On consciousness and qualia problem
#1
I'd like to continue a discussion that started at the chennai freethinker group, here

Shankar Ramakrishnan
Quote:I am not a fan of Daniel Dennett.. most modern philosophers consider him to be an advocate of an extreme viewpoint that dismisses consciousness as nonexistent. Many modern philosophers, including David Chalmers, do not take him seriously. The problem of 'qualia' (assuming you know the term), is the main problem that modern philosophy deals with, it is also called the 'hard problem'.
about an hour ago · Like
Lalit Mohan Chawla ‎
Quote:Shankar i am a great fan of his writings, have you read his book consciousness explained?, he addresses the topic qualia brilliantly
41 minutes ago · Like · 1 person
Lalit Mohan Chawla
Quote:what he dismisses is the idea of cartesian theatre , i do not know what would it mean to say "consciousnesses is non-existenet" or what would it mean to say "consciousness exists" either, pretty much like it does not make much sense to say love exists or love does not exist,
35 minutes ago · Like
Shankar Ramakrishnan
Quote:I read it long ago (> 15 years), dont remember all details.. but his arguments too reductionist and unconvincing.. phenomenalists jokingly refer to the book as 'Consciousness explained away'! His view represents eliminative materialism, but that's only one school of thought.. phenomenalism and dualism represent the other.. some things can probably never be explained and we should basically accept that.. we cannot hope to find an answer to all questions.. it is logically impossible
31 minutes ago · Like
Lalit Mohan Chawla
Quote:‎"some things can probably never be explained and we should basically accept that.. we cannot hope to find an answer to all questions.. it is logically impossible"
the motivation was demystification and it fares well at that.
28 minutes ago · Like
Shankar Ramakrishnan
Quote:hmm.. it is better to remain a skeptic than swallow false arguments
27 minutes ago · Like
Lalit Mohan Chawla
Quote:it sure is but which false argument(s) are we talking about here
23 minutes ago · Like
Shankar Ramakrishnan
Quote:That's the problem.. his arguments cannot even be proved to be false.. but the question of qualia remain.. and it is something that can only be a first person experience.. you cannot objectively analyze another person's qualia, hence the enigma.. this is a field of philosophy in itself, and Dennett's book has certainly not led to the problem being solved.. I am myself very interested in the topic and have corresponded with Chalmers a few times.. an excellent blog on the subject is 'Conscious Entities', where I myself comment from time to time.. it's not as trivial as one might be led to believe by that book.
Lalit Mohan Chawla
Quote:ok i'd like to continue this on forums , are you at the forums? http://nirmukta.net/
16 minutes ago · Like

Shankar Ramakrishnan
Quote:no, i am not.. and maybe we will continue the discussion another day.. have a great eve
14 minutes ago · Like
Lalit Mohan Chawla
Quote:ok then it is a single click registeration btw, better tools for discussion there, here i have started a thread http://nirmukta.net/Thread-On-consciousn...ia-problem
6 minutes ago · Like
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#2
Quote:and it is something that can only be a first person experience.. you cannot objectively analyze another person's qualia, hence the enigma
The most enigmatic property of qualia is their privateness. It doesn’t seem like I can, in principle, know what it is like to have the experience of another person (barring some neurophysiological oddity like Siamese brains or something). I can certainly make educated guesses about what it is like experience someone else’s perspective (novels and psychology are two good tools for this), but there is no way to really double-check or confirm what I think their experience is like. What’s curious about qualia privateness is that under normal social conditions, we use language to either express or hide what our experience is like, about what kinds of sensations we are having (e.g. whether we are in pain), what we are feeling, what are our emotional mood is, what we believe, desire, intend, and so on. Moreover, most people’s mind is amazingly adept at picking up nonverbal body cues about mental states, since much emotion gets directly “leaked” in complex feedback through external bodily components/schemas (especially the face, body posture, eyes, etc. ). If someone is standing in the corner feeling uncomfortable, it is likely that everyone else, if they pay attention, will be able to perceive that he or she is uncomfortable, and be correct in their judgement.
So, do qualia exist?
Daniel Dennett argues that it is simply a “trick” of the brain, an illusion we can’t really help but experience, and have false (or confused) beliefs about.
Quote:His view represents eliminative materialism, but that's only one school of thought.. phenomenalism and dualism represent the other.. some things can probably never be explained and we should basically accept that.. we cannot hope to find an answer to all questions.. it is logically impossible
his arguments cannot even be proved to be false.. but the question of qualia remain.. and it is something that can only be a first person experience.. you cannot objectively analyze another person's qualia, hence the enigma.. this is a field of philosophy in itself, and Dennett's book has certainly not led to the problem being solved.. I am myself very interested in the topic and have corresponded with Chalmers a few times.. an excellent blog on the subject is 'Conscious Entities', where I myself comment from time to time.. it's not as trivial as one might be led to believe by that book.
I am looking forward to discussion on the same
A worthwhile critique of Dennett's views would require a guardedly sympathetic examination of his claims. You need to internalize the claims, which means you can convincingly, in your own words, reproduce Dennett's actual reasoning, and then point out where that reasoning fails.

This is what I'd like to see - a post (or if necessary a sequence) examining Dennett's thinking tools, showing what work they do in Dennett's hands, where they touch on topics relevant to this community, and possibly explaining where they fall short.
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#3
Nice start to this topic. I've been having this conversation with various people for many years now, and I'm convinced it is one of those debates that will not be settled in our lifetimes.

In this post, instead of presenting a comprehensive account of the issue as I see it, I'll just make an unambiguous stand, but one that is completely prepared change if sufficient scientific evidence to the contrary is presented.

I'm a monist. I think most people are misguided when it comes to thinking about consciousness.

I am more in the Dennett camp. But Dennett's eliminative materialism (which was contrasted with dualism and phenomenalism above) is actually just one school of monism. I don't think he is right in all his ideas. I also don't think it is right to say most philosophers today do not take Dennett seriously. Of course David Chalmers doesn't take him seriously- they are on different sides of the argument- but Dennett is considered an important voice in the current debate. In fact, Dennett is often cited as Chalmers' biggest critic, and the wiki page on qualia devotes more than twice the amount of space to Dennett in the 'critics of qualia' section than to anyone else, including to Marvin Minsky, one of prof Wadhawan's favorite thinkers on on the subject. (I highly recommend reading the article in the last link).

My problem with the 'hard problem of consciousness', from a scientific perspective, is that the way it is often posed makes it unfalsifiable and scientifically redundant. It is simply not a good scientific way of formulating the question. There are many good scientific questions that are associated with consciousness, and Dennett does not "explain away" those aspects. Even qualia and the “hard problem” can be defined in such a way as to make them scientifically relevant. But that is not what most proponents choose to do.

From a philosophical perspective, I’m a monist is because I do not think there is any supernatural uncaused reality that contributes to the existence of the mind. I think that a logical outcome of such an idea is that given sufficient complexity, machines can be conscious. What this means is that all the physicalist answers to all those "soft problems" that dualists and phenomenalists dismiss as trivial add up to "give us" the naturalistic illusion that we call qualia. ("Give us" in quotes because it is likely that the "us" and the "giving", together with the environment, are all part of the qualia/consciousness system).
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#4
Btw here is the article on dennett from the blog referred above http://www.consciousentities.com/dennett.htm
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#5
Kevin O'Regan, perceptual psychophysicist and author of Why Red Doesn't Sound Like a Bell champions a sensorimotor view of perception ('Seeing color' is knowing a set of rules of how surfaces change incident light.) rather than what he calls a standard view (A 'feel' of color arises in the brain.). The standard view, according to O'Regan is what poses the 'explanatory gap' between neural responses to color (say) and the raw feel(qualia if you must) of the same. The sensorimotor approach, he claims yields experimental paradigms and findings that explain some facts about 'subjective perception' previously unaccounted for in the more classic standard framework.

A remarkable success of the sensorimotor approach is the explanation it yields for the findings of the World Color Survey. Cultural diversity in demarcation and nomenclature of color spaces in well-known. The World Color Survey found that in a standard color space like the Munsell system, there are some colors which tend be accorded specific names most often across cultures (and are hence recognized or seen as such and such color by the viewers concerned). Why is it these 'chosen colors' and not other colors that enjoy greater visibility as it were and greater representation in vocabulary? An explanation proposed within the sensorimotor framework is as follows (38m21s in the video below) : What we call a 'color' is a tranformation describing how output light off a surface is related to the input light. The transformations (described simply by linear operators) effected by the colors that have names in everyday language, differ from those effected by unnamed colors in that they yield a more compact description of the incoming sensory information, or a 'handier' description of the ambient light.

A simpler more readily imagined example O'Regan employs to argue for the sensorimotor view over the 'standard view', is softness. For those seeking to understand perception, it is less instructive to look for a 'softness center' in the brain (which would be a partial answer to a softer version of the 'Problem of Qualia' as it is traditionally posed), than to describe the sensorimotor dependency or sensorimotor law, here, the response of a surface on pressing, which is abstracted as 'squishiness' or 'softness'. A key distinction between the standard and sensorimotor views is that in the latter, qualia are treated not as abstractions of neural representations or activation schedules, but as abstractions of sensorimotor laws. This does not mean that the study of neural visual pathways is a futile pursuit (for an understanding of localized functionality is needed to understand say, visual deficits associated with brain lesions), but just that they may be the wrong place to look for the 'a reductionist account of qualia'. O'Regan calls the enterprise of looking for the basis of qualia in neural wirings and neural firings as an instance of the content-vehicle confusion.

A broader related question to "Why do only some colors have everyday names?" is "What sort of ways of acquiring stimuli from the environment make it to the list of five senses?". O'Regan suggests that those senses that made it to the list have in common properties such as grabbiness (being wired for detection of sudden transients such as flashes or bursts), bodiliness(subject to changing inputs occasioned by bodily movements) and insubordinateness(not 'switched off' by say, 'thinking another thought'). Why 'red' and 'bell-ringing' are accorded 'qualia' status, O'Regan argues, could have something to do with them exhibiting the three properties above more so than say, autonomic functions or memories. A lecture by O'Regan introducing many of these ideas and relating many classic experiments in vision science can be heard below:





Aside: Taking a look at a red fox using his 'magnetic sense' is perhaps more readily (and more usefully) thought of as an instance of implicitly learnt sensorimotor laws rather than as an instance of 'cardinal direction qualia' in foxes.
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