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Lotharson

On materialism and consciousness

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I have recently written a long post arguing that consistent (reductive) materialists ought to be eliminativists and deny the existence of subjective consciousness altogether, rather than trying to reduce it.

I know it is a bold claim, and I would like philosophically minded people to critically examine my argument.

I am certainly willing to abandon it if it turns out to be hopelessly flawed.

At this point, I leave the question open if this means that materialism is false or that our most basic beliefs are considerably erroneous.

I found it great if both skeptics and believers were to participate in this discussion, this would make it much more interesting.

The comments and my responses to them are also worth being read.

Cheers from Europe.

Edited by Lotharson

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Hiay Lotharson ... where did you get the term 'eliminativist' ? I haven't come across it before ...

Liked your example with the bat and would have been more convinced if there had been more such evaluations of the many creatures that exhibited such capabilities.

Regarding your theories of consciousness I would perhaps suggest a reading of :

  • The Analysis of Mind by Bertrand Russell
  • Human Minds - An Exploration by Margaret DOnaldson

~good luck

.

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1) If the subjective experience of a bat is identical to a ensemble of brain processes, it is going to be extremely complex.

2) Our scientists could only be (partially) aware of this very complex processes if they disposed of much more knowledge than they currently do.

3) School children or anyone lacking the education, competence and physical knowledge cannot be aware of the experience.

4) A bat lacks all these attributes.

5) Yet a bat is perfectly aware of what it is feeling as it is sending out the ultrasound.

6) Thus this subjective experience cannot be identical to extremely complex physical processes.

Maybe I misunderstand, but it seems that you're saying the biological sensory input of a bat is equal to that of the intellectual study done by humans.

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Well to say something obvious but that has consequences I haven't seen explored anywhere. Materialism (all that exists is matter and the void) is dead. What we have nowadays as sort-of its descendant is physicalism, a much more difficult thing to define. Matter is now known to be far more complicated and we really have no good sense of "energy" beyond the vague "ability to do work," and the void has been replaced by what seems a rather material kind of thing called "space-time" which has, among other things, the ability to bend and warp and have its own geometry and structure.

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One time in the early morning I was walking up a flight of steps.In the corner, and facing the corner of one of the steps was a bat.I thought it was dead so I gentlely nudged it with my foot.The bat picked up it's head, and directed it at me.It then let out a high pitched screech that pierced my being.I quickly got the message, and left it alone.It was in a restricted area so no children, or pets would have bothered it anyway.

To imagine how a bat senses using echo location just do this;

Face close to your computer screen, and position your head at the side with the screen not in front of you.Close your eyes, and give a drawn out "aaaaaaaaaaaaaa", then slowly move your head to the computer screen.When you hear the sound reverberate back to you, just imagine if you can send/receive a higher shorter wavelength harder hitting pitch.Now imagine your face/ears are better adapted for sending receiving this information as if the way you see with your eyes, but more basic.Now imagine you have sticky wings, and you hunger for bugs.

What does this have to do with materialism?

Is Philosophy Stupid?

[media=]

[/media] Edited by davros of skaro

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RLyeh: not at all.

Let me reformulate it as an argument against the existence of a physical subjective experience.

1) According to reductive materialism, the subjective experience (not sensory input) of the bat is real and identical to extremely complex physical processes.

2) A bat is clearly less intelligent than mentally handicapped humans.

3) Mentally handicapped humans cannot know extremely complex physical processes.

4) Therefore a bat does not know what it is feeling

But if I hurt my finger, what does that mean that I don't know the pain I am feeling?

Making a distinction between an intellectual and experiential knowledge would already be embracing property dualism, thereby leaving the materialist camp: while the bat utterly lack an intellectual knowledge of the physical aspect of its experience, it perfectly knows how it feels.

If (subjective) awareness is not a knowledge of any kind, then what is it?

It seems that the only way a materialist can get out of this dilemna is by denying that the bat is aware of its subjective experience, which would be akin to denying there is such an experience.

davros of skaro:I will wait getting drunk before doing your experience. :yes:

Two objections rose to my mind:

1) how do you know that what you would experience is what the bat does experience?

2) Can you not think of countless (possible) alien species which have so radically different brains and bodily processes that there would be no mean to imitate them?

Cheers!

Edited by Lotharson
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RLyeh: not at all.

Let me reformulate it as an argument against the existence of a physical subjective experience.

1) According to reductive materialism, the subjective experience (not sensory input) of the bat is real and identical to extremely complex physical processes.

Do any materialists actually state this?

The subjective experience is created from the brains interpretation of sensory input.

2) A bat is clearly less intelligent than mentally handicapped humans.

3) Mentally handicapped humans cannot know extremely complex physical processes.

4) Therefore a bat does not know what it is feeling

Notice you're equating intellectual understanding with feelings?
Making a distinction between an intellectual and experiential knowledge would already be embracing property dualism, thereby leaving the materialist camp: while the bat utterly lack an intellectual knowledge of the physical aspect of its experience, it perfectly knows how it feels.
This sounds awfully like a false dichotomy. Modern materialism proposes everything is made up or derived from matter/energy.
It seems that the only way a materialist can get out of this dilemna is by denying that the bat is aware of its subjective experience, which would be akin to denying there is such an experience.

I see no dilemma, but then I don't agree with all the points you've made. Edited by Rlyeh

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@ Lotharson

Two objections rose to my mind:

1) how do you know that what you would experience is what the bat does experience?

2) Can you not think of countless (possible) alien species which have so radically different brains and bodily processes that there would be no mean to imitate them?

1) I can get the most basic understanding of what the Bat is experiencing using science, and deductive reasoning.If you want to make it more mystical, then that's up to you.

2) Yes. A Jellyfish is very alien compared to my body.I would just downsize my senses to simple stimuli, and take away my cognitive abilities.

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"Do any materialists actually state this?

The subjective experience is derived from the brains interpretation of sensory input."

Since for materialists everything is physical, the feelings of a bat themselves MUST be an ensemble of physical processes, which are in that case extremely complex due to the fact that brains are the most complicated structures in the whole universe..

If you disagree they have to be complex, to what simple physical processes is a feeling identical to? As far as I know, no materialist believe them to be simple, but it might be I have missed something.

"Notice you're equating intellectual understanding with feelings?"

Okay, I was a bit confusing here, in my post I used the phrase "being aware of" instead of "knowing".

If a feeling is an extremely complex set of physical phenomena, what does it mean to say that I perfectly know what I am consciously feeling in my wounded arm?

I entirely agree that this knowledge cannot be (at the very least in my case) a perfect intellectual understanding of all the physical processes making up the feelings .

I have made this equation because I do not see what else this knowledge can be if materialism is true.

So what can the perfect knowledge of my conscious experience mean, given the truth of materialism?

Frankly speaking I don't see how one could answer such a question in a materialist framework without denying I have a perfect knowledge of my conscious feeling.

But since conscious feelings are (by their very definition in that context) something we perfectly know (like the conscious part of the pain I am feeling), this would mean denying their existence altogether.

And this is basically the eliminitavist materialist position.

If you disagree, you should explain me (in a materialist framework):

1) Of what physical processes a feeling one is conscious of is made up

2) what it means to have a perfect knowledge of this conscious feeling.

I am certainly open to possibilities I am not aware of, so please enlighten me :-)

For it is good that my ideas evolve through such conversations.

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If a feeling is an extremely complex set of physical phenomena, what does it mean to say that I perfectly know what I am consciously feeling in my wounded arm?
"Perfectly" may not be accurate, however you are feeling pain which is transmitted through the nervous system.
I entirely agree that this knowledge cannot be (at the very least in my case) a perfect intellectual understanding of all the physical processes making up the feelings .

I have made this equation because I do not see what else this knowledge can be if materialism is true.

So what can the perfect knowledge of my conscious experience mean, given the truth of materialism?

I think biology and the understanding of the nervous system explains it well. Your central nervous system allows your brain to send and receive signals to other parts of the body, some of these are consciously experienced or controlled, others are not.
Frankly speaking I don't see how one could answer such a question in a materialist framework without denying I have a perfect knowledge of my conscious feeling.

But since conscious feelings are (by their very definition in that context) something we perfectly know (like the conscious part of the pain I am feeling), this would mean denying their existence altogether.

Obviously you can only be conscious of what the brain detects or interprets. However that is not the same as being conscious of all brain functions.
And this is basically the eliminitavist materialist position.

If you disagree, you should explain me (in a materialist framework):

1) Of what physical processes a feeling one is conscious of is made up

2) what it means to have a perfect knowledge of this conscious feeling.

I don't understand what you mean by perfect knowledge.

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If a feeling is an extremely complex set of physical phenomena, what does it mean to say that I perfectly know what I am consciously feeling in my wounded arm?

I'm also not sure what 'perfectly' is adding to this statement; I don't know how you could 'imperfectly know what you are consciously feeling'; if you don't know it then you aren't feeling it.

So what can the perfect knowledge of my conscious experience mean, given the truth of materialism?

What do you mean by 'mean'? As Rlyeh said, it seems to mean that have feelings, which come from our physical nervous system.

If you disagree, you should explain me (in a materialist framework):

1) Of what physical processes a feeling one is conscious of is made up

The central nervous system and the brain.

2) what it means to have a perfect knowledge of this conscious feeling.

I'm not sure what's being asked, as above, what does it mean to have imperfect knowledge of a conscious feeling?

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The problem with this is two things.

1) how do you know scientists can't figure out what it's like to be a bat. There are current studies on nural plasticity that is starting to reveal that we can obtain others senses if there is a method of sensory input. With the right technology and practice we might just be able to experience what a bat does. Can we know what that is the same way the bat really experiences it? No. But I can't be sure we experience red in the same way.

2) the other issue is that you are assuming that we are more complex and smarter than the bat. In truth our intelligence and cognitive abilities are an evolved trait just like the bats echo location. It's no more or less evolved. There is no reason why we should know what the bat feels. There is no reason to assume we are so smart we should know. I don't think this has anything to do with materialism. It's the old brain in a vat problem. Personal qualia is necessarily subjective. If it were not, then there would really be no us or them. No distinction between other. certain altered states of consciousness allow for this, but from a scientific perspective for the very same reason it's impossible to quantify.

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2) the other issue is that you are assuming that we are more complex and smarter than the bat. In truth our intelligence and cognitive abilities are an evolved trait just like the bats echo location. It's no more or less evolved. There is no reason why we should know what the bat feels. There is no reason to assume we are so smart we should know. I don't think this has anything to do with materialism. It's the old brain in a vat problem. Personal qualia is necessarily subjective. If it were not, then there would really be no us or them. No distinction between other. certain altered states of consciousness allow for this, but from a scientific perspective for the very same reason it's impossible to quantify.

We may be more educated than the bat, yet we are certainly not ‘smarter’.

Everything is subjective – that is the beauty of this consciousness we each know right here, right now. This awareness is a treat, btw.

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Hello LG, thanks for your participation!

"I'm also not sure what 'perfectly' is adding to this statement; I don't know how you could 'imperfectly know what you are consciously feeling'; if you don't know it then I'm also not sure what 'perfectly' is adding to this statement; I don't know how you could 'imperfectly know what you are consciously feeling'; if you don't know it then you aren't feeling it.

This is what I meant: you can have an imperfect knowledge of the important events of the last month, but your knowledge of your own feeling as you are experiencing it has to be perfect, for otherwise "you aren't feeling it".

But let us forget "perfection".

You just answered me that a feeling is indeed a bunch of physical processes (in the brain), which have to be extremely complex by their very nature.

So what does it mean to know that feeling?

This seems to mean knowing this extremely complex set of physical processes.

Therefore the large majority of human beings have no feelings they can know.

When ancient Egyptians (or most 6-years old kids) were in pain, they could not have possibly know their own feelings as they were feeling them.

This is the position of the eliminitavists.

I see only two things that a reductive materialist can do:

1) arguing that our conscious feelings are very simple physical processes or properties

(This does not seem very promising to me but I might be wrong...)

2) arguing that we don't know our feelings in the same way we know the main reasons of Bush invading Iraq.

If so, what is this non-intellectual knowledge given materialism?

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I have recently written a long post arguing that consistent (reductive) materialists ought to be eliminativists and deny the existence of subjective consciousness altogether, rather than trying to reduce it.

I know it is a bold claim, and I would like philosophically minded people to critically examine my argument.

I am certainly willing to abandon it if it turns out to be hopelessly flawed.

At this point, I leave the question open if this means that materialism is false or that our most basic beliefs are considerably erroneous.

I found it great if both skeptics and believers were to participate in this discussion, this would make it much more interesting.

The comments and my responses to them are also worth being read.

Cheers from Europe.

My thoughts on this are that you are arguing a strawman.

Does consistent/reductive materialism claim that subjective experience may be known (i.e. experienced) through knowing the process, or does it simply claim that knowing the process explains the subjective experience?

My opinion is that consistent/reductive materialism claims the latter, and so arguments such as the one you have set against it are strawmen.

Edited by Leonardo
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2) arguing that we don't know our feelings in the same way we know the main reasons of Bush invading Iraq.

If so, what is this non-intellectual knowledge given materialism?

I guess this is the closest to an answer, detecting or sensing a phenomena is not the same as explaining a phenomena.

What has it given materialism? Matter is reactive?

Edited by Rlyeh

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"It's the old brain in a vat problem. Personal qualia is necessarily subjective. If it were not, then there would really be no us or them. No distinction between other. certain altered states of consciousness allow for this, but from a scientific perspective for the very same reason it's impossible to quantify."

If personal qualia are necessarily subjective, reductive materialism is false.

But emergent materialism might very well be true.

None of the arguments I gave is valid against a materialism asserting the existence of irreducible properties.

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RLyed:

I meant "given the truth of materialism" which is another way of saying "if materialism is true".

(I apologize if English is not your native language).

I might detect a supernova but this is a far cry from saying I entirely know that supernova.

Yet it seems to me I entirely know the feeling of pain in my lower back, and if there are aspects I do not know, I am not feeling them.

Edited by Lotharson

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RLyed:

I meant "given the truth of materialism" which is another way of saying "if materialism is true".

(I apologize if English is not your native language).

I might detect a supernova but this is a far cry from saying I entirely know that supernova.

Yet it seems to me I entirely know the feeling of pain in my lower back, and if there are aspects I do not know, I am not feeling them.

But what are you arguing against here, Lotharson?

Reductive Materialism claims knowledge is a material phenomenon. There is no conflict there between the knowledge one might have of impersonal data, and the knowledge one may have of qualia.

The only difference is the source of the data/experience leading to the knowledge.

Edited by Leonardo
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RLyed:

I meant "given the truth of materialism" which is another way of saying "if materialism is true".

(I apologize if English is not your native language).

I might detect a supernova but this is a far cry from saying I entirely know that supernova.

Yet it seems to me I entirely know the feeling of pain in my lower back, and if there are aspects I do not know, I am not feeling them.

No, you'd possibly detect a flash of light or the sky would light up. Everything from the source of light to the function of the eye would fall under the intellectual explanations.

Same as your back pain, you'd feel pain in your back. The cause (and damage) would be determined through some level of investigation.

Edit: I don't quite understand what you're asking if materialism is true?

Feelings/senses/emotions are more primal and non-intellectual while intellectual communicative knowledge is more abstract.

I don't believe materialism changes this.

Edited by Rlyeh
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This is what I meant: you can have an imperfect knowledge of the important events of the last month, but your knowledge of your own feeling as you are experiencing it has to be perfect, for otherwise "you aren't feeling it".

Hi Lotharson, thanks for the conversation also!

Just a quick note on the above, the comparison you are making isn't exactly the same; you are contrasting knowledge of events in the past and my 'knowledge' of my current feeling. Used in this sense, I don't think we can have a perfect knowledge then of our feelings; I may have a feeling for someone I'm interested in dating let's say, and that feeling does have a composition. However, I may not correctly identify the feeling, if that's what you mean by knowledge; I may not have figured out if my attraction, and the feeling derived from it, is love, lust, infatuation, etc.

You just answered me that a feeling is indeed a bunch of physical processes (in the brain), which have to be extremely complex by their very nature.

Like 'perfect', I'm not sure what 'complex' is adding to the argument here. I do not know that feelings are extremely complex by their nature, some feelings I would think are pretty straightforward; I don't know how complex, in a relative sense, the pain I feel if I stick a needle in my finger actually is.

So what does it mean to know that feeling?

I'm not sure, I guess I would look to you to flesh that out a bit. Does it mean that I know that I'm having a feeling? That seems necessary for us to even use the phrase 'having a feeling'. Does it mean that I have to know and identify exactly what a particular emotion is? Like my example above, I may not know if a particular feeling is love or lust, but I'm still feeling something, even if I can't perfectly define it.

This seems to mean knowing this extremely complex set of physical processes.

Therefore the large majority of human beings have no feelings they can know.

Again, a little confused on the relevance of the 'complex' part of this, but I'm not understanding this even without that distinction. It seems like saying that I can't know that after being exposed to radioactive uranium or something that I have contracted radiation sickness, just because I'm ignorant and can't explain in much detail exactly what is happening inside my body as a result of that exposure. I can't explain except at a very high-level how gravity works, does that mean I can't know about gravity?

When ancient Egyptians (or most 6-years old kids) were in pain, they could not have possibly know their own feelings as they were feeling them.

I don't get this. Of course they know their feelings, otherwise we have no basis to say they are in pain. Are you differentiating emotions from more tactile sensations? I don't understand why the ancients didn't 'know' their own feelings, and if they didn't, I'm not sure what has happened in the last few millenia that allows modern people to know their feelings (if they do).

1) arguing that our conscious feelings are very simple physical processes or properties

(This does not seem very promising to me but I might be wrong...)

Why does it have to be 'simple'? I don't get why complexity puts materialism in any danger.

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If a Bat echo locates in the woods, and there is no Human around even though Humans cannot hear in that range? Does the Bat still echo locates?

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Like 'perfect', I'm not sure what 'complex' is adding to the argument here. I do not know that feelings are extremely complex by their nature, some feelings I would think are pretty straightforward; I don't know how complex, in a relative sense, the pain I feel if I stick a needle in my finger actually is.

By complex I think he is speaking of the biological and neurological nature of the experience. As this is a biological matter I'm not sure if he is implying biology is materialism, and therefore if materialism is wrong so is biology. Edited by Rlyeh
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My Dad went blind later in his life. You could put him any room and he could rap his cane and tell you were he was in the room. He could also find the door if it was open. He was batman in away. Blind people use sound for navigation all the time. Their hearing isn't better they just know what to listen for. Just because you perceive something with a different sensory mode doesn't mean what you are perceiving changes, The wall is there whether you see it or hear it.

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I was ignorrant on the term, and it's existence; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eliminative_materialism

To me it sounds like the Teapot in space, and Pink Unicorn argument.Except placed in a neuropsychology, and Neurobiological philosophical setting.

I see it as an argument of what can we know.

I say we can basicly know many things, and we must refrain from absolute truths.

I am sure there are no Teapots in space, or Pink Unicorns.There could be Crockpots in space, and Unicorns made of Rainbow Sprinkles, but Mankind may never know it.

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