philosophy of mind

mat mats_trash at
Tue Jan 15 14:58:16 EST 2002

> > > I thought I explicitly said it has nothing to do with decision making.
> > 
> > OK. But thats a very different definition of awareness to most people.
> >  Most people consider awareness to be the very property that allows
> > them to make informed decisions.
> (BBBB)
> ?? 
> I really don't think what you claim is correct.... I don't think there
> is any aspect in most people's understanding of awareness that
> requires an active stance in the external world.
> Eg: can you be aware and be incapable of action?
> Yes, if you accept the idea that there is awareness in sleep paralysis
> or in some cases of failed general anaesthesia combined with
> successful muscle relaxants.
Of course, the problem quickly becomes the (un?)subtle differences in
understanding of terminology.  I would think that most people think of
awareness as their brains presenting them with information, prior to
it having any causal effect so that they can 'decide' upon that
information. i.e. as the conduit between perception and action. 
Whether this actually translates in to action is not the point.  I'm
sure that those who do not go under anaesthesia peoperly are trying
very determinedly (in their minds) to tell someone!

> You seem to be tying alot of concepts into one neat parcel to be
> discarded together: mind-body, soul, qualia and free-will. I can agree
> that mind-body dualism and spontaneous free will should be discarded,
> soul should be set aside for awhile to sort out definitions. But not
> qualia.
> > > >If its an epiphenomenon how does it
> > > >become causally effective in producing actions?  or are you saying
> > > >that awareness does not contribute to decision making, and all that
> > > >goes on at a lower level; we are simply informed of it after the
> > > >event?
> > >
> > > Yes, the latter is my view. The only way awareness affects actions is
> > > indirect perhaps in affecting how memories are encoded, and encoded
> > > memories then affect future executive function (which may not be
> > > aware).
> > 
> > You still have the problem I mentioned.  If its an epiphenomenon then
> > it can have no causal effects whatsoever, memory making included. 
> > Indirect action would still have to be mediated by a direct step from
> > epiphenomenon to biological substrate at some point.
> (BBBB)
> Okay, fine, I won't call it an epiphenomeneon, as that seems to be
> confusing matters since I am using "epiphenomenon" just to describe it
> as being a phenomenon separate to immediate causality. Perhaps I
> misused the word. In terms of long-term causality I haven't thought
> about whether it would or would not affect all forms of causality
> (memory and otherwise) but I don't think either routes invalidates my
> view of qualia/ awareness as being a real thing.

But this is the very problem.  OK, lets say that awareness as per your
definition is not (immediately) causal, but simply caused by neuronal
firing.  However awarenss does have the subsequent causal ability to
affect memory which as the further ability to influence action when
integarted with perception.  Simplified you could imagine this scheme
as a line connecting perception to action with a loop of awareness
which then proceeds to affect memory and that integrates with later
perception to inform action, and loop around again..

                   memory /    \awareness
                        \|/    /|\
        perception  >____\_ >__ /____> action

What I don't understand is this: if you don't want awareness to be a
neuronal firing pattern (or any other biological process?) or causal
(as I take your theory) then at some point it has to convert to this
other (non-causal) substance.  However, this must subsequently convert
back into neuronal firing and become causual.  So you have to explain
how material and immaterial aspects interact (at least twice).

> > I still have the essential difficulties with your argument.  Not only
> > do you multiply entities beyond necessity (if it isn't causal then its
> > not needed unless of course you think qualia need explaining). 
> (AAAA)
> Yes, that's my point. I think you are using Ockham's Razor wrongly in
> this context since Ockham's razor assumes that if everything is equal,
> and in this case, it isn't, since qualia is not pure theoretical
> concept but is subjectively real and does need explaining.

> > Further you arguably make your theory much more diificult to
> > investigate.  I think you would agree that just saying awareness is an
> > epiphenomenon is not enough of an explanation, just as much as when I
> > say causal firing patterns are awareness isn't enough. The theory
> > needs to be deepened and its fine structure elucidated.  However, how
> > would you begin to investigate an epiphenomenon?
> (AAAA)
> But that is the whole point see? We don't know how to approach and
> investigate qualia and awareness. It's a "HARD problem". Philosophers
> have been trying and trying but your answer is a cop-out ('this
> phenomenon doesn't exist so we don't have to investigate it'). This is
> hardly satisfactory when I (and probably other people) do subjectively
> have awareness.
Well it is a hard problem only if you view it as such.  You say that
the shortcoming is in my inability to imagine something other than
that which is physcial, something other than the neurones of the brain
giving rise to consciousness and awareness.  However I could equally
say that the shortcoming is yours in that you discount neuronal firing
as inadequate prima facie.  You throw out the neuron-only theory on
the basis of having studied the properties of one or two of these
cells' functions.  Neither You nor I have any conception of the
complexiy of the brain and the possible processes that go on within
it. The truth is of course that simply arguing and theorizing, while
it may help clarify objectives, will never actually result in any
'new' knowledge about the brain.

> As a simple thought experiment, I propose the following (assuming we
> had the techniques to do what I suggest): selectively impede the
> 'awareness' process (chemically, electrically, magnetically,
> magically) while having no (or limited) effect on other processes.
> Then while aware and unaware (only you can tell which is which), you
> would get a robot/computer/external entity to test you. The first set
> of tasks would be test for spontaneity and random behaviour. Then
> there would be another set of tests which would test for impairment in
> other functions (the various types of memory, primary sensory
> processing, motor behaviour, etc). The controls would be to
> selectively block other circuits involving executive planning, primary
> sensory processing, etc. The results which would be support my
> hypothesis would:
> 1) spontaneous and random behaviour is not increased in the presence
> of awareness (thus showing free-will doesn't exist and doesn't
> suddenly exist in the presence of awareness).
> 2) certain aspects of memory (short/ mid/ long/ episodic/ whatever) is
> completely impaired by loss of awareness (thus showing that awareness
> is required for somethings).
> 3) primary sensory processing and other primary brain functions are
> not obliterated in the absence of selective awareness loss (thus
> showing that awareness is distinct from these other brain functions).
> Of course, the details of this thought experiment is meagre since we
> don't have any detailed understanding at this point on the
> organisation and composition of the various thought processes. And
> until we find some way of selectively only impairing consciousness it
> is impossible to do. But my point is that awareness and qualia is a
> theoretically testable hypothesis but only you can fully judge the
> validity of your experiment (since you detect whether or not there is
> awareness). I fully accept that until then I cannot prove the
> existence of my own qualia or how much free will my qualia has.
Though you say it, I would be weary of the assumption that the modules
or cognitive processes into which we divide our minds map
isomorphically to any distinct brain region/system or systems.  After
all it might be that everything is global!

> (AAAA)
> However, I must remind you that your own hypotheses (the soul does not
> exist, the qualia does not exist) is not even theoretically provable
> since it is a negative statement.

well not so.  It is (philosphically at least) much easier for me to
DISprove your theory (all i would need was one counter-observation)
than for you to prove yours (you'd need all possible observations)  Of
course, theories of soul and qualia etc.. are always quite nebulous in
there formulation, so agreeing on a counter-example and disproving
them might be quite difficult :)

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