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'Phenomenal consciousness exists'.

Sorry if this comes off as pedantic, but I don't know what this means. The philosopher in me keeps saying "I think we're playing a language game," so I'd like to get as precise as we can. Is there a paper or SEP article or blog post or something that I could read which defines the meaning of this claim or the individual terms precisely? 

Because the logical structure is trivial -- Descartes might just as well have asked 'could a deceiver make 2 + 2 not equal 4?'


I'd guess also truths of arithmetic, and such? If Geoff is Bayesian enough to treat those as probabilistic statements, that would be news to me!

I don't know Geoff's view, but Descartes thinks he can be deceived about mathematical truths (I can dig up the relevant sections from the Meditations if helpful). That's not the same as "treating them as probabilistic statements," but I think it's functionally the same from your perspective. 

The project of the Meditations is that Descartes starts by refusing to accept anything which can be doubted and then he tries to nevertheless build a system of knowledge from there. I don't think Descartes would assign infinite certainty to any claim except, perhaps, the cogito.

On reflection, it seems right to me that there may not be a contradiction here. I'll post something later if I conclude otherwise.

(I think I got a bit too excited about a chance to use the old philosopher's move of "what about that claim itself.")

It's not clear what "I" means here . . .

Oh, sorry, this was a quote from Descartes that is the closest thing that actually appears in Descartes to "I think therefore I am" (which doesn't expressly appear in the Meditations)

Descartes's idea doesn't rely on any claims about persistent psychological entities (that would require the supposition of memory, which Descartes isn't ready to accept yet!). Instead, he postulates an all-powerful entity that is specifically designed to deceive him and tries to determine whether anything at all can be known given that circumstance. He concludes that he can know that he exists because something has to do the thinking. Here is the relevant quote from the Second Meditation:

I have convinced myself that there is absolutely nothing in the world, no sky, no earth, no minds, no bodies. Does it now follow that I too do not exist? No: if I convinced myself of something then I certainly existed. But there is a deceiver of supreme power and cunning who is deliberately and constantly deceiving me. In that case I too undoubtedly exist, if he is deceiving me; and let him deceive me as much as he can, he will never bring it about that I am nothing so long as I think that I am something. So after considering everything very thoroughly, I must finally conclude that this proposition, I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived in my mind.

I find this pretty convincing personally. I'm interested in whether you think Descartes gets it wrong even here or whether you think his philosophical system gains its flaws later.

More generally, I'm still not quite sure what precise claims or what type of claim you predict you and Geoff would disagree about. My-model-of-Geoff suggests that he would agree with "it seems fine to say that there's some persistent psychological entity roughly corresponding to the phrase "Rob Bensinger"." and that "thinking", "experience", etc." pick out "real" things (depending on what we mean by "real").

Can you identify a specific claim type where you predict Geoff would think that the claim can be known with certainty and you would think otherwise?

I don't think people should be certain of anything

What about this claim itself?

This comment is excellent. I really appreciate it. 

I probably share some of your views on the "no no no no (yes),  no no no no (yes), no no no no (yes)" thing, and we don't want to go too far with it, but I've come to like it more over time. 

(Semi-relatedly: I think I rejected the sequences unfairly when I first encountered them early on for something like this kind of stylistic objection. Coming from a philosophical background I was like "Where are the premises? What is the argument? Why isn't this stated more precisely?" Over time I've come to appreciate the psychological effect of these kinds of writing styles and value that more than raw precision.)

It seems to me that you're arguing against a view in the family of claims that include "It seems like the one thing I can know for sure is that I'm having these experiences" but I'm having trouble determining the precise claim you are refuting. I think this is because I'm not sure which claims that are meant precisely and which are meant rhetorically or directionally. 

Since this is a complex topic which lots of potential distinctions to be made, it might be useful to determine your views on a few different claims in the family of "It seems like the one thing I can know for sure is that I'm having these experiences" to determine where the disagreement lies.

Below are some claims in this family. Can you pinpoint which you think are fallible and which you think are infallible (if any)? Assuming that many or most of them are fallible can you give me a sense of something like "how susceptible to fallibility" you think they are? (Also if you don't mind, it might be useful to distinguish your views from what your-model-of-Geoff thinks to help pinpoint disagreements.) Feel free to add additional claims if they seem like they would do a better job of pinpointing the disagreement.

  1. I am, I exist (i.e., the Cartesian cogito).
  2. I am thinking.
  3. I am having an experience.
  4. I am experiencing X.
  5. I experienced X.
  6. I am experiencing X because there is an X-producing thing in the world.
  7. I believe X.
  8. I am having the experience of believing X.

Edit: Wrote this before seeing this comment, so apologies if this doesn't interact with the content there.

Rob: Where does the reasoning chain from 1 to 3a/3b go wrong in your view? I get that you think it goes wrong in that the conclusions aren't true, but what is your view about which premise is wrong or why the conclusion doesn't follow from the premises?

In particular, I'd be really interested in an argument against the claim "It seems like the one thing I can know for sure is that I'm having these experiences."

OK, excellent this is also quite helpful. 

For both my own thought and in high-trust conversations I have a norm that's something like "idea generation before content filter" which is designed to allow one to think uncomfortable thoughts (and sometimes say them) before filtering things out. I don't have this norm for "things I say on the public internet" (or any equivalent norm). I'll have to think a bit about what norms actually seem good to me here.

I think I can be on board with a norm where one is willing to say rude or uncomfortable things provided they're (1) valuable to communicate and (2) one makes reasonable efforts to nevertheless protect the social fabric and render the statement receivable to the person to whom it is directed. My vague sense of comments with the "I know this is uncharitable/rude, but [uncharitable/rude thing]" is that more than half of the time I think the caveat insulates the poster from criticism and does not meaningfully protect the social fabric or help the person to whom the comments are directed, but I haven't read such comments carefully.

In any case, I now think there is at least a good and valid version of this norm that should be distinguished from abuses of the norm.

That seems basically fair. 

An unendorsed part of my intention is to complain about the comment since I found it annoying. Depending on how loudly that reads as being my goal, my comment might deserve to be downvoted to discourage focusing the conversation on complaints of this type.

The endorsed part of my intention is that the LW conversations about Leverage 1.0 would likely benefit from commentary by people who know what actually went on in Leverage 1.0. Unfortunately, the set of "people who have knowledge of Leverage 1.0 and are also comfortable on LW" is really small. I'm trying to see if I am in this set by trying to understand LW norms more explicitly. This is admittedly a rather personal goal, and perhaps it ought to be discouraged for that reason, but I think indulging me a little bit is consonant with the goals of the community as I understand them.

Also, to render an implicit thing I'm doing explicit, I think I keep identifying myself as an outsider to LW as a request for something like hospitality. It occurs to me that this might not be a social form that LW endorses! If so, then my comment probably deserves to be downvoted from the LW perspective.

Thanks a lot for taking the time to write this. The revised version makes it clearer to me what I disagree with and how I might go about responding.

An area of overlap that I notice between Duncan-norms and LW norms are sentences like this:

(This is not me being super charitable, but: it seems to me that the whole demons-and-crystals thing, which so far has not been refuted, to my knowledge, is also a start.  /snark)

Where the pattern is something like: "I know this is uncharitable/rude, but [uncharitable/rude thing]. Where I come from the caveat isn't understood to do any work. If I say "I know this is rude, but [rude thing]" I expect the recipient to take offense to roughly the same degree as if there was no caveat at all, and I expect the rudeness to derail the recipient's ability to think about the topic to roughly the same degree.

If you're interested, I'd appreciate the brief argument for thinking that it's better to have norms that allow for saying the rude/uncharitable thing with a caveat instead of having norms that encourage making a similar point with non-rude/charitable comments instead.


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