Kelly Harmon wrote:
> On Sun, May 17, 2009 at 9:13 PM, Brent Meeker <> wrote:
>>> Generally I don't think that what we experience is necessarily caused
>>> by physical systems.  I think that sometimes physical systems assume
>>> configurations that "shadow", or represent, our conscious experience.
>>> But they don't CAUSE our conscious experience.
>> So if we could track the functions of the brain at a fine enough scale,
>> we'd see physical events that didn't have physical causes (ones that
>> were caused by mental events?).
> No, no, no.  I'm not saying that at all.  Ultimately I'm saying that
> if there is a physical world, it's irrelevant to consciousness.
> Consciousness is information.  Physical systems can be interpreted as
> representing, or "storing", information, but that act of "storage"
> isn't what gives rise to conscious experience.
>> You're aware of course that the same things were said about the
>> physio/chemical bases of life.
> You mentioned that point before, as I recall.  Dennett made a similar
> argument against Chalmers, to which Chalmers had what I thought was an
> effective response:
> -------
> Perhaps the most common strategy for a type-A materialist is to
> deflate the "hard problem" by using analogies to other domains, where
> talk of such a problem would be misguided. Thus Dennett imagines a
> vitalist arguing about the hard problem of "life", or a neuroscientist
> arguing about the hard problem of "perception". Similarly, Paul
> Churchland (1996) imagines a nineteenth century philosopher worrying
> about the hard problem of "light", and Patricia Churchland brings up
> an analogy involving "heat". In all these cases, we are to suppose,
> someone might once have thought that more needed explaining than
> structure and function; but in each case, science has proved them
> wrong. So perhaps the argument about consciousness is no better.
> This sort of argument cannot bear much weight, however. Pointing out
> that analogous arguments do not work in other domains is no news: the
> whole point of anti-reductionist arguments about consciousness is that
> there is a disanalogy between the problem of consciousness and
> problems in other domains. As for the claim that analogous arguments
> in such domains might once have been plausible, this strikes me as
> something of a convenient myth: in the other domains, it is more or
> less obvious that structure and function are what need explaining, at
> least once any experiential aspects are left aside, and one would be
> hard pressed to find a substantial body of people who ever argued
> otherwise.
> When it comes to the problem of life, for example, it is just obvious
> that what needs explaining is structure and function: How does a
> living system self-organize? How does it adapt to its environment? How
> does it reproduce? Even the vitalists recognized this central point:
> their driving question was always "How could a mere physical system
> perform these complex functions?", not "Why are these functions
> accompanied by life?" It is no accident that Dennett's version of a
> vitalist is "imaginary". There is no distinct "hard problem" of life,
> and there never was one, even for vitalists.
> In general, when faced with the challenge "explain X", we need to ask:
> what are the phenomena in the vicinity of X that need explaining, and
> how might we explain them? In the case of life, what cries out for
> explanation are such phenomena as reproduction, adaptation,
> metabolism, self-sustenance, and so on: all complex functions. There
> is not even a plausible candidate for a further sort of property of
> life that needs explaining (leaving aside consciousness itself), and
> indeed there never was. In the case of consciousness, on the other
> hand, the manifest phenomena that need explaining are such things as
> discrimination, reportability, integration (the functions), and
> experience. So this analogy does not even get off the ground.
> ------

On the contrary, I think it does.  First, I think Chalmers idea that 
vitalists recognized that all that needed explaining was structure and 
function is revisionist history.  They were looking for the animating 
spirit.  It is in hind sight, having found the function and structure, 
that we've realized that was all the explanation available.  And I 
expect the same thing will happen with consciousness. We will eventually 
be able to make robots that behave as humans do and we will infer, from 
their behavior, that they are conscious.  And we, being their designers, 
will be able to analyze them and say, "Here's what makes R2D2 have 
conscious experiences of visual perception and here's what makes 3CPO 
have self awareness relative to humans."  We will find that there are 
many different kinds of "conscious" and we will be able to invent new 
ones.  We will never "solve" Chalmers hard problem, we'll just realize 
it's a non-question.

>>> Though it DOES seem plausible/obvious to me that a physical system
>>> going through a sequence of these representations is what produces
>>> human behavior.
>> So you're saying that a sequence of physical representations is enough
>> to produce behavior.
> Right, observed behavior.  What I'm saying here is that it seems
> obvious to me that mechanistic computation is sufficient to explain
> observed human behavior.  If that was the only thing that needed
> explaining, we'd be done.  Mission accomplished.
> BUT...there's subjective experience that also needs explained, and
> this is actually the first question that needs answered.  All other
> answers are suspect until subjective experience has been explained.
>> And there must be conscious experience associated
>> with behavior.
> Well, here's where it gets tricky.  Conscious experience is associated
> with information.  

I think that's the point in question.  However, we all agree that 
consciousness is associated with, can be identified by, certain 
behavior.  So to say that physical systems are too representationally 
ambiguous seems to me to beg the question.  It is based on assuming that 
consciousness is information and since the physical representation of 
information is ambiguous it is inferred that physical representations 
aren't enough for consciousness.  But  going back to the basis: Is 
behavior ambiguous?  Sure it is - yet we rely in it to identify 
consciousness (at least if you don't believe in philosophical 
zombies).   I think the significant point is that consciousness is an 
attribute of behavior that is relative to an environment.


> But how information is tied to physical systems is
> a different question.  Any physical systems can be interpreted as
> representing all sorts of things (again, back to Putnam and Searle,
> one-time pads, Maudlin's Olympia example, Bruno's movie graph
> argument, rocks implementing every FSA, Stathis's birds and trees, and
> triviality attacks on functionalism).
>> That seems to me to imply that physical representations
>> are enough to produce consciousness.
> The problem is that physical "representations" are everywhere.  The
> problem is coming up with a non-arbitrary way of deciding when a
> physical system represents something that's conscious and when it
> doesn't.
> Physical systems are too representationally promiscuous!
> Which leads me to abandon physicalism/materialism for idealism.
> >

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