Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Churchland on dualism, Part IV

Daniel Stoljar’s remarks on dualism, which I criticized in an earlier post, bring to mind some similar remarks made by Paul Churchland in response to Frank Jackson’s famous “knowledge argument” against physicalism. You’ll recall that Stoljar claimed that objections to a physicalist account of intentionality would apply no less to a dualist account. Churchland makes the same claim with respect to qualia – the introspectible features of a conscious experience, in virtue of which there is “something it is like” to have that experience. (Stock examples of qualia would be the way pain feels, the way red looks, or the way coffee tastes and smells.)

Jackson’s argument goes roughly like this. Imagine that Mary, a master neuroscientist of the future, has lived her entire life in a black and white room, never having had any experience of colors. But she knows everything there is to know about the physical facts concerning the physics and physiology of color perception. Thus, though she’s never seen a red object herself, she knows exactly what happens in other people’s eyes and nervous systems when they see red, as well as all the relevant facts about light, surface reflectance properties of red objects, and so on. Eventually she leaves the room and sees a red object for the first time. Does she learn something new? Jackson says she clearly does – she learns what it’s like to see red. And that (so the argument goes) suffices to refute physicalism. For physicalism claims that to know all the physical facts about human beings is to know all the facts about them, period. But though Mary knew all the relevant physical facts about color perception prior to her release from the room, she didn’t know all the facts, because she learned something new upon her release. Hence there is more to human nature than is captured by a description of the physical facts. In particular, facts about qualia (such as the facts about what it’s like to see red) are additional facts, beyond the physical facts.

I will have more to say about the knowledge argument – and in particular about Jackson’s later change of heart about it – in a future post. For now let’s consider Churchland’s objection, which he first stated in his paper “Reduction, Qualia, and the Direct Introspection of Brain States” and repeated in his later paper “Knowing Qualia: A Reply to Jackson.” (Both papers are reprinted in Churchland’s book A Neurocomputational Perspective, which is the source of the quotes below.) In the course of making several other criticisms of Jackson, Churchland says that if the knowledge argument were sound, it would refute substance dualism for the same reasons it would refute materialism. For we need only run the argument by imagining instead that Mary is a master “ectoplasmologist” with knowledge of the “hidden constitution and nomic intricacies” of ectoplasm, and in particular of “everything there is to know about the ectoplasmic processes underlying vision” (“Reduction, Qualia, and the Direct Introspection of Brain States,” p. 63). Since Mary would learn something new upon leaving the room despite knowing everything there is to know about ectoplasm, this parallel argument “would ‘show’ that there are some aspects of consciousness that must forever escape the ectoplasmic story” (“Knowing Qualia,” p. 72, emphasis in the original).

But Churchland is just making the same mistake we saw Stoljar make. What philosophical dualist ever said anything about “ectoplasmic processes,” or about the “hidden constitution” or “nomic intricacies” of an immaterial substance? Even apart from the “ectoplasm” nonsense – which is, of course, just a rhetorical flourish intended to make dualism sound ridiculous before it is even given a hearing – Churchland’s description of dualism is a ludicrous caricature. He makes it sound as if the dualist were committed to the existence of an object which is just like a material object in having various parts arranged in a certain way so as to behave according to law-like regularities, only one made out of some ghostly kind of stuff rather than of matter. But that is precisely the opposite of what a Plato, an Aquinas, or a Descartes actually held. For them, as for philosophical dualists generally, the soul is necessarily something simple or non-composite, and thus without parts of either a material or a quasi-material sort. Hence it has no “hidden constitution” or “nomic intricacies” of the sort Churchland has in mind. It is not a kind of ghostly mechanism because it is not a “mechanism” at all. (True, Descartes was a mechanist, but only concerning the material world, not the mind.)

For the Cartesian dualist, who is Churchland’s immediate target, the essence of the soul is just to think, and thought is (on this view) essentially conscious. As Descartes says in a letter to Mersenne, “nothing can be in me, that is to say, in my mind, of which I am not conscious” (Descartes, Philosophical Letters, p. 90, emphasis in original), and as he writes in the replies to the Second Set of Objections, “thought is a word that covers everything that exists in us in such a way that we are immediately conscious of it” (Haldane and Ross, Philosophical Works of Descartes, vol. II, p. 52, emphasis in original). In the Fifth Set of Objections, Gassendi had complained that Descartes fails to provide an account of the “internal substance” of the mind, which would require something analogous to the “chemical investigation” by which we discover what unseen properties of wine determine its surface features (Cottingham, Stoothoff, and Murdoch, Philosophical Writings of Descartes, vol. II, p. 193). Descartes replied, in words that could have been directed at Churchland: “You want us, you say, to conduct ‘a kind of chemical investigation’ of the mind, as we would of wine. This is indeed worthy of you, O Flesh, and of all those who have only a very confused conception of everything, and so do not know the proper questions to ask about each thing” and (in response to another of Gassendi’s objections) that “your purpose was simply to show us what absurd and unjust quibbles can be thought up by those who are more anxious to attack a position than to understand it” (Ibid., pp. 248-49). For Descartes, your res cogitans isn’t something which, by virtue of some hidden internal constitution, generates your consciousness; your res cogitans just is your consciousness.

For that reason, there can be no “knowledge argument” against substance dualism parallel to Jackson’s argument against physicalism. If the Mary of Churchland’s alternate scenario does not know what it is like to experience red before leaving the room, then she just does not and cannot know everything there is to know about res cogitans, because experiencing red is nothing more than a mode of consciousness and (therefore) a mode of res cogitans. To know everything there is to know about a res cogitans would not involve knowing about its internal constitution, the causal relations holding between its parts, etc. (for it has none of these things) but would involve instead knowing every kind of conscious thought or experience it might have – including experiencing red. The “gap” between two kinds of fact that Jackson’s original argument points to does not have even a prima facie parallel in the substance dualist case. The physicalist has to acknowledge at least a conceptual difference between physical facts and facts about consciousness; the only question is whether there is also a metaphysical difference. But there is, according to the Cartesian dualist, not even a conceptual difference between facts about res cogitans and facts about consciousness. That’s Descartes’ whole point.

Whatever other objections the physicalist might raise against dualism, then, the tu quoque strategy employed by Churchland and many other contemporary materialists is simply incompetent. It rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of what the dualist means by an “immaterial substance.” Equally incompetent is any critique of dualism that treats it (as Churchland evidently does in “Knowing Qualia”) as a kind of quasi-scientific empirical theory – that is, as if it were “postulating” the existence of immaterial substance as the “best explanation” of mental phenomena among the various alternatives. As I noted in a previous post on Churchland, that is not at all what the most significant dualists in the history of philosophy were up to. Their arguments for dualism are intended instead as strict metaphysical demonstrations of the existence of the soul. One may or may not think the attempted demonstrations succeed, but one will not refute them unless one first understands what sort of argument they are intended to be. Dualists traditionally tend to regard metaphysical inquiry as an enterprise every bit as rational as, but distinct from and more fundamental than, empirical science. Committed as they often are to scientism, contemporary materialists would no doubt deny that there can be any such form of inquiry, but they cannot deploy this denial in an argument against dualism without begging the question.

Their unreflective scientism is no doubt one source of contemporary materialists’ systematic misunderstanding of dualism. Since they think all rational inquiry must be a kind of scientific inquiry, they tend to (mis)interpret the claims of dualists (as they often do the claims of theists) as if they were feeble exercises in empirical hypothesis formation. It seems to me that another source might be the enormous influence Gilbert Ryle’s book The Concept of Mind had on mid-twentieth century philosophy. For Ryle there characterized Descartes’ position, absurdly, as a “para-mechanical hypothesis” on which minds are “rather like machines but also considerably different from them,” being “spectral machines” that are “complex organized unit[s]” which run on “counterpart” principles to those of physical substances, “made of a different sort of stuff and with a different sort of structure” which might be thought of “not [as] bits of clockwork [but rather] just bits of not-clockwork” and where the “bits” are arranged into a “field of causes and effects” (pp. 18-20). It is as if Churchland’s generation of materialists got their “knowledge” of what dualists believe from reading Ryle, and the generations since have gotten their “knowledge” from reading people like Churchland.

In any event, the materialist who characterizes the soul in terms of “ectoplasm” is like the atheist who compares the God of classical theism to the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” or thinks that the cosmological argument starts with the premise that “Everything has a cause…” Not to put too fine a point on it, neither one knows what the hell he is talking about or has any business opening his mouth on the subjects in question.

28 comments:

Crude said...

I'd add something to your take-down of this criticism of "dualism", Ed.

The definition of materialism has changed considerably since the 20th century - matter doesn't behave like the materialists once thought it did, it isn't constituted the way they envisioned, etc. Hence that subtle shift from materialism to "physicalism".

I'd agree with you that when Churchland criticizes dualism in the way you discuss - as 'ectoplasm', as this strange kind of stuff that is different from (I suppose) "normal" matter - he's attacking a strawman.

But I don't think it's fair to call that strawman view a dualist one. Isn't it really, particularly by modern standards, just a more esoteric physicalist view? "Ectoplasm" may be weird stuff, it may be different from the "normal" stuff we deal with. But so is dark energy, dark matter, the quantum world as a whole, and even Strawson's "real materialism". Yet where are the physicalists who regard these things as "dualist" entities? Why is that move reserved for this supposed "ectoplasm"?

Aaron Boyden said...

So if I understand you, your response to the physicalist who says "dualists can't explain intentionality any better than we can" is "dualism makes intentionality primitive." I'm not sure that counts as a response; sometimes it is appropriate to take things as primitive, but this is still a failure to explain intentionality, so the physicalist charge still looks to me to have some bite.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Crude,

I think that's true, and that many physicalists don't see that it is because they aren't sensitive to how elastic the concept of "the physical" is. In fairness, though, writers like Stoljar, Strawson, and Chomsky are far more sensitive to this elasticity than Churchland is.

Hello Aaron,

I do think that intentionality is primitive, but perhaps not in the way you suppose. Keep in mind that I don't see the overall philosophical situation the way the naturalist does, viz. as a matter of trying out different empirical hypotheses and going with the one that meets such criteria as parsimony, fit with existing theory, etc. I'm an old-fashioned Aristotelico-Thomistic metaphysician who rejects that whole set of scientistic assumptions. Hence the reason I take intentionality to be primitive is that it is (I would claim) metphysically impossible for it to be anything but primitive, and metaphysically impossible for "the physical" to be primitive. But then I would also interpret "intentionality" differently from the way moderns (including Cartesians) tend to do, e.g. I don't see it as fundamentally a matter of "representation" a la Descartes and classical empiricism, but rather the way the medievals did. Hence "directedness" or "aboutness" is ultimately not the right way to think about it, and (pace Brentano) not the right way to mark the mental/non-mental divide, since unintelligent natural substances and processes, given that they have final causes, are "directed" toward certain ends despite being devoid of mentality.

In general, I would reject the whole set of metaphyscial assumptions we have inherited from the early moderns and which inform, usually unconsciously, the way the debate over intentionality gets framed today. And against the background of a classical (e.g. Neoplatonic or Aristotelian or Aristotelico-Thomistic) general metaphysical picture, that "intentionality" is primary is obvious. (Because e.g. all material reality necessarily depends on the realm of Forms, which in turn presuppose an infinite Intellect, as the Neoplatonist would say; or because the change that characterizes material reality necessarily presupposes an immaterial Unmoved Mover which is also an intellect, as the Aristotelian would say; or because that in which essence and existence are distinct -- which includes all material reality -- necessarily presupposes that which is subsistent existence itself, and in which the natures of things pre-exist as ideas in an infinite intellect, as the Thomist would hold. All of this is, of course, spelled out in The Last Superstition and Aquinas.)

So, taking intentionality to be primitive might seem like a "failure" of explanation if we take for granted a broadly scientistic-cum-naturalist model of how metaphysics ought to proceed, but whether that model is correct is itself part of what is in question here.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

Ed:

Very nice post. "Physicalism" is in a sense a distraction, since one could be a Berkeleyan-Churchlandian. What seems to be the problem is that Churchland et al see the third-person perspective as the only way to understand how we know things. It's a version of what the late Reformed philosopher Greg Bahnsen once called "the beer in the refrigerator fallacy." Just because the best way to answer the question, "Is there beer in the refrigerator?" is by looking, does not mean that that is the way we find other things.

David said...

Crude: Yet where are the physicalists who regard these things as "dualist" entities? Why is that move reserved for this supposed "ectoplasm"?

I think this is Chomsky's point from the recent quotation: everything that a materialist needs, he counts as "matter". What happens when the day comes that, say, biology does demonstrably require design? Then "design" will suddenly become a law of nature (even though they won't call it that, any more than they call "form" or "finality" by their real names when they use them).

David said...

Prof. Feser: Dualists traditionally tend to regard metaphysical inquiry as an enterprise every bit as rational as, but distinct from and more fundamental than, empirical science.

Of course, science isn't really as rational or fundamental as the Scientisists would have us believe. That's mathematics they're thinking of, but because science uses so much math, they like to pretend that science itself is the indisputable, objective, ultimate fruit of pure logic.... Traditional metaphysics on the other hand is like mathematics (though not precisely, since obviously its subject matter is not mathematical objects!). Indeed, mediaeval philosophy can be found laid out just like a mathematical proof in geometry.

I've never been quite sure about Jackson's story about Mary; I think it's a good way to illustrate the point, but if Mary studied everything there was to know about football players, would that necessarily make her a good football player? Note that this doesn't even make it possible to conclude that redness is anything physical — maybe studying light and perception would actually trigger a sensation of redness in her, just as detecting wavelengths of light triggers sensations of redness normally. Qualia are funny that way. To repeat an earlier question of mine, how does a quality get communicated to my mind when it can't be abstracted from anything I actually sense?

I can see two apples, and get the two-ness in my mind, easy. (Well, not so easy, since the information is encoded in light and in signals in my brain, which have to be decoded — but the point is, the two-ness is out there, so it can end up abstracted in my mind.) Similarly with the roundness of the apples: physical stuff (molecules, etc.) has actual position, and shape is just a certain positioning of the apple's matter, and those relative positions (albeit encoded in some way) can reach my mind where that form of roundness is intelligible, and I can perceive that the apples are round.

But the apple's redness is different. Position and number are quantities which I can perceive through my physical senses, but "redness" does not seem to be. What I perceive with my sense of sight is light of a certain frequency, and while that is the direct and natural result of the light's interacting with the nature of the apple, it's not colouredness. The transmission via light via my retina via synaptic signals, etc. isn't the point; that happens with the size or shape of the apple, but in those cases, the transmission is carrying the right kind of in-form-ation. In the case of colour, it isn't. The apple may really be red after all (i.e. participating in the form of redness), but there doesn't seem to be any way for that information to be communicated to my senses. Augustinian illumination or Leibnizian pre-harmony could explain it, but it seems more direct to conclude that the redness isn't in the apple itself; or if it is it's a coincidence. (The apple could participate in blueness, but we'd still see red because it's not really the blueness that we're "seeing".)

This isn't to say that the colour is arbitrary or subjective (other than the obvious sense that it is a sensation in a subject); presumably God simply constituted our minds so that certain physical frequencies would appear to us as colours, and certain other kinds of physical frequencies as sounds, and so on. That would be part of human nature, and He could have given us a different nature just as much as He could have given us eight fingers each or twelve. But no matter what kind of nature God gave us, two would still be two and round would still be round.

Aaron Boyden said...

I on the other hand actually tend to think that, for example, Millikan manages to make a good start on explaining intentionality. I mean this not in the sense that she doesn't violate physicalist assumptions so I have to give her points for ideology; I mean that I actually find her account plausible and satisfying. It seems to me when I think about it that intentionality would have to be something like that. And, of course, thinking that intentionality can be explained makes me especially suspicious of theories claiming it can't be. I guess that probably makes me different from some of the physicalists you're discussing here (though it seems to be the view of Dennett, and I would tend to say the Churchlands).

Anonymous said...

"I will have more to say about the knowledge argument – and in particular about Jackson’s later change of heart about it – in a future post."

Looking forward to this.

David said...

Aaron Boyden: And, of course, thinking that intentionality can be explained makes me especially suspicious of theories claiming it can't be.

There can be many things to say about something even though it's "simple" or primitive. (E.g. there's lots you might explain about electrons, but that doesn't mean they're made up of smaller parts.) Millikan's book addresses language and meaning, and in particular what it does rather than what it is, but it's not clear that when she connects that to intention that she's talking about the same thing as traditional philosophy. In fact, it seems clear that she isn't:

Feser: Hence "directedness" or "aboutness" is ultimately not the right way to think about it…
Millikan: The key notion that is needed in order to discuss intentionality ("of-ness", "aboutness")…

Aaron Boyden said...

Intentionality seems to me to be a real and important phenomenon. Millikan seems to me to talk about a real and important phenomenon which seems real and important in ways that are suspiciously similar to the ways intentionality seems real and important. When you start telling me that Millikan's account may cover what intentionality does, but doesn't get at what it really is (presumably its mysterious essence), my sympathy for the old positivists kicks into overdrive. I do not understand what you are talking about when you refer to what intentionality is apart from what it does, and I'm afraid I suspect the problem is not on my end. But I finally broke down and ordered Feser's book on atheism from Amazon; I should have more detailed things to say about this neo-Aristotelian criticism of the scientific world view when I've had a chance to look at that.

Crude said...

David,

I think this is Chomsky's point from the recent quotation: everything that a materialist needs, he counts as "matter". What happens when the day comes that, say, biology does demonstrably require design? Then "design" will suddenly become a law of nature (even though they won't call it that, any more than they call "form" or "finality" by their real names when they use them).

I agree with this wholeheartedly, and that's been one of the biggest eye-openers for me in these discussions. That tendency to say, "We don't need (forms, final causes, teleology, essences, intentionality, qualia, etc, etc), because we have (explanation/concepts labeled physicalist)!" Then when more details are asked for.. strange, it actually sounds like those things we don't need are playing a role in the explanation after all.

I was flipping through reviews of some philosophy books at Notre Dame's Philosophy Review site just today, and saw one review discussing how one of the contributors to the book was apparently making the move of claiming qualia and subjectivity as physical, which mostly seemed to add up to 'Clearly I think it's it real, and anything real must be physical, so these things are physical now.'

It's one reason why I'm less and less interested in 'physicalist arguments'. Look at this "ectoplasm" - not only is it not what even substance dualists were discussing, but "ectoplasm" sounds downright physicalist to me. I go further than Ed in that Ed thinks physicalism can and does include all kinds of weirdness, but the line is drawn at formal and final causes. I suspect even that line isn't drawn - or at least, if there's any line, it's "you can't call these things which are hard or impossible to distinguish from formal and final causes, formal and final causes."

Edward Feser said...

Aaron,

Three brief points:

1. Certain intentional phenomena simply cannot be explained away by replacing them with a physicalistically "respectable" ersatz. To borrow an example from James Ross, when we carry out mathematical operations or reason in accordance with modus ponens and the like, what we do is determinate in a way that no physical operation can be even in principle (as, Ross argues, the arguments of Quine, Kripke, and others show). But it won't do to respond to this problem by simply responding "Fine, we don't really carry out those operations or reason in accordance with the logical principles in question; we just approximate them." For the operations are all-or-nothing. Merely to "approximate" valid reasoning is just to reason invalidly. Hence to deny that we ever do anything but approximate such reasoning is to deny that we ever reason validly, or at least that we can ever know that we do so -- which undermines every argument, including arguments for physicalism. Furthermore, even to deny that we actually carry out the operations in question presupposes grasping the operations, and thus having thoughts that are as determinate as the operations themselves -- which, again, means doing something nothing physical can do. This is, of course, just a sketch. See Ross's article "Immaterial Aspects of Thought" for the whole story. It's online, so just Google it.

2. Accounts like those of Millikan are ambiguous. Either they implicitly deny that "aboutness" or "directedness" is really there in the natural world, in which case they simply change the subject; or they don't deny it, in which case they implicitly return to something like Aristotelian-Scholastic final causality. More power to them in the latter case, but in that case they do not constitute defenses of physicalism. There's more about this in TLS.

3. We neo-Aristotelians aren't critical of the "scientific worldview," if by that you mean the actual results of science. We're critical only of the naturalistic philosophy of nature in terms of which science is too often interpreted, even if this is often peddled as if it were itself established by science.

Eric said...

Here's Pat Churchland on the latest episode of 'Philosophy Bites' complaining about how misunderstood she and her husband are.

Vincent Torley said...

Professor Feser,

Two quick questions about Mary. How does God know "red"? And what do you think of this paper by Linda Zagzebski on omnisubjectivity?
http://faculty-staff.ou.edu/Z/Linda.T.Zagzebski-1/omnisubj3.doc

Aaron Boyden said...

Thanks for the Ross recommendation. I find his philosophy of mathematics to be naive and wrong, the latter being more important but the former being why I can't explain why very briefly. The best I can do is say that I follow Carnap, and the principle of tolerance is incompatible with the claims Ross makes about what we "must be" doing when we do logic or mathematics. Carnap was right when he said "in logic there are no morals," and Ross is trying to argue that there have to be morals in logic. If you presuppose that morals are necessary, no theory without them will satisfy you, but it seems to me that this presupposition is unnecessary, and furthermore unsatisfiable and so inevitably counter-productive.

It is evident that I can't say anything brief and helpful about your second point (since my efforts so far to express my points briefly have clearly not been helpful); needless to say I still think you're wrong, and will no doubt have something long-winded to say after I've looked at your book.

On your third point, I do not use "the scientific worldview" and "science" interchangeably; I suppose I used the former expression rather than your apparently preferred expression "naturalistic philosophy" because I'm such a Carnapian, but I mean roughly the same thing by it as you mean by "naturalistic philosophy." Though I think the scientific worldview is very intimately connected with science, I realize that that is one of the points of dispute between us.

Ilíon said...

David: "Of course, science isn't really as rational or fundamental as the Scientisists would have us believe. ..."

I call such persons 'scientistes' (think of Miss Piggy, the 'Artiste'), for it seems to me that a specific, and mocking, name is needed for such poseurs, whether or not they are practicing scientists in their more lucid and rational moments.

Ilíon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ilíon said...

B.Feser: "[point 1 to Aaron]"

And thus do we know and elucidate -- in the language that self-identifying atheists themselves accept as valid -- that atheism is false and necessarily so.


We (being rational beings in a material world) are the proof that God is.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Imagine a wavelength of light beyond what humans can normally perceive. Work hard on 'seeing' it by analogy to the colors closest to it within the human visual spectrum. Maybe it's infrared or ultraviolet, or even farther beyond them. I would say that no matter how "vivid" your mental grasp of such "invisible colors" is, it still falls short of an actual qualitative experience of them, say, after a retinal augmentation. Yet it seems absurd to say that such colors wavelengths lack qualia anymore than do the colors we commonly perceive. Otherwise, we would not imagine their rarified colors, otherwise inaccessible to us, BY MEANS OF analogical chromatic inference. If the notional size of light wavelenghts (e.g., 580mm) is a valid device in scientific inferences (e.g., if we raise the frequency of this beam by X, it will generate a light of Z wavelength, or vice versa), then it seems that qualia are similarly permissible in phenomenological inferences (e.g., if this red light beam were shifted into ultraviolet light, it would look such-and-such to a capable perceiver).

Or maybe I'm just huffing ASCII fumes.

David said...

Codgitator: "Yet it seems absurd to say that such colors wavelengths lack qualia anymore than do the colors we commonly perceive."

Really? I would say they do lack any qualia! Actually, I don't think there's any logical contradiction to it, so they might have qualia; but we have no reason to think they do. In fact, I would say I cannot imagine infrared, etc. at all. It's possible there are no other colours/qualia other than what humans can experience; or maybe there are but humans are incapable of experiencing any quality beyond human capabilities (I mean mental capabilities here, not physical, though I rather suspect it doesn't make sense to be limited in that kind of a way). Or maybe there are no other qualities, but if God created some then we could experience them (though perhaps not physically, maybe God would have to beam them into our minds). It's tricky because qualia seem to be free-floating in some way: they're not implicitly tied into anything else, so which qualia exist and how we come to perceive them seems to be entirely contingent on how God felt like setting up reality.

But OK, let's assume that "invisible" light also has colours (still not sure retinal augmentation would help: what could you do with X-rays that hit your eye other than "translate" them into some signal that we already know... i.e. just like a regular X-ray machine "translates" X-rays into "white" in the pictures it produces — but let's just assume that too). I would expect the qualia to be "parallel" to the physical wavelengths of light, insofar as that makes sense (and is that very far, really??), but not because they would have to; only because God likes making harmonious universes.

It's perhaps easier to see with sound; double the wavelength, and you get the "same" sound an octave lower. That's an obvious tie-in with the physics: our tonal qualia match up with the sound waves in a nice mathematical pattern. But it's still arbitrary, as you can see by asking why is this frequency middle C instead double or half the wavelength? Here's another question: what makes this sound wave "middle C" instead of "redness"? Why can't we "hear" light, or "touch" sounds? How do we know that everything doesn't have all kinds of qualia (like to a synaesthete)? But at the end of the day, no matter how many ways the qualities map onto the matter (e.g. frequencies <—> octaves), it seems to be a contingent alignment. The qualia aren't "in" the matter itself, no matter how intently Mary studies physics and neuroscience and the rest.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Act and potency, young Jedi. I find qualia in objects the same way I find the form of those qualia––in the ACT of abstraction. Does a tennis ball "have" fuzziness in a dark, soundproof vacuum? Does it also have sphericity? Patently, for its adhered fibers and its sphericity are what makes it a tennis ball (otherwise it might just be a smooshed, bleached racquetball heheh). Yet, the fuzziness of the fibers is only actually "fuzzy" to sense organs that are, well, sensitive to fibers in the act of touching. A tennis ball's fuzziness is both objectively "in" the ball and subjectively "in" the perceiver, since for Aristhomism, the object is really (intentionally) one with the subject. To a dust mite, the tennis ball is neither fuzzy nor spheroid, nor for that matter neon green, yet I fail to see how the mite's inability to actualize the form of fuzziness, sphericity, and greenness deprives the ball of those intrinsic features. As for the ball appearing blue under an ultraviolet light (?), this is actually a case of us abstracting a distinct qualia from a distinct act of perception. If Qualiana is allegedly an anthropocentric error, then all perception is anthropocentrically skewed, and we are left in Lichtenbergian solipsism.

Or so it seems to me at this section of my worldline. ;)

Best,

David said...

Hm, now you have me wondering about touch. (Is "fuzziness" a different kind of sensation from "smoothness", the way redness is different from blueness? Or is there just "touchiness", and fuzzy things are the result of a lot of little sensations of touch with little spaces between, whereas smoothness is an uninterrupted stretch of touch-sensation? Ah well, that's a different question, though, so I'd better stick to the topic.) The act/potency thing isn't the issue, I would say; that works fine to explain how I can abstract "twoness" from a pair of tennis balls: I can actualise the same twoness in my mind that is in the objects.

The twoness, in this example, really is intrinsically in the pair of objects. Even if God could somehow(!) trick me into abstracting threeness from the pair, it clearly would be a trick: there would be something wrong going on. But if God instead made me to hear 262Hz not as middle C, but as C an octave higher, where's the problem? Let's suppose for simplicity that God made everyone always hear that way. Why not? I cannot see any possible contradiction in that. (Or indeed, any contradiction in God's making 262Hz sound like the A an octave higher!) Nothing would break down, our experiences would always agree with physics, and with each other. It's not even possible that we could run into such problems, whereas if our intellects didn't grasp twoness as twoness, everything would fall apart, our experiences simply could not be logically consistent.

I have to conclude then that whereas the twoness isintrinsic to physical objects, "soundness" is not. Same for colouredness. (I didn't mean a green thing appears blue under a funny light, though; I meant it like the old saw of why can't what you perceive as redness "feel" like blueness to me (even though we both call it "red", of course)? We could go even farther: what if your sense of "redness" feels like "middle C" to me?? Bizarre, but still not logically impossible.) Touch is a bit different: however it works, clearly the physical structure (the arrangement and position of molecules, etc.) is part of what makes different touch-sensations. The molecules and their arrangement obviously are intrinsic to the physical object, so at least part of touch is intrinsic in a way that colour and tone are not.

As for Lichtenberg, we still have plenty of intrinsic forms (number, shape, at least some parts of touch). And the qualities that I want to say are not intrinsic are still tied to intrinsic properties of matter (whether it could have been different or not, the fact is that middle C is perceived when and only when a physical wave of 262Hz exists). I don't know what "Qualiana" is, but I'm not positing an antropocentric error, just an anthropic nature.

Just Thinking said...

Is the topic of qualia actually the core of Husserl's phenomenology?

Is it fair to say we are in nature and through our bodies we are interconnected with nature? Our bodies have unique ways to take nature in and make "sense"-ations of it. What the various sensations "feel" like are the qualia of conscious sense awareness. Consciousness is what our perceptions of what we are caring about (intention) feel like.

As different species have different sense perception organs, they have different qualia/consciousness (Nagle's bat). But even within a species, bodily organs are somewhat different, so a synesthete will feel red very uniquely fron someone else.

Aaron Boyden said...

I find functionalist accounts of qualia totally satisfactory. The way things feel to me influences my behavior and thoughts in countless ways. The more I think about all of those diverse influences, the more satisfied I am with saying that what red looks like to me is a physical state in me which is determined by its causal connections with the endless other things it's causally connected to. This account obviously has the advantage of making it non-mysterious why we should expect other people to have similar qualia to our own. Most of the alleged counter-examples seem to me to be cases of saying "you could have the qualia without this causal connection" or "you could have that causal connection without any qualia," while ignoring the possibility that maybe it takes more than one or just a few causal connections to constitute qualia.

I suppose I should credit this; this is of course basically Dan Dennett's "fame" model of consciousness. However, I also think it makes unusually good sense of some of Hume's views about impressions, so I think it may be older than Dennett.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

David:

Qualiana is a term of art I invented (on the spot), since I didn't feel like writing "the belief in qualia". Qualiana refers to the whole qualia discourse/debate. For some, the very existence of the debate is a grave error, worthy only of a Wittgensteinian exile of "the very idea" as a linguistic confusion.

I agree the debate gets much more interesting when we factor in the other senses, so I'm glad fuzziness is on your mind too.

I guess I'm just not comfortable with the idea of "intrinsic physical properties" versus "scondary properties [for people]", like molecular bonds versus greenness, since both those bonds and qualitative chromaticity only hold *under the right circumstances* (i.e., tweak with the strong and weak forces, and the bonds go all out of whack; tweak the lighting, quality of air, colored contact lenses, etc., and as a result etc.). Appearing red is intrinsic to a clown's nose *only under the right circumstances* but therefore no less intrinsic than bond properties for an object under the right circumstances.
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Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

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My basic impression, which I don't hold dogmatically, is that qualia really are inescapable, otherwise "perception" becomes vacuous. (I'd like to say qualia are the respective "modes" of a thing's sensible forms. But I can't really unpack that right now, so I mention it only in passing.) Even if the "color" or "tone" of an object or sound is just how one module in our brain codes the synaptic emissions of one or more other modules, nevertheless there is a perceptual *content* in those codings which reconnects us with the rich perceptible world. To say the idea of there being a rich perceptible only begs the question, I must wonder what a world wholly lacking in rich perceptible qualities would be like. The word imperceptible obviously comes to mind. "The feeling of what happens" is a legitimate concept, otherwise either nothing happens or there are no feelings. But that kind of reduction is a Pyhrric victory, since the whole point of materialist phenomenology is to account for admittedly real feelings without qualia. But how can there be a feeling without a distinct *feeling* to it? Dreaming may be "what your brain does at night," but *what a dream is* requires qualitative content. A perceptually blank dream is not a dream at all, like a sound without a pitch is not really a sound.

If a neurologist tells me that when I look at a clown's nose I am "really" only having light of wavelength 650 nm strike my retina and trigger electrochemical firings in my occipital lobe, etc., it only describes the means by which a qualia is actuated in me. It doesn't reduce my qualitative experience, since that experience is exactly what we agree exists. It is thus merely a matter of taste as to how to verbalize that experience.

If you see me realxing with headphones on and ask me what I'm listening to, and I say, "nice music", I'm not really saying anything at all. Nice music amounts to more than "vibrations in my eardum," because the pleasure of the listening is wrapped up with the qualitative content of the music. Both the neurologist's description of sight and my taste for "nice music" simpliciter lack *content*, yet the inescapable content of both is qualia.
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Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

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There is something telling in explaining "what wavelength goes with what color" (e.g., http://eosweb.larc.nasa.gov/EDDOCS/Wavelengths_for_Colors.html ), since that is really the case: in nature a certain wavelength of light is formally united to a quale, and it's just a bias to say the latter is an epiphenomenon of (or even a non-existent predication to) the former. For all we know, the wavelength parameters of "red" could be accidental to "red" in other worlds. In the meanwhile, though, our encounter with such wavelengths is inherently "qualic", otherwise it is an unperceived encounter, and thus not an encounter at all. "I saw a colorless rainbow of refracted light"--what? "I felt a rough stone without texture under my foot"--huh? "Scalding water splashed on my hand but I know it wasn't really hot"--ehh, how's that?

As I say, I'm not a dogmatist about qualia but I do find objections against them suspiciously of the "protest too much" flavor (!).

Best, thanks as always for a cordial dialogue,

David said...

Codgitator: Thanks. I agree about qualia being inescapable. I suppose an "imperceptible" world would be possible though; it would be all quantitative instead (i.e. our experience of it would be all number and intellectually comprehensible attributes, rather than sensible ones). An interesting (though perhaps unanswerable) side-question is: is the world perceptible to beings that have no senses? That is, do angels, being immaterial, have any awareness of the quality red, or do they understand matter only in quantitative terms?

I'm not a dogmatist about qualia but I do find objections against them suspiciously of the "protest too much" flavor (!).

Heh. Qualia may be "mysterious" insofar as we don't completely understand them; but explaining away our actual experiences is surely more mysterious.