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8 Great Philosophical Questions That We’ll Never Solve
Posted: 01 November 2012 11:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 136 ]
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What I was really trying to prove here, was that consciousness was a byproduct instead of an evolved adaptation. downer

I should have been careful not to mention those two damn words, free will. I enjoy talking about consciousness as much as I hate talking about free will. But I am now exhausted anyways…

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Posted: 01 November 2012 01:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 137 ]
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dougsmith - 01 November 2012 10:52 AM

I agree that the scientists have a good idea of when awareness happens. But to repeat, when awareness happens has nothing particularly to do with free will, unless one supports a particular sort of libertarian free will that identifies the will with a certain sort of conscious awareness.

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.

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As a fabrication of our own consciousness, our assignations of meaning are no less “real”, but since humans and the fabrications of our consciousness are routinely fraught with error, it makes sense, to me, to, sometimes, question such fabrications.

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Posted: 01 November 2012 01:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 138 ]
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dougsmith - 01 November 2012 04:49 AM

...Whether or not one considers the consciousness to have evolved depends upon how one defines consciousness. If one defines it in terms of the functional state (a certain sort of information processing) then it did evolve. If one defines it as a kind of qualia-linked awareness, thus-ness or “what it’s like”, then it is arguably a spandrel. (Since that state itself has no particular evolutionary advantage, even though it is necessarily correlated with a state that does have such an advantage).

If we define consciousness in terms of function, I think that it is subject to study.  If we define it in terms of qualia, I think that that is a dead end.

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As a fabrication of our own consciousness, our assignations of meaning are no less “real”, but since humans and the fabrications of our consciousness are routinely fraught with error, it makes sense, to me, to, sometimes, question such fabrications.

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Posted: 01 November 2012 01:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 139 ]
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TimB - 01 November 2012 01:16 PM

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.

Sure. At some level we have to be aware of our beliefs and desires, of what we want to do and how we act.

TimB - 01 November 2012 01:32 PM

If we define consciousness in terms of function, I think that it is subject to study.  If we define it in terms of qualia, I think that that is a dead end.

Agreed. If all that “qualia” means is a certain, ineffable “what it’s like”, then it’s scientifically useless. It’s pure subjectivity.

That said, fields like psychophysics are a legitimate first step towards analyzing first-person experience in an objective manner. (As such they will do more than analyze qualia as ineffable, and they must therefore use functional-type analyses).

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Posted: 02 November 2012 04:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 140 ]
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dougsmith - 01 November 2012 07:53 AM

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.

dougsmith - 01 November 2012 07:53 AM

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.

dougsmith - 01 November 2012 08:26 AM

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.

George - 01 November 2012 09:20 AM

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…

George - 01 November 2012 10:06 AM

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.

George - 01 November 2012 10:40 AM

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.

TimB - 01 November 2012 01:16 PM

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.

Edit: typos

[ Edited: 02 November 2012 06:31 AM by GdB ]
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Posted: 02 November 2012 06:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 141 ]
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GdB - 02 November 2012 04:54 AM

Is it to 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.

I already said I don’t believe this to be true as I imagine conscious awareness of such a dialogue to be delayed. I don’t think it plays any role whatsoever.

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Posted: 02 November 2012 06:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 142 ]
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GdB - 02 November 2012 04:54 AM

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.

Well, I don’t think zombies are a real possibility, no.

A spandrel is a trait or property of an organism that was not selected for and therefore has no function, like the red color of blood. Let’s define two sorts of consciousness:

Consciousness1: a particular sort of functional capacity in thinking brains

Consciousness2: qualitative thusness; having a “way it’s like” to be that thing.

Now, on this picture, consciousness2 is a necessary byproduct of consciousness1, but they are different properties of the organism. Consciousness1 was (arguably) selected for, although the precise picture is still a bit hazy. It is possible to do cognizing sub- or unconsciously. It could be that conscious function of this type is what happens when experiences, decisions, etc., are shunted into short-term memory, or when they are somehow broadcast to different parts of the brain, etc. I don’t think we really have a clear picture yet, but let’s assume this is selected for.

But still, consciousness2 looks like a spandrel. There is no clear selection involved in the property of having ‘qualitative suchness’ or a ‘way it’s like’.

Extensionally these properties are the same, since they always occur together, but intensionally they are not.

As regards internal dialogue, it is possible that all such dialogue is preconscious, and consciousness is involved in (say) shunting that dialogue to short-term memory or broadcast to certain parts of the brain. That’s to say, internal dialogue need not be conscious at the time it occurs in order to be effective in deciding.

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Posted: 02 November 2012 07:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 143 ]
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Doug,

The problem I have is with the ‘necessary’. I agree that ‘being red’ is not essential for blood. So this is a spandrel. But it is not a necessary spandrel. Nature could have found a trick to transport oxygen not with some iron compound but e.g with a copper compound. We then would have green blood. Now I don’t think this is the case with the functional capacity of thinking brains. An organism with thinking capabilities is necessarily conscious. So yes, you are right, it is not possible for nature to select for consciousness per sé (I would not know what that could be anyway: a free floating soul?), but given that it selects for the functional capabilities for thinking, it automatically will bring consciousness with it.

But maybe we are saying the same. I agree that intensionally they are not the same.

As regards internal dialogue, it is possible that all such dialogue is preconscious, and consciousness is involved in (say) shunting that dialogue to short-term memory or broadcast to certain parts of the brain. That’s to say, internal dialogue need not be conscious at the time it occurs in order to be effective in deciding.

That’s true, but if such internal dialogue would be always followed by the consciousness of it, this seems of no importance to me, surely not when we are talking about the role of consciousness in free will. And btw, a precise timing, wouldn’t that fall under the illusion of the Cartesian Theatre? Isn’t there a parallel between Dennett’s comparison between the impossible difference between an Orwellian and Stalinesk model of the mind?

[ Edited: 02 November 2012 07:53 AM by GdB ]
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Posted: 02 November 2012 08:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 144 ]
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GdB - 31 October 2012 08:15 AM

In some youtube video (I’ll try to find it if I am home), Dennett declares what the result of the experiment means: “Don’t play Rock, Paper, Scissors when you have your head in an MRI, because you will loose.”

Forgot this.

This is link:
Free will as moral competence.
Professor Daniel Dennett at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

The part I referenced to is 5 minutes before the end. The researchers could not just predict what the person would do in a few seconds, but even 10, and it was a Libet setup, but now in the fRMI Tube.
But of course it is interesting to hear the whole hour…

Another rather good one:
Is Science Showing That We Don’t Have Free Will?
1 hour and 23 minutes.

This is a nice short one (6 minutes):
Dennett on Consciousness and Free Will

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Posted: 02 November 2012 10:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 145 ]
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dougsmith - 02 November 2012 06:34 AM

But still, consciousness2 looks like a spandrel. There is no clear selection involved in the property of having ‘qualitative suchness’ or a ‘way it’s like’.

I wonder? We have reason to try to avoid negative consequences and try to get good consequences and that is we want or don’t want to experience them.

Take the experience away and that reason disappears. Couldn’t that be to do with the function?

Stephen

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Posted: 02 November 2012 10:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 146 ]
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GdB - 31 October 2012 08:15 AM

Another rather good one:
Is Science Showing That We Don’t Have Free Will?
1 hour and 23 minutes.

 

The thing is of course science is showing we don’t have free will because the experiments are aimed at showing we don’t have libertarian free will and that is what free will means to the scientists and the people reading the title, by enlarge.

There must be a better way of dealing with this when we have a term with more than one meaning.

Stephen

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Posted: 02 November 2012 11:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 147 ]
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George - 02 November 2012 06:08 AM
GdB - 02 November 2012 04:54 AM

Is it to 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.

I already said I don’t believe this to be true as I imagine conscious awareness of such a dialogue to be delayed. I don’t think it plays any role whatsoever.

In the Libet experiment, the subjects had to be aware of the pre-experiment dialogue (i.e. instructions from the experimenter) or they would never have pushed the buttons during the experiment.  Thus conscious awareness played a role in the experiments.

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As a fabrication of our own consciousness, our assignations of meaning are no less “real”, but since humans and the fabrications of our consciousness are routinely fraught with error, it makes sense, to me, to, sometimes, question such fabrications.

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Posted: 02 November 2012 11:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 148 ]
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StephenLawrence - 02 November 2012 10:10 AM

Take the experience away and that reason disappears.

Of course not. The experience match the biological needs: these are the ‘real reasons’.

StephenLawrence - 02 November 2012 10:18 AM

The thing is of course science is showing we don’t have free will because the experiments are aimed at showing we don’t have libertarian free will and that is what free will means to the scientists and the people reading the title, by enlarge.

A concept of free will that supports our societal praxis and thinking and feeling about ourselves earns to be named ‘free will’. We must free us from wrong conceptions. Determinism is a necessary condition for free will, not its counterpart.

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Posted: 02 November 2012 11:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 149 ]
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StephenLawrence - 02 November 2012 10:10 AM
dougsmith - 02 November 2012 06:34 AM

But still, consciousness2 looks like a spandrel. There is no clear selection involved in the property of having ‘qualitative suchness’ or a ‘way it’s like’.

I wonder? We have reason to try to avoid negative consequences and try to get good consequences and that is we want or don’t want to experience them.

Take the experience away and that reason disappears. Couldn’t that be to do with the function?

Stephen

I think so.  If I experience a sensation when one hair on my arm is touched, and someone else only experiences a sensation when at least 3 hairs on his arm are touched, I might be less likely to be bitten by a brown recluse.

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As a fabrication of our own consciousness, our assignations of meaning are no less “real”, but since humans and the fabrications of our consciousness are routinely fraught with error, it makes sense, to me, to, sometimes, question such fabrications.

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Posted: 02 November 2012 11:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 150 ]
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TimB - 02 November 2012 11:02 AM
George - 02 November 2012 06:08 AM
GdB - 02 November 2012 04:54 AM

Is it to 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.

I already said I don’t believe this to be true as I imagine conscious awareness of such a dialogue to be delayed. I don’t think it plays any role whatsoever.

In the Libet experiment, the subjects had to be aware of the pre-experiment dialogue (i.e. instructions from the experimenter) or they would never have pushed the buttons during the experiment.  Thus conscious awareness played a role in the experiments.

Where is the control group to show that your claim is right? Did philosophical zombies participate in the study as well? You may as well say that the colour red of the participants played a role, since the subjects had to have red blood to be able to play.

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