It’s rather like water and H2O. They are the same thing, and there is an extensional sense of meaning in which we mean H2O by “water”, but there is also an intensional sense of meaning in which the scientists learned something when they discovered that H2O was water. (They didn’t discover it just by analyzing the meaning of the term “water”).
I agree: they are essentially the same, but it was a discovery that some set of functional states are consciousness.
But anyhow in no sense does the functional state cause consciousness.
And I think that is one of the root causes of people thinking that Libet’s experiments say something about free will. The libertarian story is that the mind causes the agent to move. It is so to speak in command. Libet’s experiments ‘show’ that it is the other way round. But both are wrong in that they see a causal relationship between brain and mind.
I’m not sure, but I think you are both defining “consciousness” differently. You seem to be defining it in functional terms, and George seems to be defining it in qualitative terms. If that’s correct, then I think you’re both right: in functional terms, consciousness did evolve. In qualitative terms, it’s a spandrel.
I don’t think it is a spandrel. A spandrel in evolution is not the only possible result of something else that has adaptive advantage. Spandrels are just one of the possible byproducts. But the functional states that make an organism capable of picturing the surroundings and act on them cannot be something else than consciousness. Otherwise you should postulate the possibility of philosophical zombies.
I am not sure what else to add here. I certainly don’t see consciousness being, as Doug put it, a “functional state (a certain sort of information processing).” Libet’s experiment points to the processing of information taking place before we become aware of it, so I am not sure what that has to do with consciousness.
A possible error here is that the time of representation is the same as the representation of time. Libet does not distinguish the two. Take this example: “When Tom arrived, Mary was already at the party”. Reading in ‘real time’ I first represent that Tom arrived, before I mention Mary. But I represent the fact that first Mary was there, and then Tom.
There have been done experiments during brain surgery, where when tries to find the brain area that processes e.g. the feeling in a leg. When it was found then the leg itself, and the corresponding area in the brain were stimulated at the same time, but the patient reported to feel the touching of the leg first, even that it had a much longer way to get to the same area in the brain. It means that one should be very sceptical about times reported by an agent. As Libet does not account for this phenomenon in anyway, it is not clear at all what his experiments really show.
As a side note, automatic reactions are too fast for consciousness to interfere. So the less consciousness is needed for a action, the greater the chance that consciousness comes after the action. See my example of the tennis player, who also must act faster than Libet’s 300 ms. Of course the tennis player becomes aware of what he is doing, but after he acted. The longer one thinks about Libet’s experiment, the clearer it becomes that it is a no-brainer…
Of course when the problem is more complicated, say, plannig a trip, we can be aware of our mind doing all the calculations instead of just feeling the popping up of the final decision. But here I am also inclined to believe that although we feel as if we are consciously doing the thinking, the actual process is probably always a few seconds ahead of our awareness, ultimately leading to the illusion of free will.
I think you underestimate the role of consciousness here. Let’s take this example: I propose my wife that we could go on holiday to Iceland next year. She reacts by saying that we promised to visit Marian in Finland next year. Now my position here is: the dialogue succeeds because my wife’s brain correctly processes the information of my acoustic uttering. There is no way to understand this process without the fact that the acoustic signal represents information. To suppose that my wife’s brain has a great variation of possible reactions on different ways I cause air molecules to move is really nutty, especially if you take into account that I could have transported the same message e.g. with a chat program, and the result would be the same.
Now assume I am thinking to go to Iceland on my own: then I realise it is not possible because we promised Marian to visit her in Finland. Is it too far away to say this is a conscious internal dialogue, which conclusion is I do not plan to go to Iceland next year? And thus that consciousness plays an essential role in deciding. That does not mean that now consciousness is some magic addition to the brain: it is the brain at work, but it works only because it is an information processing machine. Libet’s experiment does its best to bracket all this by doing his experiment with making a movement at a moment for no reason at all.
Well, we may not know what consciousness is, but I think the neuroscientists have a pretty good idea (or at least I hope they do) when it happens.
Most of them haven’t. They are still caught in the Cartesian Theatre, they think that the brain causes consciousness. Consciousness is smeared out over time and over the brain. There is no precise time, and no precise place where consciousness happens. This is still thinking in terms of there being a command centre in the brain. Sorry for Libet, there isn’t such a centre.
I agree that “when awareness happens has nothing particularly to do with free will”. But I think that awareness, at some point, is critical for free will (compatibilist version), as it is necessary to be aware of one’s wants and some of one’s actions. IOW, without awareness of whether we have acted in accordance with our will, the whole idea seems rather meaningless to me.
Yep. See my Iceland example.