Archive for May, 2013

May 26, 2013

Consciousness 3: Qualia

by Neil Rickert

I don’t much like the word “qualia”.  I don’t find it useful.  People who use that word (and its singular form “quale”) hope to be able to discuss questions about conscious experience.  In this post, I’ll try to address those topics without the assumptions that seem to be built into use of “qualia.”

I’ll start with a review of earlier posts in this series.

  • Experience: I have identified this with internal activity of homeostatic processes, such as are commonly found in biological systems.  In particular, I have identified “experience” (with the scare quotes) with internal event to which the system reacts, so can be said to be reactively aware.  How we become conscious, and not merely reactively aware, I take to be related to our ability to have thoughts.  I expect to discuss thought in a future post.
  • Information: I have suggested that an organism acquires information about the world, and represents this information as internal events of which the organism is reactively aware.  This reactive awareness of represented information mediates the organisms awareness or consciousness of the external world.  Perhaps one could think of information as being represented by biochemical events or by neural events.  I prefer to not be that specific, because I am discussing principles rather than implementation details.  AI proponents will want to consider whether computational events could be used instead of neural events.
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May 16, 2013

Consciousness 2: Phenomena

by Neil Rickert

Philosophers often use the word “phenomena” to refer to appearances.  Here is some text quoted from Wikipedia:

In modern philosophical use, the term ‘phenomena’ has come to mean what is experienced as given. In Immanuel Kant’s Inaugural Dissertation, On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World (1770), Kant theorizes that the human mind is restricted to the logical world and thus can only interpret and understand occurrences according to their physical appearances. He wrote that humans could infer only as much as their senses allowed, but not experience the actual object itself. Thus, the term phenomenon refers to any incident deserving of inquiry and investigation, especially events that are particularly unusual or of distinctive importance.  According to The Columbia Encyclopedia, “Modern philosophers have used ‘phenomenon’ to designate what is apprehended before judgment is applied.”

Kant’s point of view appears to have been that our investigation of the world begins with appearances, or phenomena.  What Kant saw as noumena, or the world in itself, was not accessible to us.  We would have to make do with phenomena.

May 11, 2013

Consciousness 1: How is experience possible?

by Neil Rickert

The Chalmers “hard problem” has to do with experience.  It seems that many people think of experience as something that requires explanation.  I never thought of it as a particular problem, perhaps because the way I am looking at consciousness is different from the way others look at it.

Chalmers was particularly concerned with explaining why experience has the particular form that it has.  Why do red things have the particular appearance that we experience.  I won’t be addressing that in this post, though I plan to revisit it in the future.  The concern, for today’s post, is why do we have any experience at all.  Or, in the terminology that Chalmers uses, why are we not zombies.

May 8, 2013

Consciousness 0: An introduction

by Neil Rickert

I’ve decided to attempt to explain consciousness.  I might not succeed, but it is worth a try.  The way that I look at consciousness is very different from the way that most people look at it.  And that make communication difficult.

I won’t be saying much about conciousness in this introductory post.  But I do plan to get into more detail in future posts in this series.  As a warm up, you might want to watch this youtube video, where Alva Noe gives his ideas:

My way of looking at it is somewhat along the lines that Noe suggests.

When you watch that, you might get the impression that Noe is being a tad mystical.  Perhaps that’s what one can expect from a philosopher.  But, then, if you read Maturana and Varela, you might get a similar impression.  However, Maturana and Varela are not philosophers, they are biologists.  For that matter, some people who read J.J. Gibson, on his ecological theory of perception, think that he is appealing to magic.  However, Gibson was a down to earth experimenter in perceptual psychology.

That you might get a mystical impression is partly a reflection of the difficulty of discussing this topic.  And one of the reasons it is difficult, is that people have many preconceived notions about consciousness.  So an attempt to explain consciousness that does not fit with those preconceived notions is going to be difficult to follow.

I have said enough for now.  I will get into more detail in future posts.

May 5, 2013

Is science a religion?

by Neil Rickert

The answer, of course, is no.  However, others often claim that it is.  Take, for example, this quote, which I am copying from a recent post at the Don Hartness blog:

Another reason that scientists are so prone to throw the baby out with the bath water is that science itself, as I have suggested, is a religion.

Those words are not from Don Hartness himself.  He quotes them for a book, and is not completely clear on whether he agrees with them.

To be fair, the author apparently uses “religion” to refer to a world view.  That makes it hard to know what he means.  I don’t much like this talk of “world view.”  As best I can tell, the “world view” language is something that theists use to delude themselves that their rejection of a lot of evidence is okay because others do it too.

May 3, 2013

Truth and axioms in mathematics

by Neil Rickert

There’s been some discussion of truth in mathematics in the comments to my previous post.  Here, I want to expand a little on my view and express puzzlement at the idea that axioms are themselves true or false.

In response to a question, said “Actually, I take axioms to be neither true nor false, and I take the truth of mathematical theorems to be relative to the assumed axioms.”  Let me restate that in terms of the Peano axioms for ordinary arithmetic.

  1. The Peano axioms are neither true nor false.  Rather, they are definitional statements.  They define that part of mathematics known as Peano Arithmetic (or PA, or simply arithmetic).
  2. Theorems proved in PA are true in a relative sense.  Their truth is relative to the PA axioms.  They are true as used within PA, but perhaps not even meaningful outside of PA.