Lee Corbin writes:
> There are some things that can be known by examination of an object, and
> there are other things that can only be known by being the object.
Okay; but some examples are probably necessary. (1) Only Mozart can
know what it's like for the Mozart auditory system to hear C-sharp
on a harpsichord. (2) only a human being can know the feeling that
a human has at the loss of a family member.
Note that my first example had this same peculiar linguistic structure
of "what-it-is-like-to-be". Not necessarily an indictment; but
something to notice. As for my second example: are feelings knowledge?
That is the sort of thing I had in mind: any first person experience. I
would say that feelings are a kind of raw knowledge, as it doesn't add much
to say that they are not knowledge but what-it-is-like-to-have-a-feeling is.
> When the object is a human brain, this latter class of things
> is consciousness. (When the object is something else, this
> latter class of thing is... well, how would I know?)
> I think that the distinction between these two types of knowledge
> is surprising, and I would never have noticed it had I not been
> conscious myself.
As you write (below), it's possibly debatable whether this
really is *knowledge*. Certainly it does not resemble the
usual kind of knowledge that is communicated from one person
to another. But here is my analysis of what knowledge is:
Knowledge is an internal map of something usually outside
of the skin. But then, a gunshot patient may also obtain
knowledge provided by his doctors of the exact location of
a bullet in his brain. Still, this is *knowledge* of what
conditions obtain in the physical world, encoded into a
yet different area of the patient's brain.
Are there other examples of knowledge? This is important
because, of course, one may be pressed to make the case
for consciousness *itself* to provide special knowledge
(of the non-communicable variety).
This last sentence gets to the crux of the matter. I would say that
consciousness is a type of knowledge "of the non-communicable variety", and
it is *this* which makes it special. I say it is knowledge because if I
reflect, "I am now typing on a keyboard", it takes up RAM and hard disk
space in my brain. But I'd be happy enough if you decided it was *not*
knowledge, because that then makes it even *more* special.
> The response of those who think that consciousness is nothing special to
> above is that it is not surprising that there is a difference between a
> description of an object and the object itself, and that what I have
> "knowledge" in reference to conscious experiences is not really
> but part of the package that comes with being a thing. I can't really
> against this; as I said, it is just a different way of looking at the
Good. You anticipated my question. But your answer is oddly
interesting in a certain way: I would never have conflated this
question about "what is knowledge" with the difference between
"the description of an object" and "the object itself". Yet, it's
true: they are both examples of "the map" versus "the territory".
I wonder if this knower/known distinction can help even further.
After all, I might claim that in all the cases of this suspicious
different kind of "knowledge", it's as if those who see "the problem"
are trying to establish this difference between the knower and
the known in a case in which there isn't any actual difference.
In fact, the whole erection of the notion of *qualia* seems now
to me to be an effort to impose the knower/known dichotomy where
it doesn't apply. Hence the peculiar English language construction
of "what it is like to be a...".
(A good test to apply to doubtful cases where there may simply
be a semantic problem is to demand restatement using other terms.
For example, I am highly critical of the word "rights" used in
the abstract, such as "what gives X the right to do A?". So I
challenge people to try to say the same thing without using
the word "right". As near as I recall, they don't succeed without
greatly reducing the impact of what they want to say. So perhaps
a good challenge is this: we could try to articulate Nagel's
question without the construction "what it is like to be...".)
> Much has been written about particular formulations of the mind/body
> (or, if you prefer, "problem"). For example, Douglas Hofstadter's
> on Thomas Nagel's famous essay, "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" (which I
> looked up at your suggestion) makes the point that the logic of the
> question itself is muddled: if Nagel were a bat, he would not be Nagel,
> he would therefore not be Nagel asking the question. If Nagel were
> asking what it would be like for him to stay Nagel and experience being
> bat, perhaps by having his brain stimulated in a batty way, then that is
> a different question, and (b) in theory possible, and not the
> problem originally advertised. This is fair enough, so I shall try to
> talking about qualia in the way Nagel does. However, I can't get rid of
> idea that there is something special and fundamental about first person
Yeah! I know the feeling! :-) I myself can't shake the feeling
that there *isn't* anything special about first person experience.
Well, in that case I would have to repeat my reply to Jonathan Colvin, which
is that we basically agree on the facts of the matter but choose to
appraise/ interpret/ describe them in a different way.
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