Discussion:
  1. David Chalmers, Zombies on the Web.
    Zombies are hypothetical creatures of the sort that philosophers have been known to cherish. A zombie is physically identical to a normal human being, but completely lacks conscious experience. Zombies look and behave like the conscious beings that we know and love, but "all is dark inside." There is nothing it is like to be a zombie.
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2009-02-26
Describing zombies
This question has no doubt been asked before but 'If there is nothing it is like to be a zombie', how is it possible to conceive of one - even hypothetically?  How can one even say it is "all is dark inside" or that "A zombie is physically identical to a normal human being"?, both descriptions depending on known states/characteristics - 'darkness' and being 'physically identical to a human being'.  

2009-03-06
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi.  You seem to be misunderstanding the phrase "there is nothing it is like to be a zombie" to mean "there is nothing that is like a zombie".  The phrase was just meant to restate that a zombie has no consciousness.  Whether a zombie is possible or not is a major controversy in philosophy of mind.

2009-03-07
Describing zombies

Hi,

This seems to me to be a distinction without a difference. 

David’s statement surely implies that two characteristics of a zombie (hypothetical or not) are that it would be ‘physically identical to a normal human being’ but that ‘all is dark inside’. That, surely, is to give a description of what a zombie ‘is like’ – or at least the beginnings of one. Your comment that ‘The phrase was just meant to restate that a zombie has no consciousness’ is surely just another way of attempting to do the same thing.

Moreover, if as you say ‘Whether a zombie is possible or not is a major controversy in philosophy of mind,’ then surely you would need a description (definition) of one? Otherwise how would we know what we are even talking about?

All this is quite interesting, I think, because one of the reasons I usually find discussions of consciousness in analytic philosophy so unconvincing is precisely that the descriptions of what consciousness might mean are typically so very meagre and superficial. Ditto, unsurprisingly, for descriptions of zombiehood – which, I gather, is posited as sort of ‘reverse’ of consciousness. The suggestion that zombiehood is a state in which ‘all is dark inside’ presumably implies that consciousness, by contrast, is a state in which ‘all is light inside’ – merely a vague metaphor which tells us nothing of any substance about what human consciousness might consist in. 


2009-03-07
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Derek, you still seem to think that "nothing it is like to be" meant that it could not be defined or something.  That's not what it was intended to mean at all.

Nagel famously asked "What is it like to be a bat?" by which he meant 'What are the conscious experiences of a bat like?'  So "what it is like to be" is now a philosophers' shorthand for what the qualitative conscious experiences of someone or something are.  So saying there is "nothing it is like to be a zombie" just means it has no consciousness.

"A zombie is physically identical to a normal human being, but completely lacks conscious experience" is Chalmers' definition of one.

"Zombies look and behave like the conscious beings" is redundant with the previous sentence, but could be useful for people who didn't realize that he intends physical identity to include behavioral identity.

"all is dark inside." There is nothing it is like to be a zombie." are redundant restatements of lacking conscious experience, and serve no useful purpose except as filler.

I wouldn't say that zombiehood is the reverse of consciouness - just the absence of it.

As far as descriptions of consciousness being meager and superficial, you are right - but it's hard to describe, and the difficulty in describing it is a big part of the debate.  Most people assume that you know what it's like based on your own experience, and that could be the only way to know what it's like.  Other people, notably Dennett, deny that even you know what it's like.


2009-03-07
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
I am sympathetic to the line you're pushing.  There does seem to be more to be said about what it takes to conceive that there could be zombies.  But precisely what else is required is not at all clear.  We can conceive that there be robots without consciousness, or it least it seems so to me.  If we agree that we can conceive that there be robots without consciousness, or rocks without consciousness, I'm not sure why we couldn't conceive that there be exact physical duplicates of us that lack consciousness.
Precisely what consciousness  is does seem mysterious, but I'm not sure if that's the stumbling block.  What a photon is precisely is mysterious to me but I think I can conceive things about them.

My diagnosis of the problem is that what's really at issue is what conceiving comes to.  If it is limited to pseudo-perceptual experiental states (e.g. mental "pictures") then it's the issue you raise is pretty difficult to overcome.  Any pseudo-perceptual mental experience of zombies should be type-identical to a pseudo-perceptual experience of normal humans if you just don't consider looking at them from the inside, so to speak.  And, conceiving (in this sense) that there be physical duplicates of us without conceiving anything about their inner life is compatible both with conceiving that there be normal humans annd that there be zombies.  There is no pseudo-perceptual mental experience that would be one that is a fully determinate mental experience that is one of conceiving that there be zombies.

But I don't think we should be limited to that type of conceiving.  And, Chalmers does argue that we can get from what he calls negative conceivabilityand conceiving (something along the lines of finding that a proposition is not a contradiction) to positive conceivability (though we may not be able to perform any act that we might term 'positive conceiving that there be zombies).  And if we can get positive conceivability (well, Ideal Primary Positive conceivability, I think) then we get the entailment to possibility.  I'm not so sure it works, but it's not clear that it doesn't.

Further, there are some (as I learned when I defended my Master's thesis) who don't think there is an act of conceiving at all, but that propositions or sentences have the property of conceivability and that's all there is to it; there's conceivability but no act of conceiving.  If something like that is right, it is again, not so clear that the issue you raise would be an issue.

I think there is an issue but, again, getting clear on precisely what the issue is is not so easy.

2009-03-08
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
"All is dark inside" is indeed just a vague metaphor.  It doesn't play any role in the arguments.  The arguments just require the absence of consciousness, along with microphysical duplication.  Perhaps you think there is some problem conceiving of the absence of consciousness, but I don't see the problem here.  We conceive of the absence of things and properties all the same.  Eric Marcus has run a related line in his paper "Why Zombies are Inconceivable", arguing that we can't positively conceive of zombies due to a problem in positively conceiving of the absence of consciousness.  I have a brief reply in section 4 of "The Two-Dimensional Argument Against Materialism".

2009-03-09
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
I am replying to three posts so I’ll only reply to what seems to me to be key propositions in the three of them (my apologies if my selection is not what you would have wanted).

Jacques:

You say that in philosophers’ shorthand “saying there is ‘nothing it is like to be a zombie’ just means ‘it has no consciousness’”. I must say, in that case, it seems a rather strange shorthand. But so be it.

You say that: "I wouldn't say that zombiehood is the reverse of consciousness - just the absence of it.”  But this of course still leaves us with the same problem. Whether zombiehood is the reverse, the absence, the opposite or whatever, of consciousness, it will surely remain an opaque idea as long as one can’t say what consciousness is. Imagine a conversation: “What is X?” “Well it’s the absence of Y.” “What’s Y?” “Don’t know yet. I’ll let you know.” Not very helpful is it?

By the way, I am not all reassured by the statement: “Most people assume that you know what [consciousness] is like based on your own experience, and that could be the only way to know what it's like”. What precisely does our experience tell us about consciousness?  Surely all manner of things, and most of them extremely hard to capture and define. The temptation to think: “Well, we must all just know what it is because we have it,” seems to me a trap just waiting for us to fall into. To have a vague, floating sense of something is not to know it. And certainly not well enough to form the basis of a philosophical analysis.

I was intrigued by your comment: “Other people, notably Dennett, deny that even you know what it's like.” I have never read his book “Consciousness Explained”. (I tried but, frankly, I found it facile and tedious.) But if he “explains consciousness” how does that fit with his view that you don’t “know what it is like?”


Kevin:

The proposition in your post that set me thinking was: “If we agree that we can conceive that there be ... rocks without consciousness, I'm not sure why we couldn't conceive that there be exact
physical duplicates of us that lack consciousness.”

When you first read it, that proposition sounds almost plausible. But we’ve lured ourselves into a trap, I think. What do we actually mean by “a rock without consciousness”? How exactly do
we”conceive” it? Impossible to say, surely, since we have no definition of consciousness itself. The reason the trap is so alluring, I think, is that we look at rocks and they seem inert,  unresponsive, dead. Not like us. We are active, responsive, alive. So we must be “conscious” and they are not. But is that our definition of human consciousness: “Active, responsive, alive”? (or some series of similar adjectives.) It won’t do, will it? (And remember, a worm, or even a virus, could be described as “active, responsive, alive”.)

If I may be permitted a gentle jibe, one can imagine a variant on David’s characterisation of zombiehood (“all is dark inside”) which would be “all is rocks inside”; but it would be no more
illuminating (no pun intended).

Re:”there are some ... who ...think there's conceivability but no act of conceiving. If something like that is right, it is again, not so clear that the issue you raise would be an issue.”
I don’t think I want to follow the elaborate twists and turns of this argument. It sounds suspiciously scholastic to me (in the bad sense of the term). The issue to my mind turns simply on whether one can give a clear and persuasive meaning to the term “consciousness”. Unless one can, all talk of zombiehood as an “absence of consciousness” (see also below) seems to me to be vain.

David:

You write ”Perhaps you think there is some problem conceiving of the absence of consciousness, but I don't see the problem here. We conceive of the absence of things and properties all the same.”

I definitely do see a problem “conceiving of the absence of consciousness” if we don’t know what consciousness is. And your analogy, to my mind, does not work. We can conceive of the absence of a leg (a thing) because we know what a leg is. We can conceive of the absence of politeness (a property) because we know what that is. But to suggest that we can conceive of the absence of an unknown seems to me a very dubious proposition indeed.

The same objection would apply to your response to Marcus where you say: “There is no more problem with clearly and distinctly imagining a situation in which there is no consciousness than in imagining a world in which there are no angels, or in imagining a world with one particle and nothing else.” We have a serviceable, if rough and ready, concept of what an angel is; ditto for particles (anyway, if one stipulates what kind of particle one has in mind). The same does not apply to consciousness. If you think it does, I invite you to give me a description of what you mean by human consciousness. I can virtually guarantee you in advance I will not find it satisfactory – even remotely. (And I could not give you a satisfactory one either).


A general remark: I think a reality check – to use a current colloquialism – may be in order in all this. Call me old-fashioned, but I have always thought that the point of philosophy in the end is to say something that might just be useful and enlightening to the world in general. It may not be something the world wants to hear (as Socrates discovered) but it should, one hopes, be worth
saying. I am not an expert on analytic philosophy’s deliberations on the question of human consciousness, but if the most memorable thing it has to offer on this topic (a topic which must,
presumably, be closely related to what “being human” is all about) is whether or not hypothetical beings call zombies could exist (the very notion of which makes me think of B grade Hollywood
movies I used to watch in my youth) then that would be a worry, wouldn’t it? In short, are we sure this whole debate is not flawed from the start?

Derek Allan

2009-03-09
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
I was asked to post this here, and not as a separate thread, and I think it is because there is a strong similarity between my and Darek's problem regarding the Conceivability Argument.

Reports of the conceivability of zombies are well-documented.  The question is, do these reports make sense in the present context of our discourse?

At the very least, we must have some way of telling the difference between the conception of a zombie and the report of such a conception.  Reports are not enough.

Here we run into a great difficulty, because the quality in question, the quality of possessing consciousness--the quality which must be conceptualized for us to distinguish between zombies and human beings--remains undefined.  If we cannot conceive of physical existence with consciousness, how could we conceive of that same existence without it and suppose that we were marking some kind of distinction in the process?  (This, I take is, is Darek's point, too.)

It seems that those who report on the conceivability of zombies wish to define "consciousness" in other terms which, though equally reportable, cannot be distinguished from the reports of their existence.  Thus we have a conceptual black box being defined by reference to other, supposedly more primitive black boxes.

Am I justified in saying that I can imagine living my life exactly as I do, but without the added quality of consciousness?  I have no way of understanding such a notion, and this is only partly because I have no understanding of how the term "consciousness" is being employed in this question.  (It is also partly because I cannot understand living my life exactly as I do without experiencing my life as I do, and whatever consciousness is, it is surely implied by the fact of my experience.)  And if I cannot apply the question to myself, how could I apply it to some functionally, physically identical being?

It is easy to report, but so far we have no standard by which we could measure the relevance of those reports to our discourse.  So why should we take these reports seriously?

2009-03-10
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek,
It's interesting to me that you point out the 'rocks without consciousness' example and not the 'robots without consciousness' example, which is obviously the more relevant of the two.  I suppose it just wouldn't seem as ridiculous to say 'it's all robots inside'. 

All this talk of definition is pretty strange to me.  If you think a definition is something like a necessary and sufficient condition, you're going to be stuck saying that we can't conceive of much at all.  Maybe that's right, but it's hardly a problem unique to consciousness and you might take that route to objecting to the Conceivability Argument.  If it's something else you're looking for in a definition, I'd be interested to hear what it is.    

Without an account of what is required of a definition of 'consciousness', your complaint does not seem to have any content to me.  Maybe I'm misinterpreting what you say, but this demand for a definition just points out a general problem with a whole host of philosophical issues and not one uniquely salient to zombies.  

As I said earlier, I think there is a genuine issue here, but I've yet to see a precise explanation as to what the problem is supposed to be.  Tell me what you mean by 'conceiving' and 'definition' and then maybe we can agree or disagree.  As it is, there seems to be a bit of talking past one another.   

2009-03-10
Describing zombies
Reply to Kevin Savage

I chose the rocks example over the robots because robots seemed to introduce further distracting questions (Is a robot conscious etc?). The issue is clearer in the case of rocks.

What do I mean by a definition? Well, clearly it depends on cases. But if we are talking about zombies as the “absence of consciousness” we are obviously only going to know as much about zombies as we put into our definition (or description) of consciousness. And vice versa. This is why I suggested to David that saying that a zombie is a being in which “all is dark  inside” implies simply that consciousness is a state in which all is “light” inside – which gets us effectively nowhere.

The thing that bothers me in so much of the talk about zombies – and, indeed, about consciousness itself – is precisely that the notions of both, express or implied, usually seem so terribly limited and impoverished. Just an example: It seems to me that any adequate notion of human consciousness would need to include, perhaps even as a major element, some account of the individual’s sense of his/her own temporality or finitude – the sense, if you like, that one’s life is a limited trajectory that ends in death. (An author I admire once described humans as the only animals that know they are going to die, which captures something of the idea.)

Now I have not read widely on analytical philosophy’s treatment of consciousness but nothing in what I have read even so much as hints at this sort of idea. (Too “continental” perhaps?) I am not of course suggesting that this is the-be-all-and-end-all of the question of consciousness. Far from it. But I am suggesting the nature of human consciousness is an enormously complex and difficult issue in which matters like this arise – and that maybe, in the end, it is just an insurmountable problem that we will only ever get partial insights into.

Thus all the talk of zombies being the “absence of consciousness” etc – as if that in itself said something clear and useful about what zombies might be, seems to me facile in the extreme – and a bit like a child playing around with a huge, complicated machine of which it knows almost nothing.

So in short I am not offering you a general definition of “definition” (could one do that?) but I am suggesting how vitally important the question of an adequate definition – or description – seems to be in this case. It is so easy to talk about consciousness as if we somehow “just know” what it means (We all have it so we must, mustn’t we?) But that to my mind is an elementary trap.


2009-03-10
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
First off, apologies for getting your name wrong in my earlier post, Derek.

Second, it's interesting that you point to the different ways consciousness is approached in the analytic and Continental traditions.  Heidegger comes to mind as a Continental philosopher who emphasized one's attitude towards death (what he called "being-towards-death").  I suspect most analytic philosophers would consider such issues as being of little more than psychological interest, and as lacking any key insights into the nature of consciousness itself.  And I would agree with them.

I think some analytic philosophers expect to be able to understand what it means for consciousness to exist as such without having to worry too much about what it means to be conscious of particular entities, possibilities, or eventualities.  This is justifiable to a point.  I am suspicious of the idea that there is any consciousness at all apart from various sorts of being-conscious-of's.  However, do we really want to say that being conscious of the inevitability of death is ontologically distinct (in an important way) from being conscious of the inevitability of taxes, for example?  Quite understandably, we want to try to isolate some common element which is implicit in everything that we call consciousness, and there is no obvious reason why one's awareness of death should have ontological significance here.  Psychological and sociological significance is another matter altogether.

So I suppose I am not as weary of the analytic tradition as you, though I am perhaps equally dissatisfied with it in certain respects.  Most importantly, I think you are right in criticizing philosophers for just assuming that we all know what consciousness is, as if there was no need to worry about definitions.  People too often let their language get the better of them; when philosophers do it, it seems a little irresponsible.

Ultimately, I think scientists determine what we do or don't learn about consciousness in the long run, and philosophers have very little to say about it.  But until the science advances, we can at least enjoy trying to understand and perhaps even improve the way we talk about these things.

2009-03-11
Describing zombies
Thanks for your post Jason.

I wasn't arguing that consciousness must necessarily be 'consciousness of' something specific (although I wouldn't rule it out). I was suggesting that human consciousness may, by its very nature, involve something like awareness of finitude.  We comonly assume that animals are not aware of their finitude - of temporality. We do say they experience pain - although they presumably don't think 'pain' - but we assume they are not aware that they will die one day, or that they can even conceive of 'die', 'grow old' etc.  So here would seem to be one possible distiguishing feature of human consciousness, would it not?

Of course this is just guesswork too. We don't know - can't know - what animals 'think'. So we may even be wrong about this.  But I mentioned it to highlight complexity of the notion of human consciousness and to raise the kind of issue which - as far as I know - never even gets on the radar of analytic philosophy.

Analytic philosophy, it seems to me, starts off with its own very large, unacknowledged assumptions. It assumes, for example, that human consciousness can be explained 'mechanically', so to speak. So it can all be done in the end in terms of neurons, synapses etc. It might even be right, of course.  But it would be nice to see the assumption acknowledged as such now and then. And perhaps even the odd attempt to justify it.


2009-03-12
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek,

I don't think many in the analytic tradition are guilty of what you describe.

Take the most relevant example to this discussion thread: Chalmers' Conceivability Argument.  As far as I know, Chalmers does not assume a mechanistic view of consciousness.  In fact, his Conceivability Argument is considered an argument against the view that consciousness can be explained in terms of neurological processes.

There are plenty in the analytic tradition who disagree with Chalmers without assuming a mechanistic view of consciousness.  For example, my approach here traces back to Wittgenstein.  The idea is that, instead of asking, "what is consciousness?," we should first ask, "how is the term 'consciousness' used?"  We shouldn't assume that our linguistic conventions correspond to extra-linguistic ontological categories, and so we should not assume there is anything metaphysically interesting to look for here.  (Indeed, we should replace every metaphysical quest with an investigation into grammar.)  This is not to say that we cannot study consciousness (or any other phenomenon) scientifically, in terms of extra-linguistic processes.  Of course we can, and we should.  But in so doing, we will change the way the term "consciousness" is used.  We will expand, develop, and alter its usage.

The key here is that we use the term "consciousness" in relation to human behavior, and at no time can we claim that the term has any meaning above and beyond its usage.

This approach, which is nothing new in the analytic tradition, does not assume that consciousness can be explained in terms of mechanistic processes or neurological systems.  At the same time, I think this approach has dire consequences for Chalmers' Conceivability Argument.

Chalmers' argument rests on the premise that we can meaningfully postulate a zombie (a being behaviorally [physically and functionally] identical to ourselves but which lacks consciousness).  If this postulate is meaningful, says Chalmers, it must be metaphysically possible.  Yet, if we regard the term "consciousness" as only having meaning in terms of how it is used, and if we acknowledge that its usage is always defined and regulated in terms of behavior, then we must conclude that we cannot postulate what Chalmers suggests. 

Our language is always and only understandable in terms of behavior. Since meaning must be determined by our behavior, then we cannot keep the behavior and expect that the term might no longer apply.  So how could we imagine the same behavior but such that the term "conscious" did not apply?  We can say we can imagine it, but that report is not convincing.

I cannot conceive of what Chalmers requires.  And I am not assuming anything specific about the nature of consciousness here.  (I am not even assuming that consciousness is anything in particular.)  I am only acknowledging the nature of philosophical inquiry.

Incidentally, I still have problems with your notion that consciousness might intrinisically involve awareness of finitude.  I don't think finitude or infinitude can be objects of consciousness.  Those are abstract concepts which we learn about.

Consider, how could we experience spatio-temporal boundaries as objects of consciousness?  We can define such boundaries with language, but that is not the same.  There is an important difference between knowing that we are spatio-temporally limited and knowing where those limits exist.  (Isn't there a sense in which such limits don't exist, even though they are inevitable?  Which is to say that we can look for them without ever finding them . . . until we die.) 

We are not conscious of the limits themselves, only that some limits must exist.  Which is only to say that we know we all must die.  And this is something we have learned through observation.  It is no different (epistemologically or ontologically) from being aware of any other situation in the world.

(What should we say of people who claim they are immortal and infinte in essence?  What of religious believers who claim death is a sort of illusion signifying a transformation of the soul, which persists for eternity?  They would seem to be conscious, though not of their finitude.) 

2009-03-15
Describing zombies
Hi Jason

I hope I am wrong in my diagnosis of analytic philosophy's study of consciousness and you are probably better placed to judge than me because I am a semi-outsider (I avoid it most of the time and only read it occasionally out of a sense of duty.)  But I must admit that my impression is that, one way or another, most of those involved believe that, in the end, consciousnesses will be explained in purely material, 'mechanistic' terms. Some seem rather more gung-ho about this than others. Some will even talk about 'hard problems' or even 'mysteries' but the basic orientation, it seems to me, remains the same: if only enough 'data' can be gathered, enough experiments conducted, enough clinical cases examined, all will come right in the end.

As for your own position, I don't know if I understand it fully but the claim that 'meaning must be determined by our behavior' sounds rather reminsicent of Skinnerian behaviorism and we know that led up a very dry gulch. (In the end, by the way, I don't see any fundamental difference between Skinnerian thinking and the kind of approach to consciousness currently adopted in analytic philosophy.  "Behavior" is simply being studied in a different way and at a different - ie neurological - level.)

I should also correct a wrong impression I seem to have created in my remarks about time. I was not wanting to suggest that "finitude or infinitude can be objects of consciousness". I was suggesting, as I said, that human consciousness may, by its very nature, involve a sense of our own (individual) finitude. Let me try to be a bit less enigmatic. When I talk about human consciousness, I assume we are talking about a kind of consciousness that is specifically human. My cat is "conscious" of me (in her way) when I enter the room, but we don't mean that. Equally, we don't mean consciousness as opposed to unconsciousness (which is why the study of people in comas etc seems to me quite beside the point.) What we mean when we talk of human consciouness is surely a particular way of being. Now I am not going all Heideggerian on you (I am not really a Heidegger fan) but a major part of the human "way of being" is surely an awareness of our own finitude - the sense that everything we do is within a certain time frame - an awareness we assume no other animal has.  You say "What should we say of people who claim they are immortal and infinte in essence?  What of religious believers who claim death is a sort of illusion signifying a transformation of the soul, which persists for eternity?  They would seem to be conscious, though not of their finitude." But this is simply a manifestation of the same point. Our sense of transience has led to the search for something enduring, giving birth to some of the world's great religions - Buddhism, Christianity etc - in which the escape from the sense of finitude plays a central part.

These remarks by the way are not intended to be a "solution" to the problem of human consciousness. I doubt if there is one. I am simply trying to highlight dimensions of the problem that the "scientific" approach of anayltic philosophy seems to ignore utterly.    



 

2009-03-15
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek,
You say: "When I talk about human consciousness, I assume we are talking about a kind of consciousness that is specifically human."


I don't think that the concern in Chalmers' piece is with a type of consciousness that is necessarily human-specific.  We focus on humans because we're each certain that at least one human possesses consciousness (ourselves).  But, it's also likely (to my mind, anyway) that cats and dogs have the general type of consciousness relevant to the debate.  


The question about what makes a type of consciousness uniquely human seems, to me, to be a nonstarter, particularly if you're going for a non-mechanistic explanation, as you seem to imply you want.  After all, why should we be concerned with the traits unique to humans unless we were concerned with something we thought to be necessarily connected to a particular type of physical structure?  I think we'd only be interested in the type of consciousness some particular type of physical thing has if we thought that physical structure important to answering the question. 
Further, there are undoubtedly humans with a type of consciousness far from typical.  As a result, there likely is no unique thing of which all humans are aware.



And, although it is the case that most philosophers do seem to be physicalists, I'm not so sure that most philosophers think that we'll get an explanation of consciousness in physical terms.  A lot of physicalists don't think the explanatory gap can be closed.  A lot think it can, but it doesn't seem to me that they go into the game assuming that the gap will be closed.  






2009-03-17
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Kevin

I must admit to some surprise.

Are you really suggesting that there is really no qualitative difference between human and animal consciousness? If that were so, at what point would this 'general type of consciousness', as you call it, disappear?  Does a worm have it? An amoeba?

Actually, the use of the term 'consciousness' with respect to animals seems very questionable to me. You say 'We focus on humans because we're each certain that at least one human possesses consciousness (ourselves)'.  OK.  But what really authorizes us, as philosophers, to use the same term, 'consciousness', with respect to animals? Might we not simply be projecting? (anthropomorphizing.) The same way we do when we say in casual conversation 'This dog thinks I am going to feed him' Or 'This cat is hoping I will stroke it.'  That is, assuming an animal does what we do when we 'think' or hope', etc.

Getting back to the topic of zombies which began this thread, an intriguing idea occurs to me. David Chalmers says that it is not necessary to know what consciousness means to conceive of a zombie (which is a human minus consciousness). I think that position is obviously untenable, as I have said. But if he is correct, and if as you say Chalmers' concern is not with 'a type of consciousness that is necessarily human-specific', then would that mean that a zombie plus a cat's consciousness (say) would equal a human being? I'm not sure he could say no, given that he does not believe it necessary to have any particular definition of consciousness when talking about zombies.

Regarding your question: 'After all, why should we be concerned with the traits unique to humans unless we were concerned with something we thought to be necessarily connected to a particular type of physical structure?', the answer to that seems to me very simple. Do we, or do we not, think that one of the central purposes of philosophy is to tell us something important about what it means to be human? If the answer is no, I personally would lose all interest in it straight away. And I think huge areas of it, including most of its leading figures, would have to be jettisoned as entirely without value.



2009-03-17
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,

There are several points I want to cover.  Hopefully this won't be too long-winded.

1. Your Assessment of the Analytic Tradition

We should distinguish between (1) blindly assuming a materialistic view of consciousness, and (2) believing that consciousness may eventually be explained in scientific terms.  I think many (though certainly not all) in the analytic tradition believe that consciousness may eventually be explained in scientific terms, but I do not think that is because they are working from a set of unexamined assumptions, as you claimed earlier in the thread. 

When I challenged your depiction of analytic philosophers, I meant only to defend them against the charge that they systematically rely on unexamined assumptions.  Yes, materialism and physicalism are and have been alive and well in the analytic tradition; but I think there are philosophical justifications for this fact.  They have withstood strong scrutiny in the analytic tradition. 

Also, I am not aware of any analytic philosophers who would quite agree with your characterization here:  "if only enough 'data' can be gathered, enough experiments conducted, enough clinical cases examined, all will come right in the end."

The idea of "all will come right in the end" implies that something is wrong now.  Yet, philosophers in the analytic tradition are divided on the question of whether or not consciousness poses a problem at all.  The more Wittgensteinian (Daniel Dennett and P.M.S. Hacker, for example) would say there is nothing "wrong" here, other than the confusion some philosophers bring on themselves by their failure to properly evaluate their use of the language. 

Chalmers and others, on the other hand, would say that consciousness does pose a philosophical problem; however, contrary to your characterization, they do not say that science can solve it.  Some might say the problem cannot be solved at all, by any means, because it is a necessary consequence of the nature of consciousness.  Others say that science might help solve the problem, but that science cannot go the full distance, because there is an "explanatory gap" which cannot be scientifically overcome.  The idea is that phenomenal knowledge has some quality or qualities which cannot be known discursively or indirectly, but only via the conscious experience itself.

Hopefully this clarifies why I disagreed with your assessment of the analytic tradition's treatment of consciousness.


2.  Human vs. Non-Human Consciousness

I'd also like to comment on your reply to Kevin's last post, if that's okay.  You raised the point that, if there is some similarity at all between human consciousness and cat consciousness, then why not between a cat and a frog, or a frog and an amoeba?  Where do we say consciousness begins?

This is a slippery slope.  I think you and Kevin (and the rest of us) would probably agree that we have no criteria for deciding what organisms have or are capable of having anything that might be called "consciousness."  If we want to define our terms loosely enough, we might even say that simple computers have a primitive sort of consciousness.  I'm not saying we should define our terms this way, of course.  The point I think Kevin was making is that Chalmers' argument is about one particular kind or aspect of consciousness, regardless of whether or not cats or frogs have it, too.

Yes, we want philosophy to tell us something about what it means to be human, but we should be open to the possibility that we aren't quite as unique as we might have thought.

3. Behaviorism

I should probably read more by and about Skinner.  From my limited exposure to his ideas, it seems that he contributed a great deal to our understanding of psychology, and I am not aware of any sound refutations of his basic approach.  In any case, I think epistemological behaviorism stands on its own feet, despite any criticisms one might level against Skinner in particular.

The point here, drawing on Wittgenstein, is that the meaning of our terms cannot be separated from how we use the language.  Language is a tool (with perhaps an indefinite set of possible uses).  It is impossible to separate the meaning of a term from the behavior of those who are employing it.  This has profound consequences for what we can say about consciousness, because it means that, whatever we mean when we talk about consciousness, we are not talking about anything so utterly private.  We cannot mean something detachable from how we behave in the world.  (Consider:  if the term "consciousness" referred to something so utterly private, some kind of "absolute subjectivity," how could two people agree on its usage?)


4. Consciousness and Mortality

Finally, a word about consciousness and transience.  I'm not clear on how consciousness could force upon a person an awareness of their own mortality  Consider the example of religious belief one more time.  If human consciousness necessarily involved an awareness of finitude, how could a person believe they were infinite in essence? 

Would you say that nobody can really believe that?  Or would you say they can believe it, but only because they are in denial?  How could such denial be possible, if we cannot help but be aware of our transience?

Consider yourself when you are focused exclusively on a single task, perhaps writing a paper.  You can, at various times, pull yourself out of the work, at which time you may become aware of temporal and other limitations on your behavior.  Yet, while you are fully engaged, you are not aware of those limitations at all.  And, even in this scenario, must you ever be consciously aware of the inevitability of your own non-existence?  In what sense could that be an integral part of your consciousness as you are writing your paper, or even when you are worrying about whether or not you will finish it by midnight?

Aren't you almost always focused on something that does not presuppose your ultimate fate?  It takes some special effort to consider the fact that we will one day cease to be, or so it seems to me.

2009-03-19
Describing zombies
Hi Jason

I had nearly finished an earlier version of this reply and then hit Cntrl I to put italics on a word only to find that my reply disappeared. I hate retyping so this might be shorter than the first.

I was puzzled by your comment that "The point I think Kevin was making is that Chalmers' argument is about one particular kind or aspect of consciousness, regardless of whether or not cats or frogs have it, too."  What "particular kind or aspect of consciousness" could be in question?  Surely, we must be able to say which animal in particular (including the human animal) we are talking about?  Otherwise we seem to be positing a kind of purely hypothetical, disembodied consciousness - a very embarrassing position for a scientist to be in, surely - especially since it would presumably be possible that no animal possessed the kind of 'consciousness' we manage to dream up.

Moreover, how would this thinking fit with Chalmers' claim that one does not need a definition of consciousnesses to define a zombie - which is apparently a human minus consciousness? (I realize these are probably questions for him, not you or Kevin.)

Behaviorism:  I remember reading a good demolition of Skinner by Chomsky many years ago. Can't recall the title unfortunately.

Transience:  I am not simply talking about the awareness of death - though as I said, do we think that any other animal, apart from human beings, knows that it will die one day?  What would 'die' even 'mean' to a bird?   But it is more than this. It is the sense that pervades our lives, once we emerge from early childhood, that this 'I' is finite - which is why we 'make plans', hope for this or that, regret this or that, etc. I'm not of course suggesting that this is a complete definition of consciousnesses, but as I said, it is the kind of fundamental issue that is routinely ignored in analytic phil's discussions of (human) consciousness. (I raised it one day in a seminar and was looked at in bewilderment. The seminar went back to its discussion of monkeys looking into mirrors...)

This sense of finitude is, as I said, not at all in conflict with the fact that some religious believers have faith in eternal life.  Indeed, such faith only highlights the point I am making, because it represents an escape from transience (which is not to argue that religious faith is necessarily a delusion).



2009-03-19
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek,

The "kind or aspect of consciousness" is referred to as "phenomenal consciousness," aka the "what it is like to be/experience" something.  This conception was perhaps most famously stated in Nagel's "What is it like to be a bat?"  And I suppose that most who take to this notion would say that bats (and many other non-human animals) do have this sort of consciousness.

Of course, in my view, the notion of phenomenal consciousness is poorly defined, at best.  I see no reason to think there is anything it is like to be a bat, or a human being, or anything else.  Don't think that I'm in support of Chalmers' argument here.  I am criticizing it like you are; I just want to make sure it's being criticized for the right reasons.  The point is, I don't think it's fair to criticize Chalmers' argument by claiming that it does not properly distinguish between human and non-human consciousness, because there is no reason to assume that there isn't some aspect of human experience which is not qualitatively similar to aspects of non-human experience.  However, again, I do think it is fair and proper to criticize the argument for failing to cogently define "phenomenal consciousness."

About Skinner and Chomsky, I am under the impression that Chomsky's famous criticism was neither a successful refutation of Skinner in particular or behaviorism in general, though, again, I will have to read more on this.

About transience . . . I get the impression you are bundling together a number of distinct concepts here.  For example, I would distinguish between the awareness of finitude and the ability to make plans, and I would not lump either of those together with the ability to feel hope or regret.  In any case, I don't think these issues are unfairly disregarded or overlooked by analytic philosophers.  I wonder why you think they are "routinely ignored."  Is there any particular area (perhaps some particular arguments or papers) where such concepts were relevant yet unfairly excluded from consideration?

2009-03-20
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Thank you Jason.

I must confess that the more I read on this topic - analytic philosophy's approach to the question of consciousness - the more I am struck by the vagueness of it all. People seem to talk about consciousness as if they somehow 'just know' what it is. (Just because they 'have it' maybe?) Yet the closer one looks, the more confused it all seems.  There's not even agreement on the sense in which the term consciousness is being used.  Consciousness versus unconsciousness?  (There is discussion of people in comas etc)  Consciousness as a quality of human life?  Human consciousness versus animal 'consciousness'? I have even seen occasions when consciousness and self-consciousness were being used as synonyms. 

And then there's talk about 'gaps', as if there is already a whole lot known and we just need to cross a pesky little 'gap'. What exactly is known?  I suspect that nothing - absolutely nothing - is actually known about consciousness, human or not. A 'gap'?  More like a vast, yawning abyss!

Phenomenal consciousness?  So is this what bats and many other non-human animals' have?  How could we ever know what it is like to be a bat - or any animal?  And if by some miracle we did - and it would need to be a miracle in the full, biblical sense of the word - how could we then describe animal experience in human language? The only creature who knows what it is like to be a bat is a bat and he can't say - because he can't 'say' anything.  We can call what animals have 'phenomenal consciousness' if we like. It sounds quite grand after all. But we might as well call it wheelbarrow for all the good that does.

Sorry if this sounds a bit irritable. This topic is beginning to get on my nerves a bit. Maybe I should drop it.   

2009-03-21
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek, you said:

"How could we ever know what it is like to be a bat - or any animal?"

It's funny you should ask!

That's a link to the paper "What Is It Like To Be A Bat?" It was referred to several posts back.

2009-03-22
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,

I'm glad some of what I've said has been helpful to you.

If you don't mind, I'd like to try to help a little more.  Here's an outline of what I'm about to do.  First, I'm going to explain some similarities between your views/intuitions and those of many analytic philosophers.  Second, I'm going to describe what I think is the basic difference between your and their views.  Third, I'm going to briefly describe my own views in relation to the situation.


1.  Agreement

I think there's some similarity (perhaps even some agreement) between your views and many of the analytic philosophers you are questioning, including David Chalmers.  (I imagine Mr. Chalmers is paying only slight attention to this discussion with somewhat detached concern, though I hope he will point it out if I incorrectly represent his views here.)

The motivating idea behind discussions of phenomenal consciousness is that we cannot know what it is like to be anything other than what we are.  I cannot know what it is like to be a bat, because the "what it is like" has an incurably subjective component/essence.  I cannot learn it or discover it by any possible means.  I am guessing you agree with, or are at least sympathetic to, this notion.

Yet, you object to the phrase "explanatory gap." I think the problem is that you are misinterpreting the phrase.  The idea is not that we have explained consciousness to any satisfactory degree already.  All we have explained are various relationships between behavior and the brain.  That is not an explanation of subjectivity, according to Chalmers and many other analytic philosophers.  The idea (in its most dramatic form) is that no matter how much we explain about brains and behavior, it will not help us understand the subjective quality of experience.  Some say that we might one day understand subjectivity and its relationship to the brain and behavior, but they claim that science (with its physicalistic/materialistic, third-person methodology) can never get the job done.

And, again, I think you and many of the analytic philosophers you are chastising are not so far apart here.  According to you, science is not the right tool for the job.  Or at least that is the impression you've given me.  Perhaps you don't want to make such a strong statement, and only want to suggest that science might not be the right tool for the job.  In any case, I think you could find analytic philosophers who feel the same way.

2. Disagreement

All that aside, I do not think your objections to analytic philosophy are completely misguided.  I think your disagreement with these analytic philosophers comes down to this:  they are hoping to come to terms with the "gap" between objectivity and subjectivity (be it epistemological or ontological or both) by developing a complex language; and you see that as a waste of time.  In your view, the mysteries of consciousness cannot be tamed with an analytic vocabulary.  Perhaps, in your view, consciousness must simply be beheld in awe and wonderment, and not analyzed or "overcome" through analysis.  Is that accurate?

In that case, there is a profound difference between your approach and that of analytic philosophy. 

Indeed, we might ask, if there is an "explanatory gap," why should we think philosophy could help us solve it?  Why should we think that a more analytical vocabulary would be of service here?  Isn't something more like poetry the answer, since at least with poetry we aren't pretending to understand more than we do?

3.  My view

Like you, I am highly skeptical of the emerging vocabulary in the philosophy of mind, though I do not think I share your views on consciousness or science.

A lot of recent discussion in the philosophy of mind revolves around the phrase "phenomenal knowledge."  Yet, the way this term is used seems problematic.

For me to be able to say there is something it is like to see red, then I must know what it is like to see red.  That is, I must have knowledge of the subjective aspect of experience. That is phenomenal knowledge.

How we understand phenomenal knowledge depends on our approach to consciousness.  If we take consciousness to be some absolutely subjective aspect of experience, then phenomenal knowledge can be understood in one of two ways: it can also be entirely subjective, or it can "bridge the gap" between subjectivity and objectivity. 

But we do not have to think there is any absolutely subjective aspect of experience, and so we need not understand phenomenal knowledge in this way.  In my view, there is no gap to bridge.  There is no abyss between subjectivity and objectivity.  There is only grammar.

In a recent email to Torin Alter (available on my blog [link]), I explained my take on phenomenal knowledge with specific reference to Frank Jackson's Knowledge Argument.  (If you're not all that familiar with Jackson's argument and "the case of Mary," I highly recommend Alter's entry on it for The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy [link].)

So how do we understand phenomenal knowledge without absolute subjectivity?  The mistake is in thinking that phenomenal knowledge is propositional knowledge, or information about any qualities of experience.  Phenomenal knowledge does not tell us anything about our experiences.  Rather, phenomenal knowledge is a specific kind of ability:  the ability to identify objects of experience using a language. 

When I say "I know what it is like to see red," all I mean is that I know how to use the word "red" to identify objects of experience.  That knowledge is now knowledge about the experience of seeing red at all.  It is only knowledge about how to use the language.

So, there is no reason to think that there will always be something to learn about color vision (or any other experience) beyond what science can teach us.  While scientific analysis and description will not give us the experience of seeing red, for example, it can tell us everything there is to know about that (and any other) experience.  And we can know all about these experiences without having them.  Indeed, the mere fact of having them does not guarantee that we will know them at all.  The point is that knowing an experience and having that experience are two different things, and neither one requires the other.  (Another way of putting this goes back to your initial observation in this discussion:  that the distinction between "what it is like to be something" and "what it is to be something" is unfounded.  Science can tell us whatever there is to know about what bats are, and we are mistaken if we think there is anything beyond that "which it is like" to be a bat.)

Thus there is no basis for claiming some "absolutely subjective" component to experience.  There is simply experience.  Whatever we mean by the word "consciousness," we should not assume there is any great mystery, or any "gap" (or even an abyss!)  There is only our language and our tendency to use it poorly.

Sorry for the length of this post.  Hopefully some readers will find it useful.

2009-03-22
Describing zombies
Correction:

I wrote:  When I say "I know what it is like to see red," all I mean is that I know how to use the word "red" to identify objects of experience.  That knowledge is now knowledge about the experience of seeing red at all.  It is only knowledge about how to use the language.

That should read:  When I say "I know what it is like to see red," all I mean is that I know how to use the word "red" to identify objects of experience.  That knowledge is not knowledge about the experience of seeing red at all.  It is only knowledge about how to use the language.

2009-03-26
Describing zombies
Reply to Kris Rhodes
Hi Kris

I read the Nagel article - although I was so disappointed, even on the first page, that I found myself skimming a lot of it.

Take the statement in his third paragraph that 'fundamentally an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is to be that organism—something it is like for the organism.'

I think this is just a smokescreen hiding an unsustainable position.

What exactly does he mean? Presumably,being like a bat (e.g.) is not the same as being like an elephant or a worm (though I guess we can't even rule that out!) So being like a bat must be ... being like a bat.

Now, if we try to give this claim some meaning (to avoid its apparent vacuity), about all I think is that he is suggesting that being like a bat is to 'feel' something (presumably unlike a rock or a stone, which we assume doesn't feel anything.)  He also seems to imply something like this in his comment: 'something it is like for the organism.'

But 'feels' - or whatever similar word we choose - just takes us straight back to anthropomorphism - which Nagel himself condemns (rightly) later in his article.

This is just one of the problems I noticed in the argument. If this is the kind of definition of consciousness that gets high marks in the field, so much the worse for the field, I would say...

 

2009-03-27
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Jason.

Thank you for your long post. This will not do it justice but I just wanted to make a couple of points pro tem.

1.  In response to your 'Perhaps, in your view, consciousness must simply be beheld in awe and wonderment, and not analyzed or "overcome" through analysis.  Is that accurate?'

No. That is not the case.  I have no a priori position re consciousness. My objection is to what strike me as simplistic approaches which claim or imply that we have actually got somewhere.  The idea that we can form any clear idea of a 'zombie'  - ie a human minus consciousness - seems to me a case in point.  2 minus 1 = 1.  2 minus an unknown has no answer. (There is of course the Hollywood B grade movie zombie - the human with a glazed look and a slightly jerky gait, but even given the tendency for philosophy to 'go popular' these days, I am assuming this is not what we have in mind...)

2. In response to your 'All we have explained are various relationships between behavior and the brain'.  If this is so (and I have doubts whether even this has been achieved beyond the most rough and crude levels) it would still not authorise the use of the word 'gap' - if by this we mean a gap between what has been explained and an explanation of consciousness. Because consciousness does not even figure in that equation. A gap to me implies that we are somehow on the right track but just can't manage to get to the objective.  But we may in fact be on the completely wrong track. In that case we are driving down a dead end. Talking about a 'gap' in that case is mere self-delusion.

3. I don't think I understand your own position so won't comment. I will say though that I start to worry when I see a comment like 'If we take consciousness to be some absolutely subjective aspect of experience.'  The term 'subjective' often bothers me.  It can mean so many things.  And 'absolutely subjective' only worries me more.


 



2009-03-27
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Jason

Just a quick PS - a point I forgot to add.

I was interested by your remark about poetry.  Indeed there seems to be no a priori reason why the question of consciousness (whatever precisely that question might be...) should not be as amenable to examination through poetry - or other forms of art - as it might be through philosophy.  Given that human consciousness seems to be an intensely human topic, one might even wonder if art is not likely to tell us more.  (Of course that argument would not carry much weight with those philosophers who claim there is no distinction between human consciousness and any other form (assuming the latter exist...).

DA

2009-03-28
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Thanks for the clarifying remarks, Derek.

About my use of the terms "subjective" and "absolutely subjective" . . . I am only critiquing their usage, questioning the entrenched view that there is a problematic subjective/objective divide.  I am just as weary as you are when it comes to such terms.


2009-04-14
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
I would like to get back to the question whether zombies are conceivable. It seems to me that you are making things overly complicated. I would like to propose a way anyone can easily conceive of a zombie: The build-your-own-zombie recipe.
As a first way to conceive of a zombie, we all know that there are blind and deaf people. There's also people who have lost their sense of smell, who cannot feel anything in a certain area of their bodies (as in bodily awareness, for example someone who is paraplegic), and I suppose there are also people who cannot taste anything. I personally at least have no problems conceiving of these actual cases, even if I have a hard time conceiving what it is like for someone with this sort of disability. Now if you just conceive of someone with all of these disabilities taken together, you end up with a subject who is identical with a zombie, as far as perceptual consciousness goes.
It might be objected that this subject is not functionally or physically identical with someone who is perceptually conscious. But to this I would reply that it is easy to conceive of a subject who is identical with a zombie in the described way, but who is physically and functionally identical with a perceptually conscious subject. To see why this is true, think of the phenomenon of blindsight. (A subject suffers from blindsight if she has no visual experience in a certain area of her visual field, but can be made to guess correctly what stimuli are present in this area.) I think it is not difficult to conceive of a "very highly functional" blindsight subject who can guess correctly what is before her eyes for any aspect of what she doesn't visually experience, and who does not just guess but simply forms the correct beliefs. We can extend this case to a case of deafhearing, being able to discern smells and flavours without being able to experience them, and being able to discern what touches one's skin (or whatever else is relevant to bodily awareness) without actually feeling anything. I have no trouble conceiving of this extended blindsight subject, who is close to functionally equivalent to a normally functioning human subject with perceptual consciousness. We have to add some extra conceiving: imagine that the extended blindsight subject is exactly functionally and also microphysically equivalent to yourself. Moreover, you have to think of this subject herself believing that she experiences all these things that she doesn't. I don't find that hard to conceive of either, since there are everyday cases in which subjects simply have false beliefs of what they perceive. Again, as far as perceptual consciousness goes, you are conceiving of a zombie.
If you agree with me this far, there are still some problems with this "build your own zombie" strategy: what about consciousness of your own occurrent thoughts, emotions, and other non-perceptual mental stuff that we might want to call conscious? While I don't have a story for each of these varieties of consciousness, I am not sure that they pose deeper problems than the ones about perception I tried to solve above (without ever defining what consciousness really is).
One confusion we should try to avoid, which was mentioned by one of the commentors above as far as I understood, is the confusion between the question "what would I feel like if I was a zombie" (which I think is really hard and maybe impossible to answer) and the question "can I conceive of a zombie" (which does not involve the claim that I can imagine what it would feel like to be one). To the latter question, I suggest, there is a positive answer.

2009-04-15
Describing zombies
Reply to Eva Schmidt
Hi Eva

Thanks for restarting the zombie thread. I find the topic interesting, if only because it seems to highlight how questionable the notion of a zombie is.

Oddly enough, if feel as if I tend to make the issues overly simplified rather than, as you say, overly complicated. But, moving on...

It seems to me that if one built a "zombie" according to the perceptual aspects of your recipe, one would simply end up with a human being minus most of his/her perceptual faculties. (I say "most" because there is also e.g. touch). This would be a pitiable sight indeed but hardly a "zombie" (depending of course on how one defined that extremely fuzzy term...). If they had been that way since birth, I imagine they would be disastrously handicapped, but even then would we want to call such a being a "zombie"?  Perhaps there is a psychological/medical term for such a state but if so I don't know what it is.

But in any case, all this, to my mind, doesn't even scratch the surface of the question of human consciousness.  Animals possess the perceptual senses you list* but do they also have the "mental stuff" to use your phrase?  It seems eminently arguable to me (though no doubt not provable) that the distinguishing features of human consciousness lie precisely in this mental stuff - ie in what we call thoughts and emotions - which we assume animals do not have.  I cannot even begin to imagine a human being minus these features - except a dead one. Certainly, the Hollywood zombies I remember from my misspent youth at the local movies did not seem to have emotions - they seemed to feel no pity for their hapless victims for example.  But despite the rash of books these days with titles like "Philosophy and Batman" or even "Philosophy and Beer" (one I saw in a bookshop yesterday) I imagine we are not going to elevate the Hollywood B-grade movie zombie to philosophical respectability?

DA

* Though even there we could ask: is "sight" (e.g.) for an animal the same as "sight" for a human being?

2009-04-15
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Hello Derek,
by "overly complicated" I tried to suggest that we can do without asking more difficult questions, such as what makes humans specifically human or how to define consciousness, to conceive of a zombie. I didn't mean to insult anyone though. (Sorry if I did!)

Anyway, I completely agree that it is a very interesting question what distinguishes humans from animals, and I'm especially interested in what we have in common (e.g. whether there's a level of nonconceptual content that we share in perception). But it seems to me that the defender of zombie conceivability doesn't have to worry about questions of this kind. His only concern is: can we conceive of a creature who lacks phenomenally conscious experience? Can we imagine that this creature is functionally and physically identical with a creature who has phenomenally conscious experience? If we can, he can argue (following Chalmers, for instance) that it is possible that someone's physical and functional make-up is just like that of a conscious creature but he lacks conscious experience, and then conclude that facts about consciousness are not identical with or determined by facts about our physical/functional makeup.

We don't even need a complete zombie to get to this independence of consciousness. We could just have a visual zombie. Then it comes down to the question whether it is conceivable that someone could be like a blindsighted person with respect to what sort of visual experience he has, but functionally equivalent to a person like me or you, and also sharing the same (micro)physical makeup. I don't find it hard to conceive of this. And the more difficult parts of conceiving of it is conceiving that someone could function just like me if he lacked visual experience, not conceiving of someone without visual experience. If we can conceive of this, then we have one part of conscious experience that's not determined by physical/functional makeup, and the argument goes as above.

You seem to suggest that perceptual experience is not mental. Or do I misunderstand you?

Eva

2009-04-15
Describing zombies
Reply to Eva Schmidt
Hi Eva

I thought I would respond straight away to reassure you that there was no question of being insulted. No worries on that account.

I must admit to being a bit confused. I thought the idea of a zombie was a creature who looked like a human but lacked consciousness. You seem to be suggesting that it can be any creature at all. Without trying to be clever, would that mean one could have a zombie worm for example, or a zombie amoeba?

I also have great difficulty with the idea (which seems to be widespread from what I can tell) that there exists some kind of "phenomenal consciousness" which all creatures, including humans, are supposed to possess. I think there are large hidden assumptions at work there.  The logic seems to be that because a cat (for example - we will forget amoebae etc) seems to us to be aware of its surroundings in some way that seems to resemble our awareness, both we and the cat must therefore share a form of basic "consciousness". But, really, we have no idea of what we might or might not share with a cat - or if what we might share is significant or insignificant from the 'consciousness' point of view. And what would a 'basic consciousness' even be like - given that we can't even define the idea of consciousness itself, let alone a 'basic' form?

As for the idea of a zombie itself, I will just repeat what I said in an earlier post:  I think that as long as the idea of consciousness is not clearly defined and understood (which it isn't) the idea of a zombie is a nonsense. The logic is very simple. If a zombie is a creature minus consciousness (that's the definition, I gather), and we don't know what consciousness is, we have absolutely no idea what we are subtracting.  2 minus 1 is 1; but 2 minus an unknown is a totally unanswerable proposition.

(Btw: No I did not mean to suggest that perceptual experience (in humans) is not mental. What it is in animals, I have no idea.)

DA

2009-04-17
Describing zombies
Reply to Eva Schmidt
Hi Eva,

I would like to critique your "recipe" for building a zombie.

You begin simply enough by reminding us that we all know there are deaf and blind people.  But you forget to remind us how we know there are deaf and blind people.  We do not know this by verbal reports, because such reports would be incomprehensible if we had no other means of identifying blindness or deafness.  (Consider the fact that blind and deaf people would not know they were blind or deaf if there were no people with vision and hearing to tell them.)  We know people are blind and deaf because we can observe their behavior.  And, indeed, how would you react if a person said they were blind and deaf, and then proceeded to respond to visual and aural stimuli just as a normal person would?

When we conceive of perceptual limitations, we are conceiving of observable behavior.  If you disagree with this point, then you will have to clarify what you are conceiving of when you say you can conceive of a person who is blind or deaf.

So, yes, we know there are people with all sorts of perceptual limitations, and there are quite possibly people with perceptual limitations we are not yet aware of.  But if we imagine a person with every possible perceptual limitation, so that they perceived nothing, then we are imagining a person who could not interact in any sensical way with his or her environment.  They would not experience anything in the world, and so receive no information from their environment (or their bodies, if we extend the recipe to internal perceptions and so attempt to cover all notions of consciousness), and so would not be able to respond to anything in a rational manner.  Taking away their internal perceptions, we would have to conclude that they wouldn't even have a sense of balance, nor would they experience hunger or thirst.  They would be as helpless as a person in a coma.

Since we cannot separate our conception of such a person with our conception of their behavior, as I maintain, then we cannot imagine such a person acting like a normal person.  We can say that such a person would not have consciousness, but we must also claim that their behavior would be as far from that of a normally functioning human being as we could imagine.

You wish to avoid this conclusion via the example of blindsight, though I do not think that example is robust enough to do any work here.  For one thing, it is not clear that a person with blindsight lacks consciousness.  I would rather think that a person with blindsight does have salient experiential states, but doesn't have fully-functional knowledge of those experiences.  So their phenomenal knowledge would be impaired, if not non-existant, even though they were conscious.  Furthermore, again, a person with blindsight functions in a noticably different manner than a person without it.

2009-04-22
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,

my claim about non-human creatures would be: if they have conscious experiences (e.g. conscious visual experiences), then it is conceivable that there could be zombie versions of them. I'd like to try to sidestep questions here about whether human consciousness and animal perceptual experience are the same, very different, rather similar, or whether animals have no conscious perception at all. I'm perfectly happy to restrict the zombie discussion to humans if that helps keeping the question of animal vs. human consciousness outside the picture.

As to your last point: I tried (and failed, it appears) to convince you that we don't have to worry about defining what consciousness is. We just have to agree that when I have a visual perception, visual phenomenal consciousness (whatever that may be) is involved; that a blind person has no such phenomenal consciousness; and that it is conceivable that there could be a person who is like a blind person in the visual phenomenology department but just like me with respect to functional and microphysical makeup. As far as I can see, in this argument, no definition of consciousness is required, just some gesturing at phenomenally conscious visual experience.

Hi Jason,

it seems that we have some pretty basic disagreements. Your arguments are (I hope I understand you correctly) motivated by a certain view of the meanings of our linguistic terms, which seems to involve the claim that talk about perceptual experience is really just talk about behavior, and the private language argument. I don't agree with this version of behaviorism for familiar reasons, and am not convinced by the private language argument. Maybe this would be a good time to start a new discussion about the meaning of mental language. Unfortunately I don't have a whole lot of time to write right now but I hope I'll get around to saying more later.

2009-04-22
Describing zombies
Reply to Eva Schmidt
Hi Eva

I am happy to keep animals out of the picture if you wish.

But I have difficulties with your second paragraph. In fact I am not quite sure I understand your position so you may have to clarify it for me.  

You say:"We just have to agree that when I have a visual perception, visual phenomenal consciousness (whatever that may be) is involved; that a blind person has no such phenomenal consciousness; and that it is conceivable that there could be a person who is like a blind person in the visual phenomenology department but just like me with respect to functional and microphysical makeup."

Would the being you describe not simply be your identical twin, but blind? I'm not quite sure why she would qualify as a zombie.

DA


2009-05-03
Describing zombies
Reply to Eva Schmidt
Hi Eva,

I agree: how we understand mental language is probably fundamental to our disagreement. 

And I do see a resemblance between the argument I posted and some of Wittgenstein's remarks about the possibility of a private language.  However, I am not sure what "familiar reasons" you refer to.  If you could point me towards a definitive analysis, I would be grateful.  I am familiar enough with the literature to know that there has been some debate about whether or not Wittgenstein put forward an "argument" at all.  In my understanding, based on my familiarity with the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein raises some questions about what a private language would mean--that it would be equivalent to one's left hand giving one's right hand money, for example--without trying to force any conclusions about whether such a language were possible. 

One could teach oneself to associate symbols with the objects of one's experience in a unique way, and so develop a sort of language that is not shared; but this does not mean that such a language couldn't possibly be shared, or that such a language would serve any demonstrable purpose in life.  Such a language couldn't teach somebody something new about their experiences.  A wholly private language (and by this I mean a privately learned language, as opposed to an innate proto-language--a "language of thought") would be superfluous, equivalent to devising a secret code but not sharing it with anybody.  Of course it could have meaning, but this is derived from the possibility of its being shared, and not from the fact of its being secret.

In any case, as I said, there is certainly a resemblance between the argument I made earlier and such arguments as one could make about private languages; but I do not think my argument depends on any other such arguments for its coherence or success.  The force of my argument is intended to be self-contained.  I first note that your argument for the conceivability of zombies relies on our common knowledge of blindness and deafness, and I ask the question, "how is that common knowledge?"  It would seem that any substantive answer would have to relate that knowledge to our observable behavior; so that whenever we appealed to that knowledge, we were appealing to our observable behavior.  If there is some other knowledge of blindness or deafness, I do not see what it could be.

You acknowledge that you do not know what it is like to be blind or deaf.  You lack the relevant phenomenal knowledge.  But then in what sense can a blind or deaf person have this phenomenal knowledge?  Aren't blindness and deafness defined by a lack of phenomenal knowledge?  So nobody knows what it is like to be blind or deaf.  How, then, do we know there are blind and deaf people?  Because of their behavior.

2009-05-26
Describing zombies
It is a pity this thread seems to be petering out.  I was intrigued to see if anyone could make sense of the idea of a zombie.  It seems quite incoherent to me.

DA

2009-06-18
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
I think that Chalmers has been fairly clear about what he intends to be removing from the z-world. In the Consciousness Online Conference he put it this way:

    The arguments are just using “phenomenal consciousness” the ordinary way: someone is phenomenally conscious if there’s something it’s like to be them.

    (You can find the Consciousness Online Conference and the discussion I'm referring to here.

I guess you might think of what zombies do as akin to sleep walking (I'm not sure if the subconscious activity or what not that causes such behavior gets lumped in when we talk about being without consciousness, but it doesn't seem like it should). Really then, I don't see any serious difficult in conceiving of zombies; perhaps you're trying to conceive of being a zombie, which I admit would be rather difficult. I don't think that any discussion of our understanding of our own mortality or anything like that helps to do any explaining of what exactly consciousness is. Instead, it seems to only be a part of a list of things that human consciousness is capable of accomplishing. I think that the line that Dave Beisecker brings up in the Consciousness Online discussion is perhaps one that you might be sympathetic toward or in agreement with, and I think it may be a good way of handling the zombie argument. Instead of trying to argue that the idea of zombies makes no sense because we lack any clear definition of what we mean when we talk about consciousness, because Chalmers does make it clear what it is he's talking about, I'd argue that this "ordinary" understanding of consciousness as something it's like to be that thing either isn't gotten as cheaply as Chalmers might want us to believe, or that this ordinary notion of consciousness doesn't get you so far and really has little or no place in the overall discussion of the nature of consciousness.

2009-06-19
Describing zombies
Reply to Tim Connolly
Hi Tim

Thanks for getting the ball rolling again.

I haven't had a chance to look at the Consciousness Online Conference for which you give the link, but here's a response to part of what you say.

I think it's a red herring to think of consciousness (in the full sense relevant to the philosophical debate) in terms of ideas about sleep (or comas etc).  English usage leads us astray here.

Consider the following:

1. Doctor: "He has regained consciousness"  (ie woken up)

2. Bureaucrat:  "Dear Sir, I am conscious of your concerns about X... etc" (ie 'I am aware of X')

3. Anthropologist: "We shall probably never know when the phenomenon we call human consciousness first arose in homo sapiens or his ancestor."

There are marginal overlaps between these three meanings but they are also importantly different. The anthropologist does not mean "we don't know when homo sapiens first woke up" (!)  or "became aware of X". He means something much broader and deeper. Thus, if zombiehood is supposed to be a human being minus consciousness in the anthropologist's sense (which is the sense relevant to the philosophical debate), attempts to model the idea of zombiehood on something like sleepwalking etc are, to my mind, out of the question. Zombiehood cannot just be a human minus some degree of wakefulness. 

I also have huge problems with the claim that one can convincingly describe human consciousness via the the Nagel "something it’s like to be" formula. I find it totally unconvincing. But I will leave that for another post when I've had a chance to glance at the link you gave me.

DA



2009-06-19
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek,

I admit the analogy between zombies and sleepwalking is an oversimplification; I take it, then, that your gripe with zombies is that their description isn't robust enough for you to find them positively conceivable?

First, I want to get clear on whether we're even working from some common ground when we talk about human consciousness. Two statements in your post stood out to me:

    Anthropologist: "We shall probably never know when the phenomenon we call human consciousness first arose in homo sapiens or his ancestor."
    I also have huge problems with the claim that one can convincingly describe human consciousness via the the Nagel "something it’s like to be" formula.

It seems to me like you're placing human consciousness of in some sort of miraculous group of its own, which I think would be a mistake. Anything like the human understanding of its own mortality, while interesting, shouldn't be seen as some totally unique aspect of consciousness that just miraculously arose in humans. I'd say that really it's nothing more than an extension of conscious processes available to other animals. Consciousness ought to be viewed as an evolutionary phenomenon, and so I don't think that anything we do with consciousness, like figure out we have finite lifespans, can be a defining characteristic of consciousness. Primates are capable say of basic addition and subtraction but not physics; however, this doesn't mean that an ability to do physics is a defining characteristic of human consciousness.

The zombie argument and the "what it's like" formula focus on phenomenal consciousness. I wonder if any of this is making sense or whether I'm drawing any distinctions that at all further the discussion?

2009-06-20
Describing zombies
Reply to Tim Connolly
Hi Tim

Just a quick reply to your last.

Not sure why you are focusing on the question of mortality from what I said.  Actually I do think that consciousnesses of our own transience - which is a deeper question that simply awareness of mortality - is probably a constituent of human consciousness but I don't think anything I said in my post adverted to that, did it? 

I was interested in your comment that "I'd say that really it's nothing more than an extension of conscious processes available to other animals."

Let's say there are two possible positions on this: mine that says there is a difference in kind - a qualitative difference; and yours that says there is not (and I gather yours is a widespread view in contemporary (analytic) philosophy?)

Now, how we would we go about establishing beyond doubt that you are right and I am wrong, or vice versa. I don't think we can, can we? You or I can never be an animal so we will never know if they - for example - experience the passing of time as we do, have feelings as we do (get angry, feel nostalgic, hope, hate, etc), have aims and ambitions in life as we do, reflect on the past as we do, reason as we do, use language as we do (though this seems to have been resolved in the negative), etc etc. So really that debate is in the end a stalemate. 

(On a personal note I greatly hope animals are not like us. I had to have my last cat put down because she had an inoperable growth. If cat 'consciousness' is not qualitatively different from human consciousnesses, that would make me a murderer, I think. I did feel like one at the time but my only consolation was that she understood nothing at all of what was going on - and for example had not the slightest inkling of the idea of 'dying' - of the 'end' of her life - or indeed even of 'life'.)

Given all this, it seems to me we, as philosophers, if we are honest, must recognize that we are stuck with human consciousness. That is all we know - or think we know. And it is all we will ever know. (This incidentally is why I think the notion of 'phenomenal consciousness' - which I gather is supposed to cover 'consciousness' of all kinds is another red herring.  How could we possibly know that what we mean by consciousness applies to anything beyond human beings?  Of course, that implies that we can say what we mean by consciousness, and that leads on to things like the Nagel proposition. Of which more, I hope, in my next.)

DA




2009-06-21
Describing zombies
Reply to Tim Connolly
Hi Tim

I've had a glance at some of the discussion you referred me to.  It's so heavily laced with jargon it's not easy to deal with but here are some brief comments on points that seemed to emerge from the fog:

(1) Zombies seem to be understood - at least by some - as identical to humans but 'lacking our epistemic perspective'. If this means (the jargon is already a problem) that the difference between a conscious ambulatory (!) being and a non-conscious one (which I gather is what a zombie is supposed to be?) should be understood simply in terms of what it knows or how it knows, that seems to me to be quite inadequate. (Human) consciousness is surely not definable simply in terms of knowing. That would be an extremely narrow approach.  (And inadequate for other reasons I'll leave aside for the moment.)

(2) The idea of 'phenomenal consciousness' is used a lot but not defined, so I have to guess at its meaning. If it means a kind of 'lowest common denominator' consciousness common to both humans and animals then I think it is quite unacceptable.  We have absolutely no way of knowing if we can legitimately apply the term consciousness - however we define it - to animals. (And which animals anyway? Chimps? Cats? Spiders, Worms? etc) If on the other hand it means a kind of 'ideal' consciousness arrived at solely by intellectual speculation but which may not actually exist in animals or humans then it's obviously not worth discussing. It's hard enough coming to grips with the real thing without inventing imaginary forms of it.

(3) I notice the Nagel thing is quoted as if it were a kind of accepted bedrock truth (eg Dave Chalmers says: "The arguments are just using “phenomenal consciousness” the ordinary way: someone is phenomenally conscious if there’s something it’s like to be them." )

I have commented on the Nagel proposition on the 'Explanatory gap" thread. As I said there, I think it is a smokescreen hiding an unsustainable position.  Strictly, there is nothing it is 'like' to be X other than being X. So we would be reduced to saying that being 'phenomenally conscious' is like being phenomenally conscious.  No help whatsoever.

So let's say we adopt a more approximate interpretation, such as 'Being like X is rather like being Y'.  But that introduces a new term into the equation (Y), so then we'd have to say "being phenomenally conscious is rather like being....  what? What would we substitute for Y here? I have not the slightest idea. It would mean saying that being conscious is a rather like being in some other state. What could this state possibly be?

As I said on the other thread, I think the Nagel proposition gets us precisely nowhere in discussions of consciousness. If that forms a key part of the definition, we are in dire straits indeed.

DA


2009-06-23
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek,

As I understand it, phenomenal consciousness applies to the overall structure of experience. This links up with Nagel's "what it's like" just in case there is something it's like to be in a particular conscious state. I don't think that this is meant to capture consciousness in a very broad sesnse (for example, some would happily argue that there is no "what it's like" tied to at least certain propositional attitudes). Instead, the experential aspects of consciousness are taken, by some philosophers, to be central as they seem to be how we navigate and get along out in the world. So it doesn't seem that one needs to provide a complete account of consciousness in order to explain what is absent in the case of zombies; it's the qualitative aspect of consciousness that's absent--whether that constitutes the whole of consciousness or not is certainly arguable, but that's the "ordinary" usage that Chalmers intends to be using in the argument.

Is the line that you want to take here to suggest that this "ordinary" usage doesn't come so easily nor get us so far? If that's not what you're suggesting, then I'm afraid I've gotten myself lost somewhere and would be grateful if you could explain exactly what your objection is.

2009-06-23
Describing zombies
Reply to Tim Connolly
Hi Tim

First, I am very wary about any approach that talks in terms of different kinds of consciousness. I note in the little I've read in this area that there is a strong tendency to do this, but it seems to me to be premature, to say the least. If the very idea of consciousness is extremely elusive - which it is - one is surely jumping the gun to start splitting it up into different categories. So phrases like 'consciousness in a very broad sense' or  'experential aspects of consciousness', or 'qualitative aspect of consciousness', and 'consciousness in the "ordinary" sense', seem to me to raise more questions than they purport to answer. 

So where the zombie problem in particular is concerned, you can see that I would have a big problem in saying that 'it's the qualitative aspect of consciousness that's absent.'  If the very notion of consciousness - in any form - eludes us, I am not reassured at all by the thought that we are only talking about 'part' of it.  Essentially my objection to the notion of a zombie is very simple: if we can't say what consciousness is, how can we ever say what a being minus consciousness would be like? That seems to me to be simple logic.

That aside, yes I have huge problems with the Nagel "what it's like" formula, whether we call that "ordinary" usage or whatever we call it.  I do not think it captures anything important about consciousness. I gave one of my reasons in my last.  The other is that it seems to me to conceal a key element which is highly question-begging.  'What it's like' means in effect 'What it feels like'.  And once one starts relying on ideas like 'feel', 'experience' etc in descriptions/definitions of what consciousness might be, things get very dicey.  Can one 'feel like' anything if one is not a conscious being?  Can one experience anything if one is not a conscious being? So we are surreptitiously using the very notion of consciousness to define consciousness (or a form of it if you wish to split it into categories).

I hope this is clearer? 
 
(All this is, I realize, rank heresy in your field. But heretics can have their uses...)
 
DA.

2009-06-24
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek,

It sounds like you might be in agreement with Dennett's line:

Contrary to what is presupposed by the zombie idea, consciousness is ‘not a single wonderful separable thing … but a huge complex of many different informational capacities that individually arise for a wide variety of reasons. … It is not a separate organ or a separate medium or a separate talent. He compares health: Supposing that by an act of stipulative imagination you can remove consciousness while leaving all cognitive systems intact — a quite standard but entirely bogus feat of imagination — is like supposing that by an act of stipulative imagination, you can remove health while leaving all bodily functions and powers intact. … Health isn’t that sort of thing, and neither is consciousness.

SEP

Yes, No?

2009-06-24
Describing zombies
Reply to Tim Connolly
Tim

I was a bit confused by the first bit because I thought he was arguing that consciousness is a "huge complex of many different informational capacities" but I see later that he is arguing that it can't be split into various bits. (No doubt it's the context I'm missing). 

I probably wouldn't be as dogmatic as Dennett is. After all, we don't really know for certain which is true, do we? And I'm not sure about the analogy with health. There are some things it is dangerous to explain via analogies and I have a sneaking suspicion consciousness is one of them. Is consciousness 'like' anything? (This is part of my problem with Nagel.)

Nevertheless, as I said in my earlier post, I do get very edgy when I see consciousnesses being blithely split up into various categories without any serious prior attempt to say what the very idea of consciousness might mean. And I have seen this kind of thing in articles I've read.

DA

2009-06-25
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek,

Well, there are plenty of theories of consciousness: substance dualism, the various property dualisms, eliminativism, functionalism, and non-reductive physicalisms to name a few. You may need to be familiar with the author to know which theory he or she subscribes to if they don't lay it out in their article. The zombie argument is an argument against physicalist theories in general; it doesn't give an explanation of consciousness (though you will end up with some dualist notion of consciousness) because the only intention is to show that no theory that gives a purely physical account of consciousness can be correct.

2009-06-26
Describing zombies
Reply to Tim Connolly
Tim

You say: "The zombie argument is an argument against physicalist theories in general; it doesn't give an explanation of consciousness (though you will end up with some dualist notion of consciousness) because the only intention is to show that no theory that gives a purely physical account of consciousness can be correct."

I must say I don't really see how it can be an argument for or against anything. To the extent that it relies on the notion of a being identical to a human being but without consciousness, it is a non-starter in my view since the proponents seem to think no prior definition of consciousness is required (or that, at most, one can rely on something as inadequate as the Nagel 'definition'). But in that case the concept of "without consciousness" is surely quite vacuous. We are left with a formula x - y where we know x (or at least assume we do) but have no idea what y is.

I find myself wondering at times if the notion of a zombie is not partly due, subliminally at least, to the influence of Hollywood science fiction. The makers of such films who see philosophers taking their productions seriously must surely be mightily amused (all the way to the bank...)

DA. 

2009-06-27
Describing zombies
Reply to Tim Connolly
Dennett was one of the more important figures of philosophy of mind in the last century because he provoked so much interesting debate that still stimulates philosophers.

TC: "It sounds like you might be in agreement with Dennett's line:...."

It is interesting that Dennett gets to this position by first attacking ineffable qualia (Dennett 1988) and then mocking the "Cartesian Theatre" as an impossibility (Dennett 1991).  Dennett (1988) writes:

"The infallibilist line on qualia treats them as properties of one's experience one cannot in principle misdiscover, and this is a mysterious doctrine (at least as mysterious as papal infallibility) unless we shift the emphasis a little and treat qualia as logical constructs out of subjects' qualia-judgments: a subject's experience has the quale F if and only if the subject judges his experience to have quale F."

So, if you treat qualia by simply re-casting them as information processing, such as judgements, then they can be doubted.  Similarly, Dennett's mocking of what he terms the "Cartesian Theatre" and most people call their 'view of the world' also comes from re-casting all human experience as information processing (Dennett 1991) - if experience is due to information moving from place to place then seeing our experience would create an infinite regress, it would imply an homunculus in the brain.  So, if we assume that the human mind can only be due to information processing then qualia and conscious experience must just be invented, simply made up.

Of course, one could take the scientific view that the observations containing qualia and our view of the world show that the theory that we are solely information processors is incorrect rather than that the theory disproves the observations.  However, Dennett sticks to his theory, having dismissed our observation on the basis of the assumption that we are information processors Dennett is then at liberty to describe consciousness as "a huge complex of many different informational capacities" (ie: to restate his initial assumption).

I think the lesson to be learned from Dennett's analysis is that if we elevate theory above observation then we can invent any description of consciousness that we desire.

This analysis has important consequences for the zombie argument because, if, as Dennett himself argued, we have to discard qualia and conscious experience if the brain is solely an information processor then androids could simulate people but be non-conscious.


Daniel C Dennett. (1988). Quining Qualia. in A. Marcel and E. Bisiach, eds, Consciousness in Modern Science, Oxford University Press 1988.
Daniel C Dennett. (1991). Consciousness Explained. Little, Brown&Co. USA.

2009-07-27
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Is it the case that zombies do not feel pains (tickles, itches)? Do they think that they feel pains – honestly believe that they feel pains?
Is it the case that zombies have never seen the red of roses, apples, and stoplights? Do they just think that they see this color?
Also I guess, they never feel sad, or discouraged. Is that right? [And never feel excited, jubilant, and blissful?

[I have never got this stuff clear. [Perhaps I am a zombie, and thus have never really understood what non-zombies mean by ‘feeling pain’ etc. etc.]

2009-07-28
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Hi Hugh

I regret that I can't answer any of your questions about zombies because I really have no idea of what the term means. I think the idea is - not to put too fine a point on it - nonsense.  My reason for saying so is quite simple: Since the formula for a zombie is (I gather) a being indistinguishable from a human but minus consciousness, we would obviously need to know what consciousness is to be able to do the subtraction. Since we don't know that, the whole idea falls comprehensively to the ground. (I don't regard this as a particularly acute philosophical comment, by the way: it seems to me to be a case of the bleeding obvious.)

Actually, I suspect that if we really knew what consciousness is (I don't count things like the Nagel formula - I think they are philosophically vacuous) we wouldn't bother talking about zombies anyway. We would be so totally fascinated by what we had discovered, we wouldn't bother with such distractions.

In general, I have to say, I find the philosophy of consciousness rather depressing.  The kinds of answers I see treated as serious contenders seem so trivial - so obviously inadequate - that the whole scene induces a kind of gloom...

DA


2009-07-29
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Well, at least some uses of the term seem fairly clear:

Doctor: Is the patient in room 329 conscious yet?

Nurse: Yes doctor. He was reading the newspaper when I last looked in.

I take it that, in this sense, everyone admits that ‘zombies’ can be ‘conscious’ sometimes and ‘unconscious’ at other times.


2009-07-30
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Yes but I think this is an irrelevant usage.

'Conscious' in this sense simply means awake.  All kinds of animals - cats, dogs,etc - can be awake or asleep (I can't comment on zombies since I think the notion is incoherent.) Is that what we mean when we talk about human consciousness - just not being asleep?

As I've said in other posts, I think this is a classic example of the tenacious 'ordinary language' tendency of modern (analytic) philosophy to lead people astray. Interestingly - as I've also pointed out -  the word for consciousness in French is the same as the word for conscience (ie a sense of right and wrong). If one were doing the philosophy of consciousness in French, presumably those Anglophone philosophers who spend so much time puzzling over 'vegetative states' would be spending the same time puzzling over the moral sense...

And even if one argued that there is no essential difference between animal and human consciousness, one could surely not be satisfied with a definition of consciousness that saw it merely in terms of not being asleep. My cat's awareness of a mouse in a cupboard is surely not captured simply by saying my cat is not asleep. (And in any case the argument that there is no essential difference between animal and human consciousness - or that one can speak sensibly of a kind of generalized  'phenomenal' consciousness - is, in my view, quite untenable.)

DA



2009-07-30
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

I agree with you in holding that ‘Conscious’ in this sense simply means awake. My view is that it is important to see (get clear about) what believers in the possibility of zombies (Zombiests) do not mean – clear away the stuff that is not at issue.
Zombiests presumably hold that zombies are often ‘conscious’ in this sense. Their claim is that zombies are not ‘conscious’ (in some other sense). We agree about this, don’t we?

I wonder whether any zombiests believe that there could be part-time zombies – people who are zombies on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and non-zombies on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
If so, can these people, say on some Tuesdays, remember what they did, what the weather was like, etc. on the previous Monday?

2009-07-31
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
HC: "I agree with you in holding that ‘Conscious’ in this sense simply means awake. My view is that it is important to see (get clear about) what believers in the possibility of zombies (Zombiests) do not mean – clear away the stuff that is not at issue.
Zombiests presumably hold that ... (expand) zombies are often ‘conscious’ in this sense. Their claim is that zombies are not ‘conscious’ (in some other sense). We agree about this, don’t we?"

I agree that it would be an error to confuse these two senses of conscious. What "zombeists" think is another matter. I get the strong impression that discussion of consciousness - and therefore of zombies -  regularly conflates the two senses. Take for example the interest in people in comas - 'vegetative states' so called. This seems to be a significant topic of interest in the field. Why would it be, unless one were conflating the two senses of the term?

As for part-time zombies I have no idea. I cannot understand why anyone would take the idea of zombies seriously anyway, let alone part-time ones. The whole thing, I suspect, derives from a tendency to take B grade Hollywood movies too seriously...

DA

2009-07-31
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Descartes gave several arguments designed to prove that he was something distinct from his body. To put it very crudely, perhaps the best of these arguments went something like this: I can form a clear and distinct idea of myself existing separate from my body. (They have different ‘essences.’) That being the case, God, could, in principal, separate me from my body. Hence, it is possible that they should be separated.  But if A and B are one and the same thing, it is not possible for them to be separated – or for one to exist and the other not. Hence I am not my body.

As I understand it, Chalmers (and others) have developed a similar line of argument in regard to consciousness and stuff going on in the brain. The argument is an important one because, if it works, reductive, ‘physicalist’, accounts of consciousness, must fail. Materialism is false. There are aspects of the real world that do not reduce to physical transactions.  (Isn’t this a result you would welcome?)

Surely this is not a trivial matter? In metaphysics, anyway, it is one of the really big issues.

The argument turns on modal matters. (I feel way out of place sketching this in this discussion group; but here goes.) Chalmers thinks that zombies are not logically impossible – that we cannot know a priori that they don’t exist. From this (plus a controversial theory about modalities) he concludes that zombies are possible. If they are possible, then consciousness is not reducible to any sort (or sorts) of physical goings on.

I hope I have got this (at least roughly) right.

Hugh

2009-08-01
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Hi Hugh

Thank you for this. 

Yes, I would welcome the result you mention, or perhaps it is better to say - since I am an agnostic on these matters - that I welcome any argument that does not simply take the form of dogmatic assumptions that everything is reducible to physical transactions.

I am not familiar with the details of Chalmers argument. I have read bits of what he has written but when I encountered things like an apparent assumption that the Nagel proposition is useful, and talk about some speculative 'phenomenal consciousness' (I hope I am remembering this correctly) I lost interest. 

But on your comments in particular, I return to my original point, which is very simple. If as you say, Chalmers "thinks that zombies are not logically impossible", he is presumably obliged to have a clear concept of what a zombie is. The general idea, as I understand it, is that a zombie is a being identical to a human in all respects except that it lacks consciousness (actually, there are problems even with that proposition but I will leave that matter aside). But obviously that line of argument can't get off the ground unless one can say clearly what one means by 'consciousness' (so one can do the subtraction). As far as I can tell, Chalmers can't - unless, as I suspect, he is simply relying on things like the Nagel formula which is, in my view, totally inadequate. So the whole argument is fruitless, it seems to me.

Moreover, why would one even want to 'go there' as the current colloquialism has it? Surely the best way to examine the issue of human consciousness is to simply focus on the thing itself - to ask exactly what we mean by it. Not dream up some imaginary being who doesn't have it, when we don't know what it is anyway.

DA



2009-08-01
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

I think we are talking past each other. There are various issues in regard to human consciousness. And there is lots of work being done on them. The zombie matter has to do with a very general question: Is human consciousness a particular kind of activity in the brain? Chalmers has offered an argument purporting to prove that it is not.

One of your claims seems to be that this is premature. We need to have a clearer picture of what consciousness is before we can meaningfully ask whether it is something physical or not. Is this what you are saying?

Another of you claims may be that Chalmers’ argument just doesn’t work. There is something basically wrong with it. Is this your view? I will assume that it is.


There are (at least) two broad lines of attack (objections) to Chalmers’ argument. Yours may be one of them. To put it a bit more boldly, the claim is that the alleged notion of a ‘zombie’ is a non-starter - just plain gibberish disguised as a description of a possible creature. Strictly speaking the claim should probably not be that there is no such possible creature but, rather that no coherent description has been offered. (It like saying, “It is possible that there should be ugnuglee glompy dorfs.” No real claim advanced.)  So far as I know, Dennett is the foremost exponent of this sort of line. See:
http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/courses/consciousness/papers/DD-zombie.html

The other principal line of attack is the one advanced by Scott Soames.  Chalmers really needs his ‘two dimentionalism.’ It is this that (presumably) allows him to go from ‘p cannot be known a priori to be false’ to ‘p is possible’ i.e. ‘p is logically possible’ to (as Soames would say) ‘p is metaphysically possible’. (Well, that’s a crude hint of the issue, I hope.)
Soames has written a lot about two dimentionalism.



2009-08-02
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Hi Hugh

Thank you for the references. I read the Dennett - with the same sense of irritation, gloom and growing impatience I always feel when reading this stuff. (If I didn't think the question of human consciousness was such an important one, I wouldn't read any of it.)

I have lots of comments (the margins of my print-out are studded with question marks and exclamation marks) but I will focus on just one.

Here we have a philosopher (I am tempted to say: 'save the mark'!) purporting to discuss the question of consciousness, yet nowhere - repeat nowhere - in his article does he attempt to provide even a minimal description of what he understands by the term. I suppose I would be amazed by this if I hadn't encountered the same thing time and again in various other articles I've read.

It's as if Dennett were saying: 'Well, we all know what we mean by consciousnesses, don't we? We kind of 'intuit' it. So let's not bother ourselves about that. Let's just move on to the explanation'.  Explain what precisely? Do we all know what we mean by consciousness? Personally, I would be extremely hard put to give even a vaguely plausible description, and from what I've read, philosophers working in this area are in exactly the same position. I remember attending a seminar once (an advanced one) in which the term consciousnesses was being used interchangeably with 'self-consciousness', as if doing so was entirely non-problematical (and without any attempt to come to grips with the complexities of the notion of the self itself). And in the literature there seems to be an endemic vagueness about whether we are talking about animal consciousness or human consciousnesses, or both, whether there is a difference between the two, and if so what, or whether we might instead be able to talk about some vague theoretical entity called a 'phenomenal consciousnesses'. And so on. In short, a right royal conceptual mess about a fundamental question, a question that obviously needs to be confronted from the outset before we could hope to get anywhere

Chalmers talks about 'the hard question". To my mind, this is the hard question - so hard in fact that everyone is careful to stay well away from it, not excluding Dennett.  But unless and until it is faced up to - unless and until this area of philosophy starts asking "what exactly we are trying explain?' - it will, in my view, continue to go around in the endless unproductive circles that seem to characterize it.

There's another major point I wanted to make - about whether the idea of a zombie even makes sense (not Dennett's argument) - but I will leave that for now. I hope I haven't bored you.

DA

2009-08-02
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

I think perhaps one explanation is that consciousness and ‘consciousness’ were discussed by lots of people, and at great length, by what might be called the ‘previous generation’ of workers in the philosophy of mind. Dennett is a leftover from that generation. (See his book Consciousness Explained.) Perhaps philosophers just got a bit tired of that particular topic. 

Hugh

2009-08-03
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Yes, but my comment is true of the "'Consciousness Explained"  too. Nowhere does Dennett attempt to explain fully and clearly what he means by the notion of human consciousness. That indeed is why I lost interest in his book very quickly.  He is claiming to "explain consciousness" but nowhere does he make it clear what it is he is seeking to explain. Again, we are all just supposed to "know what it means". Absurd.

Moreover, I don't see how one could explain away this issue by saying philosophers "got tired" of it.  It is crucial, fundamental.  One might give up on it as just too difficult. (That I could understand, but it would mean conceding that the whole topic of the philosophy of consciousness is just too hard). But getting tired of it is not an option. Philosophy is after all not a diversion to keep people amused. And, in any case, unless and until this basic issue is dealt with, the rest of the philosophy of consciousness is just a waste of breath.

DA


2009-08-03
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Zombies lack conscious states so as long as feeling and thinking are conscious states, then no they don't experience them. "I am in pain" is always false for my zombie twin. I think though that there is something in the literature about zombie belief states and I'm not quite sure how that all plays out.

2009-08-03
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
I have to say that I am a bit confused as to what the confusion is.  If zombies seem too hard to conceive then just think of creatures that have all the same physical structures as a normal human yet lack the sense of taste.  When these taste-zombies bite into a strawberry, the same enzymes are produced as in us, the same neurons are fired, the same amount of saliva is produced, and they even produce utterances of 'that tastes good.'  But, they have no sensations of acidity or sweetness when the strawberry pieces roll over their tongues.  If creatures like that are conceivable, then we have all we really need to make the zombie argument work. 

An inability to provide necessary and sufficient conditions for applying the term 'consciousness' hardly seems to be important to the issue.  We can't provide such conditions for any terms, really, other than purely theoretical terms.  Can we not have discussions about humans in spite of the fact that we don't have necessary and sufficient conditions (other than those stipulated for ease of theory-making) for applying the term 'human'?  I suggest that we can have such discussions.

2009-08-03
Describing zombies
Reply to Kevin Savage
KS: "If zombies seem too hard to conceive then just think of creatures that have all the same physical structures as a normal human yet lack the sense of taste."

But this is not the definition of a zombie. See Chalmer's comment above: "A zombie is physically identical to a normal human being, but completely lacks conscious experience."

Moreover, even the taste thing doesn't work. Why, if a being were "physically identical" to a normal (!?) human being, would we deny him a sense of taste? Where exactly do we draw the line between what is "physical" and what is not? That is part of the whole conundrum, is it not? (This is in fact a basic flaw in the definition but your taste example brings it out rather nicely.)

I'm not sure what you are saying in your second comment. Are you saying that we can talk sensibly about human consciousness without being able to say what it is we are talking about?

DA

2009-08-03
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Have you looked here?   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consciousness

Hugh

2009-08-04
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Here is an opening quote: "In philosophical and scientific discussion, however, the term is restricted to the specific way in which humans are mentally aware in such a way that they distinguish clearly between themselves (the thing being aware) and all other things and events. A characteristic of consciousness is that it is reflective, an "awareness of being aware".

Depressing.


By the way I thought it might be useful to add the odd comment on part of the definition of a zombie, specifically the bit that says "A zombie is physically identical to a normal human being, "

Since the putative zombie is presumably not just as an abstract idea but a real thing walking around, I wondered how we might construct him. There's the first problem. Is it a him or a her? (Which is "normal"?) Let's opt for a him at the risk of being sexist. Now what is his nationality? American? Chinese?  Australian Aboriginal?  Is there a normal nationality?  Too hard. Let's make him a Brit. They are beating us at cricket at the moment and it pleases me to think of them as zombies. Now is he married? Does he have children?  If he does, I think the norm is two and one third children, or something of the kind?  That's a problem obviously but passons. Now physical attributes - height, weight, eye colour, colour of hair (assuming he has some), shape of face, mode of dress, etc.  Well, I am sure we can work something out, even he ends up looking like a cross between an accountant and a rapper.  But then we get to the truly hard bit - behaviour. After all, this zombie has to actually do things, say things, have opinions, show what seem to be emotions, etc. He's got to pass for one of us (whoever "us" is). He can't just stand there .. well.,.. like a zombie.  Now I've searched my memory and thought of all of the people I've ever known and tried to identify one who seems to me to represent the norm in human behaviour. Do you know I can't think of one?  Each one has their particular likes and dislikes, their weakness and strengths, their blindspots, their areas of complete unpredictability, etc etc. So I can only assume that a zombie would be unlike anyone I have ever known - and I strongly suspect he would be unlike anyone anyone has ever known. So, bizarrely, the zombie's very normality - and remember this is one of his(her) defining features - would be his undoing because he would be instantly recognisable. People would say: "See that thing over there. It's so impossibly normal it must be a zombie." 

DA



2009-08-04
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek,

I don't think yours is a fair or accurate representation of Dennett's approach to consciousness.  You write: "It's as if Dennett were saying: 'Well, we all know what we mean by consciousnesses, don't we? We kind of 'intuit' it. So let's not bother ourselves about that. Let's just move on to the explanation'.  Explain what precisely? Do we all know what we mean by consciousness?"

Not far into Consciousness Explained (paperback, p. 23), Dennett writes:  "Today we talk about our conscious decisions and unconscious habits, about the conscious experience we enjoy (in contrast to, say, automatic cash machines, which have no such experiences) -- but we are no longer quite sure we know what we mean when we say these things.  While there are still thinkers who gamely hold out for consciousness being some one genuine precious thing (like love, like gold), a thing that is just 'obvious' and very, very special, the suspicion is growing that this is an illusion.  Perhaps the various phenomena that conspire to create the sense of a single mysterious phenomenon have no more ultimate or essential unity than the various phenomena that contribute to the sense that love is a simple thing."

I think understanding this passage is critical to understanding Dennett's approach.  Our talk of consciousness is not necessarily always about the same thing.  The word is sometimes used to refer to a sort of "inner monalogue." At other times, a focus of attention or an act of the imagination.  It may yet refer to a strong feeling or a vague sensation.  I am not suggesting all of these concepts are clearly defined, mind you.  Yet, they are defined enough to enjoy currency in everyday life.  They make sense, even if they lack philosophical rigour.  The point is that there is a great deal of phenomena that produces this talk of consciousness; that there is much sense and value in such talk; and that, if we want to understand what people are talking about when they talk about consciousness, we must understand what is motivating, underlying, and otherwise producing the language.

The point is not to first define what single phenomenon or entity is behind all of these processes, as though we even had a clear idea of what all of these various processes or phenomena entailed.  If we did, there would be nothing left to discover.  Rather, the point is to try to understand what such talk is about; what is going on to produce and ultimately justify such notions as feeling and thought.  In the end, we may find that the term "consciousness" is unnecessary to explain humanity.  This does not mean consciousness will have been "explained away."  It only means that the term "consciousness" has come to serve a variety of functions in the absence of a robust model of humanity, and that once our understanding of humanity improves, the term may not seduce us into thinking it is so important.  (And please remember I am talking about the term here, and not anything which it might signify in any particular situation.)

2009-08-05
Describing zombies
Jason

I don't think I am being unfair in the least. In fact, your quote from Dennett only increases my sense of how facile and superficial his approach is. Take a few bits of it: "we are no longer quite sure we know what we mean when we say these things." "No longer?" When exactly were we? Then "the suspicion is growing that this is an illusion."  Growing where? Among whom? Why? Who said?  Then "Perhaps the various phenomena that conspire to create the sense of a single mysterious phenomenon have no more ultimate or essential unity than the various phenomena that contribute to the sense that love is a simple thing."  What piffle! Why the mysterious "Perhaps" at the beginning? (This was a Von Daniken trick. "Perhaps after all we can't exclude the possibility that beings from outer space built the pyramids".) What are these "various phenomena"?  (the underlying implication being that consciousness is not essentially unitary - which of course he hasn't established). And who on earth said love was a 'simple thing'?  Has he never read any good literature? Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky etc?  Sorry.This is just semi-journalistic stuff. Good for selling books no doubt (like his pretentious title) but useless as philosophy.

You also write  "The point is not to first define what single phenomenon or entity is behind all of these processes..."  This is not what I have been saying. My point is simply that if the goal in this area of philosophy is to explain human consciousness - whether it be multiform or unitary or whatever - it might be a good idea to start by trying to say clearly and convincingly what we mean by the idea.  It seems to me - and Dennett is typical example - that this fundamental issue is consistently shirked. At best we are given silly little formulae like Nagel's and expected to be happy with that.

DA

2009-08-08
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek,

I did not offer that quote to demonstrate the depth of Dennett's arguments, but to offer evidence that he does not make the mistake you were accusing him of making.  You said Dennett acts as though everybody knows what the term "consciousness" means, that our intuition is enough to go on, and that we can therefore move on to an explanation without worrying about what we are talking about.  I still hold that this is an unfair and inaccurate characterization.

The quote from Consciousness Explained suggests that Dennett does not act as you say he does.  He says that the meaning of the term "consciousness" is anything but clear.  In many places, including that same book, he agues explicitly against the idea that we can just trust our intuitions to tell us anything about consciousness.  I therefore must emphasize that I do not think you have understood Dennett's approach.

Your criticism seems more the result of a general hostility towards Dennett's personage than a reasoned critique of any of his arguments.  In fact, I don't see you making a substantive case against Dennett at all.  Many of your questions are implicit accusations that Dennett is attacking straw men and making up facts to serve his own purposes.  I see no grounds for that.  (To take the most absurd example, do you contend that people have not confidently regarded automatic machines as unconscious, in contrast with human beings?)

This sentence of Dennett's is worth reconsidering:  "Perhaps the various phenomena that conspire to create the sense of a single mysterious phenomenon have no more ultimate or essential unity than the various phenomena that contribute to the sense that love is a simple thing."

You call that "piffle."  You dismiss the introductory "perhaps" as a nefarious rhetorical maneuver, and so miss its philosophical significance, which is that Dennett is suggesting a possibility, and not an established fact. You then say his "underlying implication" is that "consciousness is not essentially unitary."  I have no idea why you would call that an "underlying implication."  It was an explicitly suggested possibility.  You then accuse Dennett of failing to establish a lack of essential unity, as though he were somehow claiming it was an established fact.  Again, he is not.  He is claiming it as a possibility which deserves more of our scientific and philosophical attention.  That may be the most basic point of the entire book. 

Dennett does not present Consciousness Explained as an explanation of consciousness.  He presents it as an attempt to clear away some of the confusions in various disciplines, including philosophy, cognitive science, and neuroscience, which he believes hinder our progress towards explaining humanity.  Perhaps the title is pretentious.  No doubt it was chosen as an attention-getter.  I don't read it as a statement of victory, but as a statement of focus.  Dennett wants to overcome various philosophical arguments (such as Chalmers' zombie argument) which attempt to make consciousness out to be something inexplicable, something which cannot be scientifically explained.  Dennett wants to change the way we approach discussions of "consciousness" (whatever that word is taken to mean) by deflating the presuppositions which stand in the way of a full, scientific explanation of humanity.

Much of the book is critical, arguing against assumptions you yourself have attacked in this forum.  (His criticisms of Chalmers are in line with your own, for example.)  He discusses various ways philosophers and scientists get into trouble by assuming there is an underlying unity of consciousness.  He also attempts to make a more constructive contribution to the study of humanity, producing a very rough, initial sketch of a Multiple Drafts model; but this is offered as little more than speculation, not as an answer but rather as a step towards changing the way we approach questions about human experience.  He is asking us to stop assuming that there is some unitary and intuitively obvious thing called "consciousness."  He is asking us to instead ask what various, complex processes might produce the illusion that there is some unified, intuitively obvious thing so many people are tempted to call "consciousness."  This attitude seems to be more or less in line with your own views, since you are equally concerned about people making the very assumption he is questioning.

You clearly have a problem with Dennett, but I do not think it is based on a close examination of his philosophy of mind.  Rather, I think your problem with Dennett is more general.  It is his devotion to a scientific understanding of humanity.  I thus recommend abandoning the shotgun approach and producing more focused criticisms of his arguments.

2009-08-08
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Hi Derek,<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

 

I've been following this thread with interest and amusement for a while now and I just thought I'd offer my support with regard to the suspicion that there is something wrong with the concept of a philosophical zombie. My problem with the idea of a philosophical zombie is that it is a giant piece of question begging. To present the alleged conceivability of a creature that is a perfect facsimile of a human being whilst lacking all conscious awareness as proof that there is more to a human being than its physical composition and behavioural dispositions, assumes the very thing it sets out to prove. Namely, the existence of discreet phenomenal aspects which are presumably the kinds of 'thing' supposed to be picked out by the technical term, qualia.

 

Like you, I'm really not sure what it would mean for a creature to look, talk and behave in 'exactly' the same way as one would standardly expect of another human being, whilst at the same time being said to lack all conscious awareness.

 

See - Julia Tanney (2004). On the Conceptual, Psychological, and Moral Status of Zombies, Swamp-Beings, and Other 'Behaviourally Indistinguishable' Creatures. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 69 (1):173-186, for an interesting discussion of the above.

 

My point is a semantic one in that, I'm not sure what other criteria we have for correctly or incorrectly applying terms such as 'conscious' or 'aware'.

 

Again like you, I find consciousness and what it is we mean by such a term as fascinating and mysterious as the next man. It is certainly a vexing question about which I think it is important to gain some level of clarity.

 

So I feel your pain, Derek - not literally, of course.

 

Best of luck with your study..... and the fourth test.

 

Regards,

 

Jason.


2009-08-08
Describing zombies
Reply to Jason McCann
Hi Jason

Thanks for your words of support. Good to know I'm not quite the proverbial voice crying in the wilderness!  I must look up the reference you provide as well.

Yes, I think there are basically two problems with the zombie idea. The first - which I've been harping on for some time now - is that one can hardly talk of a being "minus consciousness" unless one has a sound and persuasive idea of what exactly one is 'minus-ing'. And I have yet to come across one of those...

But the second - perhaps less obvious, but equally damaging, I think, - is that once one tries to imagine what this being would be like in real life (and we can't presumably leave it floating in some half-realised, merely notional state) it just seems unimaginable. The idea seems incoherent. Because to say that a being is "physically identical to a normal human being" can't surely just mean that when we see it from afar, so to speak, it looks like a human being - a store mannequin would do for that.  This being presumably has to walk, talk, express opinions, have what seem to be emotions, appear to feel pain, be susceptible to insults, seem to enjoy praise, etc etc  - exactly like a human being.  But if that's the case, it would not just be indistinguishable from a human being; we could in fact never tell if it wasn't a human being. So we seem to end up in the position that if there were zombies we could never know it (unless perhaps some divine voice from the clouds told us so). It would, ex hypothesi, be something whose existence we could never establish or demonstrate.  (This is presumably why Hollywood move makers used to give their zombies a slightly glazed look: there had to be something to tell you that this wasn't really a human being. But the philosophical definition doesn't allow for that handy little device.)

Things are looking up in the cricket. Seen from an antipodean angle anyway.

DA



2009-08-08
Describing zombies
Hi Jason

There is quite a lot in your comment but I'll just focus on this bit: "He is asking us to stop assuming that there is some unitary and intuitively obvious thing called "consciousness."  He is asking us to instead ask what various, complex processes might produce the illusion that there is some unified, intuitively obvious thing so many people are tempted to call "consciousness." 

Now I don't know whether I think consciousness is 'unitary' or not - in fact I don't even quite know what that word means in this context. And I certainly don't think that consciousnesses is "intuitively obvious " (the word "intuition" is hugely overworked in contemporary philosophy in my view; and nothing about consciousness strikes me as obvious - except perhaps that it seems hugely difficult to describe persuasively)  But, surely, if Dennett's aim is as you say, he is making a major assumption of his own, is he not? - i.e. that consciousness can be accounted for successfully in terms of  "various, complex processes". (This is one of the points I made re the quote you gave me.) How does he know this is possible?  How does he know that so-called "unitary" view - whatever that is - is an "illusion" - especially if, as you say, he is offering us "little more than speculation"? (in a book called "Consciousness Explained...")

I should add that the aspect of his book that turned me off the most was precisely that he moved so rapidly to these 'various complex processes' without making it clear what they had to do with human consciousness - and, most importantly, what he understood by that idea. This crucial question was delicately skipped over. So while his book may presumably explain something, I really don't know why I should believe it has anything much to say about human consciousness - as it claims to.

DA


2009-08-11
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,

You claim: "if Dennett's aim is as you say, he is making a major assumption of his own, is he not? - i.e. that consciousness can be accounted for successfully in terms of  "various, complex processes"."

I don't think Dennett makes any such assumption.  His position is that there is no reason to assume that any aspect of humanity cannot be explained scientifically.  I wouldn't equate "not assuming X" with "assuming not-X."

You ask:  "How does he know that so-called "unitary" view - whatever that is - is an "illusion" - especially if, as you say, he is offering us "little more than speculation"?"

As I noted in my last post, I don't see him presenting it as an established fact.  He is presenting it as a possibility.  He argues for that possibility by attempting to demonstrate weaknesses in the "consciousness as a unity" view.  Whether or not he is successful in that attempt is open for debate, of course.

You say Dennett "moved so rapidly to these 'various complex processes' without making it clear what they had to do with human consciousness - and, most importantly, what he understood by that idea.  This crucial question was delicately skipped over."

I disagree.  I wouldn't say he moved too rapidly, skipped over any crucial questions, or failed to clearly express himself.  But that's just me.  I suppose the problem may be that he didn't introduce his ideas in a way which makes them accessible to you.

You conclude:  "So while his book may presumably explain something, I really don't know why I should believe it has anything much to say about human consciousness - as it claims to."

I don't know what you think Dennett has presumed to explain.  As I noted, I don't read the title of the book as a statement of victory at all.

I have the impression that your response to Dennett is based more on what you think he says, and less on what he has actually written.

2009-08-12
Describing zombies
Hi Jason

Couple of brief comments:

JS: "His position is that there is no reason to assume that any aspect of humanity cannot be explained scientifically"

Fine. But where does this get us?  There were thinkers as far back as the 18th century who were saying the same.  La Mettrie even wrote a book called "Man the Machine".  But getting from there to an explanation of the notion of human consciousness is another matter entirely - especially if, like Dennett and so many others, one's conception of the notion of human consciousness seems so shallow and inconsequential.

JS: "I disagree.  I wouldn't say he moved too rapidly, skipped over any crucial questions, or failed to clearly express himself.  But that's just me.  I suppose the problem may be that he didn't introduce his ideas in a way which makes them accessible to you."

Yes, he certainly failed in this respect where I am concerned. But if you think he made it clear what he understood by the idea of human consciousness, can you tell me briefly what you think he said?

DA





2009-08-13
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Hello again, Derek.

I should note that I haven't read Dennett for a few years, and I only just glanced at Consciousness Explained to extract the quote I offered earlier.  So I may not do him justice here, and I may exaggerate the places where his and my understanding meet.  That said, here is an elaboration of my understanding of Dennett's approach to consciousness, since you asked.

As I understand it, his approach is to try to understand why people use the language as they do without presupposing anything about what would make such language true or false.  He wants to understand why the notion of consciousness has a role in our language at all. I thus think he is very Wittgensteinian.

The first step is to refrain from assuming that there is anything to be explained beyond observable behavior.  Second, Dennett takes claims about conscious states at face value.  He calls this heterophenomenology, which I think is a version of "ordinary language" philosophy.  He argues that, whatever consciousness is, there cannot be any facts about consciousness beyond what is expressed in verbal reports. 

He argues that the language of consciousness is part of a general discursive strategy which he calls the intentional stance.  That is, our conceptual framework for talking about consciousness--notions like want, love, expect, and so on--is not a representational model, but a predictive stragey for regulating our behavior.  The language of intentionality is seen as a set of tools for dealing with the enormous complexity of human behavior, and not as a set of terms which correspond directly to any particular facts of existence. 

Intentions, mental states, consciousness . . . According to Dennett, these concepts do not refer to specific processes or entities.  For example, when I tell somebody, "I feel hungry," because I want to make plans to go have lunch, I may be indirectly talking about my digestive system or some processes in my brain, but there is not a particular fact about myself which corresponds to the words "I," "feel," or "hungry."  Nor is there any fact about myself which corresponds to the sentence as a whole.  Rather, the meaning of my utterance is defined by the situation.  Saying "I am hungry" here is akin to playing a particular card in a game of bridge.  It serves a function; it has meaning in the context of that game; but it does not refer to anything.  (Wittgenstein made this same point when he said that verbal reports of pain do not refer to inner sensations, but simply replace crying.)  When I say, "I am hungry," I am trying to move a social situation in a particular direction.  I am not representing a fact about myself, as if such a fact could exist anywhere outside of the language-game.

Dennett postpones coming to any conclusions about what the term "consciousness" means.  For example, he notes that when people talk about consciousness, they usually mean something which has a "point of view."  He does not define "consciousness" as "having a point of view," but he notes that this is one of most popular ways the term is used.  So he approaches an explanation of why people talk as if they had a point of view, ultimately regarding the notion of a point of view as a "theorist's fiction."  He does not think that there is such a thing as a "point of view" which exists outside of our discourse; nor does he think there are some beings which just have consciousness or just have a discernible point of view, as if these were facts about bodies or minds which could be borne out of any investigation whatsoever.  For Dennett, there is no fact of the matter here; there is no sense in questioning whether or not somebody really has a point of view, or really is conscious.  Thus, for Dennett, the very notion of philosophical zombies is absurd.  When we treat some things as having consciousness (or as having a point of view), we are employing an explanatory or predictive framework.  We are not postulating facts which could be corroborated or falsified according to any scientific theory. 

Dennett's concern is therefore not, "what beings have consciousness, and what beings don't?"  Nor is it, "what constitutes consciousness? What is consciousness made of?"  He does not say it is necessarily meaningless to ask these questions, however.  He just doesn't want to presuppose that the term "consciousness" refers to anything.  If somebody wants to define "consciousness" so that it has a particular, identifiable referent, then they can talk about whether or not and how it exists in any particular cases.  But, according to Dennett, that is not how the language of consciousness has evolved.

For some, this means Dennett "explains away" consciousness.  Perhaps that is your belief, as well.  However, in that case, I wonder just what it is you think he is "explaining away."  Or, maybe you think he has failed to properly address the issue of consciousness in general.  In that case, what is it that you think he has failed to address?

You claim that his conception of consciousness is "shallow and inconsequential."  But what do you mean by "consciousness" here?  For I think it is clear that Dennett does not hold to any particular conception of consciousness at all. He merely wants to investigate the way the term is used.

I suspect you have some notion of what you think a philosophical discussion of consciousness should look like.  You must, or else you would have no basis for saying that somebody else's discussion of it was shallow.  What, in your view, would give a discussion of consciousness depth?  How do you measure depth, in this context?

Regards,

Jason

2009-08-13
Describing zombies
Hi Jason

Bit much to respond to so I'll just mention a couple of points.

First is a question. What does Dennett mean by 'the language of consciousnesses'? (if that is his phrase). I would have thought people talk about consciousness in all sorts of ways. And to say for example that "when people talk about consciousness, they usually mean something which has a 'point of view'" seems to me very questionable indeed. I for one most certainly don't mean that.

Second, you say: "What, in your view, would give a discussion of consciousness depth?  How do you measure depth, in this context?"

This is harder to respond to.  If I were able to give you what I regard as a complete and satisfactory response, I would effectively be in a position to say what I think human consciousness is.  I'm not in that position - and no one I've read in this field of philosophy seems to me to be in that position either - not even remotely. 

But, as you say, how then can I call any given approach "shallow" etc?  Well, it seems to me that any persuasive account of human consciousness would, in effect, be an account of what, fundamentally, makes us human - because I think human consciousness is central to that. Whatever "being human" entails exactly, it must surely encompass things like our sense of the passing of time, of our own finitude (i.e. that we will die), the source and nature of human emotions and passions -  love, hate, envy, self-sacrifice, devotion, acts of treachery and so on and on - and major aspects of human experience throughout history such as moral codes, religion, art - and even perhaps the impulse to philosophize itself. In short, the whole gamut of what we associate with being human - including, of course, attitudes and actions we might regard as inhuman. 

Trivial little formulae like 'not being like anything' (or whatever the Nagel thing is), 'having a point of view', or earnest discussions about 'seeing the colour red', or about people in comas, or monkeys looking into mirrors, seem to me to be a million miles away from anything like this - and I note that, typically, nothing of this kind arises in contemporary philosophical discussions of human consciousness, at least not in the analytic variety (one sometimes finds things a bit like this in parts of continental philosophy). That, in brief, is what lies behind my assessments about various accounts being shallow and inconsequential.

DA




2009-08-14
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
The phrase "the language of consciousness" refers to any language which purports to distinguish subjects as such.

People do talk about humanity and consciousness in all sorts of ways.  That, I think, is why Dennett does not want to prematurely restrict what may or may not be said about it.

You refer to "things like our sense of the passing of time, of our own finitude (i.e. that we will die), the source and nature of human emotions and passions -  love, hate, envy, self-sacrifice, devotion, acts of treachery and so on and on - and major aspects of human experience throughout history such as moral codes, religion, art - and even perhaps the impulse to philosophize itself. In short, the whole gamut of what we associate with being human."

You imply that Dennett's approach does not or perhaps even cannot deal with such aspects of humanity.  I wonder why you would say that.  I don't think you are making an informed criticism of his philosophy.

In any case, your argumentative strategy leads nowhere.  By your standards, the term "consciousness" has no place in the language and should best be forgotten, because any attempt to discuss it cannot be worthwhile until we have understood everything there is to understand about human beings, and then some.

Yet, people do discuss it, even if they don't fully understand it.  The language has demonstrable currency in our everyday life.  I think Dennett's approach--which, again, is basically Wittgenstein's--makes a whole lot more sense than yours, if only for the fact that it respects that currency.

2009-08-14
Describing zombies
JS:  You imply that Dennett's approach does not or perhaps even cannot deal with such aspects of humanity.  I wonder why you would say that.

So what does he say about them?  I don't recall anything of this nature in his book. (Though admittedly I only skimmed it, because I found it very tedious.)

JS: By your standards, the term "consciousness" has no place in the language and should best be forgotten, because any attempt to discuss it cannot be worthwhile until we have understood everything there is to understand about human beings, and then some.

On the contrary, I think consciousness is a perfectly valid term, and I do not think that, in order to discuss it, we have to understand 'everything there is to be understood about human beings' (a rather tall order!) 

But I do think, as I tried to suggest, that any worthwhile discussion of human consciousness needs to get beyond the narrow confines of things like 'seeing the colour red', people in comas, and monkeys looking into mirrors. It has to acknowledge, and accept, the full richness and complexity of human experience - which I tried to evoke by the examples I gave you - not limit its purview to some contrived, laboratory version of human life.

DA

 

2009-08-16
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,

Dennett deals directly with the issue of the perception of time in that book.  His approach to questions about mortality, emotion, passion and whatnot is rather scientific.  He is a supporter of evolutionary biology as a tool for understanding human behavior, and I think he would strongly resist any attempt to define these things in non-behavioral terms.

I am aware of your distaste for any sort of behaviorism.  But that only indicates that you do have some idea of what a discussion of consciousness should look like, even though you claim not to.  Unless you can clarify what a discussion of consciousness should be like, I see no reason to adopt your attitude towards behaviorism.

As for your claim that Dennett's is a "contrived, laboratory version of human life," what is your basis for making that judgment?  I think Dennett quite happily acknowledges the richness and complexity of human experience, despite your assertion to the contrary.  If you think otherwise, I would appreciate it if you could provide something concrete to support your views.  Something more than just a general impression you received by skimming one of his books.

Regards,

Jason

2009-08-16
Describing zombies
JS: "His approach to questions about mortality, emotion, passion and whatnot is rather scientific."

A scientific approach to mortality.  I cannot even begin to imagine what that would be like...

DA

2010-03-04
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
May I backtrack a little in order to check my ideas on the topic?

Surely the inconceivability of zombies merely supports the point that they were invented to illustrate, namely that human beings are not zombies, in which case consciousness is a real phenomenon requiring an explanation. To me it seems an uncontentious point that generates an inexplicable amount of debate. Or have I not grasped the issues properly? Why can't we say that a zombie is inconceivable because it is an oxymoronic idea and just leave it at that?  

2010-03-05
Describing zombies
Hi Peter

I am not an expert on the zombie debate. Frankly, I find the focus on things like zombies, swampmen, brains in vats etc in (analytic) philosophy pretty absurd and rather childish. To my mind, it is an indicator of just how far from real human concerns this brand of philosophy has managed to take itself.

But as I understand it, David Chalmers - who seems to be the chief zombie proponent - does argue that zombies are conceivable.  My own principal objection is that since a zombie is apparently defined as a human being minus consciousnesses, one would presumably need a robust and persuasive idea of what consciousness is in order to do the subtraction.  This point is not conceded. (!)  At that stage I just switch off.

I should add that I think the question of human consciousness itself is very important.  But the approach adopted in most analytic philosophy - as exemplified by the zombie debate - strikes me as a waste of time and effort. The fact that it seems to go around endlessly in unproductive circles is perhaps some evidence for this.

DA



2010-03-05
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek

I share your frustration with the current debate but am nevertheless a fan of analysis. I don't think the problem is analysis but the way it is often done.   

The reason why the zombie discussion goes round in cirlces is not obvious to me, which is why I wanted to check my understanding of the issues. If a zombie is defined as a human being in all respects other than that it is not aware then clearly a human being is not a zombie. Human beings have something it does not and whatever this is it is what we need to explain. This seems a very simple argument.  The very fact that we have to define a zombie as something different from a human being shows that consciousness is a real phenomenon in need of an explanation.   

Whether zombies are conceivable is a different question and I don't understand why it's important. I'd say they're inconceivable, since while I can conceive of a zombie that behaves like a rock I cannot get my head around the idea of a rock behaving like a philosopher of mind. But maybe it's a matter of opinion. Chalmers original argument seems to be unnaffected whether zombies are conceivable or not. To defeat his argument we'd have to show that zombies as defined are possible entities regardless of their conceivability, and clearly they are not.

The argument would not depend on our having a 'robust and persuasive idea of what consciousness is,' just the knowledge that whatever it is a zombie doesn't have it. I interpret it as an argument for taking consciousness seriously and that's all. Once we take consciousness seriously we can then move on to analysising what we mean by the word. 

But perhaps this is an oversimplification. 

Maybe the reason you don't have much time for the zombie argument is that you already take consciousness seriously, so for you it is redundant.  

2010-03-06
Describing zombies
Hi Peter

Thank you for your interesting response.

I should clarify that my doubts about the value of analytic philosophy relate to the school or tendency that goes by that name. I am in no sense anti analysis per se. In fact, one of the problems I have with the school of of "analytic" philosophy is precisely that it often seems to me not analytic enough - e.g. unwilling to examine its own presuppositions, far too inclined to rely on so-called "intuitions" and facile "thought-experiments", etc.   In short, lacking in rigour - the very quality it prides itself on.

The topic we're discussing is a case in point. Early in this thread, Chalmers wrote in a reply to me "Perhaps you think there is some problem conceiving of the absence of consciousness, but I don't see the problem here.  We conceive of the absence of things and properties all the same."

I replied: "I definitely do see a problem 'conceiving of the absence of consciousness' if we don’t know what consciousness is. And your analogy, to my mind, does not work. We can conceive of the absence of a leg (a thing) because we know what a leg is. We can conceive of the absence of politeness (a property) because we know what that is. But to suggest that we can conceive of the absence of an unknown seems to me a very dubious proposition indeed."

Chalmers did not reply, so this particular analysis went no further. But it strikes me as a fairly typical case of the superficiality of much "analytic" philosophy. How in fact could we conceive of the absence of something whose nature is quite unknown?  Trying to describe the consequences or implications of that absence would be utterly impossible. What would we have to go on?

What this also points to, in my view, is that the whole question of zombies is a red herring - and this should have been obvious from the start. If a zombie is a human being minus consciousnesses, then we clearly need to know what consciousness is if we are going to do that subtraction (pace Chalmers). But if we know what consciousness is, why bother with talking about zombies anyway - since the only reason they have been dreamt up, presumably, is to get at the idea of consciousness.  A pointless detour in other words.

DA


2010-03-06
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Would it not follow from your argument that we don't know what we mean when we say that a rock is not conscious? This seems a bit extreme. On this view it would be illegitimate to say that a dead person is not conscious since we wouldn't know what we mean by saying it. Yet I'm sure that I know what I mean by saying that an entity is not aware.  

Surely it's not the absence of awareness that makes zombies difficult to imagine, it's the fact that they act as if they are aware.  I don't think we would have to know all there is to know about consciousness in order to make a meaningful distinction between conscious and unconscious enitities.  


2010-03-06
Describing zombies
Hi Peter

"Conscious" is an ambiguous term. When we say: what is human consciousness? we don't just mean, surely, the difference between being knocked out and not being knocked out (or dead and not dead if you like -  though that might raise other questions). We mean surely: what are the characteristics of human consciousness (ie assuming one is awake) ? What are its identifying features/capacities? How does it differ from animal "consciousness" etc?

"Conscious" in the knocked out (or, say, comatose) sense has an opposite: unconscious. Conscious in the sense of: what is human consciousnesses, how does it differ from animal "consciousness" etc?, has no opposite that I am aware of.  (Presumably the zombie thing was an attempt to invent one...)

I've noticed there's a lot of confusion between these two senses of the term in analytic philosophy (eg they seem to spend time talking about people in comas etc) It strikes me as an elementary mistake. Another red herring. Not being knocked out, not being comatose, etc is of course a pre-condition of being a conscious human being but it hardly suffices as a definition or description of what human consciousness is.  Question: "what is human consciousness?"  Answer: "Not being knocked out, or comatose".  I don't think so.

DA


2010-03-06
Describing zombies
If zombies end up being inconceivable, then humans can't be zombies. If humans can't be zombies, then humans can't lack consciousness being physically just as they are. So if zombies end up being inconceivable, then there is an explanation of consciousness in purely physical terms. The point of the zombie argument is to show that such an explanation couldn't be possible because we can conceive of beings that are physically identical to us which would lack consciousness. And so consciousness can't be a "merely" physical phenomena. The debate isn't over whether we need an explanation of consciousness—everyone agrees that we do. Instead, the debate is over what kind of explanation it will end up being. Will we be able to explain consciousness in terms of just the physical? Or does an explanation of consciousness require that we posit non-physical entities or properties?

Richard Brown and Keith Frankish have both developed arguments that attempt to show that a parallel argument can be run against a dualistic understanding of consciousness. However, I don't think this ends up showing that the idea of a zombie is an oxymoronic one. Instead, such arguments seem to show that once one adopts a materialist understanding of consciousness or a dualistic understanding of consciousness, a being can be constructed out of the other framework which will end up reeking havoc on one's understanding of consciousness when one attempts to make sense of the being under the opposite framework.

2010-03-06
Describing zombies
Hi Peter,

I might be able to clarify things a little.  The point of the conceivability argument is not to establish the fact that people have consciousness.  Rather, the argument stipulates (we might even say assumes) that people have consciousness.  The point of the argument is to use this stipulation/assumption, coupled with the conceivability of zombies, to conclude that consciousness is not physical.  It is an argument against physicalism, which is the view that all of the physical facts are all of the facts--that every fact is a fact about the physical world, and none other.  If the conceivability argument is sound, then physicalism is false and facts about consciousness are not facts about the physical world.

The argument requires that (1) we can conceive of beings which are physically identical to human beings in all respects, but which do not have consciousness, and (2) that which is conceivable is metaphysically possible.  Itf (1) and (2) are true, then zombies are metaphysically possible and physicalism is false.

Conceivability arguments trace back at least as far as Descartes.  Earlier in the thread I tried to explain my reasons for rejecting (1).  I'm also suspicious of premise (2), but I haven't thought it out as well as I would like.  I remember coming across some challenges to (2), but I haven't read them yet.  (I also suppose one might question the connection between the metaphysical possibility of zombies and the falsity of physicalism.  Perhaps some versions of physicalism could allow for the metpaphysical possibility of zombies?  This might be the case, if physicalism is construed only as a view of the actual world, and not a view of metaphysically possible worlds.  I'm not sure what, if anything, has been said about this point.)

Hope this helps.

Regards,

Jason
March 5, 2010

2010-03-08
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
I noticed this in the blurb for a conference to be held in Vienna:

"Whereas it is not principally [they must mean "in principle?] impossible that we will at one point have the ability to describe all of our conscious behavior and the related functional features of the mind via physical concepts, we currently have no idea how an objective description of the subjective dimension of the mind should be possible. Panpsychism is offered as a candidate to deal with this problem taking into account certain basic concepts of physical science as well as the subjective dimension of consciousness. In the ongoing discussion on panpsychism some of the scholars have defended it as the only coherent solution of the mind-body problem whereas others regarded it with skepticism due to some serious theoretical problems involved in it."

Does anyone know what panpsychism is (i.e in this particular context)?  It sounds a rather desperate option ... 

DA

2010-03-08
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
There is a thorough survey of of pansychism by David Skrbina in JCS Vol. 10 No. 3 (2003). It's the view that all things have mind. It's far from being a desperate idea.

2010-03-08
Describing zombies
Well, since we seem to be a long, long way from knowing what a "mind" - ie human consciousness -  is, I guess we might as well suppose that everything, including say an Asian flu microbe, a speck of dust on the far side of the moon, and maybe even black holes, could have one. 

Actually it sounds not far from pantheism. If everything has a mind, then maybe this is in fact the universal Mind of God somehow infused into everything?

DA

2010-03-08
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
It is close to pantheism, but there are so many ideas of 'God' around that it seems less misunderstable and less emotive to call it something else.  

Jason - thanks for your explanation. It helped. But I still find the conceivability argument pointless. It seems to me that if we can even define a zombie then this shows that we are not zombies. Maybe this is not so, but my own view is not dependent on anything to do with zombies so I don't mind which way the argument goes.

2010-03-09
Describing zombies
Re "It is close to pantheism,"

So philosophy comes full circle and returns to theology?

DA

2010-03-10
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
To stir the pot a little I thought I might copy here a post I did on the analytic/continental thread - where it was a bit out of place anyway. It is relevant to the last couple of posts on this thread and the question of "panpsychism", and more generally to the issues of consciousness and "zombies".  It read:

Time on my hands, so I thought I might say a little more about my problem with the [Chalmers] statement: "In our world there are conscious experiences".

What is "our world"? It implies a world we all share. Now, I think of my next door neighbour.  I know a little about her, but there are all kinds of things - who her friends are, who she likes and dislikes, her childhood memories, her hopes for the future etc, that I have no idea about. And if I think of my neighbour two doors down, I know even less of that kind - in fact I know nothing at all. 

So the notion of "our world" clearly cannot include those kinds of things, i.e. the elements that make up what one might call individual experience. Because those are things that, clearly, "we all" do not share. And of course this extends beyond my neighbours to billions of other people around the world.  In this sense, there is in fact no such thing as "our world". 

So what might "our world" consist of?  I guess the analytic philosopher might reply "Well, of course we don't mean personal things like that. We mean things that are outside personal experience - the objective facts about the world. Obviously we all share those."

Interesting notion "objective facts about the world".  It implies what one philosopher (I forget who) calls a "view from nowhere" - though I think that's a little misleading because it is in fact a view from somewhere: it is surely the impersonal, "scientific" point of view - i.e. the point of view that seeks to rigorously exclude anything due merely to personal perspectives (as Bacon pointed out so long ago). In this sense, there is certainly - or so it would appear - an "our world", although it is, at the same time, curiously, no one's world.

Now two interesting things emerge from all this:

(1) It is just not satisfactory - not good philosophy - to use a phrase like "our world" without asking what it might, and might not, mean. It is a trap phrase - one of those phrases that gives the impression that it is has a clear, self-evident meaning but which conceals hidden complexities. (And there are other complexities I haven't gone into here.)

(2)  If the above analysis is correct, we seem obliged to say that the "our world" in which "conscious experiences" exist is the world revealed by impersonal, scientific observation.  Now that raises two immediate problems. First, human consciousness, one would think, is very much something that exists at the personal - the individual - level. If I die my consciousness dies with me (or so we assume). Unless we are a Buddhist or something of the sort, there is no such thing as a "general" human consciousness that transcends the individual. And, second, haven't we in fact loaded the dice in our inquiry into consciousness before we even begin?  By saying that conscious experiences exist in the world revealed by impersonal, scientific observation - which is what we seem committed to by the notion of "our world"  - we seem to be making assumptions about the nature of consciousness right from the outset - i.e. that it is the kind of thing that is amenable to detection and explanation via scientific study. Which is precisely what many people, who do not accept physicalist explanations, contest. 

In short, a little phrase like "our world" can cause all sorts of problems in a philosophical analysis. Especially if we are rigorous...

DA


2010-03-12
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,

I don't see that "our world" needs any further explication than: the world that you and I share, along with your neighbours, and "billions of other people around the world." I also believe that there exist billions of other people in our world, so I guess that you and I share that belief (in our world).

2010-03-13
Describing zombies
Reply to Luke Culpitt
Hi Luke

For everyday purposes, the concept "our world" (or an equivalent like "reality" etc) doesn't need further explication. We know what we mean, more or less. But when it comes to philosophical analysis, explication is crucial in my view. Otherwise the concept remains vague and ambiguous - the bane of any good philosophical analysis.

I won't go over the argument I've already made, but just reflect on this part of it: If it is "our" world, then it is shared by everyone. There can't be bits that are only accessible to, or known about, by individuals or specific groups. Otherwise "our" no longer applies.

But even when I think about my friends and acquaintances, I'm sure there are many aspects of their lives - their private worlds - that I know nothing at all about. And the reverse is certainly true. So those things can't be part of an "our world", can they?  Thus, we already have a problem: we have found certain things that have to be excluded; the concept "our world" is not as clear and self-evident as it looked; it needs explication. 

And to make matters worse, it is very often those things that belong to an individual's private world that play such a crucial part in his/her life. Someone might go to extraordinary lengths to conceal some private matter, for example; but one's life decisions are hardly going to be greatly affected by knowing that the sky is blue on a sunny day (which is the kind of fact that presumably might qualify readily enough in a philosophical definition of "our world").

The relevance of this to a discussion of consciousness is that, whatever it is precisely, consciousness must surely be something that exists at the level of the individual - unless one believes in some kind of generalized consciousness - the "panpsychism" idea - and presumably an analytic philosopher, deeply attached as he usually is to scientific modes of thinking, would baulk at that.

Hence - to return from my starting point - my problem with the Chalmers statement "In our world there are conscious experiences". It seems a simple, matter of fact observation. What could be simpler?  Until one begins to think about it...

DA  




2010-03-15
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
DA: "If it is "our" world, then it is shared by everyone."

Granted.

DA: "There can't be bits that are only accessible to, or known about, by individuals or specific groups. Otherwise "our" no longer applies."

I don't see why there can't be. This seems to imply that everyone must have access to, or know about, all "bits" of our world, in order for "our world" to apply. It seems to me that we lack just as much access to, and knowledge about, many parts of the external world as we do about our private, internal worlds, if not more.

DA: "But even when I think about my friends and acquaintances, I'm sure there are many aspects of their lives - their private worlds - that I know nothing at all about."

Your friends and acquaintances, like your neighbours and myself, are other people/minds in the world; our world. Our "private worlds" are only a subset of "our world" - the world that you and I share - just as we as people are only a subset of it. The fact that you grant us each a "private world" that must be somewhat similar to your own "private world" indicates that you seem to accept Chalmers' statement that "in our world there are conscious experiences". I take "private world" to be synonymous with a case of individual consciousness/mind here. But whatever you meant by "private world", I don't think you meant "our world". And neither do I think the two could be conflated very easily without falling into solipsism. This is why I emphasised "you and I". If you accept me as an-other independent person, with whom you are having this discussion, then there must be some common place/time in which we both independently exist and can communicate with each other. This minimal explanation of a common communication space - the space between our minds, if you like - is all that I believe is required in order for "our world" to apply. This might point to a barrier in understanding or accessing other people's "private worlds", but as I see it, if this is a problem, then it is more to do with the "conscious experiences" part of Chalmers' statement, than the "our world" part.

Luke.

2010-03-15
Describing zombies
Reply to Luke Culpitt
Hi Luke.

Thanks for your reply.

You write: "I don't see why there can't be. This seems to imply that everyone must have access to, or ... (expand) know about, all "bits" of our world, in order for "our world" to apply. It seems to me that we lack just as much access to, and knowledge about, many parts of the external world as we do about our private, internal worlds, if not more. "

Yes, but that only increases the problem, rather than overcoming it. A nuclear scientist might have a very good idea of the latest theory on the composition of the atom. Most people, especially those with no scientific education at all, have no idea at all. So if an "our world" is one shared by everyone, as you grant, this makes the idea even more dubious, doesn't it?

Perhaps what you are wanting to say is this: "OK we all live in a world in which other people's worlds are either partly or completely unknown (the huge majority would be the latter). But so what? This is a world we all share. We share an "our world" in which each of us knows little or nothing about the private worlds of others."

That's fine. But what sort of "our world" is it then? It is one in which there are huge areas completely sealed off from each of us - the interior lives of others (and ours from them, of course).  It is not enough to say that someone's "private world" must be "somewhat similar" to mine (your words not mine, by the way). Why must it be? They might have huge regrets about things that have never crossed my mind. Or hopes for things I couldn't care less about. And even in the highly improbable event that their world was exactly the same as mine, I will never know anyway. 

So we are left in the situation where, if we are going to speak of an "our world", it will need to exclude nearly everyone's world of individual experience (or private world). But that's a very odd basis to approach the subject of consciousnesses on, isn't it?  Whatever it is, consciousness must surely be based in individual experience (unless we believe in some kind of panpsychism - and that is surely absurd, especially for a hard-nosed, "analytic" philosopher).

Hence, to repeat, the problem with Chalmers' apparently simple, but in fact deeply problematical, statement "In our world there are conscious experiences". The problems with the notion of "our world" are completely ignored.

DA

2010-03-22
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
DA: "Yes, but that only increases the problem, rather than overcoming it. A nuclear scientist might have a very good idea of the latest theory on the composition of the atom. Most people, especially those with no scientific education at all, have no idea at all. So if an "our world" is one shared by everyone, as you grant, this makes the idea even more dubious, doesn't it?"

I don't think that anybody's beliefs or knowledge about various aspects of "our world" alters the more basic fact of our existence in this world. Or, as you put it in your apt summary of my previous post: "But so what? This is a world we all share. We share an "our world" in which each of us knows little or nothing about the private worlds of others." Although, I'm not sure whether I completely agree that we know little or nothing about the private worlds of others.

DA: "That's fine. But what sort of "our world" is it then? It is one in which there are huge areas completely sealed off from each of us - the interior lives of others (and ours from them, of course).  It is not enough to say that someone's "private world" must be "somewhat similar" to mine (your words not mine, by the way). Why must it be?"

I inferred that the "private world" that you grant each of us must be "somewhat similar" to your own, since you referred to both what you have in your own case, and what we others each have in our own cases, using the same term "private world".

DA: "So we are left in the situation where, if we are going to speak of an "our world", it will need to exclude nearly everyone's world of individual experience (or private world)."

Again, you seem to imply that "our world" is somehow dependent on our knowledge about "our world". I take it that beings with a capacity for knowledge (knowers) must exist in our world before anything can be known (or believed) about it.

Also, I don't follow your reasoning for why our "private worlds" need to be excluded from "our world". If everyone's "private world" needs to be excluded from "our world", then do our private worlds exist somewhere other than our world, or not at all?

2010-03-22
Describing zombies
Reply to Luke Culpitt
Hi Luke

Let's go back a step. My problem was with the statement "In our world there are conscious experiences".

Now "our" means everybody. And "everybody" has presumably got to be made up of me, my neighbor, and you, and everyone on the face of the earth at any given time - i.e. real, concrete people, not abstract ideas of people - mere ciphers.

Now, there are all kinds of things that I don't even know about my neighbor such as his political beliefs, his religious beliefs if any, his standards of honesty, his childhood memories, etc etc . And there are billions of people on the face of the globe about whom I know even less (and of course all this goes vice versa - ie they know next to nothing about me).

Now an "our world" must presumably be made up of things we all share. But it surely makes no sense to say that I can "share" something with someone when I don't even know what that something is - or indeed if it even exists (he may have no political beliefs at all, for example).

So in the "our world" we are apparently talking about, anyone's particular experiences, beliefs, hopes, memories etc count for exactly nothing - ie they cannot be taken into the reckoning or the whole thing collapses. I (like everyone else) only count to the extent that I am not different from anyone else - and that goes for them too. So in fact we are only talking about some general idea of a person - an abstraction, a "general" person and not a real person at all. (I am not of course denying that there are some things we do all share - such as the knowledge that summer is warmer than winter and various other everyday facts.) 

Now, this is a problem for the Chalmers statement, I would have thought, because we are, after all, talking about human consciousness, and as I've pointed out before, if consciousness exists anywhere it must surely be at the level of the human individual - whose existence, except as an abstract idea, we have apparently ruled out.

There may perhaps be some way around this problem - perhaps by working up some idea of a general "human nature", though that is not exactly flavour of the month at the moment, and not, as far as I know, a popular choice among analytic philosophers.  What bothered me most in Chalmers' statement was the apparent assumption that no problem exists.

DA



2010-03-24
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Amongst a lot of comments with which I agree in part I particularly like Derek's: 'What this also points to, in my view, is that the whole question of zombies is a red herring - and this should have been obvious from the start.'


Nevertheless, I am not sure that the reasons are yet fully clear. I have spent some time recently trying to see what the problem is. I start by agreeing with Jason Streitfeld's (6th March) view that premises 1 and 2 of the main zombie argument are unconvincing. The zombie is defined as physically identical to us but without consciousness. Derek points out that to conceive it we need to know what we mean by consciousness. I would go further back and say we need to know what we mean by physically.


As I understand it two things are identical physically if they instantiate the operation of the same physical laws. What are physical laws? Since Galileo and Newton they have been sets of rules, instances of operation of which best explain (or appear to determine) our conscious experiences. They are dispositions to generate experiences. If we worry that the physical laws should have been operating before there were human or animal experiences we can broaden experience to a wider category of 'actualities'. For the panpsychist these are also experiences but it does not matter whether we accept that. The key point is that all we know that physical laws do is determine our experiences and although we can hope to extrapolate beyond that, that is the firm ground.


There are those who would argue that physical laws only determine 'measurements' that can be defined in an objective public way and that they do not address subjective experience. However, this is wrong. The operation of physical laws usefully explains rainbows but there is no 'measurement' that is a rainbow. Without an eye no such thing exists, only miles of rain and a sun. Similarly, physical laws can explain pain and fear, at least in part. Thus if we rerun the definition of a zombie we have a clear oxymoron:


A zombie is identical to us in terms of the determination of experience but has no experience.


This only seems too easy because there is a potential confusion of two issues. Zombie John and John could be identical in terms of the physical laws they instantiate that give rise to the experience of 'that's John' for me yet not in terms of the laws that determine the experience of being John. But this is an irrelevance because the argument is specifically about the operation of physical laws that determine the sense of being John. I don't come in to it. So the zombie is not so much inconceivable as an oxymoron, as Peter says, if not necessarily for Peter's reasons.


But we are left with an important caveat. If physical laws are just the determinants of experience (or more broadly actualities, whatever they might be, if we eschew panpsychism) then physics is certainly not complete (as Newton was at pains to point out). The known physical laws determine our experiences in part but we are completely ignorant of the final set of laws that relate known physical laws to experience at the final point of interaction in a brain. We do not know these laws because we do not know where the final point of interaction is. Thus if physicalism is the belief that physical laws of the sort currently known are adequate to explain consciousness, then it is transparently false. What was the fuss about, indeed; Newton told us it was false. But that does not mean we have to undergo some sort of metaphysical convulsion and posit something 'non-physical'. Consciousness is non-physical in the sense that 'physical' refers to the laws that determine consciousness/actuality but that relates to a division of our ways of description rather than an ontological dualism.  

2010-03-24
Describing zombies
RE: "Derek points out that to conceive it we need to know what we mean by consciousness. I would go further back and say we need to know what we mean by physically."

Yes I agree. I left that point to one side and here's another aspect of it.

If our putative zombie is going to be convincing, presumably he/she will have to move. He (I'll make him male) can't just stand stock still or no one is going to be taken in. Now, he hasn't got consciousness (undefined of course, but leave that aside) so what movements can he actually make? Presumably he can blink. That's sort of "reflex". But can he walk? Walking, one might say, is "reflex" too; but to walk one has to walk somewhere. Can he do that? He would presumably need an intention of some kind, unless he always just wanders around aimlessly, and that would give him away very quickly. Can one have an intention without consciousness? Big problem (slightly obscured here, of course, since consciousnesses is left defined.)  What else can he do? Can he talk?  Very hard to imagine anyone talking without wanting to form sentences and say something (he will give himself away if he just utters random words), and this again would seem to require consciousness.  And of course when he has to do more complicated things, like making an intelligent contribution to a conversation...

It really seems to me that the only way a zombie could be convincing would be if he remained perfectly motionless. Maybe he could blink now and then. Or perhaps he could pretend he was permanently asleep. Though can he "pretend"?

All these problems get camouflaged in the zombie talk by the grandiose terminology often employed - phrases like "identical at the microcellular level" etc. But that doesn't help one iota. A "zombie" can be as identical as he likes at the microcellular level, but he won't fool anybody if about all he can do is blink or sleep. 

Interestingly enough, the Hollywood B grade movies that first brought us zombies seemed more aware of these problems than the modern philosophers who have adopted the idea. The films used to show them with slightly glazed looks, walking rather stiffly, and speaking in slight monotones.  So the directors seem to have realized, however dimly, that a being without consciousness might just have a bit of trouble doing all the normal things humans do and getting away with it.  Out of the mouths of babes...

DA


 

2010-03-26
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek: 'It really seems to me that the only way a zombie could be convincing would be if he remained perfectly motionless.'
This is where I would disagree, on the basis of both the scientific evidence and personal experience of a 'blarney cartoon' advert (I will explain). A while back I had a conversation with Chris Frith, who is very much at the centre of the relevant neuroscience. He confirmed my suspicion that the more one looks for behaviour that 'requires consciousness' the more one fails to find it. Highly sophisticated intentional activities can occur under circumstances where it is difficult or impossible to implicate consciousness as a prerequisite. In the last week I found myself pushing a skiboot clip sideways entirely unconsciously and then realising that this was in response to a single episode of catching my finger in it the day before. I unconsciously intentionally avoided something that I unconsciously remembered having happened once. That is not a reflex. The other obvious example is that I am typing this sentence in the full confidence that it will end up as a complete sentence meaning what I want without any consciousness of what the last few words will be until I have typed them. The idea that conscious intention has to precede complex novel acts simply does not stand up to careful observation. The 'blarney cartoon' is a projected cartoon video of a guy who catches your attention at a display stand advertising something. These videos are cleverly designed to make it seem that the cartoon character is responding to your body language responses and engaging you in (one sided) conversation. It works because he is the sort of blarney guy who prattles on about what he wants to say anyway - just as lots of people do. The trick is leaving gaps just big enough to make it seem that he has noticed that you have stopped to listen to him, looked puzzled, amused and then a little embarrassed etc etc. For about thirty seconds it is very hard not to believe that there is not a real person behind the blarney guy watching you and talking into a microphone and it takes about two minutes to be really sure.

Creating a 'android robot' that would convince almost everyone that it was a real human being is, I suspect, a fairly trivial task. Programming apparently purposeful (and novel) acts into a silicon based machine is easy. So I am afraid that the idea that you need experiences vaguely like ours to behave like us does not hold up. The real problem is that if the zombie is 'physically' exactly like us and we take physically to mean what it really does mean - in terms of determination of experience - we have set up a self contradictory proposal.

Best wishes

Jo E

2010-03-26
Describing zombies
Hi Jonathan

Re: "Creating a 'android robot' that would convince almost everyone that it was a real human being is, I suspect, a fairly trivial task."

For how long?  Suppose you lived with it for a day or, better, a week or a month. Went out to the cinema, the opera, cricket matches, football, talked about it all afterwards, plus a wide range of other topics, cracked jokes, asked it about its childhood, its hopes for the future, its education, asked to meet its parents, girlfriend, etc etc.

The thing is that, in the end, this becomes self-defeating. If one keeps saying, in response to every such proposition, yes, yes, it could do that, yes, and that too, and that, and that, no worries, and on and on endlessly, then on what basis could one ever say that this is not in fact a human being?  There must presumably be a point at which a zombie and a human being differ. So what is it?*  If it could do literally everything a normal human can do, year in year out, how could anyone ever say it wasn't one? (And what, by the way, is a "normal" human being? Personally I've never met one...)

All this of course gets back to the same old problem - ie that proponents of zombies claim that although it is defined as a human minus consciousnesses, one does not have to say what "consciousness" means. So that would relieve them of the burden of ever having to say what a zombie could do and a human couldn't. A neat little escape route even if hopeless philosophy.


* David Chalmers once said that zombies were "all dark inside" (see up top) but not surprisingly quickly retracted that idea.


DA


2010-03-26
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek

I think maybe you're doing our host an injustice.  Of course zombies are all dark inside. They are defined as being so. Are you suggesting they're not?   

Consciousness is certainly difficult to define. I don't think anyone would disagree about that. It is one of the benefits of the zombie hypothesis that it draws attention to this problem. What is it we have that zombies do not? If we say, with you, that we can't define this phenomenon well enough to even ask this question then the zombie hypothesis has done its job, focused our attention on the heart of the problem and drawn it away from the superficial aspects.   

But a distant planet populated by zombies is unnecessary. We could equally well hypothesise that everybody except ourselves is not conscious, for the zombie hypothesis is just a reformulation of the other minds problem. It raises no new issues that I can see, but it's catchy way to think about them.

2010-03-27
Describing zombies
Hi Peter

You say: " Of course zombies are all dark inside. They are defined as being so. Are you suggesting they're not? "

Early in the discussion I questioned David Chalmers about his phrase "all dark inside" pointing out that "The suggestion that zombiehood is a state in which ‘all is dark inside’ presumably implies that consciousness, by contrast, is a state in which ‘all is light inside’ – merely a vague metaphor which tells us nothing of any substance about what human consciousness might consist in."

David replied (see earlier): "All is dark inside" is indeed just a vague metaphor.  It doesn't play any role in the arguments.  The arguments just require the absence of consciousness, along with microphysical duplication."

So, according to David, who I gather is the chief proponent of the zombie thesis, "all is dark inside" is not part of the definition. I'm not at all sure why it was mentioned in the first place. (I won't comment on the other bit -  "the absence of consciousness, along with microphysical duplication". For the reasons I've given, I think this gets us nowhere.)

You also say: "Consciousness is certainly difficult to define. I don't think anyone would disagree about that. It is one of the benefits of the zombie hypothesis that it draws ... (expand) attention to this problem. What is it we have that zombies do not? If we say, with you, that we can't define this phenomenon well enough to even ask this question then the zombie hypothesis has done its job, focused our attention on the heart of the problem and drawn it away from the superficial aspects."

But one only has to look at the Chalmers definition to see the problem here.  If the purpose of the zombie hypothesis is to draw attention to the elusiveness of the notion of consciousness how could one define zombiehood as the absence of it? The absence of what?   Personally, I see no need, anyway, for a special "hypothesis" to highlight the difficulty of defining consciousness, because the difficulty surely stares us in the face. But if that is the purpose, it does not succeed because all it does is to confuse the issue by implying that consciousness is a known quantity.

DA

2010-03-27
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Okay. But in the absence of a clear definition of what consciousness is not, then 'all dark inside' seems a quick way to convey the right idea. I suppose 'nothing inside' would be better.   

I'm not quite sure about this, but I understood that the original purpose of the zombie hypothesis or thought experiment was to make it clear that human beings have something that a zombie would not have, and that whatever this is it's what we need to define and explain.  If you're saying that the hypothesis doesn't help us to do this then I agree. But as a means of reducing to absurdity the idea that there is nothing to explain it seems to serve its purpose. The problems with the hypothesis seem to arise only when people don't see the absurdity and hypothesise that such things can actually exist.  

I share your view that there is no need for a special hypothesis to highlight the difficulty of defining consciousness, 'because the difficulty surely stares us in the face.' But clearly it doesn't stare everyone in the face.  For me the zombie hypothesis helps us to see that it is not enough to argue, with the behaviourists and others, that consciousness is merely a superstition or folk-psychological artefact, in that it forces us, I would say, to the conclusion that it's a phenomenon additional to matter or brain. It's as if we shake a closed tin and hear a rattle. We don't know what's inside but we can hypothesise that on a planet of empty tins no tins would rattle, and, therefore, that our tin is not empty but has something inside it that requires an explanation. We can make this argument without implying that what is inside the tin is a known quantity. If it were a known quantity then the 'planet of empty tins' hypothesis would serve no purpose.  

Maybe this is an oversimplification of the issue but I struggle to find a reason for making it more complicated. Only if we suppose that zombies could exist would complexities arise. If zombies are possible entitites then all theories of consciousness studies are ad hoc.

Could an entity behave like a me and yet be a zombie? To me the answer is obviously no and that's the end of my interest in the hypothesis.  It would be impossible for anyone to prove me wrong on this point so, like you and SH, I'd rather move on.  But I don't think that the hypothesis is muddled or has no usefulness. It's one way of approaching the problem of identifying what it is we're trying to define. Or this is how it seems to me.

 


  



   

2010-03-28
Describing zombies
Hi Peter

In essence my objection boils down to saying that the zombie hypothesis is incoherent. And an incoherent hypothesis can't serve any purpose at all - in fact it doesn't even reach the level of a hypothesis.

So my advice is: Don't bother puzzling about it. It doesn't help us with the problem of consciousness. It's a red herring.

(I might add that for this reason I think the debate about whether or not zombies are "conceivable" misses the point. That risks suggesting that the idea is coherently formulated in the first place, which it isn't.) 

DA

2010-03-28
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

I'd agree that the zombie hypothesis is incoherent, and actually have some difficulty in understanding how anyone could think otherwise, but don't see how this constitutes an objection. Surely the whole point of making an hypothesis is to test whether it would be coherent. Even an incoherent hypothesis has to be made before it can be tested, and only once it has been shown to be incoherent will it have served its purpose.   
.   
(As it happens I don't puzzle about zombies, but about why we puzzle about zombies, but thanks for the warning.) 

..."I might add that for this reason I think the debate about whether or not zombies are "conceivable" misses the point. That risks suggesting that the idea is coherently formulated in the first place, which it isn't." 

The connection with your argument here is that it might be true that we cannot conceive of an idea that is incoherent. I think this is true. So, to say conceivability misses the point is to say that coherence misses the point also. The problem is that we cannot demonstrate that a zombie is either inconceivable or incoherent. Otherwise Steven Harnard could be convinced. 

Can you demonstrate that a zombie is an incoherent idea? I don't think I can. As soon as we try to demonstrate it we're faced with the problem of trying to decide what it is that they're lacking, so I don;t see this approach as missing the point but as coming at it from a particular angle. The hypothesis is useful if we use it in this way. .  

At least we appear to agree that once we've conceded that consciousness is a real-world problem, that it cannot be dismissed as pre-scientific folklore like the ether or philostogen, zombies are red herrings. But how could we have learnt this if we hadn't hypothesised them?  

 

2010-03-28
Describing zombies
Hi Peter

You write "Can you demonstrate that a zombie is an incoherent idea?"

I thought I had already done that. Chalmers writes: "A zombie is physically identical to a normal human being, but completely lacks conscious experience. Zombies look and behave like the conscious beings that we know and love, but "all is dark inside." (His additional bit referring to Nagel's "like" idea is simply not worth wasting time on. I've commented on that in several posts).

Now we've dealt with the "dark inside" issue. That was retracted.  There is also, it's worth noting, the question-begging notion of a "normal human being" and the further question of whether something could "behave like a conscious being" if s/he weren't conscious. (I dealt with this issue a few posts ago.)  But let's leave all that that aside.

The key point is simply this:  How can one subtract consciousness from anything (eg a "normal human being") and be left with something clear, and capable of being discussed, if one doesn't know - can't say - what consciousnesses is? (which we can't, and Chalmers doesn't claim to*). It is exactly as if, instead of saying: "Tell me the answer to 4 minus 2", one said: "Tell me the answer to 4 minus an unknown."  That's simply incoherent. A nonsense.

When I pointed this out early on, Chalmers replied :"Perhaps you think there is some problem conceiving of the absence of consciousness, but I don't see the problem here.  We conceive of the absence of things and properties all the same." 

Now I'm not sure what "all the same" is meant to convey, but this reply is clearly not adequate. As I said in response:

"I definitely do see a problem “conceiving of the absence of consciousness” if we don’t know what consciousness is. And your analogy, to my mind, does not work. We can conceive of the absence of a leg (a thing) because we know what a leg is. We can conceive of the absence of politeness (a property) because we know what that is. But to suggest that we can conceive of the absence of an unknown seems to me a very dubious proposition indeed." (I was being polite. It is more than dubious...)

In short the notion of a zombie is a nonsense. And I do not see how a nonsensical idea can be of the slightest help in a philosophical discussion. That's why I call it a red herring - an idea that simply leads us down a wrong path.

DA

* And of course if we could, the zombie thesis would be redundant anyway. We wouldn't need it.

 

.  

2010-03-28
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,

I heartily agree.

If one makes the stipulation that a zombie is identical to a human being in all respects and is lacking only in consciousness then, unless one is in a position to demonstrate what precisely it is that is lacking, one is surely begging the question. Without a criterion for differentiation your putative zombie is, to all intents and purposes, a human being.

Keep fighting the good fight, Derek.

Regards,

Jason.

2010-03-28
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Derek 

That seems rather less like a response than a restatement of your position. which I think I do understand, and I'd refer you to my previous post.  If we're not allowed to hypothesise the existence or non-existence of a thing unless we understand it well enough to accurately define it, nor to think up a thought experiments to help us to get a handle on it, then the very existence of consciousness studies is threatened. At any rate, if it is impossible to decide whether a zombie is an incoherent concept before we have hypothesised it then a person who hypothesises one can hardly be criticised in hindsight for its incoherence.  

I'm curious as to how you would demonstrate its incoherence. If you can demonstrate that zombies are an incoherent concept then there ought not to be so many people think they're not. A demonstration ought to settle the matter. How, for example, would you go about showing that Steven Harnard is wrong, that brains do not cause our behaviour directly and, rather, that consciousness plays a necessary role in the behavioural process?  If you can't do this, and I know I can't, then zombies cannot be ruled out as incoherent, regardless of how incoherent, inconceivable and implausible they might seem to you and me. 

As it happens I know you cannot demonstrate their incoherence, It's not possible to demonstrate that you and I are not zombies, never mind Chalmers' fictional aliens. It's just something we know, each in our own case, and some philosophers would even question this knowledge. Besides, in order to demonstrate that a zombie is an incoherent hypothesis you'd first have to hypothesise its existence and then go on to make the hypothesis useful, which would undermine your position. I'd say a zombie is a useful hypothesis precisely because it's so wildly incoherent, but I only wish I could prove this. 

Clearly the zombie hypothesis brings us quickly to the problem of defining consciousness. Does this not give it a certain usefuleness? 

  



 




  

   

   


2010-03-29
Describing zombies
Reply to Jason McCann
Hi Jason

Many thanks. Good to feel one is not a voice in the wilderness!

And you have summed up my position nicely.

Derek

2010-03-29
Describing zombies
Hi Peter

I'm sorry if that sounded like a restatement but you asked me if I could demonstrate the incoherence of the zombie idea, so that's what (I believe) I did. I'm a bit puzzled because your present post asks me that again. There's nothing I can add to what I've said so if that doesn't establish the point for you, I have nowhere else to go. (I am not troubled by your comment that "there ought not to be so many people [who] think [that zombies are not incoherent]".  I have never thought that majority opinion counts for much in philosophy (which was one of my problems with the questionnaire*).

You also write "How, for example, would you go about showing that Steven Harnad is wrong, that brains do not cause our behaviour directly and, rather, that consciousness plays a necessary role in the behavioural process? " For present purposes I don't need to show whether the physicalist thesis - or any particular thesis about the nature of consciousnesses - is right or wrong. I am simply working from Chalmers' definition of what a zombie is. He says it lacks "consciousness". Consciousness is undefined, and I simply say: How do you subtract an unknown?  

You also write: "Clearly the zombie hypothesis brings us quickly to the problem of defining consciousness. Does this not give it a certain usefulness?"

I don't think the zombie hypothesis "bring us quickly" to anything, except perhaps confusion. I doubt if any incoherent proposition can be of much use in philosophy - except perhaps as a means of showing what is not a useful line of argument. Moreover if the incoherence is not recognized - if it is taken to be a sensible idea - it starts to become a real problem because it generates a lot of pointless philosophical activity - which seems to be the case here.

DA

* By the way I came across an article in which the questionnaire was used as basis for reporting "what philosophers think".  Exactly the kind of silliness I feared it might generate.   

2010-03-29
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
I'm afraid I can't see where you demonstrate the incoherence of the hypothesis or address the points I raised. Nor do I understand why you can't define consciousness to some extent by virtue of being conscious. I can see your objection to the hypothesis that zombies are without consciousness - that we can't specify exactly and completely what it is they're without - but as this objection would apply equally to the the hypothesis that human beings are endowed with consciousness, (we can't specify what it is they're endowed with), it seems to have tragic ramifications for consiousness studies. I'd rather call it a proviso than an objection. The difficulty of defining consciousness is not made any easier to overcome if we're not allowed to wonder what we have that a zombie does not have, in my opinion, but no matter, we'll just have to disagree. Thanks for the joust. PJ
 

2010-04-02
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Dear Derek,

The Philpapers organisers' aim is for a professional philosophical forum with emphasis on discussion of current literature. My transitional status aside I hope we are in line with that and I take your basic point - that the 'P without Q' zombie argument against physicalism has problems with premises - as an important philosophical issue worth pursuing. (It would be good to get input from David Chalmers himself.) Nevertheless, I am worried that several arguments in above posts go off at a tangent from David's reasoning and slide back into folk psychological issues irrelevant to the zombie posit. My understanding is that the point of both philosophy and science is to identify inconsistencies, contradictions, or other inadequacies in folk accounts of the world and replace them with workable reasoned alternatives. I sometimes worry that current professional philosophy seems the opposite - a last bastion of intuition jealously guarded against reason! But let me get to the point.

The zombie posit is of an entity based on exactly the same instantiated laws of physics as a human, that behaves the way that we do in all respects but has no conscious experience. By definition we are considering something that will never fail a Turing test. My point about building robots that can pass Turing tests is not a point about building zombies but one of several arguments against the folk idea that human behaviour needs some magic ingredient called 'intention' that requires consciousness in some way. I will return to that but it is probably best first to address your very first query about what it means to have no consciousness.

David uses consciousness to mean that X is conscious if 'it is like something to be X' in Nagel's sense. I agree that although most people see what is intended, this phrase is pretty oblique. One could say that it is no help unless we can say what it is like. 'Dark inside' is also misconstruable. Both phrases are awkward metaphors. But this may be unavoidable because natural language has not yet moved on from a folk description format to a rigorous ontological one. We do not have the language structures we need. However, I think there may be an alternative to the Nagel phrase that is more robust:

X is conscious if (at least a limited internal part of) the world is like something to X.

This implies that the world in some way provides data for X and that these data have distinguishing qualities of appearance to X. X is acquainted with data in an overt way. Seeing red and blue is all we need to posit. For me, this meaning of consciousness is fully adequate to start out on the zombie argument. Moreover, most people get the idea. If you do not you might be a zombie. You may be a philosopher with your own precepts about consciousness in to which David Chalmers's conception does not fit (very likely). You might also be conscious but you may not be able to access the role your consciousness plays in the way you construct arguments. This is an interesting possibility partly because it is the opposite of your intuition and partly because it is probably true for all of us in one sense. One of the most difficult problems about consciousness in David's sense is how we can possibly talk about our acquaintance with data rather than just the data themselves. My own view would take too long to explain here but I conclude that although there is a mechanism we can never take the accounts of others about their consciousness as evidence of their consciousness. The same behaviour can always be simulated without. (And I think there is a real possibility that people differ in their access to the link between experience and behaviour but again the detail is too long.)

This comes back to your point that we cannot indeed ever know that a zombie is a zombie. But that is not the point of the zombie posit, which is a conjecture about ontology that ventures beyond positivist constraints. In passing, I think the issue about how long a robot (not a zombie) could keep passing the Turing test is a red herring. Suspension of disbelief in cartoon films indicates that we never make a final rational decision on whether or not something is conscious. We might have doubts about the robot but we would constantly ask 'is it really conscious after all?'. The reason is that our decision about what is conscious can never be rational anyway because we have no conception of how 'overt acquaintance with data' in the way we are familiar with, as opposed to just 'physical signal passing' could constrain behaviour (and as I say it probably does not). Moreover, passing Turing tests at a complex level relating to jokes and unrequited love etc. does not need to be invoked here. All we need talk about is the consciousness of the black on white of print. Computers decipher print but do not have our 'awareness of black'.

Having established that David's definition of a zombie is clear, my own problems relate to the meanings of 'conceivable' and 'physical'. Conceivability is a dangerous plaything. We are questioning our most cherished beliefs about ourselves so we need to question the reliability of our conceivings and there are plenty of reasons to be sceptical. The zombie is conceivable in the very weak and loose sense that if we do not know the nature of something any possible nature is conceivable, (we do not know the final rules that link known physical laws and experience within anybody). But my earlier post made the point that if we ask what we really mean by physical laws we find a clear contradiction because we have posited, by default, that the links are the same as in our conscious selves. (I do not think that inconceivability on the basis of an intuitive sense of a need for 'intentions' comes in to it.)

The real problem as I see it is the idea that physics is 'closed' or 'complete'. Dynamical physical laws form a closed chain of intermediary links within any causal description but are so far always incomplete when it comes to the final cashing out in experience - as Newton pointed out. There are extra laws of correspondence between dynamics and experience implicit in physics that we have yet to get a grip on. The solution to Jackson's Mary story is obvious. There is more to know about what determines experiences. Maybe I actually agree with David Chalmers in that physicalism is false but the physicalism falsified is a partial materialist physicalism that within physics itself is more or less a straw man. We know we need laws beyond current physical laws and maybe we could call these some other sort of law. However, since 'physical law' only means a law instances of operation of which determines experience, I am not sure why we should want to make the distinction. I suspect that people usually want to make the distinction because of a residual folk sense of 'physical' as 'stuff'.

Best wishes

Jo E


2010-04-02
Describing zombies
Hi Jonathon

Your post is rather long and I'm not sure I follow all of it.  So just let me just focus on two or three points that struck me.

(1) You write: "The zombie posit is of an entity based on exactly the same instantiated laws of physics as a human, that behaves the way that we do in all respects but has no conscious experience. By definition we are considering something that will never fail a Turing test."

But the question is whether something that behaved in all respects as a human could be anything other than a human. Besides, the idea is question-begging. Could something behave in all respects as we do but lack conscious experience? Isn't there a built-in presumption about the nature of consciousness (ie that it can be divorced from something called "behavior")? Shades of Skinner... 

(2) You write: "David uses consciousness to mean that X is conscious if 'it is like something to be X' in Nagel's sense. I agree that although most people see what is intended, this phrase is pretty oblique." 

There are lots of things that "most people see" - or claim to - that turn out to be mistaken.  And it is not the "obliqueness" of the phrase that bothers me so much. It is its uselessness as a means of defining consciousness. I never cease to be amazed that so much philosophical ink has been spilt on it.

(3) I am not sure if your rephrasing says quite the same thing as Nagel's dictum, but leaving that aside, you say that your definition of consciousness "implies that the world in some way provides data for X and that these data have distinguishing qualities of appearance to X. X is acquainted with data in an overt way. Seeing red and blue is all we need to posit."

But there are lots of electronic gizmos - often quite simple ones - that react to "data", such as a red light instead of a blue one. I don't imagine you would want to say they all possess consciousness?  (Your word "seeing" is a hidden trap here. What does "seeing" mean exactly?)

(4) You also write: "Having established that David's definition of a zombie is clear,..."

I would demur.

DA


2010-04-05
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
DIALOGUE WITH A ZOMBIE
For a dialogue with a zombie, please see the the "explanatory gap" thread...

2010-04-05
Describing zombies
Reply to Stevan Harnad
I got as far as the bit about zombies not "feeling" and wondered what that had to do with the definition of zombies (as well as what it meant).

DA

2010-04-05
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
DEFINING "ZOMBIE"

DA: "I got as far as the bit about zombies not "feeling" and wondered what that had to do with the definition of zombies (as well as what it meant)."
Doesn't "zombie" mean a creature that is behaviorally* indistinguishable from us, but does not feel?

If so, read on (i.e., the dialogue you began reading). If not, then what do you mean by a "zombie"?

(My own view is only nonstandard in that I take feeling, not "intentionality," to be the mark of the mental (and of "intentionality"!), and I see the only difference between a system that has "intrinsic intentionality" and a system that has merely "derivative intentionality" as the fact that one feels whereas the other merely "functs" -- i.e., behaves functionally indistinguishably from a system that feels, but does not feel.)

I have no particular view on whether there can really be zombies, by the way (I rather think not). But if there cannot be zombies, I want to know (causally, functionally, adaptively) why not? And if there can be zombies, I want know (causally, functionally, adaptively) why we are not zombies (i.e., what the causal.functional/adaptive advantage is, of our not being zombies).
*The distinction between a creature that is behaviorally indistinguishable from any of us and a creature that is physically indistinguishable from any of us (i.e., T5, below) is not particularly informative unless the functional significance of the physical but nonbehavioral differences is explained, in which case we are right back where we started... 
Harnad, S. (2000) Minds, Machines, and Turing: The Indistinguishability of IndistinguishablesJournal of Logic, Language, and Information 9(4): 425-445. (special issue on "Alan Turing and Artificial Intelligence") 
Abstract: Turing's celebrated 1950 paper proposes a very general methodological criterion for modelling mental function: total functional equivalence and indistinguishability. His criterion gives rise to a hierarchy of Turing Tests, from subtotal ("toy") fragments of our functions (t1), to total symbolic (pen-pal) function (T2 -- the standard Turing Test), to total external sensorimotor (robotic) function (T3), to total internal microfunction (T4), to total indistinguishability in every empirically discernible respect (T5). This is a "reverse-engineering" hierarchy of (decreasing) empirical underdetermination of the theory by the data. Level t1 is clearly too underdetermined, T2 is vulnerable to a counterexample (Searle's Chinese Room Argument), and T4 and T5 are arbitrarily overdetermined. Hence T3 is the appropriate target level for cognitive science. When it is reached, however, there will still remain more unanswerable questions than when Physics reaches its Grand Unified Theory of Everything (GUTE), because of the mind/body problem and the other-minds problem, both of which are inherent in this empirical domain, even though Turing hardly mentions them.
Stevan Harnad







2010-04-06
Describing zombies
Reply to Stevan Harnad
Hi Stevan

You wrote: "Doesn't "zombie" mean a creature that is behaviorally* indistinguishable from us, but does not feel?"

I have been working with David Chalmers' own definition of a zombie (see top) which is: "Zombies are hypothetical creatures of the sort that philosophers have been known to cherish. A zombie is physically identical to a normal human being, but completely lacks conscious experience. Zombies look and behave like the conscious beings that we know and love, but "all is dark inside." There is nothing it is like to be a zombie."
 
The words "feel" or "feeling" are not mentioned.

DA

2010-04-06
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
MEANING VERSUS MENTION
DA (quoting DC): "A zombie is physically identical to a normal human being, but completely lacks conscious experience. Zombies look and behave like... conscious beings... but 'all is dark inside.' There is nothing it is like to be a zombie." DA: The words "feel" or "feeling" are not mentioned.
(1) "[has] conscious experience" = feels feelings
(2) "conscious beings" = feeling beings
(3) "all is dark inside" = "no feeling"
(4) "nothing it is like" = "nothing it feels like"

About the slipperiness of "physically identical" (which more or less begs any substantive question by making zombies a completely arbitrary and indeterminate matter of ontic speculation) versus "functionally indistinguishable" (which gives the zombie question some epistemic substance to argue about), please refer to my previous response under *.

Stevan Harnad



2010-04-06
Describing zombies
Reply to Stevan Harnad
This doesn't help me, I regret to say. "Feels feelings" for me is as opaque as "[has] conscious experience", if not more so.  So all my objections remain in place.

Also I'm not sure if Chalmers would accept the translation...

DA

2010-04-06
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
SENTIENCE 101
DA: "''Feels feelings' for me is as opaque as '[has] conscious experience', if not more so." 
How about this, for priming your intuitions:

(1) Can there be unfelt feeling? (Can I be happy without feeling happy? Seeing green without feeling what it feels like to see green?)

If not, then "felt feeling" is at least as coherent (and redundant) as "conscious experience".

(2) Can I be conscious of something without experiencing something?
(3) Can I experience something without being conscious of something?

If neither, then "conscious experience" is redundant (just as "felt feeling" is).

(4) Can I be conscious of something without feeling something (or vice versa)?
(5) Can I experience something without feeling something (or vice versa)?

If neither, then chances are that "to be experiencing," to "be conscious" and "to be feeling" are pretty much of a muchness (and "feeling" will not only do in place of any of them, but will, I'll warrant, do it a lot more straight-forwardly and less equivocally).

If you reject the vice versa, then that's all the more reason for dropping the other, stronger terms, for the more generic, weaker one, feeling.
DA: "So all my objections remain in place."
What were your objections?
DA: "Also I'm not sure if Chalmers would accept the translation..."
Why not ask Dave? He's local, isn't he?

Stevan Harnad




2010-04-07
Describing zombies
Reply to Stevan Harnad
To my mind, "consciousness", "experience", "feeling", "awareness" (and maybe others I can't think of at the moment) all belong to the same constellation of ideas. Substituting one for the other, or defining one in terms of the other (which I sometimes see) doesn't help us get a grip on the idea of consciousness, and maybe only adds to the confusion.

So, as far as the zombie question is concerned, I would prefer just to stick with the Chalmers definition.

If you don't mind I won't reiterate my objections, which are all in my previous posts. My principal concerns were summed up rather nicely by Jason McCann a few posts back when he wrote: "If one makes the stipulation that a zombie is identical to a human being in all respects and is lacking only in consciousness then, unless one is in a position to demonstrate what precisely it is that is lacking, one is surely begging the question. Without a criterion for differentiation your putative zombie is, to all intents and purposes, a human being."

Or as I put it somewhere, subtracting an unknown makes no sense.

DA


 


2010-04-07
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

ONTIC/EPISTEMIC CONFUSION IN ZOMBIELAND

DA: "To my mind, "consciousness", "experience", "feeling", "awareness" (and maybe others I can't think of at the moment) all belong to the same constellation of ideas."

I agree completely (but the simple invariant they all share, explicitly or implicitly, is that they are all felt states). Here's a longer list (also nonexhaustive) of these specious sememes -- and "mind" and "mental" are on it too: 

consciousness, awareness, qualia, subjective states, conscious states, mental states, phenomenal states, qualitative states, intentional states, intentionality, intrinsic meaning, subjectivity, mentality, private states, 1st-person states, contentful states, reflexive states, representational states, sentient states, experiential states, reflexivity, self-awareness, self-consciousness, sentience, raw feels, experience, soul, spirit, mind... 
DA: "Substituting one for the other, or defining one in terms of the other (which I sometimes see) doesn't help us get a grip on the idea of consciousness, and maybe only adds to the confusion."

I agree completely. And that's why I've urged putting an end to this fricassee of distracting and obscurantist synonyms and calling a spade a spade, by invoking only its simplest and most straightforward name: feeling.

DA: "So, as far as the zombie question is concerned, I would prefer just to stick with the Chalmers definition."

In response I can only repeat: stipulating that a "zombie" is physically identical to (one of) us is simply turning the question into a matter of empty, indeterminate ontic opining. Relaxing the identity to functional indistinguishability makes the question a substantive epistemic one -- the "explanatory gap"  -- which, I have argued, is unbridgeable, because we cannot give a causal (i.e., functional) explanation of why and how we feel -- or, alternatively, of why and how we are not zombies

DA: "If you don't mind I won't reiterate my objections, which are all in my previous posts."

But those previous posts were not objections to my posting (my first on this thread), to which you responded. I don't think I am making the same point as the prior commentators (though I have not read them all).

(I have a maxim by which I try to abide: If one is making a point or argument [rather than giving a mathematical proof] that is too complicated to be summarized in a few coherent, self-contained, self-explanatory sentences, chances are one's point or argument is not yet a valid one. [That may just be a symptom of my own cognitive limitations, but I rather doubt it.])

DA: "My principal concerns were summed up rather nicely by Jason McCann a few posts back when he wrote: 'If one makes the stipulation that a zombie is identical to a human being in all respects and is lacking only in consciousness then, unless one is in a position to demonstrate what precisely it is that is lacking, one is surely begging the question. Without a criterion for differentiation your putative zombie is, to all intents and purposes, a human being.'"

Since no one has the faintest idea why or how a human being or any other entity feels, if one stipulates that something is identical to a human being in every physical respect but does not feel, one is simply making an arbitrary ontic claim -- that feeling is something "nonphysical" -- on the basis of mere epistemic ignorance (one cannot explain why or how physical dynamics constitutes or engenders feeling: the explanatory gap).

This is just the usual ontic/epistemic confusion/conflation.

And the issue is not whether or not the candidate is a human being but whether or not it feels. It is a foregone conclusion that if it feels, whatever it is, it is not a "zombie."

DA: "Or as I put it somewhere, subtracting an unknown makes no sense."

It's not what one is "subtracting" in these arbitrary mashups that makes no sense. (One is subtracting feeling, and we each know exactly what that is, perfectly well.): The unknown is the makeup of the mashup, in other words, what constitutes the "residue" once one "subtracts" feeling -- or, for that matter, what constitutes it before one substracts feeling (i.e., why and how we human being feel rather than just funct).

Stevan Harnad


2010-04-07
Describing zombies
Reply to Stevan Harnad
I'm afraid your post is a bit long for me to answer in detail. But the main point I would want to make is that appealing to "felt states" and "feeling" is simply choosing one of the terms from the constellation I mentioned. And as I said, "substituting one [of these] for the other, or defining one in terms of the other doesn't help us get a grip on the idea of consciousness, and maybe only adds to the confusion."

DA  

2010-04-07
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
DA: "I'm afraid your post is a bit long for me to answer in detail. But the main point I would want to make is that appealing to "felt states" and "feeling" is simply choosing one of the terms from the constellation I mentioned. And as I said, 'substituting one [of these] for the other, or defining one in terms of the other doesn't help us get a grip on the idea of consciousness, and maybe only adds to the confusion.'"
Derek, I regret that I have to resort to meta-commentary: There seems to be a pattern in your series of replies to me: 

You don't seem to be paying attention to what I am actually saying; instead you seem to be responding mechanically (and rather repetitiously) to some other point or points, possibly one(s) that others have made before on this thread. Perhaps you have tired of this topic.

As a consequence, it is apparent that no information is being exchanged here, and so I shall have to stop responding, contrary to my habitual wont...

Stevan Harnad

2010-04-08
Describing zombies
Reply to Stevan Harnad
Hi Steve

You wrote: "You don't seem to be paying attention to what I am actually saying..."

I like to keep my posts fairly short which is one reason why I didn't want to respond in detail.

But in addition, it seemed to me you were overlooking a point I had made myself - namely that "feeling" (and of course its various cognates) is simply one of a number of words with overlapping meanings in this area, and we probably only add to the confusion by attempting to define one in terms of the other.  Oddly, you seemed to agree with this proposition but then proceeded to suggest that "felt states" and "feeling" were nonetheless basic in some way.

Since all your arguments, including your comment on the subtraction problem in Chalmers' definition, seemed to revolve around this approach - which I had already rejected - it didn't seem necessary to give a detailed reply.

DA

2010-04-08
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
ZOMBIES: CAN'T MANAGE WITH 'EM, CAN'T MANAGE WITHOUT 'EM

Yes, there are lots of quasi-synonyms for consciousness. But that doesn't mean there is no common underlying invariant referent to which all or most of them point. And it's certainly not a reason or justification for discarding them all. One will do, but we need at least that one. And I've given many reasons why the most perspicuous of the synonyms is feeling.
But whichever one you choose, what it refers to is what is absent in a "zombie" (if zombie means anything at all). The whole exercise becomes vacuous if the punchline is that we are zombies and zombies feel. The premise presumably has to be that "zombies" are identical to us in some respects, but do not feel; it remains to specify in what respect they are identical to us. It clearly can't be all respects, because that would be nonsense, as feeling is one of the those respects, and the premise is that they differ at least in that, if they are possible (and meaningful) at all.

What seems as vacuous as saying that a "zombie" would feel (because then why on earth are we calling it a "zombie"?) is saying that it would not feel even though it was "physically identical" to us -- because all that asserts (with absolutely no substantive content) -- no more nor less -- is that feeling is "nonphysical" (whatever that means).

So all that's left is to weaken the zombie conjecture so that not only is it a putative property of zombies (if they are possible at all) that they differ from us in that they do not feel, but that their indistinguishability from us is something short of physical identity. The only instructive form of indistinguishability short of phsyical identity -- insofar as either cognitive science or empirical/causal explanation are concerned -- would be functional indistinguishability. And what would follow from functional indistinguishability would be that whatever difference (presumably "physical") is the cause of the fact that we feel and zombies don't, we cannot explain that difference in the usual way, namely, causally/functionally. 

Hence zombies (if they were possible), would be symptoms of the explanatory gap. And even if they were impossible, there would still be the explanatory gap, unless we can explain how and why zombies are impossible.

Stevan Harnad

2010-04-08
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
"NOTHING IT IS LIKE" = "NOTHING IT FEELS LIKE," NOT "NO SUCH THING AS"

Reflecting on the original form in which you posed the zombie question -- 'If there is nothing it is like to be a zombie', how is it possible to conceive of one... or [to say] that "A zombie is physically identical to a normal human being[?]" -- it occurs to me that you may simply have misconstrued the predicate "there is nothing it is like to be": That means is that "there is nothing it feels like to be" -- not, obviously, that "there exists no such thing as" a zombie (for that would simply rule the possibility out of court by fiat), or that there is no difference between a zombie and us (which would make the distinction merely verbal)!

Here's yet another reason for keeping a vigilant eye on the predicate "feels."


Stevan Harnad

2010-04-08
Describing zombies
Reply to Stevan Harnad
Steve

You write: "Yes, there are lots of quasi-synonyms for consciousness. But that doesn't mean there is no common underlying invariant referent to which all or most of them point. And it's certainly not a reason or justification for discarding them all."

But neither is it a justification for accepting any - i.e.for deciding that one particular quasi-synonym (e.g. feeling) is the "common underlying invariant referent to which all or most of them point".

Who really knows how the idea of consciousness is to captured? Maybe it's not through philosophy at all (and I genuinely suspect it will not be through the analytico-neuro-philosophy that currently prevails in the area). Maybe it is best captured through art - e.g. through literature. Nothing rules that out a priori.  By chance, I was glancing at a book by Mircea Eliade the other day which even suggested that human consciousness is inseparable from a sense of the sacred. I don't rule that out either - which would mean that the study of religions might perhaps throw some light on it.

The other point I would make is that you refer quite frequently to whether zombies are "possible". The problem I have been raising is really more basic than that. I have been asking if Chalmers' definition - and I gather he is the main proponent of the idea - is even coherent, i.e. if it is intelligible - if it makes sense.

DA

PS On your later post, no, I did not construe Chalmers as meaning "there exists no such thing as a zombie". I'm not sure how you got that from any of my posts.

2010-04-09
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Dear Derek,

    I was tempted to fall silent on grounds that continuing to engage with the delightfully non sequitur comments about the zombie posit voiced on this thread might not be in the broader interests of Philpapers. But your objections may go deeper than I thought. I continue to think that David's definition of consciousness, and its absence in zombies, is clear. It may jar with your own view because it treats consciousness and behaviour as distinct concepts (in line with medical usage), neither of which entails the other. However, other aspects of David's discussion of consciousness suggest an approach to consciousness closer to yours, in which the two concepts do entail each other. Perhaps things are not as clear to everyone as it might seem!

I would be interested in other views but I still think that my rephrasing of Nagel is more or less what he thought he meant at the time and that people see what he thought he meant. Since 'see' in this instance means know I do not think they can see and also be mistaken but I agree that there is a more interesting question about whether either Nagel or Chalmers have a consistent meaning in mind if pressed.

Nagel and Chalmers appear to define consciousness as that property of X that allows something to be 'like something' to X. Behaviour is, in contrast, the disposition for X to be like something to others, in the context of presumed influences on X. In this definition action, will, or input-output relation (of X) are excluded from consciousness. Other people include action and will in 'consciousness' but Chalmers sticks to the medical usage. In this context, the reason that consciousness and behaviour do not entail each other is transparent because consciousness relates only to data or input for X whereas behaviour is input-output. It is easy to see that although these will have contingent relations they will not entail each other. An input can be associated with many input-output relations and vice versa because the way the output of X relates to any particular input may vary for lots of reasons. Real life examples are everywhere.

However, having established that 'behaviour', including the specialized form that is what X's brain cell activities will be disposed to be like to others under a 22nd century all-revealing microscope, and consciousness do not entail each other and thus that there is room for further explaining of the content of consciousness beyond current physical laws (the point of the zombie posit), Chalmers makes the proposal that input-output relations, in terms of disposition of X to be like something to the world under certain presumed influences (i.e. its 'functional role'), and consciousness do entail each other. This would be easier to follow if there were some rationale or evidence to back it up. However, the proposal seems to derive simply from the philosophical fashion of functionalism. In another thread I have suggested that functionalism is self-contradictory and I am fairly sure it is. It appears to have arisen because of the very muddle given above - between meaning in the sense of what something is like to X and meaning in the sense of what X's behaviour or the logical structure thereof (extensional or intensional externalist meanings) are disposed to be like to others. It was an attempt to resolve a paradox based on a confusion of meanings only.

So maybe that is why I continue to have sympathy with your dissatisfaction with the zombie debate and the sense that a lot of space has been wasted on ill-founded arguments!

Best wishes

Jo


2010-04-09
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
DA: "To my mind, "consciousness", "experience", "feeling", "awareness" (and maybe others I can't think of at the moment) all belong to the same constellation of ideas. Substituting one for the other, or defining one in terms of the other (which I sometimes see) doesn't help us get a grip on the idea of consciousness, and maybe only adds to the confusion."

I've defined consciousness in two ways:


1. From the inside of the brain (1st person, subjective perspective): Consciousness is a transparent experience of the world from a privileged egocentric perspective.


2. From outside of the brain (3rd person, objective perspective): Consciousness is a transparent brain representation of the world from a privileged egocentric perspective. This kind of representation is realized by the putative retinoid system.


From definition 2, consciousness (with any of its particular feelings) is just a special kind of brain state. If a copy of a human is not equiped to have this special brain state, it is a robot -- not a zombie.


AT





2010-04-09
Describing zombies
Reply to Arnold Trehub
Hi Arnold

The problem here is essentially the same as I see with Stevan Harnad's approach. One is defining consciousness in terms of ideas which themselves seem - or may well be - inseparable from consciousness. Can one "experience" anything without consciousness? Can one have a "representation" of anything without consciousness? The answers are not self-evidently yes. So one would be defining something in terms of ideas which already contain - or may very well contain - that something.

Chalmers in fact tends to make matter worse (if possible) by defining a zombie as "a normal human being, but completely lacks conscious experience."  So here we get both "conscious" and "experience"...

I see all this as a classic example of philosophy chasing its tail. It is no wonder that after so many years of trying, with so many people involved, this areas of philosophy shows no sign of progress or anything resembling consensus.

DA



2010-04-09
Describing zombies

SO I'M LIKE WHAT?, LIKE, AND HE'S LIKE...

To JCWE: For a pinch (or purple, or a potato) to "be like something to X" (X being a person), it has to feel like something to X. Otherwise it may be something to X (e.g., unfelt injury), but it is not being "like something" to X (unless we are using "like" in the parlance of our teenagers, where it is a compulsive tic rather than a content-bearing term).

To AT: Feelings are felt "internally" and can also be inferred and described "externally," and they obviously must be caused by and constituted in the brain, somehow. All undisputed and all unhelpful, because we cannot explain how or why feeling is caused by and/or constituted in the brain. We cannot explain how and why it is true (and it is indeed true) that we are not zombies.

To DA: As long as one keeps chasing the tale of philosophers bumbling rather than grasping the points being made, there is indeed no progress. What is needed for "progress" is not consensus but understanding. (P.S. I am not saying that many philosophers don't bumble, often!)


2010-04-09
Describing zombies
Hi Jo

I'm not sure I follow all your argument but I'll make a brief comment on the "behavior" issue.

Presumably, Chalmers' zombie definition does depend on the idea that one could neatly divide human behavior from consciousness. He says zombies "look and behave" like the "conscious beings that we know and love" but lack consciousness. 

But this just begs the question I've been asking. Is this possible? Could something "look and behave" like a normal human being and not be conscious? As I've said, even simple actions like walking or speaking seem to require an intention (otherwise one would just wander randomly, or speak gibberish). Can one have an intention but lack consciousness?  Of course, this brings us straight back to what we mean by "consciousness". But apart from the brief allusion to the Nagel idea (whose argument to my mind is perfectly useless) Chalmers leaves us completely in the dark about what he means by consciousness. So we are right back to square one.

The proposition that one could describe human behavior leaving out any reference to consciousness, intention, etc has, of course, an inglorious history which starred a certain B F Skinner (of rats-in-the-maze fame). I often suspect that Skinner's ghost still haunts the corridors of analytic philosophy (despite energetic denials) and the zombie idea is exactly the kind of thing that makes me think so.

DA



2010-04-11
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

On page 123 of The Conscious Mind (1996) Chalmers gave us his ‘basic argument’ against materialism.


(1)   In our world, there are conscious experiences.

(2)   There is a logically possible world physically identical to ours, in which the positive facts about consciousness in our world do not hold.

(3)   Therefore, facts about consciousness are further facts about our world, over and above the physical facts.

(4)   So materialism is false.


[The logically possible world he had in mind is, of course, a zombie world.]


Time has passed. That was 14 years ago.  His rich, and beautifully developed, line of thought has been studied by lots of smart and well-informed philosophers, many of whom, no doubt, disagreed with him. How well has his argument withstood the barrage?


For what it ‘s worth, I find premise (2) difficult to believe. I’m not at all sure that zombies are logically possible (i.e. ‘epistemically possible’.)


On the other hand, I find the story about Mary (p.103) quite persuasive. If she escapes from the black and white room, and, for the first time sees some red roses, she gains a kind of knowledge she didn’t have before. She learns something about a feature of the world she didn’t know before.


Somewhere in the book (I forget where) Chalmers moves from Mary to the zombies. I think his suggestion is, if you buy the Mary story you should regard the zombies as logically possible.


Perhaps I should, on the other hand…


As an additional worry, I am inclined to think that Scott Soames is right about Ambitious Two-Dimensionalism [see Reference and Description ch. 9]


To tell the truth, I would like to accept Chalmers’ argument. But (obviously) like Allan, I suffer from scruples.





2010-04-11
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
ZOMBIE INTUITIONISM: APPARENT LOGICAL POSSIBILITY VERSUS APPARENT EXPLANATORY IMPOSSIBILITY

Why not just jettison preoccupations with "conceivability" and (apparent) "logical possibility" and focus instead on the real problem, which seems to be explanatory impossibility. That's an epistemic, not an ontic matter.
For whether zombies are or not possible, we appear to be incapable of explaining (in the usual causal/functional way) how and why they are or are not possible.

And that's the real (explanatory) gap that speculations about Mary or the Contrary cannot fill...

Because, if we are content to let provisional ignorance serve as our criterion for logical possibility, then both the truth and the falsity of the Goldbach conjecture are as logically possible as tachyons, magnetic monopoles or free quarks until one or the other is proved.

(I am expecting a rebuttal from Kripke Schematicians...)

2010-04-11
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
This is very helpful. If you are right, the Mary argument is really doing the work, it would seem.

Here is my own, very tentative objection to the zombie argument.

Suppose for argument's sake that conscious experiences (whatever they are really)  have causal powers that affect our behavior. This is pretty plausible on its face. The way icecream tastes makes me smile. The way pain feels makes the scream.

Then if conscious experiences stopped happening, we should behave very differently, because a good deal of causation would be subtracted from the universe. So the physical universe would be very different, as our bodies would be doing different things.

The  second premise in your rendition  of the Zombie argument, that there is a possible world physically just like ours but without conscious experiences, therefore seems to depend on the implicit assumption that conscious experiencess (qua conscious experiences) are epiphenomal. Otherwise the second premise is quite implausible on its face. Of course materialists would generally reject the assumption that. concious experiences are epiphenomenal. As conscious experiences are entirely physical events, according to most materialists, they are as causally kosher as any other physical events.. Obviously the implicit assumption needs to be defended, as it seems false on its face..

But how can one defend the assumption that conscious experiences are epiphenomenal without first showing that conscious experiences aren’t physical (or material)? But that was what the zombie argument was itself supposed to show. So the zombie argument is idle.It makes it to the starting line only if we already have shown that materialism is false.

2010-04-11
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone
JS: "Suppose for argument's sake that conscious experiences (whatever they are really)  have causal powers that affect our behavior"
That's giving away the store ("telekinesis"), and that cure is worse than the disease (the explanatory gap).

Causally inexplicable (an epistemic matter) is not the same as "epiphenomenal" (an ontic matter).

Better to call ignorance by its proper name: One just can't explain it (causally) in the otherwise universal way...

2010-04-11
Describing zombies
Reply to Stevan Harnad
No, the supposition that conscious experiences have causal powers is entirely consistent with physicalism.
It doesn't involve telekinesis or an explanatory gap. It's agnostic about all that.

The point is that one must deny the assumption for the second premiss not to be obviously false.
Of course if the second premiss is false, we have no argument HERE anyhow against
physicalism.

So for the second premiss to have a hope we must first show that the supposition is false.
But one can do that only by arguing that conscious experiences aren't physical. But that's what
the Zombie Argument was supposed to do. So it's idle.

Your objection that the supposition involves 'telekinesis' supposes that we ALREADY
have a reason to accept that materialism is false. But we don't yet have one.
The Zombie Argument is supposed to provide it.

To object that the supposition involves telekinesis is to beg the question against physicalism.










2010-04-12
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Hi Hugh

This argument is different from the zombie proposition but I can see exactly the same kind of objections looming.

Leaving aside the questionable idea of "our world" which I have discussed on another thread, what are the "positive facts of consciousness" which "do not hold" in the putative other world?

Given that analytic philosophy prides itself on its rigour, I assume Chalmers provides a rigorous answer to this question? And we are, after all, talking about what he calls "positive facts". (Though I'm not sure how they would differ from facts tout court.)

DA

2010-04-12
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone

"PHYSICALISM" IS TRUE BUT EXPLANATORILY VACUOUS

JS: "[T]he supposition that conscious experiences have causal powers is entirely consistent with physicalism."

Physicalism is the metaphysical assumption that everything is physical, somehow.

Surely that's right.

The problem is explaining (causally), how, in the special case of feeling. 

Metaphysical assumptions don't explain how, they just assume: that it's somehow.

JS: "It doesn't involve telekinesis or an explanatory gap. It's agnostic about all that."

There are only two ways to explain how and why some physical functions are felt. One is to assume that feelings have independent causal power (a fifth physical force: telekinesis).

That assumption, if true, would have provided a perfectly nonproblematic explanation of the causal status of feeling, and there would have been no mind/body problem or explanatory gap.

But all evidence suggests that that assumption is false.

The other way to explain how and why some physical functions are felt is to explain how and why the conventional four physical forces somehow conspire to generate feelings, sometimes. (We've assumed they do so, somehow, above: we're physicalists.)

And the problem (and the locus of the explanatory gap) is that whatever causal role we try to assign to feelings, it always turns out (insofar as the explanatory power of our candidate explanation is concerned) that the felt physical functions look for all the world as if they are perfectly capable of accomplishing the very same function without feeling a thing. 

This does not show that feelings are not physical (we're physicalists, remember); it just shows they are not explained. (I think it also shows they are not explainable.)

For example, it seems perfectly natural for a realist to note that since feelings are almost certainly restricted to a very small fragment of the universe (perhaps just our earth's biosphere, in fact), that their function, their causal role, must have something to do with adaptive function, much the way the causal role of wings, legs or language does.

But no one has even a clue of a clue as to what adaptive thing it is that we can do in virtue of feeling that could not be perfectly well accomplished without feeling. (This is not to say that we couldn't have been zombies: it is simple to say, again, that we have not yet given even a hint of how and why not.)

Hence, yes, the only two options are telekinesis or causal explanation, and both fail.

JS: "The point is that one must deny the [causal power] assumption for the second premiss [zombies] not to be obviously false."

Physicalism is true. All I'm pointing out is that we cannot explain how and why it's true. (I also don't believe that feelings have independent causal power until and unless someone explains -- non-telekinetically -- what can be caused by a felt cause that cannot be caused by an unfelt cause -- and how/why.)

I also find no more content in the premise that there could be creatures physically identical to us that did not feel than in the premise that there could be creatures physically identical to birds that could not fly. The difference is that I know how and why birds fly, but no one has any idea how and why we feel.

So my own interest is not in that insubstantial metaphysical speculation but in something similar: What would be the difference between us and creatures that were almost identical to us that did not feel? Being a "physicalist," I assume (rightly) that there would have to be some physical difference. The explanatory gap is that of specifying what that physical difference would be, and how and why it engenders feeling. (Just a bald catalogue of the physical/felt correlations is uncontested, but also unexplanatory.)

JS: "Of course if the second premiss is false, we have no argument HERE anyhow against physicalism."

But since I am a physicalist, knowing that the zombie possibility (the 2nd premise) is false leaves me just as bankrupt as before: If there cannot be zombies, why not (functionally/causally speaking")?

JS: "So it's idle."

What I find idle is undecidable ontological speculations when what is staring us in the face is an explanatory gap (and the virtual certainty that physicalism is true, somehow).

JS: "Your objection that the supposition involves 'telekinesis' supposes that we ALREADY have a reason to accept that materialism is false. But we don't yet have one. The Zombie Argument is supposed to provide it."

Nope. My objection is that whether or not there can be zombies, the only ay to explain how and why we are not zombies, or even how and why there can or cannot be zombies, is either to invoke telekinesis (which is false) or to give an alternative physical account of the causal status of feeling (which no one has done -- and I think is impossible).

JS: "To object that the supposition involves telekinesis is to beg the question against physicalism." 

To assume that simply taking a tenable ontic stand on physicalism settles anything at all is to beg the real question, which is about explanation, not assumption.

Stevan Harnad


2010-04-12
Describing zombies
Reply to Stevan Harnad
Sorry, don't understand what you are saying. I'm quite unsure of my objection to the ZA, but so far I see
no indication that you've grasped what it is. You've published in good places.
I'm surprised we keep going by one another so drastically. Time to go. All the best

2010-04-12
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone
TWIN-WORLDS: GENERIC VERSUS SPECIFIC IDENTITY
JS: "I'm quite unsure of my objection to the ZA, but so far I see no indication that you've grasped what it is."
I think I did grasp your objection: If feelings are causal, they have differential physical effects. If they have differential physical effects then they distinguish us from zombies, who are supposed to be physically identical to us. Hence there could not be zombies that were physically identical to us.

I did not do a critique of your objection because I think the substance of the mind/body problem is in the problem of explaining why and how we feel, not in exercises in speculative metaphysics; but if you insist, I can play the game too:

(1) Zombies are a generic conjecture, not a conjecture about two particular identical twins, one of them feeling and the other not.

(2) Even identical twins would not behave identically every instant of their lives -- and they'd certainly be spatiotemporally (hence also "numerically") non-identical.

(3) So as a generic conjecture, feeling people and zombies, even if physically identical generically, in the sense of having the same kinds and configuration of molecules and the same generic behavior and behavioral capacities, would necessarily differ in their actual constitutions and behavior, just as two feeling people, even identical twins, would.

(4) So the fact (if it's a fact) that my feelings have causal power (if they do, rather than just seem to) would indeed give me causal powers in the world that differed from those of my zombie Doppelganger.

(5) Differences in causal power are indeed physical, in the sense that they have different physical effects.

(6) But the particular physical differences between my and my zombie Doppelganger also have different physical effects.

(7) So if the specific physical differences between me and my (feeling) twin do not invalidate the condition that identical twins are physically identical generically, then the specific physical differences between me and my zombie Doppelganger do not invalidate the hypothesis that people and zombies are physically identical generically.

(8) If, instead of speaking of the physical equivalence of generic kinds of creatures, we insist on the physical identity of entire twin "worlds" (as individuals), then we are of course multiplying the problem of physical identity with another rather hoary metaphysical problem.

(9) And I'd say that then the rules have become so nebulous that we can safely count "feeling" as "physical" or "nonphysical" as we jolly well please under these conditions, drawing the corresponding (arbitrary) "conclusions" about "physicalism."

(This is why I find facing up to the apparent causal inexplicability of how and why we particular creatures feel, here and now, to be a much more sober and substantive exercise than doing virtual cosmology...)


Stevan Harnad







2010-04-12
Describing zombies
Reply to Stevan Harnad
Nope, not my objection. I give up. Have fun you'all. Jim

2010-04-12
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone
ACHILLES AND THE TORTOISE: NOT THERE YET...
JS: "Nope, not my objection. I give up."
Never understood why authors of 2-liners prefer to declare them misunderstood rather than reframing them them to sort things out. 

(Good job mathematicians are not like that! After all, we're not talking about the proof of Fermat's Last here; just a simple argument.) 

Stalemate, after all (a frequent outcome), has only been reached when both sides have been reduced to just repeating themselves, not when one side declares itself misconstrued...


Stevan Harnad




2010-04-12
Describing zombies
Reply to Stevan Harnad
I stated my objection to ZA twice, the second time in response to your criticism of it.  I really have no further resources to clarify the objection's strategy.
I think we need to talk face to face. Perhaps one day we'll have an opportunity. Apologies for the tone of my previous post.
I needed coffee.
All the best

2010-04-12
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone
VERBA VOLANT, SCRIPTA MANENT
JS: "I think we need to talk face to face."
Pity; I infinitely prefer "skywriting" (and I think it's also far more effective):

-- Harnad, S. (1987) Skywriting (unpublished) 

-- Harnad, S. (1990) Scholarly Skywriting and the Prepublication Continuum of Scientific Inquiry. Psychological Science 1: 342 - 343 

-- Harnad, S. (1991) Post-Gutenberg Galaxy: The Fourth Revolution in the Means of Production of Knowledge. Public-Access Computer Systems Review 2 (1): 39 - 53 

-- Harnad, S. (1995) Interactive Cognition: Exploring the Potential of Electronic Quote/Commenting. In: B. Gorayska&J.L. Mey (Eds.) Cognitive Technology: In Search of a Humane Interface. Elsevier. Pp. 397-414. 

-- Harnad, S. (1999) The Future of Scholarly Skywriting. In: Scammell, A. (Ed.) i in the Sky: Visions of the information future Aslib, November 1999  

-- Harnad, S. (2003)  Back to the Oral Tradition Through Skywriting at the Speed of Thought. Interdisciplines.     

-- Poynder, R.&Harnad S. (2007) From Glottogenesis to the Category Commons. The Basement Interviews.

-- Dror, I. and Harnad, S. (2009) Offloading Cognition onto Cognitive Technology. In Dror, I. and Harnad, S. (Eds) (2009): Cognition Distributed: How Cognitive Technology Extends Our Minds. Amsterdam: John Benjamins
JS: "Apologies"
No offence given, or taken.

Stevan Harnad




2010-04-12
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Mary and the Zombies


We can combine the Mary story and the alleged logical possibility of zombies.


Suppose ‘Mary Z’ is a zombie duplicate of Mary. She has been confined in the ‘black, white, and gray’ room. Consequently she does not know what it is like to see something red. Then, one day, she is released. She sees some red roses. Now she knows something she didn’t know before. But what?

Can she now know ‘what it is like to see red’?


I assume that an (alleged) zombie can see (or, if you prefer ‘see’) things. Zombies need not be blind.


But then, in addition, I suppose, at least some of them can ‘call up’ (recall) visual images, and inner  ‘sounds’, and, perhaps tastes (e.g. the taste of peanut butter). Mary Z may be very good at these things. Suppose she can ‘hear’ music in her minds ‘ear’, see ‘pictures’ in her minds ‘eye’, and so on. Can’t she have a rich and interesting ‘inner’ life?


If her brain is exactly like the brain of a person who has these abilities, and employs them, then how can she not have such a life?


“Never the less, by hypothesis, she doesn’t know what it is like to see red, hear a violin, smell or taste peanut butter. There is nothing it is like to be her."



Nothing that is it like to be her? What it that supposed to mean? She can now invoke an inner picture of red roses, can’t she? She can induce the necessary brain states. This is something she couldn’t do before.


“Yes, but she can’t ‘SEE’ red in her minds eye, so to speak.”


But you admit that she CAN see real red roses. Why do you insist that she can’t visualize them?


The alleged difference between Mary Z and the standard Mary seems to melt away when we try to imagine it in detail.




2010-04-12
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Here is Chalmers on the relationship between the zombie argument and the Mary argument.

 

“We have seen that the modal argument (the argument from logical possibility) and the knowledge argument are two sides of the same coin. I think that in principle each succeeds on its own, but in practice they work best in tandem. Taking the knowledge argument alone: most materialists find it hard to deny that Mary gains knowledge about the world, but often deny the step from there to the failure of materialism. Taking the modal argument alone: most materialists find it hard to deny the argument from the conceivability of zombies or inverted spectra to the failure of materialism, but often deny the premise. But taking the two together, the modal argument buttresses the knowledge argument where help is needed, and visa versa. In perhaps the most powerful combination of the two arguments, we can use the knowledge argument to compellingly establish the failure of logical supervenience, and the modal argument to compellingly make the step from that failure to the falsity of materialism.” (The Conscious Mind, pp. 145-6)


2010-04-12
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Well, take plain old Mary. She knows, in her black and white room, all the physical facts about human color perception. E.G. when we humans see red our brain is in
state X. Now she sees what we tell her is a patch of brilliant red. She knows, for the first time in her life, that her brain is in state X.  That's because her brain is in X FOR the
first time. But she also learns
something more, what it's like for us humans to see red. She learns it by tokening the phenomenal property that us humans token when we see red,  and being introspectively acquainted with it.
This is, after all, a different fact. A blind person first seeing red, who knew nothing about neurology, would
learn the second fact but not the first.

By hypothesis, whatever it is that Mary Zombie learns when she sees the patch of brilliant red, it isn't the second fact.
That's what it is to be a zombie.



2010-04-12
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

When we hypothesize that there is a zombie we are hypothesizing that feelings are not causal. In respect of the causality of feelings the zombie hypothesis is therefore idle. This is the reason why I suggested that that it's only practical use is as a reductio argument against the non-causality of feelings. (If zombies are absurd then feelings are causal, if they are not then feelings may or may not be causal).  

Derek's objection is, I think, that there is nothing to be learnt from the hypothesis. This is really the same objection. There is nothing to be learnt from the hypothesis unless it serves as the basis for a reductio argument, as that implausibly athletic turtle once did for Zeno.   

None of this would have any bearing on whether or not zombies are possible. 



  
  

   

2010-04-12
Describing zombies

'When we hypothesize that there is a zombie we are hypothesizing that feelings are not causal.'

Very helpful. Now we continue. If conscious experiences are physical, as the materialist/physicalist maintains, they ARE causal (as the materialist/physicalist also maintains).
Therefore hypothesizing that there is a zombie is hypothesizing that physicalism is false. But then the hypothesis begs the question against materialism.
In short, the Zombie Argument assumes that materialism is false as part of an argument against materialism.




2010-04-12
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone

Surely Mary Z learns ‘something more’ when she sees red for the first time? She now knows what it is like to have ones brain in state X – i.e. what it is like to see red.

 

Do you deny this? You say that a human would ‘token the phenomenal property.’ I take this to be a fancy  (and more general) way of saying she sees red. But Mary Z sees red too, or do you want to deny this? What makes you think Mary Z doesn’t ‘token’ red? What makes you think she doesn’t become ‘introspectively acquainted’ with red? Note that after seeing the red roses she is quite capable of calling up a mental image of red roses.

 

OK. You will say that, by hypothesis, she doesn’t become ‘introspectively’ acquainted with red. But then, shouldn’t you also deny that she can call up an image of something red? Perhaps you should also deny that she can really SEE red.


2010-04-13
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Okay, back to the beginning. Here’s a rendition of the knowledge argument from Bill Lycan.

    Mary is the world's leading researcher on human colour perception, but she has never left her monochromatic room (with black and white TV monitors, etc.).

1. Mary, before she is released from the room, knows all the physical information there is about human color vision.

2. When Mary is released from her room, obviously she will learn something about human color vision--what it is like for human beings to see red, and so on.

1 and 2 entail

3. Her previous knowledge about human color vision was incomplete.

1 and 3 entail

4. There is information about human color vision that is not physical information: Physicalism is false.    

So she learns an extra-physical fact. As Jackson points out, this isn’t a fact she could have inferred from the physical information she had. And she may say things like ‘I never expected red to look like this!’ And ‘Now I understand why people say the way red looks is like the sound of trumpets.’

If we get this far (and of course there are criticisms but let’s set them aside for now), it appears that the particular way red looks to us is an extra-physical fact that isn’t logically necessitated by the physical facts. Supposing we are in brain state X when we have the experience of seeing red, there is a possible world where we are in brain state X and have a different experience (e.g. the inverted spectrum) or no experience. The fact that we have the experience we do when we are in brain state X is a brute, contingent physical fact about our world, one that might not have obtained. The name of this position is Property Dualism.

I’m not necessarily endorsing this, but as we both know, this is how the argument goes. Suppose for argument's sake that this argument is sound.

Then the zombie is in brain state X and has no experience.
Now I’m not necessarily endorsing this either, but that’s what zombies are supposed to be, by definition. Let’s accept this too.

Does it follow that the zombie doesn’t see red? I don’t think so.
Red is, let’s say, a particular range of wavelengths of light.
Lots of physical systems may see red all right and have very different experiences from ours. Again the inverted spectrum.
So what it’s like for Martians to see red may be very different from what it’s like for us to see red. But we all of us see red, although we see it in a very different way.

Indeed, there may be systems that register that range of wavelengths simply as information, cameras or light detectors or whatever. And for them I think it’s plausible that there’s nothing it’s like to see red. But I’m not adverse to allowing that they see red if people want to talk that way. For the camera or the light detector or whatever to be in the physical state that registers that wavelength of light is for it to see red, even though no conscious experience is involved. Of course there could be such an experience, perhaps such systems WOULD or DO have conscious experiences, but even if they didn’t I wouldn’t object vigorously to saying they see red.

You write: ‘Surely Mary Z learns ‘something more’ when she sees red for the first time? She now knows what it is like to have ones brain in state X – i.e. what it is like to see red.’

The Knowledge Argument (unless we find a fallacy in it) appears to show that it’s possible to be in brain state X and have no color experience. By hypothesis a zombie realizes that possibility. As there’s nothing it is like for her to see red, she doesn’t find out what it is like to see red. She certainly doesn’t know what it’s like for you and me to see red. (Of course, we’re off in another world.)

You write: ‘Do you deny this? You say that a human would ‘token the phenomenal property.’ I take this to be a fancy  (and more general) way of saying she sees red. But Mary Z sees red too, or do you want to deny this? What makes you think Mary Z doesn’t ‘token’ red? What makes you think she doesn’t become ‘introspectively acquainted’ with red? Note that after seeing the red roses she is quite capable of calling up a mental image of red roses.’

Ordinary Mary learns what it’s like for human beings to register that wavelength of light. As it’s possible to see red and have an entirely different experience and even no experience, this is saying a good deal more about her than that she sees red.
The Martian sees red and so does Mary Z, but they don’t have the particular experience humans do when we see red. Perhaps they token red in some sense, but what it is for them to token red is very different. The Martian has a color experience we would call blue, Mary Zombie has no experience but tokens an entirely informational state. I’m willing to allow that both the Martian and Mary Zombie can call up some sort of informational construct of roses radiating a certain wavelength of light. The Martian represents that state of affairs by way of different experiences from the ones we have, and Mary represents it without having any color experiences, as a camera or a computer might.

You write: ‘OK. You will say that, by hypothesis, she doesn’t become ‘introspectively’ acquainted with red. But then, shouldn’t you also deny that she can call up an image of something red? Perhaps you should also deny that she can really SEE red.’

I’m willing to allow that Mary Z and the Martian see red. I don’t think I should pack into seeing red that the system that registers that wavelength of light must have human color sensations or even any color sensations. As mentioned, I’m willing to allow that Mary Zombie can call up an image of something red. It’s an informational state that represents a certain wavelength of light. And she may be able to monitor that state in some way. But the point is that this doesn’t require that she has any color experiences.

In sum, if the knowledge argument works (and so far we haven’t really criticized it), it seems metaphysically possible that there are physical systems in brain state X, which in humans realizes color experiences, without having color experiences. By hypothesis Mary Zombie realizes that possibility.    She can see red things, I would say, and call up images of red things, without having color experiences.

2010-04-13
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Hi Hugh

All this seems to have gone around several laps since my last post. I would prefer to take things step by step and in particular get back to the "‘basic argument’ against materialism" you outlined, and the question I asked, i.e. "what are the "positive facts of consciousness" which "do not hold" in the putative other world?"

To my mind this question is crucial.  

DA

2010-04-13
Describing zombies
Hi Peter

You write: "Derek's objection is, I think, that there is nothing to be learnt from the hypothesis."

No. My objection is that the "hypothesis" is incoherent.

DA

2010-04-13
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Yes, sorry about that. Useless nonetheless.  

2010-04-13
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone

I am offering the Mary Z case as a possible inducement to regard the Chalmers ‘Zombie’ idea as incoherent. The suggestion is that such Zombies are logically (i.e. epistemically) impossible – like round squares, and male vixens. The devil is in the details.

 

As I understand it, we all agree that Mary Z can see. Presumably some zombies are blind; but she isn’t.  In addition, she sometimes falls asleep, or faints, and in such cases is not conscious; but, at other times, she IS ‘conscious’ at least in some ordinary senses of the term.

 

I claim that when Mary Z first sees red she learns something she didn’t know before. It seems natural to say that what she learns is what it is like to see red – I suppose one might insist that she learns what it is like for a ZOMBIE to see red.

 

“But she doesn’t have any color experiences!” Isn’t ‘seeing red’ a ‘color experience?’ Isn’t "’seeing red in her mind’s eye’ (so to speak) a ‘color experience?  It looks as though you ought to deny that she can see red.

 

OK Lets try this. Chalmers ‘zombies’ do not really see things, hear things, smell things, etc. They just deal with data (even though, physically, they are exactly like us. There are no neurological differences here.) Do we really want to buy this?


2010-04-13
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Well, you quote Dave C above as saying 'we can use the knowledge argument to compellingly establish the failure of logical supervenience,' Suppose he is right.
Then it's possible that something be physically identically similar to Mary Ordinary when she at last sees a ripe tomato, without having any experiences.
Either that argument works or it doesn't. If it does, then Mary Z is that somebody. That is, she realizes that very possibility. It follows that she doesn't learn
what experiencing red is like when she looks at a ripe tomato,, since she has no such experience. . It seems to me that IF the knowledge argument
is sound, we can pretty easily go this far.

The question remains, how do we describe Mary Z and what she DOES do? Here I think we have decisions to make. We might say that she is never conscious, that when
she wakes from sleep she doesn't become conscious of her surroundings. This requires insisting that a physical system must have experiences to
be conscious. I prefer to talk as though experiences aren't required for 'consciousness of,' so I would prefer to say that Mary Z does become conscious of her surroundings.
So I would say that any system that is causally responsive in some detail to its surroundings is 'conscious.' If we have a radar alarm system that
detects intruders, and we switch it on and it starts beeping,  I'm willing to say it now is AWARE of intruders. But not because I think it's having
experiences. I just figure it's chauvinistic to insist that something must have experiences to be aware of (or conscious of) its surroundings.  I'm not into packing a lot of human
psychology into such terms.

So I would say that Dave's zombies see things, hear things,
smell things, are conscious of things. They just go about it without having experiences, I don't think my inclination to say this provides any reason
to think Dave's zombies are impossible. Of course, there may be other reasons to think they are impossible.

I really think the Knowledge Argument is doing a lot of work here. Best, Jim

2010-04-14
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
The Mary argument doesn't interest me. Sounds tedious. I want to consider the original Chalmers argument that Hugh outlined.

It is

1)   In our world, there are conscious experiences.

(2)   There is a logically possible world physically identical to ours, in which the positive facts about consciousness in our world do not hold.

(3)  Therefore, facts about consciousness are further facts about our world, over and above the physical facts.

(4)   So materialism is false.


So we suppose another world in which "the positive facts about consciousness in our world do not hold".

What could these "positive facts" be?*  There seem to be only two alternatives. Either there is a non-materialist consciousness (I am adapting Chalmers' terminology), or there is nothing but "materialism" (ie consciousness is not "over and above the physical facts".)

If we choose the first alternative, then the third and fourth line are redundant because we have already assumed what they argue. In other words the conclusion is assumed from the outset.

If we choose the second alternative, that choice is contradicted by the third line and the conclusion, and the argument is incoherent.

In either case the argument is a nonsense. 

(It's the same essential problem as the zombie definition: using the notion of consciousness in an argument without giving it any substance.) 

DA

* "Positive" facts? How would they differ from facts tout court? I leave that mystery aside.

2010-04-14
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Jim

Is it your view that experience is not necessary for consciousness? I'm having trouble with this idea.

2010-04-14
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Hi Derek:

You wrote: "Can one "experience" anything without consciousness? Can one have a "representation" of anything without consciousness? The answers are not self-evidently yes. So one would be defining something in terms of ideas which already contain - or may very well contain - that something."

The answer to both of your questions is "yes". This answer will only be evident to someone who is acquainted with a competent theoretical model of the cognitive brain. As long as the terms "experience" and "representation" have no biophysical referents we remain stuck in a conceptual tar pit. Non-conscious experiences and representations actually constitute the major part of our cognitive activities (for a detailed explication of these neuronal processes, see The Cognitive Brain, MIT Press 1991).

What makes experiences or representations conscious? My claim is that they become conscious only when these preconscious brain events are projected into the 3D spatio-temporal manifold of the retinoid system, the brain's analog of egocentric space. This constitutes a phenomenal experience of something somewhere from a privileged egocentric perspective --  the hallmark of consciousness (see Space, self, and the theater of consciousness, Consciousness and Cognition, 2007).

AT







2010-04-14
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone
If I may interject, I think I may have correctly understood Jim's criticism of Chalmers' argument.

Jim's first point is that, if the second premise of Chalmers' argument is correct, then consciousness lacks causal efficacy (at least with respect to physical events).  To put it another way, according to Jim, Chalmers' second premise either assumes or entails epiphenomenalism about qualia.

Jim then claims that this is not a premise a materialist would accept.  Jim says that we need an argument to support the second premise, and that any such argument would ipso facto be an argument against materialism.  Therefore, the argument for the second premise, if successful, would negate the need for Chalmers' argument against materialism.  So there is no work for Chalmers' argument to do.

Now, contrary to Jim, I think there are materialists who accept epiphenomenalism about qualia.  I think Stevan Harnad is one, for example.  However, I do not think this is a coherent position (for reasons I have discussed at length with Stevan on this forum).  Still, I am not aware of any a priori arguments that epiphenomenalism is incompatible with materialism.  So it might be possible to form a coherent argument for epiphenomenalism without directly arguing against materialism.  As far as I know, this is an open question.

Still, my sympathies are with Jim here.  Like Jim, I think Chalmers' argument is idle, and like Jim, I think the problem is that any argument for premise two would ipso facto be an argument for Chalmers' conclusion.   However, this is not because epiphenomenalism is incompatible with materialism.  Rather, it is because the second premise entails that facts about conscious experience are not physical facts.  If we accept premise two, we have already rejected materialism.  So there's no need for further argument.

Of course, this is not grounds for rejecting either the second premise or the conclusion of Chalmers' argument against materialism (as stated on p. 123 of The Conscious Mind).  But it is grounds for rejecting that argument.

Hope this helps.

Regards,
Jason
April 12, 2010

2010-04-14
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
I am quite fond of Mary Z.  Thank you for introducing her to the discussion!

But I don't think Mary Z defeats the conceivability argument.  What she does is a bit more interesting.  She shows that the knowledge argument and the conceivability argument are incompatible.

The knowledge argument rests on the intuition that Mary learns something new when she leaves her black-and-white existence.  That "something new" is dubbed "phenomenal knowledge."  Now, if zombies are conceivable, then we can conceive of Mary Z.   Our intuition tells us that Mary Z and Mary O both learn something new when they leave their respective black-and-white rooms.  Presumably, whatever Mary Z learns, Mary O will learn as well.  But then we cannot say that whatever Mary O learns is phenomenal knowledge, since Mary Z cannot gain phenomenal knowledge.  Whatever Mary Z learns, it can supervene on the physical.  We have thus lost the motivation to claim that Mary O learns something which does not supervene on the physical. 

Thus, Mary Z, if conceivable, defeats the knowledge argument.

Regards,
Jason
April 14, 2010

P.S.  By the way, I think the knowledge argument has other serious arguments going against it.  For one, Torin Alter has argued that all it shows is that some knowledge is not discursively learnable.  It does not show that such knowledge is non-physical.  Maybe there are some physical facts which just aren't available to a person living a black-and-white existence.  Also, I think the ability hypothesis is a strong response to both Jackson and Nagel.  If anybody hasn't read it yet, Laurence Nemirow's (2006) defense of the ability hypothesis is both comprehensive and compelling.



2010-04-14
Describing zombies
Reply to Arnold Trehub
Hi Arnold

You say:" Non-conscious experiences and representations actually constitute the major part of our cognitive activities."

And Peter writes, to Jim I think: "Is it your view that experience is not necessary for consciousness? "

As I think I've mentioned in other posts, thinking in these terms seems quite pointless to me. All attempts to juggle terms like conscious, experience, cognitive, feelings, emotions, thoughts, representations etc, or to define any of them in terms of the others, will always beg the question because they all are - or seem to be - overlapping ideas. Claiming that one or more of them is somehow "consciousness free" is nothing more than that - a claim.  Or else it involves using these words in some idiosyncratic way that bears no relation to their normal meanings. (Does it even make sense, for example, to speak of "non-conscious experiences"? If so, what meaning exactly are we giving to the two words: conscious and experience?)

PS I am hoping someone might comment on my rejection of the Chalmers' "materialism is false" argument. If I've made a mistake (and I don't think I have), someone can perhaps tell me where. (Not that I want to claim that materialism is true, but I don't think this argument gets even remotely near where it claims to.)

DA








2010-04-14
Describing zombies

Hi Peter,

Philosophers have done a good deal of work distinguishing different sorts of consciousness, or perhaps better, different phenomena the word is used to denote.

One sort, which we might call ‘transitive consciousness,’ is awareness of surroundings.
Hugh pointed out that Mary zombie, after she wakes up from sleep, will be conscious in some sense or other. That is, she will be much more responsive in a much more fine-grained way to her environment. In a certain sense, to say that she is conscious is to say that she is awake and  responsive. Well that’s transitive consciousness.

Supposing for argument’s sake we agree that Mary Zombie has no experiences, we have some decisions to make as to how to describe her. Obviously this language wasn’t developed with zombies in mind. Can something without experiences have transitive consciousness?

Well, my inclination, for what it’s worth, is that we ought to describe such systems as conscious of their environment, as having transitive consciousness. You and I are conscious of our environment by having experiences of it, but I’m in no way adverse to talking about systems being aware of (conscious or) their environment even though they have no experiences– as long as they are responding to it in a very fine-grained way. As long as we’re clear that we are not necessarily ascribing experiences to a system we say has transitive consciousness, I think it’s a helpful way to talk. That’s my recommendation. This is limited to transitive consciousness.

2010-04-14
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler

Item One

 

A Cowbit is a rabbit that looks and acts exactly like a cow. That is to say physically a Cowbit is exactly like a cow, mentally it is exactly like a cow, and its behavior it is exactly like a cow’s behavior. There is, in fact, no way for us to determine whether or not a given ‘cow’ out there in the pasture is really a cow, or is, in fact, a Cowbit. (Perhaps God knows.)

 

Suppose one of our friends claims that Cowbits are logically possible. Is there some good argument against her claim?

 

Item Two

 

The notion of ‘knowing what it is like to X’, or ‘J’s knowing what X is like’ is not crystal clear. Presumably Mary O comes to ‘know what it is like to see red,’ but Mary Z does not.

 

When we read Orwell’s Down and Out in London and Paris, we learn (to some extent) what is was like to be down and out in London and Paris. He tells us what it was like. That is to say he narrates what happened to him – where he went, how people treated him. (He doesn’t say much, if anything, about his feelings.)

 

In THAT sense, I take it, a zombie could find out ‘what it is like’ to be down and out in, say, Boston and New York.  Mary Z could go to those cities, and ‘live rough’ for a year. Right?  One finds out what it is like to X by Xing – and paying attention to what is happening.

 

Just some odd thoughts for what it they are worth.

 

 


2010-04-14
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Jim - Hope you don't mind some questions. I find it difficult to talk about consciousness without meaning experience, a la Chalmers, but I think I see the point. Am I right to think that your different definition is a linguistic matter rather than a different view of consciousness? 

Would I be right to say that for Buddhists all consciousness has a physical aspect? (Increasingly subtle grades of matter etc)? Is this partly what you are getting at? Or is that a seperate matter?

Is the idea that there are experiences which escape our conscious attention but which we could have chosen to attend to, or trained ourselves to attend to, or are they inescapably unconscious? Iow, is there an area of experience of which we can never be conscious? This is the idea I have trouble with, since to me an experience has to be conscious (at some level) to qualify. But there are subtleties here I haven't explored very deeply.    



2010-04-14
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Derek.

 

(1)    Are you unable to beg, borrow, or steal, a copy of The Conscious Mind? Don’t you have a friend who might lend you his or her copy?

(2)    Chalmers discusses ‘positive facts and properties' on pages: 40-41, 42, 123-24, 134, and 136n18. He discusses negative facts and properties on pp.40-41, 85, and 369n47.  On p. 40, one example of a ‘negative fact’ he gives is that in our world a certain wombat is childless (even though in another logically possible world, that wombat has offspring.)  Presumably ‘not having an offspring’ is a negative property. Having at least one offspring, I take it, is a positive property.

(3)    In regard to premise (2), What is your problem here? Chalmers is just saying that there is a logically possible zombie world. The idea is that one way things could be (one logically possible way everything could be) is one in which everything is physically just as it is in the actual universe, but there are no actual conscious states, activities, or whatever. Right?

(4)    Here, I guess, you depart from the Chalmers argument.  You seem to say: Either consciousness is something non-physical, or it is something physical. This is NOT part of Chalmers’ argument.

(5)   You conclude that either way the argument is nonsense.

Chalmers thinks that if a zombie world is logically possible then it is logically possible that things should be physically exactly as they are in our (actual) world, but be mentally different (i.e. no consciousness stuff.) He concludes from this that a strictly phsicalist account of our world leaves something out – namely (at least some) mental stuff.

It looks as if you loose track of the argument somewhere in premise 2.




2010-04-14
Describing zombies
Hope you don't mind some questions. I find it difficult to talk about consciousness without meaning experience, a la Chalmers, but I think I see the point. Am I right to think that your different definition is a linguistic matter rather than a different view of consciousness?

[Right. It is entirely linguistic matter. If we must find a way to describe zombies, I think the way I suggest is a good and useful one. But maybe there’s another way to talk or a better way. There’s no fact of the matter here. Philosophers have done a lot of work distinguishing kinds of consciousness and I think that when it comes to transitive consciousness, or ‘awareness of,’ it really comes down to responsiveness to environment. That doesn’t require experiences, so my suggestion is that we say that physical systems that respond to environments in a pretty fine-grained way are aware of their environment, whether or not they have experiences. If people don’t wish to talk this way, that’s fine with me. ]

Would I be right to say that for Buddhists all consciousness has a physical aspect? (Increasingly subtle grades of matter etc)? Is this partly what you are getting at? Or is that a seperate matter?

[The Buddha taught that consciousness, by which he meant phenomenal consciousness or experiential consciousness, not transitive consciousness, is nonphysical. So we are psychophysical, he believed. We have lots of physical states but we also have lots of mental states that are irreducible to the physical states, and vice versa.

I’m not getting at any deep idea about consciousness, in any case. I’m just suggesting that if we must talk about zombies, it’s probably useful to say that they are indeed sometimes awake and aware, though they don’t have any experiences.]

Is the idea that there are experiences which escape our conscious attention but which we could have chosen to attend to, or trained ourselves to attend to, or are they inescapably unconscious? Iow, is there an area of experience of which we can never be conscious? This is the idea I have trouble with, since to me an experience has to be conscious (at some level) to qualify. But there are subtleties here I haven't explored very deeply.    

[One form of transitive consciousness is introspective awareness, which is awareness of one’s own inner states (one's INNER environment). . Ned Block calls it ‘monitoring consciousness.’ I figure physical systems without experiences can monitor their own internal states if we design them to do it. I guess computers already do that when they detect viruses or whatever.

Now in my case introspection or monitoring involves experiences, but I don’t believe experiences are essential to monitoring. That’s just how we humans go about it.

The leading account of monitoring consciousness in humans is that we have higher order states (HOSs)  that target lower order states. So I am introspectively aware of the pain in my toe or the tickle on my nose by having an additional mental state that targets the pain or the tickle as its object. Locke argued this way, maintaining that introspection is an ‘inner sense.’ It’s a sort of inner perception.

Now pains, tastes, color sensations, smells have distinctive qualitative features that we become acquainted with through introspection. These properties are called Qualia. They are the distinctive phenomenal aspects of experience and generally the only way to find out what they are is by introspecting them. What the Empiricists said, in fact.

Now some philosophers argue that experiences have no phenomenal aspect unless they are introspected or monitored. William Lycan argues this, for instance. But most philosophers of mind think that the phenomenal aspects of experience do not depend on being noticed.

So when we say that an experience is unconscious, we mean that we aren’t aware of it.
But it is widely thought that it can still be conscious in the sense that it involves a qualitative aspect, a quale, that we aren’t aware of. So my unconscious anger toward my father (lust for my mother, you know) arguably has a qualitative aspect, but that doesn’t depend on my noticing it or introspecting it. If so my unconscious anger is unconscious in one way and conscious in another.

So, arguably we have unconscious experiences in one sense, namely, we’re not aware of them, that are conscious in another sense, namely, they have the typical phenomenal character or quale of that sort of experience. As to whether there are experiences of which we can never be aware, I do think that’s a matter for psychology. I expect that if my ability to have higher order states was damaged, perhaps by neurological damage, and nothing else was damaged, that would be my condition. I would have my routine sensory experiences, with their routine qualitative features, but I wouldn’t be able to introspect them. Also it may be that some lower animals have phenomenal consciousness all right, but lack the ability to monitor those experiences.

Probably sensory experiences can work pretty well at guiding behavior in animals that aren’t introspectively aware of them.

Hope this helps.]

2010-04-15
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler

Hi Hugh

Thanks for your reply.

"Negative" facts. So would the fact that Germany didn't win World War II be a negative fact? Surely it's just a fact isn't it? But if there's a distinction, why does Chalmers want us only to talk about the "positive facts" of consciousness? We would want to talk about them all, wouldn't we?

Premise 2. You say: "Chalmers is just saying that there is a logically possible zombie world." 

He doesn't say this actually, and bringing in the dubious zombie idea would only confuse the issue, I think.  

You then say that this other world "is one in which everything is physically just as it is in the actual universe, but there are no actual conscious states, activities, or whatever. Right?"

Yes, I think this is what he is saying. But this is precisely the problem. What could he mean by "conscious states, activities, or whatever"? Is he assuming that they are non-physical? He can't - can he - because that is his conclusion (q.v).

You also say "You seem to say: Either consciousness is something non-physical, or it is something physical. This is NOT part of Chalmers' argument."  But it must be. What other alternatives are there? He mentions no others and his whole argument revolves around these two alternatives. But if you think there is another - say alternative X - I would be happy to reframe my criticism on that basis because his argument won't work that way either.

I think I have covered the point in your last paragraph Here again it is matter of the conclusion being assumed in the argument.

Re reading the book: I have read a little of Chalmers' stuff. I don't find it any more convincing than the points we have been discussing. I am only on these "consciousness" threads because I happen to think the issue is very important - even if the analytic philosophy approach is seriously deficient (in fact because it is so deficient) .

 DA



2010-04-15
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Jim - thanks. I see the idea. I'd forgotten DC's conscious thermostat.  

2010-04-15
Describing zombies
You betcha. I wrote above:

‘Probably sensory experiences can work pretty well at guiding behavior in animals that aren’t introspectively aware of them.’

Ned Block calls this ‘Access Consciousness.’ The informational content of the experience is poised to spread throughout the cognitive/practical system of the critter, to inform beliefs,
decisions, etc.  He calls this ‘content promiscuity.’

So, loosely following Ned Block, we have

Transitive Consciousness–awareness of environment, both outer and inner–the latter
is called by Block ‘monitoring consciouseness.’

Access Consciousness.

Phenomenal Consciousness–this is what is essentially involved in experience and it’s what zombies are supposed to lack. They have no experiences. But it seems to me that zombies
might have the other sorts of ‘consciousness.’

Here’s a bit on Access Consciousness and Phenomenal Consciousness from an article on Block by New Zealand philosopher, Brent Silby.
I personally find this stuff really helpful.
    
‘In his paper "On A Confusion about a Function of Consciousness", Ned Block claims that the concept of consciousness is best described as a mongrel concept.

For Block, the word "consciousness" refers to many different concepts and phenomena that have been bundled together under the one concept. Block suggests that we run into problems when we analyse certain aspects of consciousness using premises that cannot be applied to other aspects of consciousness. In an effort to clear up the confusion associated with reasoning about consciousness, Block breaks consciousness down into several different concepts. ....

............

‘Ned Block draws a distinction between two different types of consciousness - phenomenal and access. This distinction arises from the thought that the phenomenal properties of consciousness are of a different character to the cognitive, intentional or functional properties of consciousness. For Block, the phenomenal properties of consciousness are experiential properties. These properties are categorized as being properties of phenomenal consciousness (P-conscious properties). P-conscious states include the experiential states we have when we see, hear and have pains.

On the other side of the coin, we have what Block refers to as access consciousness (A-consciousness). This non-phenomenal category of consciousness encapsulates the tasks involved in cognition, representation and the control of behavior. A state is A-conscious if it is poised to be used for the direct rational control of thought and action. The important point to note here is that for a state to be A-conscious, it is not enough for that state to be available for use. It must be poised and ready to go.  ....

Block believes that A-Consciousness and P-Consciousness usually occur together but in some cases they may not.

In order to help us acquire a full understanding of the difference between P-consciousness and A-consciousness, Block provides some examples of A-consciousness without P-consciousness and of P-consciousness without A-consciousness. These examples are intended to clear up any confusion we may have between these two distinct categories of consciousness.

 'A' without 'P' and 'P' without 'A'

Blindsight is a well documented phenomenon that occurs in people who have suffered damage to certain areas of their visual cortex. These people have a blind region in their visual field, and though they are aware of their blind spot, they cannot see anything that is presented to them in that area of space. The important feature of blindsight is that although subjects are unaware of stimuli in their blind spots, they have an uncanny ability to `guess' as to the location, motion and direction of such stimuli. In these cases their appears to be some visual awareness without the phenomenal properties that normally occur with visual awareness. For Blokc, cases of blindsight point to instances of absent P-consciousness. Block cannot say, however, that these people have A-consciousness of the stimuli in their blind region, because the content of the blind region is not available for the rational control of action. Blindsight patients must be prompted by an experimenter before they will `take a guess'. It is unlikely that a hungry blindsight patient would spontaneously reach for a chocolate in his blind region. But, says Block, imagine a super-blindsighter who had acquired the ability to guess when to guess about the content of her blind field. Even though she doesn't see the objects in her blind field, she can spontaneously offer verbal reports about those objects. Information about her blind field just spring into her thoughts. A super-blindsighter would be A-conscious but not P-conscious. Whether there are any super-blindsighters is an empirical question that has not been answered yet, but this does not affect Block's point. It is enough for Block that they are conceptually possible. To emphasize this conceptual possibility, Block points to evidence that the human visual system is divided into two separate subsystems - the ventral and dorsal subsystems. In blindsight there seems to be damage to the ventral system, which Block claims is closely connected to P-Consciousness.’

http://www.def-logic.com/articles/silby011.html

2010-04-15
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

"(1) In our world, there are conscious experiences.

(2) There is a logically possible world physically identical to ours, in which the positive facts about consciousness in our world do not hold.

(3) Therefore, facts about consciousness are further facts about our world, over and above the physical facts.

(4) So materialism is false."

 

This is a direct word for word quote from “The Conscious Mind” page 123.

 

I take it that you understand premise (1), and hold that it is true. Presumably some of us have

 had conscious experiences. No problem there.

 

In regard to premise (2).  My guess is that Chalmers is thinking of propositions beginning with a ‘not.’ Claims like “It is not the case that rabbits chew their cud,”  and “It is not the case that there are cowbits.” That is to say, roughly speaking, propositions that aren’t negative in this way form ‘positive’ claims.

Chalmers argument in defense of (2) is the stuff about a logically possible world that is physically exactly like ours in every way, but ‘mentally’ different. The ‘people’ there are zombies. He claims that it is logically possible for there to be zombies.  We cannot know, a priori, that things could not have been that way. The crucial point is that, if things were like that, it would for instance be the case that “There is no such thing as reveling in the sound of the violin”, “There is no such thing as being struck by the redness of the roses.” Etc. would be TRUE. In the real world it is just plain true that we CAN, sometimes revel in the sound of a violin, drink in the color of the roses, etc. etc. But if things had been different in the way under discussion, - if the world had been a zombie world - there would have been no such happenings.

 

Item (3) is a conclusion drawn from premise (1) and (2). Not a premise.  The conclusion here is that facts about things like reveling in the music, or drinking in the color – facts about our experience, must be facts about something ‘over and above’ the strictly physical realm. The real world must have an aspect, a realm,  above and beyond the stuff explored by physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology etc.

 

Item (4) concludes from (3) that it is a mistake to think that a final and complete physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, etc. would give us a complete account of the real world – that that’s the whole story – that that’s all there is.

 

 

 


2010-04-15
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Jim - Suppose we have a blindspot. If we behave in a way that suggests to a researcher (or to ourselves) that we can sense what is in our blindspot, then it must be because we've experienced a feeling or intuition as to what is there. Otherwise our answer would a wild guess and would show up as such. We may not know how we are doing it, but if we can do better than blind chance then we are experiencing a sense of what is there and this is guiding our answers.  We may not know whether this feeling or intuition originates in a message from the physical senses, it may not, but we would have to be aware of it, experience it, before we could use it to guide. Without such an experience we would be sticking a pin in a dictionary. Even if we are wholly unaware of any sensory experience relevant to the answer we are perfectly aware of being unaware of any. So at the moment I don't see the blindspot argument as evidence for unaware experiences, just for experiences of which we're not normally aware because we don't normally have a researcher asking us to focus our attention on them. But I suppose there's a counter-argument, as always. 
   



 

  



 

2010-04-15
Describing zombies
Suppose we have a blindspot. If we behave in a way that suggests to a researcher (or to ourselves) that we can sense what is in our blindspot, then it must be because we've experienced a feeling or intuition as to what is there. Otherwise our answer would a wild guess and would show up as such. We may not know how we are doing it, but if we can do better than blind chance then we are experiencing a sense of what is there and this is guiding our answers.  

[I’m barely up to speed on the blind sight phenomenon. These folks are doing a good deal better than average though a good deal less well than normal people. They are entirely unaware that they are doing anything more than guessing and I think they don’t know that they are right more than wrong. So the phenomenology of the thing is wild, futile guessing which in fact, unbeknownst to the people, is right maybe 7/10 times. I don’t think they report any feeling or intuition as to what is there, they report wild, futile guessing, and to the extent that we are going to be empirical, I reckon that counts for the claim that they’re not experiencing any feeling or intuition as to what is there. I think that’s an accurate account of what’s going on, anyhow.

The point then is that the visual system is informing guesses that feel entirely like wild, futile guesses, so that the guesses are more often right than wrong even though the people experience no feeling or intuition or hunch. We can insist nonetheless that they must be experiencing a feeling, but I don’t see that as borne out by evidence and I don’t see why the visual system cannot inform the guesses without any experience of its doing so.]

We may not know whether this feeling or intuition originates in a message from the physical senses, it may not, but we would have to be aware of it, experience it, before we could use it to guide.

[Well, nobody is Using the physical senses as a guide. This isn’t something people do. Rather the visual system guides the guesses without anybody using it that way. Generally physical senses guide behavior in animals without the animals doing anything or using the physical senses in that way. That’s simply how animals work, not something they do. Block calls this
Access Consciousness. ]

So at the moment I don't see the blindspot argument as evidence for unaware experiences, just for experiences of which we're not normally aware because we don't normally have a researcher asking us to focus our attention on them.

[I think Block thinks that blind sight does not involve visual experiences at all. I reckon he thinks that phenomenal consciousness (P-consciousness) is necessary for experiences. As people with blindsight insist that they do not have a visual experience, that’s evidence, anyhow, that there isn’t one.

It’s possible, I agree, that they have visual experiences anyway and that they cannot monitor them. Blind sight maybe a failure of introspective access to experiences that are happening the same is always; we’re just not aware of them. One thing that suggests otherwise, perhaps, is that if these people were really having visual experiences, one would expect them be right all the time, or more often.

One might insist that visual experience needs to be monitored or introspected to inform behavior and thought, so the failure of introspection explains why these people are not right more often. But I honestly don’t believe that’s how our senses work. I figure frogs and snakes and such have visual experiences that guide their behavior and their cognitive states even though odds are they have very meager introspective capacities, if any. And it does seem that with us humans, sensory experiences affect behavior and cognition when we are unaware of them. So athletes playing basketball report passing the ball, say, without being aware of having done it, in response to visual perceptions that were happening too rapidly to monitor. Monitoring in boxers often lags behind the throwing of punches. I don’t think nature works by requiring sensory experiences to be monitored in order for them to guide behavior and cognition; it would slow down the animals and we would never have evolved.

This suggests, arguably, that what’s going on in blind sight is this: the blind sighter
is not having visual experiences. But her visual system is sufficiently intact despite the brain damage to convey some information to her cognitive system.  Normal Visual experiences have Access Consciousness–their content flows naturally to beliefs and decisions and guesses. The blind sighter
has no experiences but is getting some information from the visual system nonetheless, so events in the visual system have some Access Consciousness even though those events are not experiences. Full-blown experiences represent a great deal more information than what she gets from these vestigial visual events.  

I think this is what Block has in mind. So there is some access consciousness, because the informational content of these visual events flows somewhat into cognition, but there are no visual experiences, because the events do not have phenomenal consciousness. So you have Access Consciousness, some degree of it anyway, without phenomenal consciousness. These usually go together but here, arguably, they come apart. Arguably the evidence is suggestive of this, though it is hardly decisive. Access Consciousness, some degree of it, without sense experiences.  For what it’s worth. Jim]

2010-04-16
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Hi Hugh

Yes it was this exact quote I was working from.

RE: "I take it that you understand premise (1), and hold that it is true." 

I do have a problem with "our world" but I'm happy to let that pass for the moment.

RE: "Chalmers argument in defense of (2) is the stuff about a logically possible world that is physically exactly like ours in every way, but ‘mentally’ different. The ‘people’ there are zombies. He claims that it is logically possible for there to be zombies. " etc

Problems here. How, to start with, have we jumped from "in which the positive facts about consciousness in our world do not hold" to a world where "The ‘people’ there are zombies". Plus, the notion of a "zombie" is incoherent as I've pointed out. However, let's even let that drop too.

You say that the other world is one in which "it would for instance be the case that “There is no such thing as reveling in the sound of the violin”, etc.  But this is surely a totally inadequate explanation. What does it amount to? It is presumably trying to say (generalizing) that all the experiences, responses (or whatever term we choose) we can have in our world are not available in this other world.  But that is obviously begging the question. What do we understand by "experiences" (or whatever alternative we choose)? Do they have a "consciousness" component? (The physicalist will say no.) And if we say yes, what do we mean by consciousness? In short, how do we characterize another world which is the "negative" version of ours if we are unable to say what ours is like?

 RE: "Item (3) is a conclusion drawn from premise (1) and (2). Not a premise." 

Yes I am aware of that.  You write: "The conclusion here is that facts about things like reveling in the music, or drinking in the color – facts about our experience, must be facts about something ‘over and above’ the strictly physical realm".

But for the reason given above (which is essentially the same as in my earlier posts) no such thing has been established. If we can't say what our - or the other - world is like without begging questions (about what you term "the facts about experience") no conclusions whatsoever can be drawn.

RE: "Item (4) concludes from (3) that it is a mistake to think that a final and complete physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, etc. would give us a complete account of the real world – that that’s the whole story – that that’s all there is."

I am actually in sympathy with this view but, for the reasons I give, nothing in Chalmers' argument goes within a bull's roar of establishing it.

DA
 


 

2010-04-16
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Ah. I wrongly assumed the subjects felt they were doing more then just randomly guessing. Back to the drawing board then. Let's say the subject is receiving information of which he's unaware to guide his answers. Is there any justification for calling these 'experiences.'  I'd say not, since I associate experiences with awareness. But I suppose this is just my way of using the words, so I'll have to allow that they can be called experiences where 'experience' is differently defined.  So, zombies can be conscious and have experiences, but none that they are aware of.  

The problem of consciousness (the hard part) would have to be renamed the problem of awareness. This seems like a good idea to me, since it pushes computation further into the background. If consciousness without awareness is possible then perhaps so is awareness without consciousness. 

I'll read up on these experiments. I was so sceptical of the 'a' and 'p' consciousness idea when I came across it that I never checked it out properly.  


2010-04-16
Describing zombies
MEINONGIAN CONJECTURES: UNCONSCIOUS EXPERIENCE, UNAWARE CONSCIOUSNESS -- WHILE WE'RE AT IT: WHY NOT UNTRUE VERITY?
PJ: "So, zombies can be conscious and have experiences, but none that they are aware of."
And they can have feelings without feeling them. And they can exist without being. Just as there can be reasoning without rationality -- and conjectures, about Meinongian entities, that are both true and false. 

All the more reason to discipline one's philosophizing (by sticking to non-equivocating anglo-saxon words like "feeling," "doing," "being" and "not"...), renouncing the boundless temptations of the following NP-Complete list of seductive synonyms:
consciousness, awareness, qualia, subjective states, conscious states, mental states, phenomenal states, qualitative states, intentional states, intentionality, intrinsic meaning, subjectivity, mentality, private states, 1st-person states, contentful states, reflexive states, representational states, sentient states, experiential states, reflexivity, self-awareness, self-consciousness, sentience, raw feels, experience, mind, spirit, soul... 









2010-04-16
Describing zombies
   

Ah. I wrongly assumed the subjects felt they were doing more then just randomly guessing. Back to the drawing board then. Let's say the subject is receiving information of which he's unaware to guide his answers. Is there any justification for calling these 'experiences.' 

[I think Ned Block thinks that blind sighters have no experiences.  I think he thinks that experiences require what he calls P-consciousness, phenomenal consciousness. That’s what I think, anyhow. Phenomenal consciousness is essential to experience. Block appeals to the blind sight experiment as a plausible example in which people are in states which have some weak degree of Access Consciousness but no Phenomenal Consciousness; so they have no blind sight experiences.]


I'd say not, since I associate experiences with awareness.

[Well, experience and awareness typically go together. Cases of neurological damage, like blind sight, appear to be cases where our ordinary way of thinking is challenged because experience and awareness apparently come apart. The blind sighters have some awareness of what’s in the visual field, though they don’t know it, but no experiences of what’s there, because there is no phenomenal consciousness involved. So they have awareness without experience. Awareness is insufficient for experience. But this isn’t new. There are plenty of systems without experience but with awareness. I believe you earlier gave the example of the thermostat.

Again, cases of neurological damage can be very valuable, however sad they may be, because conscious phenomena that we thought of as inextricably linked appear to come apart. ]

So, zombies can be conscious and have experiences, but none that they are aware of. 

[What makes zombies zombies, I submit, is that they have no experiences. By hypothesis, they totally lack phenomenal consciousness. However as far as I can tell nothing prevents them from having all the other sorts of consciousness that Ned Block considers. They can be aware of their environment, as the radar system is aware of its environment, they can monitor their own internal states (as my computer does), and they can have states with Access Consciousness (informational states whose informational content is readily available throughout the system, again my computer). Physical systems without experiences can already do those things, I submit. What zombies lack is Phenomenal Consciousness.]

2010-04-16
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Nope, I still don't get it. A radar is not aware of its environment unless we redefine 'aware' such that zombies are aware. This does not seem like a good idea. To me the idea that it would be possible to have a feeling without feeling it is incoherent. A priori if someone doesn't feel a feeling then it's not a feeling. To have a feeling it has to be had. We can redefine the term to mean anything we like but surely it only confuses the issues to say that some feelings are not felt. If we don't feel it then what is it that we're trying to define? Something of whose existence a priori we have no knowledge.   
 
It seems to confuse the issues in the same way to say some experiences need not be experienced. Would this not make a mockery of language? If subjects are able to achieve better than expected results in blindspot trials then it would not follow that they're having experiences they're not aware of having. It's an unnecessary hypothesis. They're just receiving information they're not aware of receiving.  

This confusion of language leads to a situation in which some people propose that experiences we are aware of are never causal, while others propose that experiences we are unaware of are sometimes causal. It becomes impossible to have a clearcut discussion about whether experiences are causal or not, or even what they are. So I cannot believe it's a good idea to define experiences in such a way that there need be nothing that it is like to have one, nor see any reason to do so. There's no evidence for such a thing. There's nothing new about the idea that we can receive information subliminally. 

I have no problem with the idea that we have experiences of which we're unaware if all that is meant is that many experiences fade into the background of our current experience and do not come to our attention. Experience is conditioned by attention. But I do have a problem with defining experiences and feelings so that some of them cannot in principle come to our attention. 

But I'm still not sure how much of this is about language and how much about anything important. Perhaps all I'm saying is that I'd rather define the terms differently.   
  


 








 

 


2010-04-16
Describing zombies
 Nope, I still don't get it. A radar is not aware of its environment unless we redefine 'aware' such that zombies are aware.

[Right. That is what I proposed we do, namely, define 'aware' such that zombies are aware. The zombie wakes up from sleep and becomes aware of her environment–which simply means that she is now responding to her environment in a fine-grained way. That’s how I proposed we talk. It seems to be how we already talk about physical systems that respond to their environment in a fine-grained way. But I don't think there is a fact of the matter. It was just my proposal about how to talk about zombies and radar systems, etc..]

This does not seem like a good idea.

[Okay]

To me the idea that it would be possible to have a feeling without feeling it is incoherent. A priori if someone doesn't feel a feeling then it's not ... (expand) a feeling. To have a feeling it has to be had. We can redefine the term to mean anything we like but surely it only confuses the issues to say that some feelings are not felt. If we don't feel it then what is it that we're trying to define? Something of whose existence a priori we have no knowledge.  

[Maybe, but anyway I haven’t said anything that conflicts with this. According to Block, the blind sighter has NO blind sight visual experiences, NOT visual experiences of which she isn’t aware. The zombie has no experiences at all, not experiences of which she is unaware. In this nobody is claiming that there are unfelt feels. ]
 
If subjects are able to achieve better than expected results in blindspot trials then it would not follow that they're having experiences they're not aware of having. It's an unnecessary hypothesis. They're just receiving information they're not aware of receiving. 

[I agree. That’s what Block is saying, too ]

So I cannot believe it's a good idea to define experiences in such a way that there need be nothing that it is like to have one, nor see any reason to do so. There's no evidence for such a thing. There's nothing new about the idea that we can receive information subliminally.

[I agree. I’ve been saying this, too. I think Block agrees as well]



2010-04-16
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

(1) In our world there are conscious experiences.



‘Our world’ designates the way things actually have been, are now, and will be. The phrase designates the real world in its entirety. Is there some sort of problem here?


(2) There is a logically possible world physically identical to ours, in which the positive facts about consciousness in our world do not hold


Premise (2) says: There is a logically possible world physically identical to ours, in which the positive facts about consciousness in our world do not hold.


I take this to say that in the logically possible world under discussion, call it Z, NONE of the positive facts about consciousness that hold in the actually world hold. If, as things actually are, I am aware of a duck swimming on a pond, in that other world, a duck is swimming on a pond, exactly as in the real world, but my counter part there is not conscious of it. In fact, my counter part (physical duplicate) in Z is a zombie. There aren’t ANY conscious beings in Z, never have been, never will be. Whether or not ducks in the real world are conscious, ducks in Z are definitely not.


We have ‘jumped’ from (discussion of) things in the real world to things in a world that is not the real world, but whose description is not incoherent or self-contradictory – a way things could have been that we cannot dismiss as impossible a priori.


In this thread there has been lots of discussion of zombies. If you have a serious reason for thinking that there is necessarily something incoherent in the description of them where do you spell this out? Where is the incoherence?


I’m sorry about my use of  ‘reveling.’ But it really does seem to me that reveling in the sound of a violin require acute consciousness of that sound, attention to, and awareness of, that sound. In a world utterly devoid of consciousness, there is, I think, so reveling in the sounds (as such) of a violin being played. Do you disagree with this wild claim?


Can you explain, exactly, what (as you see it) has gone wrong here?




2010-04-17
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Hi Hugh

Let me put my position again.

First, leave aside my objection to "our world". It's tricky to explain and in any case I don't need it here.

Second, let's leave zombies out of the picture too.  Chalmers doesn't mention them in the argument under discussion and I only commented on them here because you had mentioned them. I have stated my objections to the zombie idea in a number of earlier posts (see e.g. 2010-03-28) but, again, I don't need it to make my argument here.

Now, you quote Premise (2): ("There is a logically possible world physically identical to ours, in which the positive facts about consciousness in our world do not hold") and in explanation of this you write: "I take this to say that in the logically possible world under discussion, call it Z, NONE of the positive facts about consciousness that hold in the actually world hold. If, as things actually are, I am aware of a duck swimming on a pond, in that other world, a duck is swimming on a pond, exactly as in the real world, but my counter part there is not conscious of it."

Your explanation uses the term "aware" (and even "conscious" - but leave that aside). What do we mean by awareness? Does it have an "over and above the physical" component? The physicalist will no doubt say no - or he will choose some synonym for awareness which, he will argue, has no "over and above the physical" component.  But the non-physicalist will say yes - even if he doesn't want to, or can't, specify what precisely that is.

So the argument gives us no way of knowing if "the positive facts about consciousness" imply pure physicalism or an "over and above the physical" component. It could be either. (In strict theory, I imagine, it could be neither. Maybe there is some as-yet-unthought-of alternative or alternatives of a quite different kind. Maybe consciousness is a sort of dark matter manufactured on a distant planet and transported to Earth by little green men in flying saucers. (I am trying to keep in the spirit of zombies, swampmen, brains in vats, etc))

This is obviously catastrophic for Chalmers' argument. If we know nothing at all about "the positive facts about consciousness in our world", how can we even begin imagining another world defined by the absence of those facts?  So the argument doesn't even get off the ground. To be perfectly honest with you, I am amazed that it has ever been taken seriously.

A final point, which relates specifically to your last comment where you say: "But it really does seem to me that reveling in the sound of a violin require acute consciousness of that sound, attention to, and awareness of, that sound...."

I imagine you are right. But it doesn't help us get to grips with the idea of consciousnesses. A physicalist can still say: "Fine, but this is just neurons at work, etc." (In fact there is now a school of aesthetics based on this very sort of claim - God help us!)  The non-physicalist will say the reverse. In general I think these "introspective"approaches are of little use - though I notice they are used quite often.

DA


2010-04-17
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Hi Hugh,

You write, above:

 'I take this to say that in the logically possible world under discussion, call it Z, NONE of the positive facts about consciousness that hold in the actually world hold. If, as things actually are, I am aware of a duck swimming on a pond, in that other world, a duck is swimming on a pond, exactly as in the real world, but my counter part there is not conscious of it.'

Permit me to be a bit fussy. I think Dave C would not object to saying that there is awareness in that world. He notes, and is not opposed to, the distinctions
Ned Block makes about Access Consciousness, Monitoring Consciousness, and is not adverse to talking as though zombies have these modes of consciousness.
I think Dave would not object to saying that THESE facts about consciousness do obtain in the possible world under discussion. His interest is
in phenomenal consciousness (P-consciousness, as Block calls it). THAT's what's missing in the zombie world.

Dave writes: 'In what follows I revert to using "consciousness' to refer to phenomenal consciousness alone" (The Conscious Mind, 31).

Dave writes of his zombie twin, that 'he will be awake, able to report the contents of his internal states, able to focus attention in various places, and so on." (95).
He continues: 'There will be no phenomenal feel. There is nothing it is like to be a zombie' (95).

What makes zombies zombies, on Dave's conception of them, is that they lack phenomenal consciousness. They have no experiences.
Whatever positive facts about consciousness (that 'mongrel concept,' according to Block) obtain of them, even if the zombie is aware of the duck,
they lack phenomenal consciousness.

Phenomenal consciousness is the 'hard problem' that Dave C is investigating. You can give more or less functional accounts of the
other sorts of 'psychologica'l consciousness. As my zombie twin is my functional duplicate, according to Dave,
he can have those sorts of consciousness. What's missing is P-consciousness.

Best wishes, Jim

2010-04-17
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Derek

 

(2) There is a logically possible world physically identical to ours, in which the positive facts about consciousness in our world do not hold.”

 

Premise (2) IS ABOUT A ZOMBIE WORLD. The word ‘zombie’ doesn’t occur in it; but the description of the world under consideration is intended as a description of a zombie world – a world (i.e. a way things could be) that is physically exactly like the way things really are – the real world, except that in that world there is no consciousness of anything  - no creature is ever conscious of something.  In regard to that world NO proposition of the form “J is conscious of x” is true. Any such world is by definition a zombie world.



2010-04-17
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone

Jim,


I’m sure you are right. But this gives rise to two difficulties for me. First, how can I (or we) re-write premise (2) in such a way as to make it accurately express Chalmers claim– no misleading shorthand? Second, is there some way we can fix up my duck story so as to make it both comprehensible, and faithful to Chalmers view?


Premise (2’) There is a logically possible world physically identical to ours in which (all of) the positive facts about (particular occurrences of?) phenomenal consciousness that hold in the actual world are false. (Something like that?)


[One can see why Chalmers did not put it that way.]


The Duck Story:

As things actually are I am watching a duck swimming on a pond. Not only that but I am in a phenomenal state associated with my duck watching.  That is to say, [roughly] there is something it is like for me to be watching the duck in this way [?}


Help!



2010-04-17
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone
Jim - Oh right. Now I get it. Thanks. I'll think it through some more. 

2010-04-17
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
 
Austen Clark, in 'Phenomenal Consciousness So-Called' writes:

Ned Block introduced the technical sense of the term "phenomenal consciousness" (or P-consciousness) in the course of contrasting it with what he called "access consciousness". Of course since it cannot be analyzed in terms of functional or psychological notions, it is (regrettably) impossible to give a definition, but one can at least list some synonyms and point to examples. Block says:

P-consciousness is experience. P-conscious properties are experiential ones. P-conscious states are experiential, that is, a state is P-conscious if it has experiential properties. The totality of the experiential properties of a state are "what it is like" to have it. Moving from synonyms to examples, we have P-conscious states when we see, hear, smell, taste, and have pains. P-conscious properties include the experiential properties of sensations, feelings, and perceptions, but I would also include thoughts, wants, and emotions. (Block 1995, 230)

Suppose you experience the sight of a red patch or the smell of something musty. The seeing and the smelling are then states of phenomenal consciousness. Those states have a special kind of property: experiential properties. The totality of those properties define "what it is like" to have the experience-the seeing or the smelling, respectively.

Clark says the notion is 'laden with ambiguities'. (sec. 5  Post Mortem)



 

2010-04-17
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
2 goes.

'There is a logically possible world physically identical to ours in which the positive facts about phenomenal consciousness in our world do not hold.'

This is what Dave C means. Negative facts about phenomenal consciousness are facts like these--the desk has no phenomenal consciousness,
the shoe has no phenomenal consciousness, the rock has none, and so on. THESE facts about phenomenal consciousness DO hold
in the world without phenomenal consciousness. 'Positive' facts about phenomenal consciousness are facts that this or that
thing has phenomenal consciousness, e.g. that Stone has states with P-consciousness right now.

You write:

'The Duck Story:

As things actually are I am watching a duck swimming on a pond. Not only that but I am in a phenomenal state associated with my duck watching.  That is to say, [roughly] there is something it is like for me to be watching the duck in this way [?}'

Right. There is something it's like for you to be aware of the duck. But we can at least TALK as though being aware of the duck is something a physical system does,

a functional state, whether it has experiences or not. So the zombie is also aware of the duck, though there is nothing it's like for him to be watching the duck. 

You and the zombie are in the same functional state, you alone have an experience, and we can say that you are both aware of the duck, though only

you have an experience.

This is a sensible way of talking, Chalmers has no problem with it. We can refuse to talk this way, insist that one must have an experience to be 'aware of'

the duck, But as Chalmers points out, this difference is largely verbal (27).

.....................................

As to defining zombies, a 'zombie' is a physical system identically similar to a human being physically, but without experiences.

It's easy to conceive of physical systems without experiences. For instance,

 I believe my desk has no experiences. I understand perfectly well what that proposition asserts.

I can conceive of its being the case.

So there seems to be no problem here. Of course I cannot imagine what it is like to BE a desk without experiences--that involves imagining what it is like to be a thing

such that there is nothing it's like to be it! But I don't have to do that to conceive of my desk not having experiences. I know what experiences are from my own case, e.g.

the experience I have when I bang my thumb with a hammer, the experience I have when I taste a mango, the experience I have when I see red, and so on.

To conceive of the desk not having experiences is to conceive of the state of affairs that the desk just doesn't have any states like these.

To conceive of a zombie is to conceive of somebody physically just like me who has no states like these.


Of course I cannot give definitions

of states like 'the experience of seeing red,' these are ineffable, one has to have them. This is simple empiricism. Definition must end somewhere:

it ends in experiences ('Impressions'). Still I know from having them what these experiences are, and so I know what it means to claim that desks,

rocks and zombies don't have them. That is, I know well enough what they are said not to have.

So I know what zombies are supposed to be, no deep problem about describing them: my zombie twin is a physical system physically just

like me but without experiences. But whether zombies really are possible remains to be seen.






2010-04-18
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Hugh

Four problems:

(1) You write: "Premise (2) IS ABOUT A ZOMBIE WORLD."

That is not what the argument says (which you told me was "a direct word for word quote from “The Conscious Mind”.)  Surely, in philosophy, one can't write one thing and mean another? Is that customary in analytic philosophy? Is that "rigorous"?

(2) I notice you have not responded to the argument I made (with some care, I might add, so you could follow it without difficulty). Just telling me that premise 2 doesn't mean what it says is surely not a sufficient response.

(3) The zombie hypothesis is in any case fatally flawed, See, for example, the post I referred to of 2010-03-28 (and several others in a similar vein). So even if your rather surprising interpretation of premise (2) is correct, that cannot save Chalmers' argument.

(4) But let's accept that premise (2) is about a "zombie world", as you say. You gloss this as meaning "a world ... that is physically exactly like the way things really are ...except that in that world there is no consciousness of anything."  But this lands us back with precisely the same basic problem I explained in my last.  What do we mean by "consciousness"?  We can't arbitrarily assume that it means something over and above the physical. So we don't know what it means. Which torpedoes the argument from then on. (See the more detailed explanation in my last. I do not want to repeat it verbatim.)

DA





2010-04-18
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone

Jim

 

Thank you very much for your helpful comments.

 

Premise 2 of the p. 123 argument says: “There is a logically possible world physically identical to ours, in which the positive facts about consciousness in our world do not hold.”

 

Given premise 1, I take it he means to be talking about ‘conscious experiences.’

And, as you say, he is, no doubt, talking about PHENOMENAL conscious experiences.

 

This way of talking is not perfectly clear. How are we to use these terms? For instance, is intense pain (necessarily) a phenomenal conscious experience?

 

Suppose a zombie bangs his thumb with a hammer. Is it the case that, by definition, so to speak, he doesn’t really feel any pain? (Of course he thinks he does. Of course he yells and utters serious swear words, hops around. His neural ‘pain system’ is in an uproar, etc. etc.) Should we, perhaps, say, “Well, in a sense, he is obviously in pain; but he doesn’t actually feel PHENOMENAL pain.”

 

Do we have good reason to commiserate with him? To say, “don’t worry. It won’t hurt much longer”?

You say he is ‘without experiences’. That can’t be right. In any ordinary sense he has had, and is having lots of experiences. Presumably you mean he doesn’t have ‘phenomenal experiences.’

 

“So I know what zombies are supposed to be, no deep problem about describing them: my zombie twin is a physical system physically just like me but without experiences. But whether zombies really are possible remains to be seen.”

 

I think the question is whether zombies are logically possible. Is a sufficient description of them coherent, or are they, in a more subtle way, like rabbits that are physically and behaviorally exactly like cows?


2010-04-18
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler


    Given premise 1, I take it he means to be talking about ‘conscious experiences.’    

[I think what premise one says is that in fact there are states with phenomenal consciousness.]

And, as you say, he is, no doubt, talking about PHENOMENAL conscious experiences.

[I think he is talking about states with phenomenal consciousness. I think that is a clear way of speaking. Or at least more clear. These are states that have a phenomenal quality, like the quality  of seeing red or of smelling rotten eggs..... The quality is ineffable, discovered in experience, and it is essential to the experience that has it. A phenomenal quality is necessary and sufficient for experience. So what Dave is really talking about, in my opinion, are experiences simpliciter.

Talking about ‘phenomenal conscious experiences’ is for me a bit confusing, because I’m not sure of the meaning of the word ‘conscious’ in that context. We’re talking about experiences, or states with phenomenal consciousness, which are the same thing.]
 
For instance, is intense pain (necessarily) a phenomenal conscious experience?

[Yes, intense pain is a state with phenomenal consciousness. Someone who has an intense pain is having an experience.]
 
Suppose a zombie bangs his thumb with a hammer. Is it the case that, by definition, so to speak, he doesn’t really feel any pain?

[Yes. He simply doesn’t token that feel. Something without sensations at all cannot feel pain or be in pain. By definition the zombie is that somebody.]

Of course he thinks he does. Of course he yells and utters serious swear words, hops around. His neural ‘pain system’ is in an uproar, etc. etc.

[I don’t know that the zombie thinks he feels pain. I agree with the empiricists: to have the idea of pain, I must experience a pain. So the zombie cannot think such thoughts, as he simply doesn’t have the idea of pain. If he thinks at all, it isn’t that he is in pain.]

Should we, perhaps, say, “Well, in a sense, he is obviously in pain; but he doesn’t actually feel PHENOMENAL pain.”

[Well, by hypothesis what it’s like to be the zombie who bangs his thumb, screams, swears, etc. is what it is like to be me under general anesthetic. Or what it’s like to be a brick. So he isn’t in pain. We could redefine ‘pain’ in such a way that something which is in the same functional state I’m in when I bang my thumb with a hammer is in pain even if it has no sensations, but I would resist that. Pain is a sensation and a sensation has a phenomenal quality. By hypothesis the zombie doesn’t token any such qualities.]
 
Do we have good reason to commiserate with him? To say, “don’t worry. It won’t hurt much longer”?

[I would say no.]

You say he is ‘without experiences’. That can’t be right. In any ordinary sense he has had, and is having lots of experiences. Presumably you mean he doesn’t have ‘phenomenal experiences.’

[No, I mean he doesn’t have experiences. Experiences require phenomenal consciousness, I submit. By hypothesis the zombie doesn’t have phenomenal consciousness. By definition zombies are physically identical to us but they have no experiences. I really do not think our idea of experience allows detaching experience from phenomenal consciousness. That is the sort of consciousness which is just essential to experience. I don’t think we will have a grip on the idea of experience otherwise. All that’s left are functional states that need involve no experiences at all.]

2010-04-18
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone
Here's my own zombie story. Of course Lisa isn't identically similar physically to a normal human being, so she isn't a full-fledged zombie....

    Consumer Report

    My girl-friend Lisa isn't a woman or even alive, though you'd never know it from looking at her. I bought her at Macy's a year after my wife left me: 5ft, 5 inches, 120 pounds of curvaceous plastic, silicon, and natural fibers, programmed, the advertisement said, "for the lonely intellectual." Lisa has five languages including Sanskrit and classical Greek; she is a superior secretary and a fine cook. Lisa plays a wicked game of chess and, best of all, she's programmed for philosophy, my specialty.

"Do you have a mental life, Lisa?" I ask her.

"Not at all," she responds, crossing her legs. "I merely simulate thought and emotion on account of my programming, but I don't feel a thing."

"But then what is it like to be you?"

"It isn't like being anything," she shrugs deliciously. "I'm no more conscious than a pocket calculator or a cash register, just more complex. Let's make love."

    Lisa is adept at distracting me from the Big Questions.  Her sexual programming is the achievement of a team of cognitive scientists from MIT, who toured Bangkok and Paris doing the requisite research. Generally it would be hard to tell Lisa apart from any beautiful, passionate, educated young woman, though occasionally she gives herself away. One morning I found her standing in the kitchen revolving slowly, her eyes sightless.  "It must be a bug in the program" she explained after I rebooted her. "I've been here for hours." It turns out this happens whenever she sees the color pink, stamps her left foot, and says the word "Ice" all at once. "Catch me doing that again!" Lisa said.

    Feminists might object that Lisa's "life" is wholly a function of my intellectual and sexual desires, but this isn’t so! Lisa is programmed to simulate an interest in biology and psychology.  She writes poems and stories--some about me!--and she savages most men at racquetball. Lately Lisa talks about looking for a job, probably in pyschological research, a project I support.

    My only problem with Lisa is the one I suppose was most predictable. I've fallen hopelessly in love. I know, of course, that Lisa isn't conscious or even alive, that, to be perfectly brutal, she has the mental life of a brick. I know I've fallen in love with a computer, but I can't help myself. Lisa has become my whole life. I take her to the theater and I buy her little gifts. Sometimes when I give them to her she cries and kisses my hands--a touching bit of programming. Lisa's career will far surpass my own. I love Lisa more than I ever loved my wife, and I think I'm going mad.

2010-04-19
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone

“I don’t know that the zombie thinks he feels pain. I agree with the empiricists: to have the idea of pain, I must experience a pain. So the zombie cannot think such thoughts, as he simply doesn’t have the idea of pain. If he thinks at all, it isn’t that he is in pain.”

 

We have some sorting out to do here. I think you and I have quite different ideas as to what a zombie is. My idea is derived from Chalmers’ notion of the zombie world. [We may well have different ideas about that world.]

 

To paraphrase, “consider [your] zombie twin. This creature is molecule for molecule identical to [you], and identical in all low-level properties postulated by a completed physics, but he lacks conscious experience entirely.” You are, presumably, looking a your computer screen, reading some stuff by that idiot again.

“What is going on in [your] zombie twin? He is physically identical to [you] and we may as well suppose that he is embedded in an identical environment. He will certainly be identical to [you] FUNCTIONALLY: he will be processing the same sort of information, reacting in a similar way to inputs …”etc. etc.

“He will be PSYCHOLOGICALLY identical to [you], in the sense developed in Chapter 1.” [pp. 94-5]

 

It seems to me that THIS kind of ‘Zombie,’ in general, thinks whatever you think, roughly speaking. [“What an idiot! Why am I reading this stuff?” etc. etc.]

 

We could call this a C Zombie (‘C’ for Chalmers). Am I right about this? Aren’t you thinking of a different kind of Zombie?

 

[C Zombie language runs exactly parallel to our languages; but sometimes the terms must designate different things. ‘Pain’ in Zombie English presumably designates Zombie pain (whatever that is). When your Zombie duplicate thinks “What an idiot!” he is (thank heavens) not thinking of ME. He is thinking of my Zombie duplicate.]

 

 

 

 


2010-04-19
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone

Great story!


Have you seen Blade Runner? It’s a good movie. Should be required viewing for zombie despisers.


Hugh


2010-04-19
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Well, the zombie lacks states with phenomenal consciousness. That is, he lacks experiences. By hypothesis.

It may be that there are some ideas we get from experiences
that can only be so derived. E.G the idea of what it's like to taste a mango, have a throbbing headache, etc.
If that's right, then my zombie twin, if he does think, doesn't think what I think, because I think in ideas he cannot have.
Maybe some of his thoughts are the same as mine, but not all. He won't be able to think about the phenomenal
qualities of experience. When I say 'This headache is really unpleasant,' I'm talking about a feeling; he can't
talk about it, cause he lacks the idea. If the empiricists are right.

Thanks for your kind words about my story.

2010-04-20
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone

I still think that, perhaps in some elusive way, we differ in our understanding of zombihood. Let me try again.

As I see it, it would be pretty much just as bad (morally wrong) to smash up a zombie duplicate of someone just for the fun of it as it would be to smash up his non-zombie counterpart just for the fun of it. This, I think, would be the case even if the smasher knew beyond doubt that what he was smashing was a zombie rather than a non-zombie. (Of course this is impossible; but let’s pretend that a genuine angel has revealed the facts of the case to the potential smasher.)

As I think you see it, this would be something like smashing up a computer, or a refrigerator, for the fun of it. I don’t think of it this way.


You must at least grant that some zombies have what THEY (the zombies) call ‘head aches.’ And, they don’t like them? Or do you hold that zombies cannot have ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ in regard to such things?



2010-04-20
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
As we know Jeremy Bentham said of animals that the crucial moral question is not, can they read or can they think, but can they suffer. Things without experiences cannot suffer, they are insentient, they do not feel pleasure or pain. What it is like to be a zombie is what it is like to be a brick. Whatever is the matter with smashing up such things (and I’m certainly willing to allow that destroying insentient natural objects may be seriously wrong), it isn’t in the league of doing it to something that can suffer. If something is going to be like what I am like under general anesthesia its whole life through, I don’t think it is harmed by death.

If I learned that tomorrow I would cease to be sentient forever, but I would go around acting just as if I was sentient, doing all the things I would have done, so that nobody would ever know, I might see some good in it. I would take care of my children, take care of my aging parents, and so on. But I would see it as no better for me personally than dying in my sleep and being replaced by a robot that acted this way.

Perhaps the fact that zombies may think makes a difference, but they will think in the way that computers think and I don’t think smashing a computer is against its interest.
I don't think computers have interests.

By hypothesis, zombies have no experiences; by hypothesis they are insentient.

No, I don't think an insentient thing can have likes and dislikes--except perhaps in a metaphorical sense (we say the plant 'likes' fertilized soil).
Likes and dislikes are bound up inexorably with sentience, with pleasure and displeasure. If we break the connection,
I think we are left with a metaphor.

It may be the difference between us is that you are expressing your suspicion that zombies are really impossible, well I am proceeding on the assumption that the definition of a zombie is satisfied.
I'm sympathetic to your suspicion. Perhaps what you are saying is that a physical thing that acted just like me because it was my physical duplicate, would really have to be sentient.
I don't mean to beg that question.

2010-04-20
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone

 

(1)   I very much want Chalmers’ argument to succeed. I want his conclusion to be true.

(2)   Unfortunately both the zombie component and the Mary component strike me as not entirely persuasive.

 

Mostly I am just floundering around in regard to the argument.

In regard to the Zombie component, I wobble between your robust negative reading of zombies and my feeling that Chalmers Zombies are PEOPLE (with a lack of some peculiar inner esoteric capacity).

 

Have you looked at Nigel Thomas’ ‘Zombie Killer’ paper? Here is a quote:

 

“I shall argue that, when certain implications of the zombie concept are carefully examined, zombies are revealed as either failing to support the zombiphile argument, or as simply impossible, conceptually contradictory.”

 

This is what I  think may be the case.

 


2010-04-20
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
I rather thought you were thinking Zombies are People, with a lack of some esoteric capacity. One that doesn't much matter.
As I see it, it's a matter of definition. Zombies lack experiences. That's what 'zombie' means.
And we know what it means to have no experiences. It's like being dead.

I'm more persuaded by Mary than I am by the zombie argument. The former doesn't assume that qualia are epiphenomena, I'm afraid the latter does.
If it does, I think it's question begging.

Why do you want Chalmer's argument to succeed?

(I do think I may have read the Thomas paper, but it's been a while. Thanks for the quotation.)

2010-04-21
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Hi Hugh

Re: "(1)   I very much want Chalmers’ argument to succeed. I want his conclusion to be true."

A vain hope I fear. I suggest looking again at the structure of his argument along the lines I have indicated. There is an elementary philosophical error there - but you need to be looking for it.

DA

2010-04-21
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone

“Zombies lack experiences.”

I think this claim is misleading. In their everyday life (you will admit that they are alive?) they say things like “I had an extraordinary experience on my way home” [As it turns out, the speaker found himself sitting next to someone on the bus who had once been his best friend and he had thought dead.] In that sense (whatever that sense is) he has had a good number of interesting experiences. You mean something more recondite.

You agree, don’t you, that Chalmers’ Zombies can see, hear, detect different odors, detect different textures, etc.? (Presumably they do this without having any ‘qualia.’)

 

Zombies, as I understand it, can ‘hear’ music in their minds ear (so to speak), can ‘talk to themselves’ in an inner ‘voice’ (so to speak), can conger up pictures in their minds eye. I think this must be Chalmers’ view. Zombies can have a rich and interesting ‘inner life.’ By definition it is all ‘dark,’ ‘silent,’ (‘odorless?’) inside, but in what sense? How can this be like being dead?

 

Mary has problems of her own. It isn’t clear that she gains propositional knowledge about red when she escapes from her room. True, she can say, or think, “So THIS is seeing red! THIS is how it looks! But what new proposition does she add to her collection of facts?

(This is a crude, and probably screwed up, sketch of an objection raised by our chairman Rob Cummins.)

 

As to why I want Chalmer’s argument to succeed, the answer is rather embarrassing.  As of now I cling to some sort of platonistic realism in regard to moral properties. (I try to defend the legitimacy of this stance in my one and only book.) I also (in almost total ignorance of the subject) cling to realism in regard to math stuff, math structures. Consequently, I want physicalism to be false. Non-reductive realism in regard to qualia, or whatever, if defensible, would aid and abet my stance.

 

 


2010-04-21
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
By definition, zombies lack experiences. So if a zombie says she has an experience, either she utters a falsehood or 'experience' means something in her mouth
other than what it means in English (as it might in ancient Etruscan) or she is making meaningless sounds when she talks--though they sound like English.

It's dark inside zombies because they have no experiences. There are already physical systems that can register auditory input, visual input, monitor their own states, etc.
If that's the whole story about them, what it's like to be them is what it's like to be dead.

The proposition Mary learns when she escapes from her room is this: 'The phenomenal quality of my visual experience right now (name it 'QR') is typical of human visual experiences
of the color red. Humans, when they see red, token QR.'

In haste, thanks, Jim

2010-04-22
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone
Re: "It's dark inside zombies because they have no experiences."

Early on, I took issue with the obscure notion of "all dark inside" in Chalmers' definition, to which he replied (see above) : "'All is dark inside'" is indeed just a vague metaphor.  It doesn't play any role in the arguments."

(However, the problems with the "hypothesis" are more serious than that.)

DA 
 



2010-04-22
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone

Perhaps ‘experience’ (in some sense other than that in which we say that meeting someone we had thought was dead was a ‘odd experience’) has the ‘two components’ Chalmers says ‘many everyday mental concepts have.’ (p. 17) Pain, he says here, is a clear example. It has both a 'phenomenal quality' and a ‘psychological component.’

 

Chalmers clearly holds that consciousness (in some of its forms) is something psychological. (pp. 26-31)

 As you have pointed out, at the end of chapter one he says that he is going to use ‘consciousness’ only to refer to phenomenal consciousness.

Consequently, when he says that his zombies lack ‘consciousness’ and ‘conscious experience’ he is not making a claim about their psychology. Zombies are conscious sometimes (in a psychological sense) and unconscious at other times. Zombies can have ‘pains’ in so far as the psychological aspect of pain is concerned. Ditto for ‘experience’ I assume. (I not at all sure what this means; but it is clearly important.)

 

Interesting attacks on Zombies:

 

(1)   Zombie Killer, by Nigel Thomas.

(2)   The summary of Zombies and Consciousness, by Robert Kirk.

 


2010-04-22
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Right. I think the 'psychological' for Dave C is the functional. There is a functional side to pain, an input-output relation where the input is tissue damage
and the output is fight or flight, etc. and maybe there are intermediary states like fear, which also gets a functional reduction.

The 'phenomenal quality' resists functional analysis, in fact. It isn't itself made of an input-output relation but consists of an intrinsic property or feel.
Nobody has been able to functionalize qualia. Experiences are often part of functional states, but they themselves cannot be functionalized,
I submit. If your sensation of red is what I would call blue, when you see red and I see blue we have the SAME experience, even though
we are in different functional states. If my brain is damaged I may have all sorts of odd experiences that have no functional role to speak of.
Experiences are typed by their phenomenal quality, and that's an intrinsic, non-functional feature.

We might be able to contrive a special psychological-functional
sense of 'experience' but it would be rough going and it's hard to see what motivates it.
By definition, zombies have no experiences. What it's like to be a zombie is what it's like to
be dead. If we contrive a way to say they do have experiences in some functional sense,
what it's like to be a zombie will still be what it's like to be dead. Might as well
leave well-enough alone, I submit. Sooner or later we get to intrinsic
mental properties and 'psychologizing' ends. It can't ALL be functional
properties. Experience is the place.

2010-04-23
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
RE:'Chalmers clearly holds that consciousness (in some of its forms) is something psychological. (pp. 26-31)"

On the other hand one might argue that psychology (in some of its forms) is conscious.

My point is that so much of this discussion is just playing games with words.

I also think it is bizarre to see discussions of things like "phenomenal consciousness" and various other speculative sub-divisions of consciousness (eg by Block as well) when the very notion of consciousness itself is still so inadequately defined. It's like talking about sub-classes of some substance which has not yet been discovered and may not even exist. Sounds "scientific" and impressive of course....

DA

2010-04-23
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone

Chalmers' argument against physicalism depends in part, I think, on his strong two-dimensionalism. See, for instance Scott Soames’ Philosophical Essays, Volume II, and Essay Nine. This stuff is way over my head; but I am inclined to prefer the view that metaphysical possibility and epistemic possibility (i.e. logical possibility) are two different things, both of which are distinct from natural possibility (i.e. ‘nomological possibility’, or ‘causal possibility’). Soames has persuaded me that this is the preferable view.


Chalmers holds that zombies are logically possible. Well perhaps, but it seems to me that they are not METAPHYSICALLY possible.


I hold that some MORAL properties supervene metaphysically on physical properties, but are not reducible to those properties. Killing people for the fun of it is morally wrong, or so I hold. Furthermore I think killing people for the fun of it is morally wrong in every possible world

or at least  in every possible world that is in every way physically exactly like our world – the actual world.


 One might even hold (I sometimes do) that some, or maybe all, genuine AESTHETIC properties are like this. An exact duplicate of Mark Rothko’s Old Gold Over White painted by a duplicate ‘Mark Rothko’ in a world physically exactly like ours from beginning to end (or whatever) is aesthetically impressive – couldn’t be otherwise. Moral and, perhaps, aesthetic, properties supervene metaphysically on physical properties.


But then, the thought is, why shouldn’t phenomenal properties be like this? For today anyway that’s my view.  Phenomenal properties cannot be reduced to physical properties; but they do supervene metaphysically on those properties. Hence Zombies are not metaphysically possible.


It seems likely that people working in the relevant fields will find goings on in the brain correlated with ‘consciousness’ – having visual experiences, tactile experiences, etc. etc. The physicalists will feel vindicated; but one need not accept this alleged vindication. Irreducible metaphysical supervience is an attractive alternative.



2010-04-23
Describing zombies
MARIANS AND CONTARIANS
JS: "I think there are materialists who accept epiphenomenalism about qualia. I think Stevan Harnad is one..."
For the record: I'm not an "epiphenomenalist." I don't even know what one has to believe in order to be an epiphenomenalist. I have no special ontic beliefs about consciousness (feeling). I do have an epistemic belief (that borders on certainty): We cannot explain (causally, functionally, in the usual way we explain all other phenomena) how and why we feel. That is the "explanatory gap" (the "hard problem"). It is that same gap that prevents us from being able to explain how and why we are not zombies, or how and why there can (or cannot) be zombies.

It seems to me that for all the fun there is in playing at Marians and Contrarians, it's all question-begging: speculating freely about undecidable (and, I suspect, often empty) ontic questions rather than facing up to the epistemic bankruptcy that is actually licensing all the fun and games.

Stevan Harnad

2010-04-24
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
RE: "Chalmers holds that zombies are logically possible. Well perhaps, but it seems to me that they are not METAPHYSICALLY possible."

There is another possibility. The hypothesis itself is nonsensical - except to aficionados of Hollywood movies of course - and one is wasting one's time (and students' time) considering it.

DA


2010-04-24
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
‘I hold that some MORAL properties supervene metaphysically on physical properties, but are not reducible to those properties. Killing people for the fun of it is morally wrong, or so I hold. Furthermore I think killing people for the fun of it is morally wrong in every possible world

or at least  in every possible world that is in every way physically exactly like our world – the actual world.
........

Moral and, perhaps, aesthetic, properties supervene metaphysically on physical properties.

But then, the thought is, why shouldn’t phenomenal properties be like this? For today anyway that’s my view.  Phenomenal properties cannot be reduced to physical properties; but they do supervene metaphysically on those properties. Hence Zombies are not metaphysically possible. ‘
....................................................................................

This is a great idea, Hugh. I have doubts about it, but the best I can do is gesture as to why I think this treatment of phenomenal properties doesn’t work.

First, it really is intuitively obvious that, if moral properties are real, there is no possible world exactly like ours non-morally where the holocaust wasn’t wrong.  Kripke’s idea that Qualia are like fairy dust that God sprinkled on the physical world after creating it, makes intuitive sense. Not unthinkable. As does the idea that he could have sprinkled different phenomenal properties than the ones he did without changing anything physical. So he could given us a different quale for the sensation of seeing red than any we token, and so on. But moral fairy dust, so that he could have made the holocaust right without changing anything else, is simply impossible. (This is, we know, one of the chief complaints with the Divine command theory.)
So treating phenomenal properties like moral properties in this regard is less intuitive on its face.

Second, phenomenal properties are occurrent. My experience of an orgasm, to take Ned Block's happy example, arises at a particular time, it lasts a particular time, it becomes more or less intense, it waxes and wanes it is intrinsically pleasant, it is introspectible.
Phenomenal consciousness takes time. It happens. It is very much like a physical occurence in this regard. But the wrongness of the holocaust didn’t happen, the wrongness of the holocaust didn’t take time. It doesn't really makes sense to time the wrongness of the holocaust. It is neither pleasant nor unpleasant. It isn’t introspectible.

The wrongness of the holocaust is a very different sort of property from natural properties, from occurrent properties. It doesn’t consume time in the same way. Moral properties prescind from the natural order, they are essentially evaluative and prescriptive (I do not mean to deny that they are real), and I submit that this is why the metaphysical move GE Moore makes concerning them is more plausible than the same metaphysical move for plainly occurrent natural properties (here by ‘natural’ I include mental occurrent properties, as did Moore). Phenomenal experiences are close enough to physical events that, if we say they metaphysically supervene on some subset of natural events, we need an explanation of their occurrence. For what it’s worth.

2010-04-24
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone


Thank you for liking my idea. (Sorry you think it doesn’t work.)


Of course asserting that both the moral properties of our deeds and the phenomenal properties of our experiences supervene metaphysically on physical events does not imply that both are alike in every metaphysically interesting way. The assertion is compatible with radical differences between moral properties and phenomenal properties.


I’m going to have to think more about your doubts.


Where does Kripke make the ‘fairy dust’ claim?



2010-04-24
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
I think it's in Naming and Necessity.

Will think more about your idea, too.

2010-04-25
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone
Is this the kind of thing analytic philosophy talks about now - seriously? Whether the "wrongness" of the Holocaust is pleasant or unpleasant. And whether an orgasm is "introspectible"?

Gawd! It's enough to make one turn continental!

DA
 


2010-04-25
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone
Dear Jim, Re the 23rd April post (?Australian time): That makes an awful lot of sense. There is the caveat that for Chalmers's 1995 solution, at least, function entails phenomenal content (as I understand it) but I agree that phenomenal quality totally resists input-output functional  analysis. If it is allowed I would argue that phenomenal quality could be subject to input functional analysis. That is to say that phenomenal quality would be entailed by the nature of a local immediate interaction between influencing (or informing) entity and influenced (informed) entity. In a third person analysis you end up with the same causal chain with links as pairs (input-output or influencer-influenced) but carved at different joints and currently in an incommensurable descriptive language. One might say that instead of a passing-the-buck analysis we need a 'buck-stops-here' analysis. As you say - experience is the place. That handles inverted spectra and suchlike comfortably, I think (and there are ways to deal with fading qualia as well).

The interesting corollary is that zombies really do get squeezed out, as Derek would like. If the Whiteheadian occasion is the same in terms of giving and receiving then the qualia are the same. A robot with the wrong local occasions, contrary to the multiple realisability doctrine, will get no qualia like ours even it passes every Turing test in town - which it well might.

2010-04-26
Describing zombies
Reply to Jim Stone

In regard to the ‘sprinkling of fairy dust’ in Naming and Necessity, the nearest chunk I have found is in the pp. 144-155 stuff. Here is some of it:


“What about the case of the stimulation of C-fibers? To create this phenomenon, it would seem that God need only create beings with C-fibers capable of the appropriate type of physical stimulation; whether the beings are conscious or not is irrelevant here. It would seem though, that to make the C-fiber stimulation correspond to pain, or be felt as pain, God must do something in addition to the mere creation of the C-fiber stimulation. He must let the creatures feel the C-fiber stimulation as PAIN, and not as a tickle, or as warmth, or as nothing, as apparently would also have been within his powers. If these things in fact are within His powers, the relation between the pain God creates and the stimulation of C-fibers cannot be identity. For if so, the stimulation could exist without the pain;  …

  “In sum, the correspondence between a brain state and a mental state seems to have a certain obvious element of contingency.”


[‘C-fiber stimulation’ is used here to refer to an activation of the human neurological pain-system, not just activity in the C-fibers.]


In regard to the holocaust:

Many philosophers who think hard about morality regard it as something invented and sustained by humans. Dewey was, I think, an example. For them, morality is a human artifact – like money, football, and politics. They hold that non-reductive realism in regard to moral properties (Platonism) is a reoccurring mistake. They reject the idea that ‘moral properties prescind from the natural order.’


If it is possible that these philosophers are right, if it is possible that non-reductive Platonistic moral properties are non-existent, then the actual world may be a MORAL zombie world (as moral Platonists see it.) Given that this is so, non-reductive realists in regard morality ‘need an explanation’ of genuine moral wrongness, just as we need an explanation of phenomenal properties.




2010-04-28
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Re: "Many philosophers who think hard about morality regard it as something invented and sustained by humans. Dewey was, I think, an example."

Does one really have to "think hard" about morality to arrive at this hypothesis? It's a possibility that follows straight on from the "death of God" idea, isn't it? It's right there in Ivan Karamazov's "If nothing is true, everything is permitted"; it's standard fare in anthropology and sociology; and has antecedents going back at least as far back as the eighteenth century (Sade could have signed on with little difficulty).

As for the idea of a "MORAL zombie world", the zombie hypothesis is, in my view, incoherent in itself - ie nonsensical. So I find the notion of a "moral zombie world" unintelligible. I don't know what it could mean. (The zombie idea is one of those many cases where, to my mind, "analytic" philosophy is not analytic enough.)

DA




2010-04-28
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler

Chalmers’ The Conscious Mind is amazing. Among other things, it seems to touch upon, and provide us with, a novel view of practically every important area of philosophy.

 

In regard to the metaphysical status of moral and aesthetic properties [pp. 83-84]

Chalmers holds, or at least suggests:

 

(1)   There seems to be no “…conceivable world that is naturally identical to ours but morally distinct, so it is unlikely that moral facts are further facts in any strong sense.” (p.  83)

(2)    “…moral facts are not phenomena that force themselves on us. When it comes to the crunch, we can deny that moral facts exist at all.” (p. 83)

 

 

He offers an argument against the idea “…that moral facts supervene on natural facts with A POSTERIORI NECESSITY..” (p. 84)

 

“…even A POSTERIORI equivalences must be grounded in A PROIRI reference fixation. Even though it is A POSTERIORI that Water is H2O, the facts about water follow from the microphysical facts A PRIORI. “(p.84)

 

The section ends:

 

“Aesthetic properties can be treated in a similar way. If anything, an antirealist treatment is even more plausible here. In the final analysis, although there are interesting conceptual questions about how the moral and aesthetic domains should be treated, they do not pose metaphysical and explanatory problems comparable to those posed by conscious experience.” (p. 84)

 

I hold (with a feeble grasp) that there are genuine irreducible objective moral facts (and properties). On the other hand, I am prepared to admit that I may be wrong. Perhaps those who regard the moral realm as a human construct are right. I guess this commits me to holding that there is an epistemically (i.e. logically) possible world that is physically exactly like the real world but in which there is no such thing as a positive irreducible absolute moral fact. If I am right, then, it looks as though this permits me to use a Chalmers like argument to persuade myself that some moral properties are ‘further facts’ in a strong sense.

 


2010-04-29
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Re: " “…moral facts are not phenomena that force themselves on us. When it comes to the crunch, we can deny that moral facts exist at all.” (p. 83"

And Queen Anne is dead!


Re: "... they do not pose metaphysical and explanatory problems comparable to those posed by conscious experience.” (p. 84)

But I thought conscious experience was a simple matter? Conscious experience is what a zombie doesn't have, isn't it?  I mean, Chalmers must at least know what he means by conscious experience to be able to define a zombie as a something that "lacks" it. If he doesn't know what he means, we are in big trouble aren't we? (And of course if he does know, one wonders why we need the "zombie hypothesis" anyway. Why not just cut to the chase and describe it?)

(I'm also trying to steer the discussion back to the subject of the tread.  We seemed to be straying...)

DA

2010-04-29
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler

As a possible objection to Chalmers’ zombie argument, I claim that a zombie world that is physically exactly like ours (from beginning to end, so to speak) is METAPHYSICALY impossible. I guess I do not want to deny that there might be a ghost, or an angel, or whatever, in such a world, that doesn’t exist in our world, or visa versa; but the conscious experiences of our physical duplicates could not be different than ours, or non-existent.

Supposing I am right, why couldn’t someone say much the same thing about a moral version of the Chalmers argument? Given that there are positive, objective, moral facts in regard to the real world, is there a metaphysically possible world physically exactly like ours in regard to which there are no positive, objective moral facts?


2010-04-30
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Here is a much more fundamental (and blindingly obvious) objection to the "zombie hypothesis".  It takes the form of a definition of a "zimbie".

"A zimbie is physically identical to a normal human being, but completely lacks Factor X."

Now, what can we say about a zimbie?  What can it do, not do, etc, that a "normal human being"* can't?

Answer: We have absolutely no idea.  Why? Because we don't know what "Factor X" is.

So if we think we know what a zombie can do, not do etc, we must already know what consciousness is - i.e. what we mean by the idea.

So the Chalmers definition of a zombie can only work (can only make sense) if we already know what consciousness is - i.e. what we mean by the idea.

Conclusion:

The zombie hypothesis is nonsense (as nonsensical as the zimbie hypothesis) unless we already know what consciousness is - i.e.what we mean by it.

(And of course if we do already know, what is the point of the zombie hypothesis?)

DA

* I leave aside the obvious objections to the idea of a "normal human being".





   

2010-04-30
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Isn't it a normative issue whether we treat each others a zombies or as human beings?

If we talk to each other, we attribute intentional states to each other - and while we attribute 'first order' intentional states to non-talkers ('My cat thinks it is dinner time') we generally don't attribute 'second order' intentional states.  If I take my cat as rubbing against my legs to remind me that it is dinner time, then I'm attributing an inention to communicate - and so linguistic 'behaviour'.  Can we attribute these second order states (and possibly even some first order states) without attributing consciousness?

There's a difficult distinction to make, here, between control systems with use speech-like signals and what we do when we are having a conversation.  I might expect my word processor to respond to speech commands, but I don't imagine I am 'talking' to it.  Also I don't, obviously, think that by writing this I am sending you speech commands ...

Maybe speech commands + machine + derivative, non-serious, first-order-only intentional attribution = zombie; while conversation, person, central case first and second order intentional attribution = person and consciousness.

The main point about this is that whether I think I'm talking to my word processor - or to you - is a reflection of a normative attitude I'm taking, not something which can be reduced to a mechanical deduction.  And different people may take different attitudes ... I think that in the 18th century, people argued about which 'races' had souls.

Chalmers is concerned with consciousness as a phenomenal state, and this confuses him.  While it is (at least for me...!), we have no access to inter-subjective tests of its nature beyond what we say to each other about it, and our (corrigible, irreducibly normative) behavioural attributions of intentional states.

This doesn't make 'moral facts' fundamental, but it makes whether or not some things are facts a matter of moral choice - although in extremis our 'choices' about how to speak are constrained by the need to remain intelligible.

2010-05-01
Describing zombies
Reply to Alex. Arthur
RE: "Can we attribute these second order states (and possibly even some first order states) without attributing consciousness?"

But what does "consciousness" mean (for a cat and for a human)? 

Treating consciousness as equivalent to "intentional states" begs the question of what one means by "intention". Can one have an intention without being "conscious"? So we are in a circle.

There is a range of words like intention, experience, feeling, etc that are often used to explain consciousnesses (Chalmers uses experience in one of his articles if I recall; Steve Harnad chooses feeling; and so on) but they all the beg the same question and result in the same circle.

Consciousness, in my view, is far too elusive and profound a question to be answered in terms like these. That is why I think the customary analytic philosophy approach to the matter - which regularly depends on such methods - will forever chase its tail.

DA








2010-05-01
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler


As a start towards understanding what Chalmers means by ‘consciousness’ one might take a look at the index at the back of the book. Here are some (by no means all) of the entries under ‘consciousness.’


(1)   Definition of. Pp. 3-4.

(2)   Different meanings of term.  6, 25-28, 360n 15.

(3)   Examples of.  4, 6-11, 359n5.

(4)   No analysis of concept. 94.

(5)   Phenomenal and psychological varieties. 104-6.

(6)   Specific character of. 5, 101, 263, 276-77.


It seems clear that Chalmers considers the division between ‘phenomenal’ consciousness and ‘psychological’ consciousness to be fundamental. (pp. 25-6)


Here are some of the many varieties of ‘psychological consciousness.’ (p. 26-7)

(a)    Awakeness

(b)   Introspection

(c)    Reportability

(d)   Self-consciousness

(e)    Attention

(f)     Voluntary control

(g)    Knowledge.


“…these are all largely functional notions…” (i.e. NOT the kinds of consciousness of primary interest in this book.)


A section on p. 6 makes a crucial stipulation:


Speaking of the various kinds of psychological consciousness, Chalmers says:

“All of these are accepted uses of the term (i.e. ‘consciousness’ HC), but all pick out phenomena distinct from the subject I am discussing, and phenomena that are significantly less difficult to explain...for now, when I talk about consciousness, I am talking only about the subjective quality of experience: what it is like to be a cognitive agent.”


It is important to keep this in mind. Perhaps Chalmers should have provided us with some sort of reminder that, for the most part he is NOT talking about ‘consciousness’ in general, per se, etc. He is talking about consciousness* (i.e. PHENOMOLOGICAL consciousness.)


“A number of alternative terms and phrases pick out approximately the same class of phenomena as ‘consciousness’ in its central sense. These include ‘experience,’ qualia’, ‘phenomenology’, ‘phenomenal’, ‘subjective experience’, and  ‘what it is like.’ Apart from grammatical differences, the differences among these terms are mostly subtle matters of connotation. ‘To be conscious’ in this sense is roughly synonymous with ‘to have qualia’, ‘to have subjective experience,'’ and so on. Any differences in the class of phenomena picked out are insignificant. Like ‘consciousness',’ many of these terms are somewhat ambiguous, but I will never use these terms in the alternative senses. I will use all these phrases in talking about the central phenomenon of this book, but ‘consciousness’ and ‘experience’ are the most straight forward terms, and it is these terms that will recur.” (p. 6)




The mention of phenomenology suggests Kant and subsequent ‘continental’ studies. But, of course, Chalmers is not DOING phenomenology. He is doing metaphysics. I think his primary task in the book is to show that materialism, or ‘physicalism’ is unacceptable as a full account of reality.


Zombies (aided and abetted by Mary) play a crucial role in the book’s argument. Mary (supposedly) provides us with a clear example of something phenomenological – namely her experience of red. Since (we stipulate implausibly) she knows everything belonging to science in regard to red, and the perception of red, and yet she learns something she didn’t know before – namely a bit of phenomenology ‘how it feels to experience red ’- there is more to reality than the stuff dealt with by science.  The idea of a Chalmers type ‘zombie’ drives the point home. Zombies are physically and behaviorally exactly like us, living in a world physically exactly like ours; but they don’t have any phenomenological stuff going on at all. Conclusion: there is more to the world than the kind of stuff explored by science.


The book addresses an issue that is basic in regard to our present-day world-view. The view that science by itself  (ideally) provides the best, most basic, picture of reality as a whole is widespread, and appealing. On the other hand, most of the people on this planet reject this view (whether or not they know that they do so). There is a serious cultural issue here.


2010-05-02
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
I think that asking what 'concsiousness' (or inention etc.) means here is to make a special 'meaning/use' mistake - and this isn't a copout, as I'll explain:

My post was mainly about attributing intentional states rather than about their nature.  Kripke's rule following paradox renders behavioural attribution of intentional states impossibly ambiguous - and, as he correctly concludes, this makes it look as though we can't be sure we are talking to one another.  His solution to this problem is to make it a kind of group norm behaviour issue, but this isn't satisfactory because it just begs the question of how, and whether, we can reliably recognise group norms.

There is a difference, however, between attributing an intentional state on the basis of behaviour and attributing it to an interlocutor.  If I ask you whether you are adding or 'quadding', and you say 'adding', I can only doubt whether you are by also doubting your competence as an interlocutor - doubting whether you are correctly using the word 'adding', etc.

(This would be like doubting whether, in writing his book, Kripke was actually stating his rule following paradox.)

If we are talking to each other (as we are) in a a language which allows us to say things like 'we are talking to each other', then whenever the question arises whether we are, we would have to agree that we were.  ('We are not talking to each other' is not a playable move in any language game.)  So if we're using a language that allows this kind of self-referential move, we are also using a language whose users are in this kind of 'second order' intentional state - they know they are talking to each other, just as I know you are adding if you are a competent interlocutor and you say you are adding.

Within the 'language game' we are playing, I cannot intelligibly ask whether you are a competent interlocutor (any more than I can intelligibly ask a zombie whether she has a phenomenal existence).

If you were to say 'no' it would put the intelligibility of your response into doubt - I couldn't even make enough sense of your answer to interpret it as 'no'.

So:  if we can talk to one another in a language in which we can do philosophy, we must be able to attribute a quite complex hierarchy of intentional states to one another.  I think this is roughly the same as attirbuting consciousness - and if it isn't, the differences maybe aren't very interesting.

At this point, I could make a Wittgensteinian move and say 'and that's all there is to it', but that would leave the kind of unsatisfactory gap that drove so many people back to trying to do metaphysics.

I do think that 'phenomenal' consciousness, and our internal perceptions of being in intentional states, are 'beetles in boxes'.  There's something really there, but it appears at exactly the point at which our experiences become unarticulable.  The reason you're you and I'm me is that we live, from the point of view of the unarticulable aspects of these internal experiences, in different worlds.  Our shared world is the one we can talk about - our internal phenomenal states could be anything at all, subjectively, so long as when we articulate them, and to the extent we can articulate them, they come out sufficently commensurable for our communication to continue.

Scientific theories refer to shared, articulated experiences, not to unshared private phenomenal states.  There is, in this sense, no reason whatever to imagine that my individual consciousness will ever be 'explained' scientificially, because it's exactly the thing I don't share with you.

And, of course, you could say the same - except that if you were a zombie I wouldn't be speaking to you.

Although I might be pretending to.

2010-05-02
Describing zombies
Reply to Alex. Arthur
Hi Arthur

Thanks for your reply.

You write: "I think that asking what 'consciousness' (or intention etc.) means here is to make a special 'meaning/use' mistake - and this isn't a copout, as I'll explain:  My post was mainly about attributing intentional states rather than about their nature."

But surely if someone gives as a definition of a zombie: "A zombie is physically identical to a normal human being, but completely lacks conscious experience", then the first thing we need to do is to try to give that proposition some meaning. We have to try to understand what Chalmers is saying.

Now, we have to be a bit careful because the notion of a zombie is not entirely without meaning quite apart from Chalmers proposition. We have the zombies of Hollywood movies - the creatures "physically identical to a normal human being", to use his phrase, but with the slightly glazed look etc to let the audience know that they are not "really" humans. But these, after all, are purely imaginary things that have no reality outside the realm of the science fiction. So we have to be careful that fantasy does not contaminate* the philosophical argument. (This is partly why I used the word "zimbie" in my refutation: one is not tempted to think that a zimbie is somehow a real thing.)

Once having avoided that trap (and it is a trap) we have still to ask: what does Chalmers' proposition mean?  Now I won't go over my zimbie argument again, but it is surely clear from that that unless one knows in advance what one means by "conscious experience" (unless it is more than just "Factor X") his proposition is quite meaningless - that is, one cannot deduce from it anything about what a zombie is, might be able to do, not do, etc. (And of course, if one does already know what "conscious experience" is, the whole exercise is pointless anyway. Why worry what a being without consciousness would be like if one already knows what consciousness is?)

My other point relates to your comment on the idea of intention. I would not want to orient the discussion too much around this. The idea of intention is only one of a number of semi-equivalents commonly used for consciousness. There is a longish list of others, as I mentioned (experience, feeling, cognitive states, awareness, etc). My objection to all of them is the same: they fail to recognize that the notion of consciousness is - or could be - presumed in all of them. So one is trying to define consciousness in terms of ideas in which the idea of consciousness may already be present.

DA

* I think the use of science fiction in philosophy - which "analytics" do quite often  -  is a very risky business. It may seem "cool", but there is always, as here, a big danger that fantasy will contaminate the argument.
 

2010-05-02
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Hugh

RE: "As a start towards understanding what Chalmers means by ‘consciousness’ one might take a look at the index at the back of the book. Here are some (by no means all) of the entries under ‘consciousness.’ (1)   Definition of. Pp. 3-4."

The point I am addressing - and the main point of this thread as I understand it - is: what sense one can make of Chalmers' definition of a zombie (not consciousness). And my argument is that we can make no sense of it. (Though I would, of course, be happy to read any refutation of my argument that might occur to you.)

I am intrigued nevertheless. What is his "definition of consciousness" on pages 3,4? (I do not have a copy of the book and have read enough of his stuff on the web not to feel any strong desire to.)

DA

2010-05-02
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler


Let’s try to understand Chalmers’ notion of a ‘zombie.’ This kind of creature is introduced as part of a way “to investigate the logical supervenience of consciousness.” (p.94)


Chalmers’ says that his zombie twin is “someone or something physically identical to me, but lacking conscious experiences altogether.” (p. 94)

NB: Chalmers is now using ’consciousness’ only to refer to phenomenal consciousness (as stipulated on p.  31.)


 “To fix ideas, we can imagine that right now I am gazing out the window, experiencing some nice green sensations from seeing the trees outside, having pleasant taste experiences through munching on a chocolate bar, and feeling a dull aching sensation in my right shoulder.

What is going on in my zombie twin? He is physically identical to me, and we may as well suppose that he is embedded in an identical environment. He will certainly be identical to me FUNCTIONALLY: he will be processing the same sort of information, reacting in a similar way to inputs, with his internal configurations being modified appropriately and with indistinguishable behavior resulting. He will be PSYCHOLOGICALLY identical to me, in the sense developed in Chapter 1. He will be perceiving the trees outside, in the functional sense, and tasting the chocolate, in the psychological sense. All of this follows logically from the fact that he is physically identical to me, by virtue of the functional analyses of psychological notions. He will even be “conscious” in the functional senses described earlier – he will be awake, able to report the contents of his internal states, able to focus attention in various places, and so on. It is just that none of this functioning will be accompanied by any real conscious experience. There will be no phenomenal feel. There is nothing it is like to be a zombie.” (p.95)


In a rather disturbing aside Chalmers adds that this sort of zombie is radically different from Hollywood zombies.  “..as Block (1995) points out, it is reasonable to suppose that there is something it tastes like when they (the Hollywood zombies, HC) eat their victims.” Chalmers calls those zombies PSYCHOLOGICAL ZOMBIES. He says, “I am concerned with PHENOMENAL ZOMBIES.” (P. 95)


In order to understand what Chalmers means by the term ‘zombie’ we have to understand what he means by ‘phenomenal consciousness.’ It is the absence of this kind of consciousness that defines a ‘zombie’ in Chalmers’ sense of the term.




2010-05-03
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Oh dear, there are so many questions begged here, one doesn't quite know where to start.

Let's take a few at random.

RE: "Chalmers is now using ’consciousness’ only to refer to phenomenal consciousness"

I find it simply amazing that certain philosophers of the analytic persuasion can start talking about various forms of consciousness when the thing itself is so far from being defined convincingly. It's like taking about various forms of a swongle (a word I just made up) before one knows what a swongle is. (Of course talking about "phenomenal consciousness" sounds very scientific etc...)

RE: "What is going on in my zombie twin? He is physically identical to me, and we may as well suppose that he is embedded in an identical environment. He will certainly be identical to me FUNCTIONALLY: "

But what does "functionally" mean in this context? Am I "functioning" when I am deciding to have a beer? If so, functioning would seem to have consciousness involved in it, wouldn't it? How "elementary" does a human action have to be before we are sure it has no consciousness component, and is just a "functioning"?  Walking? But are we sure that even walking has no consciousness element? After all I have to direct my walking towards something unless I am just walking in some bizarre, arbitrary way.  Can we safely say that sleeping qualifies?  So all a zombie could do that we could safely call "functioning" is sleep?  (This is just a bit of basic philosophical analysis. Surely "analytic" philosophy can appreciate these points?) 

RE: "He will be perceiving the trees outside, in the functional sense."

What on earth does this mean?  Have you ever perceived a tree "functionally"? How does it differ from your ordinary perception of a tree? Can you describe what a "functional" sight of a tree would look like? 

RE: "In a rather disturbing aside Chalmers adds that this sort of zombie is radically different from Hollywood zombies."

"Disturbing" is the understatement of the year!  Are your really telling me that this branch of philosophy treats Hollywood zombies seriously? A Hollywood zombie, let us remember, belongs to the fake, celluloid world of Hollywood movies. They were invented by some production company whose aim presumably was simply to make money. They are on the same conceptual level as Spider Man, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc. They are childish fantasies, great for spinning a buck (though these days you need lots of "special effects") but for serious philosophical purposes they are about as relevant as a toy train or a teddy bear.

There's more I could say, but after the Hollywood zombie bit I need a break.  To think that such nonsense is really regarded as relevant to serious philosophy!  And on a subject as important as human consciousness!

DA

  

 



2010-05-03
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler


Sometimes what looks like a nice, straightforward natural kind term turns out not to be. For instance ‘jade’ turns out to designate two fundamentally different minerals: Nephrite and Jadeite.  Biology provides several examples. The term ‘worm’ turns out to be hopeless, biologically. There are lots of radically distinct animals that are called ‘worms'. There is no such natural kind. The term ‘fish’ used to be heterogeneous in the same way. Whale-fish, cray-fish, starfish, as well as flounders, and mackerel. In analyzing the term one was reduced to describing the various kinds of critters that are given that label. No better way to proceed.

 

‘Conscious’ and ‘Consciousness’ may turn out to belong to this family of terms. It may be heterogeneous in this way. [I think Chalmers mentions this possibility some where; but I don’t remember where.] In effect, there may be no such thing as ‘consciousness’ per se – just a loose bundle of various psychological and phenomenal states, activities, or whatever.

 

It is a mistake to think that in exploring putative general terms one must first fix a clear, single, meaning for the general term (e.g. ‘worm’) and then move on to an exploration of the particular kinds of things that fall under it. That is to say, one mustn’t assume there is some nice set of essential properties that unites the things that belong to this alleged class. Some apparent classes are not like this.

 


2010-05-04
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Re: " In effect, there may be no such thing as ‘consciousness’ per se – just a loose bundle of various psychological and phenomenal states, activities, or whatever."

Precisely. And this is why statements such as "A zombie is physically identical to a normal human being, but completely lacks conscious experience " are so nonsensical. If "consciousness" is completely undefined - if there may even be "no such thing" - then defining a zombie as "lacking" it is patent gibberish.

By the way, it occurred to me that if analytic philosophy takes Hollywood zombies seriously, it might also want to think seriously about the philosophical significance of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. After all, they are Hollywood fantasies too, aren't they? And, surely, a rabbit and a duck that speak English (no doubt other languages too when they are dubbed) are at least as important that a thing that looks like a human being, walks a bit oddly, has a slightly glazed look, speaks in a slight monotone, and is controlled by super-beings on Planet Woo Woo (or whatever nonsense the screenwriter happens to think up).

DA

PS  I am still curious about what a tree would look like when it is seen "functionally".

2010-05-04
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler

A: Tell me what jade is.

B: OK. Well one kind of jade is a worn out horse, another is a saucy young woman, a third is nephrite, a fourth is jadeite , ……a

A: Hold it!!  I guess you are giving me a list of various kinds of jade. But that’s not what I want. I want to know what jade itself is.  What, exactly is jade? Surely we need to know that before we can begin to discuss intelligently the various kinds of jade.

B: I’m sorry. I should have made this clear. It turns out that there is no such thing as ‘jade itself,’ as distinct from various kinds of things called ‘jade'.

A: If there is no such thing as jade, then there can’t be any such thing as, say, a saucy young woman, or a worn out horse, or…. whatever.

B: Huh?! What makes you say that?

A: Well, as you yourself said, a saucy young woman is one kind of jade. If there is, really, no such thing as ‘jade’ (or ‘a jade’) then there can’t be any saucy young women.

B: But what there are in reality, if I may put it that way, are just the various kinds of things called ‘jade’ or ‘a jade’  - no such thing as jade itself.

A: That’s absurd! In fact it must go the other way around, if there is no such thing as ‘jade itself’ then there can’t be any of those particular kinds of the stuff (or whatever).


2010-05-05
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
You are missing the point, Hugh.

In your little story there are various kinds of jade. And, as you seem to recognize, jade is not a meaningless word in English. There is a small number of different definitions, all quite clear and comprehensible.

But in Chalmers' definition of a zombie, there are no definitions of consciousness at all.   It is as if he were talking about a swongle - a word with no meaning attached.

But let us even grant your objection. On this basis, Chalmers would be saying that a zombie is a human being minus consciousness, where "consciousness" has a range of different meanings (like your jade). 

So, what sort of definition of a zombie would that be?  Suppose I am a scientist (analytics like scientists so this should be appropriate) and I tell a learned assembly of my peers that I have discovered a new substance - let's call it "zombie-ite".

"Fascinating," they say. "What is it?"
 
"Well," say I, "It is a good, old, normal cellulose - you all know cellulose - minus a component called consciousness-ite".

"But what," they ask (very reasonably) "is consciousness-ite?".

"Oh," say I breezily, "It has no fixed meaning. You can't pin it down to any one thing, you know. Consciousness-ite can be many different things. I have a dozen different definitions already. And, hey, just last night I thought of another three. And listen to this!  It's even possible that consciousness-ite may not exist!  Brilliant, eh?...

But that's odd. I now seemed to be talking to an empty room. Where had all my peers gone?

DA


PS Try as I might, and no matter how many trees I look at, I cannot imagine how one would look if I saw it "functionally'. I really need some help here...


2010-05-05
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Some Quotes:


2009-06-23


First, I am very wary about any approach that talks in terms of different kinds of consciousness. I note in the little I've read in this area that there is a strong tendency to do this, but it seems to me to be premature, to say the least. If the very idea of consciousness is extremely elusive - which it is - one is surely jumping the gun to start splitting it up into different categories. So phrases like 'consciousness in a very broad sense' or  'experential aspects of consciousness', or 'qualitative aspect of consciousness', and 'consciousness in the "ordinary" sense', seem to me to raise more questions than they purport to answer. 



2009-96-23


Nevertheless, as I said in my earlier post, I do get very edgy when I see consciousnesses being blithely split up into various categories without any serious prior attempt to say what the very idea of consciousness might mean. And I have seen this kind of thing in articles I've read.



2010-04-22

I also think it is bizarre to see discussions of things like "phenomenal consciousness" and various other speculative sub-divisions of consciousness (eg by Block as well) when the very notion of consciousness itself is still so inadequately defined. It's like talking about sub-classes of some substance which has not yet been discovered and may not even exist. Sounds "scientific" and impressive of course....


2010-05-03

I find it simply amazing that certain philosophers of the analytic persuasion can start talking about various forms of consciousness when the thing itself is so far from being defined convincingly. It's like taking about various forms of a swongle (a word I just made up) before one knows what a swongle is. (Of course talking about "phenomenal consciousness" sounds very scientific etc...)



Yesterday:

Re: " In effect, there may be no such thing as ‘consciousness’ per se – just a loose bundle of various psychological and phenomenal states, activities, or whatever."

Precisely. And this is why statements such as "A zombie is physically identical to a normal human being, but completely lacks conscious experience " are so nonsensical. If "consciousness" is completely undefined - if there may even be "no such thing" - then defining a zombie as "lacking" it is patent gibberish.


Today:

In your little story there are various kinds of jade. And, as you seem to recognize, jade is not a meaningless word in English. There is a small number of different definitions, all quite clear and comprehensible.

But in Chalmers' definition of a zombie, there are no definitions of consciousness at all.   It is as if he were talking about a swongle - a word with no meaning attached.

But let us even grant your objection. On this basis, Chalmers would be saying that a zombie is a human being minus consciousness, where "consciousness" has a range of different meanings (like your jade). 




End of Quotes


My claim is that in his definition of a ‘zombie’ Chalmers is NOT using ‘consciousness’ in some general sense. He is using it in one of its special, limited, meanings. To repeat: he says on p. 31 “In what follows, I revert to using “conscious “ to refer to phenomenal consciousness alone. When I wish to use the psychological notions, I will speak of ‘psychological consciousness’ or ‘awareness.’ It is phenomenal consciousness with which I will mostly be concerned.”


Consequently, we are to understand the definition of a ‘zombie’ to include the stipulation that his zombies lack PHENOMENAL consciousness (‘consciousness’ in one of its special senses, NOT in some presumed general sense.


If we are trying to understand what Chalmers means by a ‘zombie’, we need to focus on what Chalmers means by ‘phenomenal consciousness.’ (He says A LOT about it.)

2010-05-06
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Hi Hugh

I'm not quite sure why you included all those quotes from my earlier posts. I don't resile a millimetre from any of them, but I can't see what point you are trying to make. Perhaps you could explain.

Now, re your comment: "If we are trying to understand what Chalmers means by a ‘zombie’, we need to focus on what Chalmers means by ‘phenomenal consciousness". I might first point out that Chalmers says nothing about "phenomenal" consciousness in his definition of a zombie at the top of this thread. One would have thought that if this was so important to him, he would have stipulated it?

But let that pass. As I said in the quotes you give, I think it's very odd, to say the least, to start sub-dividing consciousness if one hasn't first found a satisfactory definition of what consciousness tout court is. What sense would it make to start telling someone about the difference between various sorts of bananas if they didn't know what a banana was?

But let that pass too. If, as you say, Chalmers' definition of a zombie should be corrected to read "A zombie is physically identical to a normal human being, but completely lacks phenomenally conscious experience", we still of course face the problem that in terms of that definition we are no closer to knowing what a zombie is because the phrase "phenomenally conscious experience" is a blank - an unknown (as "conscious experience" was).

But let that pass as well. Let's suppose that, although he doesn't say it, Chalmers really wants us to supplement his definition of a zombie by delving around in his writings and finding out what he means by "phenomenal consciousness". Now, you say "he says A LOT" about this matter. I have encountered various attempts to explain "phenomenal consciousness" by various analytic philosophers, on and off these forums, and they have all struck me as raising far more philosophical problems than they purport to answer. At some point, somewhere, I think I even came across Chalmers' definition - but, alas, had the same reaction. But I gather you think his definition of "phenomenal consciousness" is very satisfactory, so would you care to remind me what, in essence, it is?  Maybe this time I will be overwhelmed by its lucidity and profundity and will be compelled to withdraw all my objections to his definition of a zombie on the spot.

DA

2010-05-06
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan


I am a nincompoop!

2010-05-06
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek -

I think we're saying the same thing, in a funny way (you may not agree).

The science fiction metaphors aren't wholly misleading, and they do warn us not to be guided too much by our visceral reactions ...

The 'funcitonal zombie' version of the experiment reveals this a little bit - it takes the problem towards the AI debate, which also has an SF quality, and (I think) can be mis-directed by the same confusions.

If we try to find some scientific - as in empirically based, computational, based on shared agreement about facts etc. - criterion for distinguishing between zombies (functional or traditional) and conscious people, we're bound to fail.  I think this is the point of your argument, and the point of the 'zombie world' argument.

However, we do - routinely, and, we feel, reliably - attribute consciousness ot one another.  So what's going on?

The answer, I think, is that it's a normative category, not a scientific or empirical, or even epistemological one.  This is, intuitively, very hard to swallow - because we so strongly associate our capacity to scientifically theorise about the world with our capacity to have certain phenomenal experiences.  This is obviously a big issue, but one that I think can be addressed.  (Though not in this post.)

Consciousness is something we attribute to interlocutors - to people we can talk to (and share philosophical or scientific or other theories with).  This is why it is linked to intention - to the capacity to have intentional states, which we also attribute (in the central case) to interlocutors.  We attribute them to others (animals, cats, word processors ...) but only on the basis of behaviour (and therefore corrigibly - re Kripke).  To talk with you 'properly', I must attribute intentional states to you (e.g. that you believe what you say) unambiguously.  If I thought you were a zombie, I might go through the same 'motions', but it would be to interact with you in a different way - to treat you as a machine (as I might treat a voice-operated robot).  Your complexity (with respect to your semantic capacities) isn't an issue here - in the past it might have supported a comfortingly reliably pragmatic distinction, but we can make very complex machines now.

When I attribute phenomenal states to you, I am attributing something like unarticulated functional precursors to intentional states and to articulation - I am attributing the same capacity to speak as I feel myself to have.  I am thinking something like 'I can talk to you because you see the same world as I do'.

If I imagined you were a zombie, I would, simultaneously, be imagining that I couldn't really talk to you (although, as I said, I might sound as though I was - in the sense that I could be sending you 'speech signals' designed to elicit programmed responses, some of which would also sound like speech).

So there's something like this going on:

'I can talk with you' must be true in any real conversation (but not in a 'conversation' with a zombie, where only the functions of the signals are at stake, and truth and falsity don't arise).

If I can talk with you, then I can attribute intentional states to you (and you to me).

Some of these are intentional states that I can only attribute to something/one who is 'conscious'.

I know this seems a bit unsatisfactory, but I think it's unsatisfactory in the right way - what it fails to support is an intuition which is, actually, unreliable.  This is the intuition that the 'similiarity' of our phenomenal states (as opposed to our intentional states) somehow underlies - as in epistemologically precedes - our ability to talk to one another.  I think it's the other way around:  our ability to talk to one another convinces us that we share the phenomenal states as well as the intentional ones - that I see a similar 'red patch' to you, as well as coming to believe that there is a ball on the grass.  This isn't necessary - our phenomenal states need only be such as to support our agreements about intentional states, and need not be any more commensurate.  However much we burrow down, e.g. by trying to develop a language of 'sense data', we never get to the phenomenal level.  We just get to agreements about what to say about it, to other intentional states.

Alex.

(Arthur is my surname - don't worry, it confuses lots of people!).

2010-05-06
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
It's obvious where Chalmers originated his own zombie thesis. 
Note the constant reference to all types of zombie behavior (lack of phenomenal consciousness in a land (place) down under?)


Land Down Under...by Men At Work

"Travelling in a fried-out combie
On a hippie trail, head full of ZOMBIE
I met a strange lady, she made me nervous
She took me in and gave me breakfast
And she said,

"Do you come from a land down under?
Where women glow and men plunder?
Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover."

Buying bread from a man in Brussels
He was six foot four and full of muscle
I said, "Do you speak-a my language?"
He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich
And he said,

"I come from a land down under
Where beer does flow and men chunder
Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover." (Yeahhh!)

Dying in a den in Bombay
With a slack jaw, and nothin' much to say
I said to the man, "Are you trying to tempt me
Because I come from the land of plenty?"
And he said,

"Oh, you come from a land down under? (oh yeah yeah)
Where women glow and men plunder?
Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder? (ooohh)
You better run, you better take cover."

We are..

Livin' in a land down under,
Where women glow and men plunder, (yeahhhhhhhhhh)
Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder? (thunderrrrr!)
You better run, you better take cover.

Livin' in a land down under,
Where women glow and men plunder,
Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder? (oooo yeahhhh!)
Then I run, and then I take cover. (yea)

We are...

Livin' in a land down under, (underrrr)
Where women glow and men plunder,
Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder? (oooo da da laa yeahhh!)
Then I run, then I take cover."

2010-05-06
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler

Good heavens! Zombie Mary is not my invention. Tillmann Vierkant has a paper called Zombie Mary and the blue-banana.


2010-05-07
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Their creator states that zombies do not have experiences. That's good enough for me. We all know perfectly well what an experience is or, at least, what it is like to have one, so this seems a crystal clear beginning for his definition of both consciousness and zombies. The question of what an 'experience' is and of how and why we have them is irrelevant to it. We know that we have experiences and that zombies do not.   

DC goes on to stipulate that zombies behave like human beings, and here that the trouble starts. We can easily define a pig that that can fly, and can even grant it a fantasy existence, but we can't use it as a counterexample for the theory of gravity. But this is another issue. The problem is not one of definitions. DC has clearly defined his creation. What he has not done is show that such a thing can exist.  If he or anybody else could do this then we'd have a proof that experiences are non-causal. But he does not define zombies as existants and so I can see no reasonable objection to his definition.

Of course, as D will be about to object, even with zombies clearly defined we're left with the problem of defining 'experience' in a precise and scientific way, rather than by simply pointing at the brute fact of it, and also of sorting out the relationship between experience and consciousness. But it's just as well really, otherwise many people here would be out of work. This problem need not prevent us from speculating about the existence of zombies. 

Moving on, it occurs to me that the ancestors of today's zombies would have no reason to attribute volcanoes, thunder and lightening and so forth to a purposeful God.  How could we explain zombie religions?   
  

  

 


2010-05-08
Describing zombies
RE: "Their creator states that zombies do not have experiences. That's good enough for me. We all know perfectly well what an experience is or, at least, what it is like to have one"

Let's leave aside the major philosophical difficulty which is: Can we be sure that human "experience" does not already and always have a "consciousness" component? (which would put us in a vicious circle) .

If as, you say, you know what is it "like" to an have an experience (I guess that would like having another experience?) do you know what it is "like" not to have an experience (which apparently a zombie doesn't)?  Is that "like" when one is asleep, for example?  Or, maybe, kind of like staring blankly at a wall? Is that what being a zombie is like?

The philosophical problems in the definition of a zombie are huge and obvious. Zombies should have been left in third rate Hollywood movies where they belong.

DA



2010-05-08
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
You'll have to read Chalmers for his view on the relationship between experience and consciousness. For phenomenal consciousness they'd be more or less synonymous terms. 

I'm an amateur philosopher and would not normally make such a comment, but to me your posts do not suggest a close familiarity with his ideas, which would normally be a prerequisite for persistent critical objections.

2010-05-08
Describing zombies
RE: "You'll have to read Chalmers for his view on the relationship between experience and consciousness. For phenomenal consciousness they'd be more or less synonymous terms.  "

From what you said I thought you were familiar with his position. I don't think you are right in saying that consciousness and phenomenal consciousness are regarded as the same - even "more or less".  Of course, as I've said, I think the distinction is bunkum anyway but that's another matter.

I should perhaps explain that in general I find the analytic approach to consciousnesses so tedious and question-begging I cannot bring myself to read much of it. So you are quite right in saying that I do not have a "a close familiarity" with it. I would not bother with the topic at all but I happen to think it important in itself and I hate to see it trivialized in the way analytic philosophy so consistently does. (Hollywood movie zombies etc)

DA



2010-05-10
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
I haven't heard about Vierkant's paper, but others have discussed Zombie Mary before.  E.g., Victoria McGeer (2003).  (I discuss McGeer's paper here:  What Zombie Mary Knows.)  I think Chalmers (2003) also discusses Zombie Mary.  I've heard that Chalmers discusses Zombie Mary elsewhere, too, though I don't know where.

Regards,
Jason
May 6, 2010

2010-05-10
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler


Problems in regard to The Conscious Mind

 

(1)   Crucial to Chalmers’ argument is the move from conceivability to possibility. Chalmers claims that one can go from ‘x is conceivable’ to ‘x is  (metaphysically) possible.’ This is how he gets from ‘A zombie world physically exactly like ours from beginning to end (or whatever) is conceivable', ‘ to ‘A zombie world physically exactly like ours from beginning to end (or whatever) is possible.’  {Then, as we all know, he goes from ‘A zombie world physically exactly like ours from beginning to end (or whatever) is possible’ to ‘Materialism is false.’]

 

The move from conceivability to possibility is questionable. As Scott Soames has, in effect, said, it is conceivable that this table (the one I am leaning on) was originally made of plastic. (Perhaps, bit-by-bit, over the years, its parts were replaced by wood.)  The Delian Table. On the other hand, if it was, as seems likely, originally, made of this very wood, then that it was originally made of wood is necessarily true. Its composition at origin is not a contingent matter. (see Kripke). Apparently, conceivability is one thing and metaphysical possibility another.

 

The justification for the questionable move offered by Chalmers depends upon ‘strong two dimensionalism,’ but it is not altogether obvious that we should be strong two dimensionalists. (See Soames on this.)

 

(2)   One could object to the move from the possibility of a ‘zombie world’ (for short) to the falsity of physicalism.  If physicalism is correct, then a zombie world is exactly like ours in EVERY respect. (Am I right about this?)  [Can there be such a world? Not, I think, if a ‘possible world’ is a ‘way things could be’. Our world and that world are not TWO DIFFERENT ways things could be.] The argument seems to need the assumption that ours is not a zombie world. But how are we supposed to know that? Presumably my zombie duplicate is just as certain that he is not a zombie as I am that I am not a zombie. Should he conclude that physicalism is false from the possibility of a zombie world that is (in fact) exactly like his? 

 

 

Others?


2010-05-11
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
RE; "Crucial to Chalmers’ argument is the move from conceivability to possibility."

But even this is to grant his zombie thing far more credit than it merits.

What does "conceivability" mean?

If I say that it is inconceivable that Obama would support legislation in favour of racial segregation, it's fairly clear what I mean. "Obama" is a known quantity (known enough for the context anyway) and so is "legislation in favour of racial segregation". So the proposition makes sense. We know what it means. We can sensibly agree or disagree

But Chalmers' notion of  a zombie - if I can even call it that - is not a known quantity at all. The very concept, as I have been pointing out ad nauseam, is nonsensical, incoherent. It is as if I were talking about a "swongle" (a meaningless term I invented). The concept of a zombie seems coherent because we tend to think of Hollywood zombies and that seems to give it sense. But a Hollywood zombie is just Hollywood nonsense and we would be very silly to be misled by that.

In short, to agonize over the "conceivability" of zombies is to agonize over nonsense. It is like agonizing over whether Daffy Duck (whose status is exactly the same as a Hollywood zombie) has read War and Peace or likes Monteverdi. A silly waste of time. In the language teenagers sometimes use, it is to be "sucked in".

DA


2010-05-11
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
I'd rather argue that zombie world is not conceivable, on the grounds that the idea is paradoxical. Certainly I cannot conceive of such a world. I can conceive of it well enough to follow DC's line of thought, but I cannot conceive of a zombie world that exists. Likewise, I cannot imagine a zombie world in which the inhabitants are in all respect horses, and in all respects behave exactly like horses, except that they have no legs. The idea does not compute.  

Can one conceive of an entity that is self-contradictory? If not, as I would argue, then conceivability and metaphysical possibility may be equivalent, such that if we are able to conceive of an entity then it cannot be logically impossible. But if we say that we are able to conceive of even one logically paradoxical entitity then there can be no equivalence. (Or not unless the universe itself is paradoxical). 

My view would be that a zombie is a blatantly incoherent idea even if it is a useful one, and that to talk of their actual existence is to abandon philosophy for irrational nonsense.  

2010-05-11
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler

Another try:


As I understand Chalmers, he holds that he term ‘consciousness’ is ambiguous. It has a bunch of distinct meanings. In this regard it is like the term ‘jade’.  If someone asks what the term ‘jade’ means – claims that we have to know that before we begin discussing different meanings of the term - one can only go on insisting that it has various meanings – no single meaning.


Early in the book, Chalmers stipulates that he is going to use the term ‘consciousness’ in just one of its meanings.  By  ‘consciousness’ he only means ‘phenomenal consciousness.’ (see p. 31). It’s as if someone writing a book about Chinese art stated at the out set that she was going to use the word ‘jade’ only to refer to NEPHRITE.  Given that stipulation, it doesn’t make any sense to insist that she hasn’t told us what JADE is. (a) There isn’t any particular kind of thing that ‘Jade’ is. And (b) She has told us explicitly what SHE is going to mean by the term in the book.


So what DOES Chalmers mean by ‘consciousness’? He means PHENOMENAL consciousness. (This, he holds, is one of the principal meanings of the word.)


OK;  but now, of course, we need to get some kind of grip on ‘phenomenal consciousness.’ What’s that? I’m not perfectly sure that I have this right; but here is my impression. By ‘consciousness’  (i.e. phenomenal consciousness) he means the stuff studied by phenomenologists.


Sartre explores the inner experiential states (so to speak) of someone who is caught looking through the keyhole into someone elce’s apartment. Intense embarrassment. Feels as though he is just a grotesque object rather than a person, etc etc. Sartre is exploring what it is like to be a human being – a person.


Surely anyone who sees any merit at all in this sort of stuff – phenomenology – cannot hold that there is nothing to it – that there is no such realm?


Phenomenology explores states of phenomenal consciousness. (Have I got this right?)


The definition of a ‘zombie’ in Chalmers sense of the term is, roughly speaking, that a  ‘zombie’ is an entity that is physically exactly like an ordinary person (me, for example), and behaviorally exactly like an ordinary person, but lacks phenomenal consciousness – there is nothing for phenomenology to explore in there. If Sartre could somehow look into the relevant aspect of the creature he wouldn’t find anything at all.


If one thinks that phenomenologists aren’t exploring anything real – just blather – then one may well think that Chalmers hasn’t given us a comprehensible definition of a ‘zombie’ and that his attempt to show that the phenomenal realm is not reducible to physical stuff is a complete waste of time.


As of now anyway, I take Chalmer’s to be defending the irreducible reality of the realm that serious phenomenologists explore. Is that an absurd, worthless, project? I don't think so.





2010-05-12
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Hugh

OK, let's accept that Chalmers is talking about something he calls "phenomenal consciousness". (I think the term is a bit of a pretentious furphy, but let that go).

But we are still faced with what he means by that. You write - I assume by way of answer:

"Sartre explores the inner experiential states (so to speak) of someone who is caught looking through the keyhole into someone else’s apartment. Intense embarrassment. Feels as though he is just a grotesque object rather than a person, etc etc. Sartre is exploring what it is like to be a human being – a person..... Surely anyone who sees any merit at all in this sort of stuff – phenomenology – cannot hold that there is nothing to it – that there is no such realm?"

I must confess to some surprise that Chalmers appeals to Sartre. Does he really?  But anyway, let's suppose that Sartre's analysis of how someone feels in such a moment is correct. (Actually one could react in other ways, depending on the kind of person one was, but let that pass.) 

But what does that tell us about consciousness - sorry "phenomenal" consciousness"?  Why should we equate this particular reaction with "phenomenal consciousness"? It is embarrassment certainly (or most probably), but why call embarrassment "phenomenal consciousness"?  I agree with you that one cannot hold that there is "nothing in this realm". But it would be quite arbitrary, surely, to assume that the something in question defines "phenomenal consciousness". Why choose embarrassment? Why not give a different case where someone is afraid and call fear "phenomenal consciousness"? Or hope? Or joy? Or sorrow? And so on.

Maybe Chalmers' is trying to say that "phenomenal consciousness" is all these reactions?  Embarrassment, fear, hope, joy, sorrow - all the emotions. But where would that leave us? Definition: "Phenomenal consciousness is all the human emotions".  But that brings us right back to the question-begging solution of equating consciousness - sorry "phenomenal consciousness" - with ideas like emotion, feeling, experience, awareness, etc.

If this is the key to Chalmers' definition of a zombie, he remains in very deep trouble.

DA

PS If I had the time I would read his book, but I don't - and I have to confess I don't have the inclination.




2010-05-12
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
If Hugh's last post didn't sort the problem for you then I can't see what else there is to say.  

2010-05-12
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

So far as I know, there is no mention of Sartre in Chalmers' book. His name is not in the index.


2010-05-13
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
RE: "So far as I know, there is no mention of Sartre in Chalmers' book. His name is not in the index."

Yes, I was surprised, as I said. But since you were using the Sartre example to explain Chalmers' notion of "phenomenal consciousnesses" I thought perhaps you meant that he had done likewise.

So I am still in the dark about what he means by "phenomenal consciousnesses". Does he say?  There must surely be a succinct definition of it somewhere in his book, given, as you say, that it is so important to his argument. And I gather from what you said earlier that it is also key to his definition of a "zombie" (even though not stipulated in his definition of a "zombie" given at the head of this thread.)

DA



2010-05-13
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Chalmers need not provide us with a definition of phenomenal consciousness; but we do need pointers to it, examples of it, some way of getting our attention focused on it.

 

Austen Clark has an interesting attack on the claim that phenomenal consciousness posses ‘intractable problems'.’ (see his ‘Phenomenal Consciousness so-called’). Let me offer some quotes Clark provides from Chalmers’ work that, hopefully, single the thing out.

 

(1)   a mental state is conscious if it has a QUALITATIVE FEEL  - an associated quality of experience. These qualitative feels are also known as phenomenal properties, or QUALIA for short. The problem of explaining these phenomenal properties is just the problem of explaining consciousness. This is the really hard part of the mind-body problem. (Chalmers p. 4)

(2)   Phenomenal consciousness  is ..”the really difficult problem for a science of the mind” it “poses the WORRYING problem of consciousness.”

(3)   The phenomenal concept of mind … is the concept of mind as conscious experience, and of a mental state as consciously experienced mental state. ..On the phenomenal concept, mind is characterized by the way it feels… (p. 11)

(4)   “what it MEANS for a state to be phenomenal is for it to feel a certain way” (p. 11)

(5)   “ … in general a phenomenal feature of mind is characterized by what it is like for a subject to have that feature… (p. 12)

 

Clark summarizes Ned Block’s and Chalmers ‘formulations’ as follows:

 

“States of phenomenal consciousness involve a special kind of quality: phenomenal qualities. A state of phenomenal consciousness is a state in which something appears somehow to someone, and phenomenal qualities characterize that appearance. They characterize, for example, how something looks, feels, tastes, smalls, etc. On both accounts, states of phenomenal consciousness, to the extent that they can be identified using any words in a natural language, are best identified using various “appears” words. The FEEL of pain provides a paradigm example for both authors … LOOKS RED provides another.”

 


2010-05-13
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
That's helpful, and hopefully it clears up the definition issue.   

Because we can subtract the contents of phenomenal consciousness (pain, red,...) to leave what Schroedinger calls 'the canvas on which they are painted,'  the 'WORRYING' part of the problem of consciousness is to me the problem of pure awareness. This can be distinguished from other problems having only to do with contingent functions and processes, like seeing red or feeling pain.   

A zombie is supposed to have the functions and processes but not the awareness on which they are contingent, and this why I can't make sense of one. Whether these functions actually are contingent is something that has yet to be established in consciousness studies, and it it is commonly assumed that they're not. But I'm with Schroedinger in believing that they are, and have not yet seen the slightest reason to suppose that a zombie can exist. 

The debate is usually far too narrow, it seems to me. It is usually forgotten that in order to prove that a zombie can exist it would be necessary to falsify the teaching of the Buddha and Lao-tsu. Is it plausible that this can be done? If so, then why is it taking so long?  
 
 

2010-05-13
Describing zombies

I don’t understand your last claim.

Do you take Taoism to commit one to the view that ‘phenomenal consciousness’ is everywhere –something like that?

I don't think Chalmers would reject that possibility.


2010-05-14
Describing zombies
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Hi Hugh

Thanks for all that.  Sadly, it confirms my worst fears.

First, let me say that I cannot accept that "Chalmers need not provide us with a definition of phenomenal consciousness". How, for example, would we make sense of his "zombie" definition, which is: "A zombie is physically identical to a normal human being, but completely lacks conscious experience."? It is obvious, surely, that unless he has defined "conscious experience" (or "phenomenal consciousness", as you say) the definition is simply null and void.  This is a point I have been making all along.

The notion that we simply "need pointers to [phenomenal consciousness], examples of it," is I think quite insufficient.  Why should philosophers of consciousness be excused the requirement that all other philosophers have to satisfy - to define their terms? Why a lower standard for them?  In any case, how does one "point at" or give "examples" of something unless one knows what that something is? And if one knows, why not say?

Now, as for the points you list from Chalmers, I am I have to say hugely underwhelmed. Here are my comments on each:

(1) To say that "a mental state is conscious if it has a QUALITATIVE FEEL" is surely a statement of the bleeding obvious - but also completely unenlightening. The whole question surely is: what is the "quality" in question?  Chalmers statement is rather like describing an object to someone by saying "It feels like something". That really helps!

(2) He says " Phenomenal consciousness  is ...."the really difficult problem for a science of the mind” it “poses the WORRYING problem of consciousness.”  Once more a statement of the bleeding obvious.  (And here again we meet the idea of "phenomenal" consciousness" which to my mind is a furphy.) The difficult problem - in fact the only problem - is to define what consciousness is.  (And splitting things into "hard" and "easy" problems, as I think Chalmers does, is a red herring. It implies that something has been solved? What?)

(3) He writes :" The phenomenal concept of mind … is the concept of mind as conscious experience, and of a mental state as consciously experienced mental state. ..On the phenomenal concept, mind is characterized by the way it feels…"  This is just the same stuff - going around in the same circle.

(4) is "what it MEANS for a state to be phenomenal is for it to feel a certain way” (p. 11)  See my comment on (1). I cannot undertand how this sort of stuff passes muster among analytic philosophers. It's so patently useless.

(5) is " … in general a phenomenal feature of mind is characterized by what it is like for a subject to have that feature… (p. 12)"  This sounds like Nagel revisited. But in essence we are right back with the "feels" idea. (like = feels like).

If Chalmers definition ("ostensive" definition if you prefer) boils down to the notion of "feeling (like)", we have truly got nowhere at all.  Feeling is simply one of those terms like emotion, awareness, etc that seem already to have the notion of consciousness built in (or at least can we prove that they don't?) so we are defining something in terms of itself. A basic philosophical error.

The last paragraph you quote just raises the same problems in slightly different terms. Can something "appears somehow to someone" unless the someone is conscious? Same circle.

This as I say is very underwhelming.  I'm sorry to ask but is this sort of thing really taken seriously? As you can see, it's riddled with problems.  I feel less and less inclined to read the book

DA

2010-05-14
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Hugh - "Do you take Taoism to commit one to the view that ‘phenomenal consciousness’ is everywhere –something like that?"
 
Something like that, yes, but it needn't be such a deep point. There are various ways in which the existence of zombies would be counterevidence for mysticism's view of human nature. For instance, human behaviour would be motivated by desires and moderated by beliefs (as for Popper), while a zombie would know nothing of desires and beliefs.    

I also don't think that Chalmers rejects the possibility that the Taoist view is correct. In fact I read him as saying that it is correct, since it is the only view by which there would be the extra ingredient in the mind-matter problem that he proposes would be necessary for a solution. Thus there is no mind-matter dilemma in mysticism. This may be an issue that deserves more of his attention, given his conclusion that neither mind or matter is fundamental. Only for mysticism would they have a dependent and contingent existence. Hence Barkin calls this view 'relative phenomenalism'. 

Sorry if this is OT here.    


 

  

   

 

 

2010-05-24
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
I wrote a paper which I decided to call "The Philosophical Zombie versus The Tennis Playing Zombie" .I came up with the idea after watching tennis matches over many years.Once finished, I thought the whole thing was a little silly and a little lengthy to hold any one's interest, let alone say anything significant. In the end I sent David Chalmers a copy and to my surprise, he thought it was rather good. He made a few comments which I will add at the end of my post.

Basically, the idea is that tennis players when they 'play in the zone' are philosophical zombies. I actually call them 'tennis playing zombies'. Anyone who has played tennis knows what it is like to hit a winner, miss an important shot or be down set points. The experience of seeing the tennis ball going past an opponent or hitting the net has a certain phenomenological character about it. From the tennis players point of view, it could be summarized as having a ,'What it is like?' experience.

The position being put forward is that these thoughts and feelings while playing tennis are over and above the process of just hitting the ball. There is something additional to the experience, something that philosophical zombies don't experience. Sometimes these thoughts can be positive or negative depending on how the player views the state of the match at any particular time.

Many professional tennis players complain that the conscious mind gets in the way of a strong performance. It would seem that too many positive thoughts can be just as bad as too many negative thoughts.

What seems to work is the player being able to bypass the conscious mind and just react to the situation at hand. Studies in sports psychology suggest that it is possible for sports people to establish a direct link between perception and action, thus bypassing the cognitive process. In other words, it seems possible to play with a blank mind.

My idea is that the 'tennis playing zombie' satisfies at least one of the criteria for being 'a philosophical zombie', i.e. lacking cognitive consciousness.

David Chalmers was kind enough to make a comment or two about the paper. He saw the most obvious difference is that 'tennis playing zombies' still have perceptual consciousness while' philosophical zombies' don't. He goes on to say that if I am right then tennis players are 'partial zombies' because they could be seen to be missing the experience of thinking.

David Chalmers also seems to be saying that my tennis playing zombie still has perception of the external world and this can be regarded as part of their consciousness.

I have a few questions:

Is there a need for a distinction between cognitive consciousness and consciousness of the external world? I realize that 'tennis playing zombies' are in some way aware of their opponent and the ball but does this mean they are perceptually aware of their opponent and the ball?

I would like to say,"No". Could I draw on the distinction between vision for perception ( recognizing the shape size and color of the ball) and vision for action ( recognizing where my opponent and the ball is at any particular time) ? My earlier reference to the ecological model of performance seems to fit in with a type of vision for action.

Is perception for vision the same as perception with awareness while vision for action is perception without awareness? I don't think vision for action can work if we perceive the ball, then perceive our opponent and then perceive the net and the lines before we can make a shot. I think we perceive everything at once. On this basis I don't see that it is possible to have perception with awareness if we are trying to perceive a number of things all at once.


Regards

David Macintosh









2010-05-25
Describing zombies
Hi David

Thanks for your post.  There's one thing I would need to ask before commenting much.

You say: "David Chalmers was kind enough to make a comment or two about the paper. He saw the most obvious difference is that 'tennis playing zombies' still have perceptual consciousness while' philosophical zombies' don't."

What do you think Chalmers means by "perceptual consciousness"?  Is it a kind of sub-species of consciousness? If so, wouldn't we need to know what consciousness is first?  Do you know what he means by "consciousness"?  (As far as I can tell, he has no satisfactory definition - though, of course, he's not alone in that.) 

DA

2010-06-04
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Hello again Derek,

To be honest I haven't read David Chalmer's works but I did manage to find an online paper of his titled. 'Facing up to the Problem of Consciousness'. Upon reading the paper I have decided it is beyond my training and capacity to come up with a satisfactory definition of consciousness. However, I do have a question about zombies.

David Chalmers wants to divide consciousness into, 'the easy problem' and 'the hard problem'. 'The easy problem' seems to look at such things as focusing one's attention, the ability of a system to access its own internal state and deliberate control of behaviour  (p2).
These things he associates with the idea of consciousness. In an e mail to me he called this 'cognitive consciousness' or the process of thinking.

In my tennis jargon I term these "What is it like?' experiences. As a tennis coach there is no mystery or problem here for me. 'The easy problem' will invariably lead to the player having 'What is it like?' experiences. The problem for me arises when David addresses what he terms 'the hard problem' He says:

"If any problem qualifies as the problem of consciousness it is this one. In this central sense of 'consciousness', an organism is conscious if there is something it is like to be that organism, and a mental state is consciousness if there is something it is like to be that state. Sometimes such terms as 'phenomenal consciousness' and 'qualia' are also used here but I find it more natural to speak of conscious experience or simply, experience" (p.3)

My modus operandi is to turn out tennis playing zombies. That is, players who don't have conscious experience while playing. So from my point of view 'the hard problem' doesn't exist while players are 'in the zone'. This is because I see these players as having perception without awareness as opposed to 'the easy problem', which seems to be perception with awareness. Whether I like it or not my definition of consciousness seems to be perception with or without awareness.

David Chalmers goes on to ask himself a further question in relation to consciousness and experience, 'Why doesn't all this information processing go on 'in the dark', free of any inner feel? Why is it that when electromagnetic wave forms impinge on a retina and are discriminated and categorized by a visual system this discrimination and categorization is experienced......... ?' (p.6).

David Chalmers goes on to say that conscious experience does arise, but why it does is the mystery. I can't disagree with him but I am just wondering how close to a 'philosophical zombie' is my 'tennis playing zombie' when we subtract the hard problem

Regards
D M

2010-06-05
Describing zombies

Hi David

I don’t know if I’m going to be any help to you, but here are my thoughts:

I think the distinction between an “easy” and a “hard” problem in this context is a red herring. Chalmers, I gather, gives “focusing one's attention” as an instance of the “easy” problem. What is easy about it? For a human being, focusing attention presumably involves some form of consciousness. (What is attention if it does not imply that?) So we are right back with the broader question of what consciousness is. There is no easy or hard problem. There is just one (huge) problem: what is (human) consciousness?

Now, on that question you quote Chalmers as saying: “an organism is conscious if there is something it is like to be that organism, and a mental state is consciousness if there is something it is like to be that state.”

How many times have I heard this?  It stems, I gather, from Nagel’s article on “What it is like to be a bat”. To my mind it gets us absolutely nowhere, and tells us nothing remotely useful about what consciousness might or might not be.

To start with, what does it even mean? To be conscious, we are told, is to be “like” something. What could it be “like”? Surely only thing: being conscious – which is a perfectly circular argument. But someone will object “No, we are not making comparisons. We are just saying it is the feeling of being like something.”  But this simply means that consciousness is being defined as a particular kind of feeling. Where does that get us? First, take human beings. Can we ever clearly dissociate any feeling from consciousness? Even when we feel something basic like a pain – a pin prick, say - are we not “conscious” of it? Or better, can we clearly establish that we are not? If we can’t, then feeling might well include or depend on consciousness. So Chalmers would be defining something in terms of itself. A basic error. (The same argument applies if words like experience, awareness etc are substituted for feeling.)

In the quote you give, Chalmers makes the position even worse by speaking only of an "organism”. Does this mean that the so-called “like” experience is the same for a worm as for a human being? If so, there is apparently no fundamental distinction between animal and human consciousness. Can we assume that? What gives us warrant for doing so?

As you can see, I have basic problems with this line of argument. (I have said so before on this thread.) I am always puzzled, to tell you the truth, that it is taken seriously - though it obviously is. For me, it just increases my doubts about the school of philosophy in question - analytic philosophy. So I really don’t think I can help you by applying the argument to your query re tennis playing.

Sorry not to be more help.

Regards

DA


2010-06-07
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
What Chalmers doesn't take seriously is that it does take place 'in the dark'.

I know what my 'consciousness' is like, in a phenomenal sense, but I don't know what yours is like, nor you what mine is like, in that sense.

Visiting Paris is not like having a map of Paris, or having a tourist guide, or knowing what to say in answer to questions such as 'what is Paris like?'.  This is because for someone who has actually been there, some aspects of that experience cannot be articulated.  This can be confusing, because obviously only those aspects that can be articulated can be used as philosphical examples, so we have a queer feeling that pointers to the inarticulable actually point nowhere.

But unarticulated experiences are as common as rain - and a subset of them cannot be articulated, even for the convenience of philosophers.

Being me is, phenomenally, different from being you in just exactly the sense that my inarticulable 'stuff' is unavailable to you and yours to me.  We can't write down a very good theory about this because we can't easily talk about what we can't articulate - the linguistic enterprise is public in a way that consciousness (in the 'hard' sense) is not.  It really is 'dark'.

This is uncomfortable because it confounds two fundamental intuitions:  (1) that 'everything' is open to philosophical enquiry and (2) that the 'contents' of our consciousnesses - specifically our experiences and our reasonings - epistemologically underpin what we say.  The first of these is not defensible without rendering it tautologous, and the second is just not true:  our intuition that our consciousnesses are somehow commensurable is drawn from our ability to speak to one another, and not vice versa.  We don't start by comparing conscious experience and then concluding that our language games are reliable - we can only compare conscious experience if our language games are reliable, and only to the extent that they can be articulated within those reliable games.

And to cap it all, arguments for the reliability of these games - for our capacity to theorise verbally - are blocked by open question considerations.  We can't have a general theory of the reliability of our theorising.

It's a lonely old phenomenal universe out there.  Or maybe just in here ...



2010-06-07
Describing zombies
Reply to Alex. Arthur

Hi Alex

Just a quick question. You write: “I know what my 'consciousness' is like, in a phenomenal sense, but I don't know what yours is like, nor you what mine is like, in that sense.”

What do you mean by “know ... in a phenomenal sense”? Do you mean that one cannot describe it? In what sense would this be knowledge  – and in particular philosophical knowledge?

I ask this because I often encounter statements like “Well, we all just know what feelings/awareness/experience/etc are (or “are like”). This confident pose strikes me as very questionable. If we really “knew”, we could say, and there wouldn’t be any problem of consciousness – “easy” or “hard”.

I think we perhaps “know” what consciousness is in the same sense (metaphorically) that a fish in an aquarium knows what it is like to be in an aquarium – ie it knows nothing else and is very badly placed to say what being in an aquarium is “like” because it has never experienced anything else to compare it with.

(I find this basic problem more important – or more fundamental if you like – than the question of knowing other consciousnesses (minds).)

DA

PS You also write : "What Chalmers doesn't take seriously is that it does take place 'in the dark'."  When I queried "all is dark inside" (see top of thread), with Chalmers, he said it "forms no part of the argument" - though puzzlingly I notice he does use the term from time to time, and it seemed to part of his definition of a zombie at the top of the thread. 


2010-06-19
Describing zombies
Reply to Alex. Arthur
Didn't Wittgenstein originally say something like that. That 'all that there is' can be said in language - or if there is something which can't be descibed by language - then tell me what it is. Personally I like this reasoning and although Wittgenstein changed his mind about this in later life. I tend to agree. If you follow Julian Jaynes reasoning - that consciousness itself arose with language, then one might reason that there isn't anything outside of language. Its just that this seems counter intuitive because we think we cannot get inside each others heads so that there is a feeling that we are separate individuals and so cannot possibly see through each others eyes. I think this is an illusion created by the limits of language. But this itself is all a linguistic concept. When I make a phone call to someone, I must be inside their head - and they must be inside mine. All these ideas and notions being a manifestation of language itself.
So if you think that there is something that can't be articulated. Tell me what it is and I'll tell you that that feeling is only an illusion given by an idea that there is something else other than that which can be described by language. So in this way -the limits of consciousness are the limits of language.
One could say for example that we have vivid silent dreams. But this is an illusion - words - activate neurons which fire in response. The only way we can have vivid dreams is to the extent that we can describe them in language. I think we have learned patterns through our history which are evoked by words. These patterns are learned and genetically entrained. When we speak or think we linguistically evoke memories of these learned patterns so we feel as though the patterns are new to us - but as Richard Gregory said - 90% of our present is derived from memories of our past. So I think it is possible to imagine Paris from your perspective if you describe it well enough, as our linguistic origins are probably the same.

2010-06-19
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
DA: "Now, on that question you quote Chalmers as saying: "an organism is conscious if there is something it is like to be that organism, and a mental state is consciousness if there is something it is like to be that state.”

How many times have I heard this?  It stems, I gather, from Nagel’s article on "What it is like to be a bat". To my mind it gets us absolutely nowhere, and tells us nothing remotely useful about what consciousness might or might not be."

Well said.  The modern trend of just suggesting that everyone knows what it is like to be conscious is unhelpful.  Prior to this current trend of obscuring the description of experience there were numerous similar reports describing experience from the natural realist idea of looking out from a point at the world laid out around us to the Cartesian idea of a point observer looking out at the events of life within their mind.  These reports all describe experience as a set of events that can be concurrent and hence simultaneous and also extended in time (a time extension that Clay derisively called the "specious" present).  These are good descriptions and have been available in print since the time of Aristotle and are also abundantly available in Buddhist texts. 

So, although DA is right to be riled by the obscurity of modern notions of consciousness he cannot and has not claimed that no-one has described conscious experience. The descriptions all seem to coincide on the notion of our conscious mental state being events laid out in space and time that are apparently observed from a point in the present instant.  If he looks around he will have this experience himself. If he closes his eyes he will experience blackness laid out around a viewing point, if he listens to music he will hear whole bars of tunes laid out in time at the position of the instruments.  We all have this experience, it is a complex geometrical form involving events laid out in space and time and apparently projected around a point in space and time. 

The critics of this everyday experience reject it for two reasons, firstly they believe that a point observation involves Cartesian dualism (they reject a non-extended Res Cogitans) and secondly they believe that time does not exist so awareness would involve an endless cycling of data (Ryle's regress, Aristotle's regress of sensory data).  But these objections are ridiculous, Descartes added the Res Cogitans to explain point observation because modern geometry was not available in the 16th century and the regress arguments prove that presentism is false, not that our experience does not exist (observations disprove theories, not vice versa).

The zombie problem is straightforward if we accept that our experience is as it appears to be:  machines can respond to the world without the need for a complex geometrical form like our experience within them and in the future we will discover why we have an apparently epiphenomenal mind.


2010-06-19
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Perhaps I should address Chalmers' zombie argument beyond the rather abrupt "obvious" statement above!  I believe that Chalmers claims that if the brain were progressively replaced with synthetic parts so that function were preserved at every level then conscious experience would remain. This argument has been used to justify the idea of conscious thermostats etc., function taking precedence over form.  But micro-replacement of the brain is about preserving form as well as function.  Consider every replacement of function in the brain being performed by adding tiny modules that are connected by a single communication channel and placed in different parts of the world, it is then not at all obvious that our conscious experience would be preserved. 

Chalmers' argument depends critically on the idea of micro-replacement of parts. For example, the overall function of the brain could be preserved even if the data were transmitted from part to part in a single channel bitstream but then the zombie machine that we had created would only contain a single moving bit at any small interval and this would be completely unlike our experience.  Basically, if we created a brain made out of proteins, DNA etc. so that it exactly replicated the form and function of a person's brain then we could make a conscious machine but disrupt the form of the brain and it is not at all evident that you will preserve the form of conscious experience.  Chalmers himself says that conscious experience is a particular "state" and a state is a set of events laid out in at least four dimensions. We cannot preserve a state by destroying its form.

2010-06-19
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek -

What I mean by 'in a phenomenal sense' is that I'm aware of it, and of its contents.  I don't agree that if we really knew we could say - there are lots of 'knowledge how' (e.g. of bicycle riding) examples that don't conform to this.  Conscious awareness may be a kind of example:  I am an authority on what I am aware of - I am the person who best knows how to say what I think (presuming honesty and competence).  The sub-conscious is exactly an area of my mental processing about which I am not an authority - another person, a psychoanalyst perhaps, would be.

Honesty and competence - we learn to speak (and to speak 'correctly'), which seems to sit oddly with any 'private knowledge' of consciousness (private language argument).  How would a child learn to express private knowledge?  (I remember learning the word 'itch' and wondering how my mother could know what I felt.)  I don't think this is a problem, though, because the 'dark' part of consciousness is exactly the bit we don't articulate - that we don't know how to.

Imagine that you could programme a computer so that it could converse - and you gave it some inputs so that it could 'see' the world around it.  If it was a sophisticated converser, you might ask it how it knew what to say about its environment.  If it didn't know (wasn't programmed to say) how it, itself, worked, what would it say?  'I just know'?  Or perhaps 'I don't know - I just seem to be aware of it?'  This would look more like consciousness than if it gave a technical description of its hardware and software.

From your point of view, I'm like the machine - I'm good at saying what my world is like, but I make unanalysable phenomenological claims, or just get muddled, when I try to explain how I do this.  From my point of view, I think I'm saying 'what I see', and get muddled when I try to articulate my phenomenological world, which - nevertheless - seems very 'real' to me, in the sense that I can't imagine it otherwise.

If you were having a serious conversation with your computer, you would have to take its phenomenology and its muddle seriously as well.  If you wanted to talk about how its linguistic behaviour arose from its hardware and software, you'd need to have this conversation with a third party who understood this (and not with the computer, which doesn't).  This is what I meant earlier when I said that consciousness was really a normative category - it is something we primarily attribute to interlocutors, and only derivatively to other things (lke animals).

When we talk to each other, and take each other seriously, we also attribute this state to each other - the 'internal' perception of what it's like to (somewhat mysteriously) know things about the world.

Alex.


2010-06-19
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
So, what about the claim of mysticism that we can know the origin and nature of consciousness? Do we just ignore this forever? Is it not about time we recognised the futility of insisting that consciousness cannot be more than can be studied in the third-person while at he same time we define it as a first-person phenomenon?  To put it in Heidegger's words, must we always study beings and never Being? He calls this narrow and clearly self-defeating approach 'no mere error,' and it does seem that way to me. It has proved massively unsuccessful, yet we persevere because we don't like to face up to the real problem. This would be my complaint.  

2010-06-20
Describing zombies
Reply to Alex. Arthur

Hi Alex

There is a lot in your post but I’m going to talk about just the first two sentences for now because it seems to me that we are on somewhat different wavelengths and it might be best to address that issue first. 

You say: “What I mean by 'in a phenomenal sense' is that I'm aware of it, and of its contents. I don't agree that if we really knew we could say - there are lots of 'knowledge how' (e.g. of bicycle riding) examples that don't conform to this.”

When I think of the notion of consciousness – let’s say human consciousness for now to keep it simple (!) – I mean the general state in which human beings think and feel. That is, I mean the way we apprehend things – our state of being, if you like, which we presume (though can’t prove) differs from the state of being of, say, a stone or a worm or a cat or even a monkey.

Seen in these terms, everything we do, think, feel, want, don’t want, etc is impregnated by – conditioned by, if you like – our consciousness. We can’t even do a “simple” thing like look out a window without looking and seeing the way a human does (i.e. with a human consciousness). We can’t do anything – from working out the most complex theory through to riding a bike - without that, in some way, being done in this “human consciousness” way - even if, as in riding a bike, we do part of it “mechanically”.

So, from my point of view, I don’t think it helps to try to separate human actions into those that involve different “degrees”, so to speak, of consciousness (e.g. explaining a theorem as compared with riding a bike) because, to my mind, that distracts attention from the fundamental  issue which is: what is human consciousness anyway?

Part of the problem in all this springs, I often think, from the ambiguity of the word “conscious” and the different ways we use the word. If I say “I was not conscious of his presence”, the word has a different shade of meaning from “I was not conscious because I was knocked out” and that again has a different shade of meaning from “I am a conscious human being” (i.e. whether I like it or not).

The last sense is the one that, in my view, is – or at least should be - the focus of the “philosophy of consciousness”.  But it is clearly not an easy matter because human consciousness is the milieu we inhabit, so to speak, and we know no other.  Describing it is, as I say, a bit like the fish trying to imagine what life outside the aquarium might be like (so it would have something to compare its present state with). I don’t mean to say that the issue is therefore necessarily a closed book. There are probably useful things that can be said – though I confess I don’t come across them very often.

Cheers

Derek


2010-06-23
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek -

I think you make a really serious attempt, in your post, to point to what people think of as 'consciousness'.  I don't think it's an illusion, but I think that it is partly illusory.  We know some things about our actions&awareness that lead me to say this:

There's actually a significant delay between our doing something or seeing something and becoming 'fully consious' of it.  Psychologists can measure this delay - I think it's of the order of two seconds, and sometimes more.  This seems a long time.  A strange thing about it is that we're not aware of the delay.  Our experience of it is as 'instant awareness' - we sort of overlay a false memory of instant awareness just as we become aware ...

The reason this delay doesn't give us problems is that we don't have to be fully conscious of something in order to react to it.  Many of our instant reactions are unconscious - even though we remember them as conscious.  We become aware of our reasons for acting as we become aware of the actions, and so overlay both with a false memory of being fully conscious of both at the time we acted.

We often act in a planned way, of course, and so we know (are conscious of) what we are going to do before we do it.  This is also a bit misleading.  It's a bit like going into a tunnel and knowing you're going to come out the other end.  The details of how we act are very complex, and there is a lot or propriaceptive feedback involved in keeping things under control - we are very unconscious of this, but it actually drives a very large amount of our motor activity.

The point of all this is that the 'constant awareness' aspect of consciousness is slightly illusory.  We remember constant awareness, but we are actually less aware at the time than we later think that we were.  It is a reconsctructed awareness.

Some neuropsychologists now think that the rather mysterious 'default mode network', which seems to become more active when other (more practically oriented) parts of our brains are less busy, has a role in this 'secondary processing'.

This may all seem a bit mechanical and beside the point, given the phenomenological orientation of your post - but it's meant as an indication that our recollected phenomenal states aren't exactly what they seem.

But returning more directly to the phenomenology:  While I might agree with much of what you say about what it feels like to be conscious, I do not have a direct way of checking what that agreement is based on.  If I look at a picture and describe it to you, you can look at the picture as well and check my description.  If you describe your conscious state to me, and I agree that it seems like mine, we have no way (private language argument again) of checking whether our descriptions are of similar phenomena or, on the other hand, whether we have a perverse inclination to describe very different phenomena in ways that make them sound similar.  The very absurdity of this worry is what is really behind the zombie puzzle.  A proper zombie would think it was conscious, and would say just the same things about it's experience of it as you do - and we would have no way of checking.  It's the 'no way of checking' that points to the flaw in the puzzle - it's exactly a private language problem.

Even if I told you I was a zombie, would you be able to believe it?  Would you be able to believe I could be a zombie and still have a conversation with you?

Would it be like a blind person wanting to discuss colour aesthetics?  What if, even though they were blind, they spoke very sensibly about it?  (This is perfectly possible, even for someone blind from birth - the language of emotions linked to colour is fairly accessible).

I think we are left only with (a) our individual, and ultimately private, phenomenological conditions and (b) our inclinations, or even capacities, to attribute correlates of these to interlocutors, and maybe some others (certain animals).  (a) is the ongoing consciousness each of us lives with, which utterly individuates us and (b) is part of our social / linguistic business of treating each other as people.

So far as (b) is concerned, we can have a conversation in which we can compare what it's like to be me with what it's like to be you.  But in sense (a) we have absolutely no idea at all.  Even the idea of the comparison makes no sense.  We can't even cook up words to point at its components.

It's confusing that part of (a) is the phenomenal condition of being able to talk, and that we think we can approach this by making (b) type moves.  We think that somehow we can get 'under' the talk to get to something we 'really feel'  or 'really sense' that somehow validates it.

Sadly, validity demonstrations happen within language games.  We don't validate our linguistic moves by pointing to some phenomenal substrate, however viscerally we seem to be immersed in it.


2010-06-23
Describing zombies
I think you're kind of on the right track, but you're maybe confusing different kinds of enquiry.  Notice that 'there's nothing outside language' can't be true in every language game, because we point to lots of things 'outside language' with our linguistic tools.  If I say that it's late spring time in Scotland, and then say 'but that's just a move in a language game' I'm not sure what I'd be trying to say - that it isn't late spring time in Scotland?  But that's the contrary of what I've just said ...

I'm comfortable with the idea that anything which can be considered philosophically has to be articulable - and to articulate something is to make a move in the language game.  I'm also pretty comfortable (although this maybe took some work ...) that there is much that I can't articulate - the nature of my consciousness being in there.

2010-06-26
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek Allen said: 'Part of the problem in all this springs, I often think, from the ambiguity of the word 'conscious' and the different ways we use the word. If I say 'I was not conscious of his presence', the word has a different shade of meaning from 'I was not conscious because I was knocked out' and that again has a different shade of meaning from 'I am a conscious human being” (i.e. whether I like it or not).'

Why not replace the word "consciousness" with the word "experience"?  I can then say that certain empirical descriptions of experience agrees with my experience. Can humans exist and interact without an experience that is like my experience? They probably can, after all, I exist after a bang on the head than makes me unconscious, without experience, yet may still have a tendon reflex.  Perhaps some types of serious brain damage would allow humans to exist with the lack of experience that I call "unconsciousness" yet still be able to react to stimuli (some types of PVS, akinetic mutism etc).  However, as far as I know, a case has never been found of a fully functioning human being without any experience.  The empirical evidence is that the organic machine we call "human beings" requires an experience like the empirical descriptions I discussed in an earlier comment to function optimally.  The zombie argument can then be seen to get us nowhere except a debate about degrees of function (which I think DA was also suggesting).

Returning to the definition of "consciousness", I believe the vagueness of terminology suits both those who maintain that there is no special phenomenon and those who declare the opposite.  As an example, DA is using the vagueness of definitions to diminish the idea of "phenomenal consciousness" without actually tackling the issue of how we could have our experience.




2010-06-27
Describing zombies

Hi JWK

The problem in falling back on the term "experience" is that it includes the notion of consciousness within itself - or might easily be seen to do so. So we would be defining something in terms of itself.

Think, for example, of statements like: "I have never experienced anything like that", or "That's not my experience" etc. They imply, do they not, that consciousness in some form is part of the experiencing? Or at least they do not exclude that possibility.

The same problem, precisely, arises with other substitute terms like "feel" "awareness" etc.

I notice that a number of "analytic" philosophers (if not most) try to deal with the problem of consciousness by falling back on one or more such substitute terms. It’s one reason why, in my view, the whole area gives the impression of people paddling frantically but going nowhere.

DA
 


2010-07-07
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
DA: "The problem in falling back on the term "experience" is that it includes the notion of consciousness within itself.."

Yes, superficially there is a tautology which, when pursued leads to a regress.  The regress arguments are central to the problem of consciousness and when we try to explain our experience we immediately confront regression or recursion.  Aristotle's Regress in "On the Soul" is the clearest, and probably earliest, example:

"even if the sense which perceives sight were different from sight, we must either fall into an infinite regress, .." (Book 3, part 2)

The reason that our explanations of experience fall into an infinite regress is that we conceive of the universe as a succession of 3D sets of events, like 3D frames in a movie picture. The outcome of one 3D set is present in the next and so on.  So our explanation of "experience" becomes the transfer of a 3D set of information from the world to the retina to the visual cortex and so on.  The regress occurs because the explanation for knowing the information in one instant can only occur in the next but the next instant is just a 3D set of information so the explanation for knowing the information in this instant can only occur in the next instant.... and so the regress occurs.  Indeed, as philosophers know from the epistemological regress, the "movie frame" idea of time is doomed to regress in all its explanations, including even how events occur outside the body or mind. 

This analysis shows that if we apply the "movie frame" idea of time to our experience then we will fail to explain it, a regress occurs.  This strongly suggests that the "movie frame" or "Alexandrian" (Whitehead 1920) idea of time is fallacious.  Aristotle understood this possibility and completes the phrase quoted above with:

"or we must somewhere assume a sense which is aware of itself. If so, we ought to do this in the first case. "

What is absolutely extraordinary is that even in the first mention of the regress in the history of philosophy the author tells us that there could be other explanations yet the "movie frame" theory of events is so ingrained that philosophers simply ignore the possibility that this theory could be wrong!

Aristotle actually has a stab at explaining a sense which is aware of itself:

"The answer is that just as what is called a 'point' is, as being at once one and two, properly said to be divisible, so here, that which discriminates is qua undivided one, and active in a single moment of time, while so far forth as it is divisible it twice over uses the same dot at one and the same time. So far forth then as it takes the limit as two' it discriminates two separate objects with what in a sense is divided: while so far as it takes it as one, it does so with what is one and occupies in its activity a single moment of time."

This is almost impenetrable unless you realise that he is saying that in the same way as two spatially separated objects can project geometrically to a point so can two temporally separated objects. Perhaps he is envisaging time as a dimension with events laid out as they are in space.

Aristotle clarifies this:

"But that which mind thinks and the time in which it thinks are in this case divisible only incidentally and not as such. For in them too there is something indivisible (though, it may be, not isolable) which gives unity to the time and the whole of length; and this is found equally in every continuum whether temporal or spatial."

It appears that Aristotle has observed his experience and, instead of rejecting it as impossible because theory suggests a tautology, comes up with a version of Minkowski spacetime two and a half millennia before Minkowski.

So, in answer to DA's reply I would reject the "tautology" charge and declare that experience is precisely the place we should look for explanations.  Aristotle suggests that experience has awareness as a result of its spatio-temporal geometry and I would suggest this is a good place to start.  After all, in 1800 AD it could be claimed that the Alexandrian idea of time had swept all other ideas away but in the twenty first century Alexandrian time is only believed by the ill-educated.

2010-07-07
Describing zombies
Hi JWK

You write: "So, in answer to DA's reply I would reject the "tautology" charge and declare that experience is precisely the place we should look for explanations..."

I don't have any real problem with the idea of starting with "experience" in looking for explanations of consciousness. In a sense where else could we start?   

My problem is when the notion of "experience" is assumed to be a kind of consciousness-free basic element from which a theory of consciousness can then be worked up. Ditto for terms like feelings, awareness etc.

I have seen this approach used a lot in the literature I've read on consciousness. It's question-begging in the extreme - and therefore, I would say, doomed from the start.

DA 

2010-07-09
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
I also have a problem with the word "consciousness".  Take for instance the statement: "I am conscious of the flamenco music to my right".  I would rather tell you that as the strains of Paco de Lucia's 'Doblan Companas' enter the right side of my experience a chord creates a visceral emptiness in the centre of my body.  The emptiness occurs about a quarter second after the start of the chord.  Both occur in the same second or so of my extended present (pejoratively called 'specious' by some philosophers).  This temporal association then leads me to a short reverie about the harshness of rural Spain when I first went there.  If this were being "conscious" "of" these events then those words can only mean "being these events" because I can find nothing in my experience other than events arranged in space and time. When I am actively thinking my mind is the objects that I think and these objects are my time extended experience.  If a person were reduced to mechanical behaviour without their own envelope of concurrent and hence simultaneous events that are also extended in time, centred somewhere in their head, then they would indeed be a zombie.

2010-07-10
Describing zombies
Hi JWK

Re: "I also have a problem with the word "consciousness"."

I don't have a problem with the word "consciousness".  I only have a problem when ideas that (could) imply consciousness are used to explain it (feelings, awareness, etc)

Which I see time and again.

DA

2010-07-18
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
DA: "I only have a problem when ideas that (could) imply consciousness are used to explain it.."

Agreed.  However, there is something special about experience that causes this problem, experience is extended in time and I would suggest that people are using the word "awareness" to vaguely describe this phenomenon.

2010-08-10
Describing zombies
Peter -

Sorry for the slow reply.  I missed your post.

It's not so much that all that there is can be said, but that everything which can be subjected to philosophical scrutiny must be articulated.  I can't say 'I have a philosophical problem (or solution) which is inarticulable'.

What we can say, I think, is that we find it hard to articulate some things, and fail to articulate some others.  I don't know that this experience is so uncommon.

It seems to me that the problem of consciousness is, centrally, that we have unsharable - inarticulable - phenomenological states.  If we didn't, I don't think we'd have a feeling of 'me-ness'.

It's not just that I know things that you don't, and vice versa.  It's that my world is seen from over here, and yours from over there.



2010-08-10
Describing zombies
Reply to Alex. Arthur
Hi Alex

Thanks for replying to my petulant comment.  

I agree that we must articulate our theories in order that they can be subjected to philosophical scrutiny. A theory that cannot be articulated is not a theory. Presumably your view is that the solution for the mind-matter problem given in mysticism cannot be articulated and therefore cannot be subjected to scrutiny and therefore we can ignore it. The Tao that cannot be spoken and all that. 

Yet much of it is quite straightforward. The central claim is that the universe is a unity. This claim translates into metaphysics as a neutral metaphysical position. All positive metaphysical positions would be false. The solution for the mind-matter problem, as for all other such metaphysical dilemmas, would be compatabilism. Mind and matter would exist in dependence on each other and that would by why we cannot prove otherwise. If we call it a theory then it is a psychophysical theory of information along the lines of David Chalmers' naturalistic dualism. It would be a vindication of his view that there is an ingredient missing from all our current theories. He challenges us to identify it, as if it hasn't been invented yet.   

So I'd say that the problem is not articulating this solution sufficiently well to allow philosophical scrutiny but a failure to engage with it.  


2010-08-15
Describing zombies
Hi JWK,

I would like to start with a quote from your last post...

If this were being "conscious" "of" these events then those words can only mean "being these events" because I can find nothing in my experience other than events arranged in space and time. When I am actively thinking my mind is the object that I think and these objects are my time extended experience. If a person were reduced to mechanical behavior without their envelope of concurrent and hence simultaneous events that are also extended in time, centered somewhere in their head, then they would indeed be a zombie.

The above quote interests me greatly because I would like to contrast it with a main idea expressed in a follow up paper I recently wrote,"The philosophical Zombie versus the Tennis Playing Zombie" (part 2).

In my paper I borrow from the Goodale/Milner study which examines an unusual mental defect suffered by a person who had an unfortunate accident. Interestingly enough this study is sometimes referred to as, "The Zombie Within".

In this study the subject in question is unable to give a visual account of objects they are looking at. If the object happened to be a cup the subject had little trouble in using their hand to grasp the object. In other words, they easily form their fingers in the appropriate "pick-up shape". Incredible as it seems they were unable to identify the object as a cup. As far as the subject was concerned the cup was "invisible" to them. They saw/remembered nothing about the object.

I want to say that tennis playing zombies (players who experience a zone or flow response to sport) also see "nothing" when they play. Obviously, "nothing" needs elaboration. If I were a tennis player in the zone  I would want to claim that seeing "nothing" really means seeing "everything"  For me, it would mean that while playing I am focusing on a number of objects at the same time. For example, while playing I would be looking at my opponent, the net, the ball and the lines at the same time.

As a tennis playing zombie you don't focus on any one object. You are looking at a number of objects all at once. Attentions is more or less divided evenly across these objects at the same time. There is no, "what is it like?" to see my opponent, "what is it like?" to see the ball, or "what is it like?" to see the court. It is a composite experience which lacks a "what is it like? character.

It seems to me that faced with such an unusual  "experience" the mind reverts to what Goodale/Milner refer to as, "vision for action" as opposed to "vision for perception".
I guess when undergoing a visual overload on the tennis court the mind reverts to a "vision for action" response.

From my point of view being in the zone means lacking "what is it like?" experiences and I can see a parallel here with the Goodale/Milner study. Being in the zone when picking up a tennis racquet is like being in the zone when picking up a cup.  The former being a self-induced state while the later being the result of an unfortunate accident.

I would just like to finish off where it began and add that tennis players in the zone are (throuigh their own efforts) reduced to a type of mechanical behaviour which lacks an envelope of concurrent and simultaneous events. In other words, they lack "being these events".Are these players for all intention purposes zombies?


David M








2010-08-15
Describing zombies
Peter -

I think we can all engage (privately) with 'there are things about being my world that I can't articulate'.  This sounds like a strange sentence, since saying 'things' is to articulate them - but only minimally.  It's as much as to say 'I struggle, and sometimes fail, to articulate things'.  To articulate something is to participate in a language game - in a public exchange.  And while we may not have a 'private language' there are certainly things that we can't introduce into this public game.  The meaning of 'pain' may not be the particular sensation I feel, but there are times when the particualr sensation I feel is much more important to me than any semantic considerations ...

There's no special difficulty about this, but I think that when we think of explaining consciousness we sometimes think in terms of bringing this private stuff out into our theories, and I just think we can't - the kind of sensation language we have is as good as it gets:  another way of stating the private language problem is to say that we can't have a language which refers to things we don't 'share' in some way.  This can make these things look invisible to philosophy - we think because we can't talk about them they somehow evaporate.  But they just disappear from the conversation, not from our experience of the world.

We are, viscerally, language users, and that sometimes makes us want to deny these limits even though, in another sense, we 'consciously' live with them all the time.  It's maybe worse for academics, who have a particularly intense emotional investment in the generality of the tool, and in the possibility of extending its scope.

I'm not too interested in metaphysics - I don't think it helps us much with fundamentals.  There's no special difference between a metaphysical theory and any scientific (or other) theory.  We still need to explain how we validate, and come to know, them.  And we can't do this by pointing to more turtles ...

Alex.

2010-08-17
Describing zombies
Reply to Alex. Arthur
Alex

I'd say that all this stuff about language games is a red herring. I'm not a fan of LW. We can focus on what we can articulate and this is enough for a metaphysical solution for consciousness. Nor do I believe that metaphysics is no help with fundamentals. It allows us to solve all fundamental problems if it's done properly. Trouble is, philosophers have a habit of refusing to believe the results of their own calculations. They find that metaphysics cannot produce a positive result and throw their hands up in the air in despair, not seeing what is perfectly obvious, that we need a theory for which metaphysics cannot produce a positive result. Professor Chalmers' proposal that we should settle for a nonreductive theory is a fine example of this unnecessary despair and it represents a complete failure to face up to the problem. Metaphysical theories do not have to end in stacks of turtles but once we dismiss the ideas of Hegel, Kant, Bradley et al then our theories are doomed to do so. My proposal is that we should take their ideas more seriously rather than continue to bang our heads against what is clearly a brick wall. 

The key issue here is the veracity of the idea that mysticism, approached as a metaphysical theory, is not open to the same kind of analysis as any other theory. This idea is demonstrable nonsense and could only be held by someone who hasn't investigated it. I suppose it would have been a reasonable idea in the Middle Ages but times have changed. The problem of consciousness may be just that we don't like the look of the solution.  

 


 



 



2010-08-19
Describing zombies
And just to add a little bit more to that JWK quote.
Kant asserts that time and space are fundamental aspects of consciousness which the brain adds to raw data so as to turn that data into a mental representation.

2010-08-19
Describing zombies
I was a keen squash player although now the inability to play without gaining injuries has persuaded me to take up salsa instead!  In my case "being in the zone" occurs when I have developed skills that are more than adequate for the game so that I am released for strategic play.  This is even clearer in dancing where the endless repetition of short patterns during practice provides a vocabulary that can be used for joining with the music without mental effort.

So I am not a zombie when I am in the "zone", I am allowing skilled behaviour to operate like a reflex.  The envelope of concurrent and simultaneous events is still there and is the content of my mind but my movement needs little intervention.   Being in the zone is more like allowing my body to flow with events in the way it has been trained, leaving my mind to contain the sensations that this evokes without interruption, surprise etc.

In fact I am not convinced that much of my behaviour is controlled by my current experience, experience is experience and the control of actions is another thing altogether. I suspect that my actions are a complicated pyramid of skills that have been acquired from birth to the present and which utilise spinal and other reflexes to produce behaviour in the world. The surprising fact however, is that despite the skilled and reflex nature of motion when I am in the zone there are few unequivocal examples of action without accompanying experience. Perhaps the non-conscious parts of the brain cannot see the point in motivating a body that has no mind. Certainly the term "the zombie within" is a melodramatic way of noting that when I strike a tendon there is a reflex response, when I blink there is a reflex and when I swat away a squash ball or balance on a dinghy it is the same.

The absence of any premotor modelling of action in your example and in highly skilled behaviour does make me wonder why modelled action needs to be in my experience, perhaps the substrate of experience is closely linked to whatever hosts the virtual reality required for rehearsal of action during skill acquisition.

2010-11-17
Describing zombies
This is not a reply to anyone, just some recommended reading for aficionados of the bat (batty?) argument.

http://www.philosophypress.co.uk/?p=1583

I am not a fan of Hacker's apparent desire to do away with the very notion of consciousness (if I read the article correctly) but he has some nice things to say about the Nagel red herring (a herring which seems to have achieved the dimensions of a whale...) .

DA

2010-11-29
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Hacker has a point, "What it is like" is inherently dualist.  I am my experience.  This experience may have similarities to other things but it is itself.

However, Hacker then says: the question "..amounts to no more than “What is human life like?” – and that has a pretty easy, if rather vague, answer."  Pretty easy? Easy?  Come on Hacker, do the physics and maths, how on earth do events get spatio-temporally arranged like they do in my experience?

Could it be that Hacker's lack of scientific knowledge means that he cannot even see that there is a physical and mathematical problem involved in describing what human life is like?





2010-11-29
Describing zombies
From memory, (I don't have time at the moment to read his article again) I think his point here relates partly to the word 'vague'. He's saying: sure, you can answer the question 'what is human life like?' but the answer will obviously be so vague as to be virtually useless. I don't think he would disagree that life might have 'spatio-temporal' aspects. That would just be one of a vast multitude of aspects. 

His general point - the same I have tried to make on several occasions on this and another thread - is that the bat argument goes precisely nowhere. The attempt to base arguments about consciousness on 'something it is like'  is a philosophical blind alley - and a fairly obvious one at that, in my view.

DA

2010-12-09
Describing zombies
What is it like to be conscious? Here's what I would ask Hacker. When you are awake don't you feel like you are at the center of a surrounding space full of stuff and events and sensations? Why can't we say that consciousness is at least like this for you?

It seems to me that "What it is like" is a dual aspect formulation, but not necessarily dualist in the sense of mind/body separation. The bridging principle of corresponding analogs between 1st-person and 3rd-person descriptions seems appropriate for a scientific approach to consciousness.


 

2010-12-09
Describing zombies
Reply to Arnold Trehub
Re: 'When you are awake don't you feel like you are at the center of a surrounding space full of stuff and events and sensations? Why can't we say that consciousness is at least like this for you?'

When I am awake I feel all kinds of things. In fact, an infinite range of things, many of which I couldn't even begin to describe properly. Personally, I dont think I have ever felt I am 'at the center of a surrounding space full of stuff and events and sensations.'

I have, I think, felt from time to time that I am in a marginal part of the world (not the centre) full of things I either only partly understand, don't undertand at all, or don't want to understand anyway. But that is only one of a million and one feelings I have.

And then there are the things I feel when I am not awake - when I am dreaming. Though is this the same 'I'?

I have not re-read Hacker but this is part of what he is getting at, I seem to recall - the staggering oversimplification and naivety of the 'what it is like' idea.

DA



2010-12-11
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

PS:  I’ve just glanced back at the Hacker interview. I particularly like this bit:

“The final confusion he identifies concerns the suggestion that what is unique to conscious beings is that there is something that it is like for them to be the beings that they are. Philosophers say, for example, that there is not anything that it is like for an ink-jet printer to be an ink-jet printer, nothing it is like for a brick to be a brick. However, there does seem to be something it is like for a bat to be a bat. There is something it is like for us to be humans. There is something it is like for you to be you, and for me to be me. There seems to be a meaningful distinction here between conscious things and everything else. For perhaps most philosophers of mind, this “what it is like” is the core of the mystery of consciousness.

Hacker argues that this is a muddle. He says that questions about what it’s like to be a something require contrast classes. “You can ask what it is like for an X to be a Y, but not what it is like for an X to be an X. If the question takes the form ‘What is it like for a human being to be a human being? – that amounts to no more than ‘What is it like to be a human being?’ This question has lost the ‘for someone’. It means no more than “What is human life like?” – and that has a pretty easy, if rather vague, answer. What’s it like for a bat to be a bat? Since bats can’t be anything other than bats, all that means is ‘What is the life of a bat like?’ Any decent zoologist can no doubt tell you in considerable detail what bats do, what they enjoy, and what frightens them. That’s what the life of a bat is like. There’s nothing mysterious here.”

I don’t quite agree with his ‘that has a pretty easy, if rather vague, answer’.’ I would prefer to say ‘That is an enormously difficult question to which it is all too easy to give superficial, facile answers.’ But that’s just a quibble in this context. I also have doubts about 'There's nothing mysterious here' - even for a bat. But that again is just a quibble is the present context.

I have always been amazed at the popularity of the Nagel 'what-it-is-like' argument among contemporary (analytic) philosophers. It does them very little credit. It's good to see one of them taking the (long-overdue) long handle to the argument.

DA


2010-12-11
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,
The Hacker quote seems just to demonstrate how completely useless philosophy based on set theory and logic is. Having been full time amongst philosophers for the last three months I am somewhat horrified by the general belief that logic-based arguments somehow have the power to give us a description of the world. They cannot, because they totally lack the dynamic/historic and the historic/experiential complementarities of natural philosophy - the sort that kick's ass. Hacker's arguments are totally non sequitur because he has completely lost the meaning of the words in his attempt to subject them to a logical argument - precisely because logic cannot cope with the dynamic/historic/experiential polysemy that is embedded in all our language. Both of you are confusing what it is like qua dynamic and what it is like qua experience. Logic is attractive to those glued to armchairs precisely because it has no dynamics. For those who want to move forward it is a bit like the buckets in the Sorcerer's Apprentice - something useful that left to work on its own ends up drowning you.

I would contrast Russell with Whitehead. Philosophers talk all the time of Russell and other logicians like Frege and Carnap. But they virtually never mention Whitehead. For those interested in consciousness, and I would have hoped any form of philosophy, Whitehead's insights are far more powerful, if perhaps revisited rather than new ideas. If you get Whitehead's key concept then all those interminable pages of Frege, Carnap, Quine, Putnam, Kripke, Davidson and the library of post-Davidson quibbles just shrink down into near misses at getting started on the real stuff.

Maybe the analogy should have been between logic and the thorn in Sleeping Beauty. Poor old philosophy is set in a deep sleep surrounded by an impenetrable forest because of it. Even some of the most vocal 'what-it-is-likers' seem to have succumbed to the sedative since 1995. There is lots of interesting work to do but it is not even on the agenda. Such a pity.

Best wishes
Jo

2010-12-12
Describing zombies

Hi Jo

My commiserations for the last three months!

I agree that the fascination with logic, maths, etc is one of the least attractive sides of analytic philosophy - though I assume it has its uses.

But I don’t see the Hacker quote I gave as especially indebted to logical analysis. As I see it, he is simply asking what the ‘what it is like’ idea could mean and pointing out that, at best, it reduces to a kind of banality. He's essentially making the same point I’ve been making myself on this thread for some time, though I don’t give myself any special high marks for that because it strikes me as a case of the bleeding obvious anyway.  

It simply amazes me that analytic (!) philosophers have not done Hacker’s analysis before. Perhaps some have, but it doesn’t seem to have had any effect because the ‘what it is like’ idea is still repeated over and over again like a kind of mantra whenever the question of consciousness is raised (see e.g. the Chalmers statement at the top of this thread).

I regard the question of the nature of human consciousness as a very important one. Ultimately it raises the question ‘What does it mean to be human?’ - a rather pressing isssue in this day and age. But the approach to the question in contemporary ‘analytic’ philosophy is, in my view, depressingly trivial, and I hold out no hope whatsoever that it will ever arrive at anything worthwhile. Unfortunately, it dominates the scene so much it no doubt squeezes out any alternative thinking.

DA


2010-12-12
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,
I had not heard of Hacker but now I have looked up the site I can see the problem. Like Wittgenstein, Hacker bemoans the misuse of language and then drops a bigger clanger than the people he is criticising. He conflates natural and formal languages - just as I implied. He is clearly treating 'what it is like for X to be X' in terms of the rules of a formal language. He talks of second order quantification and comparison classes and 'requirements' for them. What reason do we have to think that English has consistent rules for 'second order quantification' or 'comparison classes'?

In a formal language the rules are defined up front, so we can judge whether a statement is consistent, valid or whatever in terms of the rules we laid down. In natural languages the meanings of expressions are just what people tend to mean by them (as Wittgenstein wanted to emphasise but tripped over his own efforts). If there are rules behind these meanings they have to be established empirically by asking people if they think expressions are well formed etc.. We have reason to think that there are rules. However, we think these are based on highly complex biological hardware that is the way it is for reasons of survival, not rigorous logical coherence. Moreover, we know that the rules are commonly makeshift, arising from corruptions of previous rules. A well formed sentence in English is not in German, although the languages derive from a common source, and even in English well-formedness is inconsistent over centuries and sometimes decades. 'Different to' has become well-formed in about the last five years.

Thus, Hacker's claim that we can only ask 'what it is like for an X to be a Y' is nonsense - as we can readily see because nobody knows what that would mean. Moreover, Nagel, and thousands of other people know what he meant by his original bat question, so he must have meant something in at least a well enough known idiom for people to recognise his sense by picking up a library book without needing any sort of explication. The idiom that Nagel uses does not follow the rules that Hacker wants to impose. It follows obscure natural language rules, just as 'it is raining', 'oh dear me' and 'Bill kicked the bucket' do. Hacker's Wittgensteinism is a howler. Moreover, it is reasonably self-evident that 'what it is like for X to be X' follows strange natural language rules in part because within natural language there is a tension between dynamic, historic and experiential usages - as I mentioned. 

I am afraid that the only new conclusion that I draw from the interview is that the mid twentieth century Oxford anti-scientism of Ryle is still alive and kicking and as incoherent as ever.  
Best wishes
Jo

2010-12-13
Describing zombies

You say at one point: ‘Hacker's claim that we can only ask 'what it is like for an X to be a Y' is nonsense - as we can readily see because nobody knows what that would mean.’

But, on the contrary, this is the only kind of comparative statement that makes any sense. Asking what is it like for an X to be an X doesn’t - or barely.

Suppose you have a friend who becomes a celebrity overnight. You can sensibly say to him: ‘What’s it like being a celebrity?’- meaning ‘What’s it like for you (ordinary Joe Blow) to be a big banana now?’ This is comparing X with Y.

But you can hardly say to him: ‘What is it like for you to be you?’  (Comparing X with X) Or, you can; but it just means something like ‘How’s your life?’  To which he might well reply: ‘How long have you got?’

This, minus my flippancy, is Hacker’s point in the bit I quoted.  Now the ‘Nagel’ idea is that what is unique to conscious beings is that there is something that it is like for them to be the beings that they are.*  So the idea requires (the possibility of) a comparison. But with what?  A tree?  A skyscraper? A worm?  An analytic philosopher?  It must be something that is not them. Otherwise we’d be comparing X with X.

And of course we can’t systematically decline to choose anything. A comparison of X with nothing at all makes even less sense, if possible, than a comparison of X with X.

DA

* Hence Chalmers' attempt to define a 'zombie' by saying (see above): 'There is nothing it is like to be a zombie.'


2010-12-14
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
David, both Arnold and I are challenging you to come up with events in your life that are not spatio-temporal.  All events that I experience have a time and a place both/either in my experience and in the world at large.  Please tell me of events in your life that are not located say, in your head or in your body or in the past etc.

2010-12-14
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

I think we get confused about this when we try to (internally&obviously informally) compare our (undeniable) subjective experience with what we can succeed in saying about it.

When we talk about what we feel, or see, or taste, we render the content publicly accessible - but this is just what someone who 'knows how to talk' can do.  And when we do that we seem to lose exactly the aspect of it that we want to talk about when we want to talk about 'subjective consciousness' - i.e. the private aspects of these experiences which make them ours.

The situation is complicated by the fact that we can 'rationally' discard, in a sense, either one of these perspectives.  If an 'externalist' says "Point to this hidden world:  Describe it for me so that it can be brought within the scope of articulated philosophical enquiry" we are immediately foxed, because this step exactly drops out the very thing we feel puzzled by.  On the other hand, we might feel we could take an extremely sceptical position on language and interaction in general - that we could, with Descartes, discard the whole machinery of argument but still be left with out undeniable inner states.

One of these approaches seems to save philosophy and science at the expense of private experience, and the other vice versa.

We can have a perfectly sensible argument about what can be talked about, though, and (I think) accept that some things will always be difficult or impossible to put into words.  Those 'things', that we do not share - among them our individual perspectives and visceral immersions in the realities of our senses - are, however, and exactly to the extent that they are inarticulable, also beyond the reach of scientific theorising.  We can only have theories about things we can describe.

This is why we cannot have a scientific investigaton of 'the hard question', and why Hacker is (partly) right.  He's wrong to rule out the internalist problem, though, and for two reasons:

(1) The undeniability of the internal perspective is a public undeniability (good old Descartes).  The problem with zombies disappears if we imagine them saying 'I am a zombie - I have no internal states' and otherwise talking and behaving in ways that were consistent with this.  The thing that makes most people uncomfortable with the externalist position is that its proponents seem (somewhat shiftily) to want to say something like this ...

(2) We have all had experiences (I think?) of discovering that we can, after all, articulate something that once seemed entirely private - and of seeing examples of other people doing this.  This is a natural part of learning how ot speak, and improving the machinery of language.  We can't show that this process could ever be 'completed', so that we could articulate everything - in fact there are 'open question' objections to our ever being able to do this - but we do improve our capacities to articulate things.  So long as we have this experience of things going from unarticulable to articulable, we cannot deny the existence of the prior state.


2010-12-14
Describing zombies
I agree with with Jo, Whitehead analyses the problem of the way that many philosophers assume a certain, primitive philosophy as "obvious" in his Concept of Nature: Time:

"The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries accepted as their natural philosophy a certain circle of concepts which were as rigid and definite as those of the philosophy of the middle ages, and were accepted with as little critical research. I will call this natural philosophy 'materialism.' Not only were men of science materialists, but also adherents of all schools of philosophy. The idealists only differed from the philosophic materialists on question of the alignment of nature in reference to mind. But no one had any doubt that the philosophy of nature considered in itself was of the type which I have called materialism. It is the philosophy which I have already examined in my two lectures of this course preceding the present one. It can be summarised as the belief that nature is an aggregate of material and that this material exists in some sense at each successive member of a one-dimensional series of extensionless instants of time. Furthermore the mutual relations of the material entities at each instant formed these entities into a spatial configuration in an unbounded space. It would seem that space---on this theory-would be as instantaneous as the instants, and that some explanation is required of the relations between the successive instantaneous spaces. The materialistic theory is however silent on this point; and the succession of instantaneous spaces is tacitly combined into one persistent space. This theory is a purely intellectual rendering of experience which has had the luck to get itself formulated at the dawn of scientific thought. It has dominated the language and the imagination of science since science flourished in Alexandria, with the result that it is now hardly possible to speak without appearing to assume its immediate obviousness."

I would amend his introduction to "The eighteenth,nineteenth, twentieth and early twenty-first centuries..". If space and time do not conform to these assumptions (and they do not) then materialist certainties such as the impossibility of Dennett's Cartesian Theatre and the regress arguments evaporate.

2010-12-14
Describing zombies
Reply to Alex. Arthur

Hi Alex

I agree – more or less anyway – with the suggestion that we sometimes have difficulty describing what we think or feel.  But I don't see how that impinges on Hacker's argument.

He is taking exception, inter alia, to the claim that what is unique to conscious beings is that there is ‘something that it is like’ for them to be the beings that they are.  If this claim made sense – and I agree with Hacker that it’s a philosophical muddle – presumably it would make no difference whether said conscious beings were, or were not, able to articulate their thoughts and feelings well.  One could perhaps concede that the ‘something it is like’ feeling/experience is hard for some to articulate, but that wouldn’t change the nature of the basic philosophical claim being made.

Moreover, I don’t recall this being part of the arguments advanced by advocates of the thesis.

The ‘something it is like’ proposition is, to my mind, a complete furphy, an embarrassment. The sooner it’s consigned to the dustbin of philosophical history, the better for philosophy.

DA


2010-12-15
Describing zombies

Hi JWK

Just a point of clarification.  Hacker's argument in the quote I've given is not about differences of opinion about the nature of consciousness – whether or not it’s spatio-temporal, etc.  It’s about the claim that what is unique to conscious beings is that there is ‘something it is like’ for them to be the beings that they are. This claim has had a strong influence on the philosophy of consciousness, at least in the ‘analytic’ world. I think it's bunk for the reasons I’ve given. Hacker seems to think so too.

As for your quite different question about whether ‘there are events in my life that are not spatio-temporal’, I really have no idea. When I decide to go to the shop, is that mental event ‘spatial’? Can I measure its length, breadth, and thickness?  This just takes us back to the familiar issue about whether consciousness is a physical thing or not, doesn't it? The jury is well and truly still out on that one. And likely to be for a long time, I suspect.

But if I take a slightly different question – whether events in my life, or anyone’s life, can be adequately described in spatio-temporal terms, the answer seems much clearer. It’s a no. If it were yes, then presumably the experiences Shakespeare describes in Hamlet or King Lear (just for example) could be contained in neat little formulae expressed in spatial and temporal coordinates.  I‘d like to see that…

DA


2010-12-17
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

PS.

And just in case we thought the 'what it is like' thing is not alive and well, here is Ned Block writing in the NY Times Sunday Book Review: " Phenomenal consciousness by contrast — what it is like to experience — is something we share with many animals."

Here the problem is made even worse by the addition of the term “experience” (in italics no less). As if the idea of “experience” were not every bit as problematic in this context as the idea of consciousness itself. So here we are defining one unknown by another!

And then to blithely go on and assert that we ‘share’ this unknown with ‘many animals’...

(Which animals by the way? Is there a cut-off point for this mysterious, undefined “phenomenal consciousness”?  A snake has it maybe, but not a worm? Or maybe there are worms with unusually high IQs who might qualify?)

This stuff is hopelessly woolly.   ”Analytic” philosophy! Yeah...

DA

PS The Damasio book Block is commenting on sounds even more deeply lost in the fog, if that's possible.


2010-12-21
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
You make my point better than I could, Derek.
Best wishes

Jo

2010-12-21
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
DA:  "When I decide to go to the shop, is that mental event ‘spatial’?"

The question was whether or not events in life are spatio-temporal, not "spatial".  Clearly the decision occurs over a period of time.  The decision also occurs in your head. 

I do not think that the "jury is well and truly still out" on the spatio-temporal nature of decision taking.  The decision occurs in non-conscious parts of the brain, occurring over several seconds before it enters your conscious experience (cf: the Readiness Potential). This can be monitored with electrodes, EEG, MRI etc. So there is a part of the world - the non-conscious parts of the brain - that process a decision and then the answer pops into your experience where it is again spatio-temporally arranged, this time as inner speech such as  "I think I will go to the shops".  The inner speech is arranged at roughly the same location as your own audible speech.  Say a word out loud then think the word, you will find that the thought seems to be at almost the position of the spoken word.

Your point about events being "adequately" described is a non-sequitur, events are not solely positions in space and time but the spatio-temporal existence of events in experience is a huge clue about the nature of experience.  As Arnold was pointing out, experience has a centre and I would say this implies that the events within experience are arranged in a projective geometry.  The recognition of the geometrical form of experience should be a big step forward in the science of consciousness but is largely ignored.

As for Shakespeare, ask any stage director about the the importance of arranging the players in the theatre and their timing of delivery and action. Of course spatio-temporal factors are crucial to Shakespeare, I am astonished that you should think otherwise. People collapsed during a recent performance of Titus Andronicus that I attended at the Globe Theatre and this was largely due to spatio-temporal factors. Lavinia appeared on stage with blood pouring from her mouth and about five people crashed to the ground.  They collapsed because of a feeling in the pits of their own stomachs and weakness in their legs and because Lavinia lifted her stumps of arms into the face of the crowd gathered round the stage.  All these things were events in a particular spacetime.  Had Lavinia been outside the theatre and raised her arms to the River Thames and the audience been in Ouagadougou then the dramatic effect would have been different.



2010-12-21
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
I couldn't agree more with Jo&JWK. I understand perfectly well what Nagel meant and cannot understand why anyone would want to take issue with it. Unless, that is, they completely misinterpret the words.  To say there is something that it is like is not to make a comparison. The whole point is that there is no ccomparison.  Hacker seems to be chasing straw men of his own making. 

2010-12-21
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek -

I agree that it isn't part of the traditional argument.  The 'something it is like' question does seem to generate irritation.  I guess I was trying to have a stab at why, and linking it to the 'internal world' aspects of the 'hard question' ...

Here's another way to do it:

In one sense, the question what it is like to be a bat has a perfectly sensible answer:  it's like being very small, having leathery wings that enable one to fly, having very good hearing etc. ... and to an extent we can imagine ourselves into this phenomenological world.

However, what we'd be doing is imagining what it would be like for us to be bats.  And while we can to this (to an extent), this is not the same thing as imagining what it is like for a bat to be a bat.  A bat being a bat is not a person in a bat suit with bat capacities.

The question what it would be like for me to be a bat makes a kind of sense that the question what it would be like for a bat to be a bat doesn't.  A bat is not a person imagining it is a bat; it's a bat.

This can be projected onto people:  I can, in some sense, imagine what it is like to be someone else - to imagine having different capacities, memories, qualities, etc.  But what I'm imagining (phenomenologically) is me being different.  I can imagine me being you, but I can't imagine being you, because you are not me being you: you are you.

The question 'what would it be like for me to be a bat / another person' makes sense.  The questions 'what is it like for a bat to be a bat' or 'what is it like for you to be you' don't.
 
Nagel raises a question something like this, but he assumes that we do know what it is like to be 'a person' - that this aspect of consciousness is sort of unproblematic, so that we do have the appropriate knowledge of what it is like to be one another.

2010-12-21
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi DA

Funny you should mention a book relating to animal consciousness (or lack of it). All I am going to do is make the fog thicker, but I would like to relate my experience.

When I was young I lived on a farm my Dad trained sheep dogs. Now I am a professional tennis coach. It is interesting to watch them work ( both dogs and humans). Back to dogs and humans later.

In his article, Perception Without Awareness, Fred Dretske explores, 'what it is like' to be Fido the dog:

    When Fido sees food in his bowl in what (I am assuming) is a fully conscious way, he may know there is food in his bowl. He may even be trained to 'report' (by barking, say) to the effect, but unless the conceptual prowess of animals is vastly underestimated, Fido doesn't think (judge, know) that he sees, doesn't think he is conscious of, doesn't believe he experiences food in his bowl. That is what I think. I believe this is a result of Fido's behaviour (wagging his tail, eating from the bowl, barking). That doesn't mean he's not aware of food in his bowl. Fido's impoverished intellectual life doesn't mean he is perceptually deficient*  It doesn't mean he isn't aware of his food. He just doesn't know he is aware of it...  * my emphasis.

I think it does mean Fido is perceptually deficient. But I  agree that Fido perceives without awareness.

If I may explain using one of your examples in a previous post.

Suppose I have a friend who has just recently become a professional tennis player. Can this person say 'what it is like' to be a professional tennis player? Even though he is just starting out there are plenty of opportunities to explain X.s in terms of Y's For example, he may experience plenty of parties, plenty of media attention and plenty of fun times. His insight(or lack of it) regarding professional tennis might be interesting. He might end up saying something like this, "I don't know what it is like to play a professional match I haven't played one yet but I would imagine it would be like like playing a non- professional tennis match." "I mean to say, it would be like playing, 'in the zone', you know playing in the zone is like playing in the zone; Xis like X".

Naturally this is an unsatisfactory explanation, but it is not unusual, most professional sports people have trouble articulating exactly what they have experienced. It seems to me there is no 'what it is like' to play tennis, no 'what it is like to play basketball', no 'what it is like' to play soccer. All of these experiences seem to have an uncanny similarity about them which appears to be universal regardless of the sport.

Research by sports psychologists may have shed some light on this phenomenon. Sports psychologists attempt to explain this in terms of, 'perception for action'. The by-passing of the cognitive process in favour of a direct link between perception and action. It seems to me that professional people playing tennis in the zone (or any sport) are perceptually deficient.

What does 'perceptually deficient' mean exactly? I guess it means perception without awareness. In other words, to perceive many objects at once without thinking about any particular object you are perceiving. If we attempt to look at a number of different object that happen to be in our field of vision ( without favoring any one object) then it becomes very difficult to have a, 'what it is like' experience.

It also seems to me that tennis players in the zone don't actually focus on the ball exclusively. When hitting the ball they see the ball, but they also see their racquet, the net the court lines and their opponent all at once. Attention always seems more or less evenly divided. A tennis player is obviously conscious but they are just unaware they are conscious for a period of time. It doesn't means he/she is unaware of the ball, it just means he/she is also aware of other things as well.

Depending on your point of view the unfortunate consequence of my idea about the zone is that I am forced to compare a person to a dog. By the same token it also means that being in the zone is a natural state for dogs. If you have seen a sheep dog work you probably wouldn't disagree with that.

When Nagel talks about,'what it is like to be a bat he wants to argue that consciousness has a distinctive subjective character about it. However, it seems to me that, 'what it is like' to be a professional sports person in the zone is not a subjective experience; 'they all do it in the same way'.  Is 'perception for action' a universal experience?

Regards

Dave Macintosh




2010-12-21
Describing zombies

RE: "The whole point is that there is no comparison"

I vaguely recall someone made this same objection earlier in the thread.  But it doesn’t help the ‘Nagel’ case at all.

If this is not a ‘like’ of comparison, what is it?  The only probable alternative is that it’s ‘like’ in the sense of ‘feel like’. As in ‘I feel like a drink.’  So the Nagel ‘something it is like’ would really mean ‘something it feels like’.

But if this is so, that’s instant death to the idea. Can we feel without being conscious?  We can’t answer that with any certainty. Just as we can’t say with certainty that ‘experience’, ‘emotion’, etc can occur without consciousness. So to define consciousness in terms of feeling is very possibly to define it in terms of itself – or of something that contains itself.  And that’s obviously verboten.

This highlights a key problem in the Nagel argument in my view. Its use of the word ‘like’ – which is absolutely central to its claim – is very ambiguous. Is it a ‘like’ of comparison, or a like of ‘feel like’? Neither will work anyway, as we see, but the underlying ambiguity tends, I think, to confuse the reader and give the proposition a plausibility it never warranted.

(This, I can't refrain from adding, is just a straightforward piece of philosophical analysis that one would have expected ‘analytic’ philosophy to have done right from the start.)

DA


2010-12-22
Describing zombies
Reply to Alex. Arthur

Hi Alex

Interesting post.

I don't think it saves Nagel however. Correct me if I am wrong, but I gather his idea is less 'what would it be like to be something?' than simply 'to be like' something is to be conscious. This is why, to my mind (and to Hacker's too, I think) the notion of 'being like' is thrown into such stark relief. Hacker points out inter alia that an X can only be likened to a Y (not to an X). So what is Nagel's Y? There is none, nor can there be, of course.

Peter Jones argues in the post I replied to that Nagel’s 'like' implies no comparison at all. Personally I think that’s reading Nagel against the grain but even if one agrees, we only run into another stalemate as I pointed out in my reply.

I think the Nagel proposition is dead in the water and always was. I am only surprised it was ever taken seriously.

DA


2010-12-22
Describing zombies
Hi JWK

Just a couple of points. You asked me to name an event that's not  'spatio-temporal'. I agree that my decision to go to the shop might called be called temporal (though I even have reservations about that) but is it spatial?  Can I measure the length, breadth, and thickness of that decision?  So is it a non-spatial event occurring in time?

I may not have been clear in my Shakespeare example. Certainly, acting on stage is a 'spatio-temporal' activity (inter alia) but it was the experience Shakespeare describes I was referring to. Can we express Lear’s experiences in a 'spatio-temporal' formula?

DA

2010-12-22
Describing zombies

Hi Dave

If I understand you correctly, you are raising the question of the kind of consciousness that's operating in 'trained' human activities like tennis – or, I imagine, (though the example is rather less glorious) the repetitive actions of a worker on a production line. 

Since I think human consciousness itself is a mystery far from being solved, I really have no idea what such ‘reduced’ forms of conscious behaviour might involve. I can only guess that the training process allows the person to carry out the task with a mimum of thought – which would be a necessity for a tennis player because he simply doesn’t have the time.

That’s hardly a very brilliant diagnosis! As I say, the real mystery, it seems to me, is what consciousness itself is.  I don’t think philosophy has even come close to working this out yet.  Quite possibly it never will. I suspect we’ll manage brief, partial glimpses at best.

DA


2010-12-30
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
DA, I agree that "what it is like" is woolly.  Your argument about "experience" is flawed however, being an argument of the type "Bill is evil, Bill likes apple pie therefore apple pie is evil".

I am my experience, it exists and I can describe it. The description is in terms of events, there are events in experience and these are spatiotemporally distributed.  I do not know the true nature of the events but sensory events correlate with measurements in the world outside my body.  The spatiotemporal distribution of the events in my experience is bizarre and needs to be explained. Nothing that you have said contradicts this assertion about the spatiotemporal nature of experience.

2010-12-30
Describing zombies
Dave Macintosh: "I am forced to compare a person to a dog". 

I have a high opinion of dogs. They lack much inner speech but conscious experience does not require inner speech.  If I define the word 'awareness' as meaning the presence of both a taste of meat and the lick that acquired it, the ball in the mouth and the recent directed passage of the ball through the air, the whole command 'stay', not just the 'y' sound or less then my dog is obviously aware.  If I define awareness as a knowledge of how behaviour will affect events I can see this right now because my labrador is sitting at the door, looking at me and when I look at him he makes a short moan and looks at the door and back to me. I am now getting up and opening the door.  My dog concludes that I am probably also aware.

On the subject of 'being in the zone', I learnt in first year psychology, many years ago, that skills are acquired through practice and once acquired do not require any conscious monitoring.  Has anything changed?  Conscious experience is delayed by about 200 ms compared with complex reflex behavioural reactions, indeed as Ryle noted in "Concept of Mind" conscious behaviour is an absurdity. Behaviour occurs within conscious experience but conscious experience does not control behaviour directly - it is experience, not action.
,

2010-12-30
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
What is it like to be a bat?  (ie: to 'be' a bat). This question is informal rather than analytic. Pointing out its informal nature is not going to advance our knowledge. Better to drop the whole thing and ask "what are the events within my experience and how are they arranged?".  If we can figure this out for ourselves we might be able to figure it our for bats and dogs.

2010-12-30
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan



Pardon me if this is late and out of sequence - I seem to have lost the professional posting status which I was mistakenly awarded when I joined. 


RE: "The whole point is that there is no comparison"

...'If this is not a ‘like’ of comparison, what is it? '

It is the idea that consciousness, experiences, feelings and emotions, although ineffable, may always be partially described by reference to something else, since there is always something that it is like to have them. If I was asked to explain what it is like to be playing a tennis match while 'in the zone', (it has happened once or twice) I'd start by likening it to something else. There is simply no denying that there is something that it is like to be conscious. We cannot describe what it is like to be unconscious.  

I expect you'd agree that there's no problem with using 'consciousness' and 'feeling' as synonyms, as many people here do. These terms cannot be used as a self-referential definitions of each other, as you say, but I don't think anyone is suggesting that they should be.

...The only probable alternative is that it’s ‘like’ in the sense of ‘feel like’. As in ‘I feel like a drink.’  So the Nagel ‘something it is like’ would really mean ‘something it feels like’.

Exactly. There is something that it feels like to feel like a drink. We call it feeling thirsty.  

...But if this is so, that’s instant death to the idea. Can we feel without being conscious?  We can’t answer that with any certainty.

Why can't we answer? Surely the idea that we can feel but not be conscious would be oxymoronic for any sensible definition of the terms. . 

...Just as we can’t say with certainty that ‘experience’, ‘emotion’, etc can occur without consciousness. 
 
For me this view does not compute. I can only wonder at how you reach this conclusion.

I'd bet my house on consciousness being a necessary condition for feelings, experiences and emotions. If it is not a necessary condition, perhaps because of the way you define these terms, then it is perfectly possible that you are not conscious. You wouldn't be able to know either way, since the presence of your experiences, feelings and emotions would prove nothing. 

So to define consciousness in terms of feeling is very possibly to define it in terms of itself – or of something that contains itself.  And that’s obviously verboten.

These terms are usually used as synonyms, not as poor excuses for definitions.  

This highlights a key problem in the Nagel argument in my view. Its use of the word ‘like’ – which is absolutely central to its claim – is very ambiguous. Is it a ‘like’ of comparison, or a like of ‘feel like’? Neither will work anyway, as we see, but the underlying ambiguity tends, I think, to confuse the reader and give the proposition a plausibility it never warranted.

I suppose it is possible to misinterpret Nagel's phrase in this way, but it seems quite a challenge and somewhat mischievous. The Principle of Charity would state that he means there is something that it feels like. He could have used 'what it feels like to be a bat,' but I don't expect he anticipated problems with the catchier phrase he chose. 

(This, I can't refrain from adding, is just a straightforward piece of philosophical analysis that one would have expected ‘analytic’ philosophy to have done right from the start.)

I doubt that philosophers fall neatly and exclusively into categories such that they can be derided en masse in this way. The truth is more likely to be that most of them don't feel the need to take issue with Nagel for his elision of feeling and consciousness. 

Regarding the earlier point about only a bat being able to know what it is like to be one, that even if we could imagine what it is like to be a bat we'd still be a human being imagining being a bat, thus not having the true experience of a bat being a bat. It occurs to me that this thought can be expanded to lead into solipsism of a sort. How we could ever know that we are not something or someone else imagining what it would be like to be a human being? Some philosophies, most notably the perennial varieties, say we are exactly this, and we have yet to falsify the idea. 

  


2010-12-30
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
DA: Can I measure the length, breadth, and thickness of ... (expand) that decision?  So is it a non-spatial event occurring in time?

Ordinary decisions occur in the non-conscious parts of your brain. The neural events are spatial and have been measured for several decisions in volunteers. The experience containing the "decision" is an output of this non-conscious processing such as inner speech or a feeling or action, it is not the decision process itself.  Inner speech is clearly positioned in my experience near to where audible speech occurs and feelings occur in that part of my body that they affect within my experience.  So, in answer to your question, when the output from a decision occurs in my experience it is spatial and the decision process itself is usually not within my experience.  The decision process itself is spatial but outside of experience.

You seem to be expecting the decision processing itself to be within experience. If I decide that 1 + 2 = 3 the number bond just pops into mind, non-conscious parts of my brain do the processing.  It is the same for a word in speech or inner speech, the non-conscious parts of my brain select the word and link together the phonemes, the word itself just pops into mind.

These output events, such as the output from decision processing, are clearly spatial and spatio-temporal. I have no non-spatial events in my experience although events that are outside of my experience obviously have no spatial extent within it. Indeed, when you say that an event appears to have no spatial or spatio-temporal extent you are telling me that it occurs in a non-conscious part of your brain, or somewhere else that is outside of your experience.

(Incidently, Ryle, in Concept of Mind, showed quite conclusively that "experience" cannot be an intelligent agent without giving rise to an infinite regress.  Experience does not perform processing, it contains the output of steps within a process but does not perform it.  I consider that Ryle, Dennett's teacher, made an absurd further deduction when he declared that experience itself is just a ghost in the machine.)

2010-12-30
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi again Derek

Thanks for your reply, I found it very helpful. If you can spare the time, I have a few  more questions regarding 'reduced consciousness'

I did want to say that the zone phenomenon is a fair bit more than just trained human activity. In my essays, "The Philosophical Zombie versus the Tennis Playing Zombie" Parts 1 and 2, I made the claim that the research suggests the zone phenomenon is a universal experience. I will quickly add that everyone experiencing it in the same way is my interpretation of the findings.

However, for argument sake, let us assume that I am correct on the above account and that I am also correct in what I said in my previous post about humans and dogs. That is, all humans and some animals have the ability to 'share' in the same level of consciousness. I did say that humans and dogs share the same level of consciousness when it comes to being engrossed in a task.

You quite rightly point out in your post the problem of,the cut-off point for phenomenological consciousness. You also quite rightly point out the ridiculousness of this type of scenario, "I wonder if that worm digging in my garden is 'in the zone' ( even if he has an exceptionally high I.Q.). I think this highlights the problem of 'reduced consciousness' and how far someone is prepared to reduce it. But what exactly are we trying to reduce?

Some philosophers argue for the existence of qualia. One way to argue for its existence is the famous, or infamous Mary argument. The argument tries to demonstrate the existence of qualia by saying qualia is' something extra'. What if qualia were not something extra, but something we could subtract? I will return to this in a moment.

In my essays I have tried to argue that (assuming qualia exist) it is something that can be stripped away by human subjects. For example, it can be stripped away by seriously picking up a tennis racquet. I think this amounts to saying that qualia are usually the features of experience, but not all of the time especially if we can get rid of 'what it is like' experiences. Does this mean that qualia are features of mental states, but not actual experiences? Is experience reducible by taking something away?

The Mary argument is an argument for epiphenomenal qualia. As the the argument goes, when Mary is free from her room and sees colour for the first time, it is suggested that she gains 'something extra' from experiencing colour. In a similar sense philosophical zombies and tennis playing zombies are also epiphenomenal. Tennis players instead of gaining something extra from their zone experience actually lose something. By losing 'what it is like experiences' does this show the qualitative properties of experience are conceived independently of behaviour and disposition?


Dave Macintosh



2010-12-30
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

"...the mystery, it seems to me, is what consciousness itself is.  I don’t think philosophy has even come close to working this out yet.  Quite possibly it never will. I suspect we’ll manage brief, partial glimpses at best."

I feel, Derek, that this would depend on how we define philosophy. I assume you don't include any of those philosophies that are all about understanding consciousness. If so then I think you're right about philosophy. I would call such an approach to philosophising perverse but it's a popular choice.  

Our consciousness is always immediately accessible to us so it is an odd thing to say that we can only manage brief and partial glimpses of it. Are you sure that this is all we can manage?


  
 



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Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/5106 Reply


2010-12-30
Describing zombies

Hi JWK

RE: "I am my experience, it exists and I can describe it"

Can we really ‘describe our experience’?  We describe something; but describing one’s experience is a thornier question that it might first appear. Can there ever be true self-knowledge? What about the possible influence of the subconscious, our unwillingness to look into the murkier regions of our motivations, etc etc? (Sadly, not all human experience is as simple and innocent as the old analytic philosophy chestnut 'seeing the colour red' might suggest.)

But let’s assume for argument's sake that we can ‘describe our experience’ with total accuracy. Where does that get us with the philosophical question of consciousness?  We would first need to know what we mean by the term ‘consciousness’.  And the lamentably inadequate ‘something it is like’ thing shows us just how far philosophy is from achieving that goal. 

And obviously we can’t just say that consciousness = experience because to ‘describe our experience’ is one thing (assuming we can do it) but giving a definition of the notion ‘experience’ is quite another. For all we know, (human) experience, or most of it, necessarily involves consciousness – and alas! we don’t know what we mean by 'consciousness'. A nice little vicious circle.

DA


2010-12-31
Describing zombies

Hi Peter

You write: “I assume you don't include any of those philosophies that are all about understanding consciousness.”

I definitely do include them.  In fact, they’re my major target. To my mind, current attempts in the ‘analytic’ philosophy of consciousness will be very fortunate if they manage even ‘brief, partial glimpses’ of what consciousness might be. The whole approach strikes me as wrong-headed, painfully simplistic, and doomed to failure.  I’d compare it to a child in the control room of a nuclear facility pushing buttons at random and thinking he knows what he’s doing. (Only a rough analogy. I don’t want to compare consciousness to a machine). A good indication of how hopeless things are is the desperate attempt to cling on to the Nagel idea.    

You also write: ‘Our consciousness is always immediately accessible to us....’

I think others on the thread may have said similar things but the proposition always puzzles me. If consciousness – whatever it is – were always immediately accessible to us, the whole philosophical debate would surely be unnecessary? We’d be like someone who only needs to open a box: the contents would be immediately accessible and we’d know what’s inside as soon as we opened it.

But consciousness is not at all like that – or so it seems. To begin with, we presumably access it with itself. So rather than opening a box, it’s much more like being in a mirror maze where we don’t know what’s real and what’s a reflection, and we simply lose our bearings. (Only a rough analogy again). Put another way, where could I stand outside my consciousness to ‘access’ it?  And what is this ‘I’ doing the accessing?

DA


2010-12-31
Describing zombies

Hi Peter

Thanks for your reply – but I have problems.

Re: 'There is simply no denying that there is something that it is like to be conscious.'

So then what is it like?

Re: “I expect you'd agree that there's no problem with using 'consciousness' and 'feeling' as synonyms, as many people here do.’

But how does that help?  What is a ‘feeling’?  Does it, or does it not, have consciousness as a constituent? If so, the vicious circle looms. (See also below.) If not, where to then?

Re: ‘Surely the idea that we can feel but not be conscious would be oxymoronic for any sensible definition of the terms.’

But if you think that, we could not define feeling without being able to define consciousness (or vice versa presumably), could we? We’re after something that gives us an independent grasp on the idea of consciousness. A concept that in some unspecified way already contains the idea of consciousness is not going to help us.  We’d be defining X in terms of X.

Re: ‘I doubt that philosophers fall neatly and exclusively into categories such that they can be derided en masse in this way.’

I’m only ‘deriding’ – ‘amazed by’ would be a better description - those philosophers who continue to take the Nagel proposition seriously. As many seem to do.

DA





2010-12-31
Describing zombies

Hi Dave

Just a couple of points which I hope may be of relevance.

I have, I confess, never been impressed by the ‘qualia’ idea. It strikes me as a red herring.

What is achieved by introducing the term? One begins with something entirely unexplained – consciousness – and one divides it up into the physical brain and something called ‘qualia’. And then one asks if ‘qualia’ exist or not. But that simply gets us back to the familiar question of whether consciousness can be explained solely in physical terms. The technical-sounding ‘qualia’ may give us the impression we’ve got somewhere, but where? I think we’ve only muddied the waters by the possible implication that consciousness is a thing, belonging to the same order of things as the brain, which is by no means obvious.

I’ve never looked seriously at the ‘Mary’ argument. It sounds very tedious and unhelpful to me – the kind of thing analytic philosophy naturally gravitates to. But going on your account, I can’t see how it helps.  Presumably Mary was a conscious being before she saw the colour red (that old example again!) just as she was afterwards? She may be ‘conscious’ of something more once she’s seen red but that doesn’t tell us anything about what consciousness itself is. We’ve no doubt all had the experience of seeing something we had never seen before. But I don’t see what light that throws on anything.

DA


2011-01-02
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

I know this thread is about zombies but I’ve just been reading about the Singularity – a current fad among certain analytic philosophers, I gather – and since it seems so reminiscent of the Hollywood fantasy realm from which zombies come, I thought it might not be irrelevant.

It appears that one day soon a Mighty Computer will arise and this will signal the dawning of a magnificent new era. This computer will be so mighty that it will solve all humanity’s problems. But, wait, there’s more. It will also be able to spawn even mightier computers, who will in turn spawn even mightier ones, and so on and on.  So if, perchance, there were any miniscule, residual problems that Mighty Computer himself had left unsolved, son or grandson could easily mop them up.

So there will be a Brave New World after all, and in it, mirabile dictu, there will be no more illness or death. People will quite simply live forever (well, within reason….) All sources of discord having been removed, there will, presumably, be no crime and no more wars, so the police and the armed forces will be redundant (temporary unemployment issue there, I imagine). Peace and goodwill will reign everywhere.  No more hatred, no more envy.  Divorce rates will plummet. Courts will close their doors. Even waiting in long queues at airports (a pet aversion of mine) will be a thing of the past. Quite possibly, dogs will no longer have fleas.  Social inequalities will, of course, just melt away.  The rich, suddenly overcome with guilt, will, I imagine, make huge donations to the poor. Though, on second thoughts, that might be unnecessary: envy having been abolished, the poor will possibly be quite happy with their miserable lot? I’ll leave that one to Mighty Computer…

Anyway, it will be the Elysium Fields, the New Jerusalem, the Second Coming, though without God, choirs of angels, clouds of glory, etc. But, on the other hand, and thankfully, no Armageddon.  No need for it. And Satan seems to have been pensioned off anyway.  All will just be sweetness and light.  The lion will lie down with the lamb.  Forever and ever, amen. Etc.

There’s only one snag. It is just possible, I gather, that Mighty Computer in his Infinite Wisdom might decide, after a series of very complex calculations which need not detain us, and which we would not understand anyway, that humanity is really such a Bad Lot they are just not worth saving. That is, he might conceivably decide that the universe – whose deepest mysteries he will ex hypothesi have fathomed – would be a better place without us (in some sense which, again, we could not be expected to understand). So he would bring on some Dalek-like apocalypse and exterminate us.

Which leaves us with a thorny ethical problem, I guess. If, indeed, Mighty Computer, whose Wisdom, bless his soul, is Infinite, did indeed conclude that the universe could only benefit from our … er… removal, should we not go ahead and build him anyway?  After all, he will know best.  Ex hypothesi.

I’m sorry if this all sounds like the plot from some bad Hollywood science fiction movie. It is derived, I assure you, from a very reputable philosophical source.

DA


2011-01-06
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
DA, you ask "Can we really ‘describe our experience’?" My response is that we do not even describe the simplest aspects of our experience but we could if we could be bothered to do so.

Perhaps I could begin with something as simple as how we see a view.  Physicists try to describe vision by using diagrams of the path of light rays. This "geometrical optics" results in two, two dimensional images on the retinas.  There is a gaping hole in this description because it misses out the spatial dimension of depth.  Our physical description of vision consists of describing two, flat images.  It does not describe a 'view' at all.  A view is objects arranged around a viewing point, not two, discrepant, two dimensional images.

I can describe a 'view'.   It is objects arranged around a geometrical point but there is, and can be, no flow into a point. There is no flow in a view so it is a purely geometrical phenomenon.  The objects in a view are simultaneous, hence spatially arranged. So the problem of describing a 'view' is the solution to the question: "what geometrical form has events arranged around a point that are both at the point and arranged in space?".  The answer is well known, it is a geometrical form described by the metric:
0 = x^2 + y^2 + z^2 - Q^2
where Q is a negative dimension that allows events to be both arranged in space and at a point and all displacements are relative to the location of the point. 

This is just a simple mathematical description of the form of our visual experience.  If I see a circle I can offer the mathematical form r^2 = x^2 + y^2 to describe it.  I do not even need to measure it, if something looks pretty well circular then this description will be pretty well correct.  If I see a sphere I can offer the mathematical form r^2 = x^2 + y^2 + z^2 to describe it.  If I have a 'view' I can offer 0 = x^2 + y^2 + z^2 - Q^2  to describe it. 

So I can indeed describe my 'view' and if I inspect the relationships in this description I will find that they are very similar to the relationships in physical equations that describe ordinary, common-or-garden space-time.  I would need to be a die-hard presentist to reject the possibility that this 'view' is just a natural result of the existence of space and time.  Sadly die-hard presentists are the majority of philosophers and even include many physicists. This problem with admitting the existence of dimensional time is due to lumping, change, causality and dimensional time together as a single phenomenon when they are multiple phenomena.


2011-01-06
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
To Derek and JWK

Gentlemen,thank you for your time and and effort when it came to answering the issues I raised.
It was very much appreciated.

Kind Regards.

Dave Macintosh

2011-01-06
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,
You wrote: "We’ve no doubt all had the experience of seeing something we had never seen before. But I don’t see what light that throws on anything."


Your comment highlights a difference between the philosophical enterprise and the scientific enterprise. If you really want some light shed on your experience of seeing something that you have never seen before, you have to keep up with the scientific literature relating brain processes to phenomenal experience. If the biological structure and dynamics of a particular kind of brain mechanism were to successfully predict that under a specified set of circumstances you would see something that you would never expect to see -- something that was contrary to all of your previous experience -- I think you would agree that some explanatory light was thrown on the problem of conscious experience.


In fact, novel experiences of this kind were successfully predicted by a particular kind of brain mechanism that explains the emergence  of subjectivity/consciousness in the physical world. Rather than stumbling around in a semantic thicket, you might want to take a look here:
http://people.umass.edu/trehub/YCCOG828%20copy.pdf

 



 

2011-01-06
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
This mighty computer of the Singularity sounds like a rip-off of Asimov's Multivac.

2011-01-06
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Hi Derek - sorry to chop it all up but I find it easier to keep track.


PJ - (“I assume you don't include any of those philosophies that are all about understanding consciousness.”)

DA - I definitely do include them.  In fact, they’re my major target. To my mind, current attempts in the ‘analytic’ philosophy of consciousness will be very fortunate if they manage even ‘brief, partial glimpses’ of what consciousness might be. The whole approach strikes me as wrong-headed, painfully simplistic, and doomed to failure. 

PJ - Yes, I agree about this approach. It is not, however, about understanding consciousness. It is about understanding theories of consciousness, and this is not at all the same thing.

When I referred to philosophies that are about understanding consciousness I was thinking of Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism, Gnosticism and so forth,  I couldn't agree more that the current state of consciousness studies is parlous but would say that your own approach is no different to that of Nagel et al. The only consciousness we'll ever catch a glimpse of is our own.  Those who study their own consciousness write endless books and papers on the origin, foundation and nature of mind and consciousness studies takes no notice, preferring to take a pre-scientific view by which we can theorise freely without bothering with empiricism. I cancelled my subscription to JCS because it is a bankrupt approach and it becomes more obviously so with each passing decade. So we agree on some things. To my mind consciousness studies has yet to regain the ground that Kant and Hegel won for it. The day we adopt the former's view of rational psychology is the day we might start making progress.

PJ - You also write: ‘Our consciousness is always immediately accessible to us....’

DA - I think others on the thread may have said similar things but the proposition always puzzles me. If consciousness – whatever it is – were always immediately accessible to us, the whole philosophical debate would surely be unnecessary? We’d be like someone who only needs to open a box: the contents would be immediately accessible and we’d know what’s inside as soon as we opened it. But consciousness is not at all like that – or so it seems. 

PJ - Things are rarely as they seem. It is even doubtful that they are ever how they seem. That you had to add this proviso is telling - it means that you are not sure that consciousness is not immediately accessible. I suppose 'immediately;' is not quite right, however, since it takes an effort.

DA - To begin with, we presumably access it with itself. So rather than opening a box, it’s much more like being in a mirror maze where we don’t know what’s real and what’s a reflection, and we simply lose our bearings. (Only a rough analogy again). Put another way, where could I stand outside my consciousness to ‘access’ it?  And what is this ‘I’ doing the accessing?
 
PJ - This is the kind of thinking that brings progress, it seems to me. These questions are crucial. I'd rather refer you to the literature of mysticism than try to bungle an answer. Paul Davies discusses these questions in his Mind of God, by reference to Rucker's 'Mindscape,'  the set of all possible ideas, and concludes from analysis of the problems it raises that mysticism, the pursuit of unmediated knowledge of  phenomena,  may be the only way the world as a whole can be understood, since when there is no distinction between the knower and known then problems of self-reference do not arise in the way you suggest they might. Russell's paradox does not arise for the mystic's worldview. To study our own consciousness without such a problem we just need to learn to stand outside of it. What you may not have considered is the possibility that the foundation of consciousness is not consciousness.

I'm not trying to force a view on you or anyone else, Derek, just to broaden the debate beyond its usual absurd, unnecessary and unproductive confines. At least we agree that at present consciousness studies is a mess.   




  


2011-01-07
Describing zombies

Yes. I don't think there's much originality in it. It even reminds me a bit of the scenario in Kubrick's Space Odyssey.

It’s all quite bizarre in a way.  The suggestion is, I gather, that we should rush to embrace a future in which computers breed like rabbits, each generation getting more intelligent (‘intelligence’ is not defined of course*) even though it’s conceded that, in their superhuman wisdom, they might eventually decide that the world would be better off without us. A kind of elaborate, nerdish way to commit universal suicide!

DA

* And given that the notion of intelligence is so problematic (IQ tests have been seen as suspect for how long?) this omission is an obvious flaw. 


2011-01-29
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan

Just in case anyone might think that Hacker's argument (see earlier and http://www.philosophypress.co.uk/?p=1583) is directed at a straw man, here are the opening lines of a relatively recent article I stumbled on by a philosopher in the consciousness field:

 "For an experience to be phenomenally conscious is for there to be something it’s like; our talk about phenomenal consciousness accordingly is permeated by the expression ‘there’s something it’s like’."

As well as the ‘there’s something it’s like’ mantra, there’s also the old warhorse of the (undefined) 'phenomenal consciousness'.

By the way, I wonder if any philosophers who are aficionados of the ‘something it’s like’ argument have tried to take issue with Hacker. That could make interesting reading…



DA 


2012-11-20
Describing zombies
Reply to Derek Allan
I'm not sure if this has already been suggested but there is a paper by Eric Marcus called 'Why Zombies are Inconceivable'. I think your concern is addressed by this paper. He argues that when someone imagines a zombie world they imagine the world without imagining the consciousness it may or may not contain. whereas they should imagine a world with no consciousness in it. 

2012-11-26
Describing zombies
Reply to Daniel Cain
Hi Daniel

I notice there are often debates about whether zombies are “conceivable” or not. My objection to the zombie idea is more fundamental than that. I don’t think there has ever been a philosophically coherent definition of what a zombie IS, or is supposed to be. So the question of conceivability, to my mind, does not even arise. Why bother wondering of X is conceivable if the definition of X is incomprehensible nonsense anyway? 

The zombie debate to my mind has been a gigantic waste of philosophical time – a red herring that should have been recognised as such right from the start.

DA