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Science disenchanting the world. posted 23 October 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionScience disenchanting the world. by TakLoufer, Candidate

1) I agree that conscious experience is now scientifically indigestible, and though I suspect it will remain so in principle, this is just a conjecture.

I agree, but think this is beyond conjecture. Science can't make sense of experience unless experience is taken as a fundamental. Otherwise, it will simply be "just so."

2) I have no clue as to what inferences this fact secures, other than suggesting that 'there's more.' This is why I think this is a 'crack in the door': while it's certainly grist for the imagination, it does not warrant much in the way of theoretical content.

Well, (1) can be "solved" if experience is a fundamental (whether this takes the form of dualism, idealism, or panpsychism is beside the point). If all of our modern theories are going to keep sneaking homunculi through the back door, we might as well be open about it (or declare elimitivism).

3) I do think many formal characteristics of conscious experience, such as intentionality, will, normativity, and so on, are scientifically digestible to a point - so much the worse for us! I think you're mistaken to lump these in with the 'character' or 'what-is-it-likeness' problem.

But the "point" that marks the limit of science doesn't really answer any questions. Intentionality, for example: Science will be forced to just declare a certain neural state to just "be" the "aboutness of a tree" without anything resembling an explanation.

4) I am not a materialist, though I do think the relational character of experience is what makes it the 'default metaphysick' for so many. This, I think, is THE problem for opponents of materialism. More below.

More's the pity for us. Many of the problems (or, outright impossibility) in explaining experience stems from the materialistic view of matter.

5) Given that all metaphysics is bunk, that innumerable varieties of innumerable positions can be argued (and argued, and argued), specific, exclusive metaphysical commitments are ultimately unwarranted. If one insists on entertaining such commitments, then metaphysical commitments which cut across the grain of 'common sense' (whatever the hell that might be), are in even more trouble than otherwise.

Well, if the observed data contradicts one's metaphysic, than the metaphysic is wrong. Also, I don't think common sense (of the "soft core" variety) should be held against a metaphysics. Just because something is unorthodox has no bearing on its truthfulness.

"Almost all really new ideas have a certain aspect of foolishness when they are first produced." - Alfred North Whitehead

6) The bottomline is that one need not 'go metaphysical.' The fact that science is unable to examine it's own assumptions in no way discredits it's findings, nor does it prevent us from drawing inferences from those findings.

Of course not. But its limitations must be accepted. I suppose it's materialism that's causing all of the problems explaining experience. McGinn's phrasing of this question is especially telling:

How could the aggregation of millions of individually insentient neurons generate subjective awareness? (Italics added) McGinn, Problem of Consciousness, pg1

McGinn simply takes it as self-evident that neurons are insentient (are protozoa insentient?). If one were to allow that neurons may possess experience (and their component parts possess experience themselves) maybe the problem wouldn't be so puzzling.

7) To be honest, I find all this talk about ‘illusions being real’ to be more than a little confusing. Is there no such distinction? And if so, how do you distinguish ‘real illusions’ from ‘illusion illusions’? Psychologists having been wracking up lists of perceptual and cognitive illusions for years. The fact of the matter is that experience fools us in innumerable ways - just look at all the things we’re discovering about ‘eye-witness testimony.’ To pick and choose which we’ll call ‘illusions’ and which we’ll call ‘real’ depending on how much we need or cherish them is tendentious. You need to give me decisive arguments, Tak.

Well, illusions can be "real" in that we "really" experience them. The main difference between an illusion and something that's real (in the everyday sense) is that things that are real are public, where as illusions are not.

But to posit that our sense of experience is an illusion is to not make any sense:

I see red.

I don't "seem" to see red.

As for intention, if I'm thinking of a tree, I'm "really" thinking of a tree. Even if a scientist were to show that my intention is really a mechanically determined brain state that entails no "treeness," this doesn't mean I only "seem" to be thinking of a tree (though elimitivism may attest that this is so).

Now, as for the efficacy of experience, I don't know. If brains are eventually shown to be mechanically determined like so many billiard balls (I doubt this is the case), then volition will be an illusion - and a rather inexplicable one at that; epiphenomenalism opens up a whole can of absurdity.

But if brains are eventually shown to not be mechanically determined (through either quantum tunneling or whatever), then volition can be allowed (if experience is a fundamental given), or at least causation can be mental (The "feeling of hunger" causes one to seek food)

Since I think our differences regarding the first issues are little more than a matter of emphasis, and since I’m not at all interested in pursuing fruitless metaphysical debates, it’s (7) that I’m really interested in understanding, especially given the frequent way it seems to be used as a panacea for the problems I’ve raised. Answers such as ‘Ah, sure, but it’s real for us,’ strike me as wishful thinking, so much so that I can’t help but feel as though I’m missing something.

Well, it is real for us, but I see what your saying. While I see qualia and intention [1] as ultimately irreducible to vacuous entities, volition is the only issue that I feel needs attention. But, for many reasons [2], I find epiphenomenalism too absurd to accept. If we're faced with it, we might as well go with some form of panpsychism.

So, to reset the point of contention:

a) We attribute actual causal efficacy to our experience of will, when it seems to be a scientific fact that such experiences possess no such causal efficacy.

Even taking into account Libet's experiments, this is by no means conclusive. I will concede, however, that our "unconscious" mind undoubtably does most (it not all) of the thinking for us; but then, our "unconscious" is just as much a part of our mind as our everyday superficial conscious, which is simply less aware.

b) Willing is a cognitive illusion.

I agree that the everyday mind is, at least for the most part, governed by the "darkness that comes before" - but, I don't think this "darkness" is merely blind and vacuous forces.

c) Responsibility depends upon the reality of willing.

d) Morality depends upon the reality of responsibility.

/e) Morality is a cognitive illusion.

I agree, or at least admit that this may be the case. At some level, I doubt people can really be said to be responsible for their actions. After all, we are products of all occasions, past and present. Everything has a cause behind it.

Griffin would disagree with this, though.

Which is to say, the nihilist wins.

I suppose. But I don't see how this is particularly gloomy.

The more I think about it, the more it seems people generally are confused by what they mean by freedom. They surely don't mean our behavior is random, because that's not free will. And surely our thoughts and actions don't spawn from a vacuum. It seems obvious that they are determined by the rest of the universe, by everything else. Even if someone does something that appears uncharacteristic, there is undoubtably some reason for this, even if the individual is not consciously aware of it.


[1] Though this is usually not considered, but I consider intention to be a type of qualia. There is a "something it is like" to be thinking of a tree (and not just the image that appears in the mind's eye), just as there is "something it is like" to see red, to be in love, to think of your grandmother . . . these can't be reduced to vacuous actualities (though they can reduce to correlations). Intention is not a sensory based qualia (its more primal) but it still has a "something it is like" to it.

[2] This essay mostly mirrors my thoughts on epiphenomenalism [url:dl3merx0][/url:dl3merx0]

Postscript: Here's a website I recently stumbled across. It has a bunch of short essays over the mind-body problem. - [url:dl3merx0][/url:dl3merx0] view post


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