds their real length convinces us of the intuitive error that the lines are unequal. In contrast, we have no means to check the truth of the belief in raw experience; it simply seems self-evident, but it might seem equally self-evident if it were false. 

C. We can’t capture the ineffable core of raw experience with language because there’s really nothing there.

One task in philosophy is articulating the intuitions implicit in our thinking, and sometimes rejecting the intuition should result from concluding it employs concepts illogically. What shows the intuition of raw experience is incoherent (self-contradictory or vacuous) is that the terms we use to describe raw experience are limited to the terms for its referents; we have no terms to describe the experience as such, but rather, we describe qualia by applying terms denoting the ordinary cause of the supposed raw experience. The simplest explanation for the absence of a vocabulary to describe the qualitative properties of raw experience is that they don’t exist: a process without properties is conceptually vacuous.

D. We believe raw experience exists without detecting it.

One error in thinking about the existence of raw experience comes from confusing perception with belief, which is conceptually distinct. When people universally report that qualia “seem” to exist, they are only reporting their beliefs—despite their sense of certainty. Where “perception” is defined as a nervous system’s extraction of a sensory-array’s features, people can’t report their perceptions except through beliefs the perceptions sometimes engender: I can’t tell you my perceptions except by relating my beliefs about them. This conceptual truth is illustrated by the phenomenon of blindsight, a condition in  patients report complete blindness yet, by discriminating external objects, demonstrate that they can perceive them. Blindsighted patients can report only according to their beliefs, and they perceive more than they believe and report that they perceive. Qualia nihilism analyzes the intuition of raw experience as perceiving less than you believe and report you perceive, the reverse of blindsight.

3. The conceptual economy of qualia nihilism pays off in philosophical progress

Eliminating raw experience from ontology produces conceptual economy. A summary of its conceptual advantages:

   A. Qualia nihilism resolves an intractable problem for materialism: physical concepts are dispositional, whereas raw experiences concern properties that seem, instead, to pertain to noncausal essences. If raw experience was coherent, we could hope for a scientific insight, although no one has been able to define the general character of such an explanation. Removing a fundamental scientific mystery is a conceptual gain.
    B. Qualia nihilism resolves the private-language problem. There seems to be no possible language that uses nonpublic concepts. Eliminating raw experience allows explaining the absence of a private language by the nonexistence of any private referents.

    C.  Qualia nihilism offers a compelling diagnosis of where important skeptical arguments regarding the possibility of knowledge go wrong. The arguments—George Berkeley’s are their prototype—reason that sense data, being indubitable intuitions of direct experience, are the source of our knowledge, which must, in consequence, be about raw experience rather than the “external world.” If you accept the existence of raw experience, the argument is notoriously difficult to undermine logically because concepts of “raw experience” truly can’t be analogized to any concepts applying to the external world. Eliminating raw experience provides an effective demolition; rather than the other way around, our belief in raw experience depends on our knowledge of the external world, which is the source of the concepts we apply to fabricate qualia.

4. Relying on the brute force of an intuition is rationally specious.

Against these considerations, the only argument for retaining raw experience in our ontology is the sheer strength of everyone’s belief in its existence. How much weight should we attach to a strong belief whose validity we can't check? None. Beliefs ordinarily earn a presumption of truth from the absence of empirical challenge, but when empirical challenge is impossible in principle, the belief deserves no confidence.


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Umm. Am I misunderstanding something, or is this post saying that we should "solve" the problem of qualia by accepting that we're all p-zombies?

From the standpoint of somebody feeling confused about qualia, the trouble with this solution is not that it is necessarily false but that accepting it doesn't make you feel any less confused.

-3MrMind9yI think that's because qualia, if they exists, have no correlation with physical world, hence we cannot convey information about them with physical means. P-zombies would talk about qualia in the same terms we do, which is actually their point. The only way to 'solve' by physical means the qualia problem is therefore accept it's inexistance and trying to understand why we think there's a problem in the first place: because every other coherent solution must produce the physical effect of this solution.
6metaphysicist9yTo be precise about the value of the belief/intuition concept in accounting for the illusion that qualia exist—one defect in the zombie thought experiment is that it prompts the attitude: maybe I can't prove that you're not a zombie, but I sure as hell know I'm not one! The zombie experiment imposes a consistent outside view; it seems to deny the evidence of "personal experience" by fiat—because it simply doesn't address what it would feel like to be a zombie. So, the zombie experiment seems to show that people might not be able to distinguish zombies from humans; but invoking the beliefs held by the "zombie" shows from the inside that being a zombie can be no different from being a human: the two are subjectively indistinguishable. To address your question directly: the ordinary zombie thought experiments purport to show that without qualia humans would be zombies; whereas when you allow zombies' (false) beliefs (in ineffable perceptual essences), the thought experiment shows that zombies are really humans.
2metaphysicist9yYou may be omitting or misunderstanding the role of the concept of belief in my account. The role of that concept is original in this account (and novel, to the best of my less-than-comprehensive knowledge). A "p-zombie" "behaves" the same way we do, but does a p-zombie believe it has qualitative awareness? If it does, then there's no distinction between humans and p-zombies, but the antimaterialists who came up with the p-zombie thought experiment were of the persuasion that belief is as meaningless a concept for materialists as is qualia; both were then derogated by the reigning behaviorists as "mentalistic" concepts, hence illicit. The Churchlands are eliminitivist about all "folk psychological" concepts like belief; Dennett doesn't apply the concept of belief to the problem of qualia. But qualia proponents make belief dependent on qualitative awareness: eliminating qualia does preclude deriving knowledge (a kind of belief) from conscious sensation. On my account, what dissolves the problem of qualia is recognizing that the only "evidence" favoring their existence is our sense of certainty favoring our sequestered belief that they exist. (See 3.C. in OP.)
0TheAncientGeek7yBut I am a falliblist about my qualia.....
2Pentashagon9yI think the argument actually implies that p-zombies don't exist and therefore anything acting human is going to feel human from the inside. There isn't something special called "raw-experience" that we happen to have but that a p-zombie could not have. We experience things in our mind, but reductionism implies that this experience has direct physical causes and effects and is therefore understandable and explainable by rational science. The experience of "red" has a specific physical description for each individual and, while it may be possible that two people disagree about whether a particular thing is "red", they could in principle study their brains until they found the precise points where their experiences/definitions diverged. In practice, however, there is still a very strong sense of private language existing. We do not yet have the ability to reduce our internal experience into physical cause and affect, and so we have no way to truly understand how other people feel and experience. For instance, I could not adequately describe "red" to a blind person and a person who can see into the ultraviolet and infrared spectrum could not explain the colors "ultraviolet" or "infrared" to me. We lack a shared sensory framework, and further lack a shared mental model of ourselves that can understand what experience is like and therefore think accurately about what someone else actually experiences. For standard humans in the past it's arguable that private language actually existed. In the 21st century we have a chance to see private language dictionaries in our lifetimes.
0TheAncientGeek7yTheres a difference between causation and reduction. The idea that qualia have physical causes is compatible with dualism, the idea that they are not ieducible to physics. Knowing what causes non standard qualia, or where they diverge, still doesn't tell you how non standard qualia feel to the person having them. For that reason, we are not going to have private language dictionaries any time soon. Looking at brain scans of someone with non standard qualia us not going to tell me what their qualia are as qualia.
0Pentashagon7yGranted; we won't have definitive evidence for or against dualism until we're at the point that we can fully test the (non-) reductive nature of qualia. If people who have access to each other's private language dictionaries still report meta-feeling that the other person feels different qualia from the same mental stimulus then I'll have more evidence for dualism than I do now. True, that won't help with incomparable qualia, but it would be kind of...convenient...if the only incomparable qualia are the ones that people report feeling differently.
0TheAncientGeek7yWe are not going to have private language dictionaries.
-1hankx77879yYeah, exactly. It sounds like he's denying experience exists or saying that it's illusory, which would be stupid. Experience is an epistemological first principle; it's axiomatic. The "solution" isn't to try to deny experience is real, the solution is to explain it (reduce it, ahem [\])) as a physical process. I would agree that once you reduce it to a physical explanation there's nothing left over to explain, if that's ultimately the point he was trying to make (although it doesn't sound like it).
9[anonymous]9yI am fairly confident that that is, in fact, the point he was trying to make. Your reaction is familiar to me. I could be wrong, but the reason that this argument sounds absurd to you may be that you already agree with it, but haven't noticed that you agree with it because you don't seriously entertain any of the alternatives. I'm not criticizing you with this suggestion, let me explain. The dualist position holds that experience is a non-physical thing that cannot be explained physically: the sensation of burning your hand on a stove-top is not identical to the behaviour of a heat-damaged nervous system, rather, there is a thing that is "the quale of pain", which you happen to be exposed to whenever your physical body is hurt. This is where the "inverted spectrum" argument comes in - how do you know that the colour-quale that I sample when I look at the sky is the same as your "blue"? Sure, I call it blue, but of course I would call it that because I learned what blue meant from being told "blue is the colour of a cloudless daytime sky". Metaphysicist is making the case that qualia don't exist, and that instead every experience/sensation is reducible to physics. "Experiencing blue" is just what your brain does when it is exposed to a certain wavelength of light. But if you're already operating under that assumption and haven't considered and discarded the possibility of qualia, it can look as though the anti-qualia argument is an anti-experience argument, because it is clearly an argument that some putative element of experience does not exist. If your metaphysics only contains one putative element of experience, that's confusing. My reaction to the anti-qualia argument was initially the same as yours. Then someone explained what I'd missed, and my second reaction was "seriously, we need an argument for that?" Then I read Wittgenstein, and for a long time it seemed like he was just flailing ineffectually at the problem. The tipping point was when I came to real
0Mitchell_Porter9ySophistry. It's madness to say that the blue isn't actually there. But this is tempting for people who like the science we have, because the blue isn't there in that model of reality. What we need is a model of reality in which experiences are what they are, and in which they play the causal role they appear to play. If our current physical ontology has no room for the existence of an actually blue experience in the brain, so much the worse for our current physical ontology. But modern physics is mathematical and operational, there is plenty of opportunity for something to actually be a conscious experience, while appearing in the formal theory as a state or entity with certain abstractly characterized structural and algebraic properties.
5[anonymous]9yAh, no. See, I am absolutely not saying that the blue isn't there. I agree that would be madness - I've experienced blue a million times. What I'm saying is this: During the times when your brain is in the "blue state" you also happen to be experiencing the sensation of blueness. Same goes for the sensation of pain and the brain state associated with pain. In fact, this partnership between brain-state and perception is so reliable that we're getting close to being able to record people's thoughts in video format by scanning their heads. ( []) The question is, if our model allows us to predict people's sensory experiences perfectly well on the basis of purely physical phenomena, why do we need posit qualia? Seems to me that the simplest theory that describes all the data is that causal relationships between physical things are the only things that exist in this universe. If you throw out the premises that sensations aren't physical things and that physical things aren't sensations then it suddenly seems like the most natural conclusion in the world, and I've never seen any evidence that prompted me to hold onto either of those premises. Here's a query - what did it feel like the last time you didn't have a brain state? Obviously that's a stupid question, it's impossible for you to have a brain without having it be in one state or another, and you don't have any memories from before you had a brain. Similarly, by definition you can't remember what it was like the last time you were experiencing absolutely nothing (if there was something to remember then you would have been experiencing something). So what piece of evidence was it that prompted you to hypothesise the existence of qualia?
3Mitchell_Porter9y"Qualia" is just a new word for what used to be meant by the word "sensations", before "sensation" was redefined to mean "a type of brain process". The idea that sensory qualities like color are in the sensations, and hence in us, has been around for hundreds of years - thousands, if you count Democritus. The problem with the modern redefinition of "sensation" as "brain process" is now that color is nowhere at all, inside or outside the brain. Or, more precisely, it substitutes a particular theory of what a sensation is (brain event) for the thing itself (experience of a sensory quality) in a way which allows the latter to be ignored or even denied. On this issue most materialists are dualists - property dualists - without even noticing it. The problem is very simple. Physics, and hence natural science, is based on a model of the world in which all that exists are fundamental entities (particles, wavefunctions, etc) which do not possess the "secondary sensory qualities" like color, either individually or in combination. There is a disjunction between the properties posited by physics and the properties known in experience. There are three known ways of dealing with this while still believing in physics. You say that both properties exist - property dualism. You say that only physical properties exist - total "eliminativism". Or you say that the experiential properties are directly playing a role in physics - which is best known via panpsychism, but one might doubt the necessity to regard everything ("pan") as "mental" ("psych"). Most materialists are property dualists because they say that only atoms exist, but then they think of their experience as how it feels to be a particular arrangement of atoms, when there is no such property in physics. It's an extra thing being tacked onto the physics. And the realization that this is dualism is somehow pushed away by the use of a locution like "experiencing blue" - e.g. "my current state includes the property that
0[anonymous]9yIt's only really your second paragraph that I disagree with. I'm a panpsychist, but I don't often mention it because a lot of people take that to mean "I believe that everything in the universe has a mind, including rocks and stars". I go even further than you, though. I think that even of the materialists who aren't accidental/secret property dualists, most of them are still dualists without realising it. The idea that there are physical objects which are related to one another causally is inherently dualist because it theorises two types of things in the universe - physical objects and causal relations. More importantly, the idea of physical objects as distinct from causal relationships is dodgy, because it opens us up to Humean skepticism: we never see the objects themselves, just detect them by their causal relationships to us, so how do we know what they're actually like? All of the properties we associate with physical objects are products of their causal relationships with other matter, so separating the universe into physical things and causal relations paints us into the corner of believing in things which have no properties at all - a propertyless substrate a la the Scholastics. The only hard and fast way to have a dualism-proof materialism that I'm comfortable with is to hold that objects are just clumps of causal relations. An electron isn't a tiny little ball of substrate to which the properties of mass and charge and spin adhere, rather it's just a likelihood that other particles in a given region will be affected by mass and charge and spin in an electron-like way. And that's how I can be a panpsychist: all causal relations are equal. The only thing different about the ones in our heads is that they're intricately interrelated in such a way that they're self-referential, sensitively dependent on outside conditions, and persistent in a way that means that present interactions can recall interactions that happened years in the past (memory). The sens
0TheAncientGeek7yWe cant predict experienes perfectly well, because can't predict novel experiences, because we cant describe novel experiences, because we can't describe (as opposed to label) non novel experiences.
3metaphysicist9yIf by blue you mean--as you do--the purely subjective aspect of perceiving the color blue (call that "blue"), then it's only madness to deny it exists if you insist on confusing blue with "blue." No one but a madman would say blue doesn't exist; no philosopher should be caught saying "blue" exists. If you can show a causal role for pure experience, that would be something else, but instead you speak of the "causal role they appear to play." But we don't want a theory where things play the role they "appear" to play; the illusion of conscious experience includes the seemingness that qualia play a causal role ( Added: as I explain [] in my account of the related illusion of "free will." In short, it just won't do to call qualia nihilism "madness," when you offer no arguments, only exasperation. This simply doesn't solve the problem; not in the least. If you posit abstractly characterized structural entities, you are still left with the problem regarding what makes that configuration give the appearance "blue." You're also left with the problem of explaining why evolution would have provided a means of registering these "abstractly characterized structural and algebraic properties" when they make no difference for adaptation. My guess, you espouse an epistemology that makes sense data necessary. Completely freeing epistemology from sensationalism is virtue rather than vice: philosophers have been looking for a way out of sensationalism since Karl Popper's failed falsificationism. You need an argument better than alleging madness. Many things seem blatantly wrong before one reflects on them.
0Mitchell_Porter9yI was actually talking more about the deduction that experiences are causally downstream from physical stimulation of sense organs, and causally upstream from voluntary motor action. This deduction is made because the physical brain is in that position; the physical causal sequence matches up with the subjectively conceived causal sequence "influences from outside me -> my experiences -> my actions"; so one supposes that experiences are in the brain and relevant to "physical" causality. To say that these entities have abstract structure, is not to say that that is the whole of their being. I am only emphasizing how qualia, and things made out of qualia, can be part of a mathematically characterized fundamental physics. The mathematical theory would talk about a causal network of basic objects characterized with the abstruseness typical of such theories - e.g. as combinations of elements of an algebra - and some of those objects would in reality be qualia. If you were then to ask "what makes one of those objects blue? what makes it look blue?" - those are questions which could not be answered solely on the mathematical level, which doesn't even talk about blue, only about abstracted structural properties and abstracted causal roles. They could only be tackled in a fuller ontological context, where you say "this entity from the theory is an experience, this property is the property of being blue, this process is the experiencing of blue", and so on. It's like the difference between doing arithmetic and talking about apples. You can count apples, and numbers can be calculational proxies for groups of apples, but apples aren't numbers and talking about numbers isn't really the same thing as talking about apples. These abstracted propositions would only belong to the mathematical part of a theory of causally efficacious physical qualia, and that's not the whole theory, in the same way that arithmetic statements about how many apples I have, are not my whole "theor
-2bogus9yYes. I think this is actually due to a confusion between something physical and something that is explained from an objective POV. Subjective experience is pretty much unique in that it is never observed by anyone other than the subject - but something can be non-objective, and still be a part of a "web of causal relations", which we call the physical world.
1[anonymous]9yAgreed. The really annoying part is that because, as you say: It's very difficult to point to evidence that subjective experience is just private by definition (as in, if it wasn't uniquely yours it wouldn't be subjective), rather than being private by virtue of having some special super-physical status that makes it impossible to share. The two theories predict the same experimental results in pretty much all cases.
-1bogus9yI think that saying "subjective experience is private" can be rephrased as saying that "our ability to describe reality/the physical world is clearly incomplete". Dualism happens when folks use the Typical Mind Fallacy to convert this fact about how we describe reality into an actual split between "physical stuff" and "the non-physical" that is held to be always true, regardless of the observer.
0[anonymous]9yAh, now see there I think I disagree a little. I think saying "subjective experience is private" is just expressing an analytic truth. We define subjective experience as being experience as it occurs to an individual, and therefore subjective experience can only be known by the individual. This is not to say that people's experiences can't be identical to one another, rather it just says that my experiences can't be your experiences because if they were they'd be your experiences and not my experiences. So saying "subjective experience is private" doesn't tell us anything new if we already knew what subjective experience was. The mistake comes when people look for an explanation for why they experience their own sensations but have to hear about other people's second hand. You don't need an explanation for this, it's necessarily true! Of course I might have misunderstood you. If so, sorry.
0bogus9yI'm not sure this is right, actually. Consider a least convenient case: a world populated by conscious beings (such as AI's) whose subjective experience is actually made up of simple numbers, e.g bytes stored in a memory address space. (Of course this assumes that Platonic numbers actually exist, if only as perceived by the AI's. Let's just concede this for the sake of argument.) Suppose further that any AI can read every other AI's memory. Then the AI's could know everything there is to know about each other's experiences, yet any one experience is still "subjective" in a sense, because it is associated with a single individual.
-1[anonymous]9yI think that if the AI read one another's memory by copying the files across and opening them with remember.exe, then reading another AI's memory would feel like remembering something that happened to the reader. In that case there would be no subjective experience, because Argency.AI would be able to relive Bogus.AI's memories as though they were his own - experiences would be public, objective. Alternatively, if the AI just look at each other's files and consciously interpret them as I might interpret words that you had written on a page describing an experience, they're in exactly the same circumstances as us, in which case I think my earlier argument holds.
-3Peterdjones9yBut such experiences still aren't subjective in the sense of "private". I don't see what you are getting at. If subjective=private, your AIs don't have subjective experience. Setting up another definition of subjective doesn't stop subjective=private from being analytically true or true at all. There are lots of things associated with individauls, such as names, which are not subjective.
9wedrifid9yWhy would I make 'experience' a first principle or an axiom? That sounds utterly impractical and inefficient.
-2hankx77879yUpon reflection I think you are right in one tangential respect - characterizing experience as "axiomatic" was a poor choice of words. For a good rationalist nothing is axiomatic, i.e. with the right data you could convince me that 2+2=3 [] or that A is not-A. Nevertheless, the existence and validity of your experience as such (not to confuse this with your interpretation or memory of your experience or anything else), is an incredibly fundamental truth that has been confirmed repeatedly and never disconfirmed across a vast scope of contexts (all of them actually) and is relied upon by all other knowledge. So saying that making experience a first principle or axiom is "impractical and inefficient" is rather bizarre, unless you're talking about something completely different than I am.
0TheAncientGeek7yThat amounts to saying that if you solve the hard problem, then there is no longer a hard problem. It doesn't actually deliver a solution.

"C. We can’t capture the ineffable core of raw experience with language because there’s really nothing there. One task in philosophy is articulating the intuitions implicit in our thinking, and sometimes rejecting the intuition should result from concluding it employs concepts illogically. What shows the intuition of raw experience is incoherent (self-contradictory or vacuous) is that the terms we use to describe raw experience are limited to the terms for its referents; we have no terms to describe the experience as such, but rather, we describe qualia by applying terms denoting the ordinary cause of the supposed raw experience."

That's an over-generalisation from colour. Pain is a textbook example of a quale, and "pain" describes an effect, a reaction, not a cause, which would be something like "sharp" or "hot". Likewise, words for tastes barely map onto anything object. "Sweet" kind of means "high in calories", but kind of doens't, since saccharine is thousands of times sweeter than sugar, but not thousands of times more calorific. And so on.

" The simplest explanation for the absence of a vocabulary to describe

... (read more)

The simplest explanation for the universe is that it doesn't exist. It's not popular, because the universe seems to exist. Explanations need to be adeqaute to the facts, not just simple.

Upvoted for this line alone. See also, "If nothing exists, I want to know how the nothing works and why it seems to be so highly ordered."

6TheOtherDave9ySee also Occam's sandblaster []
1metaphysicist9yIf qualia are explained by our innate intuitions (or beliefs)—propositional attitudes—then two questions follow about "how it works": 1. What is the propositional content of the beliefs? 2. What evolutionary pressures caused their development? I make some conjectures in another essay [] .
-1Peterdjones9yQualia might be beliefs instead of qualia. Matter might be qualia instead of matter.
-1newname9y:. Beliefs might be Matter instead of Beliefs, or put more simply, beliefs may matter.
-1Pentashagon9yOr in other words "I think, therefore I want to explore."
4torekp9yAnd as I pointed out in the other thread, our experiences change in response to the relationship between viewer and object even as the object neither changes nor seems to change. We have the ability to be aware of internal states which are intimately involved in, but not informationally exhausted by, cognition of the external world. From a point of view valuing only knowledge of the external world as such, qualia are pure "noise". But of course, it makes good evolutionary sense for us to be aware of some internal states. (And even if it didn't, evolution was never the perfect designer (witness flea wings and human appendix).) A cognitive system with a penchant for learning might easily take notice of its own internal workings during acts of perception. Such self-awareness might be extremely useful for a social animal. So you are quite wrong to assert, elsewhere in the thread, that subjective qualities would not be expected on the hypothesis of physicalism.
0Peterdjones9yI'm not sure how this is relevant. I was responding to the objection that qualia have no vocabulary of their own, but ony parasitize vocabulary relating to external properties. Sure, but that's introspection, not subjectivity. I don't think so. bearing in mind that what I mean by "subjectivity" is "objective inaccessibility", not "introspectability". Permalink
0torekp9yI smell a false dichotomy. Just how inaccessible must something be, objectively, to count? Must it be logically impossible to access the state objectively, for example? Depending on how you cash this out, you may be in danger of using the word "subjectivity" idiosyncratically.
0Peterdjones9yNo. But introspectability if far too weak a standard. I can introspect thoughts that are possible to communicate objectively.
0torekp9yI have already listed another condition besides introspectability: We could easily add conditions or clarifications. For example, let "external world" or "objective access" be specified as what other humans can detect with unaided senses.
-1common_law9yBut can the inexpressibility of qualia be accounted for by such facts as mentioned? That's the question, since the claim here is that the only supposed fact you have to support your belief that you experience qualia is your inability to doubt that you do. It's hard to see how that's a good reason. Your claim to account for the ineffability of qualia based on expressive limitations is no different. No facts can tell you whether articulating qualia would exceed our expressive limitations because we have no measure of the expressive demands of a quale. The most you can say is that potential explanations might be available based on expressive limitations, despite our currently having no idea how to apply this concept to "experience." Science. Human practice. Surely not "I just can't help believing that matter exists."
-2Peterdjones9yIt would be more intesting to put forward a specific objection. I don't think that anything anywhere is better supported. Can you prove the existence of matter, or the falsity of contradictions without assuming them? What an odd thing to say. The argument for the inexpressability of qualia is just the persistent inability of anyone to do so -- like the argument against the existence of time machines. An explanation for that inablity is what I gave, just as their are speculative theories against time travel. I think that if you unpack "science" and "human practice" you will find elements of "we assume without proving"..and "we can't help but believe".

I think simply fully accepting materialism clears up all hard philosophical problems related to consciousness, including "qualia." We can simply go and look at the how the brain works, physically. Once we understand all the physical facts (including e.g. the physical causes of people talking about qualia) there are no other facts to understand.

As such, I feel like someone treating "qualia" seriously is a big red (ha) flag. Either they have not embraced materialism, or they are worrying about whether a falling tree that no one hears makes a sound.

Even if examining the brain will make you less confused someday, correctly believing that proposition does not make you any less confused right now.

Even if examining the brain will make you less confused someday, correctly believing that proposition does not make you any less confused right now.

Or, at least, it doesn't make you not-confused right now. Correctly propagating that belief eliminates the common class of confusion along the lines of "My brain is inherently incomprehensible, why can we comprehend other things but not the brain? Reductionism fails, we must invent new physics to account for mental experiences."

0Eliezer Yudkowsky9yGranted.
2Will_Sawin9ycan you clarify what a crossed-out "Granted" means in this context?
9Viliam_Bur9yCrossed out = retracted comment. You do this by clicking a "Retract" icon below your comment. It means: just ignore this comment. It could mean that author does not agree with their previously made comment, or don't feel the comment is useful for discussion, or something else. It is something like deleting the comment, except that it is not deleted technically. So you can for example look at the replies to this comment, and they still make sense. Once retracted, the comment cannot be un-retracted.
5Eliezer Yudkowsky9yMade the comment, realized it didn't add anything.
9Kaj_Sotala9yThat materialism will be capable of explaining qualia is an empirical hypothesis, which has not yet been shown true nor false. One can accept materialism while remaining agnostic about whether it can explain qualia, just like one can accept economics without necessarily requiring it to explain physics.
3[anonymous]9yIf there is a qualia thing that is in fact a thing in the world, then materialism (the study of things in the world) can explain it. Maybe there is some barrier to actually figuring something out, like it's really hard and we die before we figure it out. Maybe that's what you meant? Or did you literally mean that it's possible in principle that materialism can't explain some phenomenon?
1Kaj_Sotala9yThis is what I meant. I believe that materialism will eventually explain why beings would act just as if certain processes in their nervous system (or equivalent) produced qualia. I am agnostic about whether it will ever explain why those beings actually have qualia, and don't merely act like it.
4Vaniver9yI wouldn't call myself as "agnostic" on that- I would claim that it's an unquestion if it doesn't cash out as differing predictions in a materialistic interpretation. (This is sometimes what people mean by agnostic, but typically agnostic describes the "above my pay grade" response, not the "beneath my notice" response.)
1Kaj_Sotala9yIt may be relevant for ethically important questions such as "how realistic a simulation of a suffering being can we make without actually causing any real suffering".
2J_Taylor9yI believe that The_Duck is taking an eliminativist position, and is not trying to say that materialism explains qualia.
1Douglas_Knight9yWhat do you mean by "empirical"? Given a putative explanation, how do you assess it? It appears to me that you are merely saying that you do not accept the putative explanation that the Duck (among many others) accepts. Putting it in the impersonal language seems extremely misleading to me. Moreover, the existence of the disagreement appears strong evidence against the claim this is an empirical question, at least if "empirical" is interpreted in an impersonal way. Maybe your point is your second sentence and your disagreement is a minor detail, but I find your phrasing emphasizes disagreement and distracts from the second sentence. Indeed, the second sentence seems to take a personal view of acceptance of arguments.
-2Kaj_Sotala9yThe claim that "materialism will be capable of explaining qualia" is proven if materialism does indeed come up with a convincing explanation of qualia. And while one can't disprove it entirely, the claim becomes quite improbable if we ever reach a point in time where it looks like we've solved every other scientific mystery aside for the problem of qualia. I have no idea of how I'd assess a proposed materialistic explanation of qualia, given that such an explanation seems to me impossible in principle. But then, just because I'm incapable of imagining such an explanation doesn't mean that it would actually be impossible to come up with one, so I remain open to the possibility of someone coming up with it regardless.
0common_law9yMaterialism is a philosophy which claims the primacy of physics. A materialist can be either a reductionist or an eliminitivist about qualia. The analogy to economics is bad because economics doesn't contend that economics is primary over physics, but materialism does contend that the physical is primary over the mental.
1Peterdjones9yI don't see why that shoudn't be called physcialism.
0Kaj_Sotala9yI suppose I'm using "materialism" in a slightly different way, then - to refer to a philosophy which claims that mental processes (but not necessarily qualia) are a subset of physical processes, and thus explainable by physics.
-2RichardKennaway9yI don't know what you mean by "mental". By what concept of "mental processes" are qualia not mental?
2Kaj_Sotala9yI'm not even sure that I agree with this myself, and I realize that this is a bit of a circular definition, but let's try: mental processes are those which are actually physically occuring in the brain (while qualia seem to be something that's produced as a side-effect of the physical processes).
-2RichardKennaway9yThat's like redefining "sensation" to mean "afferent neural signal", which is what necessitated inventing the word "qualia" to stand for what "sensation" used to mean. That one's a lost cause, but to use "mental process" to mean "the physical counterpart of what we used to call a mental process but we don't have a word for any more" is just throwing a crowbar into the discourse. Maybe we need a term for "the physical counterpart of a mental process" to distinguish them from other physical processes, but "mental process" can't be it.
6Peterdjones9yHow do you know? If materialism is a scientific hypothesis, it is disproveable, ie it could run into a phenomenon it cannot explain. OTOH, if it is a case of dogmatically rejecting anythign that doens't fit a materialistic worldview, how is that rational?
2The_Duck9yI could imagine such a thing happening. The fact that it hasn't happened is why we should be firm materialists. As it stands, we have every reason to expect that when we delve into the neurobiology of the brain, we will find a complete, material, physical explanation for the phenomenon of "people talking about qualia." Yes, there's "still a chance" that consciousness may turn out to somehow lie outside the realm of physics as we know it, but that doesn't license you to believe or expect it.
0Peterdjones9yMaterialism could be a well-confirmed hypothesis that we should accept fairly firmly, but that does't "clear up" any problems whatsoever. Believing, today, that the qualia will one day have a materialistic explanation does not tell us today what that explanation is.
1The_Duck9yYes, I agree. I'm only claiming that materialists should classify the remaining hard work as neurobiology, not philosophy. On the philosophical side, we should realize that the answer to questions like "How do material brains give rise to immaterial qualia?" is "There are no immaterial things; investigate the brain more thoroughly and you will understand the basis of internal experience."
0Peterdjones9yIt's not clear who is supposed to be posing that question. The Hard Problem [] is usually posed without prejudice to the materiality of qualia.
0Peterdjones9yThat is an expecation about an answer, not an answer.
0bogus9yThis is not clear at all - even though I do otherwise agree with your physicalist premises - because the most detailed evidence about subjective experience has been collected by philosophers, namely phenomenologists. The "hard" work probably encompasses any of biology, physics and philosophy.
-2Eugine_Nier9yCould you taboo "material"/"immaterial". In particular are, say, video game characters "material"?
0Bruno_Coelho9yExpecting the brain to be non-reducible makes you open to magic explanations.
0Peterdjones9yExpecting it to be reducible is not in itself an explanation.
-1J_Taylor9yMaterialism is neither a scientific hypothesis, nor a case of dogmatically rejecting anything that doesn't fit a materialistic worldview.
0Peterdjones9ySo how is the lifting being done? By elimination, as per your other comment?
1J_Taylor9yCould you please rephrase this question?
0Peterdjones9yHow does one solve problems by "adopting materialism"?
0J_Taylor9yI do not hold that materialism solves any problems.
1[anonymous]9yMaterialism is the useful tautology that everything that is woven into the Great Web of Causality falls under the category of "physics". And that by "physics" we mean "everything in the GWC". Non-materialism is the non useful statement that some things exist and effect the GWC without being part of the GWC.
0Peterdjones9yI don't see the usefullness. There's a usefull distinction between, for instance, "everything reduces to the behaviour of its smalles constituents" and "there are multiple independent layers, each with their own laws and causality". I can also see the difference between "Everything that effects is effected" and "There are uncasued causes and epiphenomenal danglers".
1[anonymous]9yreductionism is orthogonal to materialism uncaused causes are empirically verifiable (we have no clear examples) Once you clear up all the crap around dangling epiphenomena with the GAZP, what's left has no use.
0Peterdjones9yMaybe. But if you distinguish them, it turns out that the work is beign done by R-ism. We have candidates, such as the big bang, and the possible disappearance of information in black holes. I'm still rather unpersuaded that you can solve problems by adopting beliefs. Sounds too much like faith to me.
0[anonymous]9yLikewise. I wonder what you are referring to?
0Peterdjones9yThe_Duck wote: I seem to have translated "accepting" into "adopting"
-2Eugine_Nier9yCan you give a materialist account of this "Great Web of Causality"?
0[anonymous]9yAll the things that effect the other things.
-2Eugine_Nier9yOk, now taboo "effect".
0[anonymous]9ysee pearl []
-2Eugine_Nier9ySo how would I use this description of "effect" to taboo the word in the following sentence? Or would you argue that the above sentence is incoherent.
0[anonymous]9yIt's not incoherent. I don't know. I don't understand pearl's reduction of causality. I just know it's there. Mathematical relations like "hydrogen properties are dependent of electron mass" might not fit the causality concept. Or maybe I just can't make the math jump. Anyways, what are you gaining by these questions? Do you have some grand solution that you are making me jump thru hoops to find? Do you think I have some grand solution that you are jumping thru hoops to squeeze out of me?
-2Eugine_Nier9yI'm trying to show you that materialism in the sense you seem to mean here [] is ultimately incoherent.
0[anonymous]9yYou'll have to explain your position. I can't see it. To clarify what I think, take "me" as a node, and recursively build a causality graph (Pearl's thing) of all the causes that lead into that node. By some theorem somewhere, that graph will be connected. Then label that graph "my map of the universe" and label it's compressing model "physics". That is what "materialism" means to me. I've just realized, tho, that the rest of you might attach a different concept to "materialism", but I don't know what it is. Can you give me a steel-man (or a straw man (or a nonmaterial entity)) version of what "materialism" means to you?
-2Eugine_Nier9yI think you are making a category error with respect to what Pearl's theory actually does.
0[anonymous]9ycare to expand? His bayesian networks stuff is for modelling causal relationships. Am I confused?
-2Eugine_Nier9yThis [] comment by Argency explains what I mean by causality being incompatible with pure materialism.
0TheOtherDave9yI suspect you mean "affects."
2[anonymous]9yIt's the last bit here that's controversial. Why are there no other facts to understand past the physical ones? What's the argument for that? Here's what I mean: Say that whenever I see that something is red, a certain neural network is activated, call it the R-network. Once we discover that seeing red is, physically, the activation of the R-network, should we then say that there are two facts ('I saw a red thing' and 'My R-network was activated') or only one fact ('My R-network was activated')? We might readily admit that seeing red is reducible to the activation of the R-network, but that alone doesn't mean that the fact 'I saw a red thing' is not a fact.
2TheOtherDave9yEvery time I see a red thing, I see a thing. So, are "I see a red thing" and "I see a thing" two separate facts? If so, then I cannot imagine what value there is in counting facts. On that account simply listing all the facts that derive from a given observation ("I see a thing that isn't blue" "I see a thing that isn't yellow" "I see a thing that isn't orange" etc. etc. etc.) would take a lifetime. It might be useful to Taboo "fact".
0[anonymous]9yI think they'd have to be, since they're not mutually entailing. They certainly can't be identical facts. Safe to say, there is an uncountable infinity of facts, whether or not we restrict ourselves to physical facts. The question is whether or not there are non-physical facts (where an experience of a red thing is taken to be a non-physical fact). So this isn't a question of quantity or counting. It might. What do you suggest?
3TheOtherDave9yWell, if an experience of a red thing is taken to be a non-physical fact, then there are certainly non-physical facts, inasmuch as there are experiences of red things. I don't know, since I'm not really sure what you have in mind when you say "nonphysical fact," beyond knowing that experiencing red is an example. That's why I suggested it.
-2[anonymous]9yAgreed. I think it's illegitimate to suggest that the problem of qualia can be dismissed by associating experiential facts with physical facts, and then revoking the fact-license of the experiential one. This isn't to say that I think the problem of qualia is an unsolved one. It just can't be solved (or disolved or whatever) like that. I was using the term 'fact' as I understood Duck to be using it. I guess I'd say a fact is something that's true. (Though we use the term ambiguously, sometimes meaning 'the state of affairs about which a true thing is said' or something like that) A physical fact is something thats true and that's about nature. An astrological fact is something that's true and that's about astrological stuff (and from this we get the conclusion that there are no positive astrological facts).
3TheOtherDave9yWell, I certainly agree that all of this semantic pettifoggery gets us no closer to understanding what distinguishes systems capable of having experiences from those that aren't, or how to identify a real experience that we ourselves aren't having, or how to construct systems capable of having experiences, or how to ensure that systems we construct won't have experiences.
0Peterdjones9yWell, there's a infinity of true statements. Some folks like to restict "fact" to what is not Cambridge []
0[anonymous]9yThat wouldn't matter to the number of facts though. Anything, for example, which weighs 1 lb weighs more than .9 lb. And there are uncountably many weights between .9 and 1 lb that this thing is heavier than. All those are facts by anyone's measure.
0Peterdjones9yNot by anyone's measure. There are those who would say there is one basica fact, wich has to be derived emprically, and a host of logically derivable true statements.
1Bugmaster9yAgreed; furthermore, from the point of view of materialism, several of the "hard problems" related to qualia simply go away. For example, the question "why do you see the same red as I do when looking at this red text ?" is easily answered with "mu", because there's no Platonic ideal of redness, and thus no "same" red.
2Peterdjones9yI can't make sense of that. For one thing, materialism doens't imply nominalism []. For a materialist, there could be a Form of the Electron. For another, there is still some phenomenon of sameness in a material world: all electrons are identical
2Bugmaster9yI'm not sure what this means; can you expand on it a bit ? What I meant to say was that "I see the color red" is, in materialist-speak (or at least my personal understanding on it), a shorthand for something like this (warning, I'm not a neuroscientist, so I'm probably wrong): "This screeen emits photons within a narrow frequency range. These photons then excite the photoreceptors in my eyes, which cause certain electrochemical changes to occur in my brain. These changes propagate and cause my mental model of the world (which in itself is a shorthand for a wide set of brain states) to update in a specific way. Since all human brains are very similar to each other, due to evolutionary as well as environmental factors, it is very likely that your own brain states will undergo similar changes when these photons excite your own receptors. That is to say, we could create a probabilistic mapping between my brain states and yours, and predict the future state of your brain (due to those photons hitting your eyes) based on mine, with high degree of certainty. However, since no two brains (or two sets of eyes, even) are identical, the exact changes in your own brain states will be different from mine, and the aforementioned mapping cannot be exact." In other words, there's no such thing as a "perfect red", since everyone's brains are different. In fact, there's some evidence to suggest that color perception is strongly shaped by language and culture, etc.
0Peterdjones9yGiven the tenor of your further comments, I miunderstood you. You are claiming that given materialism, qualia probably vary with slight variations in brain structure. Although the conclusion really follows from something like a supervenience principle, not just from the materiality of all things. And although qualia only probabl& vary. There could still be a "same" red. An althouh we don't have a theory of how qualia depen on brain states -- which is, in fact, the* Hard Problem. And the Hard Problem remains unaddressed by an assumption of materialism, so materialism does not clear up "all hard problems".
0Bugmaster9yIn my response, I was trying to say that "qualia" are brain states. I put the word "qualia" in quotes because, as far as I understand, this word implies something like, "a property or entity that all beings who see this particular shade of red share", but I explicitly deny that such a thing exists. Everyone's brains are different, and not everyone experiences the same red, or does so in the same way. The fact that our experiences of "red" are similar enough to the point where we can discuss them is an artifact of our shared biology, as well as the fact that we were all brought up in the same environment. Anyway, if "qualia" are brain states, then the question "how do qualia depend on brain states" is trivially answered.
0Peterdjones9yMy use of "depend" was not meant to exlude identity. I had in mind the supervenience principle [], which is trivially fulfilled by identity. I am not sure where you got that from. C I Lewis defined qualia [] as a "sort of universal", but I don't think there was any implication that everyone sees 600nm radiation identicallty. OTOH, ones personal qualia must recur to a good degree of accuracy or one would be able to make no sense of ones sensory input. Interestingly, that is completely false. Knowing that a bat-on-LSD's qualia are identical to its brain states tells me nohting about what they are (which is to say what they seem like to the bat in question..which is to say what they are, since qualia are by definition seemings.[If you think there are two or three meanings of "are" going on there, you might be right]).
0Bugmaster9yAgreed. I was just making sure that we aren't talking about some sort of Platonic-realm qualia, or mysterious quantum-entanglement qualia, etc. That's why I personally dislike the word "qualia"; it's too overloaded. If I am correct, then you personally could never know exactly what another being experiences when it looks at the same red object that you're looking at. You may only emulate this knowledge approximately, by looking at how its brain states correlate with yours. Since another human's brain states are pretty similar to yours, your emulation will be fairly accurate. A bat's brain is quite different from yours, and thus your emulation will not be nearly as accurate. However, this is not the same thing as saying, "bats don't experience the color red (*)". They just experience it differently from humans. I don't see this as a problem that needs solving, though I could be missing something. (*) Assuming that bats have color receptors in their eyes; I forgot whether they do or not.
0Peterdjones9yI don't think anyone has raised that except you. Alhough, under may circumstances, I could know approximately. Bats have a sense that humans don't have, sonar, and if they have qualia, they presumably have some kind of radically unfamiliar-to-humans qualia to go with it. That is an issue of a different order to not knowing exactly what someone else's Red is like. And, again, it is not a problem solved by positing the identity of the the bat's brain state and its qualia. Identity theory does't explain qualia in the sense of explaining how variations in qualia relate to varations in brain state.
0Bugmaster9yAgreed. I wasn't talking about sonar, but about good old-fashioned color perception. A bat's brain is very different from a human's. Thus, while you can approximate another human's perception fairly well, your approximation of a bat's perception would be quite inexact. I'm not sure I understand what you mean. If we could scan a bat's brain, and understand more or less how it worked (which, today, we can't do), then we could trace the changes in its states that would propagate throughout the bat when red photons hit its eyes. We could say, "aha, at this point, the bat will likely experience something vaguely similar to what we do, when red photons hit our eyes". And we could predict the changes in the bat's model of the world that will occur as the result. For example, if the bat is conditioned to fear the color red for some reason, we could say, "the bat will identify this area of its environment as dangerous, and will seek to avoid it", etc. If the above is true, then what is there left to explain ?
0Peterdjones9yRadically unfamiliar-to-humans qualia. You have picked an easy case, I have picked a difficult one. If we wan't to know what the world sonars like to a bat on LSD, identity theory doens't tell us.
0Bugmaster9yWell, in point of fact, I've personally never done LSD, so I don't know what color perception is like for another human on LSD, either. I could make an educated guess, though. In case of the bat sonar, the answer is even simpler, IMO: we lack the capacity to experience what the world sonars like to a bat, except in the vaguest terms. Again, I don't see this is a problem. Bats have sonars, we don't. Note that this is very different from saying something like "we can't know whether bats experience anything at all through their sonar", or "even if we have scanned the bat's brain, we can't predict what changes it would undergo in response to a particular sonar signal", etc. All I'm saying is, "we cannot create a sufficiently accurate mapping between our brain states and the bat's, as far as sonaring is concerned". Again, I'm not entirely sure I understand what additional things we need to explain w.r.t qualia.
0gwern9yNormally I'd assume that I know what you meant and move on, but since this involves LSD... You don't know what it's like? Or you do, but it's an educated guess? What?
0Bugmaster9yI've never done LSD myself, but I've talked to people who did, and I've read similar accounts in books, online, etc. Thus, I can make a guess as to what LSD would feel like, assuming my brain is close to the average.
-1Peterdjones9yI see that as a problem for the claim that mind-brain identity theory explains qualia. It does not enable us to undestand the bat's qualia, or to predict what they would be like. However, other explanations do lead to understanding and predicting. Understanding and predicting.
0Bugmaster9yI guess I'm not entirely sure what you mean by "understanding" and "predicting". As I said, if we could scan the bat's brain and figure out how all of its subsystems influence each other, we would know with a very high degree of certainty what happens to it when the bat receives a sonar signal. We could identify the changes in the bat's model of the world that would result from the sonar signal, and we could predict them ahead of time. Thus, for example, we could say, "if the bat is in mid-flight, and hungry, and detects its sonar reflecting from a small object A of size B and shape C etc., then it would alter its model of the world to include a probable moth at the object's approximate location (*). It would then alter course to intercept the moth, by sending out signals to its wing muscles as follows: blah blah". Are predictions of this sort insufficient ? If so, what additional predictions could be made by those other explanations you mentioned ? (*) Disclaimer: I don't really know much about the hunting habits of real-life bats.
0Peterdjones9yMore irrelevant. None of them are actualy about qualia, about how things seem to experiencing subjects. You have Substituted an Easier Problem.
0Bugmaster9yIs "how things seem to experiencing subjects" somehow different from "things happening to the brains of experiencing subjects" ? If so, how ?
1Peterdjones9yWe can't figure out the former from the latter. If we want to know what such-and-such and experience is like, a description of a brain state won't tell us. They might still be identical in some way we can;t understand... but then we can't undestand it. So it remains the case that m/b identity theory doesn't constitute an explanation.
1bogus9yThe map is not the territory. Just because descriptions of our brain states won't help us figure out what subjective experiences are like (either currently or in the foreseeable future), doesn't mean that those experiences aren't a part of the physical world somehow. Reductionism [] has been a very successful paradigm in our description of the physical world, but we can't state with any confidence that it has captured what the ontologically basic, "ground" level of physics is really like.
1Peterdjones9yOK. I am not arguing for duaism. I am arguing against the claim tha adopting reductionism, or materialism, or m/b identity constitutes a resolution of any of any Hard Problem. What you are saying is that m/b identity might be true as unintelligible brute fact. What I am saying is that brute facts aren't explanations.
0Bugmaster9yI read this sentence as, "If we want to build an approximate mapping between someone else's brain states and ours, a description of a brain state won't help us". That sounds contradictory to me.
1Peterdjones9yis you parpahrase actually a fair translation of my comment? Are "mappings" things that tell people what such-and-such an experience is like, as if they had had it themselves? What, concretely, is a mapping?
0Bugmaster9yOur goal is to estimate what someone else will experience, "from the inside", in response to some stimulus -- given that we know what we'd experience in response to that stimulus. One way to do it is observe our own brains in action, and compare them to the other brain under similar conditions. This way, we can directly relate specific functions of our brain to the target brain. To use a rather crude and totally inadequate example, we could say, "Every time I feel afraid, area X of my brain lights up. And every time this bat acts in a way that's consistent with being afraid, area Y of its brain lights up. Given this, plus what we know about biology/evolution/etc., I can say that Y performs the same function as X, with 95% confidence." That's a rather crude example because brains can't be always subdivided into neat parts like that, and because we don't know a lot about how they work, etc. etc. Still, if we could relate the functioning of one brain to another under a variety of circumstances with some degree of certainty, we'd have a "mapping". When you say, "I think if another human saw this piece of paper, he'd believe it was red", you're referencing the "mapping" that you made between your brain and the other human's. Sure, you probably created this mapping based on instinct or intuition, rather than based on some sort of scientific analysis, but it still works; in fact, it works so well you don't even need to think about it. In the case of bat sonar, we'd have to analytically match up as many of our mental functions to the bat's, and then infer where the sonar would fit in -- since we humans don't have one of those. Thus, while we could make an educated guess, our degree of confidence in it would be low.
0Peterdjones9yOK. The cases where confidence is low are the cases where a dexcription of a brain state won't help.
0Bugmaster9yAgreed; but then, what is your goal ? If you are trying to answer the question, "how would it feel to have sonar", one possible answer is, "you can't experience it directly, but you'd be able to sort of see intermittently in the dark, except with your ears instead of eyes; here's a detailed probabilistic model". Is that not enough ? If not, what else are you looking for, and why do you believe that it's achievable at all ?
6Nornagest9ySome humans do seem to have managed to experience echolocation [], and you could presumably ask them about it -- not that that's terribly relevant to the broader question of experience.
0Peterdjones9yIf reductionism is true, I would expect a reductive explanation, and I'm not getting one.
0Vladimir_Nesov9yDiscussing whether "reductionism is true" or what is a "reductionistic explanation" feels to me like discussing whether "French cuisine is true", it's not apparent what particular query or method of explanation you are talking about. I think it's best to taboo "reductionism" in discussions such as this one.
-4Peterdjones9yDon't tell me, tell EY..while I'm at a safe distance, please.
0Bugmaster9yI'm still not seeing what it is that you're trying to explain. I think you are confusing the two statements: a). "bats experience sonar", and b). "we can experience sonar vicariously through bats, somehow".
3Peterdjones9yI'm not claiming to be able to explain anything. Some people have claimed that accepting materialism, or reductioinism, or something, solves the hard problem. I am pointing out that it doens't. The HP is the problem of explaining how experiential states relate in a detailed way to brain states, and materialists are no clearer about that than anyone else.
0Bugmaster9yI suppose I'm as confused as the average materialist, because I don't see what the "hard problem" even is. As far as I understand, materialism explains it away. To put it another way, I don't think the fact that we can't directly experience what it's like to be a bat is a philosophical problem that needs solving. I agree that "how experiential states relate in a detailed way to brain states" is a question worth asking, but so are many other questions, such as "how does genetic code relate in a detail way to expressed phenotypes". People are working on it, though -- just check out Nornagest's link [] on this thread.
-4Peterdjones9yPhilosophers don't suppose that either. "The hard problem of consciousness is the problem of explaining how and why we have qualia or phenomenal experiences — how sensations acquire characteristics, such as colors and tastes."--WP Maybe but you have clearly expressed why it is difficult: you can't predict novel qualia, or check your predictions. If you can't state quala verbally (mathematically, etc), then it is hard to see how you could have an explanation of qualia.
-2Bugmaster9yHow novel are we talking ? If I have a functional model of the brain (which we currently do not, just as we don't have a model of the entire proteome), I can predict how people and other beings will feel in response to stimuli similar to the ones they'd been exposed to in the past. I can check these predictions by asking them how they feel on one hand, and scanning their brains on the other. I can also issue such predictions for new stimuli, of course; in fact, artists and advertisers implicitly do this every day. As for things like, "what would it feel like to have sonar", I could issue predictions as well, though they'd be less certain. I thought we were stating them verbally already, f.ex. "this font is red". As for "mathematically", there are all kinds of MRI studies, psychological studies, etc. out there, that are making a good attempt at it. Thus, I'm still not sure what remains to be explained in principle. I get the feeling that maybe you're looking for some sort of "theory of qualia" that is independent of brains, or possibly one that's only dependent on sensory mechanisms and nothing else. I don't think it makes sense to request such a theory, however; it'd be like asking for a "theory of falling" that excludes gravity.
-4Peterdjones9yThey wouldn't be novel. I don't mean further instances of the same kind. Do they? Surely they make arrangements of existing qualia types. That's no good for novel qualia. * why there is phenomenal experience at all * why we see colours and smell smells--how and why quaia match up to sensory modalities. * anything to do with quala we don't have Nope.
-2Bugmaster9yWhat do you mean, then ? I'm still rather confused. Sure, it's interesting to imagine what it'd feel like to have bat sonar (although some people apparently don't have to imagine), but, well, we don't have a sonar at the moment. Once we do, we can start talking about its qualia, and see if our predictions were right. That's kind of a broad question. Why do we have eyes at all ? The answer takes a few billion years... Again, to me this sounds like, "why do our brain states change in response to stimuli received by our sensory organs (which are plugged into the brains); how and why do brain states match up to brain states". Perhaps you mean something special by "sensory modalities" ? See above.
0Peterdjones9yI mean something like the standard meaning of " novel prediction". Like black holes are a novel prediction of GR Sure "why is there experience at all" a broad question. Particularly since you wouldn't expect to find irreducible subjectivity in a physical universe. And its another question that isn't adressed by Accpeting Materialism. Yes, but you can't make that work in practice. You can;t describe a quale by describig the related brain state. For us, given our igonrance, brains states and qualia are informationally and semantically independent, even if they are ontologically the same thing. WHich is anothe way of saying that identity theory doens't explain much.. I mean sight is one modality hearing another.
0[anonymous]9yPeople keep asserting that and it's not obvious. Why would you not expect a being in a "physical" (Q1. what does this mean?) universe, to have "subjective experience" (Q2. what does that mean?)? (Q3 is the question itself) Please respond
-2Peterdjones9yIf "physcical" is cashed out as "understandable by the methods of the physcal sciences", then it follows that "everything is physical" means "everything is understandable from an extenal, objective perspective". If that is the case, the only kind of subjectivity that could exist is a kind that can be reduced to physics, a kind whch is ultimately objective, in the way that the "mental", for physicalists, is a subset of the physical.
-2[anonymous]9yOk. What does such a statement predict wrt subjective experience? please respond
-2Peterdjones9yI have said it predicts that there is no irreducible subjective experience.
-2[anonymous]9yThat "irreducible" part is bothering me. What does it mean? I can see that it could take us out of what "materialism" would predict, but I can't see it doing that without also taking us out of the set of phenomena we actually observe. (the meanings of irreducible that materialism prohibits are also not actually observed, AFAICT). Anyways, getting downvoted, going to tap out now, I've made my case with the program and whatnot, no one wants to read the rest of this. Apologies for the bandwidth and time.
-2Peterdjones9yIrreducile as in reducible as in reductionism. How can you spend any time on LW and not know what reductionism is? Reducibility is not observed except the form of explanations pubished in journals and gi vn in classrooms. Irreducibility is likewise not observed.
0Bugmaster9yI don't know enough neurobiology to offer up any novel predictions off the top of my head; here [] are some random links [] off of Google that look somewhat interesting (disclaimer: I haven't read them yet). In general, though, the reduction of qualia directly to brain states has already yielded some useful applications in the fields of color theory (apparently, color perception is affected by culture, f.ex. Russians can discern more colors than Americans), audio compression (f.ex. ye olde MP3), and synthetic senses (people embedding magnets under their skin to sense magnetic fields). Why not ? I do not believe that subjectivity is "irreducible". I'm not sure what this means. I mean, yes, given our ignorance, the Moon is a small, dim light source high up in the sky; but today we know better. How is this different from saying, "sight and sound are captured by different organs and processed by different sub-structures in the brain, thus leading to distinct experiences" ?
-4Peterdjones9yBear in mind that what is important here is the prediction of experience. Believeing in materialism does not reduce subjectviity, and neither does believing in the reducibility of subjectivity. Yep. Explanation first, then identitfication.
-1Bugmaster9yI have no idea what this means. Believing or disbelieving in things generally doesn't poof them in or out of existence, but seeing as neither of us here are omniscient, I'm not sure why you'd bring it up. Do you believe that subjective experiences are "irreducible" ? If so, you are making a very strong existential claim, and you need to provide more evidence than you've done so far.
-4Peterdjones9yPeople keep telling me that Accpeting Materialism is The Answer. You don't beleive that, don't. But people keep tellig me.
-1Bugmaster9yThat kind of depends on what the question is, and you still haven't told me. If the question is, "who makes the most delicious cupcakes", then Materialism is probably not the answer. If the question is, "how do you account for the irreducibility of subjective experience", then Materialism is not the answer either, since you have not convinced me that subjective experience is irreducible, and thus the answer is "mu".
-4bogus9yIt still makes sense to ask what these "brain states" actually are, physically. Since we seem to have direct experiential access to them as part of our subjective phenomenology, this suggests on Occamian grounds that they should not be as physically or ontologically complex as neurophysical brain states. The alternative would be for biological brains to be mysteriously endowed with ontologically basic properties (as if they had tiny XML tags attached to them) which makes no sense at all.
1TheOtherDave9yI would agree that it makes sense to ask what sorts of brain states are associated with what sorts of subjective experiences, and how changes in brain states cause and are caused by those experiences, and what sorts of physical structures are capable of entering into those states and what the mechanism is whereby they do so. Indeed, a lot of genuinely exciting work is being done in these areas by neurologists, neurobiologists, and similar specialists as we speak.
0bogus9yI agree, and I would add that a lot of interesting work has also been done by transcendental phenomenologists - the folks who study the subjective experience phenomenon from its, well, "subjective" side. The open question is whether these two strands of work will be able to meet in the middle and come up with a mutually consistent account.
0shminux9y"transcendental phenomenology" is not a natural science but philosophy, so there is no middle to meet in.
0Peterdjones9yExcept that there is, since there are plenty of subjects which have been studied from both sides. The natures of space, time and causality for a start.
1shminux9yHaving studied these subjects from the physics side, I find that there is little useful input into the matter from the philosophy types, except for some vague motivations.
0Peterdjones9yYou may not like the Middle, but it is there.
0shminux9yFeel free to give an example.
-2Peterdjones9yThe natures of space, time and causality for a start.
1shminux9ySomething concrete, please. What is this nature? What is the philosophical position and what is the physical position? Where is that middle? The standard example is Einstein's invocation of the Mach's principle, which is actually a bad example. GR shows that, contrary to Mach, acceleration is absolute, not relative. One can potentially argue that the frame dragging effect is sort of in this vein, but this effect is weak and was discovered after GR was already constructed, and not by Einstein.
-2Peterdjones9yIt's not a question of positions. The point is both philosophy and science study these questions.
0shminux9yYou claimed that there is a middle. Point one out, concretely.
-2Peterdjones9y [The natures of space, time and causality]. The point is both philosophy and science study these questions.
0TheOtherDave9yYou say "has been done"... is that to suggest that there is no active work currently being done in transcendental phenomenology?
1Mitchell_Porter9yIf I can jump in... It's useful to distinguish between phenomenology in general, as the study of consciousness from "within" consciousness; various schools of phenomenological thought, distinguished by their methods and conclusions; and then all those attempts to explain the relationship between consciousness and the material world. These days the word "phenomenology" is used quite frequently in the latter context, and often just to designate what it is that one is trying to "correlate" with the neurons. It's part of the general pattern of usage whereby an "-ology" comes to designate its subject matter, so that "biology" means life and not the study of life - "we share the same biology" doesn't mean our biology classes are in agreement - "psychology" means mind and not the study of mind, and "sociology" means social processes and not the study of them. That's an odd little trend and I don't know what to make of it, but in any case, "phenomenology" is often used as a synonym for the phenomena of consciousness, rather than to refer to the study of those phenomena or to a genuine theory of subjectivity. Thus people talk about "naturalizing phenomenology", but they don't mean taking a specific theory of subjective consciousness and embedding it within natural science, they just mean embedding consciousness within natural science. Consciousness is treated in a very imprecise way, compared to e.g. neuroscience. Such precision as exists is usually in the domain of philosophical definition of concepts. But you don't see people talking about methods for precise introspection or for precise description of a state of consciousness, or methods for precise arbitration of epistemological disputes about consciousness. Phenomenology as a discipline includes such methodological issues. But this is a discipline which exists more as an unknown ideal and as an object of historical study. Today we have some analytic precision in the definition of phenomenological concepts, and tot
0Bugmaster9yHow so ? I don't follow your reasoning, and I'm not sure what you mean by "neurophysical brain states" -- are there any other kinds ? Ultimately, every human brain is made of neurons...
0Peterdjones9yI didn't understand that either.
0TheOtherDave9yNot exclusively. There are glial cells, for example.
1Bugmaster9yGood point. I should've said, "made of neurons or other physical substances" :-)

You didn't actually dissolve the problem of qualia -- you just rationalized it away. The goal we like to aim for here in "dissolving" problems is not just to show that the question was wrongheaded, but thoroughly explain why we were motivated to ask the question in the first place.

If qualia don't exist for anyone, what causes so many people to believe they exist and to describe them in such similar ways? Why does virtually everyone with a philosophical bent rediscover the "hard problem"?

2common_law9yI think this objection applies to Dennett or Churchland's account but not to mine. The reason the qualia problem is compelling, on my account, is that we have an innate intuition of direct experience. There is indeed some mystery about why we have such an intuition when, on the analysis I provide, the intuition seems to serve no useful purpose, but the answer to that question lies in evolution. The only answer to "why we were motivated to ask the question?" is the answer to "why did evolution equip us with this nonfunctional intuition?" What other question might you have in mind? A suggested answer to the evolutionary question is contained in another essay, "The supposedly hard problem of consciousness and the nonexistence of sense data: Is your dog a conscious being?" [] . But I don't follow that "merely showing a problem is wrongheaded" would be tantamount to "just [rationalizing] it away." You would be justified in declining to count a showing of wrongheadedness as a complete dissolution, but that doesn't make a demonstration of wrongheadedness unsound. The reasonable response to such a showing is to conclude that there are no qualia and then to look for the answers to why they seem compelling.

A philosophers’ version is the “inverted spectrum”: how do I know you see “red” rather than “blue” when you see this red print?

That's a typo, right? It's blue print.

2Pentashagon9yWhile humorous, this is actually a specious argument. We can agree to call light between 450–495 nm "blue" and light between 620–750 nm "red" and in fact most of us do. The real question is whether, despite our labels, we feel the experience of those wavelengths quite differently, in ways we can't adequately express via language.

Removing a fundamental scientific mystery is a conceptual gain.

Removing it by claiming it doesn't exist seems suspicious to me. Especially given that it seems quite clear that I have qualia.

2[anonymous]9yI agree that this isn't a method that should be used to "solve" scientific problems, but I don't think that is what this article attempts to do. Rather, the essay makes the case that the problem of qualia was never a scientific problem to begin with - it is an epistemological problem that requires an epistemological solution. If somebody asks you, "what is the sound of one hand clapping", you don't reach for a tape recorder and start experimental trials. The correct response is to reply, "your question is absurd." Similarly, when presented with the problem of how the non-causal essence of experience could have physical effects, the solution isn't to find an answer, the solution is to dissolve the question. (At least, that's what the article argues and I agree.) Epistemology here is acting as a filtering device to determine which questions are solvable scientifically. The qualia question has a nasty habit of slipping through the net.

The whole mess regarding "qualia" I just chalk up to "we don't know how the brain works; once we do, it will have a perfectly reasonable explanation."

A joke: there is in fact an empirical test for p-zombiehood: whether you agree with Dennett or not.

5aaronde9yWell, I agree with Dennett, and I'm pretty sure I'm a p-zombie. I mean, that's the whole point, right? That p-zombies aren't actually any different from real people?
-1Mitchell_Porter9yA p-zombie doesn't feel pain; it just says it does, and it goes through the motions of being in pain. Does that sound like you? If we chop off your hand, will you not actually be feeling anything?
5aaronde9yWhen people say that it's conceivable for something to act exactly as if it were in pain without actually feeling pain, they are using the word "feel" in a way that I don't understand or care about. So, sure: I don't feel pain in that sense. That's not going to stop me from complaining about having my hand chopped off!
0Peterdjones9yOK. But you're using "feel" in a sense I don't understand.
0aaronde9yAs far as I know, to feel is to detect, or perceive, and pain is positive punishment, in the jargon of operant conditioning. So to say "I feel pain" is to say that I detect a stimulus, and process the information in such a way that (all else equal) I will try to avoid similar circumstances in the future. Not being a psychologist, I don't know much more about pain. But (not being a psychologist) I don't need to know more about pain. And I reject the notion that we can, through introspection, know something more about what it "is like" to be in pain. I believe it's unethical to inflict pain on people (or animals, unnecessarily), because to hold something in a state of pain is to frustrate its goals. I don't think that it is any qualia associated with pain that makes it bad. Indeed, this seems to lead to morally repugnant conclusions. If we could construct a sophisticated intelligence that can learn by operant conditioning, but somehow remove the qualia, does it become OK to subject it to endless punishment?
0Peterdjones9yI don't think we have to argue whether it is the goal-frustration or the pain-quale that is the bad. They are both bad. I don't want to have my goals frustrated painlessly, and I don't want to experience pain even in ways that promote my goals, such as being cattle-proded every time I slip into Akrasia. It would have been helpful to say why you reject it. If you were in a Mary-style experiment, whre you studied pain whilst being anaesthetised from birth, would you maintinan that personally experiencing pain for the first time would teach you nothing?
0aaronde9yDon't you mean that avoiding pain is one of your goals? It just seems like the default position. Can you give me a reason to take the idea of qualia seriously in the first place? Yes.
0Peterdjones9yYes. Because pain hurts. Yes. My pains hurt. My food tastes. Voices and music sound like something. Do you go drink the wine or just read the label? Do you go on holiday or just read the brochure?
2aaronde9yUm, those are all tautologies, so I'm not sure how to respond. If we define "qualia" as "what it feels like to have a feeling", then, well - that's just a feeling, right? And "qualia" is just a redundant and pretentious word, whose only intelligible purpose is to make a mystery of something that is relatively well understood (e.g: the "hard problem of consciousness"). No? Erm, sorry for the snark, but seriously: has talk of qualia, as distinct from mere perceptions, ever achieved any useful or even interesting results? Consciousness will continue to be a mystery to people as long as they refuse to accept any answers - as long as they say: "Okay, you've explained everything worth knowing about how I, as an information processing system, perceive and respond to my environment. And you've explained everything worth knowing about how I perceive my own perceptions of my environment, and perceive those perceptions, and so on ad infinitum - but you still haven't explained why it feels like something to have those perceptions." Ha! That's actually not far off. But it's because I'm a total nerd who tries to eat healthy and avoid unnecessary expenses - not because of how I feel about qualia. I think that happiness should be a consequence of good things happening, not that happiness is a good thing in itself. So I try to avoid doing things (like drugs) that would decouple my feelings from outcomes in the real world. In fact, if I just did whatever I felt like at any given time, I would end up even less outgoing - less adventurous.
0Peterdjones9ya) I thought you were denying "pains hurt" b) "food tastes" isn't. c) The others can be rephrased as "injuries hurt" and "atmospheric compression waves sound like something". d) All words are inidivdually redundant e) If you think you can make the Hard Problem easy by tabooing "qualia", lets see you try. Well, you haven't. And there is something. Do you send disadvantaged kids to Disneyland, or just send them the brochure? Even if you don't personally care about experiencing things for yourself, it is difficult to see how you could ignore its importance in your "good outcomes".
0aaronde9yNot at all. I'm denying that there is anything left over to know about pain (or hurting) after you understand what pain does. As my psych prof. pointed out, you often see weird circular definitions of pain in common usage, like "pain is an unpleasant sensation". Whereas psychologists use functional definitions, like "a stimulus is painful, iff animals try to avoid it". I believe that the latter definition of pain is valid (if simplistic), and that the former is not. I did that here [] , on another branch of this conversation. Again, this is simplistic, probably missing a few details, maybe slightly wrong. But I find it implausible that there is a huge, important aspect of what it is to be in pain that this completely misses. Depends on the kid. I would have preferred a good book to Disneyland (I don't like crowds or roller coasters). Again, it's about preferences, not qualia. And what someone prefers is simply what they would choose, given the option. (And if we want to get into CED, it's what they would choose, given the option, and unlimited time to think about it, etc...) Woah, did I say that? Just because I don't value feelings in themselves doesn't mean that I can't care about anything that involves feelings. There's no meta-ethical reason, for example, why I can't prefer to have a perpetual orgasm for the rest of my life. I just don't. On the other hand, I am a big fan of novelty. And if novel things are going to happen, then something has to do them. That thing may as well be me. And to do something is to experience it. There is no distinction. So I certainly want to experience novel things.
0Peterdjones9yI don't have to like either definition, and I don't. The second definition attempts to define pain from outside behaviour, and therefore misses the central point of a feeling--that it feels like something, subjectively, to the organism having it. Moreover, it is liable to over-extend the definition of pain. Single celled organisms can show avoidant behaviour, but it is doubtful that they have feelings. Putting things on an objective basis is often and rightly seen as a Good Thing in science, but when what you are dealing with is subjective, a problem is brewing.. I find it obvious that there is a huge, important aspect of what it is to be in pain that that completely misses. There is nothing there that deals at all, in any way, with any kind of subjective feeling or sensaton whatsoever. You have decided that pain is a certain kind of behaviour dsiaplyed by entities pother than yourself and seen from the outside, and you have coded that up. I inspect the code, and find nothing that relates in any way to how I introspect pain or any other feeling. But I suspect we will continue to go round in circles on this issue until I can persuade you to make the paradigm shift into thinking about subjective feelings from the POV of your own subjectivity. It's about both, because you can't prefer to personally have certain experiences if there is no such thing as subjective experience. Would you want to go on a holiday, or climb a mountain, and then have your memories of the expereince wiped? You would still have done it.
0aaronde9yYou're right, we're starting to go around in circles. So we should wrap this up. I'll just address what seems to be the main point. This is the crux of our disagreement, and is unlikely to change. But you still seem to misunderstand me slightly, so maybe we can still make progress. No, I have decided that pain is any stimulus - that is, a feeling - that causes a certain kind of behavior. This is not splitting hairs. It is relevant, because you keep telling me that my view doesn't account for feelings, when it is all about feelings! What you really mean is that my view doesn't account for qualia, which really just means I'm being consistent, because I don't believe in qualia. Here for example, you seem to be equivocating between "experience" and "subjective experience". If "subjective experience" means the same thing as "experience", then I don't think there is no such thing as subjective experience. But if "subjective experience" means something different, like "qualia", then this statement doesn't follow at all. P.S. This may be off-point, but I just have to say, this: because the code has no capacity for introspection - not because it has no capacity for pain. Edit: maybe this last point presents room for common ground, like: "Qualia is awareness of ones own feelings, and therefore is possessed by anything that can accurately report on how it is responding to stimuli."?
0Peterdjones9yI don't accept that all stimuli are feelings. A thermostat is stimulated by changes in temperature, but I don't think it feels the cold. It is about "feelings" as you define the word, which is not general usage. Which is itslef consistent with the fact that your "explanations" of feelign invariabel skirt the central issues. However, I am never goign to be able to provide you with objective proof of subjective feelings. It is for you to get out of the loop of denying subjectivity because it is not objective enough. "subjective experience" means "exprerience" and both mean the same thing as "qualia". Which is to say, it is incoherent to me that you could deny qualia and accept experience. I don't think introspection is sufficient for feeling, since I can introspect thought as well.
0aaronde9yOkay, I've tabooed my words. Now it's your turn. What do you mean by "feeling"?
0Peterdjones9yThe conscious subjective experience of a sensation or emotion.
-2aaronde9yHow do I know whether I am having a conscious subjective experience of a sensation or emotion?
-2Peterdjones9yYou're conscious. Being conscious of things kind of goes with the territory.
0aaronde9yI also think that I am conscious, but you keep telling me I have the wrong definitions of words like this, so I don't know if we agree. I would say being conscious means that some part of my brain is collating data about my mental states, such that I could report accurately on my mental states in a coherent manner.
09eB19yIf someone offered me a pill that would merely reduce my qualia experience of pain I would take it, even if it still triggered in me a process of information that would cause me to try to avoid similar circumstances in the future, and even if it were impossible to tell observationally that I had taken it, except by asking about my qualia of experiencing pain and other such philosophical topics. That is, if I am going to writhe in agony, I would prefer to have my mind do it for me without me having to experience the agony. If I'm going to never touch a hot stove because of one time when I burned me, I'd prefer to do that without having the memory of the burn. This idea is not malformed, given what we know about the human brain's lack of introspection on it's actions [] . In practice it seems that the only reason that it frustrates a person's goals to receive pain is because they have a goal, "I don't want to be in pain." There are certainly reasons that the pain is adaptive, but it certainly seems from the inside like the most objectionable part is the qualia. If the sophisticated intelligence HAS qualia but doesn't have as a goal avoidance of pain, that suggests your ethical system would be OK to subject it to endless punishment (a sentiment with which I may agree).
0RichardKennaway9yMorphine is said to have this effect. Some people who have been prescribed it for pain say that they still feel the pain but it doesn't hurt. But it's illegal in most places except for bona fide medical purposes.
0aaronde9yI think that split-brain study shows the opposite of what you think it shows. If you observed yourself to be writhing around in agony, then you would conclude that you were experiencing the qualia of pain. Try to imagine what this would actually be like, and think carefully about what "trying to avoid similar circumstances in the future" actually means. You can't sit still, can't think about anything else. You plead with anyone around to help you - put a stop to whatever is causing this - insisting that they should sympathize with you. The more intense the pain gets, the more desperate you become. If not, then you aren't actually in pain (as I define it) because you aren't trying very hard to avoid the stimulus. I'd sympathize with you. Are you saying you wouldn't sympathize with yourself? BTW, how do you think I'd respond, if subjected to pain and asked about my "qualia"? By this reasoning, is my pain irrelevant? I think you have the causation backwards. Pain causes a person to acquire the goal of avoiding whatever the source of the pain is, even if they didn't have that goal before. (Think about someone confidently volunteering to be water-boarded to prove a point, only to immediately change his mind when the torture starts.) That's how I just defined pain above. That's all pain is, as far as I know. Of course, in animals, the pain response happens to be associated with a bunch of biological quirks, but we could recognize pain without those minutiae. Well, you just described an intelligence that doesn't feel pain. So it doesn't make sense to ask whether it would be OK to inflict pain on it. Could you clarify what it would mean to punish something that has no desire to avoid the punishment?
0randallsquared9yTaken literally, this suggests that you believe all actors really believe they are the character (at least, if they are acting exactly like the character). Since that seems unlikely, I'm not sure what you mean.
1aaronde9yIf an actor stays in character his entire life, making friends and holding down a job, in character - and if, whenever he seemed to zone out, you could interrupt him at any time to ask what he was thinking about, and he could give a detailed description of the day dream he was having, in character... Well then I'd say the character is a lot less fictional than the actor. But even if there is an actor - an entirely different person putting on a show - the character is still a real person. This is no different from saying that a person is still a person, even if they're a brain emulation running on a computer. In this case, the actor is the substrate on which the character is running.
-2Eugine_Nier9ySo would you say video game characters "feel" pain?
-1aaronde9yProbably some of them do (I don't play video games). But they aren't even close to being people, so I don't really care.
2Risto_Saarelma9yWould you say a thermostat feels pain when it can't adjust the temperature towards its preferred setting? Otherwise you might have some strange ideas about the complexity of video game characters. There's a very long way to go in internal complexity from a video game character to, say, a bacterium.
4aaronde9yI don't think a program has to be very sophisticated to feel pain. But it does have to exhibit some kind of learning. For example: .def wanderer (locations, utility, X): ..while True: . ...for some random l1, l2 in locations: ....if utility[l1] < utility[l2]: .....my_location = l2 ....else: .....my_location = l1 . ...if X(my_location, current_time): ....utility[my_location] = utility[my_location] - 1 . ...current_time = current_time + 1 This program aimlessly wanders over a space of locations, but eventually tends to avoid locations where X has returned True at past times. It seems obvious to me that X is pain, and that this program experiences pain. You might say that the program experiences less pain than we do, because the pain response is so simple. Or you might argue that it experiences pain more intensely, because all it does is implement the pain response. Either position seems valid, but again it's all academic to me, because I don't believe pain or pleasure are good or bad things in themselves. To answer your question, a thermostat that is blocked from changing the temperature is frustrated, not necessarily in pain. Although, changing the setting on a working thermostat may be pain, because it is a stimulus that causes a change in the persistent behavior a system, directing it to extricate itself from its current situation. (edit: had trouble with indentation.)

Moved to Discussion.

Could we possibly have a normal formatted version? I feel like I'm being sold a diet pill.

8Alicorn9yI've replaced all the red (except the first instance, where it serves a purpose) with regular bold.
-1Mitchell_Porter9y"You think you replaced it with bold, but that's just a belief. Boldness qualia don't actually exist."
[-][anonymous]9y 6

First, let us make it clear that when you see red, your brain does not store pixels with high R-value in little RGB colour points.

I conjecture that the brain has some highly efficient storage formats for visuals, which is evident in the fact that people untrained in visual arts all have very symbol-centric expressive forms. You do not store a high fidelity vector-graphics image of a red sports car when you see one; you probably store the symbol car, the colour red, the feelings associated with the car-brand, some sense of 'sleekness' and many other paintbr... (read more)

How do bumping beer cans jointly experience the subjective taste of a strawberry? How can a soul push cations across bilipid membranes? Neither materialist nor non-materialist answers seem to be adequate, which does suggest that there's a problem here that needs dissolving more than it needs solving. In the absence of adequate evidence, my preferred hypothesis is a kind of neutral monism.

I look in front of me and see a purple box. By any of a variety of possible causes, my attention is brought to bear on my current action, and I notice that I am looking... (read more)

4fubarobfusco9yWhat sort of a thing am "I" that the expression "my attention" refers to anything? What am I, that I can possess an attention? Do I have it in the way I have hands, or in the way I have the recollection that 17 × 2 = 34? Can I sometimes have two attentions, or zero, or half of one?
0selylindi9yI'm a brain in a body. My attention [] is a cognitive process for allocating scarce processing resources.
0Peterdjones9yI would love to be able to comment on the degree of meaningfullness, truth, well-informedness, originality and clarity of you comment, but I find myself suddenly confused by what sort of things meaningfullness, truth, well-informdness, originality and clarity actually are. Do you have one or zero of them...?
1Oscar_Cunningham9yThe rest of your comment was great, but I lost you at the last sentence, could you re-express it?
3selylindi9yA theory about qualia is that they're epiphenomena, which I interpret to mean that causation goes only one way (from physical events to qualia), not both ways. I used to immediately reject that theory because we're physically discussing qualia. But then I speculatively proposed the neural argument above, and realized I was wrong. We only ever discuss the fact that we have qualia. We don't discuss the content of the qualia themselves. In fact it seems we can't discuss the raw experienced content of the qualia. So maybe they are very nearly epiphenomenal, with one niggling exception that the facts of their existence are apparently causally linked both directions (perhaps as explained by that putative neural mechanism). Um, that might still be badly expressed, but it's my best effort. If it still doesn't work, then the whole idea is probably badly formed. Perhaps a differently evolved or designed neural architecture could discuss the content of qualia. We might simply lack the wiring for it.

Wasn't the issue rather adequately addressed in the Sequences? Why a sequel?

There are two traditional problems associated with colors. One is the sort that pseudo-philosophical douchebags take to: "Dude, what if no one really sees the same colors?" The other was very popular in the heyday of classical analytic philosophy: how can we say that Red is Not-Blue analytically if they are empirical & presumably a posteriori data?

Let's assume for the sake of getting to the real argument that consciousness arises from physical matter in a manner uncontroversial for the materialist. Granting this, why do we all see the same co... (read more)

2CCC9yI can quickly and easily prove that some people see colours in a different way to the way that I do. To my eyes, red and green are visibly and obviously distinct. I cannot look at one and consider it to be the other. Yet, red-green colour blindness [] is the most common version of colourblindness; these people must see either red, or green, or both in some way differently to the way that I see these colours.
2ArisKatsaris9yI think you are confusing the word "color" that identifies a certain type of visual experience, with the word "color" that identifies a certain set of light-frequencies. This is much like confusing the word "sound" which means "auditory experience", with the word "sound" which means "acoustic vibrations". You see certain frequencies in a different way than people with red-green colour blindness; in short these frequencies lead to different qualia, different visual experiences. That's rather obvious and rather useless in discussing the deeper philosophical point. But to say that you experience certain visual experiences differently than others experience them, may even be a contradiction in terms -- unless it's meant that the atomic qualia trigger in turn different qualia (e.g. different memories or feelings) in each person. Which is probably also trivially true...
0CCC9yApologies for the confusion. Your second paragraph encapsulates the point I intended to convey; that given frequencies of light create in my mind qualia that differ from the qualia created by the same frequency of light in the mind of a red-green colourblind person.
0Spinning_Sandwich9yOn the common sense view that qualia are the kolors generated by our minds, which do so based on sensory input about the colors in the world, it makes sense that color-to-kolor conversion (if you will) should be imperfect even among people with properly functioning sight. Its possible my writing wasn't clear enough to convey this point (or that you were objecting to CCC, not me), but I was getting at the idea that we probably do experience slightly different kolors. It was never my intention to be philosophically "rigorous" about that, just to raise the point.
2Spinning_Sandwich9yYou'll notice that the next few sentences of my post address this same idea for fully functional members of different species. But it doesn't technically refute the claim for qualia, only that we're not all equally responsive to the same stimuli. It is, for example, technically possible (in the broadest sense) that color-blind people experience the same qualia we do, but they are unable to act on them, much in the same way that a friend with ADD might experience the same auditory stimuli I do, but then is too distracted to actually notice or make sense of it. I note, however, that the physical differences in color-blindness (or different species' eyes) are enough reason to lend little credibility to this idea.
0Peterdjones9yI'm not sure what the prolem of distingusihing colours analytically is supposed to relate to. The classic modern argument, Mary's Room [] attempts to demonstrate that the subjective sensation of colour is a problem of materialism, because on can conceviably know everything about the neuroscience of colour perception without knowinganything about how colours look. That could sort-of be re-expressed by saying Mary can't analytically deduce colour sensations from the information she has. And it is sort-of true that once you have a certain amount of experiential knowledge of colour space, you could gues the nature of colours you haven't personally seen. But that isn't very relevant to M's R because she is stipulated as not having seen any colours. So, overall, I don't see what you are getting at.
5Lightwave9yYou can also know all relevant facts about physics but still not "know" how to ride a bicycle. "Knowing" what red looks like (or being able to imagine redness) requires your brain to have the ability to produce a certain neural pattern, i.e. execute a certain neural "program". You can't learn how to imagine red the same way you learn facts like 2+2=4 for the same reason you can't learn how to ride a bike by learning physics. It's a different type of "knowledge", not sure if we should even call it that. Edit (further explanation): To learn how to ride a bike you need to practice doing it, which implements a "neural program" that allows you to do it (via e.g. "muscle memory" and whatnot). Same for producing a redness sensation (imagining red), a.k.a "knowing what red looks like".
0Peterdjones9yMaybe. But, if true, that doesn't mean that red is know-how. I means that something like know-how is necessary to get knowlege-by-acquaintance with Red. So it still doesn't show that Red is know-how in itself. (What does it enable you to do?)
0Lightwave9yTalking about "red in itself" is a bit like talking about "the-number-1 in itself". What does it mean? We can talk about the "redness sensation" that a person experiences, or "the experience of red". From an anatomical point of view, experiencing red(ness) is a process that occurs in the brain. When you're looking at something red (or imagining redness), certain neural pathways are constantly firing. No brain activity -> no redness experience. Let's compare this to factual knowledge. How are facts stored in the brain? From what we understand about the brain, they're likely encoded in neuronal/synaptic connections. You could in principle extract them by analyzing the brain. And where is the (knowledge of) red(ness) stored in the brain? Well there is no 'redness' stored in the brain, what is stored are (again in synaptic connections) instructions that activate the color-pathways of the visual cortex that produce the experience of red. See how the 'knowledge of color' is not quite like factual knowledge, but rather looks like an ability?
0Peterdjones9yAn ability to do what? You argue as if involving neuronal activation is sufficient evidence that something is an ability. But inabilities are as neuronal as abilitites. If someone becomes incapably drunk, that is as much as matter of neuronal activity as anything else. But in common sense terms, it is loss of ability, not acquisition of an ability. In an case, there are plenty of other obections to the Ability Hypothesis []
-2Eugine_Nier9yBoth riding a bike or seeing red involves the brain performing I/O, i.e., interacting with the outside world, whereas learning that 2+2=4 can be done without such interaction.
0fubarobfusco9yOne might imagine so, but I expect there are no examples of it ever happening.
0Peterdjones9yThere are plenty of examples of less basic apriori truths being figured out once the basics are in place.
0[anonymous]9yMary's room is an interesting one. I think there's a valid rebuttal to it, though, but it takes quite a bit of explanation so hold onto your hats, ladies and gentlemen, and if you're not interested then feel free to ignore. I should stress that this is an argument of my own formulation, although it is informed by my readings of a bunch of other philosophers, and that therefore it is entirely possible that people who share my conclusions might disagree with my premises or form of argument. I'm not trying very hard to convince anyone with this post, just putting the argument out there for your inspection. <-- (EDIT: left the word "not" out of this sentence the first time. Whoops!) The hard-materialist, anti-qualian, functionalist argument is that sensation ≡ brain state. That is, "for one's brain to be in the brain-state which is produced when red light hits one's retina is to experience redness". Once you've experienced redness a few times, it is to possible to intentionally assume that "red" brain-state, so it is possible to remember what it is like to see red without actually having to be exposed to red light. We call this "knowing what red is like". Mary, unfortunately, has grown up in a colour-free environment, so she has never experienced the brain-state that is "seeing red", and even if her brain had drifted through that state accidentally, she wouldn't have known that what she was experiencing was redness. She can't find her way to the state of redness because she has never been there before. When she starts researching in an attempt to figure out what it is like to see red, her descriptive knowledge of the state will increase - she'll know which sets of neurons are involved, the order and frequency of their firings, etc - but of course this won't be much help in actually attaining a red brain-state. Hearing that Paris is at 48.8742° N, 2.3470° E doesn't help you get there unless you know where you are right now. Mary's next step might be to investigate th
0Spinning_Sandwich9yIt's just another cool problem about colors. As far as Mary's Room goes, you might similarly argue that you could have all of the data belonging to Pixar's next movie, which you haven't seen yet, without having any knowledge of what it looks like or what it's about. Or that you can't understand a program without compiling it & running it. I'm not entirely sure how much credibility I lend to that. There are some very abstract things (fairly simple, yes) which I can intuit without prior experience, and there are many complicated things which I can predict due to a great deal of prior experience (eg landscapes described in novels). But I mostly raised it as another interesting problem with a proposed [partial] solution.
1Peterdjones9yI dont see how you could fail to be able to deduce what it is about, given Mary's supercientific powers. Ordinary mortals can, in simple cases, and Mary presumably can in any case. You''re not a superscientist. Can I recommend reading the linked material?
0Spinning_Sandwich9yIt's possible I already had & that you're misunderstanding what my examples are about: the difference between the physical/digital/abstract structure underlying something & the actual experience it produces (eg qualia for perceptions of physical things, or pictures for geometric definitions, etc). I maintain that the difference between code & a running program (or at least our experience of a running program) is almost exactly analogous to the difference between physical matter & our perception of it. The underlying structure is digital, not physical, and has physical means of delivery to our senses, but the major differences end there.
0Peterdjones9yHow about telling me whether you actually had? I don't see where you are going with that. If you are a superscientist, there is nothing you can learn from running a programme that you cannot get from examining the code. But M's R proposes that there is something you can get from seeing a colour yourself. The analogy doesnt seem to be there. Unless you disagree with the intended conclusion of M's R.
2hairyfigment9yThis seems trivially [] false []. See also the incomputability of pure Solomonoff induction [] . Likewise, I see no reason to expect that a mathematical process could look at a symbolic description of itself and recognize it with intuitive certainty. We have some reason to think the opposite []. So why expect to recognize "qualia" from their descriptions? As orthonormal points out at length [], we know that humans have unconscious processing of the sort you might expect from this line of reasoning. We can explain how this would likely give rise to confusion about Mary's Room.
3wedrifid9yThe implicit assumption I inferred from the claim made it: That makes it trivially true. The trivially false seems to apply only when the 'run the program' alternative gets to do infinite computation but the 'be a superscientist and examine the program" doesn't.
2Peterdjones9yMy thoughts exactly.
0hairyfigment9y'If the program you are looking at stops in less than T seconds, go into an infinite loop. Otherwise, stop.' In order to avoid a contradiction the examiner program can't reach a decision in less than T seconds (minus any time added by those instructions). Running a program for at most T seconds can trivially give you more info if you can't wait any longer. I don't know how much this matters in practice, but the "infinite" part at least seems wrong. And again, the fact that the problem involves self-knowledge seems very relevant to this layman. (typo fixed)
2wedrifid9yI don't see anything particularly troubling for a superscientist in the above.
0Peterdjones9yMore info than what? Are you assuming that inspection is equivalent to one programme cycle, or something?
0hairyfigment9yMore info than inspecting the code for at most T seconds. Finite examination time seems like a reasonable assumption. I get the impression you're reading more than I'm saying. If you want to get into the original topic we should probably forget the OP and discuss orthonormal's mini-sequence.
0Peterdjones9yMore info than who or what inspecting the code? We are talking about superscientists here.
0hairyfigment9yI no longer have any clue what we're talking about. Are superscientists computable? Do they seem likely to die in less than the lifespan of our (visible) universe? If not, why do we care about them?
1Peterdjones9yThe point is that you can't say a person of unknown intelligence inspecting code for T seconds will necessarily conclude less than a computer of unknown power running the code for T seconds. You are comparing two unknowns.
0Peterdjones9yWhy expect an inability to figure out some things about your internal stare to put on a techinicolor display? Blind spots don't look like anything. Not even perceivable gaps in the visual field.
0hairyfigment9yWhat. (Internal state seems a little misleading. At the risk of getting away from the real discussion again, Peano arithmetic is looking at a coded representation of itself when it fails to see certain facts about its proofs. But it needs some such symbols in order to have any self-awareness at all. And there exists a limit to what any arithmetical system or Turing machine can learn by this method. Oh, and the process that fills my blind spots puts on colorful displays all the time.)
0Peterdjones9yThere is no evidence that PA is self aware. So your blind spot is filled in by other blind spots?
0Spinning_Sandwich9yIf you believe this, then you must similarly think that Mary will learn nothing about the qualia associated with colors if she already understands everything about the physics underlying them. In case I haven't driven the point home with enough clarity (for example, I did read the link the first time you posted it), I am claiming that there is something to experiencing the program/novel/world inasmuch as there is something to experiencing colors in the world. Whether that something is a subset of the code/words/physics or something additional is the whole point of the problem of qualia. And no, I don't have a clear idea what a satisfying answer might look like.
0Peterdjones9yThat doesn't follow. Figuring out the behaviour of a programme is just an exercise in logical deduction. It can be done by non-superscientists in easy cases, so it is just an extension of the same idea that a supersceintist can handle difficult cases. However, there is no "easy case" of deducing a perceived quality from objective inormation. Beyond that, if all you are saying is that the problem of colours is part of a larger problem of qualia, which itself is part of a larger issue of experience, I can answer with a wholehearted "maybe". That might make colour seem less exceptional and therefore less annihilaion-worthy, but I otherwise don't see where you are going.
0Spinning_Sandwich9yI'm not just talking about behavior. The kinds of things involved in experiencing a program involve subjective qualities, like whether Counter-Strike is more fun than Day of Defeat, which maybe can't be learned just from reading the code. It's possible the analogy is actually flawed, and one is contained in its underlying components while the other is not, but I don't understand how they differ if they do, or why they should.
-3common_law9yTo my disappointment, David Papineau [] concluded the same, but we can't compare differences in pictures of the world to differences in the brain structure or function because we can have only a single example of a "picture of the world." "Pretty much the same sensory organs & brains" is useless because of its vagueness. To the contrary, the qualia problem is exactly the sort of problem to which philosophy can provide a decisive answer. For example, that we can't frame the qualitative differences between persons conceptually should lead philosophers to doubt the coherence of the qualia concept. Does perhaps the notion that innate concepts might be incoherent create confusion?

Is your position the same as Dennett's position (summarized in the second paragraph of synopsis here) ?

4metaphysicist9yLet me try to answer more succinctly. Dennett and I are concerned with different problems; Dennett's is a problem within science proper, while mine is traditionally philosophical. Dennett's conclusion is that "qualia" don't provide introspective access to the functioning of the brain; my conclusion is that our common intuition concerning the existence of qualia is incoherent.
4metaphysicist9yI agree with Dennett that qualia don't exist. I disagree that the concept of qualia is basically a remnant of an outmoded psychological doctrine; I think it's an innate idea. Dennett can be criticized for ignoring the subjective nature of qualia. He shows, for example, that reported phenomenal awareness is empirically bogus in that it doesn't correspond to the contents of working memory. I'm concerned with accounting for the subjective nature of the qualia concept. Dennett basically thinks qualia are empirically falsifiable; I think the concept is incoherent.

Reading the comments in here, I think I understand Will Newsome's actions a lot better.

It seems like 2c is in tension with 3b. The private-language problem ought to tell us that even if raw experiences exist, then we should not expect to have words to describe raw experience. But then, the lack of those words is in no way evidence that raw experiences do not exist, so 2c fails as an explanation.

1[anonymous]9yI think we should assume from the outset that qualia are necessarily intensional, especially if we want them to play some epistemically foundational role, which is typically why they're invoked. If qualia have to be intensional, and the private language argument bars our associating any concepts with them then the private language argument contradicts the possibility of qualia. Not having concepts with which to talk or think about qualia means that we couldn't ever be aware of anything like a 'green' or 'painful' quale.
0thomblake9yYes, but that's a separate argument.
0common_law9yWittgenstein's private-language argument, if sound, would obviate 2c. But 3b is based on Wittgenstein's account not being successful in explaining the absence of private language. It claims to be a solution to the private-language problem, recognizing that Wittgenstein was unsuccessful in solving it.