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Chalmers on what conciousness is *not*

"Frequently, someone putting forward an explanation of consciousness will start by investing the problem with all the gravity of the problem of phenomenal consciousness, but will end by giving an explanation of some aspect of psychological consciousness, such as the ability to introspect.  This explanation might be worthwhile in its own right, but one is left with the sense that more has been promised than has been delivered."

David Chalmers, “The Conscious Mind

I am totally onside with this quote.  I read an article, or a book, or a theory, hoping to find out why there is a movie going on in my head, but I end up having aspects of my behaviour, or my knowledge explained instead.  “Why is it *like something* to know that or to do that?" is what I really want to know.

Chalmers goes on to list the types of these Consciousness Red Herrings:

  • Awakeness
  • Introspection
  • Reportability
  • Self-Consciousness
  • Attention
  • Voluntary Control
  • Knowledge

But hold on a minute… one of these on the list seems funny to me.  Look at what Chalmers has to say about Attention:

"We often say [wrongly] that someone is conscious of something precisely when they are paying attention to it; that is, when a significant portion of their cognitive resources is devoted to dealing with the relevant information.  We can be phenomenally conscious of something without attending to it, as witnessed by the fringes of a visual field.”

This rubs me the wrong way.  Of course, after reading it, I got a funny look on my face as I tried to pay attention to the edge of my visual field!  Yep, there it is, fuzzy information waiting there at the edges.  But was I truly, phenomenally conscious of that edge before I was paying attention to it?  I’d be willing to admit peripheral information might affect my behaviour, but I just don’t think I’m conscious of it.

Maybe Chalmers wants to make too clean a break between the “phenomenal” consciousness and the other stuff going on in the head.  One could certainly study something called “devoting large amounts of cognitive resources”, but I don’t think that’s synonymous with “paying attention”.  I think this topic is something of a bridge between phenomenal considerations and what Chalmers calls “psychological” ones.  Yes, Attention has both phenomenal and psychological aspects, but unlike the other categories, I’m not sure you can carve the phenomenal away and still have something that makes psychological sense.

Thanks for such a quick response! When I first came up with the question, I could not think of any way to break it down. My intention of using the word 'creative' was not to imply just a 'decision making process', but to explain the act to come up with a new concept. I thought this question was dumb but I am glad you accepted to discuss further about it. First thing I could think of was to define and figure the process of thinking. oh I didn't know this note has word limit. .

Anonymous

Yeah, word limit!  Tumblr isn’t entirely natural for  back-and-forths.  If you’ve got an account (and come off anon), we can talk via reblogging each other’s posts.  If you had an account, I could also message you with my proper email address.

One other suggestion that I Think works even if you don’t have an account and don’t want one… you can send me “fanmail”… you might see a little white envelope in the upper right corner if you navigate to tumblr.memeengine.com.  The formatting is annoying, but it’s not length limited, and I can just copy-paste if I want to respond on the blog.

Talk later maybe…

Taking the objective view, we can tell a story about how fields, waves and particles in the spatiotemporal manifold interact in subtle ways, leading to the development of complex system such as brains. In principle, there is no deep philosophical mystery in the fact that these systems can process information in complex ways, react to stimuli with sophisticated behavior, and even exhibit such complex capacities as learning, memory, and language. All this is impressive, but it is not metaphysically baffling. In contrast, the existence of conscious experience seems to be a new feature from this viewpoint. It is not something that one wold have predicted from the other features alone.

-

David Chalmers, “The Conscious Mind

Coming from a background of Math and Science, I can remember what a relief it was that I was not the only one who thought about this disconnect.  In fact, there was a small, but increasingly respectable core of academics who obsessed over this exact problem.

David Chalmers could be called the Standard-Bearer for the non-materialist side of this core.  And I’m finally now getting around to starting his book!

Since we can access to stacks of knowledge on the web nowadays, it is possible to learn what others think while we work independently. Do you think it's possible to mathematically prove why group thinking could have more creative results or ideas compare to individual decision making?

Anonymous

Wow, what a great surprise question!

Here’s where I start from on this: I just might be of the opinion that individuals alone are capable of more creativity than a group of such individuals.  Don’t get me wrong, I *do* think the painter or the physicist needs to live a great life full of input for their work.  But it should be raw data.  As soon as a group or a consensus starts to govern the painting or the physics, I think the work might suffer.

So yeah, the novelist should still move to New York (or whatever) to be near the inspiring community, but should still write alone on his/her typewriter, not collaboratively at the cafe or with an online tool or whatever.

Well, that’s my controversial, mostly unconsidered opinion.  But a technical part of your question draws me too… can we prove that some set of ideas has more creativity?

I have a really huge respect for the clever design you find in modern psychological experiments that can be used to prove all sorts of things.  I follow a few psychology blogs, etc because so often they’ll post that a result is evidence for something you can’t possibly test for.  “Six month old babies don’t know dogs aren’t people" or some outlandish thing.  And then you read the experimental design, and damned if it isn’t so clever that it does indeed provide evidence in that direction (I made that one up though!)

But creativity… I think that might be a problem!

You might be able to show that decisions with a numerical answer has a bigger standard deviation… but if you ask a question with a numerical answer, it doesn’t really seem to admit of creative answers.  So I guess it comes down to: how do you define a creative idea?  And how do you measure that objectively in an experiment?  I think these two things might be possible separately, but not together.

Like, a really creative response to a questionnaire might be to use some image filters on it and turn it into a piece of art, but is that useable data in an experimental framework?

The first example of creativity I always think of is Einstein and the Theory of Relativity.  For me that’s platonic creativity.  So, what experiment can you design where some groups/individuals tested will come up with Relativity, and some won’t?

Thanks for the great question, and I’d be happy to continue the conversation!

I like your blog! I'm currently taking a class with Searle. Amazing guy although he's not very charitable to his peers.

Cool!  What course are you taking?

The youtube series I’m going through has phil of Mind, and phil of Language, and I think one other that interested me less.  I’m on lecture 20 out of 26 (or something) of the phil of Mind course.

It’s occurred to me more than once that listening to the lectures the way I do (while working or while commuting by car, foot or bus) is probably a lot more enjoyable than sitting in a classroom taking notes on it.

Yeah, I don’t think I’d accept all Searle’s ideas without qualification.  In fact, like many others, I first became aware of him because of the Chinese Room thought experiment.  Even after “drinking his koolaid” for 20 lectures, I still think he’s mistaken in his conclusions, although I find it a *bit* harder to dismiss now.

But in total, he’s a fantastic speaker.  And his theory of Intentionality is like nothing I’ve ever heard before - it’s original, and I’ve been a fan of “Consciousness philosophy” for more than a decade.  I like that he has his own ideas no matter what anybody else thinks, and on top I think there’s at least some chance that his ideas contain some truth.

  • I am aware of a pain.
  • I am aware of a shoe.

At this point I’m deep into the theory of Intentionality from Searle’s Lecture Series.  And Searle threw out these sentences, and stated There’s a critical difference in the ‘awareness’ of the first statement and that of the second.

Take a second… what do you think the difference is?

.

.

.

Searle says that in the awareness of a pain, the object of the awareness is identical with the awareness itself: the awareness of the pain just *is* the pain!  Not so with the awareness of the shoe.  In that case, the subject of the awareness is a totally separate physical object: the shoe.

It’s funny when you think about it - we claim to be aware of things that just are that very awareness.  Like “I’m aware of a pain”, "I’m aware of a visual experience”, etc.  How meta.

It could be this confusion between awareness as it’s own object, and awareness of separate objects that causes “disasters” (Searle’s word) like Phenomenalism, Idealism, etc.  They mostly seem to have their roots in saying things like “When I see a hallucination, I’m not seeing a shoe [for instance], but I’m seeing *something*

Searle’s answer is that awareness of hallucinations is like awareness of pain.  The object of the awareness is identical with the awareness itself.

As I approach my fiftieth birthday, I had become more and more enraged and mystified by the idiot decisions made by my countrymen. And then I had come suddenly to pity them, for I understood how innocent and natural it was for them to behave so abominably, and with such abominable results: They were doing their best to live like people invented in story books. This was the reason Americans shot each other so often: It was a convenient literary device for ending short stories and books.

Why were so many Americans treated by their government as though their lives were as disposable as paper facial tissues? Because that was the way authors customarily treated bit-part players in their made-up tales.

And so on.

Once I understood what was making America such a dangerous, unhappy nation of people who had nothing to do with real life, I resolved to shun storytelling. I would write about life. Every person would be exactly as important as any other. All facts would also be given equal weightiness. Nothing would be left out. Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, instead, which I think I have done.

-

Kurt Vonnegut, from “Breakfast of Champions”.

It should be pointed out that these words are put forth in the novel, by it’s narrator.  The way it is written, this narrator could indeed be Vonnegut himself, and this could be a diary entry.

Or, they could simply be strange thoughts that Vonnegut has bestowed on one of his characters.  The narrator is not named, and describes the events of the novel as his creations… so it isn’t clear who is speaking.  In either case, these thoughts and observations penetrate.

If automotion engineers designed like software engineers do, we’d have to carry a mechanic in our car during the first two years to make patches fixing things.

-

Logic professor to computer science students (via mathprofessorquotes)

Ha!

everything-finite:

"Sophie saw that the Philosopher was right. Grownups took the world or granted. They let themselves be lulled into the enchanted sleep of their humdrum existence once and for all." — Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder

So, get older, get smarter.  Just try hard not to grow up!

everything-finite:

"Sophie saw that the Philosopher was right. Grownups took the world or granted. They let themselves be lulled into the enchanted sleep of their humdrum existence once and for all." — Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder

So, get older, get smarter.  Just try hard not to grow up!

The Wheel and the Molecule - Causation Up and Down Levels of Complexity.

So the molecules compose the wheel which in sum determines the path of the molecules it is composed of…

I heard about this great thought experiment a couple of weeks ago, but I hesitated to post about it because I forgot who the credit belongs to.  But I finally tracked it down…
Neurobiologist and Nobel laureate Roger Sperry came up with this idea as a way to show that meaningful causal relationships can move up and downs levels of complexity, and not just forward in time.  To underline that:
Regular Causation - moves forward in time, from causes to effects.
Level-Crossing Causation - moves up and down levels of causation without moving in time.
Regular causation has all kind of easy examples,.. flicking a switch causes a light to turn on, frowning at me causes me to get anxious, tipping a water glass causes the table to get wet… etc!  Level-Crossing causation happens all the time too, but it seems harder to come up with clear examples.  But Sperry hit on a good one with The Wheel and The Molecule.
It’s simply this: Imagine a wagon wheel rolling down the road, and somehow pick out a single molecule on it’s outer circumference (incidentally, this is a common thing to be asked to picture when learning Trigonometry in high-school, so feel free to tap into that memory of Sine and Cosine waves).
We’d like to know “What is causing the motion of the molecule along it’s particular path?"  Sure, it’s got some sort of electrical bonding with it’s immediate neighbours.  However, that just pushes the question outward, as in "What is causing the molecule along with it’s neighbours to travel in this particular path?”
The real explanation, of course, is the wheel rolling on the road.
Once one knows about the wheel, the road, and their properties, one can actually mathematically predict the path of the molecule into the future.  It’s clear to me that the right answer to “What is causing the motion of the molecule?" is "The molecule is part of this wheel rolling along this road."   The higher level cause (wheel and road) is having a lower level effect (path of the molecule).
What makes this semi-profound is that the Solidity and other properties of the wheel are entirely caused by the electrical bondings of it’s constituent molecules!  This is causation moving *up* - the lower level cause (the molecules and their electrical bonds) is having a higher level effect (the solidity of the wheel).
So the molecules compose the wheel which in sum determines the path of the molecules it is composed of…
…and causation flows up and down levels of complexity.

The Wheel and the Molecule - Causation Up and Down Levels of Complexity.

So the molecules compose the wheel which in sum determines the path of the molecules it is composed of…

I heard about this great thought experiment a couple of weeks ago, but I hesitated to post about it because I forgot who the credit belongs to.  But I finally tracked it down…

Neurobiologist and Nobel laureate Roger Sperry came up with this idea as a way to show that meaningful causal relationships can move up and downs levels of complexity, and not just forward in time.  To underline that:

  • Regular Causation - moves forward in time, from causes to effects.
  • Level-Crossing Causation - moves up and down levels of causation without moving in time.

Regular causation has all kind of easy examples,.. flicking a switch causes a light to turn on, frowning at me causes me to get anxious, tipping a water glass causes the table to get wet… etc!  Level-Crossing causation happens all the time too, but it seems harder to come up with clear examples.  But Sperry hit on a good one with The Wheel and The Molecule.

It’s simply this: Imagine a wagon wheel rolling down the road, and somehow pick out a single molecule on it’s outer circumference (incidentally, this is a common thing to be asked to picture when learning Trigonometry in high-school, so feel free to tap into that memory of Sine and Cosine waves).

We’d like to know “What is causing the motion of the molecule along it’s particular path?"  Sure, it’s got some sort of electrical bonding with it’s immediate neighbours.  However, that just pushes the question outward, as in "What is causing the molecule along with it’s neighbours to travel in this particular path?

The real explanation, of course, is the wheel rolling on the road.

Once one knows about the wheel, the road, and their properties, one can actually mathematically predict the path of the molecule into the future.  It’s clear to me that the right answer to “What is causing the motion of the molecule?" is "The molecule is part of this wheel rolling along this road."   The higher level cause (wheel and road) is having a lower level effect (path of the molecule).

What makes this semi-profound is that the Solidity and other properties of the wheel are entirely caused by the electrical bondings of it’s constituent molecules!  This is causation moving *up* - the lower level cause (the molecules and their electrical bonds) is having a higher level effect (the solidity of the wheel).

So the molecules compose the wheel which in sum determines the path of the molecules it is composed of…

…and causation flows up and down levels of complexity.

A scholar is just a library’s way of making another library.

- Daniel Dennett (via inthenoosphere)

When you are always testing your ideas against the swarms of Twitter and Facebook, it means you’re always hungry for retweets, and hungry for Facebook likes, and it means that we begin to change our ideas and the way we express ourselves to appease those crowds.

- Michael Harris, from an interesting interview on CBC Spark.

And here, according to Trout, was the reason human beings could not reject ideas because they were bad: ‘Ideas on Earth were badges of friendship or enmity. Their content did not matter. Friends agreed with friends, in order to express friendliness. Enemies disagreed with enemies, in order to express enmity.

-

Kurt Vonnegut, “Breakfast of Champions”.

I’m drawn to this quote, either as a truth, or as a token of solidarity with Vonnegut.

Be individuals, solitary and selfish, is the message. Altruism, a jargon word for what used to be called love, is worse than weakness, it is sin, a violation of nature. Be separate. Do not be a social animal. But this is a hard argument to make convincingly when you have to depend on language to make it. You have to print out leaflets or publish books and get them bought and sent around, you have to turn up on television and catch the attention of millions of other human beings all at once, and then you have to say to all of them, all at once, all collected and paying attention: be solitary; do not depend on each other. You can’t do this and keep a straight face.

-

Lewis Thomas, “The Tucson Zoo”

The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher

(via syntagms)

Searle’s Basic Actions

I’m listening to a lecture series on Searle’s Philosophy of Mind (given by John Searle himself I should add) that I’m really enjoying.  This past week I came to a pleasing concept - that of a Basic Action.  To get the idea, consider this:

  • What are you doing?
  • I’m going to work.
  • How?
  • I’m taking Main Street.
  • How?
  • I’m riding my bike.
  • How?
  • I’m pedaling and steering.
  • How?
  • I’m flexing my leg and arm muscles in a certain way.
  • How?
  • Um…

At some point in a series of “How are you doing what you are doing?” questions, you’ll come to a point where you can’t go further (or at least, the further actions are nothing you are doing consciously).  At this point, where you can’t really say how you’re doing it, *that* is a basic action.

The cool thing is that basic actions differ for different people.  The above exchange was written to convey an idea, but it would only really make sense if the person being questioned had only just learned how to ride a bike.  You only *consciously* move your leg and arm muscles when you’re learning.  After a while, you just “ride”.

So,

  • for a newbie the basic action are muscle movements.
  • for most of us, the basic action would be “riding the bike”.
  • for an experienced rider, the basic action might be just “taking main st” (ie all the movements of biking are not really conscious)
  • for a weathered commuter who had done this many times, maybe just “going to work” is the basic action.

If you doubt that “lower level” actions can be unconscious, notice that there’s actually an answer to “How are you flexing your leg and arm muscles?"  We could answer "By secreting certain neurochemicals" or something.  But that level isn’t conscious for any of us.

I haven’t gotten to the end of Searle’s lecture series, but I suspect he’s going to assert that the level at which actions become basic might be somehow constitutive of our identity (in some part anyway), which I think is a really interesting idea!

I also think it’s interesting to wonder whether basic actions can be moved down the ladder as well as up?  The usual progression would be to start with dead simple basic actions as a baby (“What are you doing?" "Vocalizing”, “trying to move my arm”, etc), and moving them up to more complex things later.

But I actually think it’s a sign of real intelligence to be able to move back down the scale on purpose.

Like, maybe a mindful tennis player could stop just “swinging a backhand”, and refocus on the muscles to unlearn an ingrained mistake.  In any of our social lives, we could stop sizing people up as possible friends, and start to wonder how are we making that judgement, and should we rethink it.

Good food for thought.