The Philosophy of Mind: A Short Introduction

Category: Humanities
Author: Edward Feser
This Month Hacker News 2


by egjerlow   2019-05-01
>Thanks for trying to explain your belief to me. If we concentrate on exactly your last post, maybe you can understand how I see it: I see again that you claim that you came to that conclusion "intellectually and rationally" but everything else contradicts that. I see the claim to uniqueness of conscious beings (and I still haven't heard from you if you consider only humans "conscious") as a "the phenomenon of subjective experience." That is, because you "subjectively experience" it, that means to me "not rationally" and I still conclude it's your "feeling of being special."

I think we already here have some deep reasons for disagreement: If I understand you correctly here, you're saying that no conclusion reached on 'subjective' grounds can be rational - maybe you would even go so far as to say that what is rational is identical to knowledge gained via the scientific method? If so, I would disagree with your definition of what is rational.

(I don't know whether animals are conscious in the same way we are - I would have no problems either way. As I said, it's not about humans (or myself) being special, it is that the phenomenon of consciousness is special).

> If you would really approach your claims "intellectually and rationally" you'd understand that that "subjective experience" which you see as something special is an emerging property.

This is a really bold claim, and it is indeed the locus of our disagreement, so again I'd have to say I disagree :) Emergence is not a magic wand you can wave and make every problem go away; for all phenomena where 'emergence' have been invoked as an explanation, we are really just talking about very complex phenomena that are very very hard to reduce to their base 'constituents' (elementary particles and their force transmitters), but which we can at least imagine can be reduced to these constituent parts - in other words, I can imagine starting from some basic building blocks of matter and, through some very complex patterns of organization, I can imagine moving from that starting point to the end result - conceptually, even if I cannot trace all the steps with my current understanding.

But this is not something I can imagine with the phenomenon of subjective experience. (An aside here: It seems you take me to say that 'because of my subjective experience that I cannot imagine this, this cannot be true' - what I am saying is that it is subjective experience itself that is what we're trying to explain here. So referring to earlier people not 'subjectively experiencing' an understanding of how e.g. planets can move is not really on target: My concern here is with the phenomenon of subjective experience itself).

What I mean is that in order to explain, say, my subjective experience of how an apple tastes, it's not just a matter of saying 'well, now your neurons are firing in this way and we know this is the taste center of your brain, so that's why you have a sensation of taste'. That is showing a correlation. What I'm saying is that this is not an explanation, and to me it shows that it will be impossible to move from a purely materialistic account of this experience to my actual subjective experience of the thing. How can we ever translate the firing of the neurons in my brain into the subjective world my consciousness inhabits? How can atoms, no matter how sophisticately arranged, give rise to this type of phenomenon?

Let me try to say it in another way: You could measure the activity of the brain and give an 'objective' account of what happens to a person: Now they're angry, now they're cold, now they're slightly hungry, etc. But it stops there! How will you move from this objective description to the actual experience of these feelings and states of mind?

Sean Carroll is a great physicist, and it's great that he engages with these questions, but he is mainly a physicist, not a philosopher of mind, and he does exhibit the same hubris that many of our ilk (yes, I'm a physicist too) have when it comes to other fields. The question I'm raising here is far from being unanimously agreed upon, and when Carroll writes stuff like "To persuade anyone otherwise, you would have to point to something the brain does that is in apparent conflict with the Standard Model or general relativity.", it's either disingenous or just a bit lazy. Giving a materialistic account of consciousness is non-trivial no matter whether the brain violates SM or GR or not, and whether it does or not will have little bearing on this problem.

If you're interested in reading more, and indeed seeing that I'm not the only one who sees this as a big problem of a materialistic account of the universe, here is a book I can recommend:

by egjerlow   2019-04-30

I'll read GEB :)