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2012-06-14
What would count as an explanation?
The "hard problem" in consciousness studies is to explain the relationship between between first-person felt consciousness and physical processes.  In this thread I do not want to debate the various solutions proposed but instead to ask what, in this context, we mean by "explain."  What would count as a good philosophical explanation of the issue?  To start off I offer this:

Explanation has several objectives.  The first is to predict and control.  We want to predict what the object of our interest is going to do, how it is going to behave, so that we can either make it do what we want or, if we can't do that, at least be prepared to respond to it.  That's what science and technology are all about.  The physical sciences tell us how things behave, and technology gives us tools for dealing with them.  What this kind of explanation gives us is laws, regularities, and insights into the mechanisms of nature.  With that knowledge we can pull the levers, so to speak, and make things happen.

Another objective of explanation is to tell a plausible story about the object of our interest, often having to do with how it came to be what it is, putting it into context with the rest of our knowledge.  Story-telling is common to human beings; we all love a good story precisely because it puts things in context and enables us to understand them. 

And it's even better when the story helps us predict and control. Stories about people do that in the cultural and interpersonal realm.  Stories about physical history do it in the physical realm.  The story of evolution tells us how living things, including ourselves, came to be; and that tells how we function and how we can improve our functioning.  And so forth.

All of these enable us to pass from a state of doubt, or uncertainty, into a state of belief.  As C.S. Peirce says "Belief does not make us act at once, but puts us into such a condition that we shall behave in some certain way, when the occasion arises. Doubt has not the least such active effect, but stimulates us to inquiry until it is destroyed." (Peirce, "The Fixation of Belief")

Charles Herrman, in another PhilPapers post, suggests that another aim of explanation is to assist in finding further avenues of pursuit. (http://philpapers.org/post/790)

So my questions are the following:
(1a) Is this a sufficient account of explanation?
(1b) If not, what else is required?
(2) What would an adequate explanation of the hard question look like?  How would we know when we have succeeded in explaining it?


2012-07-08
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Bill Meacham
An explanation is either 1)  a reductionism or 2) an expansion of a causal chain (though whether we want to predict or control events by employing a reduction or expansion is another matter) :

1) A reduction shifts the framework of presentation of objects. For example, colours and sounds are phenomonological but can be reduced to a different, physical framework, such as brain chemistry. The objects of a reductionism (such as brain processes) do not have a causal relationship with the objects so reduced (such as colours and sounds) but are terms of reference for them. Hence a reductionism is never an explanation though traditionally it is presented as one.

2) A causal chain addresses objects that fall in the same framework. For example, we can explain (expand) a causal chain and say that the colour green that appears to us can be the result of the coincidence of blue and yellow (or not), and we can explain or causally expand the movement of a car as a series of (causally related) mechanical events.

 


2012-07-08
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Bill Meacham
Hi Mr.Bill Meacham,
Though I am not an academic philosophy professor,  I have experienced the real pangs of seeking truth about one's own mental process, and the 'in-itself' reality outside the mind's realm, if any.  I have been on such questions for more than 2 decades. 

When one realizes that mind organ can only process the sense data in its typical 'phenomenal' fashion, ( individual subjectivity, intermixed with collective subjectivity) and the 'in-itself' reality about those objects and relations are not in the easy grasp of the ego ( ego, as the entity who undergo 'consciousness') as famously stated by Kant, all doubts about the subject of consciousness would have ended. 

Ego is a synthetic entity, originated on the principle of 'you are, hence I am'. It has no 'in itself' substance as far as the typical modern man is concerned. Hence, one's attempt to understand 'consciousness' and its contents objectively would be like an attempt to attribute sensible patterns to cloud movement in the clear sky. He is able to perceive him self as the 'subject'  who undergoes consciousness is due to the fact that' duality' of self is a reality for man. To perceive one self as an 'object' logically necessitates a perceiving subject within. Besides the social ego, man is always capable of keeping a core spirit ( a deeper entity) within, as the member, or habitant of a different time-space reality other than the human society. This deeper entity is the one who perceives his own ego as having 'consciousness'. 

Whether man could break his 'phenomena' barrier, and whether man could have a center other that of the routine 'mind'  for the said task etc. are discussed in my recently published book' Is reason a sense organ ? A super mind above the known mind ?' ( Amazon title, under book 'philosophy>body-mind' ) I would politely request you and the academic world in general to share my findings, and see whether it adds up anything to the body of existing knowledge. 

2012-07-08
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Bill Meacham
What it is like to be a terrestrial predator ape? - What is it like to be a extraterrestrial predator?There are two different entities which have no clear spatial location, which do not break down into spatial parts which have no spatial dimensions...which experience the world which know the world
which explain the world probably very different. To explain something means what is it like to be a bat or something else.

2012-07-08
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Bill Meacham

Carruthers (2000, Phenomenal Consciousness, CUP; &  http://www.philosophy.umd.edu/Faculty/pcarruthers/Reductive-explanation.htm, 2004) argues that a reductive explanation of phenomenal consciousness should,

1. explain how phenomenally conscious states have a subjective dimension; how they have feel; why there is something which it is like to undergo them; 

2. why the properties involved in phenomenal consciousness should seem to their subjects to be intrinsic and non-relationally individuated; 

3. why the properties distinctive of phenomenal consciousness can seem to their subjects to be ineffable or indescribable; 

4. why those properties can seem in some way private to their possessors; and 

5. how it can seem to subjects that we have infallible (as opposed to merely privileged) knowledge of phenomenally conscious properties. 

Chalmers (1995, http://consc.net/papers/facing.html) proposes that a coherent non-reductive theory of consciousness is necessary and that it must satisfy his three evaluative criteria. To paraphrase, these are as follows:

1. Criterion A, the double aspect theory of information principle, requires that information is fundamental to consciousness, and corresponds to physical and to phenomenal features that are isomorphic. (Section 7.3, para 4).

2. Criterion B, the principle of organisational invariance, states that any two systems with the same functional organisation will have qualitatively identical experiences. Examples of such systems might include computer systems. (Section 7.2, para 1).

3. Criterion C, the principle of structural coherence, requires that the processes that explain awareness link structurally to the basis of consciousness by determining the relationship between that of which we are aware (and can report upon) and that of which we experience. (Section 7.1, para 11) 

Chalmers also states that an explanation of consciousness should explain the experience about which and with which humans are individually aware and report upon, and provide an appraisal of prevailing physical facts and show how these facts must lead to organisms that possess phenomenal experience.

Woodruff Smith (2001, Three facets of consciousness, Axiomathes 12, pp. 55-85) seeks the principle aspects of a fundamental ontology, which he argues, should explore and explain the relationship between consciousness and, what he regards as the three key facets of consciousness namely evolution, physiology, and behaviour.

Further still, humanity seeks to know the intrinsic property of self and assumes this, rightly or wrongly, to be an aspect of first-person consciousness too.

Personally, I believe there are different levels of explanation and that they will clarify and define distinctions between what we commonly refer to as consciousness.

c.f. If you are interested further, read my paper at http://mind-phronesis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/HSTpt1redexp.pdf




2012-07-08
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Bill Meacham

I'll begin by saying that I support with the notion of a standard by which to judge or form ideas that "could count" as explanations directed toward answering or "solving" the "hard questions" of philosophy of mind, i.e. the relationship between mental phenomenal, subjectivity or consciousness and the processes of the physical brain.  This is a step toward tackling this larger issue, yet still many more loom.  However, on the former I have a few thoughts:

I. I do not have too much contribute to that end from the ideas aforementioned: control and predictability, apart from a thought on I feels should be considered when looking at predictability.:

As far as predictability and control, it seems that we are limited by the working understanding of the brain.  We have understanding of general regions of the brain and how they control aspects of behavior, emotion and memory and that they are ultimately stored in neurons.  We can even predict that trauma or injury to specific areas of the brain cause changes or debilitations to these functions.  However you'd be hard-pressed to find a scientist or doctor who can say with certainty if trauma to the frontal-lobe will cause someone to change in a specific manner.  We know their personality will change, but in what way specifically?  Perhaps this will resolve itself in time.  

Further, I have yet to come across a specific explanation of how particular memories are stored in at the neural level or within a neural network.  We believe, "know" or deduce that is where they are stored neurally, but how does it operate specifically.  Without this information, I believe it would be difficult to create any such explanation that would satisfy the "predictability" and "control" standards mentioned.

Where we stand now, it seems that there are several working theories, in many fields that predict, to some degree, how the brain and mind interact.  For example, when certain parts of the brain are stimulated, the subject undergoes certain phenomenal experiences.  This has shown to be reliable over time.  However, many people, including me, seem to find this unfulfilling.  Before asking ourselves, "what counts as an explanation", perhaps we could ask "why doesn't what we know count or fulfill us"?  Is it a matter of the explanation itself, a matter of "what counts for us", or the nature of the matter we are investigating?

II.  On the larger issue:

I'd like to reference Kurt Baier's idea of "unvexing explanations" (I can provide a citation if you are so interested).  If you are unfamiliar with the idea, it is basically (for our purposes) the idea that for any kind of question, problem or "vexation" you may have, there is a corresponding answer that will address the issue and subsequently (in his idea) "unvex" you.  He uses chess as his device to "explain" this.  If for example, you do not know the rules of chess, and wish to know them, simply having the rules explained to you should suffice because they address your concern.  The explanation of the rules "counts" as an explanation toward your vexation due to the nature of your vexation.  That is, It is sufficient that having the explanation directed toward that which is vexing for you to become unvexed.   However, if you have "adequate" knowledge the rules of chess and you wish to understand why a certain "chess move" is a "good move", having the rules explained to you will not suffice because the explanation is not directed toward that which is vexing.  Here, a different kind of explanation is required to "count" and "suffice".  A more appropriate, indeed sufficient, explanation that counts would include a discussion on strategy.

In this way, these vexations and explanations could be akin to "layers" or "levels".  On the "lower" level we have concerns and explanations of rules while on the "upper levels" we have strategy, etc.  His idea gets a little confusing with the notion that explanations are at their level are "complete" in the sense that they count as explanations to "unvex" the "vexed".  However, you can refer an explanation in a "higher" or "lower" level  should you require it.  This is my basic understanding and I apologize if I have butchered his idea.  In either case, it is an interesting starting point for what "counts" as an explanation at whatever layer "unvexes" us.

I've toyed with this idea a little bit by applying this idea to explanations, particularly regarding the interaction of mind and brain as well as other areas that often contain erudite knowledge and I'm not sure it always works out as Baier described it.  If a child were to ask "why do I feel that pain in my stomach", a mother might answer "because you ate to much", a doctor might answer "because over-eating has changed your digestion, etc.", while a chemist or nutritionist may offer an explanation dealing with the specific process of digestion.  The child would probably be "unvexed" by the mother's explanation and confused by the others. However, this may not suffice for other people, for any number of reasons.  My example, albeit flawed (what if the child understood the others?) here is to illustrate that what may "count" as an explanation (according to Baier) may not "suffice" or satisfy the individual vexed.  Ultimately, it is an individual who has to believe it and it seems that no matter the status of the explanation, if the one who is vexed does not or cannot accept it, then the vexation persists.  Surely, there are times that an explanation, while "counting" has not fulfilled, satisfied or unvexed us.  

Of course, the problem now is that we may have things that "count" as explanations but may not be sufficient to unvex us.  This may be a matter of value, in that, if you value the status of the explanation greater than it's cause to unvex, you may say that the issue having been explained is sufficient for the matter to be resolved.  However, if you value the result, then whatever it is that "unvexes" is sufficient.    If you consider both of value, then explanations should both "count" and "unvex" to be sufficient.  How then, can this be objectively resolved as it seems to be a matter of value or opinion?  I believe this to be the larger issue not limited to Philosophy of Mind, and perhaps why this "hard" question in the philosophy of mind may be "impossible" to "objectively" resolve (that is without taking your own value or opinion into the mix).   

---------------------------

I believe that this discussion of "satisfaction through explanation" is part of a larger issue that is not limited to the Philosophy of Mind.  I apologize for any detractions from the intended course of discussion as this may be better suited for other feeds.  I have been toying with this idea for a while (as my life permits), but I see it as relevant in the Philosophy of Mind canon.  This is my first post, and as I'm not a "philosopher by trade" please be gentle, but I welcome all criticism.  I hope I can be a valuable contributor at some point! 

-gtw


2012-07-08
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Bill Meacham
Hi Bill,
This is in addition to my earlier reply post.  

You started up offering a definition for 'explanation' , and you ended up giving the 'objectives' of the act of explanation, instead of 'explaining' explanation ! A definition of a stone can not be passed for a definition if you narrate its objectives or uses, like it can be used as a handy weapon for throwing at a street-dog, or as building material for human dwelling units. 

Explanation is not required for our direct sense objects, because what you see and hear would be the same for me too. Explanation is required when one of us claim a relation between two or more such sense objects, or two or more such already established relations. Here explanation is the act of verbally, or graphically conveying such claimed relation between objects or relations in a terminology that shared by both parties. Or, it is an act of bringing your special experience to the realm of experience of the other person too, linking the phenomenon ( the newly found relation)  to an already known universal premises that both the parties are in agreement. This act of explanation is what we usually call logical presentation. 

Your faculty of reason has found the said relation in its 'spectrum' function ( reason splits any given ray of idea, or thought into all its all possible constituent sub-ideas and possibilities, hence it is a spectrum like function) and in the act of 'explain', you seek suitable syllogism to bring to the cognizable range of the other party. 

A few useful inputs into such special functions of human reason could be found at my blog: http://thesparkleofhumanreason.blogspot.in/ 


2012-07-09
What would count as an explanation?

Please excuse me butting in. This is just a general comment, not one replying to Abraham in particular.

Aren’t we making a mountain out of a molehill here?  Surely what would “count” as an explanation of consciousness (I really don’t like that pretentious analytic philosophy formulation “count”) is what would “count” as an explanation in any field of intellectual endeavour – i.e. that which is most fruitful in its implications – that which allows us to understand the largest number of aspects of the phenomenon in question.

This, for example, is why I think approaches that focus on sensory capacities alone – sight, hearing etc – are doomed from the outset. They are highly unlikely to give us any purchase on man’s emotional life. And there are millions of functioning human beings without sight or hearing, but a (conscious) human being without an emotional life is not even imaginable. So an explanation based solely on sensory capacities would not be sufficiently fruitful. It would not "count".

DA


2012-07-16
What would count as an explanation?
> Kurt Baier's idea of "unvexing explanations" (I can provide a citation if you are so interested). Yes, please send the citation. It sounds a bit like C.S. Peirce: What we think of as true is what satisfies our "doubt" (Peirce's word) or vexation. But what would satisfy us in our attempt to reconcile such incommensurate notions as the physical and the mental?

2012-07-26
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Bill Meacham
Bill,
Great topic! 

It's true that for something to be an explanation it should give us a sense of understanding or the removal of doubt somehow. But, as philosophers, we cannot get that sense of understanding about the nature of explanation itself if we rely only on psychological criteria to define "explanation". To be precise, we are seeking an explication of the concept of explanation. As is to often the case these days, many people doing philosophy simply assume that scientific explanations are the "gold standard" of what an explanation should be. Prediction and control are usually cited as defining characteristics without much discussion and maybe someone will mention Pierce and pay tribute to the need for something more... like a good story... to go along with the predicting and controlling that good explanations afford.
Of course, even Plato was willing to admit that scientific explanations are a "likely story". In fact, what distinguishes our science from Plato's is that our story is MUCH more likely than the sort of atomistic or materialistic explanations from the science of his day. Democritus, for example, explained all the composite objects we perceive, including our own bodies, to be built up out of "uncuttables" (a-toms), or smallest possible particles, which have only the primary qualities of size, shape and motion. But, along with a non-particulate (empty) spatial substance, the void, that gives them geometrical structure, they are the substances of which everything in the world consists. He referred to "soul atoms", the very fine, spherical atoms that he believed to be identical to the secondary qualities of human experience, covering everything from colors to emotions. These are found in the mind (psyche), which the Greeks thought to be located in the chest.

Ancient Greek science was reductionistic, in the ontological sense that the whole world and everything is it, including our consciousness and all mental properties, are comprised completely of atoms in the void. There is no remainder, or other "emergent" properties to account for everything. But it was not mathematical, which is how we see scientific theories now. Ever since Newton, science has consisted in producing mathematically or geometrically expressed equations that entail precise predictions about observable phenomena. Moreover, these equations or "laws of nature", along with the appropriate initial and boundary conditions serve as deductive arguments that always accurately predict outcomes... until they don't. This is the "Deductive-Nomological model" of scientific explanations developed by Ernest Nagel. Thought most contemporary philosophers of science recognize the need for something more narrative, too, Nagel's D-N Model is still taken to state at least a necessary set of criteria for something to "count" as a scientific explanation. It is also thoroughly reductionisitc in concept.

An explanation is, on the D-N model just a prediction in reverse. It's a deductive argument in which, for example, every molecule of water anywhere in the universe, even on unobserved planets in long-ago vaporized solar systems, is explained as being constituted by one oxygen atom with two hydrogen atoms in close proximity to each other. Water is H2O. Lightening is electrostatic discharge. Energy is the product of accelerated mass (E=mc^2). These are reductionistic explanations of things that we all commonly observe in our daily experience. It is just this precision, repeatability and reliability that makes them "scientific" to us.

But does this make the explanations true? Does it mean that the objects mentioned in them like electrons or photons are, therefore, "real"? Not just convenient fictions to help us "picture" somehow what the terms of the equations refer to, if anything. The predictions are true or false. When they turn out to be false, we look for ways to change them so that they will be true. Scientists are naturalists (at least in spirit), so they always want nature to determine what the belief about it, rather than any on-board bias in their heads or pre-conceived notion of essences or non-natural causes. But when the terms are defined only as complex formulas in mathematics that predict multiple spatial dimensions beyond the ever-present three of our experience (as in string theory), for example, the "thing doing the explaining" (explanans) is far more puzzling than the"thing to be explained" (explanandum), it's hard for me to see how this explains anything at all.

The upshot of all this is that the nature of explanation is an area for philosophical investigation that has to do something more than simply rubber-stamp whatever the science of the day happens to have uncovered as the paradigm for what an explanation is. Indeed, as an explication of the concept of explanation, it is clearly a logically fallacy, since an explanation is just a causal argument in reverse. We start with the observed explanandum (like water, lightening or energy) and "explain" it as the consequence of, for example, atoms combining into molecules. But the D-N model is a deductive argument, not a statement of equivalence. It is essentially an instance of modus ponens not one of the truth-functional bi-conditional or material equivalence. The only way a prediction can be an explanation in reverse is if the laws of nature + the initial and boundary conditions and the laws of nature (the inferential component of the argument) provide the ONLY way to bring about the predicted result. That is, not just the "if p then q" of the D-N model; we also need "if q then p" or "p if and only if q",,, the bi-conditional or material equivalence of cause and effect. In short, an explanation needs to describe the necessary AND sufficient conditions of something in order to explain it.

This is where Pierce becomes relevant. The likely story that makes us think to predict "if p then q" in the first place has to be a true story. That is, is has to correspond to the world in a way that is not exhausted by "whenever p then q"... that p is sufficient for q to occur. It must also be the ONLY way q can possibly happen. Otherwise any gremlin can be "p", as well as any electron. Of course i don't mean just logical possibility here. Any physically possible condition is logically possible. But it is not true that every logical possibility must also be physically possible. Indeed, we can NEVER show this. What we can show is that, in the world (i.e., universe) we live in, water molecules being comprised of 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom is the best possible explanation of what water is, including the predictions about the properties water will be observed to have.          

So are we just back to what makes an explanation the best possible one? No, not at all. We have objective criteria, the first of which is well known as Occam's Razor, or the principle of parsimony. To paraphrase it, "Never take 3 steps when only 2 will do." But there is another one, less well known, that says "Don't stop until you get there"... or the principle of optimality. Together these criteria require us to explain the most that we can of the explanandum with the least number of assumptions in the explanans. The combination of these criteria are what in fact makes science so convincing to us. All their predictions just couldn't be true, we reason, unless those little things they talk about (and most of us don't understand) about were real things. THAT is what scientific or any other explanation (if there is one) would do. It is an argument to the best explanation where"best" is understood to include not only (minimal) simplicity but (maximal) comprehensiveness, too. String theory may have predictive force (is has some, but not much) but as long as it postulates 10 or so spatial dimensions and a temporal one, conceived as spatial, it fails to show how its theoretical entities could conceivably result in the 3-D world in time that we know. 

Of course, when it comes to explaining consciousness scientifically we have a whole new can of worms because science is empirical ... based on experience. And experience=consciousness. So science bases its results on consciousness somehow being a reliable indicator of what is real or not in nature. That is, the terms of the explanans should mention things with law-like behaviors (such as atoms or quarks) that explain how the things referred to in the terms of the explanandum (in this case perceptions or observations generally) are constituted or predicted by the things mentioned in the explanans. But when the explanans also refers to observations, it would seems that the most critical thing to be explained is how scientists can even possibly do what they do. For if they cannot do this, scientists will not give a comprehensive explanation of the most that can be explained... unless man is to be a mystery in the universe and, consequently, so are all of his theories. 


-dcd
            



2012-07-27
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Mark Pharoah
This one, from Chalmers, is problematic:
> 2. Criterion B, the principle of organisational invariance, states that any two systems with the same functional organisation will have qualitatively identical experiences.


The problem is that there is no possible way to tell if two systems have qualitatively identical experiences, because experience is private.  I can't get in your head and see through your eyes, and you can't see through mine.  So there is no way to compare my experience of a green tree with your experience of the same green tree.   The best we can do is compare how we behave toward it and what we say about it, both of which are publicly observable, not private.


This may be at the root of the problem of explanation.  Explanations work in the public world, where we can all agree on what we are talking about.  But experience is private.  There is a disconnect.



2012-07-28
What would count as an explanation?
Mr. John Ivor Jones: 
Please correct me if I am mistaken in summarizing what you have set forth.

From what I gather, in your first categorization, statements are merely a reduction to their physical frameworks, namely those that are attributed to brain-chemistry.  In my description of explanation, I attempted to describe how such references to "lower" levels of brain operations were, in fact, examples of how one may describe phenomenon experienced by a subject.  Perhaps you reject reductionist terms, but it seems that they are readily useful as a means by which us "laymen" come to understand the inner workings of biology.  That is, if someone described to me that why I see colors is because my eyes have "cones" and "rods" in my eye allow me to see that, that may "count" as an explanation.  We may come to, later, examine that these are inappropriate means, but they are certainly original statements in an attempt to explain a question one may have.

On tackling both of your proposals, it seems that one and the other are really indifferent when thinking of how we actually explain things.  Neither a "reductionist" reference to the inner workings of the biology work, nor would a "causal" description of the workings would be a "good explanation" without actually referencing the inner biological pieces at work.  I mean to say, you can't have a sufficient causal description without a reductionist reference.  

While it's nice to know that there are different means of critically analyzing the subject in question and synthesizing an explanation, if we don't consider how explanations are actually dolled out and taken by people, this is a futile endeavor.

I think the larger question perhaps unintentionally posed by Mr. Meacham, is meta-philosphical.


What I think you may be getting at is a "good description or explanation"  A teacher may refer to "cones" and "rods" such that "you see color because of your cones and rods" would not have the explanatory force as "you see color because the cones and rods in your eye work in this manner..."

In summation, an explanation is much more than simply a "reductionist" reference or a "causal" description, although I think that these are useful elements when defining the subject.


2012-07-28
What would count as an explanation?
"Explanation is not required for our direct sense objects, because what you see and hear would be the same for me too. Explanation is required when one of us claim a relation between two or more such sense objects, or two or more such already established relations. Here explanation is the act of verbally, or graphically conveying such claimed relation between objects or relations in a terminology that shared by both parties. Or, it is an act of bringing your special experience to the realm of experience of the other person too, linking the phenomenon ( the newly found relation)  to an already known universal premises that both the parties are in agreement. This act of explanation is what we usually call logical presentation. "

I think this is an important element to explanation not usually considered.  Perhaps one could "explain" how a clock works through a "causal" or "linear" graph.  


That not all "knowledge" is contained within propositions may be another issue, but I think Mr. Joseph's idea is a fruitful one!

2012-07-28
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Bill Meacham
Dear Bill,I think your account of explanation does fine. I like the uncluttered pragmatic premise that it wants a story that works in the context of other ideas. If we start to stipulate things, like 'causal', we get problems - like physics does not have traditional causality any more etc. etc. 

I would say power to predict is not essential but it turns an explanation into a productive one. Social history is full of explanations that predict nothing much. 

So an adequate explanation of the relation between phenomenal consciousness and physical processes would be a story that works in the context of other ideas about these things. You are not asking for a 'solution', only a form, but maybe the form of the solution is the solution.

The sense of a lack of explanation here suggests that the relation in question does not seem to fit into the context of other ideas. In colloquial terms the problem is 'What business has a physical process entraining a phenomenal experience when physical processes are supposed to entrain physical processes?'. OK, what are our ideas about physical processes:

1. A physical process is a change, let us say from i to j, that conforms to the mathematical rules of physics. 
2. A physical process will entrain and be entrained by (or connect in a pattern of natural necessity with, or whatever cautious metaphysical words you prefer) other physical processes according to the rules of physics such that these rules will track changes from g to h to i to j to l...
3. If conditions can be arranged, a physical process will entrain, according the mathematical rules that describe it (subject to predictable uncertainty) and any number of other processes in a chain a to z, (and with the assumption that certain 'black box' aspects of a to z like the processes in my brain will behave consistently), a predictable pattern of phenomenal experience for 'me' and, if I trust what they say, other human subjects. My recent reading of the 'observing' of a probable Higgs particle is a good example.
4. This is absolutely all we know about and have reason to think obtains for 'physical' processes. As Chomsky points out, the idea that there is some other qualitative aspect to the physical, that one might call 'mechanical', that goes beyond the above is baseless. Newton realised he could not substantiate such an idea. Leibniz realised that it was unreasonable even to wish for it.

In this context if we return to the question 'What business has a physical process entraining a phenomenal experience?' we see that such entraining is the bedrock of our understanding of the physical. If we ask what i and j are the only answer we have is that they are steps on a path of change that will always lead to a particular phenomenal experience under appropriate conditions. In simpler terms if we ask what is changing in chains of physical processes a to z it is phenomenal experience. If we object and say 'but hang on, something is really happening along the way at p - look!', all we are saying is that if we manoevre ourselves into the right place we can get the phenomenal experience earlier. (There is also the issue of panexperientialism but I do not think that alters the main point, whatever one's view.)

So this is not the hard problem, nor the explanatory gap. But close by there looks to be a pretty hard problem. That is the problem of aboutness. Why does a chain ending in some neural processes give a phenomenal experience 'of' a screen in a physics lab? The problem here seems more to be that we don't really have a context of ideas to work alongside. It may be noteworthy that, without an idea context as foil, explanation does not seem even to have a foothold. My guess is that if we build a context for 'knowledge' in the way we have for 'physical' then we will find that aboutness works just fine in it, just as once you have special relativity magnetism comes with electricity 'for free'.

Best wishes

Jo E

2012-07-28
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Bill Meacham
Abraham Kaplan in his book The Conduct of Inquiry sets up too types of explanations: (1) semantic and (2) scientific.  A semantic explanation is any kind of verbal answer to why or how questions. For example, Question: Why does the ocean roar? Answer: You'd roar too if you had crabs in your bed. Following John Dewey, Kaplan wrote "A semantic explanation...is the outcome of transactions: a sale: the sale is not made unless the customer actually buys it." (p. 328). So one answer to what would count as an explanation is whatever  the customer or consumer buys into it. This may sound facetious, but it is not intended to be. People can be convinced of almost anything. There are still people today would believe that the world is flat or that the economy will grow if only the government will cut spending (a job killer) and deregulate (an environment killer). But according to Kaplan, a scientific explanation is one that is not relative to the consumer. A scientific statement is true. Well, anyone who has studied the history of science knows that not all scientific statements have turned out to be true. Many scientific explanations are inferentially based, meaning there are no independent warrants for what is called the explanans (see Carl Hempel's Philosophy of Science). So in the end, since science is a community enterprise, what counts as an explanation is whatever the scientific community buys into.



2012-07-28
What would count as an explanation?
See my post (the second post in this thread) for an account of explanation.

2012-07-28
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Derek Allan
I am in agreement with DA's call for simplicity.Nevertheless, it is an important debate... for how else are philosophers going to be able to evaluate the merits of a reductive theory? - If they have no idea what that want to have explained or no understanding as to what it is in an explanation that would count as satisfactory, then how are they to know when they read a valid claim to explanation.
For example, is this http://www.markpharoah.net/reductiveexplanation.html a reductive explanation or not?


2012-07-28
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Bill Meacham
I don't know if Peirce really said it exactly that way but "What we think of as true is what satisfied our doubt." resonates with me.

2012-07-28
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Bill Meacham
I gave an account of explanation in the second post on this thread but it may have been missed as some posters are still asking for such an account. Here it is again. An explanation is either 1)  a reductionism or 2) an expansion of a causal chain (though whether we want to predict or control events by employing a reduction or expansion is another matter) :
A reduction shifts the framework in which objects are presented. For example, colours and sounds are phenomonological but can be reduced to a different, physical framework, such as brain chemistry. The objects of a reductionism (such as brain processes) do not have a causal relationship with the objects so reduced (such as colours and sounds) but are terms of reference for them. Hence a reductionism is never an explanation though traditionally it is presented as one.
A causal chain addresses objects that fall in the same framework. For example, we can explain (expand) a causal chain and say that the colour green that appears to us can be the result of the coincidence of blue and yellow (or not), and we can explain or causally expand the movement of a car as a series of (causally related) mechanical events. Please note that there may be some delay (a week or more) in seeing this post as each of my posts need to be vetted because of my non-professional status.

2012-07-28
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Bill Meacham
The answer to a question about a patch of red must itself involve a patch of red. 


2012-07-28
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Bill Meacham
An explanation would answer the questions
1. why do I experience qualia at all?
2. why do I experience this particular quale?

An answer would necessarily involve qualia. Therefore, the answer is an experience and not merely an intellectual concept.

2012-07-28
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Bill Meacham
Daniel,"What is it like to be a scientist" "What is the world like" for "What it is it like to be a scientist"
You are right..."unless man is to be a mystery in the universe and, consequently, so are all of his theories" "What it is like to be a bat" "What is the world for" "What it is like to be a bat"
"unless a bat is to be a mystery in the universe and consequently, so are all of its theories"
Neither a human being nor a bat know what they are about when they experience the world...


2012-07-28
What would count as an explanation?
The imposition of a goal on a causal chain establishes a pragmatic terminus or "explanation". That is, the imposition identifies any event within a causal chain as an explanatory terminus (explanation) where a description of a particular event in a causal chain satisfies us by meeting our goals. Causal chains themselves have no termini. Thus there can be no event per se that is an explanation for another.


2012-07-31
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Kai Welp
Kai,
My claim is NOT that we can know what it is like to be someone or something else other than the one being each of us has the condition of being. In fact I'm claiming that "what it is like to be Dan Davis" -- that is, MY consciousness -- is NOT an object of knowledge, even for me. Rather it is an ontological fact about my physical being, specifically the neural-processing parts of my body, that it is like something to be it. Consciousness is not a kind of knowing at all: it is a specific way of being. We can, of course, remember our past states of consciousness and imagine future or any possible state of consciousness. These ARE kinds of knowing. 

But the having of qualia makes it, upon reflection, appear to subjects like us that the qualia (which are just epiphenomenal effects of electromagnetic activity in the brain) are best described as private objects of knowledge, immediately known by us. But this ontological explanation of the appearance of phenomenal properties denies that consciousness is what explains knowledge. Instead, rationality explains knowledge. We are coming to understand quite well the science of perception and cognition, how the body and the brain work and how they have evolved in nature as adaptive machines that replicate only the best adaptive traits over thousands of generations. Our perfect adaptations, honed by millions of years of evolution, explains how animals come to know things, to have perceptions and develop beliefs that actually do "correspond" to the world by virtue of the representations of perception and cognition. 

Consciousness and rationality are fundamentally different aspects of subjectivity i beings like us. Both are caused by the brain but in different ways. It is an ontological argument to the best explanation to say that consciousness is an intrinsic property of brains. The explanation of rationality as the way that language-using subjects' brains control their behavior involves the extrinsic aspects of neurological functions.

I hope this makes my point clearer to you.

-dcd         

2012-07-31
What would count as an explanation?
John,
Seeing your message caused me to reply. I have a purpose in mind when I do so, which explains the typing behavior you see before you. We do not have to go back forever in time to be satisfied with this explanation do we? 

Are you suggesting that a goal or "terminus", as you put it, is necessary to give any explanations at all? Surely there are causal explanations that don't involve goal-directed behavior, like the predictable celestial mechanics of our solar system. 

-dcd 

2012-07-31
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Bill Meacham
Bill,
To argue that experience is private and that, therefore, we cannot explain it, is question-begging. It's like saying God is a mystery, so we can never understand the Divine nature.

To make it worse, you contrast the ineffability of private experience with explanations that "work in the public world, where we can all agree on what we are talking about". But if science is based on the experiences and observations of scientist, which on your account are "disconnected" with public events, how does science explain anything at all by observing the results of experiments?


This is basically the problem of qualia inversion which is often used to show that behaviorism is false. We might both call the cardinal red but there is no way for either of us to know what is it like for the other one to "see" red. That fact that we both use the word "red" to describe what we see does not entail that the phenomenal appearance of the same cardinal to different observers is necessarily identical. Thus, phenomenal properties do not supervene on behavior.


Nor do qualia seem to be identical to anything "physical". This is why I proposed in my other comments here that we need an ontological explanation of consciousness.


-dcd
  


    

2012-08-08
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Bill Meacham
What logical fallacy is made here? - "So there is no way to compare my experience of a green tree with your experience of the same green tree." - which is "the same" green tree? Obviously our "different experiences" of the green tree are exactly the same!

Language is a public activity, as Witt would have it, not a private one. "The same" green tree evidences that.

2012-08-08
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Bill Meacham
However, there is a way to check a hypothesis of organizational invariance, to some extent. Replace one part of system 1 with one part of system 2 at a time, only gradually transforming one system into the other. If consciousness and sense of self are maintained throughout the process, that would be *some* evidence for the hypothesis. 

2012-08-08
What would count as an explanation?
Explanation names a causal chain and identifies its events. Causally related physical events, and first, intermediate, and last events, cannot be identified except through the pragmatic needs that serve  "explanation".

So, for example, the causal chain that is named "our communication" identifies the events "my writing a post" and "your replying to it". Traditionally, these are called first and last events, but this imposes a temporal, ontological necessity above and beyond the atemporal necessity of the identifying condition ("our communication") that is an explanation.

Temporally necessitated causal chains have always been problematic (as Kant tried to show us; and modern science has yet to tackle the logic of a first event). They are a problem because they create new, hidden, causal chain branches. For example, "our communication" identifies the atemporal events "my writing a post" and "your replying to it". But if we want to construe these events as temporal "first" and "last" events then we seek a new explanation that identifies a new, branching, hidden chain whose event(s) is associated with either of the events "my writing a post" and "your replying to it" and which names either one of them "first" or "last". This naming establishes a new explanation.

I might summarise this by saying that explanation is an epistemological identifying (or transcendental) condition (not an ontological or psychological identifying condition) that names a causal chain and identifies its events. Explanations that are given through a temporal necessity are compound associations of explanatory chains.

2012-08-10
What would count as an explanation?
John,
I think there is a sense in which you we cannot explain anything without explaining everything. That's simply because any one explanatory event presupposes there is something else that explains it. But the lack of a true theory of everything does no invalidate or falsify the various theories of some things that seem to work quite well. You seem to presuppose that the only explanations are causal-chains, which per Hume and Kant are simply contingent, temporal and non-necessary connections of sense impressions or intuitions. Any order to the constant conjunctions is simply imposed on the data by our minds to create various imaginations of "reality". You seem to reduce these to "the pragmatic needs that serve "explanation", thereby robbing them of any possibility of actually being true, explanatory statements about the real world... or what you would call  "an ontological identifying condition." 


Some explanations are ontological, as are some causes. They explain some (or all) aspects of the world we all live in but descriptions of what constitutes them, such that we understand why they behave as they do. So to say the God created the world is to explain how we got here and what we are supposed to be doing by describing the nature of the being that created us; i,e, a Perfect Being, all powerful, good. etc. I'm not saying this is a true explanation (or that it's not). But it illustrates what an ontological explanation does. We don't understand HOW God did it; in fact, we know we can't understand His "strange and wonderous ways". But IF it were true, it could explain everything, including our intelligence and consciousness and values. It's not a causal chain back to some temporal "first" event but way to explain the whole world and everything in it with one, simple notion. 


It is an ontological argument to the best rationalistic explanation of everything. It is one that has served most of humanity, with varying degrees of satisfaction, right from its beginnings. 


Of course, it would be most unlikely if it also turned out to be literally and empirically true. Empirical truth is something that comes about gradually, over time, usually after many mistake beliefs are tried out and improved upon. So, while we can use language to imagine the perfect creator God as the source of us, we can be much more empirical about the mechanics of "His handiwork", like quantum mechanics or special and general relativity, which have plenty of empirical confirmation. AND they NEVER mention the transcendental-anything with strange and wonderous ways. 


I think the real problem of explanation for philosophy is to show how scientific explanations are related to ontological and rationalistic explanations. It has to provide a theory of everything to the extent, at least, of delineating all of the various forms of true explanations, including a unifying theory of all of those possible theories. Simply put, it would be a theory that explains the whole world and any event or thing in it, including us as rational subjects who come to understand our own necessity as parts of this single, interconnected system. It would be an ontological argument to the best empirical explanation of everything. 

2012-08-12
What would count as an explanation?
The only way we can compare the experience of one person with another is by comparing their behavior. This includes both their verbal behavior and their non-verbal behavior. 

2012-08-12
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Bill Meacham
@ Meacham  In my next post, I'll cite that Baier paper.  I apologize for the delay.  As for the question you posed, "how could we explain for consciousness or mental experience, etc." (rephrased).  I'll lead off by saying that I do not have in my possession any sort of "explanation" that would probably satisfy this answer.  With that said, I think other theories DO attempt to explain this. There are all sorts of explanations: dualism, CRTM (or CRTT), etc.  I think these mostly qualify as "explanations" in the way that we naively consider explanations as well as any formal definition of explanation.  However, I find it more interesting that this is still a debate.  I mean, why is it that THESE explanations are not good enough.  My feeling is that there is more to explanations than what we may account for when sitting in our armchairs.  I mean that explanations are more than theory, they are interactions involving people.  While a definition may be helpful to evaluate or qualify explanations, I don't think we should overlook the individual's role in this.  If we do, we lose the practical applicability of this discussion.  (I am not accusing you of this!!  It is more of a general note).      

Perhaps there are "better" explanations (by whatever definition of explanation that we set forth) that are yet to be created, but I find it hard to believe that we (educated, moderately intelligent people) are so off target.  

It's not like we haven't "sovled" this out because we don't have explanations.  We do have explanations, just not ones that are satisfactory to us.  I think one reason this is so "hard" is because we are fighting two battles: one being the difficult task of determining how the brain works and how parts of our brain seem to influence aspects of our mind (science has made a lot of strides, and whether or not this is relevant is another matter), and the other battle being if we will accept these explanations.  I think the latter is the "hardest" problem of all.  I tend to feel that we will not be satisfied (particularly as philosophers) and this is why I sympathize with the New Mysterians.  

@ Jones- I think your point about imposing a "pragmatic terminus" for causal chains in an effort to explain is an interesting one.  It certainly seems necessary, for as you point out, causal chains could theoretically continue ad infinitum.  My question(s)/concern(s) with this is:
    1) Who sets this terminus?  The one posing the question or the one providing the explanation?  
    2) Is this terminus "built in"? I mean, is there a point at which one is "satisfied" by        another's explanation? or Visa-Versa?  Is this the shared by both?  Is this terminus "built- into" the subject?   
    3) Or Is this an arbitrary terminus?  Though it may seem like a simple-minded question to ask, I        pose it because of the possibility for the discrepancy between that which we may        theoretically "count" as an explanation reaching it's terminus (perhaps we could call it a        satisfactory explanation) and that which actually satisfies the individual with the inquiry.        An arbitrary terminus may not take into account what it takes for people to be satisfied.         Perhaps if you have a child or teach, you might know what I mean.  Children are not        always easily satisfied with answers.  But is that putting too much weight on what        satisfies individuals?  Or is the satisfaction of individuals not at all relevant here?

@ Welp- I believe there is a difference between discussing or rather describing "what it's like" and explaining "why it's like that".  I have seen some posts that go into more detail about that.  However, as a general note, it seems that (in this case anyway) there is confusion about description verses explaining.  While I think this should be explored further (and probably has been), one way to think about the difference between the two rests on the intention behind them.  What I mean is that when I attempt to describe something, it is for very different reasons (and aims) than when I try to explain something.  Explanations could be said to target to "account for", refer to a "causal chain" (as mentioned by Jones) or account for causality, attempt to "unvex" one's questions (as I mentioned earlier through reference to Baier) or "set aside doubt" (as mentioned by Meacham referring to Peirce).  When I describe something, it is not for these reasons.  With that said, I think confusing "description" with "explanation" is easy as description, if aimed at these goals aforementioned, is actually an attempt to explain.  I think there is more to this, but these are just some thoughts.


2012-08-27
What would count as an explanation?
Raymond,

"The only way we can compare the experience of one person with another is by comparing their behavior. This includes both their verbal behavior and their non-verbal behavior. "

Something needs to happen before that. Our experience is given first, and this experience identifies the physical events that we call behaviour. Without the identifying or transcendental condition of experience then there are no behaviours, only physical movements, and these indistinguishable from one another simply because they have no conditions for being picked out.

Once we associate a physical event or movement with an experience then we rename that physical movement a behaviour. Once that assocation is made then we can also leap to the assertion that similar physical events point to an experience - provided, of course, that we don't lose sight of the fact that the original physical event is picked out by an experience (something the neuroscientists always forget) and not vice versa.





2012-08-27
What would count as an explanation?
Gregory,

How does one choose events in a causal chain? There are no events on the causal chain per se that will do this for us. We need to assert pragmatic goals first, these will be our grounds for identifying our causal chain and the events or termini on it. Each event identified or constructed is a terminus. One of these events will be considered the "explanation", usually called a "first" event.

I said that each event on a causal chain is a terminus. Causal chains are considered contiguous, though this is a mistake. Causal chains, like the infinitely dense line where between any two positioned points (events) lies another, are necessarily fractured; for between any two events lies an unpositioned event....

...So are termini built in? An explanation of everything, without the pragmatic conditions for identifying events, and construed only in terms of events built in on a causal chain, is merely an aggregate of termini, and not at all what we wanted.



2012-08-27
What would count as an explanation?
Daniel,

I don't want to appear to offer arguments I did not intend -.

By talking about pragmatic goals and termini I did not mean that existence is created by our likes and dislikes, more that it is configured by them. I must make a sharp distinction between existence and identification - the conditions for identifying objects in existence.

Without these identifying conditions we have no objects. Objects are defined not by their existence per se but by conditions (pragmatic or otherwise) that set out limits. Existence alone cannot set out these limits. A TV has no physical limits of its own. These limits are set by pragmatic conditions such as "entertainment".

Interestingly, if, against Kant and me, we assume that objects set their own limits, then we have a sort of grand animism. God's creation, in that case, is about constructing objects that identify themselves - objects that set their own limits. In which case, Richard Dawkins, in proposing a fish's eye, would be a theist. Animism is one way to go, for there is one object that appears to set out its own limits - the brain, which carries with it its own conditions that define its physical limits or establish its identification - consciousness.

2012-09-24
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Bill Meacham

Both Material Property Dualism and Functional Property Dualism theories predict exactly what an 'explanation' of the hard problem would be.  They both predict that there is a neural correlate to redness, and different neural correlate to greenness - and so on.  Functional property dualism theories predicts the correlate is something functional (independent of what was responsible for that functionality whatever that could be) and Material Property Dualism theories (can you tell my biases?) simply predicts there is something in our brain that has redness, and something different, that has greenness, and so on.

These theories predict all you need to do is discover what the necessary and sufficient conditions are to reproduce redness, greenness, and so on, so you can reliably predict, via objective and abstracted observation, when someone is and isn't experiencing them.  And of course, such abilities enable us to 'eff the ineffable'  - how this is achieved, in various strong and week ways, is left as an exercise for the reader.



2012-10-04
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Brent Allsop
Brent,

I argued above that any reductionism cannot be put to service as explanation. A neural correlate for red is exactly that, a correlate. Besides, the correlation requires the identificatory condition of red - the neural correlate is informed by red, not red by the neural correlate. Thus no new information or explanation is possible.

2012-11-12
What would count as an explanation?
Reply to Bill Meacham

Hi John,

Not completely sure if I fully understand what you are saying, but it seems like everything you say is right, but you're missing the falsifiable predictions that we are about to achieve the ability to "eff the ineffable" using various week and strong methods, being made in the consensus dualism parent theory camp. (see: http://canonizer.com/topic.asp/88/28 ).  In other words, the consensus prediction is, you'll very much be able to communicate (eff, if you will) new phenomenal qualitative information.  As in: "Oh THAT is what your redness is like!" said the zombie no more.

If you can reliably predict the necessary and sufficient conditions for when a redness experience exists, then both "the neural correlate is informed by red" and "red by the neural correlate" as they are one and the same quality and causal property of the same stuff - whether functional or material - enabling one to reliably internally say or externally predict - yes that is my redness.

Brent Allsop