Monday, November 21, 2011

Ave, Bill and Malcolm!

Malcolm's exchange with Dr. V on a "mysterian" view of the nature of consciousness is worth a read here. Those who've followed this sort of debate will see the same familiar issues popping up in this discussion. I lean more toward Malcolm's side than toward Dr. V's; also, like Daniel Dennett, I scoff at the mysterian view, which basically abandons the possibility that we will ever know the nature of consciousness. I tend to think this is a soluble problem, but that the solution will require some serious re-paradigming in our thinking before we can grasp it.

Be sure to read Malcolm's reply to Dr. V in the comments section of that post.



Anonymous said...

Addofio here

It occurs to me, based solely on your summary (scoff at my laziness and ignorance, that's OK) that both positions are, as things stand currently, matters of faith. Which probably says something interesting or profound about the human condition or the role of faith in our lives, but I'm too tired (coming off four days of driving, the last of which was 14 hours on the road) to figure it out.

Kevin Kim said...

That may be true, but I think a strong case is being built for the physicalist side. The substance dualist side does little more than repeatedly claim, "It's impossible! Material things can't be the source of mental phenomena!"-- whereas the physicalists, relying on physicalist assumptions, continue to build machines that exhibit increasingly complex problem-solving behaviors.

It's sort of an ontology-recapitulates-phylogeny event: our computers and robots are evolving evolved in fits and starts, and in branching directions, in much the way that biological consciousness has done over the aeons. The consciousness develops slowly, by uneven degrees, over time. We're not at a stage where any man-made device might be called truly conscious, but I can't ignore the increasing complexity in the teleonomic behaviors of our artifacts.

I think Malcolm had a point when he said we still don't know enough about consciousness to rule out, a priori, what consciousness can't be. I made a similar point about consciousness in my Arnold-versus-Britney dialogue long ago (quoted here).

Malcolm Pollack said...

Hi Kevin,

Just saw this - thanks for the link!

I never expect to make any headway with Bill V. -- philosophy of mind is an enormously technical academic field -- but I do enjoy "crossing hands" with him now and then.

His main point is a "parity of reasoning" argument; he maintains that since only physical things have physical properties, then only mental things can have mental properties. I see this as simply an appeal to intuition, and don't see why it isn't equally plausible that physical things can have mental properties. That certainly seems to be what neuroscience is telling us, after all.

Another issue I've been haranguing him about for years, and have never got a satisfactory answer from him on, is why we can't pry apart essentially subjective phenomena -- (i.e., conscious self-awareness and qualia) -- from intentionality. I think there is all sorts of unconscious intentionality in the world.

But to accept that you have to accept that the blind "design" process of evolution can build intentionality into the physical world. For a hard-core dualist like Bill, it is simply axiomatic that no purely physical system can be "about" anything at all. And that's really the rub in this discussion as well.

Oh well, I'm glad he puts up with me.