Abstract: In this essay I try to reconcile the two available sources of information about consciousness. One source is science, which gives us insights into how brains work. Another source is introspection and opinions expressed by other people talking about their subjective experience. The hard problem of consciousness can be understood as inconsistency of the information provided by these two sources. I propose a reductionist theory based in evolutionary psychology that accounts for subjective experience and explains why introspection yields thoughts that are seemingly incompatible with fully reductionist point of view. By incorporating thoughts of individuals and their opinions about nature of consciousness into the reductionist theory, I reduce the set of unexplained or inconsistent observations, on which the hard problem of consciousness is based, to null. Given there is no more unexplained observations left, regardless of whether they are objective or subjective, the hard problem of consciousness appears to be solved.
People are baffled by the notion of consciousness. There have been many theories of why the consciousness arises and none of them seems to be satisfying. Dualism (e.g.mind is immaterial and somehow communicates with brain) is just a pure speculation which offers no explanation in a scientific sense. Other theories, like panpsychism (every single molecule has consciousness but the more complicated the system, the more consciousness it has), are not falsifiable and offer no predictive power. Finally, full reductionism (mind is a product of a physical brain) fails to address the reason why we are able to distinguish between subjective experience and objective world.
People discuss consciousness, mind-body problem, and the existence of qualia – the discussion itself is an objective fact about reality. Electrical and chemical impulses originating in their brains make the muscles in their mouths and throats contract so that the corresponding statements are uttered. It is thus an objective fact about reality that there is something in the brains of these people that causes them to perceive consciousness or qualia as something that cannot be explained by material science. What are the origins of these electrochemical signals? Is there some mysterious soul that through yet unidentified physical mechanism facilitates transfer of information between the realm of spiritual and the realm of material? Or the mental properties of elementary particles in a brain unite in some mysterious way to influence the neurons responsible for perception of consciousness? Finally, maybe there is a fully reductionist explanation of why these neurons get activated and why our brains produce behavioral outcomes like the writings of Rene Descartes?
It is bizarre. The best model of the Universe that science has been able to come up so far, the model that is being constantly positively verified, yields good predictions, and helps us solve practical problems, is materialistic and reductionist. All objective evidence points to the fact that a mind is a product of a brain and nothing else. Brain has not been fully understood yet. Mind has not been fully understood either. So maybe understanding the brain will let us understand the mind? It is bizarre that philosophers are often so quick to reject a notion that once we fully understand physical brain we will fully understand human experience. Why is that?
To sketch a quick explanation, let me first focus the attention on what the problem is. When you think about other humans as humans, or when you think about your own thoughts, there is something you perceive (the common notion of consciousness). But you no longer perceive this thing when you think about the brain tissue, firing neurons, electrical circuits of a robot, and such. The perception of it, when you think about humans as a whole, and failure to perceive it, when you think about them in a reductionist way (biological tissue), is what causes the dissonance in your brain. Your brain perceives this dissonance and makes your mouth utter the statement like: ‘The really hard problem of consciousness is the problem of experience. When we think and perceive there is a whir ofinformation processing, but there is also a subjective aspect.’ The notion of “information processing” (reductionist part) does not cause the feeling that you have about yourself when you ponder the phenomenon of your own thought. This is why a thought must be something more. This is what the problem was during the time of Descartes and this is what the problem still is as discussed by modern philosophers talking about the hard problem of consciousness and the existence of qualia.
To solve the hard problem of consciousness we need to explain why people perceive consciousness in some things and they do not perceive it on other things. The answer lies in evolutionary psychology. Every healthy human being has a system in their brain that is supposed to detect minds. This system is activated when we think about sentient beings but is not activated when we think about meat or a piece of silicon. The reason why we have this system is to facilitate our socials interactions. We need to recognize other humans so that we can feel sympathy or compassion, and help them when they are hurt while not having the same feelings towards a broken cardboard box.
Evolutionary psychology explains
A human brain has a number of systems that allow for recognition of objects that are important from the evolutionary point of view. Recognition of such salient objects usually facilitates specific behavior which is a response increasing genes’ probability of survival. When you see a naked body of a potential sexual partner you are inclined to get closer. When you see (or smell) a rotting carcass of a rat, you are inclined to move away. When you see a baby, you feel a need to care about it. And so on.
The perception of a salient object often generates a feeling. This feeling can be overcome under some circumstances. It cannot be treated as a sole determination of human behavior, it is just guidance. There are other factors that can be more important (e.g. there is a lion between me and the naked body of my lover). But the important fact is that detection of salient objects happens outside of our thoughts – we cannot chose to be attracted by a carcass instead of being repelled. We can at most ignore the feeling of repulsion.
Another important fact is that systems for recognition of salient objects are very crude and prone to mistakes. It is probably very hard to precisely shape the structure of a brain by genes. There is an engineering tradeoff involved – our brains are not designed to be perfect. They are designed to do their job in most situations at a moderate cost.
One of the examples of such crudeness is recognition of a sexual partner. It is very common both for humans and in the rest of animal kingdom to get aroused by things that are far from actual potential sexual partners. It is easy to find on the Internet a picture of a tortoise having sex with a stone or a dog humping his owner’s leg. It is also very easy to find a lot of pornography. Pornography allows humans to get aroused by a pattern of colorful dots rather than by the presence of an actual sexual partner.
Similar phenomena occur with respect to perceived cuteness. It is quite simple to discern what facial features activate a mental system that was most likely intended for the recognition of human infants (cartoonists know it too well). Seeing something with big eyes and a little nose mounted on a big head makes us feel like we need to care about it. But it is not only infants that have these features. Most of young mammals have them which is why we perceive kittens and puppies as cute. From the evolutionary point of view, this may be a mistake – we are misidentifying a salient object and misallocating our resources (as we waste time on caring for a puppy instead of a member of our own species, say a relative). But it is not easy to determine whether this phenomenon is really a bug or a feature – there is not only an engineering tradeoff involved in making the recognition mechanism crude. There may be also some yet-to-be-discovered benefits from making such “mistakes.”
The mind as a salient object
The toolbox our brains are equipped with contains a lot of systems that guide our behavior when we interact with other humans. For example, there is a subsystem responsible for basic moral behavior. It takes a great deal of emotional effort to kill somebody you consider to be a fellow human being. There is a feeling of compassion you feel towards somebody in need. There are feelings of unfairness that we have when others do not reciprocate. And so on. All these emotional responses are culturally universal and have simple evolutionary explanations.
Is there any other evidence that such subsystem exists? Let us consider genocide. Something that happens very often before genocide is a process of dehumanization of a group that will be subject to extermination. In the brains of perpetrators, dehumanization effectively disconnects the system for recognition of fellow human beings from the input generated by the victimized group. You no longer perceive victims as humans – you now perceive them as cockroaches or rats, which does not activate your moral intuition and makes them worthy of extermination.
When you watch debates or read articles about consciousness, you may notice that people often intuitively make a connection between consciousness and moral behavior. And it is not only vegetarians that refuse to eat “sentient beings.” People who otherwise eat meat, sometimes say that since octopi, elephants, dolphins, and monkeys were identified as self-aware (they can recognize themselves in a mirror), it is thus immoral to eat them. The questions what is conscious and what is not conscious is important precisely because conscious beings seem to require moral treatment while beings that are not conscious are just things that can be dealt with without as much respect. Note that lack of consciousness at the time of committing a crime is often a condition for more lenient verdict.
Like other systems for recognition of salient objects, the system for recognizing minds (or consciousness / sentience / souls / feelings / subjective experience) is not perfect. It can be overridden (as we saw in the example of genocide) and it can be activated by the stimuli it was not likely intended for. Such a misidentification can yield a decision that results in misallocation of resources and could be detrimental not only from the evolutionary point of view but even from the viewpoint of subjective wellbeing of the individual.
There are a lot of examples showing the system for recognizing minds being activated by a mistake, when there is no actual human mind present. As I already mentioned, it is often activated by animals, which leads people to refuse to eat them and chastise those who do. It is activated by fetuses, which leads people to strongly oppose abortion and demonize those who do not. It is activated by inanimate objects and natural occurrences in people who believe in spirits and worship gods (and trade favors with them by making offerings, including human sacrifice). And finally, some people make a connection between this system and the entire Universe, which leads to panpsychism.
The existence of such a system can be potentially empirically verified. It implies that there is a pattern of neurological activity that occurs when a human detects a mind. There is also a pattern corresponding to at least some moral judgements which is then tied to identifying the subject of a judgement as a mind.
What is consciousness?
The main point of this essay is that there is no evidence, whether subjective or objective, that leads to a conclusion that mind is something more than a product of material brain, given the laws of physics as we know them. All the subjective “evidence” against reductionism can be explained by reductionism and there are no arguments left in favor of other theories.
Reductionism explains such “evidence” by showing that it is created as a result of cognitive dissonance caused by the system for detecting minds which gets activated while thinking about humans holistically or performing introspection, and is not activated while thinking about nerve tissue. The hard problem of consciousness has thus no origins in reality but is a product of inadequate perception abilities of the human brain. In other words, the question is not whether the thing exists but why do we have an illusion that it does. Similarly, when you are visiting a psychiatric ward, you do not find yourself concerned whether one of the patients really is Napoleon Bonaparte. You are more likely to analyze WHY he thinks so. The thought that all healthy humans have some mental deficits leading to delusions might seem depressing but on the other hand we cannot just start off with an assumption that we are perfect.
Having addressed the main point of this essay, an interesting follow-up question arises: does consciousness even exist? Before discussing existence one must have a good definition of the thing in question. A good definition identifies a phenomenon by its properties and enables us to objectively discern whether a phenomenon satisfies the properties or not. In other words, a good definition should let us objectively determine whether something is conscious or not. A good definition should be also as close to the common use of the word as possible. Most of the available definitions describe consciousness by vague associations with notions like sentience, awareness, subjectivity, or ability to feel and fail at satisfying these criteria.
The word “consciousness” is commonly used to describe phenomena which activate the mind detection system in a brain of the person who speaks about it. Unfortunately, for different people, different objects activate this system which causes a lot of confusion. Despite trying hard I was unable to come up with a reductionist definition that would be based on this approach. Hence, a different approach is needed.
Another common way of talking about consciousness is when we contrast conscious mental processes with unconscious mental processes. The former are what we can speak about after investigating our own minds trough introspections and the latter seem to be “given” to us in form of feelings or information, for example who the faces belong to and whether they are attractive.
Hence, I espouse the following definition of consciousness: “Human consciousness is a collection of mental processes that can be remembered and talked about later on by a healthy human being.” This particular definition seems to be useful as it allows empirically verifying what the content of human consciousness is and what it is not. It relates to what we care about – the experience we can share with each other, the experience perceived as the content of the Cartesian theater. It is what the mind detection system is most likely supposed to detect. Finally, its similar version has been already used by reputable scientists.
What about animals then? Do they have consciousness? Well, it depends on what scientific question we are asking. We are surely not interested in knowing if animals possess the imaginary and emotionally loaded quality whose illusion is caused by a failure of the mind detection system in our brains. We know that animals are aware (that is they have a working model of the environment in their brains) and often self-aware (that is they have a working model of their bodies and maybe even their own thoughts). But we don’t have to give these phenomena a new name. Word “consciousness” seems to be interesting from the perspective of humans willing to investigate what they are able to communicate about, but it does not have any obvious application in case of other animals, since they cannot speak.
Let us now think about a philosophical zombie, a creature imagined by philosophers, a creature that behaves exactly like a human but does not have subjective experience – a very sophisticated robot. Consciousness does not exist in a sense that there is something mysterious that differentiates a philosophical zombie from a human being. As a matter of fact, the notion of a philosophical zombie was engineered as a human being who does not activate the mind-recognition system. The difference between a human and a philosophical zombie is in subjective perception, not in the objective properties of the objects being studied.
Finally, let me address the notions of subjective experience and qualia which seem so real and yet reductionism seems to deny their existence. Do I claim that they do not exist? On the contrary. Subjective experience exists and manifests itself as and only as a state of a brain. Subjective experience is a pattern of neural activity. Qualia correspond to various states of physical brain. Knowing perfectly configuration of a brain is enough to fully understand human experience and to predict with highest possible accuracy (subject to quantum uncertainties) how a person is going to react to a particular experience.
The current state of neuroscience does not allow modeling precisely the neural machinery that gives rise to our thoughts. I can only speculate that, for example, there may be a pattern of neural activity that gets activated when you see red color. There also may be a pattern that gets activated when you want to say what you see. Neurons in the part of the brain responsible for speech detect that these two patterns have been activated and they send a signal to your mouth. You say ‘I see red.’
There may be a pattern that gets activated when you perceive a mind. It gets activated when you think about your own perception of red color. But it does not get activated when you think about your own brain tissue. The patterns associated with these two phenomena get activated due to different inputs and cannot be merged. Failure to merge them is recognized and a pattern corresponding to detection of cognitive dissonance emerges. This pattern in turn makes your mouth say: ‘My subjective experience cannot be explained by reductionism.’
Note: Special thanks to Kamil Faber and Julia Madajczak for helping me make this essay slightly less unintelligible.
Very interesting essay, that hits on the crux of the hard problem. Has Dan Dennett written about this kind of explanation of the hard problem? I think another, similar way to explain our own misconception is in terms of an inadequate model of our own mind. A related paper by Marvin Minsky: https://scholar.google.ca/scholar?q=minsky+matter+mind+modelsReplyDelete
Thank you, sir! From reading Dennett it does not seem that he is aware of this sort of explanation. I also tried to contact him directly but I failed. On the Minsky’s paper, I read it and his ideas are indeed somewhat similar. Over past 50 years there were many discoveries in anthropology, evolutionary psychology, and neuroscience which would have been very useful had he written the paper more recently. By the way – incidentally I have been lately interested in AI’s approach to rational/intelligent agents. Mostly conceptual stuff like accumulation of knowledge, use of Bayesian inference, what are elements of an agent etc. If you are aware of any worthy texts on this topic, please send them my way.Delete
I'm a little new to the topic of consciousness so please bear with me.ReplyDelete
It does seem to me however that this essay does not really get to the bottom of the `Hard Problem' but rather explains how the concept of a hard problem would arise and be discussed in a world populated by `Philosophical Zombies'.
 - “Human consciousness is a collection of mental processes that can be remembered and talked about later on by a healthy human being.”
a) "Knowing perfectly configuration of a brain is enough to fully understand human experience..."
b) "..and to predict with highest possible accuracy (subject to quantum uncertainties) how a person is going to react to a particular experience" .
If you limit your definition of consciousness to the description of , then I can see why one would have no problem in explaining consciousness solely in terms of modern physical theory. The hard problem however is about how these processes give rise to subjective experience.
On the topic of predicting human behavior I would say that as far as I'm aware there is not a sufficiently complete body of evidence to unequivocally back up statement b). However this is the general `hunch' one is left with after seeing the predictive success of contemporary physical theory so for now I'll agree that this is likely to be true, if one had a very, very powerful computer to compute all the person's neural processes and thus make a prediction.
My real disagreement is with statement a), I see no way in which subjective experience is explained by modern physical theory. You say of these subjective experiences:
 - "Subjective experience exists and manifests itself as and only as a state of a brain. Subjective experience is a pattern of neural activity. "
Ok, but how? I'm right behind a reductionist approach to science but none of the building blocks of modern physics explain how or why subjective experience should arise. We have electromagnetism, the weak and strong nuclear forces (the "standard" model) and we have gravity which doesn't fit in very well with this model and then we have particles with mass and charge, colour etc. that are subject to these forces (or fictional forces, in the GR-gravity mindset). I'm not contesting that consciousness might be explained by some form of reductionism, I'm simply saying that we have nothing to reduce to in order to explain subjective experience. It doesn't matter what ratios of electromagnetism and nuclear forces you add up in any space-time metric, we have no description for when this matter starts having a subjective experience nor, more importantly, why.
In your framework it might make perfect sense to you that I'm writing this, as my brain function for recognizing "personhood" is not engaging when I'm thinking about physics. But this only makes sense if I'm a philosophical zombie; I'm looking at my carpet now and it is red. There can be no doubt in my mind that this carpet is red, but "red" cannot be explained by contemporary physical theory. It does not matter that your arguments make complete predictive sense, when I am subjectively experiencing red I know implicitly that this is not explained by physical theory. You say:Delete
- "there may be a pattern of neural activity that gets activated when you see red color"
yes there probably is, but a circuit diagram of my brain describing what information goes where does not from my viewpoint explain what I am currently experiencing when looking at my carpet. Unfortunately explaining something understood implicitly is extremely difficult and linguistics get in the way.
When you listen to your very favourite piece of music, do you really believe that the way it makes you feel can be explained in purely in terms of electrical signals moving between atoms, and if so, then how? How does electromagnetism experience a song? I don't see how this framework addresses this problem, it simply seems to say "well you philosophical zombies would say that, and here's why".
I hope my argument makes sense and I haven't just missed the point, by the way I'm totally open to being wrong, I'm just opening the debate because the hard problem still seems very relevant to me. Talking about the nature of experience is extremely tricky it turns out. Of course there's always the outside possibility that you are in fact a philosophical zombie and for some reason I'm not, in which case my point about music and red won't make much sense to you even if it was written much more eloquently...
Thank you for your comments and I hope you will find my response well.Delete
You ask: "why subjective experience should arise?"
There is not much more I can say beyond the content of this post. I agree with Dennett that folk-psychology notions of consciousness and subjective experience refer to illusions. I explain in the article why these illusions arise and how they manifest. If you want to prove that they are real, you need to provide a way of experimentally differentiating between objects that have "subjective experience" and objects that do not have it. Nobody was able to do it so far. As it often happens in nature, there is no clear boundary, and the world does not quite well fit the sharp categories humans usually think with. The difference between human brain and a computer is not that one has some magic "subjective experience" in it and the other does not. The difference is only in the complexity of the system.
You say: "but *red* cannot be explained by contemporary physical theory"
How so? Red is a certain wavelength on the electromagnetic spectrum. What exactly about red cannot be explained? Your subjective experience of it? I believe that what you call "subjective experience" is something imaginary and is sufficiently explained in my post and works of others. Can you prove that your "subjective experience" is not imaginary?
You ask: "do you really believe that the way it makes you feel can be explained in purely in terms of electrical signals moving between atoms?"
That is exactly what I believe. I believe that folk-psychology notions of consciousness and subjective experience describe "objects" that are imaginary. People have an amazing track record in creating vast numbers of imaginary objects and treating them as if they were real. Thus, unless somebody experimentally shows that this magic "subjective experience" is something real rather than imaginary, I believe it is imaginary.
Don't get me wrong, I also feel like I have this subjective experience. By I analyze content of my thoughts, including the thoughts about the subjective experience itself, and I see that they all can be in principle explained by reductionist theories. All evidence supports the idea that this magic "subjective experience" is imaginary. There is no single piece of evidence suggesting that it is not. Except that people say it is not... but this is what we would expect according to a reductionist theory.
Hi Dekmiak, thank you for your response.Delete
Firstly I'd like to say that I do not believe that there is some "magic" in the human brain that is not in a computer. A very complex computer may end up just as `conscious' as the human brain. Although we don't know that for sure, particularly as the working mechanisms of the brain are not the same as a computer and there may be subtleties required to produce the type of physical process which gives rise to what we are calling `subjective experience'. Also let me be clear, I do not deny that physical processes are responsible for `consciousness', whether real or not, I just don't think we have enough in our (physical) theory to say how they are.
I also agree with almost all of what you say except at the crucial point where you go from:
"I feel like I have these experiences", "they are imaginary"
therefore there is no hard problem.
Just saying they are imaginary does not seem sufficient to me, surely you are explaining away consciousness by invoking it's existence? It is not clear to me how one can imagine up subjective experience without having it in the first place.
You say that red is a wavelength of light, however a wavelength cannot be sufficient. For a start we know fairly well that people do experience colours differently; colour-blind people do experience red differently from me and you. Ok so we can say red is this pattern of electrical signals in the brain that is invoked by certain wavelengths of light in most human brains, some brains are different so they have a different reaction to the wavelength etc etc.
But when you and I see red we see something that seems quite different from a wavelength, or an electrical current, wouldn't you agree? In physics the assumption is that the particles and forces we describe are inert and un-aware. That experience of red, so hard to define, seems very different from these things. Now you will say I have no evidence to prove that this is a "thing" and not imaginary. And I don't, of course, and I don't even mind agreeing that this experience of red isn't `real' or `physical' - it is imaginary. But don't you find it curious that this wavelength should *seem* like anything? It does not seem clear to me why these imaginings should exist and how they manifest themselves.
You say: “Just saying they are imaginary does not seem sufficient to me, surely you are explaining away consciousness by invoking it's existence?”Delete
I assume that for some reason you would accept that saying “ghosts are imaginary” is a valid explanation of why a patient in a mental institution says “I experience ghosts” and you would conclude that there is no “hard problem of ghosts.”
But at the same time you refuse to accept that saying “subjective experience is imaginary” as a valid explanation of why a regular human says “I experience subjective experience” and you conclude that there is “hard problem of consciousness.”
How do you prove that there is any difference between the two situations? Why do you treat them differently? You cannot invoke arguments like “the experience seems different” because the point is that it is an illusion, so of course “the experience seems different.” In the very same way a ghost-seeing patient can argue: “the ghosts seem to exist and so surely you are explaining away ghosts.”
You say: “It is not clear to me how one can imagine up subjective experience without having it in the first place.”
Very simple. Imagine a computer program that has only one job: to write on a screen “I have subjective experience.” Clearly, the program does not have anything that matches your intuitive notion of subjective experience but yet it claims that it does have it. Why does it claim it? Because it was programmed this way. Same with humans. Evolution programmed us to think and say that we have subjective experience (this is the main point of my blog post). Act of thinking is like information processing. Act of expressing it verbally is like writing the processed information on a screen. There is nothing more left to explain.
You say: “don't you find it curious that this wavelength should *seem* like anything?”
It is actually hard to see how people could behave differently, that is if wavelength “should not seem like anything.” A well programmed computer can wonder why input A activates different circuit than input B and whether in other computers the same inputs activate same circuits (this is the analogy to the “do I see red as you see blue?” question). When I say “red seems different” I refer to the fact that it activates specific bunch of neurons in my brain that is not activated by anything else. When you see the number denoting frequency of red light, this bunch does not get activated (but bunches responsible for processing numbers do). And so it is true, “wavelength is not sufficient” because “red seems different,” as it activates different neurons. It all makes perfect sense without invoking subjective experience. And it is hard to imagine how it could work otherwise.
We may be destined to go around in circles here.
It is not other people reporting subjective experience that makes me believe there is a hard problem, it is my own experience. You can (probably) explain all of human behavior using the current physical model we have, yes. Also I agree people reporting subjective experience does not provide evidence that it exists and using your idea regarding evolution it makes sense that people would say these experiences exist when they do not.
However along with these physical processes comes this experience I have, and you also claim you have. Now you say that these are simply illusions and:
`You cannot invoke arguments like “the experience seems different” because the point is that it is an illusion, so of course “the experience seems different.” '
But the point is that there is no explanation for why anything should seem like anything, you have simply differed the problem. It's like arguing that there is existence due to God with no explanation for where God comes from. `An Illusion' is not well defined and you have no explanation for how the pattern of neural activity becomes the `illusion of red' - which is the experience the hard problem concerns in the first place.
In a normal illusion you have one person, Alice, who tricks another, Bob, into believing they have seen something in the physical world when really they have been seeing something else which looks similar. So how is there a comparable set up for experience? Ok so maybe we don't need an illusionist Alice, Bob is just misinterpreting something. Bob's eyes react to red light and fire up neurons in specific places and Bob sees red when really all that is happening is some neurons firing. But there is a step missed when Bob suddenly has the capability to experience red, it is this which is unexplained. Whether this is an illusion or something more solid, it's occurrence would not be predicted by our physical theory (but yes people saying it exists, even when it does not, would be, but that isn't the point).
You have a very well structured philosophy which explains everything that goes on around you and yet there is this experience we have which doesn't seem to be explained. You can simply label this as an `illusion' (which is at best ill-defined) and there's not much I can do to prove you wrong but this does not seem to be a sufficient and complete explanation to me.
How come illusion is ill-defined here? A regular definition is “a thing that is or is likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses.” In my blog post I explain exactly what is the nature of the illusion in question. There is a percept that two pictures of the same thing cannot be pictures of the same thing because one picture causes an emotion (or activates a different bunch of neurons) while the other does not. And so we have an illusion: a thing is perceived as something else depending on context even though it is the same thing. It is all in my blog post above.Delete
You say: “It is not other people reporting subjective experience that makes me believe there is a hard problem, it is my own experience.” Yes, all my arguments apply both to other people and you. They explain why you feel the way you feel and why other people feel the way they feel and why all of us say what we say about subjective experience. It is all in my blog post above.
To avoid going in circles, please answer my questions. Let us start with the one about mental patient. How do you know that you are not like this mental patient who sees ghosts. The argument you keep on repeating is like “I see ghosts and your well-structured philosophy does not seem to explain them because I see them.” Well, I have to admit, it is not convincing.
Also you say: “But the point is that there is no explanation for why anything should seem like anything, you have simply differed the problem.” Please, describe exactly what is wrong with my explanation. What part of your experience of color red is not explained by it? Because in the paragraph above, you just kept repeating that I “have no explanation.” Please be more specific and lay out what exactly is the thing that remains to be explained.
My argument is different because I'm not saying they are real I'm saying you haven't explained why I see them, the ghosts aren't real, neither is colour and yet we see them. The difference between the two is that my experience of red corresponds to this wavelength of light activating certain neurons in my brain, and the crazy persons broken circuitry makes them see ghosts which they wrongly assume are there and are sending light to their eyes.Delete
You invoke the concept of an illusion as:
“a thing that is or is likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses.”
but you are assuming the existence of perception which is exactly what we are trying to explain! I'm saying you aren't explaining because you aren't addressing the point at hand which isn't the behavior of me, you or the crazy person it is our perception of things.
Now answer my question:
Why can I perceive the information that moves through my brain rather than just reacting to it with my behavior (which would be identical with or without perception)? How does neuron activity become experience?
No. I have explained why you “see ghosts.” A crazy person sees ghosts because of her broken circuitry and you see subjective experience because of your broken circuitry. Crazy person does not have to think they are real, the crucial thing is that she falsely perceives them as you falsely perceive subjective experience. So I do not understand your answer. Again: what is the difference?
Perception can be defined purely in reductionist terms. Think of a calculator that asks a user to enter a number. Keypad provides sensory input and the calculator perceives the entered number as “85” for example. It has nothing to do with “subjective experience” in the way I use it. We can use different words like “input acquisition” if you don’t like “perception” for that purpose.
As for your question: (a) there are neurons that monitor activity of other neurons and so your brain have meta-information about the information flow and sometimes keeps on analyzing this meta-information while choosing to ignore original input, (b) neuron activity does not “become” experience, it “is” experience.
If I did not answer your questions satisfactorily, please be more specific about the meaning of the terms you use. I will be glad to answer all questions provided they are formulated precisely enough. For example, term “perception” just proved to mean different things to us. By the way I wonder what is the difference between “perception” and “experience” according to you?
Also, you did not even attempt to answer my question about color red.
The simple answer is that this subject is much more complicated than can be explained in a short paper like this one (although the author gave it a good try).ReplyDelete
To address the paper itself; there do seem to be some issues. I'll start with this one:
"When you think about other humans as humans, or when you think about your own thoughts, there is something you perceive"
This characterization doesn't seem to be related to the issue. This appears to be an attempt to redefine the problem so that a much simpler argument can be given. I perceive when it is raining or when the wind blows or when clouds move or when waves wash on the beach. None of these things are related to the recognition of another mind. I think this is perhaps what Zack is finding so frustrating. You continue with this argument:
"The main point of this essay is that there is no evidence, whether subjective or objective, that leads to a conclusion that mind is something more than a product of material brain, given the laws of physics as we know them."
Yes, I agree; the mind is entirely a product of brain activity. But then:
"The hard problem of consciousness has thus no origins in reality but is a product of inadequate perception abilities of the human brain. In other words, the question is not whether the thing exists but why do we have an illusion that it does."
I'm not following this logic at all. You first argue that we have consciousness because we recognize minds (including our own). Then you argue (along the lines of Dennett) that consciousness is an illusion created by this recognition. Now, you don't actually need consciousness to recognize things, so the mere act of recognition does not get you to a condition of consciousness. Secondly, you need to already have a working mind in order to experience illusion. So, now you have a contradiction in your own argument. You admit the problem here:
"Despite trying hard I was unable to come up with a reductionist definition that would be based on this approach."
However, then you fall back on a circular definition:
“Human consciousness is a collection of mental processes that can be remembered and talked about later on by a healthy human being.”
In other words, people who are conscious can talk about consciousness. Imagine if Darwin had given a definition like that: "Evolution is a collection of biological phenomenon that are created by evolving organisms."
Have you answered the Framing problem, Binding problem, or the Mind Body problem? Does your theory either explain how to build a computer with a mind or explain why a computer cannot have a mind? Did you address whether or not a mind could be built out of purely mechanical parts? Does your theory explain why consciousness such as humans have is so rare? Does your theory give an evolutionary explanation of why and how human consciousness came about? Does your theory explain things like emotion or prejudice? In your last response you said:
"neuron activity does not “become” experience, it “is” experience."
That is the question. How does neuronal activity in the brain create experience when neuronal activity elsewhere does not. Are you falling back on:
Magic State theory - that some particular brain state creates consciousness. The problem with this theory is that there is no equivalent for computers.
Complexity Boundary theory - that at some level of complexity, consciousness just happens. Again, this has no computational explanation.
You also say:
"there are neurons that monitor activity of other neurons and so your brain have meta-information about the information flow"
This is refuted by patients with a severed corpus callosum. In the experiments that I saw, they were unable to recognize or understand why the perception didn't match. If there was some sort of executive monitoring of activity they would immediately have been aware of this.
You write: “So, now you have a contradiction in your own argument.”Delete
I respond: There is no contradiction. All the statements in this paragraph you wrote are correct. And they are not contradictory. I guess you operate under some implicit assumptions that make them contradictory in your head. I do not know what these assumptions are.
You write: “Imagine if Darwin had given a definition like that.”
I respond: Please read modern books of neurophysiology of consciousness like the one I gave a link to at the end of the paragraph with this definition. Your criticism makes it clear that you do not understand this definition and arguments in favor of it. It is definitely not circular.
Q: Have you answered the Framing problem, Binding problem, or the Mind Body problem?
A: No, no, yes. It does not have to explain the first two and it explains the last "by the way."
Q: Does your theory either explain how to build a computer with a mind or explain why a computer cannot have a mind?
A: Not explicitly, but it suggests how to build a computer “with a mind.”
Q: Did you address whether or not a mind could be built out of purely mechanical parts?
A: Yes, even the abstract contains the answer to this question. My theory is fully methodologically reducible.
Q: Does your theory explain why consciousness such as humans have is so rare?
A: Well, to find out an answer to this question please read again the definition of consciousness I use. For any other definition I'd like to see a proof that it is indeed "rare."
Q: Does your theory give an evolutionary explanation of why and how human consciousness came about?
A: Yes, this is precisely the point of the article.
Q: Does your theory explain things like emotion or prejudice?
A: No, because it is not a theory of emotion or prejudice.
You ask: How does neuronal activity in the brain create experience when neuronal activity elsewhere does not.
I respond: Very simply. The neuronal activity that is not detectible by parts of your brain responsible for generation of speech is not part of the experience you can speak of. That is, it is not part of consciousness. Please look again at the definition I use.
You write: “This is refuted by patients with a severed corpus callosum.”
I respond: Well, as far as I know neurons do almost nothing but monitor activity of other neurons by getting excited by their activity. So you either refuted main function of neurons or you meant something else. Anyway, you got me curious, if you can give me a reference to these experiments I’ll be glad to read about them.
I'm pretty familiar with all of the research and advancements since the first AI conference at Dartmouth in 1956. About 25 years ago, people started writing books with the claim that they had solved consciousness. I've read all of them and pretty much everything else that has been written on the topic.Delete
Kurzweil has a book titled, "HOW TO CREATE A MIND: THE SECRET OF HUMAN THOUGHT REVEALED". One of the introductions reads, “This book is a Rosetta stone for the mystery of human thought. Even more remarkably, it is a blueprint for creating artificial consciousness that is as persuasive and emotional as our own. Kurzweil deals with the subject
of consciousness better than anyone from Blackmore to Dennett. His persuasive thought experiment is of Einstein quality: It forces recognition of the truth.”
His book came out in 2012. How many systems have been built using his blueprint? None.
How many are under construction? None.
How many new lines of research did Kurzweil's ideas open up? None.
Kurzweil is still proud of his book. The fact that it has added nothing in terms of theory has not slowed him down at all. You seem to have similar feelings about your paper.
This comment has been removed by the author.Delete
It's now been over 5 years since I wrote the above comment about Kurzweil, so we can ask the same questions about Dekmiak:Delete
How many systems have been built using Dekmiak's conjecture? None.
How many are under construction? None.
How many new lines of research did Dekmiak's conjecture open up? None.
As has always been the case, intuitive arguments are worth very little. They are not part of science.