450 thoughts on “Consciousness Cannot Have Evolved

  1. keiths:
    Do you know what philosophers mean by “the hard problem”?

    The hard problem of consciousness is the problem of explaining why and how sentient organisms have qualia

    What makes you think it doesn’t exist?

    Because the concept of qualia is incoherent. Of course it exists inside David Chalmers head but it’s an imagined problem. Not a real problem.

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  2. Alan:

    Because the concept of qualia is incoherent.

    Which gets us back to the original unanswered question:

    keiths:

    What do you see as incoherent about qualia?

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  3. Kantian Naturalist: Suppose the Devil puts me and my zombie twin in a room and says “one of you has qualia and the other is a zombie. You need to figure out which is which!”

    That seems like a pretty good thought experiment.

    I’ve never found anything useful in qualia talk.

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  4. Alan Fox: There isn’t a “hard” problem of “consciousness”.

    I would say that differently. The hard problem is identical to the so-called “easy problem”. The easy problem is far harder than people take it to be.

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  5. Neil Rickert: The easy problem is far harder than people take it to be.

    No, that’s not right! It’s insoluble. I will get around to that OP, I promise.

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  6. Neil Rickert: The hard problem is identical to the so-called “easy problem”.

    Seriously, I agree with that. There is one problem (which is, in my view, insoluble).

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  7. keiths: Their usefulness is in raising the question behind the hard problem: what is it that causes certain kinds of information processing to be accompanied by subjective awareness instead of occurring “in the dark”?

    I have no argument for this claim, and it’s completely speculative on my part, but whatever — this is TSZ and no one cares. My hunch is that there are laws of nature such that, whatever is ‘metaphysically possible’ in possible worlds, nevertheless in the actual universe there cannot be biological computation without awareness. The hard problem of consciousness is to understand why this is so.

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  8. Kantian Naturalist: . My hunch is that there are laws of nature such that, whatever is ‘metaphysically possible’ in possible worlds, nevertheless in the actual universe there cannot be biological computation without awareness. The hard problem of consciousness is to understand why this is so.

    I understand why it is difficult to emulate brains. This is not a difficult problem. The understanding.

    Brains are effectively analog. Parts of the brain operate in parallel, and distant parts do their thing without input from other parts. The amalgam of these parallel processes is synthesized into behavior without logic. It is more analogous to voting. If you have to have analogies.

    As for the neurons, they are vastly more complex than transistors. They too have vast numbers of chemical process involved, the sum of which is the behavior of the neurons.

    I really see no likelihood that this can be emulated in silicon in any living person’s lifetime. It’s not a philosophical problem.

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  9. Alan Fox: Nonetheless… insoluble.

    If your definition of soluble means reducible to a manageable list of statements, then yes, it’s insoluble.

    If you mean brains cannot, in principle, be implemented in another medium, I’d say no.

    If you mean we will never design brains from first principles, I’d tend to agree. If you think we cannot evolve them, I’d tend to disagree.

    I suspect if we ever build a brain in silicon, we will not understand how it works, or what it is doing.

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  10. petrushka: If your definition of soluble means reducible to a manageable list of statements, then yes, it’s insoluble.

    Well, that’s firstly a failure of language. That’s not the root of the problem.

    If you mean brains cannot, in principle, be implemented in another medium, I’d say no.

    No, you are right, I’m sure. Function is independent of medium; our brains could be emulated in a different medium – just not by us.

    If you mean we will never design brains from first principles, I’d tend to agree.

    That is what I am saying with the proviso that the absolute limit is building brains that think more intelligently than we do.

    If you think we cannot evolve them, I’d tend to disagree.

    I suspect if we ever build a brain in silicon…

    Depending on definitions of brains, I think we’re well on the way.

    …we will not understand how it works, or what it is doing.

    Which is why I claim there is a fundamental limit to human cognition.

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  11. i don’t know what you mean by fundamental limit. The quantum theory that looked inscrutable a hundred years ago is mastered by thousands of students today.

    I’m not very good at expressing my thoughts.

    My bottom line is the assertion that evolved systems are irreducible. Irony intended.

    Irreducible, to me, means not designable. My argument is the inverse of the ID argument.

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  12. KN,

    My hunch is that there are laws of nature such that, whatever is ‘metaphysically possible’ in possible worlds, nevertheless in the actual universe there cannot be biological computation without awareness.

    That’s close to my view, except that there already seem to be instances of subconscious biological computation. Blindsight, for instance.

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  13. CharlieM:

    So even if they are not persuasive, are they logically thought out?

    Neil:

    That’s not for me to say. I don’t have access to your actual thinking.

    He’s not asking you to read his mind, Neil. He’s asking you to base your judgment on what he’s actually written.

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  14. Neil,

    The hard problem is identical to the so-called “easy problem”.

    Could you state what the problem is?

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  15. petrushka: Irreducible, to me, means not designable. My argument is the inverse of the ID argument.

    I agree, and I think it’s a subtle point that’s very easy to overlook: irreducibly complex systems are systems that were not designed, because we don’t design systems that are irreducibly complex. Irreducible complexity is diagnostic of self-organizing systems.

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  16. KN,

    …irreducibly complex systems are systems that were not designed, because we don’t design systems that are irreducibly complex.

    What about this airplane? It’s designed, and the removal of a wing will cause it to cease functioning.

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  17. Kantian Naturalist: I agree, and I think it’s a subtle point that’s very easy to overlook: irreducibly complex systems are systems that were not designed, because we don’t design systems that are irreducibly complex. Irreducible complexity is diagnostic of self-organizing systems.

    So a mousetrap isn’t irreducible? Human-beings seem to make systems that don’t function without removal of parts quite regularly.

    It’s probably best (& won’t be heeded, due to anti-ID fanaticism) to leave out the term ‘designed’ altogether here as too ideological, due to IDism.

    One of the problems here is the one-dimensionality of the IDist claim. What’s opposite of “irreducible”? The term “designed”, as a non-IDist, doesn’t quickly or ‘naturally’ come to mind.

    ‘Reduce’ vs. ‘elevate’ (as you’ve seen me use it here before) or ‘expand’ one option. It’s already a problem of “in biology or elsewhere”?

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  18. I wasn’t thinking of the Behe definition of irreducible.

    I was thinking conceptually.

    Can a thing be blueprinted, described in terms of parts and connections? To the extent that any expert could take the description and make one?

    Can you list the functions of each part?

    Now, I understand that science take this as a challenge, and attempts to do this with all things, including the things of biology.

    I think an engineer could look at a plane and make useful conjectures about what would happen if you substituted materials, or changed dimensions, but I don’t think anyone can predict the effect of changing a nucleotide in DNA. Unless it’s a change known to be catastrophic.

    We have no way of predicting what’s behind an unopened door in the library of Babel.

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  19. petrushka,

    “We have no way of predicting what’s behind an unopened door in the library of Babel.”

    Well connected (beyond just Borges’ metaphor), language to consciousness.

    “Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused[b] the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.” – Genesis 11 </blockquote)

    https://youtu.be/ifT5pP3-Zr0
    "something that has the capacity to replace the transcendent [with (hyper-)structure] – it's a utopian vision" – Jordan B. Peterson

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  20. keiths in reply to Corneel:
    Summary: Subjective awareness is epiphenomenal, but the (apparent) fact that it is an inevitable product of certain kinds of information processing explains why it persists and remains in correspondence with reality despite being invisible to selection.

    Subjective awareness may be epiphenomenal, but we need not stop at subjective awareness. We can turn subjective awareness into objective awareness by the addition of the correct concept.

    Take my old favourite the triangle as an example. Looking at the cover of “Dark Side of the Moon” I see, among other things, a triangle. That is the subjective awareness part. By thinking I can relate this observation to the concept triangle which is the ideal counterpart. The properties of this concept are not affected in any way by me and so it cannot be said to be subjective. By combining the observed triangle with its corresponding concept full reality is restored.

    This is a complete reversal of the belief that there is an unobtainable reality outside my head and I have an illusory representation somewhere inside my skull. It is the triangle on the cover that is the representation and our thinking which completes the reality. The concept belongs with the triangle on the cover and it is purely because of our organisation that we observed them as being separate in the first place.

    The only thing that we can say is a representation within me is my memory picture of the triangle.

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  21. Kantian Naturalist:

    Alan Fox: “can’t have” seems a very strong claim, especially with regard to qualia which. in my view, are far from being established as a coherent category.

    My point was only that if one is willing to grant Kastrup’s premises, then the conclusion follows rather straightforwardly. I myself am not willing to grant them.

    (For what it’s worth, my own view on consciousness is much closer to Keith Frankish’s illusionism than to Bernardo Kastrup or Philip Goff.)

    Kastrup has given a very convincing refutation of that article by Frankish here. He writes:

    …it is entirely true that the metaphysics of physicalism is premised on the notion that all qualities are generated by the brain and, as such, cannot exist out there in objects, but only inside our heads. Frankish’s assertion quoted above is consistent with his physicalism, but it illegitimately co-opts the success of science as if physicalism were implied by it. While a common move, this is wrong.

    i would recommend reading the whole piece.

    Frankish writes:

    If enough mental systems receive and use representations of a certain property, then the organism itself can be said to be aware of the property. And if the representations are illusory, then the organism is under an illusion

    He talks about brains, neurons and even organisms being acted upon by phenomenal entities which produce illusions. So aren’t brains, retinae, neurons and organisms also illusions? So we end up with illusory entities acting on illusory entities.

    We would only consider phenomenal consciousness an illusion if we had nothing further to add to our sense perceptions. But by our use of thinking and with it the ability to combine the separate sense perceptions into a unified whole we step beyond their illusory nature and apprehend reality.

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  22. CharlieM: By thinking I can relate this observation to the concept triangle which is the ideal counterpart. The properties of this concept are not affected in any way by me and so it cannot be said to be subjective.

    That’s subjective, too. It depends on your own ideals.

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  23. CharlieM: Keith Frankish’s illusionism

    Thank-you again Charlie, for encouraging me to follow the link provided by KN. I see Frankish acknowledges input from Daniel Dennett.

    One paragraph struck me:

    The first task is to be clear what we’re talking about. The term ‘consciousness’ is used in different ways, and when I claim that consciousness is illusory, I mean it only in one specific sense. We can home in on our target with an example. I’ll take vision, but any other sense would do as well. Suppose you have good sight and are focusing on a red apple directly in front of you in good lighting. You are now in a certain mental state, which we can call having a conscious visual experience of the apple. You wouldn’t be in this state if you were unconscious or asleep (though if you were dreaming, you might be in a similar state), or if you had not noticed the apple, or had noticed it only in a fleeting, subliminal way. Our lives are filled with such experiences, and no one suggests that they are not real. The question is what is involved in having such experiences, and whether it involves consciousness in a more specific sense.

    He goes on to discuss his view of how the brain models sensory inputs producing an illusion of reality. I think he makes a lot of sense. Kastrup is not so impressed:

    Frankish has accomplished precisely nothing in his long essay; at least nothing more than tortuous obfuscation and hand-waving.

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  24. Frankish remarks

    There is also a specific argument for preferring illusionism to property dualism. In general, if we can explain our beliefs about something without mentioning the thing itself, then we should discount the beliefs.

    I immediately thought of qualia.

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  25. Frankish points to the real problem:

    The notion of mental representation is a central one in modern cognitive science, and explaining how the brain represents things is a task on which all sides are engaged.

    That is the hardest problem.

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  26. Neil Rickert:

    CharlieM: By thinking I can relate this observation to the concept triangle which is the ideal counterpart. The properties of this concept are not affected in any way by me and so it cannot be said to be subjective.

    That’s subjective, too. It depends on your own ideals.

    Can you give me one attribute of the concept triangle which is subjective?

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  27. What one person calls “obfuscation” another person calls “clarification,” I guess.

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  28. Alan Fox: Frankish points to the real problem:

    The notion of mental representation is a central one in modern cognitive science, and explaining how the brain represents things is a task on which all sides are engaged.

    That is the hardest problem.

    But that the brain represents external reality is not an assumption made by all sides. And that is a very important point that he seems to be unaware of.

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  29. CharlieM: But that the brain represents external reality is not an assumption made by all sides. And that is a very important point that he seems to be unaware of.

    Frankish does not assume that but rather the opposite – that brain models are imperfect to the extent of being illusory. But the bigger question for me is how our brains model reality well enough for us to function while only having neurons that can send and receive electrochemical signals of varying intensity to each other.

    ETA clarity

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  30. Rumraket:

    CharlieM: We have no other way of knowing the world and everything in it including ourselves through conscious awareness.

    Of what our senses tell us, yes. That’s all we have, the information our senses give us about the external world.

    No we also have our rational thinking minds that interpret those sense impressions.

    You say that you can’t explain how the brain makes consciousness.

    Correct.

    Surely this question begins with the assumption that the brain makes consciousness?

    It’s not really an assumption, as I think the only good evidence we have for consciousness existing anywhere is in living organisms with brains, who can communicate to us and tell us that they are conscious.

    So you see it more as a conclusion you have drawn. You begin your enquiry about knowledge with a conclusion you have gained through knowledge. Would it not be better to ask about how we gain knowledge of the world in the first place?

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  31. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: But that the brain represents external reality is not an assumption made by all sides. And that is a very important point that he seems to be unaware of.

    Frankish does not assume that but rather the opposite – that brain models are imperfect to the extent of being illusory. But the bigger question for me is how our brains model reality well enough for us to function while only having neurons that can send and receive electrochemical signals of varying intensity to each other.

    And you too are making the assumption that we somehow hold a model of reality in our brains. You take that as a given.

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  32. Alan Fox: But the bigger question for me is how our brains model reality well enough

    That’s done by the the subpersonal representations/processes that are being misrepresented by the representations/processes that in turn give the illusion of representing phenomenal properties of the world or our bodies (eg pain).

    See essay on color linked below for example. Also search through his twitter archive for illusion text for clarifications. Also I link a couple of podcasts worth listening to.

    And yes, it’s just Dennett’s ideas as Frankish readily admits. But explained more clearly IMHO.

    https://www.keithfrankish.com/2020/01/bright-shiny-colours/

    https://k0711.github.io/keithfrankish-twitter/#

    https://nousthepodcast.libsyn.com/keith-frankish-exposes-the-illusion-of-consciousness

    Bonus for CharlieM:
    https://nousthepodcast.libsyn.com/philip-goff-on-why-consciousness-may-be-fundamental-to-reality

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  33. CharlieM: And you too are making the assumption that we somehow hold a model of reality in our brains.

    What’s the alternative? A model not based on reality?

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  34. Rumraket: It seems to be that the person is in the head, and that the rest of it are the “attachments”, not really critically important for their being conscious.

    Tell that to your heart 🙂

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  35. BruceS: And yes, it’s just Dennett’s ideas as Frankish readily admits. But explained more clearly IMHO.

    Thanks for the links, Bruce. That essay on colour perception deals a severe blow to the “qualia” concept.

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  36. Rumraket:

    Consciousness and brain processes are two aspects of a single whole in the same way that thunder and lightning are two aspects of a single phenomenon.

    Yeah I’m afraid this doesn’t make much sense to me because it’s not at all clear in what sense you think consciousness is analogous to the sound of thunder, or the electric discharge in a bolt of lightning. Nor what role the brain plays in that analogy.

    To you, it’s not at all clear in what sense consciousness is analogous to the sound of thunder because it isn’t analogous. It’s the relationships in both cases that are analogous. It is only because of the way we perceive the world that thunder and lightning are seen as distinct and likewise for consciousness and the brain, or should I say the nervous system. Thunder and lightning are not just related, they are in reality a unity perceived from two perspectives.

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  37. Alan Fox: Thanks for the links, Bruce. That essay on colour perception deals a severe blow to the “qualia” concept.

    Well at least to the concept that many take qualia to satisfy. But Dennett dealt with that 30 years ago in quining qualia essay (which KF refers to in podcast).

    Now that you recognize there is a concept to be dealt with, that is a good start! A better start than a certain other moderator who shall go nameless.

    If you want a harder challenge, look into what phenomenal concepts are. KF mentions them in another blog essay on illusionism vs identity theory and David Papineau has a mild disagreement with him in the replies

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  38. I’ve been doing a bit of googling with “consciousness” as a regular inclusion in search word combinations and I guess that was why I received a Googlenews flash about a recently published paper. The news item linked was titled rather breathlessly:

    A TINY AREA OF THE BRAIN MAY ENABLE CONSCIOUSNESS, SAYS “EXHILARATING” STUDY

    In this case, Consciousness means the Glasgow scale. I was interested to see the approach was to combine NMR, (nuclear magnetic resonance) with EEG (electroencephalograph) to identify locations of brain activity overcoming complementary shortcomings that occur when either method is used independently.

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  39. Rumraket:

    We need something to push against

    In order to do what?

    To recognise that we are individuals.

    the awareness of separation, of the feeling that we are in a sense isolated from nature. How could we develop reflective, self awareness without the mirror of the external world?

    I have no idea what you’re talking about. What is this mirror you speak about?

    In order to perceive ourselves as separate individuals there has to be something we recognise as outside of ourselves, something “other” in contrast to “me”.

    If no reflective surfaces existed anywhere then we could never know our own visage. It is the same with self-knowledge in general. We could never know ourselves if we did not know the world.

    And what would be the point of our separate sense organs if we could not combine them into a consistent whole?

    I think they evolved to aid in survival and reproduction.

    And luckily for us at the same time a nervous system evolved which allowed us to combine these sense impressions into a meaningful whole.

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  40. BruceS: If you want a harder challenge, look into what phenomenal concepts are.

    Just to make sure I’m looking at the right concept, I see that phenomenalism gave rise to logical positivism, which its own proponents (I’m referring to AJ Ayer) owned up to it being a failure.

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