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Philosophy Society

CWRU Philosophy Society is open to all students with an interest in philosophy, regardless of major.  The Society meets weekly, on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. at University Circle Coffee House to discuss readings and videos of philosophical interest with each other and with faculty.

As decided at our last (and first) meeting, we will be discussing Consciousness/Qualia as it relates to philosophy this Wednesday. Attached is a relatively short article (courtesy of Emerson) from Philosophy Now providing an overview of the problem of consciousness, some of the relevant thought experiments, and the Physicalist response. Don’t worry if you don’t understand something–I’m still coming to terms with Papineau’s phenomenal concept strategy! Though I think this article does a great job, I’ve also attached a few quotes from some of the relevant thinkers, to give a little more sense of context if you are interested. But all you need to read for Wednesday is the the article on Mary the Color Scientist that I’ve attached.

Here’s a little more about some of the thought experiments that have spurred discussion of consciousness in recent decades:

Blind Color Scientist:

Inverted qualia:

Philosophical Zombies:

And here are some quotations from various authors, some of whom are referred to in the article, that have affected how I think about consciousness, or the problem of consciousness. If you read anything below (feel free not to), Nagel is probably the most useful, and Strawson the most interesting.

To be clear, THE ONLY THING YOU ARE EXPECTED TO READ for Wednesday is the attached piece about Mary the Color Scientist, by Marina Gerner. What Did Mary Know

I look forward to seeing you all Wednesday!!!

-Ben Fletcher, Co-leader of Philosophy Society

Some Quotes:

Leibniz (courtesy of wikipedia):

Moreover, it must be confessed that perception and that which depends upon it are inexplicable on mechanical grounds, that is to say, by means of figures and motions. And supposing there were a machine, so constructed as to think, feel, and have perception, it might be conceived as increased in size, while keeping the same proportions, so that one might go into it as into a mill. That being so, we should, on examining its interior, find only parts which work one upon another, and never anything by which to explain a perception.

Thomas Nagel from “What is it like to be a Bat?”

But no matter how the form may vary, the fact that an organism has conscious experience at all means, basically, that there is something it is like to be that organism. …  But fundamentally an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is to be that organism—something it is like for the organism. We may call this the subjective character of experience. It is not captured by any of the familiar, recently devised reductive analyses of the mental, for all of them are logically compatible with its absence. It is not analyzable in terms of any explanatory system of functional states, or intentional states, since these could be ascribed to robots or automata that behaved like people though they experienced nothing. It is not analyzable in terms of the causal role of experiences in relation to typical human behavior—for similar reasons. I do not deny that conscious mental states and events cause behavior, nor that they may be given functional characterizations. I deny only that this kind of thing exhausts their analysis. Any reductionist program has to be based on an analysis of what is to be reduced. If the analysis leaves something out, the problem will be falsely posed. It is useless to base the defense of materialism on any analysis of mental phenomena that fails to deal explicitly with their subjective character.

David Chalmers from “Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness”:

“The really hard problem of consciousness is the problem of experience. When we think and perceive, there is a whir of information-processing, but there is also a subjective aspect. … When we see, for example, we experience visual sensations: the felt quality of redness, the experience of dark and light, the quality of depth in a visual filed. Other experiences go along with the perception in different modalities: the sound of a clarinet, the smell of mothballs. Then there are bodily sensations, from pains to orgasms; mental images that are conjured up internally; the felt quality of emotion, and the experience of a stream of conscious thought. What unites all of these states is that there is something it is like to be in them. All of them are states of experience. … Why doesn’t all this information-processing go on “in the dark”, free of any inner feel? Why is it that when electromagnetic waveforms impinge on a retina and are discriminated and categorized by a visual system, this discrimination and categorization is experienced as a sensation of vivid red? We know that conscious experience does arise when these functions are performed, but the very fact that it arises is the central mystery. There is an explanatory gap (a term due to Levine 1983) between the functions and experience, and we need an explanatory bridge to cross it. A mere account of the functions stays on one side of the gap, so the materials for the bridge must be found elsewhere.”

John Searle (this isn’t referred to in the article, but the Bad Argument given in the first few pages can be taken to refute what someone like Chalmers would say about qualia, but in a non-physicalist manner):

“The account of perception that I will present is a form of direct realism, according to which, in a typical perceptual experience, we are directly aware of objects and states of affairs around us. … The standard argument against direct realism is called the Argument from Illusion. And here is how it goes: I said that I see the desk in front of me, but suppose I were having a hallucination. I could be having an experience exactly like this, completely indiscriminable from this one with exactly the same content as this one, and be having a total hallucination. You could have the same experience without there being a desk on the other end of the experience. But now comes a crucial step. The character of the experience in the hallucination case and the character in the veridical case, the bad case and the good case respectively, is the same; so any analysis of one has to be applied to the other. But in the bad case, though one is not aware of a desk, one is certainly aware of something. One is conscious of something, and, at least, in some sense, one “sees” something. That something cannot be a material object, because there is no material object there in the case of the hallucination. Yet I am aware of something. Let us give a name for such somethings; they were called “ideas” by Berkeley, Descartes, and Locke, “impressions” by Hume, and came to be called “sense data” in the 20th century. So I will stick with “sense data” and say we are aware of a sense datum. A sense datum is an entirely mind dependent, ontologically subjective entity. Now, by the principle that both the good case and the bad case should receive the same analysis, it follows that in the good case I am not aware of a material object but only of sense data. But now it seems to follow that in all experiences I am aware only of sense data, not of mind independent material objects. And the question then arises, What is the relationships between the sense data that I do see and the material object that apparently I do not see? This argument in various forms survives right to the present day. What is wrong with the argument? On the surface, at least, it rests on a simple fallacy of ambiguity. The expression “aware of”, “conscious of”, and even “sees” in this argument, are ambiguous. … [Searle makes a long argument to do with ambiguities in language, which you can read in the PDF link, but basically amounts to the following] So “aware of”, “conscious of”, are used in two different senses. We feel immediately hesitant to say that one “sees” anything in the hallucination case, so we are tempted to put sneer quotes around “sees”. But what is going on, I hope, is obvious and clear. In every case there is an ambiguity in the crucial phrases “aware of” or “conscious of”; because in the intentionality sense in which I am aware of something when I see it, in the case of the hallucination I am not aware of anything. I have a conscious experience, but that conscious experience is not itself the object of the experience; it is identical with the experience.”

Galen Strawson (gives an interesting argument against traditional physicalism as presented in the article, and for what he calls “realistic physicalism” and panpsychism-whoa!!):

(for full article google “galen strawson realistic monism”)

Real physicalism, then, must accept that experiential phenomena are physical phenomena. But how can experiential phenomena be physical phenomena?  Many take this claim to be profoundly problematic (this is the ‘mind-body problem’). This is usually because they think they know a lot about the nature of the physical. They take the idea that the experiential is physical to be profoundly problematic given what we know about the nature of the physical. But they have already made a large and fatal mistake. This is because we have no good reason to think that we know anything about the physical that gives us any reason to find any problem in the idea that experiential phenomena are physical phenomena. If we reflect for a moment on the nature of our knowledge of the physical, and of the experiential, we realize, with Eddington, that ‘no problem of irreconcilability arises’. … As a real physicalist, then, I hold that the mental/experiential is physical, and I am happy to say, along with many other physicalists, that experience is ‘really just neurons firing’, at least in the case of biological organisms like ourselves. But when I say these words I mean something completely different from what many physicalists have apparently meant by them. I certainly don’t mean that all characteristics of what is going on, in the case of experience, can be described by physics and neurophysiology or any non-revolutionary extensions of them. That idea is crazy. It amounts to radical ‘eliminativism’ with respect to experience, and it is not a form of real physicalism at all. My claim is different. It is that experiential phenomena ‘just are’ physical, so that there is a lot more to neurons than physics and neurophysiology record (or can record).  No one who disagrees with this is a real physicalist, in my terms.