Sunday, October 25, 2015

David Chalmers Nature, Part I

This is part I of a review of Chalmer’s paper, " The title alone raises several questions, “What is consciousness,” “What is nature,” “Is consciousness a part of nature.” The most urgent of these is, “What is consciousness?” Since consciousness relates to an individual, does it have any direct role in Nature at all?

Chalmers states his view in the first paragraph as that of a revisionist. He realizes that clear definitions of consciousness and nature already exist that place them orthogonally.

{ Phenomena of mind } = { Phenomena of consciousness },.”The central problem is that of locating mind with respect to the physical world.” Therefore, mentality = consciousness. Therefore, for Chalmers, all consciousness problems reduce to physical vs. mental problems, “At the end, three views are left standing: those on which mentality is an emergent characteristic of either a physical substance or a neutral substance, where in the latter case, the physical might be either emergent or delusive.”

In this paper Chalmers is a reductionist, “approaching the problem of consciousness by a strategy of divide-and-conquer.” The discussion is meant as an overview, in which he states that views A through C see consciousness as a physical process, while views D through F all require an “expansion or reconception of a physical ontology”. Chalmers also states that he favors non-reductive views of consciousness, although he believes in an “empirical science of consciousness”, apparently meaning cognitive science..While the potential link-up with “hard science” is reassuring, we still haven’t answered the question of why consciousness, in the sense of a phenomena remains an issue.

Chalmers wants an answer to the question, how any physical system could become conscious. What would be the minimum requirements, for example? Obviously, he is thinking in terms of robots in one case, and “bigger, faster, smarter” in the case of existing biological species. Taken in the second sense, this is the philosophy of the discontent, like the Buddha, he is implying dissatisfaction with consciousness taken as it is.

Certain states are outlined as trivial cases, discrimination of stimuli, reporting information, monitoring internal states, and controlling behavior. He is interested here in isolating the difficult side of consciousness at issue as subjective experience.

To do this, Chalmers says that phenomena have to be describable, “A mental state is conscious when there is something it is like to be in that state.” In a footnote, Chalmers states that he ‘merely’ uses qualia as conscious states characterized by what it like to have them. This implies that these are descriptions, but that the descriptions have to be shared experience, otherwise two persons discussing a single qualia could not agree on the ‘likeness’ of that qualia.

Chalmers wants to ask a series of cognitive science philosophical questions he calls ‘the central mystery of consciousness”, “There is no question that experience is closely associated with physical processes in systems such as brains. It seems that physical processes give rise to experience, at least in the sense that producing a physical system (such as a brain) with the right physical properties inevitably yields corresponding states of experience. But how and why do physical processes give rise to experience? Why do not these processes take place “in the dark,” without any accompanying states of experience? This is the central mystery of consciousness.” These are the philosophical underpinnings of why he is so interested in brain science. He cannot posit an experiential mind (or has been trained not to), so he believes that the “properties of the brain” are responsible for our states of mind. Then he asks how experience can arise from physical processes. Unsatisfied with his materialist quandary, he demands that the gaps in cognitive functionality be explained. In a sense, what he is asking, why is there, ‘dark’, matter in the brain? Or in Thomist terms, what is being hidden, and why?

His definition of an “easy” problem is one that can be deduced from causality which is explainable. Habit, for example, a) We derive a situational context from our senses, b) We match a set of qualia with other contexts in our memory, c) We find a good match, and proceed to behave in a similar fashion to what our memory discloses. (There would be a good argument here that we don’t care what the memory tells us about past outcomes. It would be quite possible and probably that we need no more than the implicit information, that we survived because we are now alive, to accept that our past behavior was the right one.) He distinguishes this sort of problem from one which requires the parameter called experience, and thus mystifies it to the point where it cannot be counted as reductive. “Reductive explanation requires only that a high-level phenomena can be explained wholly in terms of low-level phenomena. This is compatible with the “multiple realizability” of high-level phenomena in low-level phenomena.” By this, I suppose he means that hitherto unknown low level phenomena may explain multiple phenomena. Thus David Chalmers wants a materialist, or physicalist answer to the physical question of how a physical system, such as the brain,becomes conscious, but I suspect he is only leading us along.

It seems that Chalmer’s main argument is that consciousness not fall easily into what we call, “the natural world”. It is as if he was beaten with a stick and told, “It’s not natural”. This falls on a falacious argument he presents outright, “And one can argue as above that explaining structures and functions does not suffice to explain consciousness. If so, no physical account can explain consciousness.” If A (all existing explainations) fails, then B (no physical explainations of consciousness may exist.) He is arguing for this conclusion, “then materialism about consciousness is false, and the natural world contains more than the physical world.” There is no room here for an admission that both physical and nonphysical explanations of things can exist simultaneously.

He then proves that by positing Zombies as a method for proving that materialism is false.First one has to believe in God, then posit a zombie universe that he decided to create to prove that zombies don’t have consciousness in a physical universe. The knowledge argument is similar, in it, the knowledge that can only be gained through experience seems proof that physical facts, if known, are not enough. That one has to experience the color red in order to know it. I would say that this is more a proof that any limited set of facts are not enough, not just physical facts only.

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