Chalmers Again

Over the last few days I’ve found myself once again carefully reading a paper by philosopher and cognitive scientist, David Chalmers. As I said last time, I find myself more aligned with Chalmers than not, although those three posts turned on a point of disagreement.

This time, with his paper Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness (1995), I’m especially aligned with him, because the paper is about the phenomenal aspects of consciousness and doesn’t touch on computationalism at all. My only point of real disagreement is with his dual-aspects of information idea, which he admits is “extremely speculative” and “also underdetermined.”

This post is my reactions and responses to his paper.

I’m including his response to his critics, Moving Forward on the Problem of Consciousness (1997), which explores the topics in further detail.

I find it intriguing that we’re still chewing on the same issues over twenty years later. The gap between the major camps remains untouched.

I also find it fascinating that so many people study something when they don’t agree on what it is. So many discussions start by noting how the term “consciousness” is too ambiguous to be useful.

Strange to study something so intently without really knowing what it is!

Many doubted the reality of black holes, but everyone agreed what one was.

§ §

Chalmers starts by explaining the “hard problem of consciousness” — a phrase of art that has (A) caught on in a big way and (B) remained a bone of contention.

The hard problem, simply put, is the question: Why should there be “something it is like” to process information in the brain?

He distinguishes the hard problem from easy problems, which are problems that neuroscience can investigate, because they involve how the brain functions.

Note: By “hard” and “easy” Chalmers obviously means relative to each other — many easy problems are actually very hard.

The question is why these functions, for us, also have a phenomenal aspect. There is nothing in physics that even hints at such a thing.

Chalmers notes the ambiguity of the term “consciousness” and offers:

Sometimes terms such as “phenomenal consciousness” and “qualia” are also used here, but I find it more natural to speak of “conscious experience” or simply “experience”. Another useful way to avoid confusion (used by e.g. Newell 1990, Chalmers 1996) is to reserve the term “consciousness” for the phenomena of experience, using the less loaded term “awareness” for the more straightforward phenomena described earlier.

I find myself aligned with him on this.

“Consciousness” — when it comes to the study of its nature — is comfortably aligned with the basic intuition we all have linking it with phenomenal experience. The hard problem lives in this space.

“Awareness” then serves to identify non-phenomenal reaction to input. Even a photocell can be “aware” of how much light falls on it. Awareness is an “easy” problem.

The big point Chalmers makes is that, while difficult problems exist throughout science, some very challenging, the general perception is that solving them is a matter of understanding their function and structure.

He sees the “hard problem” as being on another level, as not being a matter of understanding function or structure. (On the account that nothing in physics suggests phenomenal experience.)

What makes the hard problem hard and almost unique is that it goes beyond problems about the performance of functions. To see this, note that even when we have explained the performance of all the cognitive and behavioral functions in the vicinity of experience — perceptual discrimination, categorization, internal access, verbal report — there may still remain a further unanswered question: Why is the performance of these functions accompanied by experience?

And:

Reductive methods are successful in most domains because what needs explaining in those domains are structures and functions, and these are the kind of thing that a physical account can entail. When it comes to a problem over and above the explanation of structures and functions, these methods are impotent.

(Emphasis his in all quotes.)

§

The general response to this is that function and structure will fully explain phenomenal experience once we understand the brain well enough.

A common view is that experience is what information processing feels like on the inside — a view Chalmers turns out to have some sympathy for.

Something that I think might get a little lost in the debate is a point on which Chalmers and I are strongly aligned. It’s something I’ve said repeatedly.

The claims of “type A materialists” may turn out to be correct, but both Chalmers and I find those claims to be extraordinary. As such they require strong and robust support — arguments that don’t beg the question:

Often, a proponent will simply assert that functions are all that need explaining, or will argue in a way that subtly assumes this position at some point. But that is clearly unsatisfactory. Prima facie, there is very good reason to believe that the phenomena a theory of consciousness must account for include not just discrimination, integration, report, and such functions, but also experience, and prima facie, there is good reason to believe that the question of explaining experience is distinct from the questions about explaining the various functions. Such prima facie intuitions can be overturned, but to do so requires very solid and substantial argument.

There seems to be, on the part of materialists, a presumption that experience has a material explanation — because it must have, right?

But this begs the question. It assumes (type A) materialism.

§

A key plank in many materialist arguments involves intuition — specifically, that it’s often wrong.

Which it surely is on a human level, and even science has a history of proving intuition wrong.

Chalmers points out that, firstly, the turned-out-false intuitions materialists point to involved questions of structure and function. For example, he mentions how Dennett imagines a vitalist arguing about the hard problem of ‘life’, or a neuroscientist arguing about the hard problem of ‘perception’.”

With regard to vitalism, Chalmers points out: “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?”

More to the point, “their driving question was always ‘How could a mere physical system perform these complex functions?’, not ‘Why are these functions accompanied by life?'”

According to Chalmers, the question being asked about phenomenal experience falls into a different class.

Obviously materialists disagree. I do think Chalmers makes some pretty strong arguments against “type A” materialism. (Naturally I agree with those arguments. 😉 )

And, again, the main point being made isn’t so much to refute materialism as it is to point out that (as I’ve long said) it’s a big ask. Contrary to what materialists want to believe, there is no precedent for experience in physics.

Skepticism is very much warranted.

§ §

Besides making what I see as a strong statement supporting the hard problem and making a strong argument against materialism, Chalmers offers his idea on how to resolve the issue:

…That is, we can find the same abstract information space embedded in physical processing and in conscious experience.

This leads to a natural hypothesis: information (or at least some information) has two basic aspects, a physical aspect and a phenomenal aspect. This has the status of a basic principle that might underlie and explain the emergence of experience from the physical.

This approaches both the territory of panpsychism and the territory of “type B” materialists — to which Chalmers admits freely and is fine with.

This is where Chalmers and I part ways, although he does admit this idea is speculative and very possibly wrong (he mainly puts it forth as a starting point to move things forward, which I respect greatly).

§

I think the error is in seeing that two different system can be described by the same abstraction and thereby drawing conclusions about their mutual identity.

Chalmers takes this idea much further in A Computational Foundation for the Study of Cognition, the paper I discussed last month.

[FWIW: I agree entirely with his first principle, of structural coherence, and in terms of brains and things that physically resemble brains, I agree with his second principle of organizational invariance. (I disagree it applies to numeric simulations.)]

I plan to explore the computational aspects further, but they don’t apply here, so I’ll focus just on the dual-aspect nature of information.

I think a further error might be in granting a higher ontological position for information than it deserves. Information is an aspect of any physical system, but I think great care needs to be taken when taking it as a thing in itself.

(As computationalists often point out, all information must be reified (made physical) to have any value.)

As Chalmers says, “An obvious question is whether all information has a phenomenal aspect.”

One answer is yes, that all information does. Otherwise we’re confronted with the question of why some forms of information have a phenomenal aspect but not other forms. Chalmers has sympathy for this approach.

(I don’t. I’m definitely from Missouri on that one.)

Another answer is no, information doesn’t ever have a phenomenal aspect. Given that information is abstract, it’s hard to see how it could have any additional aspect, phenomenal or otherwise.

(I vote for this one.)

§

On the other hand, then, what do I think might account for phenomenal experience, if not materialism, if not panpsychism, if not IIT (or any information-based theory)?

I’ll have to get back to you on that.

I think it involves the entire brain doing what it does. I think physical effects may play a key role. I think timing and synchronization may play a role. I think a massively connected physical network plays a role.

Ultimately I lean with Chalmers in thinking new physical principles must be involved — principles we haven’t discovered yet. I do agree with his view of the hard problem — that it isn’t the same as other physical questions.

There’s an answer somewhere in there.

Stay confused, my friends!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

79 responses to “Chalmers Again

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    Well, obviously I disagree 🙂

    I’m trying to think of a point on this topic I haven’t we haven’t already debated. I’d prefer not to just retread over the same ground again.

    Maybe I’ll just ask this. If nothing in physics implies the existence of experience, then what role does experience play in the causal flow? Where does it make a difference? Wherever that difference is, whatever changes in the world happen from it, isn’t that physics implying experience? And if it has physical effects, how are they not something that could be seen as function or structure?

    Or is experience here some completely epiphenomenal thing that has no causal role? If so, then that means it has no role in us sitting here discussing experience? Maybe the physics leads to us discussing the redness of red and painfulness of pain completely independent of those actual experiences? If so, we appear to have two entities perfectly coordinated but with no causal links between them. (Known as psychophysical parallelism to philosophers.) How would that not be a big ask?

    Or is there some other scenario where physics won’t imply experience that I’m missing?

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “Well, obviously I disagree 🙂 “

      Well, I know! (Hence my slight surprise you’d posted about it.)

      “I’d prefer not to just retread over the same ground again.”

      Works for me. 🙂 If Chalmers can’t convince you even when you like some of his arguments, I know I never will. Perhaps we’ve gotten to a point of staring at each other across a gap of mutual comprehension (albeit not agreement).

      “If nothing in physics implies the existence of experience, then what role does experience play in the causal flow?”

      It’s a good question, and certainly not one we’ve discussed. I haven’t thought deeply about epiphenomenalism, so this is kind of off-the-cuff.

      As you say, here we are discussing this, and Chalmers makes the same point that experience sure seems to have a causal role. For me, it seems to tie in to the whole free will debate, too.

      There are studies that suggest we’re entirely determined machines and that experience does, in fact, seem just along for the ride. (I’m intrigued by studies showing the brain appearing to decide before the subject consciously makes a choice. I do wonder if the lag is just the time it takes for the thought to percolate up to full awareness.)

      But what possible purpose would such a system have? And it still leaves open the question of why there should be something it is like to be that system.

      I think your question is separate, yet tied to Chalmers’ question, and whatever answers one may well answer the other.

      As you know, I lean towards the idea that the activity of the brain creates some kind of local physical environment (perhaps involving the brain’s EMF activity, but certainly involving its timing mechanisms). All those neurons changing states in that small space … just seems like that would matter. (Because it so often does in other systems.)

      I suspect there is some kind of balance point, some lowest free energy state the system tries to maintain. I have a link to an article I want to pursue about how the brain may operate in a super-critical state.

      My image is off a very complex system in balance of all forces that impinge upon it. And it’s a noisy, chaotic system — tiny disturbances cause noticeable ripples of activity before the system settles. (Think how a momentary thought can take you “down memory lane” or how a song can get stuck in your head. Small disturbances, large effects.)

      I think maybe our phenomenal experience arises from that environment, all that neuronal activity. It’s so chaotic that thought can feedback into the physical system. Perhaps by shifting our thoughts or attention, different neurons fire, which changes the environment.

      I do accept that our experience does have causal effect — that seems apparent.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        So, we agree that experience has causal effects.

        Would I be correct in saying that we also agree that the contents of experience (as distinct from experience itself) are caused by physical mechanisms? For example, we were just discussing cone cells in monkeys. If the monkeys experienced red, would you agree that the cone cells and subsequent circuitry played a role?

        If so, and I think this gets to the core issue, what we’re left with is the existence of experience itself. This seems to be Chalmers’ chief concern. Why is that physical processing accompanied by experience?

        But let’s say it wasn’t. Would the physical processing still work? Chalmers seems to see that as conceivable with his zombie thought experiment. If I recall correctly, you disagree with this. And the zombie question seems to put us in epiphenomenal waters again. (Which Chalmers doesn’t completely rule out.) So we seem to agree that experience is vital for the behavior we see in humans.

        But if the processes wouldn’t work without experience, that means it’s adding something to make them work. How could that added thing make the processing complete without being functional? (Chalmers protects himself from this point with the zombies.)

        It seems like we have a situation where experience has causal effects, where its contents are causally affected by physics, and its overall existence is critical to the operations of those mechanisms, therefore having causal effects on those mechanisms.

        Maybe I’m missing something, but experience seems deeply enmeshed in the workings of physical systems.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “So, we agree that experience has causal effects.”

        Sure seems to.

        “Would I be correct in saying that we also agree that the contents of experience (as distinct from experience itself) are caused by physical mechanisms?”

        You later say “played a role” which sits better. I’m not sure about entirely caused by. But I quite agree with Chalmers’ structural coherence.

        “Why is that physical processing accompanied by experience?”

        Yep, that’s THE question.

        “But let’s say it wasn’t.”

        But it is, and I’m no longer very tolerant of question begging scenarios (like zombies), but I’ll try to follow where you lead…

        “Chalmers seems to see that as conceivable with his zombie thought experiment.”

        As conceivable, yes. The idea being, if materialism is correct, p-zombies should be entirely possible.

        “If I recall correctly, you disagree with this.”

        Ultimately I reject it as a fantasy scenario that, as you have pointed out, mainly acts as a litmus test for what one already thinks. But my intuition (FWIW), is that our world is the way it is because we experience, so p- and b-zombies don’t seem likely to me.

        “How could that added thing make the processing complete without being functional?”

        Our inability to answer that now doesn’t mean it can’t be answered. There may be fundamental misunderstandings that, once cleared up, make this more apparent.

        It is a good question, though. Let me think on it more.

        “Maybe I’m missing something, but experience seems deeply enmeshed in the workings of physical systems.”

        I don’t think any of us disagree with that.

        But unless you can account for why it exists at all, the question remains.

        Either we have to account for why this helpless rider exists or for how experience has causal effect. Or that we’ve misunderstood something basic and need a new approach. (I’ll point out, before making a quick exit, that if it did happen we have souls of some kind, many of these questions go away. [sound of running away…])

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        “But unless you can account for why it exists at all, the question remains.”

        I think once we accept that it is necessary for us to do what we do, it becomes a capability, and therefore a question of evolution. There doesn’t seem to be any doubt why it’s adaptive. It enables a vast behavioral repertoire that non-conscious creatures simply don’t have.

        “I’ll point out, before making a quick exit, that if it did happen we have souls of some kind, many of these questions go away.”

        Thanks for pointing that out. Frankly, a lot of this strikes me as talk about immaterial souls. But that’s not intellectually respectable anymore, so instead people use phrases like consciousness, subjective experience, phenomenality, or others to essentially talk about souls, without saying the actual word. (Not that I think many people are doing this consciously; no pun intended.)

        If we change Chalmers question to, “Why do souls exist?”, or, “How do physical processes generate the immaterial soul?”, the question begging nature of it becomes apparent.

        No doubt, someone will say I’m strawmanning here. My reply is, describe the meaningful differences between my restatement of Chalmers questions and his actual questions.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “It enables a vast behavioral repertoire that non-conscious creatures simply don’t have.”

        Mos def! I didn’t mean my question in the “how did it evolve” sense but in the same hard problem sense of Chalmers. Why should physical processes have experience?

        As far as we know, this is only true of brains.

        “If we change Chalmers question to, ‘Why do souls exist?’, or, ‘How do physical processes generate the immaterial soul?’, the question begging nature of it becomes apparent.”

        Which is why those questions aren’t asked. The more proper question, if we want to explore that territory, is simply, “Do souls exist? If so, how could such a thing be established?” Kind of an impossible question.

        The only reason I brought it up was the idea that, what if we exhaust all physical paths and the nature of experience still remains as elusive as ever. (It’s an entirely speculative “what if” question that shouldn’t be taken too seriously.)

        It’s just that, given my personal leanings, I think it would be pretty funny if science never found an answer here and finally had to admit that some real things in our life seem beyond the scope of science.

        “My reply is, describe the meaningful differences between my restatement of Chalmers questions and his actual questions.”

        I see them as quite distinct, since Chalmers wants to remain strictly within the bounds of physicalism, whereas this soul talk acknowledges metaphysics.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        But why do you see them as distinct? What makes them distinct? What qualities does soul talk have that experience talk lacks, or vice-versa?

        I think the concept of experience that Chalmers and others see, as something distinct from content and function, is metaphysics. Indeed, it’s the metaphysical nature that allows Chalmers to reconcile with science. If it crossed into actual physics, we’d have something empirical, at least in principle. It would become what he calls an “easy problem.”

        I don’t see Chalmers’ commitment to physicalism. Unless I missed something in the papers, quite the opposite. I do see his commitment to reconcile his psychophysicalism with physicalism, which isn’t the same thing. Or is that what you meant?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “But why do you see them as distinct?”

        As I said, one is about metaphysics, the other about physics.

        You may see them instrumentally as similar, but the underlying causes are entirely different, and (as I’ve said many times) I’m all about what’s really going on, not just what I can measure.

        “Or is that what you meant?”

        Yes. Chalmers isn’t suggesting anything “woo-woo” but that his psychophysical principles would be lawful and ultimately (in some sense) part of physical reality.

        In particular, a nonreductive theory of experience will specify basic principles telling us how experience depends on physical features of the world. These psychophysical principles will not interfere with physical laws, as it seems that physical laws already form a closed system. Rather, they will be a supplement to a physical theory. A physical theory gives a theory of physical processes, and a psychophysical theory tells us how those processes give rise to experience. We know that experience depends on physical processes, but we also know that this dependence cannot be derived from physical laws alone. The new basic principles postulated by a nonreductive theory give us the extra ingredient that we need to build an explanatory bridge.

        FWIW, as I think I mentioned in another comment, I do distinguish between materialism and physicalism, with the latter allowing emergent behavior as perhaps more ontological than materialism would.

        Speaking of which, quick topic change, been meaning to ask: Per our discussion about emergence and ontology, where do you slot coherent laser light ontologically? Obviously it’s a real “thing” so do you see laser light as not an emergent phenomenon? (Not making any point here, just curious.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        “As I said, one is about metaphysics, the other about physics.”

        But Chalmers whole point is that experience can’t be explained in terms of physics, according to him, not even in principle.

        Physical theories are ultimately specified in terms of structure and dynamics: they are cast in terms of basic physical structures, and principles specifying how these structures change over time. Structure and dynamics at a low level can combine in all sort of interesting ways to explain the structure and function of high-level systems; but still, structure and function only ever adds up to more structure and function. In most domains, this is quite enough, as we have seen, as structure and function are all that need to be explained. But when it comes to consciousness, something other than structure and function needs to be accounted for. To get there, an explanation needs a further ingredient.

        Section 2.3 Type-B materialism in the Moving Forward paper

        Of course, we can redefine “physics” to make his ideas “physical”, but then the same move can be made with souls. The divide then simply becomes propositions that are testable vs ones that aren’t, and both Chalmers-experience and souls seem on the untestable side.

        “I do distinguish between materialism and physicalism”

        The only distinction I’ve seen in the literature is that “materialism” is often preferred by non-physicalists for its pejorative connotation.

        On laser light, I don’t know if I would use the word “emergent” for it, but if I did, it would be in the epistemic sense.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Me quoting you quoting Chalmers…

        “To get there, an explanation needs a further ingredient.”

        His psychophysical principles. You’re saying Chalmers see this as metaphysics rather than physics we don’t yet understand? (Granting that the physical principle yet to be discovered might be something truly weird.)

        “Of course, we can redefine ‘physics’ to make his ideas ‘physical’, but then the same move can be made with souls.”

        I guess it depends on whether Chalmers thinks his psychophysical principles are metaphysics or a yet undiscovered physics (perhaps something related to scale and timing).

        I read him as not stepping into metaphysics, but maybe I’m wrong. (I’d ask him if I could. I’d be interested in what he thinks of these posts I’ve written. Might find them beneath his attention.)

        “The divide then simply becomes propositions that are testable vs ones that aren’t, and both Chalmers-experience and souls seem on the untestable side.”

        Somewhere unrelated I read a comment to the effect that, for religious people, the existence of god absolutely has a test. But it’s like entering a black hole — no one can report back about the results of such test. 🙂

        More realistically, Chalmers (as you pointed out in your post) sees this as solvable. If so, under what context do you think he sees as solving it? Physics (of some kind, which ought to be testable in some way) or metaphysics (which isn’t)?

        “The only distinction I’ve seen in the literature is that ‘materialism’ is often preferred by non-physicalists for its pejorative connotation.”

        People see them in various ways. Some conflate, some distinguish. I find distinguishing them useful.

        “On laser light, I don’t know if I would use the word ’emergent’ for it, but if I did, it would be in the epistemic sense.”

        I’ve been trying to come up with a good definition of “emergent behavior” and it is kind of tricky. I assume you’d be fine with “produces” laser light, yes? But now I’m starting to ponder what we really mean by emergent.

        Certainly there are no coherent photons in the laser parts, nor even in the whole if it’s switched off or malfunctioning. So in a casual (ontological) sense of the word, something seems to emerge, but maybe this trivializes the idea of emergence.

        Just something I’m chewing on in the back of my mind. 🙂

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        “I guess it depends on whether Chalmers thinks his psychophysical principles are metaphysics or a yet undiscovered physics”

        I recall him being agnostic on this in the Facing paper.

        “I’d ask him if I could. I’d be interested in what he thinks of these posts I’ve written.”

        James of Seattle emailed him and got a response, which I thought was classy. I’m sure he gets a lot of email. (His contact info is on his site.) Although I wouldn’t expect him to spend a lot of time on the response (such as reading any of our writing). Based on how he responded to James, he’s most likely to refer you to relevant papers.

        “If so, under what context do you think he sees as solving it?”

        I actually wonder the same thing. Scientific theories are “solved” as long as we have a parsimonious theory that accurately predicts observations. But if physics are causally closed, then it’s not clear to me how any fundamental theory of the type he suggests can rise to that level. If so, then it seems like any such theory would stay in the realm of philosophy, to be debated forever.

        The only hope might be that the physics turn out not to be causally closed, that some new physics or super-physics actually is required. We might then be in a position to test fundamental theories.

        Of course, I think we have enough data to know that’s unlikely. But maybe I’ll turn out to be wrong.

        “Certainly there are no coherent photons in the laser parts, nor even in the whole if it’s switched off or malfunctioning.”

        But some physical process has to generate the photons and then herd them into the coherent flow. And we understand how those processes work, don’t we? That’s why “emergent” felt strange to me. Although I’ve noted before that if we came across a Windows PC in nature, eventually we might decide that Windows somehow “emerged” from the hardware.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “But if physics are causally closed, then it’s not clear to me how any fundamental theory of the type he suggests can rise to that level.”

        As you suggest, one way out might be to question if physics really is causally closed.

        “Of course, I think we have enough data to know that’s unlikely. But maybe I’ll turn out to be wrong.”

        That’s something I’ve been pondering, too. We discovered neutrinos because we measured missing mass in certain reactions, so we assumed a particle we didn’t detect was carrying it away. Turned out to be true.

        But we don’t seem to see anything “missing” yet (although maybe we just haven’t spotted it). This is one more reason I’m skeptical of “consciousness is a basic force” theories.

        Consciousness seems kinda “loud” — it attests to itself. If there was a consciousness force, it seems like it should have announced itself more clearly than just appearing in brains of sufficient capability.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Sean Carroll often makes the point that we have a complete understanding of the physics of everyday life.
        http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2010/09/23/the-laws-underlying-the-physics-of-everyday-life-are-completely-understood/
        Of course, that’s an operational understanding, the only kind physics ever gets, as Chalmers and Goff point out. And it doesn’t mean we completely understand how these laws manifest in chemistry, biology, etc, but those layers are well above the fundamental ones. It doesn’t leave room for an additional fundamental force, at least in normal physics.

        But as I said in my Chalmers post, despite the problems, if I were convinced that no physical explanation of experience were possible, that something else was required, I’d probably be attracted to some variant of panpsychism.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “It doesn’t leave room for an additional fundamental force, at least in normal physics.”

        I’d add a “seem to” between “doesn’t” and “leave,” but exactly.

        “…I’d probably be attracted to some variant of panpsychism.”

        I’ve been pretty clear it holds no attraction for me. When it comes to metaphysics I tend to look up, not down. 🙂

      • Wyrd Smythe

        In both those papers, Chalmers mentions several times that his book, The Conscious Mind (1996), explores these topics in more detail, so I thought I’d grab my copy and check it out. I’m into GEB right now, but I see Chalmers has a whole chapter, Naturalistic Dualism.

        In the second paper, talking about Type-B materialism, he does say his view could be read as similar with terminology differences. Maybe after reading that chapter it’ll be more clear exactly where his physics or metaphysics stands.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        “he does say his view could be read as similar with terminology differences.”

        As I noted in my post, the dividing line between all these positions are so open to interpretation that it often makes me wonder how much of it comes down to language preferences.

        “Maybe after reading that chapter it’ll be more clear exactly where his physics or metaphysics stands.”

        Which of course will come down to which definition of physics or metaphysics he’s using. In either case, his careful reconciliation with science seems to make his views about experience untestable.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        As I’ve replied, those language preferences often link to beliefs about the nature of things. Those beliefs are what matter (to me), not the words used.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        No argument from me. The issue is getting at what those are exactly.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Totally! Hence all the discussion. 🙂

    • Philosopher Eric

      If nothing in physics implies the existence of experience, then what role does experience play in the causal flow?

      Just a second Mike. All naturalists should agree that nothing in known physics implies the existence of experience. (It’s up to anyone who disagrees to tell us what known physics creates experience, and do so well beyond something as general as “One part of the brain signaling another” or whatever). Thus it could only be unknown physics that’s at issue here, that is beyond the supernatural. It’s not clear to me at the moment that Wyrd or Chalmers believe that experience involves something more than unknown physics.

      Regarding Chalmers, in the past you’ve defended him as a naturalist against my hearsay based suspicions to the contrary. And if Wyrd were to believe that experience arises by means of more than causally based dynamics of this world, then I’m sure that he’d plainly tell us so.

      The implication is that all three of you believe that experience transpires by means of unknown physics, which is to say that you’re on the same team in this regard. So if that’s not your dispute, then what is? If you and Wyrd believe that such a dispute does exist between you, then it may be helpful to develop a simple statement of disagreement that each of you can agree to.

      (Often enough people seem to presume that someone is saying things that they actually aren’t. In these matters communication can be problematic to say the least. I find that plain talk can help.)

      (And hey, aren’t you in a hurricane right now or something?)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “All naturalists should agree that nothing in known physics implies the existence of experience.”

        I’m not sure that’s right. What Chalmers calls type-A materialists should believe experience is ultimately explained by known physics. In fact, ultimately, they would say there is nothing to explain beyond function according to known principles.

        Of type-B materialism he says:

        The type-B materialist accepts that there is a phenomenon that needs to be accounted for, conceptually distinct from the performance of functions, but holds that the phenomenon can still be explained within a materialist framework.

        So there is a sense of known physics with unknown properties.

        Chalmers here goes further to suggest psychophysical principles, which is definitely unknown physics. These three positions do represent three different ontological outlooks.

        “Regarding Chalmers, in the past you’ve defended him as a naturalist against my hearsay based suspicions to the contrary.”

        “Naturalist” suggests this is about trees. 🙂 I think Chalmers might say his stance is physicalism — in contrast with materialism (some conflate them; I use them in the sense that distinguishes them).

        And I have said many times that my personal beliefs do extend beyond physicalism into various considerations of dualism, but these beliefs aren’t supportable logically. My public debate stance is essentially on physicalism with an eye towards new (or, as you say, unknown) physics.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I can’t see any reason to require unknown physics. The brain operates according to well known classical physical principles: chemistry, electricity, etc. I guess confirming my type-A materialism classification, I think accounting for the functionality does account for experience.

        It’s worth noting that, although I often accept it for purposes of discussion, I question the coherency of experience as something separate and apart from the contents and capabilities of experience. Experience is the sum total of the contents of experience. To have experience is to experience something.

        And Eric, I’ve given numerous plausible accounts of the contents of experience on my blog. We’ve had conversations on many of those posts. Of course, you’re free to reject any and all of those accounts. But if so, I’m under no obligation to satisfy determined mysterians.

        On Chalmers, I’ve noted many times that he considers himself a naturalist. And he does work to reconcile his views with science. But naturalism is a broad heterogeneous philosophy. It really includes anyone who eschews supernatural explanations. What that is depends on your definition of “natural”.

        Totally agreed on plain talk. The issue is that language has limitations, limitations we frequently come up against in philosophical discussions. Sometimes it’s because the concept is just difficult to express, but sometimes it’s because it’s incoherent.

        (On the hurricane, not yet. The main effect for us will be copious amounts of rain, which leads to flooding concerns. Thanks for asking though.)

      • Philosopher Eric

        Thanks Wyrd and Mike. I asked for plain talk and that’s exactly what you’ve provided. I see that each of you consider there to be an important dispute here. I’m not so sure.

        As I understand it the dispute is about what’s “known”, and how this relates to phenomenal experience. And it seems that stuff which is standardly observed and explored, such as “electricity”, is being referred to as “known”.

        One thing to observe here is that you can’t “truly know” anything about what’s ontologically real, except that you exist in some manner — a vital foundation! It’s from this premise that we take what we think we know, or evidence, and use this to assess what we’re not so sure about, or a model. As a given model continues to stay consistent with what we think we know, the model tends to become more believed (per my EP2). So all that’s “known” in science, is essentially somewhat to highly corroborated belief. This is to say that science is provisional, or that the human is fallible. Surely each of you agree.

        So apparently “materialists” hypothesize that physics which is normal to us combine to create subjective experience. The “A” kind believes that standard properties are sufficient, whereas the “B” kind believes that standard physics does so with properties that aren’t yet grasped. I consider myself far too ignorant to dispute either position. And apparently “physicalists” hypothesize that at least this and more combines to create subjective experience. My ignorance applies here as well. I consider all such hypotheses essentially shooting in the dark.

        Isn’t it a bit silly to expend so many bits and neurons to reason that one of these hypotheses is superior to another? We’re so pathetically far from this issue even potentially mattering to modern science. Why not instead just say “maybe” across the board, and then try to work on some things for which there is a bit of visibility?

        By “naturalist” I mean that I believe in “causally determined dynamics of this world”. But Wyrd, I can go with you to the other side as well. And to the extent that causality fails, per my MP1, nothing exists to even potentially grasp. I think it’s important to acknowledge this possibility for both functional and political reasons.

        Mike,
        I do not require unknown physics for subjective experience. This doesn’t matter to me. Furthermore I think that I’d technically be referred to as a “new mysterian”, though even that can be misleading. I don’t believe that the human cannot resolve the hard problem of consciousness — just that it’s as advertised… hard.

        Each of us provide brain architecture. Furthermore clearly my own dual computers model is far more detailed than your five layered hierarchy. Anyway I clearly have no problem with accounts for the “What?” of consciousness. It’s just the “How?” that I consider problematic. If you want to say that phenomenal experience occurs when one part of the brain signals another, that’s fine, but it doesn’t mean that type A materialism is right. You simply have a hunch about this.

        Remember, that my ultimate position is that science has not yet become an institution which is well founded. Generally accepted principles of metaphysics, epistemology, and axiology, should be needed to straighten it out, and including this particular bit of mental self pleasuring (which I think consumes far too much time in soft science and philosophy, given the vulnerability of each).

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “I see that each of you consider there to be an important dispute here.”

        I’m not sure we see it as all that important, at least to us personally. These debates are a kind of social entertainment for intelligent minds. They also give us a chance to exercise our minds and test our ideas (against an often very skeptical audience 😀 ).

        Simply put, it’s fun!

        “So all that’s ‘known’ in science, is essentially somewhat to highly corroborated belief.”

        This gets into epistemological territory and the idea of “justified true belief” — what can we rationally take as true.

        The thing about science is, as you hint at, it converges on apparent facts that remain consistent for all tests. In a word: empiricism.

        Empirical results drive our belief in science. Things become scientific “truths” through never violating the apparent laws — patterns of behavior — we discover about them. It’s when empirical results show a violation of previously held laws that things change to include new laws.

        A friend of mine put it nicely: “Science proceeds despite scientists.” 😀

        ‘Cause it’s all about results, man!

  • JamesOfSeattle

    Wyrd, what is your definition of information? You say “Information is an aspect of any physical system”, and you also say “all information must be reified (made physical) to have any value”. The first statement does not reference value, but the second does. Does all information have value, or only some information has value?

    FWIW, this would be my definition:
    Information is the affordance of a pattern of physical measurements.

    By this definition, every physical object has information.

    Semantic Information is information which is associated with meaning. Semantic information thus has two aspects: the physical and the meaning. It is my contention that the phenomenal aspect of consciousness is identical to the meaning aspect of semantic information.

    *

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “Wyrd, what is your definition of information?”

      I agree with Chalmers in seeing it essentially as defined by Shannon. Put informally, it’s what we can know about something.

      “Does all information have value, or only some information has value?”

      “Value” is in the eye of the beholder. Information you value, I may not, and vice versa. Ultimately, value has nothing to do with information. It’s just a property we can assign to it. Literally a “value judgement.”

      “Information is the affordance of a pattern of physical measurements.”

      Information doesn’t exist without being measured? When we don’t look at the moon, it’s not there?

      “By this definition, every physical object has information.”

      By lots of definitions! (I just said it myself.)

      “It is my contention that the phenomenal aspect of consciousness is identical to the meaning aspect of semantic information.”

      Why would “meaning” be phenomenal? Isn’t meaning, per what you just said, an abstraction?

  • JamesOfSeattle

    “Put informally, it’s what we can know about something.”
    I’m looking for formally. Shannon Information is not useful because it makes no reference to meaning. It’s more about what can or cannot be communicated.

    “Information doesn’t exist without being measured?”
    Thus affordance. It offers the possibility of being measured.

    “Why would “meaning” be phenomenal? “

    Phenomena are also abstractions. If you have a system that processes semantic information, and that system can create references to those processes, that system will behave exactly like any system that claims to have phenomenal experience. There is no reason to think that a phenomenal experience has anything extra.

    To say again, the processing of semantic information is sufficient for any process that leads to phenomenal experience.

    *

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “Shannon Information is not useful because it makes no reference to meaning.”

      I’m a-okay with the Shannon definition, because I see meaning as completely separate from information.

      “Phenomena are also abstractions.”

      Phenomenal experience is not an abstraction.

      “If you have a system that processes semantic information, …”

      What system? What semantic information? Without specifics, it’s just empty hand-waving.

      “…and that system can create references to those processes,…”

      I have no idea what that means, either. Specifics?

      “…that system will behave exactly like any system that claims to have phenomenal experience.”

      So you’re not only begging the question, you’re doing it with empty hand-waving.

      None of this means anything to me, James.

      “There is no reason to think that a phenomenal experience has anything extra.”

      Chalmers’ entire point is that it does. If you disagree, you’ll have to show me where you disagree with what he said.

      “To say again, the processing of semantic information is sufficient for any process that leads to phenomenal experience.”

      Can you really not see that this is just empty hand-waving? It means nothing to me. Maybe I’m just too dense, and you’ll have to get down to my level and explain it with some specifics.

      • JamesOfSeattle

        I admit to the hand-waving, but not empty hand waving. 🙂

        I guess what I’m trying to do, inartfully, is to express the role of information in Representationalism. Chalmers actually wrote a detailed paper on Representationalism called The Representational Character of Experience.

        Chalmers explains reductive Representationalism as the position that phenomenal properties are (or are equivalent to) representational properties. I’m saying semantic information is a representation. The processing of semantic information has representational properties, namely the “meaning” of the information being processed. Chalmers would agree with this characterization.

        In the paper Chalmers argues that representation is associated with consciousness, but it is not identical with consciousness.

        Are phenomenal properties identical to pure representational properties? That is, for a given phenomenal property, is there some representational content that is represented if and only if that phenomenal property is instantiated? The answer to this question is plausibly no, for reasons given above: identity requires entailment, and it is plausible that phenomenal properties are not entailed by pure representational properties. If any given representational content can be represented unconsciously, then pure representational properties cannot be identical to phenomenal properties, and pure representationalism is false.[emphasis added]

        So the only reason I found in his paper that argues against my position (representational properties = phenomenal properties) is that there is evidence that “representational properties can be represented unconsciously”. To me this reason is flawed because it ignores the subjective nature of representation. A specific representational property requires both a representation (semantic information) and an interpretation mechanism. If a representation is represented to one interpreter (mechanism1), that representation is not thereby represented to another interpreter (mechanism2), and so could be “conscious” relative to the first mechanism but “unconscious” relative to the second.

        *

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “I admit to the hand-waving, but not empty hand waving.”

        I’ll even withdraw the “empty” since it’s the hand-waving I’m growing increasingly intolerant of. I’ve always been into specifics. It’s the only way I can think clearly.

        “I’m saying semantic information is a representation.”

        In all cases? I would be inclined to see it the other way around: that what is represented has, of course, semantic content.

        Where we differ here, I think, is that I don’t grant information (of any kind) the high-level of ontology many others seem to. I think information is just a property of a system. I don’t grant it any special characteristics.

        As I said in the post, my only point of disagreement with Chalmers here is his idea that information has a dual aspect. I reject the notion. Information is information, nothing more, nothing less. (I have zero Tegmarkian leanings. 🙂 )

        “In the paper Chalmers argues that representation is associated with consciousness, but it is not identical with consciousness.”

        Yes. Likewise, information is associated with consciousness, but is not identical to, nor sufficient for, consciousness. Necessary, yes. Sufficient, no.

        “To me this reason is flawed because it ignores the subjective nature of representation. “

        Can’t the subconscious experience things subjectively? What do you believe the nature of the subconscious is?

    • JamesOfSeattle

      Wyrd, when discussing someone’s argument, you have to accept their definitions. By my definition, and I think Chalmers’, information has a physical aspect and an abstract aspect. You seem to think information has only the abstract aspect, which is fine, but when I’m referring to information in the context of my (or Chalmers’) arguments, I mean that which has both aspects.

      When I say semantic information is representation I’m hand-waving again. To be precise, the interpretation of semantic information is representation. Semantic Information is an affordance of representation. And yes, I’m saying the interpretation or semantic information is equivalent to conscious experience. To answer your question, the subconscious can experience things subjectively, but those experiences are simply conscious experiences happening somewhere else, i.e., to a different interpreting mechanism. The nature of the subconscious is conscious events which happen elsewhere relative to the consciousness in question.

      *

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “Wyrd, when discussing someone’s argument, you have to accept their definitions.”

        Says who?

        I don’t accept anything I think is false or questionable.

        “By my definition, and I think Chalmers’, information has a physical aspect and an abstract aspect.”

        By yours, certainly, I know. Chalmers presents his double-aspect idea as “extremely speculative and is also underdetermined, leaving a number of key questions unanswered.” (Are your ideas equally couched?)

        He earlier says, “I understand information in more or less the sense of Shannon (1948). Where there is information, there are information states embedded in an information space.”

        Which is basically how I see information.

        In the post I explained why I disagree with Chalmers’ double-aspect idea: “I think the error is in seeing that two different system can be described by the same abstraction and thereby drawing conclusions about their mutual identity.”

        I also wrote that I think it grants a higher ontological level to information than it deserves: “Information is an aspect of any physical system, but I think great care needs to be taken when taking it as a thing in itself.”

        “When I say semantic information is representation I’m hand-waving again.”

        That’s fine, but I’ll recuse myself from engaging.

  • James Cross

    I think part (emphasis on “part”) of the misunderstanding relating to this problem is tied to the illusion that we think of experience as something closely relating to an external reality. It is tied to the naive view that experience represents reality, that what we perceive is a close approximation of the world. What if it isn’t? What if experience is a representation of unconscious neurological processes?

    • Lee Roetcisoender

      “What if experience is a representation of unconscious neurological processes?”

      But what if the inverse is actually true. What if experience is a representation of “conscious” neurological processes, which in turn is constructed of “conscious” biological processes, which in turn is constructed of “conscious” chemical processes, which in turn is constructed of “conscious” molecular processes, which in turn is constructed of “conscious” atomic structures all the way down the hierarchy to mass, spin and charge? These structures would emerge from the quantum realm, all of which emerge from a point of singularity across the event horizon which divides the reality from the appearance.

      According to this model there would be no dualism. There would be neither substance nor property dualism. The laws of physics would then become the description of these “conscious” processes, “conscious” processes which are underwritten by the architecture of correspondence, not mysterious, magical laws which command unquestioning, unwavering obedience from its unknowing, unsuspecting subjects.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “What if it isn’t?”

      You might need to explain that further, because my initial response is that experience over time seems to confirm the world is (more or less) as it appears to be. There is also that reports from others validate these perceptions.

      Per the post before this, I found my copy of GEB in a box of books in the garage because I put it there years ago and it’s been there ever since. What I mean is that reality seems stable and consistent.

      Does that reply to your posit, or have I missed your point?

      • James Cross

        You really need to take a look at some of Donald Hoffman’s arguments. He argues that evolution does not select for accurate representations of the world. Here’s a TED talk with transcript if you don’t care to listen to it.

        He’s some actual examples from evolution and then talks some about his simulations in which accurate viewers always go extinct.

        The metaphor he uses is a computer desktop analogy to make the idea more easily grasped.

        “How can not perceiving reality as it is be useful? Well, fortunately, we have a very helpful metaphor: the desktop interface on your computer. Consider that blue icon for a TED Talk that you’re writing. Now, the icon is blue and rectangular and in the lower right corner of the desktop. Does that mean that the text file itself in the computer is blue, rectangular, and in the lower right-hand corner of the computer? Of course not. Anyone who thought that misinterprets the purpose of the interface. It’s not there to show you the reality of the computer. In fact, it’s there to hide that reality. You don’t want to know about the diodes and resistors and all the megabytes of software. If you had to deal with that, you could never write your text file or edit your photo. So the idea is that evolution has given us an interface that hides reality and guides adaptive behavior. Space and time, as you perceive them right now, are your desktop. Physical objects are simply icons in that desktop.”

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “Space and time, as you perceive them right now, are your desktop. Physical objects are simply icons in that desktop.”

        I don’t know that I disagree with any of that (I’ll check out the TED talk).

        To carry on with the desktop metaphor, what the icons represent is consistent. When I double-click the Google Earth icon, Google Earth opens.

        There’s no question our internal model of reality is simplified in many ways (“iconic” if you like) and much is elided. Some is illusionary.

        But it’s all a consistent model with direct correspondence to what Kant called “things in themselves” — which, of course, he felt we had no access to. (So this idea isn’t a new one.)

        FWIW, I define sanity largely as the degree to which one’s internal model of reality corresponds with empirical reality (given all the issues of simplification). I think a sane mind is one that seeks to minimize perceived differences.

  • Lee Roetcisoender

    A quick anecdote to my previous post: Personally, I do not see this model as untenable. The only objection would be that one does not like the “color'”. Other than prejudice or personal bias, there is no real justification to dismiss this as a viable alternative to the current standard model of physics.

    • James Cross

      I’m not sure which “model” you are talking about. Sure you can start with particles. If you’re a materialist, that’s all there is so more or less everything boils to them. But it seems like a fairly complicated path to explain consciousness from particles. This leads to the various fairly absurd ideas of electrons and protons having some degree of consciousness, sort of like a “consciousness” quark attached to them.

      So I would start trying to explaining the “hard” problem as a brief step away from the “easy” problems.

      • Lee Roetcisoender

        The “model” is the one I briefly expressed in my previous post. You don’t explain consciousness from particles James. The hard problem is this: How does phenomenal experience emerge from physical states? The “easiest” explanation is that physical states in and of themselves are all discrete conscious systems. Panpsychism is the only model with the explanatory prowess to express “why” all of the quailia which make up our phenomenal realm can be experienced by our own phenomenal experience of consciousness. This can only be true from the simple fact that every “thing” is intrinsically linked and flows back through the hierarchy to a convergent point of singularity, and that convergent point does not begin with matter itself.

        One has to be freed from our own personal biases and prejudices and at the minimum level be willing to acknowledge that all of the prevailing models, especially materialism, idealism and theism have fragments of truth. That is why these models are venerated by their disciples, not because these models are true, but because all of these models have “fragments” of truth. By in large, human beings do not necessarily believe lies, they are attracted to and believe truths, but those “truths” are all fragments of a whole.

        Conversely, most individuals disparage the idea of a point of singularity because it invokes an involuntary psychological response which immediately leads one to the god deference. That psychological response has to be suppressed in order to overcome our inherent prejudices of a convergent point of singularity which precedes the postulate of “matter” being our starting point

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “The ‘easiest’ explanation is that physical states in and of themselves are all discrete conscious systems.”

        The easiest explanation is that we’re endowed by our creator with souls. 🙂

        This matches the facts much better than the idea that my thermostat is conscious.

        More seriously: The thing is, as I’ve said before, consciousness attests to itself — consciousness is loud. But there is no indication of its existence in anything but brains, so the idea of consciousness in anything else is an extraordinary one that need not be taken seriously in the absence of extraordinary proof.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “The only objection would be that one does not like the “color’.”

      I would think the stronger object would be the complete lack of any evidence whatsoever that consciousness exists in anything but brains.

      It’s an extraordinary claim, so you’d better have some extraordinary evidence!

      • Lee Roetcisoender

        The evidence is there Wyrd. The intricately complex relationships which make up our phenomenal world “is” the evidence. It’s our current models which we use to interpret that evidence that is problematic, be it theism, idealism or materialism, not the evidence itself.

        Here’s the mind trap Wyrd, and it’s a really, really difficult paradigm to overcome. Our current models are always designed to serve us is some way, which makes perfect sense. But at the end of the day, we always end up serving the models. I call it the “paint yourself into a corner syndrome”. This is how it works: Whenever something “new” comes along, the discrete, binary system of rationality contrasts that new information against what is already known, or perceived to be true to see how it corresponds to what is already perceived to be true. If it does not conform, it is easily dismissed for that reason alone, in spite of the fact that there may indeed be a more reasonably plausible explanation of the data. So in a strange twist of fate, we end up serving the very models which were originally designed to serve us.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “The intricately complex relationships which make up our phenomenal world ‘is’ the evidence.”

        Evidence that “intricately complex relationships” exist. So what?

        “Here’s the mind trap Wyrd, and it’s a really, really difficult paradigm to overcome.”

        I am not sympathetic to this approach. It’s hand-waving without specifics.

      • Lee Roetcisoender

        “I am not sympathetic to this approach. It’s hand-waving without specifics.”

        So what you are telling me is that your current ideas of what you perceive to be true don’t serve you in some way?? And you are also telling me that when something new is introduced to your mind that you do not contrast that new information against what you already believe to be true to see how it conforms??

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “So what you are telling me is that your current ideas of what you perceive to be true don’t serve you in some way??”

        Um, quite the opposite, so perhaps I misunderstand the question.

        “And you are also telling me that when something new is introduced to your mind that you do not contrast that new information against what you already believe to be true to see how it conforms??”

        And, again, quite the opposite. Which is why the idea of “particle consciousness” seems absurd to me. There is no evidence to support it, and there is no physical basis to implement such a thing. (Consciousness would seem to require structure, but particles have no known structure.)

        Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Assertions don’t cut it with me.

      • Lee Roetcisoender

        “Which is why the idea of “particle consciousness” seems absurd to me.”

        In other words, the idea of “particle consciousness” (which is something new) does not conform to your construct of how you believe the world works. According to the model which you constructed to serve yourself, particle consciousness would indeed seem absurd.

        “There is no evidence to support it, and there is no physical basis to implement such a thing.”

        Actually, the inverse is true. The very evidence which you garner to reinforce your model is the very evidence which would support particle consciousness. That evidence is prejudiced and biased because that evidence is filtered through your existing model, which means you serve the very model which you originally constructed to serve yourself. Constructs become the mind trap.

        “(Consciousness would seem to require structure, but particles have no known structure.)”

        I’m not sure I understand this statement, it seems like a contradiction because particles do have a structure, it’s called mass, spin and charge. Unless you are referring to the quantum realm where particles are broken down into fields according to the standard model. Nevertheless, even the fields which make up the standard model have structure. We cannot physically observe structure in the quantum realm any more than we can physically observe structure in consciousness because neither of those phenomena are open to direct inspection.

        So, my previous point is clear and concise, not hand waving. Our current models are always designed to serve us is some way. But at the end of the day, we always end up serving the models. Those are the facts on the ground, and for us, that reality is really, really, really difficult to overcome.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “In other words, the idea of ‘particle consciousness’ (which is something new) does not conform to your construct of how you believe the world works.”

        That’s a backwards way to put it. The forward form is that, as I said, I see no evidence to support it and no indication it exists. Present some evidence, and I may change my mind.

        “According to the model which you constructed to serve yourself, particle consciousness would indeed seem absurd.”

        No: Based on all the currently available information the idea seems absurd. Particles have no structure. How can something with no structure have a structured property?

        “The very evidence which you garner to reinforce your model is the very evidence which would support particle consciousness.”

        So you keep claiming, but so far have not named one single piece of such putative evidence.

        “Constructs become the mind trap.”

        You seem to be under the impression I never change my mind. Nothing could be further from the truth. I modify my model of reality as I learn new information. I am not at all the same person I was ten years ago.

        But I do require evidence or, at the least, strong coherent arguments. If you’ve got any evidence or strong arguments, this would be the time to present them. So far all you’ve done is wave your hands and claim I’m somehow trapped in my thinking.

        “I’m not sure I understand this statement, it seems like a contradiction because particles do have a structure, it’s called mass, spin and charge.”

        Structure requires internal difference. Particles have none. Single properties, the various quantum numbers, apply to the particle overall — they are not, in any way, “structure.” For example, as far as we can tell, the electron has no physical size, so how can it possibly have structure?

        “Nevertheless, even the fields which make up the standard model have structure.”

        No. They don’t. A field has no structure of its own (again, no internal differences). Disturbances in the field can provide apparent transitory structure, but the field itself has none. Without disturbances, and we think the Higgs field is an exception, these quantum fields have everywhere a value of zero (and hence no structure). We think the Higgs field is an exception for everywhere having some non-zero value, but that value is everywhere the same. (We think that non-zero value accounts for how the Higgs provides mass to some particles.)

        “So, my previous point is clear and concise, not hand waving.”

        Nope. Still all hand-waving. I get that it’s your opinion, your worldview… but since you so strongly believe people are trapped in their worldview, how much does that apply to you?

        It reminds me of how the Republicans often claim everything their opponents do is just “because of their political view,” rather than being based on logic or what is perceived as the right thing to do. And in that case it seems a pretty clear case of transference, since it is usually those same Republicans marching in political lockstep purely for political gain.

        On some level it’s an ad hominem argument, and it doesn’t sit well with me. I see it as a form of bullshit that usually comes from someone with a weak or sketchy argument.

        So, instead of insulting me, present your evidence and arguments for your position.

      • Lee Roetcisoender

        “On some level it’s an ad hominem argument, and it doesn’t sit well with me. I see it as a form of bullshit that usually comes from someone with a weak or sketchy argument.”

        Lighten up Wyrd, don’t you think that assessment is a little harsh, kind of like passing judgment on my character? If you want to know my thoughts on ad hominem, it sounds more like a projection on your part instead of an unbiased assessment. But then, I am not easily offended, so if my words offended you I offer my sincere apology.

        Here’s the bottom line Wyrd; the only “thing” we have access to is data. And according to the scientific method, data reigns supreme. Even though data sits on top of the hierarchy, who decides what that data means? The solipsistic self-model decides, there is no “real” objectivity in that assessment, it’s all biased. Assessments are skewed by the constructs that we have created to serve us. It’s the same for everyone, nobody is exempt and it’s not a dirty little word, it’s just the way it is. Sometimes the solipsistic self-model will be correct in assessing the data, and other times the solipsistic self-model will error.

        As far as the subject of structure goes, the quantum world is not open to direct inspection, so any postulate which states that there is no structure is pure conjecture. Differences are all that exist, differences are the underlying architecture of our phenomenal realm. Differences are the underlying architecture of consciousness. Without differences, the universe would not exist and neither would we. So your position that particles have no structure is simply hand waving.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “Lighten up Wyrd, don’t you think that assessment is a little harsh, kind of like passing judgment on my character?”

        You seem to be judging mine; I’m just returning the favor. (And pointing out that, if anyone has a case of transference here, I’m pretty sure it isn’t me. You’re the one constantly talking about limiting worldviews, not me.)

        “And according to the scientific method, data reigns supreme.”

        Yep.

        “So your position that particles have no structure is simply hand waving.”

        Nope.

        It’s based on the available data — none of which shows structure. All our tests so far, all the data produced so far, give no indication of structure.

        If such structure does exist, we have no access to it, so its existence is purely speculative and contrary to the available data.

        If you have data otherwise, please present it.

        If you have a coherent argument otherwise, please present it.

        Otherwise it’s just science fiction.

      • Lee Roetcisoender

        Here’s another ad hominem: It seems like my last post flew too far over your head, because you just didn’t get it. So here it is again: All data, without exception, is subordinate to interpretation by the solipsistic self-model. And that paradigm is fucked.

        You’re wired way too tight dude, so I’m out of here….. Do us both a favor, block me from posting on your site just in case I am overcome by the impulse to comment on absurdity.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “It seems like my last post flew too far over your head, because you just didn’t get it. So here it is again: All data, without exception, is subordinate to interpretation by the solipsistic self-model. And that paradigm is fucked.”

        In your opinion. 🙂

        Which is duly noted.

        “Do us both a favor, block me from posting on your site just in case I am overcome by the impulse to comment on absurdity.”

        Nah, you’re welcome here. But I do require evidence or coherent arguments. You’ve expressed your opinions and worldview, but provided no support for it I can see.

        All available data shows no structure in particles. They have properties, but no structure. And while we can’t get down to the Planck level, we’ve certainly gotten sub-atomic, and what we see — the Standard Model — is one of the most well-tested physical theories we have.

        That the model works is apparent in every aspect of our technology.

        There is also that we see no sign of information other than basic particle properties coming from lower levels. Further, actually inspecting things at the Planck level is considered impossible since the energy required to see anything at that level results in a black hole.

        Further, every electron is identical. Every one of them has the same quantum properties (spin, charge, mass, etc). How can there be any consciousness in a population of identical objects?

        So, again, all available data — every bit of it — argues against particle consciousness.

        So, again, the idea is an extraordinary claim.

        So, again, it requires extraordinary evidence or argument.

        Got any?

      • Lee Roetcisoender

        Revisit Einstein’s original mind experiment where he asked the question: If the sun were to instantly disappear, would the earth immediately spin out of control? And if so, why?

        Solve the riddle without employing general relativity. What other model would possess the explanatory power to satisfy the original conundrum of space and time which was problematic in Einsteins original mind experiment?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “If the sun were to instantly disappear, would the earth immediately spin out of control?”

        Well, nothing spins “out of control” in orbital dynamics, but I understand what you mean.

        Under Newton, the Earth should follow a tangent to its orbit immediately, but even Special Relativity suggests otherwise. What Einstein did with GR (another extremely well-tested physical theory, BTW), is link gravity into the causal spacetime fabric demonstrating that it, too, must be limited by the speed of light.

        So under GR it takes about eight minutes and twenty seconds for the Earth to “notice” the Sun’s gravity has disappeared and then follow an orbital tangent.

        “Solve the riddle without employing general relativity.”

        Why? GR solves it, and, as mentioned, has been extremely well-tested. Recent observations of orbits of stars around Sag A* (our galaxy’s central black hole) confirmed GR to great precision — the first time we’ve been able to explore GR in a high-gravity, high-velocity regime.

        “What other model would possess the explanatory power to satisfy the original conundrum of space and time which was problematic in Einsteins original mind experiment?”

        None that I know of that have survived analysis. Various forms of MOND attempt to explain the behavior we attribute to “dark matter” but none have gained much traction.

        I read an article recently about “chameleon gravity” that acts one way in the presence of matter but another when no matter is around. That’s an attempt to explain the behavior we attribute to “dark energy.”

        But as far as gravity on the local (i.e solar system) scale, I’m not aware of competing theories.

      • Lee Roetcisoender

        “Why? GR solves it, and, as mentioned, has been extremely well-tested”

        Why? Because leading physicists willingly acknowledge that GR does not reflect the true nature of reality.

        “None that I know of that have survived analysis.”

        Panpsychism is a competing theory which has not been thoroughly analyzed, therefore, it should not be dismissed without at least testing it. Put panpsychism to the test yourself, continue Einstein’s mind experiment employing a model of panpsychism and see if it has the explanatory power to explain the meaningful relationships we observe between two orbiting bodies, plus the explanatory power to overcome the conundrum of space and time intrinsic to Einstein’s original mind experiment. You don’t have to like the color Wyrd, just try it for fun…

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “Because leading physicists willingly acknowledge that GR does not reflect the true nature of reality.”

        Of course, but until we do manage to reconcile it with QFT, it’s a model of reality that has survived all tests we can apply.

        GPS works because GR and SR work.

        “Put panpsychism to the test yourself, continue Einstein’s mind experiment employing a model of panpsychism and see if it has the explanatory power to explain the meaningful relationships we observe between two orbiting bodies…”

        What makes you think I haven’t? Do you not understand that I think the idea is absurd because I’ve considered it?

        And, once again, if you believe otherwise, show me some evidence, or present a coherent argument. You continue to do nothing but preach and hand-wave. If you believe orbital dynamics are explained by particle consciousness, show me how you think that works.

      • Lee Roetcisoender

        “Do you not understand that I think the idea is absurd because I’ve considered it?”

        You may have considered it, but there is a huge distinction between consideration and testing. This is my point Wyrd: a model of panpsychism will give the same results that GR provides without all of the fancy footwork built into GR. Panpsychism can overcome the obstacles of both space and time in Einstein’s original mind experiment by postulating consciousness without having create a fabric which warps under the strain of objects. Plus, panpsychism can explain the orbital anomalies observed between rotating celestial bodies, something GR cannot achieve without applying additional mathematical patches. How? Because within an architecture of consciousness, every discrete system experiences a limited degree of self-determination within the constraints which underwrite any given discrete system.

        Anyway, back to more important matters. Did I ever tell you that during my senior year in 1971 that I owned a ’69 Roadrunner? That was one beautiful muscle car. Talk about a chick magnet; it was a two door post, jet black with fluorescent pin striping. It had a 350 HP 383 V-8 mated to a manual four speed. With twenty bucks in my pocket, a three fingered lid tucked under the dash, a chick by my side and a half-rack of beer on ice in the trunk, life was good. But I’m older now, and as I reminisce, we really did live in the best of times Wyrd, we really did…

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “This is my point Wyrd: a model of panpsychism will give the same results that GR provides without all of the fancy footwork built into GR.”

        So does a belief in magic pixies doing it all. I reject both for not matching the data (for reasons already stated).

        “…we really did live in the best of times Wyrd, we really did…”

        Heh. If you followed this blog you’d know I’m not a very nostalgic person in most regards. I like the present (for all its nonsense) and looking forward. I’m more fascinated by what’s next than by my checkered past. (I just thank good fortune I never served time. It got a little close.)

        That said, I was a science geek from the beginning. My first two words were “star” and “light.” My parents have told me, as a small child, I made wires out of clay and networked my blocks together. (We’re talking mid-1950s, so I predated ARPANET. 🙂 )

        I didn’t really go off-beam until I got into college. But that’s a whole other story.

  • James Cross

    “The “easiest” explanation is that physical states in and of themselves are all discrete conscious systems.”

    This sounds like Bernardo Kastrup territory. It is much easier to simply believe there are no physical states at all, that everything is composed of consciousness. But neither viewpoint explains why I perceive myself to be a discrete conscious entity, which is the real question. Kastrup has to jump through hoops with his alter theory to explain that one.

    Of course, idealism can never be proven, any more than it can be proven that everything is composed of matter, so it is more of less a dead end philosophically as far as I am concerned. Which is why I am looking for a more a humble approach that doesn’t try to explain the entire universe and makes no assumptions about the ultimate nature of reality.

    • Lee Roetcisoender

      James,
      Just and FYI: Transcendental idealism is the only model with the explanatory power to express “why” you perceive yourself to be a discrete conscious entity, not materialism, not idealism and not theism.

      “I am looking for a more a humble approach that doesn’t try to explain the entire universe and makes no assumptions about the ultimate nature of reality.”

      Your position is an honorable one James. But without a definitive articulation of the ultimate nature of reality we are all just playing in the sandbox. At the end of the day, there is nothing wrong with recreational activities. The only axe I have to grind is the aggressive marketing of these playful, recreational ontologies, and all of the promoters which include the likes of Kastrup, the scientific community and the religious communities. Like you said, all of these churches are all faith based. Why don’t we all just shut these blogs on consciousness down and talk about muscle cars and rock music, drop some window pane and have a good time?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “But without a definitive articulation of the ultimate nature of reality we are all just playing in the sandbox.”

        So every scientist who works on some aspect of science without considering the “ultimate nature of reality” is just playing in the sandbox? Seems kinda harsh.

    • Philosopher Eric

      Hey James,
      My recent comment seems to be going to the moderation folder at your site. This often seems to happen to me at new sites — not sure why. I’d appreciate if you could see about digging it out. Resending doesn’t seem to help.

      Anyone over here who hasn’t heard, James Cross has a new post where he’s dubbing the hard problem of consciousness as “an unserious problem”. Check it out…
      https://broadspeculations.com/2019/07/14/the-hard-but-unserious-problem-of-consciousness/

  • Lee Roetcisoender

    I don’t want to come across as a “downer”, but I have one final comment on Chalmers: David Chalmers may be the whiz kid who canonized the “hard problem” of consciousness, and it’s good to see people engaging in the conversation as such. Nevertheless, Chalmers is no philosopher. Last summer, at a university in Europe Chalmers was giving his presentation on the meta-problem of consciousness to a group of intellectuals. Chalmers was asked a question about Immanuel Kant by someone in the audience. Chalmers openly admitted that he didn’t know enough about Kant to even be able to address the question……. and then he has the audacity to call himself a philosopher.

    Thanks,

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Maybe Kant doesn’t interest him that much, since so much else since subsumes his work.

      As far as insulting Chalmers professionally, Lee, how many books and papers have you published?

      • Lee Roetcisoender

        Come on Wyrd, it’s not insulting to critique a celebrity who claims to be a philosopher. A true philosopher will stop at nothing, exhausting every avenue and opportunity to discover the truth. One cannot make the claim to be a philosopher if one knows absolutely nothing about Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. And being busy with other interests is no excuse for one who claims to be a philosopher. It’s not Chalmers fault, he’s a derivative of the academic community which as an institution itself is really just another church. So, if he want’s to get paid, he’s forced to conform and be a loyal, faithful church member.

        For the record, I’ve currently published one book and my second book is ready to go to press.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        You’re imposing your beliefs about philosophers on Chalmers. He’s under no obligation to live up to your expectations.

        What book?

      • James Cross

        I can kind of agree with Lee about this. I would expect Chalmers to know a good bit about Kant but maybe his answer was more along the lines of “I’m not an expert on Kant so I don’t think I should try to answer that particular question.”

        However, the more I think about the “hard” problem the more I think it is overrated. Actually I think it is really just a restatement of the old idealism vs materialism, what is the ultimate nature of reality, issue that has been around a few thousand years. It is dressed with some modern references to information and neuroscience but at its core is the unanswerable question of the nature of reality.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “I can kind of agree with Lee about this. I would expect Chalmers to know a good bit about Kant but maybe his answer was more along the lines of ‘I’m not an expert on Kant so I don’t think I should try to answer that particular question.'”

        Exactly.

        I’m not sure I agree the hard problem is about idealism. (In fact, I’m pretty sure I don’t, but I’ll think about it.) I see it more as a question about something very weird about (actual) reality.

        But it is possible it all turns on something we’ll find impossible (for a variety of reasons) to fully understand.

      • Lee Roetcisoender

        James Cross said:
        “However, the more I think about the “hard” problem the more I think it is overrated. Actually I think it is really just a restatement of the old idealism vs materialism, what is the ultimate nature of reality, issue that has been around a few thousand years. It is dressed with some modern references to information and neuroscience but at its core is the unanswerable question of the nature of reality.”

        I could not agree more..

  • Lee Roetcisoender

    “You’re imposing your beliefs about philosophers on Chalmers. He’s under no obligation to live up to your expectations.”

    I concur counselor. “The Wizard’s Reign: An Inquiry into Acceptable Norms”. The book is a self-portrait, something I did back in 2015. Both the kindle and paperback versions are still available on amazon.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Above all else, this is a wonderful love story. DeAnna, the love of his life, the wife of his youth, is an integral part of his struggle and the very source of his inspiration to survive and overcome. This story is truly one of personal triumph.

      How sweet!! Sounds like a very personal book. (Not really my cup of tea, but congrats on both publishing and succeeding in your struggles!)

  • Wyrd Smythe

    [[Note to self: Write more posts about Chalmers’ papers. It really brings out the comment crowd! 😀 😀 😀 ]]

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