450 thoughts on “Consciousness Cannot Have Evolved

  1. newton,

    Perhaps our experience of qualia is just as much an illusion as zk’s experience of qualia.

    Then again zombies themselves may be the only illusion.

    Both of those are possible, and establishing either one would be an important advance in consciousness studies.

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  2. keiths: He’ll state the same preference as Qualia Keith.

    Why, he doesn’t have a preference. Preferences are only for things that experience. Can a computer have a preference? I rather think not.

    By stating he has a preference, when he in fact doesn’t, is a lie.

    I think the whole thought experiment, of a non-feeling being being able to answer questions honestly, the same as a feeling being, is not a very sound argument.

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  3. keiths,

    Hmm. By that token I must think God is a useful concept. Oops I did it again. Any of those mentions by Dennett say anything on the lines of qualia being a useful concept in scientific study of how the brain works?

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  4. phoodoo: Can a computer have a preference? I rather think not.

    Why not? Thinking is what the brain does. Could we not emulate this process, or at least a simplified model, in silicon? Other than our expertise and cognitive ability, what is preventing it?

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  5. Alan Fox: Why not? Thinking is what the brain does. Could we not emulate this process, or at least a simplified model, in silicon? Other than our expertise and cognitive ability, what is preventing it?

    A preference means to like something. Do you think a computer can like something? In what way will it “like” something?

    When I read people talking about computers, as if they “choose” something, I think, do those people realize what a computer is? It is a giant calculating machine. It is not more than that. Its as if, by virtue of computers becoming more sophisticated, and giving answers that seem almost human like, there are always these people who are turning their own brains off, and actually believing that a computer is preferring things, is choosing things because IT wants to choose them, not because it is programmed to do what it does. Just give a computer some things resembling eyes, and some moving eyebrows, and voila, you can actually fool people into thinking the computer thinks, feels, expresses. The reality of what computers actually do seems to get thrown out the window. Amazing.

    Just because a computer can be made to “look” like it is thinking Alan, its not. Its a series of switches that only allow it to do whatever some programmer says it should do. Its not the computer thinking.

    I know you like to play definition games, but computers don’t like. They don’t feel. They don’t get happy, or sad, or lonely, or bored. There is also no tooth fairy. Sorry Spock.

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  6. CharlieM: I’m not dismissing it. I’m looking for the point where we can begin to acquire knowledge without making any prior assumptions. To posit an “external word” is a conclusion we make after thinking about what comes to us through our senses. The concepts I and the world are concepts gained by thinking about what I perceive.

    So I’ll grant you that point, for the sake of the argument. I’ll use my capacity for “thinking” and conclude there really is an external world, that there are other minds out there like mine, and that all of them are associated with physical structures called brains. Now what? What relevance does the fact that I came to these conclusions by “thinking about what I perceive” have? I genuinely can see none.

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  7. phoodoo,
    You used the word “preference”. Why can’t a computer model emulate preference? I can’t see what the barrier is. What is preventing us from modelling thinking processes if we start with simple models? The brain mainly consists of neurons and glial cells and activity is electrochemical “firing” between neurons. The complexity is in the numbers, cells and connections, firing rate, triggering thresholds. Whilst in practice, even a simple model would be a huge undertaking, I don’t see a problem in principle.

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  8. keiths:
    newton,

    Both of those are possible, and establishing either one would be an important advance in consciousness studies.

    Yep, the world eagerly awaits the findings of zombie consciousness studies.

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  9. phoodoo: Just because a computer can be made to “look” like it is thinking Alan, its not. Its a series of switches that only allow it to do whatever some programmer says it should do. Its not the computer thinking

    If we are the result of design, that is pretty much what happened.

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  10. Alan Fox: Why can’t a computer model emulate preference?

    I just told you why? But you still don’t seem to understand what a computer is.

    If you are now suggesting that why can’t we just make a conscious brain? Well, good luck.

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  11. Corneel:

    CharlieM: I’m not dismissing it. I’m looking for the point where we can begin to acquire knowledge without making any prior assumptions. To posit an “external word” is a conclusion we make after thinking about what comes to us through our senses. The concepts I and the world are concepts gained by thinking about what I perceive.

    So I’ll grant you that point, for the sake of the argument. I’ll use my capacity for “thinking” and conclude there really is an external world, that there are other minds out there like mine, and that all of them are associated with physical structures called brains. Now what? What relevance does the fact that I came to these conclusions by “thinking about what I perceive” have? I genuinely can see none.

    So you begin with thinking. What does this thinking involve, what is it applied to? You apply it to what is given to your world of experience, including but not confined to sense impressions.

    As Steiner says, “Until we have understood the act of knowledge, we cannot judge the significance of statements about the content of the world arrived at through the act of cognition.”

    So at this point no judgement is made whether the world of our experience is subjective, objective or somewhere in between. But many modern philosophers begin by asking the question, “What is the relationship between myself as subject to objective reality”? They assume from the start that there is really this separation between subject and object as they see it.

    And I think that when Kastrup says that he is an objective idealist and also a subjective idealist, he is emphasising that to make the distinction between subjectivity and objectivity as is commonly done is unjustified and so any philosophy that begins from that stance is on shaky foundations.

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  12. Alan Fox: Why can’t a computer model emulate preference? I can’t see what the barrier is. What is preventing us from modelling thinking processes if we start with simple models? The brain mainly consists of neurons and glial cells and activity is electrochemical “firing” between neurons. The complexity is in the numbers, cells and connections, firing rate, triggering thresholds. Whilst in practice, even a simple model would be a huge undertaking, I don’t see a problem in principle.

    I think that the problem here has a subtle complication: is there a difference that makes a difference between using a computer to simulate a minded organism and building something that really is a minded organism, only not “alive” in the strict sense? (I sometimes find it helpful to think of robots as “synthetic animals” rather than as “computers with legs”, just to fix my attention to what seems crucial here.)

    There’s no doubt that one could write software that would simulate what it would be for an animal to make choices based on preferences — just as we can write software that simulates clouds and storms. But such a program would no more have preferences than a simulation of a storm is wet.

    in other words, the question “could we build a synthetic animal that has preferences?” isn’t easily answered in terms of what we can program a computer to simulate.

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  13. phoodoo: If you are now suggesting that why can’t we just make a conscious brain?

    What I mean and what I think you mean by consciousness are two different things.

    Thinking is a physical process. In principle, it should be possible to emulate brain funtion in any suitable medium.

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  14. Kantian Naturalist: There’s no doubt that one could write software that would simulate what it would be for an animal to make choices based on preferences — just as we can write software that simulates clouds and storms. But such a program would no more have preferences than a simulation of a storm is wet.

    Ah, I see we disagree on the explanatory value of qualia. I would suggest with a good enough model then simulation becomes emulation. I’ll give it a bit more thought!

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  15. Alan Fox: By that token I must think God is a useful concept.

    I can agree that “God” is a useful concept. But I have not found anything useful about “qualia”. I guess it is useful for people who play word games.

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  16. Alan Fox: Thinking is a physical process. In principle, it should be possible to emulate brain funtion in any suitable medium.

    Brains don’t think. People think, and use their brains in the process.

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  17. Alan Fox: What I mean and what I think you mean by consciousness are two different things.

    What me, and everyone else on the entire planet except you mean by consciousness.

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  18. Neil Rickert:

    Alan Fox: Thinking is a physical process. In principle, it should be possible to emulate brain funtion in any suitable medium.

    Brains don’t think. People think, and use their brains in the process

    Well said, Neil 🙂

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  19. Neil Rickert: Brains don’t think.People think, and use their brains in the process.

    Guess that eliminates the possibility of being a brain in a vat.

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  20. CharlieM: They assume from the start that there is really this separation between subject and object as they see it.

    That sounds reasonable. I wholeheartedly support those guys and girls.

    CharlieM: And I think that when Kastrup says that he is an objective idealist and also a subjective idealist, he is emphasising that to make the distinction between subjectivity and objectivity as is commonly done is unjustified and so any philosophy that begins from that stance is on shaky foundations.

    I fail to see what is gained by rejecting that distinction. Are we already any closer to understanding consciousness, or did we only manage to get ourselves stuck in a very sophisticated form of analysis paralysis?

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  21. newton: Guess that eliminates the possibility of being a brain in a vat.

    Yes, pretty much. We actually think about a world. Thinking about a chemical bath doesn’t seem very stimulating.

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  22. J-Mac: newton: That would be better, if the Egyptians had a record that could support the Biblical narrative, that is the point.

    All defeated nations, but especially proud world superpowers, like Egypt in those days, love to commemorate their military failures, put it in history books, and make sure it’s taught in schools…

    They probably teach about Waterloo in France.

    But good point they might not intentionally carve the defeat in the walls of their tombs but the events leading up to the Exodus would have a effect on the economic results, plagues would a drain reserves. The loss of the first born male certainly would cause a disruption that could be reflected in record and maybe a boom for tombs. The loss of a army would result in the need to up conscription, more armaments needed. Lots of things can be supporting evidence.

    newton: You surprise me, you relish questioning Einstein’s narrative , why not the Bible’s?

    I relish both but tend to get defeated with the latter…

    If you say so.

    newton: Why was the Parting of the Sea necessary anyway?

    Who am I to judge why?

    Anyone who relishes questioning a narrative has shown a tendency to judge.

    But it must have been an amazing experience and now science has proven you can do it on the smaller scale at home using strong magnetic fields…

    Or the fish gets bigger with each retelling.

    newton: If you can control nature to flood the Earth, bunch of guys with swords should be no issue. No army, no rush. Sorry.

    Have you actually read the account??? Ask Harshman, if you need help…

    They didn’t have swords, or God couldn’t zapped the whole army without disturbing a bunch of fish? Kind of have thing for Harshman?

    newton: That is exactly the dishonesty of ID( tmiism) claiming the designer is not divine.

    I don’t think it’s necessary to infer ID.
    DI seems to be moving forward with the Return of the God Hypothesis..

    That would be a problem for getting ID in science class, but it is much more honest.

    newton: I agree the infinite regress is a good argument for something existing outside our logic. It just does not help which the particular.

    It’s your argument that is leading to infinite regress, not mine…

    Actually it is William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument:

    Whatever begins to exist has a cause;
    The universe began to exist;
    Therefore:
    The universe has a cause.

    The universe has a cause;
    If the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists who sans (without) the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless and enormously powerful;
    Therefore,
    An uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless and infinitely powerful.

    newton: Not mine, the witnesses to the alleged Act Of God, familiar with the Miracle of the Sun?

    Why would you move the goal posts?
    I have already explained it to you the practicality of a visual effect rather than the actual intervention in the laws of physics…

    Not moving goal posts, the claim is it was divinely promised, something occurred and it was viewed as an Act of God fulfilling that promise. They may feel your skepticism is inexcusable

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  23. Neil Rickert: Brains don’t think. People think, and use their brains in the process.

    Well, OK. Without sensory input from the rest of the body, the external world, social contact to learn a language, a blood supply, nutrition, our brains wouldn’t be much use.

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  24. Neil Rickert: Yes, pretty much.We actually think about a world.Thinking about a chemical bath doesn’t seem very stimulating.

    Depends on what connects the brain to the outside world. Would extremely careful dissection be able to remove a living brain and connect it to a blood supply to keep the cells alive? The cranial nerves embryologically-speaking could be considered part of the brain, maybe the whole nervous system. Would they be hooked up to some sort of virtual-reality interface? Two-way communication? Would they be brains already developed via a real life with social skills and language? Ethics? I need a lie-down.

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  25. Kantian Naturalist: I think that the problem here has a subtle complication: is there a difference that makes a difference between using a computer to simulate a minded organism and building something that really is a minded organism, only not “alive” in the strict sense?

    That is a triangular approach. If we ignore the question of what is alive and what isn’t, what is conscious and what isn’t, who is experiencing qualia and who isn’t, go straight to the chase and the model is good enough, I don’t see what the barrier is. On the other hand, I think technology and biology will have to advance even to have a chance of emulating simple sentient organisms and the ultimate challenge – an emulated human – is not achievable.

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  26. Nobody has proposed the mechanism for consciousness when the large parts of the brain are missing or when 90% of neurons are squashed and non-functional…
    Why would evolution evolve a brain that is mostly nonfunctional and can be compensated by 10% or 30% or whatever is left of it?

    Quantum entanglement is a mechanism proposed by Hameroff and Penrose but how that could evolve is beyond natural selection and random mutations… -:)

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  27. J-Mac:

    Nobody has proposed the mechanism for consciousness when the large parts of the brain are missing or when 90% of neurons are squashed and non-functional…

    Haha. I see you’ve quietly dropped your claim about the surgical removal of 90% of the brain.

    Your second claim is also bogus:

    …when 90% of neurons are squashed and non-functional…

    Here’s that update again, which says nothing about the neurons being non-functional:

    Update 3 Jan 2017: This man has a specific type of hydrocephalus known as chronic non-communicating hydrocephalus, which is where fluid slowly builds up in the brain. Rather than 90 percent of this man’s brain being missing, it’s more likely that it’s simply been compressed into the thin layer you can see in the images above. We’ve corrected the story to reflect this.

    https://www.sciencealert.com/a-man-who-lives-without-90-of-his-brain-is-challenging-our-understanding-of-consciousness

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  28. Alan Fox: That is a triangular approach. If we ignore the question of what is alive and what isn’t, what is conscious and what isn’t, who is experiencing qualia and who isn’t, go straight to the chase and the model is good enough, I don’t see what the barrier is. On the other hand, I think technology and biology will have to advance even to have a chance of emulating simple sentient organisms and the ultimate challenge – an emulated human – is not achievable.n

    Just curious, am I the only one who read this and thought, what in the heck is he trying to say?

    You have tried to say-at least you have said you don’t see what the barrier would be- that one could make a computer which can have preferences. As this is the complete anti-thesis of computing-there is zero logic behind saying this. Forget about it being impossible technically, it is also ridiculous pragmatically. Imagine you one day asking your computer to print out your spreadsheet for your afternoon meeting, and the computer responding, “You know what, I don’t really feel like printing out your spreadsheet right now. I am playing fortnight with some other computers, so like, go ask someone else. Also, turn the lights off, its too bright in here. Now piss off…”

    So your idea of computers having preferences-technically impossible (regardless of you not seeing the barrier), and pragmatically absurd.

    Other than that, your logic is spot on.

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  29. phoodoo: Imagine you one day asking your computer to print out your spreadsheet for your afternoon meeting, and the computer responding, “You know what, I don’t really feel like printing out your spreadsheet right now. I am playing fortnight with some other computers, so like, go ask someone else. Also, turn the lights off, its too bright in here. Now piss off…”

    Yup, I see no problem to emulating a sentience of that level in a model, albeit it might need more sophisticated computers and programming than we have at the moment.

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  30. Dennett does use the word ‘qualia’. I think ‘psi-phenomena’ is an imperfect but useful analogy of a word that both illusionists and realists use meaningfully.

    A History of Qualia

    Here’s the Humphrey paper Dennett talks about where Humphreys gives his ideas on how qualia could have evolved:
    The Invention of Consciousness

    [start of quote from Humphrey]
    An invention can be:

    1. A device or process, developed by experiment, designed to fulfill a practical goal.

    For example, a light-bulb or a telescope.

    But alternatively, an invention can be:

    2. A mental fabrication, especially a falsehood, designed to please or persuade.

    For example, a fairy tale or a piano sonata.

    I am going to argue that human consciousness is an “invention” in both these senses.

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  31. BruceS: I am going to argue that human consciousness is an “invention” in both these senses.

    Had you considered an OP? Your comment would work well as is with the addition of your argument to which I look forward with great anticipation. 😉

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  32. Alan Fox: Yup, I see no problem to emulating a sentience of that level in a model, albeit it might need more sophisticated computers and programming than we have at the moment.

    You seem to not have a clue about what a computer does. “If this-then that.” Computers don’t do, “If this-then.. you choose. Become blue.” “If this-punch the sky…” “If this-fly your freak flag…” “If this- why are you asking me, I am not the computer you are!” No more ifs, just be!

    No matter how sophisticated they get, they won’t jump the barrier from “If this-then that”, you know why? Because that is what makes it a computer! Its called digital! Its a necessity built into the entire structure of a computer!

    Now if you think someone can design a computer that does- “If this-then you choose” well then you know what that will take? Something other than a computer! A computer won’t need software anymore. It won’t need instructions. All this ridiculous time wasted learning programming will be over. It will no longer be like drawing a picture, it will be like a picture drawing itself. Instead of an architect designing a building, a building will make an architect. Why not? I don’t see any barriers!

    So the next time you are thinking of making a cake, try something different instead. Let a cake make a chef. Don’t ask who cooked dinner, ask dinner cooked whom. What’s stopping it??

    Come to think of it, when Lionel Messi scores one of his beautiful looking solo goals, are we actually being confused? Is it possible that what really happened is the goal scored Messi? What’s the barrier?

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  33. BruceS: I am going to argue that human consciousness is an “invention” in both these senses.

    There is only one problem. Then who is going to argue it?

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  34. phoodoo: Because that is what makes it a computer! Its called digital! Its a necessity built into the entire structure of a computer!

    I once spent a co-op work term programming analog computers to simulate reactor loss of coolant accidents. That was before Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and Fukushima.

    Programming meant patchboards and wires and debugging via oscilloscopes.

    That’s the way it was and we liked it!

    Anyways, carry on….

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  35. Corneel:

    CharlieM: They assume from the start that there is really this separation between subject and object as they see it.

    That sounds reasonable. I wholeheartedly support those guys and girls.

    IMO it’s a reasonable and necessary conclusion at the stage of human evolution which we humans must pass through. We must first feel this separation from the natural world, so that in the future we can comprehend the unity of existence through our own free efforts.

    CharlieM: And I think that when Kastrup says that he is an objective idealist and also a subjective idealist, he is emphasising that to make the distinction between subjectivity and objectivity as is commonly done is unjustified and so any philosophy that begins from that stance is on shaky foundations.

    I fail to see what is gained by rejecting that distinction. Are we already any closer to understanding consciousness, or did we only manage to get ourselves stuck in a very sophisticated form of analysis paralysis?

    It is not a matter of rejecting it. It’s a matter of being careful that I am not prematurely assuming I know where the distinction lies and then proceeding from that position. We have learned from experience that, no matter how much they try to be an impartial observer, the experimenter can affect the experiment.

    It’s not so easy to figure out what is subjective and what is objective. Do we really touch the table or are there always forces maintaining a gap? Which is objectively real, the table as we see it, the atoms it’s composed of, both, neither? Can we know the reality or is there some unknowable “thing in itself” forever beyond our reach?

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  36. CharlieM: It is not a matter of rejecting it. It’s a matter of being careful that I am not prematurely assuming I know where the distinction lies and then proceeding from that position.

    Yes, I get all that. But my question was: what do we gain by it? What profound insights do we receive that we would have otherwise missed out on?

    If this kind of loitering is typical of idealists, I don’t blame those blokes that just examine brains to learn about consciousness.

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  37. Alan,

    That quote is from Humphrey, not from Bruce:

    I am going to argue that human consciousness is an “invention” in both these senses.

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  38. BruceS: Do you remember Lionkitty who showed up in the thread on Graziano you Keith created that addressed many of the issues in the papers I linked?

    I do now, having re-read it.. There was a lot of noise in that thread, unfortunately.

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  39. BruceS: Dennett does use the word ‘qualia’.

    *chuckles* Dennett promises!

    Abstract: The philosophers’ concept of qualia is an artifact
    of bad theorizing, and in particular, of failing to appreciate the distinction between the intentional object of a belief (for instance) and the cause(s) of that belief. Qualia, like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, have a history but that does not make them real. The cause of a hallucination, for instance, may not resemble the intentional object hallucinated at all, and the representation in the brain is not rendered in special subjective properties (qualia).

    And Dennett delivers.

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  40. Alan Fox: I do now, having re-read it.. There was a lot of noise in that thread, unfortunately.

    You’ve hit on two reasons I likely won’t do an OP — noise (often from people who did not read the articles) and repetition of ideas many of which were already covered in that thread.

    A third reason is that Dennett distances his views from Humphrey’s in ways I am still working to understand in depth.

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  41. newton: Guess that eliminates the possibility of being a brain in a vat.

    Are you suggesting that brains-in-vats are not people too?

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  42. He’s suggesting that if Neil is correct when he says

    Brains don’t think. People think, and use their brains in the process.

    …then a brain in a vat is not a person.

    For the record, I disagree with Neil.

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  43. Alan,

    It’s no surprise that in that paper, Dennett is arguing against the reality of qualia. He’s been doing so for decades, and that’s an indication of how important he considers the concept to be.

    Likewise, Humphrey discusses the importance of qualia as a concept:

    Yet we all start from the same place. We relish the heat and redness of a fire, the sour tang of a lemon, the caress of a lover’s hand. Mystic or sceptic, we all agree that consciousness is wonderful. Conscious sensations lie at the core of our being. Without them we’d be poorer creatures living in a duller world. What’s more we all agree that consciousness is inexplicable — or at any rate that it is at present unexplained. The problem is not that we do not understand consciousness at all. Some aspects of it are relatively easy to account for in scientific terms. The problem is that one aspect continues to baffle everyone, and that’s the “qualitative feel of consciousness”: the redness of red, the painfulness of pain. The qualia — or, as people often express it, simply “what it’s like.”

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  44. Alan Fox:
    phoodoo,

    Phoodoo, do you think there is any mileage in developing driverless cars?

    I think you will use any excuse you can find to put a post in guano if I give you an answer which shows how wrong you are, so I can’t answer.

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  45. keiths: For the record, I disagree with Neil.

    Yes, I assumed that you disagreed. Most computationalists (“cognition is computation”) are likely to disagree with me about that (about brains in vats).

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  46. Found this comment of mine on the old Graziano thread:

    I do think we have subjective experiences, but I acknowledge the strength of the epiphenomenality objections of Graziano and Dennett. An epiphenomalist like me has to acknowledge that causality is restricted to the underlying physical system, and that phenomenal experiences themselves are causally inert. So when we report a phenomenal experience, the phenomenal experience itself is not causally relevant to the report!

    This is a somewhat awkward position, but it’s not untenable if phenomenal experience reflects the state of its physical substrate in the right way. However, I’m not fully satisfied with it either, which is why I find theories like Graziano’s so fascinating.

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