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February 16, 2007



Thank you for a flattering post, sir! Of course, being the fairly pedantic fellow that I am, I found something of mine described as terse quite the most delicious victory.

In any case, Tom and I share much the same outrage, though my expression thereof is more tempered, I think, by the number of times in the past when I've had to regret a righteous pronouncement. Tom, of course, has the extraordinary honesty of one with truly no fear of embarrassment or censure in defense of the right.

Finally, on question 3, well, that is quite admittedly not something deductively provable in 25 words or less. My old argument is a response to Chalmers more points out a line of argument unaddressed in Chalmers' The Conscious Mind and in Chalmers' subsequent discussions of zombies, but it's not in depth and it's an intuition pump that's more intended to begin a conversation than round out the issue. It's not exceedingly common to find folks both aware of and with an opinion on the topic.

More on that later, I'm sure. I've had a most delightful stomach flu much of the week which continues to moderate my level of engagement.

Also, it would appear that Typepad excises html in comments, so I've relinked my old argument in the URL section


I would like to add that we do not doubt that all crows are black until we are shown a crow of some other color.

What I am saying here is that we have never encountered a non-physical substance or entity, therefore we have no grounds on which to conclude that the mind or anything else is other than physical.

In fact I would argue that although we can form a clear idea of what a non-black crow would be like, that is we can easily think of a crow and color it green or even draw a picture with a blue crayon. This conceivability of a non-black crow does not provide evidence that their actually are crows that exist in other colors.

However, when we talk about a non-physical entity or substance, we can certainly construct those words, but we can not form any clear notion of what a non-physical something might be like. The properties of a physical entity and a being in general over-lap to such an extent that to say something is physical is basically to say that it "IS" that it exists. To say something exists but does not posses physical properties, is to say something exists without being, (it is without is-ness)

This is simply not a sensible notion. It's a vague intentional object without coherence enough even to derive a sketch or clean mental picture of. If we can't even form a mental picture of something, how could we know it if we saw it.

Basically, the non-physicalist view creates an impossible condition which creates an artificial situation that makes the physicalist position seem non-falsifiable.

To falsify the physicalist position, you only need to present a non-physical entity. however non-physicalists only imagine up spooks, they do not present anything that can be dissected observed empericaly or in any way even acknowledged to exist or even be possible to exist, let alone prove themselves as non-physical somethings.

If the minds is a non-physical entity, then present us with a quantity of this mind, and show us the ways in which it's properties manifest themselves via some kind of non-physical medium. If you can not show me these green crows you speak of, then I have no reason to believe they exist, and I will just assume green crows are black crows that have been pained.


Some astute observations, fro, but why would we even care if methodological physicalism is falsifiable? Is physicalism *really* a hypothesis in itself, or is it just a lable for parsimonious monist explanation types?

It is only in contrast to the "spooks" that physicalism has more than a sort of soft negative role to play. It stands in opposition to soulstuff "explanations" which have historically had more to do with explaining how personhood is to endure after body death than to actually make sense of cognitive abilities*. It also stands in opposition to a number of other things - vitalism, phlogiston, magnetisme animal, and Freud's phsychic energy being major historical examples. It doesn't necessarily conflict with Chalmers' naturalistic dualism, but the methodological monism underlying it does.

Ultimately, it's very true that science has a reason only to drop paradigms when another displaces it: having no paradigm suggests no research and provides no analytic traction. Dualists are welcome to provide alternative paradigms, but they must, as froclown points out, define them in some way that a scientist can employ.

Nathan Smith

Sometimes it's useful when someone states a standard position in a naive way, because that statement becomes a sort of blank slate on which truer opinions can be written. Thus, a very extreme monarchist tract written by one Robert Filmer was an opportunity for John Locke to write his Second Treatise on Government. I am no John Locke, but I'm nonetheless grateful for froclown's comment.

"I would like to add that we do not doubt that all crows are black until we are shown a crow of some other color.

What I am saying here is that we have never encountered a non-physical substance or entity, therefore we have no grounds on which to conclude that the mind or anything else is other than physical."

But that is precisely what we are debating, isn't it: whether the mind (which we have encountered) is physical, or is supervenient-on-the-physical (because of course it has a physical aspect), or whether we can know it is supervenient-on-the-physical, or not. I do not concede and have no reason at all to concede that "we have never encountered a non-physical... entity." (I prefer to talk of non-physical "entities" rather than non-physical "substances" since the word "substance" has taken on a physical meaning and so to speak of a "non-physical substance" does seem paradoxical.) On the contrary, I continually encounter both what seem to be to be physical entities-- cats, cards, cabins, candy, etc.-- and what seem to be non-physical entities-- right and wrong, the equation 2+2=4, the notion of freedom, feelings of fear or awe or love, etc.

We may call this the common-sense view because for everyday purposes we all subscribe to it, even ideological physicalists. Suppose a physicalist uses a word that is unfamiliar to his interlocutor-- let's say, "epitome"-- and the following exchange ensues:

PHYSICALIST: "and so for years Alexander was regarded as the epitome of greatness..."
INTERLOCUTOR: "Excuse me, what word did you use to describe Alexander?"
INTERLOCUTOR: "Yes, that one. What does it mean?"
PHYSICALIST: "Oh, well... let's see... It's a bit hard to explain..."
INTERLOCUTOR: "Is it a *physical* thing?"

The physicalist will not be at loss to answer this question; he will answer "no." He knows the common-sense distinction between the physical and the non-physical, and he knows that if he says an entity is physical, the statement will not be interpreted as an effectively contentless proposition that the entity is, so to speak, "within the set of... everything"; rather, his interlocutor will feel that he has narrowed down the set of things which the new word might refer to, and will rule out a large class of entities to which the term "physical thing" is not felt properly to apply, including that thing which actually is the referent of the word "epitome." Since the physicalist does not want his interlocutor to narrow the set in this way, he would answer the question "no," even those this is a minor blasphemy against his worldview.

Froclown assumes that there are no non-physical entities, and from this premise, draws the conclusion that there are no non-physical entities. Professional philosophers who make this argument do a somewhat better job of masking its character, but froclown is nonetheless in very good company: I have encountered variations of this argument, I think, in John Searle and Daniel Dennett, and elsewhere. The flaw is circularity.

Froclown goes on:

"However, when we talk about a non-physical entity or substance, we can certainly construct those words, but we can not form any clear notion of what a non-physical something might be like."

If this is a statement about froclown's personal cognitive experience, I can report that mine is different. I find it much easier to "form a clear notion" of the number two than of an electron.

"The properties of a physical entity and a being in general over-lap to such an extent that to say something is physical is basically to say that it 'IS' that it exists."

To say something is a man with a white beard is to say it is a person; but not vice versa. In the same way, the last claim-- that "to say something is physically is basically to say that it 'IS', that it exists"-- is true, though its converse is not. Indeed we can omit the "basically." That which is physical, exists.

As an illustration of the "extent" to which "the properties of a physical entity and a being in general overlap," however, the claim is less impressive. I am inclined to reject the phrase "the properties... of a being in general" altogether. Entities-- let's not say "beings," which in common language tends to imply consciousness, but "entities," the etymology of the word implying mere being, without semantic accretions having added anything extra to reduce the generality of the term-- are so diverse that I doubt anything can be found in common between them other than mere existence. What do a rat, a star, 5+4=9, irritation, text, and the *post hoc ergo propter hoc* fallacy have in common, other than that all of them exist? Being at a loss to identify any "properties... of a[n] being in general," I will assent to no statement about the extent to which they overlap with the properties of physical things. Having said this, it will be clear why the next claim is not convincing:

"To say something exists but does not posses physical properties, is to say something exists without being, (it is without is-ness)."

"Froclown now makes, so to speak, a transition from ontology to epistemology, that is, from questions of what is to questions of how we perceive it (which he touched on before)."

"This [idea of non-physical entities] is... a vague intentional object without coherence enough even to derive a sketch or clean mental picture of. If we can't even form a mental picture of something, how could we know it if we saw it."

For us to know of the existence of non-physical entities, we need to have some means to perceive them, or perhaps I should say "to get in touch with them" because the word "perceive" may have a physicalist bias. But this presents no difficulty: our intellects are bumping up against non-physical entities all the time! If you write 2+2=4 on a piece of paper you will successfully communicate to me an idea. Clearly the idea bears only an arbitrary and accidental relationship to the physical form of the marks made on the paper. It is my intellect, not my eyes, which make contact with this entity, the equation represented by the marks "2+2=4."

So where does froclown's confusion come from? Some of froclown's language suggests that he has perception confused with vision: he keeps emphasizing vision. He wants "a sketch." "A clean mental picture." "We wouldn't know it if we saw it." Perhaps this is only metaphor but it's worth addressing because it's symptomatic of a flaw in his thinking, namely an unwarrantedly narrow notion of the sources of knowledge.

Even some physical things are invisible. I do not ordinarily "form a... mental picture" of wind. If I try to do so, I will perhaps picture a lot of tiny clumps of small round balls with even smaller specks zinging around them (these are atoms with their orbiting electrons) spread rather thinly, moving fast and bouncing off one another, but collectively tending to move in one direction, albeit with collective momentum a good deal slower than the individual motion of the atoms, let alone the motion of the electrons within the atoms. No doubt as I filled out this picture I would make so many mistakes that a real scientist who was studying wind would laugh at me; not least, I suppose, I would, in my mind, be attributing color and shape to individual protons, neutrons, and electrons in an effort to "picture" them! But even if I do not usually "picture" wind, and my attempt to do so would be terribly inaccurate, it would not be at all true in the ordinary sense to say that I do not know what wind is. That's because being able to "picture" a thing is not necessary to know the thing. Just as perception is not reducible to vision, it is not reducible to the five physical senses, either. And just as one will be led astray by trying to conceive invisible phenomena by "picturing" them, it is erroneous to insist on a "clear"/non-metaphorical description of entities we access through the mind in terms of the forms of perception characteristic of the body. (Indeed, we can perhaps "picture" non-supervenient/not-demonstrably-supervenient entities like justice, if we like-- as a blindfolded woman with a scale, for example-- but the pictorial representation is somewhat arbitrary and imaginative.)

Even what we ordinarily think of as physical perception is more ambiguous than it appears; one can argue that its reality is at bottom subjective. When we say "I see" we always refer (unless we're using the word metaphorically) to a certain kind of subjective experience; we may or may not also be referring to successful apprehension of some entity or event in the physical world.

Suppose we are walking through the desert, and the reflection of sunlight on the sand ahead creates the illusion of water. "Do you see that? Water!" we might say. But when we discover that there is no water there, we might say, "I thought I saw water, but I didn't."

Yet in other cases (and less typically) we might characterize the subjective experience of seeing as seeing even if it was not accompanied by successful apprehension of anything in the physical world. Thus we might say, "When I was delirious, I saw a vast garden of roses that rippled up and down like waves on the sea..." And the expression, "Dude, you're seeing things!" refers precisely to a subjective experiences of seeing which is leading to false inferences about the physical world.

Or you might say, "If you show a forest to a poet, he'll see a place of mingled life and shadow that beckons the soul with whispers of mystery and sorrow; if you show it to a businessman, he'll see $1 million worth of good lumber that no one has bothered to collect yet." In this case, the word "see" includes a successful apprehension of properties of the physical world, but draws attention to the constructive role of the mind in interpreting it. Perhaps the exact same physical process of perception occurs in the poet's eyes and brain as in the businessman's; but what they see is nonetheless different. Even perception may not be supervenient on the physical world.

But I've gotten off on a tangent. Back to froclown's argument:

"Basically, the non-physicalist view creates an impossible condition which creates an artificial situation that makes the physicalist position seem non-falsifiable."

The situation is not artificial, it is simply common sense. The mind/matter, or person/thing, distinction, is natural and is reflected in every human language.

"To falsify the physicalist position, you only need to present a non-physical entity."

But the non-physicalist can easily present lots of entities that are apparently non-physical and that for some purposes the physicalist would even treat as non-physical, just to conform to normal language use. The problem is that the physicalist will always say either "I deny that that entity ['really'] exists," or "I think that entity is reducible to the physical." If asked how, he may or may not offer an explanation, but even if he does, and the non-physicalist refutes the explanation, the physicalist will just look for another explanation, or say, "I guess that's unexplained, for now..."

Much of this argument seems to consist of playing ping-pong with the burden of proof. I say: "You can't prove that minds are supervenient on the physical world." Froclown replies: "You can't prove that there are non-physical entities." Both of us think "the ball's in your court." When both us accept that we cannot bear the burden of proof ourselves, but deny that it is our task to bear it, the debate does acquire a somewhat odd and subtle character... Yet it still seems obvious to me that it is the physicalist, who makes his bold claims about the content of "everything," who bears the burden of proof, and not the humble physicalism-skeptic, who says meekly, "we don't know that." (My position becomes a bit bolder, I admit, when I say, "we don't know that... *and we never will*...")

Froclown starts to raise the rhetorical volume...

"However non-physicalists only imagine up spooks, they do not present anything that can be dissected observed empericaly or in any way even acknowledged to exist or even be possible to exist, let alone prove themselves as non-physical somethings."

There's so much to debunk here!...

1) "Spooks?" That word again. I suppose this kind of silly polemical language is ultimately harmless, but it seems like rather bad manners. Or is it a show of fear: "They'll pummel us if we let them argue, so we'd better use epithets as an excuse not to take them seriously"? I don't know. But just to clarify: I don't believe in hobgoblins, or witches, or white ghosts with hollow eyes that say "Ooooo..." or most of the other things that we call "spooks." The non-supervenient or not-demonstrably-supervenient entities I believe in are minds, ideas, thoughts, feelings, free will, etc.

2) "Dissected." Dissection is a physical process, so no, non-physical entities can't be dissected (except metaphorically, as I am doing right now to froclown's arguments). Neither can some unquestionably physical entities, such as electrons, stars, wind, light, or gravitation. That which can be dissected, exists, to be sure. The converse ("that which exists, can be dissected") clearly does not hold, even from a physicalist perspective. Dissection is obviously a red herring, so what possessed Froclown to mention it?

3) "Observed empirically." This depends on how you define "empirically." I am able to observe my own thoughts. No one else can, except imperfectly and indirectly through my words and actions. Is intersubjectivity a requirement for observation to be empirical? If not, then many non-physical, or not-demonstrably-supervenient-on-the-physical, entities can be observed, "empirically." If so, then some observation is not empirical, i.e., intersubjective, and what are our grounds for giving credence only to intersubjective forms of observation?

4) "Let alone prove themselves as non-physical somethings..." More ping-pong with the burden of proof!

One could, in theory, produce two micro-physically identical brains, and if those brains had different subjective experiences in any respect, the hypothesis of mind-brain supervenience (though not of mind-physical-world supervenience perhaps) would be disconfirmed. In practice, of course, producing two micro-physically identical brains is not possible; indeed, we could not even recognize the micro-physically identical brains if they happened to appear by chance. But even if it were possible, we would not know whether the subjective experience of the minds corresponding to the identical brains was identical or not, because subjective experience is private.

No, I cannot prove the existence of non-physical entities, and I deny that I need to. My claim is precisely that the physicalist hypothesis, and mind-brain supervenience in particular, is unfalsifiable, unscientific, groundless, an arbitrary supposition.

By this time, perceptive readers will no doubt anticipate some of my responses to froclown's conclusion:

"If the minds is a non-physical entity, then present us with a quantity of this mind, and show us the ways in which it's properties manifest themselves via some kind of non-physical medium. If you can not show me these green crows you speak of, then I have no reason to believe they exist, and I will just assume green crows are black crows that have been painted."

I can easily describe many properties of the mind which are not physical as far as common sense is concerned; which ordinary people understand and interpret and believe in on the basis of subjective evidence and not on the basis of observation of the physical world; and for which no physicalist explanation has significantly affected the way normal people perceive them. (Here I have in mind a contrast with physics or chemistry, which have made contributions to ordinary people's worldviews: water is understood to be a compound, H2O, not an element, and the Copernican notion of the movements of celestial bodies has replaced the Ptolemaic.) I can all too easily describe aspects of the mind for which I personally know of no physical explanation, though no doubt that is due to my own ignorance. I have little doubt that I could name some mental properties which "science" has not explained, in either of two senses: (a) there is no scientific consensus on the explanation, or (b) no reputable scientist has even ventured to pretend to explain it. This would be difficult because "science" is a vast entity, consisting of thousands of people and millions of pages of journal articles etc., which I would not have time to search through and in many cases am probably not smart enough to understand. But if some interlocutor could master this body of thought enough to speak for "science," my subjective experience is rich enough that in twenty guesses, or perhaps 200, I think I would hit on many aspects of it on which there is no scientific consensus, and one or two on which science has hardly ventured a guess. And none of that would prove the point in question at all.

I cannot "show us"/"show me"/show other people these aspects of the mind. The words "show me," indeed, literally mean "trigger a visual perception in me," and I cannot trigger visual perception of that which is visually imperceptible. "Show me" can easily be interpreted more broadly to include the other four senses, but it cannot be extended to that which is not intersubjectively observable. Often other people will assent to my descriptions of entities perceptible only by the mind-- free will, say, or the experience of pride leading to feelings of alienation and hatred, or how wonderful it feels to slip into a hot bath after trudging through a snowstorm-- but not because I have "shown them," but rather on the basis of their own subjective experience. If you do not feel the pleasure of the hot bath, there's not much I can do to help, but that doesn't mean the pleasure is non-existent. "Show me," you say? I cannot: the entities I am speaking of are not intersubjectively perceptible. But they *are*.

Even though Nato and froclown are physicalists and I am a physicalism-skeptic, I feel that Nato's position is closer to mine. He and I begin the same journey, starting in the valley of subjective experience and climbing the slopes of pattern-recognition; we part company later on, when Nato sets off to extend what is learned from external pattern-recognition back to (fully) explain subjective experience, whereas I see that as a dead end. Froclown, meanwhile, has yet to give the commonsense mind/matter distinction due respect.


I keep forgetting to come back and flesh out the asterisks - I intended to mention that back in the days when soul was mostly regarded as the unequivocable substance of the mind, a physicalist would truly have had no more success in explanation than a dualist. For example, we now have an incomplete but quite rigorous and testable account of visual perception that would have been literally impossible to achieve three decades ago and impossible to conceive three centuries ago. Thus as a practical matter it would be difficult to fault anyone too harshly for resorting to non-physical explanation types. And of course, they usually expected even non-physical substances to have physical properties like weight. Today's scepticism of physical explanations draws, I think, from the same inconceivability problem, but now it is posed by the inaccessability of specialist science to formative intuitions.

Reply to Nathan Smith's post forthcoming.


I think that Nathan takes froclown's evidential types too literally. In the example with the two microphysically isomorphic brains, he seems to think there would be no way of establishing that they have two different experiences. Well, if they are experiences as most people think of the term, one might expect the two people occupying the brains to report differently, however slightly so. In fact, if we have the equipment to tell that they are isomorphic, we can also tell where they diverge and follow these unexplained ripples and say, "huh, there's something going on here."

That's all outlandish technology for the forseeable future, of course, and short of this it is hard to see how we would gather evidence of mental roles being played by anything besides chemistry. Of course, Penrose thought he had something incurable for chemistry with his algorithm argument, but he was apparently just ignorant of how much power one can get out of heterogeneous heuristics, especially with the kind of horsepower available to the brain. Others like Searle have tried to do the same with the Chinese Room argument that are more frankly philosophical than Penrose's misaimed mathematical argument, but the overall pattern is that yet, contra-chemical evidence seems hard to gather.

Therefore I don't blame researchers for focusing on the evidence they *can* gather, and part of that evidence is the reports people give. Sure, we can't electrochemically track the red-perception of the reported red past a certain stage in the visual system (yet) but we can ask people questions about the redness of something. Frequently we can tease out even very weak perceptions and find ways to make something of reported ineffibility. Not explain it away, but as an indicator of something to try and draw out and define as a phenomenon using heterogenous, clever methods. In a word, heterophenomenology.

After all, what sort of experience leaves no trace in reporting at all? Nathan has complained that the empirical barriers to cognitive research means that scientists have too much leeway to dismiss explananda inconvenient to their preferred paradigms, but it would seem that if another research project came along offering to explain the dismissed explananda it would garner interest. What dualists need, as I've said before, is some sort of research project if anyone's supposed to take the idea seriously. Even philosophers are only going to discuss physicalist theories if there aren't any serious alternative offerings. Expecting them to add the coda "of course, maybe it's none of the above" to everything is asking a bit much. That said, some might mistakenly assume that it's been somehow proven that dualism et al have somehow been disproven/shown to be preposterous/is so 17th century, but really the case is that no one has given us any reason to believe that consciousness is non-physical except through complaints (frequently accurate) that existing physicalist theories leave something out or are inconclusive. That just makes folks work harder on physicalist theories, because those are the only ones we can even talk about in an scientific sense.

Which is, I think, what froclown wanted to get at.

By the way, I think Nathan knows I allow for non-physical entities in the form of logical entities like abstracta, cultural constructions and mathematical systems. In fact, I would say that the logical world includes, eventually, all coherent logical constructions, of which only an unknown portion is ever instantiated (this would be the domain of Dennett's "free floating rationales"). I am unwilling to assert that there's no way of making an identity between the logical Universe and the instantiated (physical) Universe, but I can't clearly conceive of one, so in that sense I'm a dualist. I think classical dualists want more than one type of instantiating essence, however. If the soul was a logical entity to Descartes like it is to me, he wouldn't have had to posit an interface between it and physical matter. Instead, physical matter that instantiated a particular logical entity would support that soul without being it. It's like the water in a river not being the river. We don't have to posit some special interface between riverstuff and the constantly changing water to explain the curiously enduring outward qualities of the river.

Also, I thought it was funny that Searle popped in Nathan's post first, since he's certainly not what I would call a "we have it all answered" sort. Of course, I think this is because he didn't quite free himself of artificial philosophical problems. Whatever the case, he recognized that, whatever the ontological status of entities that are neither logical nor physical, their epistemological status is questionable.

Nathan Smith

All right, let's start with this:

"I think that Nathan takes froclown's evidential types too literally. In the example with the two microphysically isomorphic brains, he seems to think there would be no way of establishing that they have two different experiences. Well, if they are experiences as most people think of the term, one might expect the two people occupying the brains to report differently, however slightly so. In fact, if we have the equipment to tell that they are isomorphic, we can also tell where they diverge and follow these unexplained ripples and say, 'huh, there's something going on here.'"

I'm tempted not to offer a counter-argument here but simply offer pointed questions, since I'm sure Nato could see himself what's wrong with his argument if he thought about it for a moment, and perhaps he knows it already. But the nature of blog-comment conversations is such that point-by-point answers are not obligatory, and if I simply challenged Nato to refute his argument himself he might not oblige, so I'll do it.

First, if the two people reported on their experiences differently, at that point the brains would certainly no longer be isomorphic. Reporting is mediated through the brain and the nervous system, and so by the time the report was made, changes would have occurred in the brains that would have rendered them non-isomorphic.

The two brains might have been isomorphic a moment before, momentarily, and then their brain-states diverged, thus enabling the different reports. If this occurred, it would by no means prove free will, because 1) the brain is not causally closed and there might be outside interference of some kind, and 2) sub-atomic randomness and chaos theory combine to make an entity like the brain, which has the power to amplify tiny signals into much larger events, non-deterministic-- again, even from the physicalist point of view.

So we know that if two brains were isomorphic the REPORTS of experience coming from them would be the same, but we know perfectly well, and on this any disagreement would be utterly foolish, that that does not prove in the slightest that their subjective experiences are the same, because nothing could possibly be more obvious, commonsensical, and indisputable than that different subjective experiences can be reported in the same way. One person says "I saw a bird," and means, "I saw a running ostrich." Another person says "I saw a bird," and means, "I saw a blue jay sitting in a tree." The reports are identical, the subjective experience quite different. Indeed, the same person can, and indeed must, report different experiences in the same way, because language, though a very rich resource, is not rich enough to fully express the richness and variety of our experience.

This is just another way of making the simple but essential point that subjective experience is ultimately private. Whatever evidence may be constituted by people's reports of experiences and other intersubjectively observable evidence, it simply does not, cannot, and never will be adequate to demonstrate mind-brain supervenience.

"What dualists need, as I've said before, is some sort of research project if anyone's supposed to take the idea seriously."

First a quibble: I don't want to call myself a dualist, though I may sometimes sound that way. Dualism suggests that there are TWO kinds of things: physical and mental/spiritual/whatever. That's better than to pretend that there is only ONE, but it's also a form of unwarranted reductionism, or at any rate reductionism the case for which I have not seen persuasively made. Among the things I believe in are minds, feelings, ideas, and the physical world; there certainly may be more, and perhaps I could think of more if I thought about it for a few minutes. Minds seem to me to have enough resemblances to justify classifying them together; the physical world is a sort of (generally) coherent, law-bound system and thus deserves its own category; and ideas, though extremely varied of course, seem to have something in common in the way the mind encounters them. Are minds and ideas reducible to the same "substance?" I don't see how. It seems to me that there are a lot of things.

But back to Nato's point: No, we cannot offer a "research project" in the sense that would be recognizable to a scientist, and we can state very clearly why not: a study of the mind must be a study of subjective experience, and subjective experience IS NOT INTERSUBJECTIVELY OBSERVABLE, at any rate not in the same sense in which physical phenomena are intersubjectively observable. In the natural sciences one can prove one's point by an experiment. This is possible because the results of the experiment are intersubjectively observable through the five physical senses. When it comes to the mind, A DIFFERENT METHOD IS REQUIRED. Our communications about subjective experience are mediated through sympathy and metaphor, through symbol and ritual; that is how we have learned what we know, and that is how we can learn more. These are the methods through which understanding of the mind-- or the soul-- can be advanced. If you're willing to embrace these methods, you can enter into the "research project," as it were, of the great religions and philosophies which have shaped the soul of civilized man throughout the millennia. If you insist on using the inappropriate tools of the natural sciences, you might invent Prozac, but you won't understand the mind.

re: "Expecting them to add the coda 'of course, maybe it's none of the above' to everything is asking a bit much."

It is certainly not too much. Descartes founded modern philosophy by doubting everything, and ever since that has been the high, distinctive *ethos* of the philosopher, the calling, the duty, the badge of honor. Not to claim to know what one does not have grounds to claim to know: this is what a philosopher IS, and it is the basis for the honor that they claim and, to some extent, merit. It is on the basis of this high calling that philosophers put on airs and think they are better than the poor rubes who listen to the pastor and believe every word of the Bible is literally true. Whether the mind is supervenient on the brain is something about which we do not have knowledge. We do not even have Popperian-style "conjectural knowledge." We must acknowledge that and remain resolutely agnostic. If a philosopher finds it too distasteful to admit what he does not know, he has forsaken his calling, and he is no better than the Biblical literalist rubes. He is just another dogmatist, albeit of a different congregation.


"So we know that if two brains were isomorphic the REPORTS of experience coming from them would be the same, but we know perfectly well, and on this any disagreement would be utterly foolish, that that does not prove in the slightest that their subjective experiences are the same, because nothing could possibly be more obvious, commonsensical, and indisputable than that different subjective experiences can be reported in the same way. One person says "I saw a bird," and means, "I saw a running ostrich." Another person says "I saw a bird," and means, "I saw a blue jay sitting in a tree." The reports are identical, the subjective experience quite different. Indeed, the same person can, and indeed must, report different experiences in the same way, because language, though a very rich resource, is not rich enough to fully express the richness and variety of our experience."

Of course I do not and will not accept the definition of free will encoded here, but that's a side issue.

I don't think that Nathan honestly imagines researchers to be so dull that they would 1) ask questions no cleverer than "what did you see" and 2) accept four word answers 3) and never ask the question again. Nonetheless, I do think part of the problem is lack of acquaintance with the very highest quality multi-modal investigations that strive to draw out even ineffable elements of experience. The report that something is going on but it's indescribable will probably lead immediately to more questions, asking the same questions of others, trying to identify some statistic regularity, then going back and refining questions, coming up with similar but different experiences for subjects to describe for comparison to the originals and so on, all toward drawing the whatever-it-was out into the light of examination. We're getting better and better at it as we get a better and better idea of what cognitive systems could undergird those ineffable experiential elements through taking reports seriously, not dismissing them as inconvenient (as has sometimes been the case in the past). Further, researchers can frequently bring to the surface things that are not jsut ineffable in their untouched state, but go quite unnoticed in the subject (like cognitive blind spots, most of us would never notice them). That's just good heterophenomenology*.

Say one wants to claim there's experiences that leave no traces in reporting or elsewhere that researchers can draw out even in principle. Presumably we can't even contemplate this experience, since it would seem to follow that if we're contemplating it we have something to say about it. What kind of experience is this?

Regarding essences: I'm confused as to what the motivation would be to impute different essences to minds and ideas. Certainly they are different, but just because things are different doesn't mean much. Sneakers and boots are objectively different, but I don't think anyone feels we're taking a liberty by placing them both under the "footwear" category. Ditto non social-constructs like protons and neutrons, which are both composed of up and down quarks but are clearly and objectively different. What do you get out of saying minds and ideas are radically different essences?

Finally, regarding philosopher's knowledge claims: while Descartes' doubts were a nice antidote to the rank asseveration of previous philosophers (including to a large extent Aquinas), assertions in modern philosophy already need so many caveats they cannot all be addressed, and demanding the "none of the above" version to everything is truly onerous. Asking only philosophers whose discussions assume supervenience to bookend their discussions with such caveats is unfair and tendentious. No one expects capitalist economists bookend all their works with some sop to collectivist skepticism of capitalist paradigmatic assumptions. In philosophers in general included such things, then it would be slow, dreary going indeed.

*Dennett's term, but the methodology predates the term, of course, which was a way of codifying a large basket of extant methods by which we get at "subjective" experience.

Nathan Smith

Of course a researcher could ask for more description and could easily disambiguate the meanings of "I saw a bird" to some extent, but we would rapidly run up against (a) the limits of our powers of description, and (b) the fact that each person's way of describing things is idiosyncratic. Reporting is simply no substitute for the direct evidence about subjective experience that the subject enjoys. We can learn something about it from reporting no doubt, but not nearly enough to confirm or disconfirm mind-brain supervenience. (By the way, Nato is perhaps unduly impressed by science occasionally revealing aspects of the subject's mind of which the subject was not consciously aware ("cognitive blind spots"). Sages and wise men for centuries have helped people to understand themselves; probably almost any religious person could describe a time when religious texts or a talk with a confessor or pastor led to a realization of some forgotten guilt or anxiety.)

Perhaps the phrase "A picture is worth a thousand words" will help to illustrate this simple point which for some reason seems to be hard to understand in the present debate. The intuition that the proverb captures is that I could go on describing what is in my field of vision for 1,000 words and would never give my listener as good an understanding of what I am seeing, as if I showed him a photograph. But my field of vision is full every moment: I could never succeed in describing it all; and of course, vision is only a small part of my whole subjective experience. My subjective experience exists, it is real, indeed its reality is more undeniable (to me) than the physical world "behind" it, so to speak, which is ultimately, perhaps, merely "conjectural" knowledge. It is real; but my descriptions can never do justice to it.

Nato follows with an odd paragraph about experiences that show no traces "in reporting or elsewhere." Well, first, let's drop the "or elsewhere": the experiences do show traces IN EXPERIENCE, of course, just not in reporting; or rather, the experiences would leave traces in reporting, but non-unique traces, because due to the poverty of language multiple experiences would be reported the same way. It is of course complete nonsense to say that "we can't even contemplate such experiences": we can contemplate them, we just can't adequately describe them. The great novelist or poet who can describe them is the exception that proves the rule: we are in awe of him because his words touch a place that seemed to us so deeply private; we feel that his work is a sort of miracle and we call him a "genius" and are grateful to him because he makes us feel a little less lonely. In a sense, great poets and novelists are the only ones who are qualified to be the subjects of cognitive psychology experiments, because of their unique gifts for describing experiences; and the misfortune is that there are not enough of them. But of course, even poets have their limits, and would be the first to admit that even their mightiest efforts fall somewhat short. They do the most to overcome the inadequacy of language to describe experience; yet they are also most keenly aware of the gap that remains.

"What do you get out of saying that mind and ideas are... different essences?" is the wrong question. I am not against generalizations and reductionist moves, but they must be done carefully and well justified. If I were told, or if I could think of myself, a good explanation of some category or substance or essence which both minds and ideas were cases of, fine. I am aware of and can think of none and therefore regard them, for the time being, as separate essences. It's not a matter of "getting" something "out of" it, it's simply avoidance of unmotivated reductionism.

What is "unfair and tendentious" is not the requirement that philosophers apologize the physicalist assumption, but rather, the physicalist assumption itself. In an unworthy fashion, philosophers adopt it without grounds and then smear any who don't adopt the assumption as believers in "spooks." This move is illegitimate and must be reversed. As for the claim that "No one expects capitalist economists to bookend all their works with some sop to collectivist skepticism of capitalist pragmatic assumptions," to the extent that that's true, it's because economists have already resoundingly rebutted collectivist skeptics (Marx, say) many times over, and are ready to do so again whenever the challenge arises. They will not dismiss such critics as "spooks" (in this case the term would mean Communist agents rather than ghosts); they will argue.

In fact, I think Nato's casual allusion to economists throws some light for me on why I am so indignant with the physicalist assumption. Assumptions as crude, groundless, and dogmatic as physicalism are not admitted into economics, or at any rate not on the same terms. Economists make assumptions, to be sure, many of them highly questionable (the "rational agent," for example), but they define these assumptions openly and frankly, and regard them as tentative suppositions at best and in some cases convenient fictions. If critics question their assumptions, they are quite ready to say, "if you relax assumption A and allow for... then the result changes as follows..." If some of the most basic assumptions are challenged they might say, "In that case I can't solve the problem with my toolkit, as an economist..." and they might offer, in a somewhat different tone of voice, "empirical" evidence (of varying quality) that their foundational assumptions are more consistent with experience than the alternatives. But they won't insist, or pound the table, or denounce the assumption-questioning tactics of their critics as inadmissible or out-of-bounds. They have, I suppose, had the good fortune not to become hostages to a certain distorted notion of THE AUTHORITY OF SCIENCE. Anyway, the result is that their methods are laudably honest. Coming from an economics background, I was shocked to see the manner in which philosophers of mind accept physicalism.


Nathan brings up good points, though they're mostly well enough for my purposes at the same time.

The wise helping people to understand themselves long before the rise of science: exactly so. We call those capable of informing us about ourselves wise for a reason. How wonderful that science can do the same and without (most of) the superstitious detritus or distorting self-interest of the countless incompatible ancient religions!

Showing a picture being better than verbal reporting at times: a very capital way of decanting a subject's visual-spatial experiences. Better yet, invent and employ aides that allow psychologically-important filter effects to reflect spots before one's eyes. The possibiities are incredible and limited only by our ingenuity and imagination (certainly not jsut what to is reportable in verbage). Sure, it'll never be quite the same thing, but I believe that's a familiar situation for human knowledge: asymptotic approach.

There's a residual issue, of course: what about those experiential elements that cannot be satisfactorily rendered back into the world? It would seem this comprises not just isolated cases but really much of what goes on in our mind. This isn't something brought to my attention through introspection directly, but rather through reading modern models of mind in which only a small percentage of what goes through our minds end up cleanly rendered intentional objects, and the rest are grasped just enough to lead to the next stage and quickly fade away. Dennett has gone so far as to strongly identify consciousness of an experience with the endurance of its contemplation. I'm not sure that I agree, but I don't see a good counter to his argument. Since traces of much of what is not conscious (by this definition of conscious) can recalled at prompting, however, the set of explananda one must address to offer a full account of the rarer but more famous centrally conscious experiences is very large and certain to be very difficult to render at the personal level. It may be that there is no way to get the mind to represent most of itself to itself well enough to generate reports of any kind.

The question then becomes - does this mean that science fails, or does it mean that at some point a neurophysiological explanation *must* take over, because there is no subjective experience left after that point? One can assume that experience goes "all the way down" in the same sense that most people assume their whole visual feild is filled and rich, but at least in the latter case it's easily demonstrable that peoples' impressions can be quite wrong and will accept that it is so. Should those with the intuition that they can see just as much detail with their para and perifoveal vision as with their foveal area dismiss the neurological demonstrations to the contrary because their introspection is always primary to science's intersubjective reach? Of course not, Nathan might answer, but they can say that they *experience* the same sharpness. That sounds pretty hard to dispute, but is that truly a pretheoretical judgement, or do they just assume the same acuity and have no way of telling the contrary until science invents one?

On the item of leaving essences as separate if one doesn't have a plausible candidate handy for unifying them: well put, but it would seem that physicalists think they have something plausible handy in, oh, every case. The candidates may be weak and they can be attacked, but unless they are shown to be a-priori unworkable, they'll remain the best in town until essentialist pluralists offer a rival. Further, showing them to be a-priori inconclusive is likely to rouse ire but not doubt. Scientists may not think of things so explicitly, not being philosophers, but the inconclusiveness of empirical endeavor is built into the fabric of scientific research and they'll know they're being wronged.

Regarding people dismissing non-physicalists as believers in spooks without grounds: I certainly agree that there are a great many whose physicalism is little more considered than any other bigotry, and just as vicious. That said, I'm not sure what philosophers you suppose to have adopted such haphazard smear tactics. The only incidents I can call to mind have to do with things like "Intelligent Design" which are paradigms without the first shred of research portfolio. After a talk Philip Johnson gave a couple years ago, I asked him if he could refer me to someone doing ID research of some kind, and he could only refer me to additional papers by Dembsky et al talking about the impossibility of some element of evolutionary theory. Well, if that's all there is then ID's "intelligent" part is contentless and philosophers of science can hardly do else than take a very dim view of what appears to be a cynical attempt to ram through cryptodualism by fiat. On the other hand if you're thinking of the more general waspishness of Dawkins and Harris, well, they're not philosophers, or not serious ones at any rate. Chalmers wasn't hounded out of the field after releasing his dualist treatise in the mid 90s - quite the opposite. He wasn't *agreed with* all that much, but he was certainly taken quite seriously.

Finally on economics and authority: I love economics, but its status as a science is merely the best of the social sciences. Economists cannot be so firm as a physicists because the facts are not nearly so hard and discussions of assumptions are endemic because there's such huge play between the idealizing models for which we can supply data and the real economic machine. No one would call a physicist dogmatic for insisting that an electron has exactly such a mass as a given velocity, but the equivalent certainties in economics are so much flotsam on a wide ocean. As such, it has far less authority.

Nathan Smith

In some ways Nato and I seem to be converging. I think this claim gets to the heart of our disagreement:

"... I believe that's a familiar situation for human knowledge: an asymptotic approach."

The word "asymptotic" implies that while we will never reach X, for any positive E, however small, we can come within E of reaching X. The knowledge that we can achieve about subjective experience through the methods of the natural sciences-cum-reliance on reporting does not seem to me to be "asymptotic" at all on this sense, and I don't think anything has been said in this argument in support of the claim that it can be.

And yet Nato himself proceeds to describe a set of doubts, and while I would describe them differently and perhaps less well (I'm not sure whether Nato and I would be describing the same problems or not), Nato is eventually led to a place where he asks:

"The question then becomes - does this mean that science fails, or does it mean that at some point a neurophysiological explanation *must* take over, because there is no subjective experience left after that point?"

Answer: Science fails, for it is certainly not the case that "there is no subjective experience left after that point"; rather, the powers of subjects to describe their subjective experience have been exhausted. No doubt this point would be reached at different times depending on the expressive prowess of the subjects: one would rapidly reach the point where one could learn little more from the experience-reports of the very stupid, while the extremely articulate could describe much more. If one can connect wires directly to the brain and reproduce the images in a person's mind, asking "Is this what you were thinking of?" one could probably make faster progress (though it would be a difficult question to answer: the truest answer would probably be "Probably, but perhaps not in every detail, because I can't scrutinize the picture fast enough to remember whether it's exactly the same..." in the best of cases).

About science providing people with insights about themselves in the way religion has done in the past, I suppose this is a glass-half-full-glass-half-empty thing. One might think, with all the prestige that science has today, and its ability to attract brilliant minds, that science's achievements in explaining subjective experience would be considerable, yet a casual "revealed preference" approach will quickly show that in the judgment of ordinary people, religion's ability to shed light on the soul is superior to that science by orders of magnitude. It seems to me that what surprises is the degree of failure and not of success. And science has certainly not achieved this while avoiding "superstitious detritus," for philosophers are widely guilty of a superstitious belief that "everything" is reducible to matter, force and energy. (The mention of "distorting self-interest" puzzles me. Do scientists work for free, then? For that matter, do they even take vows of poverty like many priests and monks?)

About economics: yes, I would agree that economics is less authoritative than physics; the nature of its subject matter requires different methods, and different methods have been developed. The problem is that (a) physics mistakes its methodological assumption that the-physical-is-everything for an actual truth, and (b) philosophy of mind all too often regards physics as so authoritative that it accepts this assumption; as a result, even when more properly philosophical methods continue to be applied, they are vitiated by deference to authority. It is the same sort of problem that vitiates the work of Thomas Aquinas.

Chalmers may not have been "hounded out of the field," and Thomas Nagel, another physicalism-skeptic, is also, I believe, regarded with respect, but most philosophers of mind continue to accept a physicalist assumption which is unfalsifiable, sometimes basing their assumption on a bare deference to authority. There is no parallel to this in economics. An economist who founded his entire research program on an assumption that was at odds with common sense and was not empirically testable would be regarded as eccentric and soon become irrelevant (with assumptions whose motivation is merely the mathematical simplicity of models being a separate case).

I don't think, though, that this is due to superior wisdom on the part of economists relative to philosophers of mind. If physicists saw fit to impose some dogma on economics I suspect that economists would probably be, if anything, even more deferential to it than philosophers of mind have been, but as it happens there seems to be no overlap between physics and economics to provide the occasion for such an imposition.

The Soviets excelled in mathematics and to a lesser extent the natural sciences. One reason for this was that these disciplines had the good fortune of being irrelevant to the official, authoritative ideology. History, economics, even biology were subject to it and stagnated. Economics, I think, has moved from strength to strength for the same reason: it happens to be irrelevant to the physicalist dogma that reigns in academia today.


Though the discussion has drifted in that way for some time, now it seems we have arrived at the behavior more than the content of the field and I must only offer my rather obvious opposing exegesis of the physicalist hegemony in cognitive science and philosophy: Its great dominance is most proximally due to the preponderance of professional philosophers and scientists in the field appraising physicalist discussions to be the best available. This is asseveration, of course, but there's strong prima facie reasons to expect an inconclusive discussion to follow from that back-and-forth so I just take it all as said except one peripheral item.

Why would the populace at large be anything but hostile to a physicalist description of mind? In the past, when science has plumbed the depths of some issue, there's usually been some sweetening to the medicine in the form of promised breakthroughs to improve and lengthen life. Even in evolution's case lots of folks like it because it has this inevitable feeling of progress and success to many people. And dinosaurs. Cognitive science and philosophy, on the other hand, seem to steal away the possibility of enduring after death and offer the notional danger of of robot takeover as compensation. I'm sure if it ever is accepted popularly, it will only be after it starts to provide nice things and tell nicer stories. Which it owes, of course, as that is the real way science earns its keep.


Cognitive science, and physicalism offer the possibility that we can directly network our brains with computers and other devices, and ultimately that we can transfer out minds onto these computer networks, as one transfers a program from a floppy disk to a computer hard drive. Thus, freeing us from the inevitable decay of the rotting meat pile we use as a transportation vehicle at this time, and granting us the possibility of much longer lives, and amazing potential for of experiences impossible to the meat monkey.

There is no scientific progress that can even compare to this, to escape from the limits of the flesh, a step closer to a gnostic escape. The only real way to escape the flesh is to build a higher world, because the heavens and the spiritual souls are lies and myths, but with science, we can build them.


Fro, I was with you until the last sentence. Mostly.


Well, as I see it religion and supernaturalism is the notion that these other world utopias exist and that we will be saved by some kind of higher power.

Where as science and physicalism tell us that those utopias are ideals to strive for in this world, and that the only savior is ourself. We have to learn to create out ideal "in the flesh" as it were, via applied technology.

To simply assume that the mind is some kind of supernatural substance rather than a material clay that we can manipulate is to doom us to a life of prayer and hope that some one or something else will save us. (save us from pain, suffering disease, death, sorrow, etc)

However the other view is to consider the mind as a natural substance a kind of clay that can be shaped to fit our ideals, it places the power to save in our own hands, rather than hope and pray for some deus ex machina to appear and set things to right, it is possible to discover drugs to lesson pain, build technology that lessens suffering, use medical technology to cure disease, prolong life via cybernetics and other techniques, and prevent sorrowful situations via psychological and behavioral technology, etc.

To deny physicalism is to deny progress to deny our only hope as enlightenment and liberation from the limits of our bodies physical weaknesses.

Basically supernaturalism askes that we replace action with hope, but what is their to hope for when we give up on ourselves. The supernaturalist's hope is more like sniveling, giving up one oneself, and kisisng the ass of an idol one has created in one's mind, the notion of a supernatural savior.

Well, I will not serve, I will not give up on myself, I will be proud and noble, and I will not bend a knee to any GOD or SPOOK. If I can't same my self, then I will parish, but I will not stoop so low as to accept help from "beyond"


Though this describes a far more rigid pride than would be my wont, overall I approve of the sentiment. I think we need to exercise our humility if we wish to live up to the pride, for we need clear sight of our failures if we are to employ our drive to action in mitigating or healing them. Perhaps it is just that I am so profoundly glad that the Universe allows for life and a chance at asymptotic (moral) self improvement, but I'm not often tempted to frame things as humanity spitting in the eye of the vagaries of life. This world as a whole doesn't seem to love us, but it allows for love and that makes its candidacy for sacredness in my eyes right there.


love is also just a clay to be molded.

What Heidegger feared and worried about in Technology, I embrace fully. That there is no sacred, that everything is simply clay to be shaped, and used, nothing is beyond reproach, nothing is to be simply gawked at in stunned admiration.

A dear is to be shot, eaten, it's bones used as tools, it's skull is a bowl. It has not internsic sacredness or beauty. Either a thing has a use as means to an ends, or it is not worth paying attention to.

Ultimately the entire world of substance can be ignored as we attain to pure information with no need to cloth things in physical form our thoughts and ideas are free to express themselves as information in a solid-state computer matrix, and need not sully ourselves with the body at all.


Froclown, I suspect most would find that spiritual perspective a mite arid and rootless. Though I would expect that as time goes on we'll all dispense with more and more of the arbitrary contingencies of history that prevent us from being as good and happy as we can be, much that was wise will remain so and much that was wonderful will remain so, too. There's nothing wrong with apprehending deer as useful resources, but if seeing them this way removes the ability to find beauty in their bounding grace, then one's humanity is diluted a little.

I want technology to make us more human, not less. Of course, my definition of human is "that which loves." Not an exhaustive definition, nor is it free of tendentiousness, but there are limits to lossless parsimony.


In the novel "the life of PI" we encounter two versions of a story. One is embellished with animals and an island made of carnivorous algae. The other the "dry yeastless factuality" version, which is a story without animals, but with humans who behave with characteristics attributed to animals.

The link it made that the embellished version represents spiritual paradigms and the straight facts version represents the paradigm of science and agnosticism. (the animals interject an element of the supernatural, of a certain aesthetic appeal, and an element of the extraordinary.

I do not doubt that the story about animals has a quality of stirring the emotions and the intuitions in ways that the story of simple human barbarism does not. That the embellished version is cathartic and the dry version is merely depressing.

Why this story of a man a drift on a small boat with an adult tiger could draw millions to any circus who would present it, where as the story of a man at sea whose mother was killed by a French cook, and whom this man killed in revenge would sell few copies as a pulp fiction novelette or a life time original.

However, when we are seekers of truth, rather than seekers of exhilaration, amazement, beauty, and spiritual intoxications,we must admit every time that the embellished story is not of use to us, there was an actual event which took place, and either there where literally animals on board or their where not.

In the case of a man at sea, there is no further need to inquire into what really happened, unless we set forth to repeat this event, the man who steps into the life raft with a Tiger might be interested to know that the story he was trying to mimic was metaphorical rather than literal.

Religion often introduces these elements of fancy and metaphor, where it wants to embellish the story, to glorify a GOD or hero, and also when it seeks to explain things beyonds it's scope of knowledge. Thus, we see that supernatural (non-physical) entities and events, are like the animals on Picean's boat.

This is true in neuro-science as well. That souls, qualia, and other such animals of the mind, may very well embellish the story of the mind, and they may excite us. When we expose the true nature of these beasts, we find the "dry yeastless factuality" of the matter to be totally consistent with material entities and physical processes.


The issue here is one of "true nature." Thermodynamics is merely a derived, system-level feature of the world, but it is still true to say that, say, pressure and volume are inversely proportional. By discussing mesoscale convective complexes we're not merely exciting ourselves by ignoring the desiccated reality that it's all just N2, O2, some H2O and a little Ar, which in turn are really just a bunch of leptons and hadrons, etc. It's true that the hurricane's components *can* be broken down this way, but you're not ignoring reality if you don't for the phenomenon at hand, nor is the phenomenon only virtual because it is instantiated by reductively tractable components.

I don't really expect that froclown disagrees; the point is one of how to express the issues, and folks will feel that real things are being labeled unreal when one denies personal-level phenomena (like red) by reference to the systems instantiating the phenomena. Yes, red seems the way it does to us because of systems X Y and Z doing their thing, but we really are experiencing red. Yes, I'm an experience realist. I just don't accept its reality as being of the kind described in confused classical philosophy: infinitely deep and subjective.


Where so we stop with the hurricane, do we say that a hurricane is violent, do we say it is horrible, do we say it is "evil", these do not describe space-time events that happen in the "Real world" these are simple description of how the effects of a hurricane make people "Feel".

Thus, wisdom states that we avoid such adjectives and simply describe the fact that the hurricane is a wind that happens to break apart houses and other human structures, for better or for worse in the long and short term in relation to different humans goals.

My red is a color blind man's gray, and we can't even imagine what "red" looks like to a parrot who sees with 4 types of color sensing retina cells, nor what a dog sees as red wiht it's two type color sense, as we humans see with 3 dimensions of color. The there are Bees, which see more ultra-violet spectrum and less infra-red.

As far as we know other people see color the way we see shapes, so long as it's remain consistent, there is no test that can discern this sort of thing.

Which is to say that all we have awareness of is relation and proportion between things, not of any thing itself. If the same relations hold true, others can perceive totally different than us, and any relation that others can perceive that I can not, remain as unknowable to me as color to a blind man.

All we are aware of is the physical relation between our nervous system and other physical objects and events. As each nervous system is unique so to is each nervous system's interaction with external events unique.

Does unique mean super-natural? no, it does not. Does it mean private? not necessarily, it just means that one nervous system's "language" must be translated to another, in orderto convey information. It is hard to convey information to other animals, even to humans who live in different situations, but to humans with similarly constructed languages, concepts, and social environments, information flows effectively. Well at least it flows well enough to get the job done.

There is nothing supernatural about any of this.


I'm not arguing supernature, I'm arguing rhetoric and definitions - though I went off on a sort of tangent in the last two sentences in a way that somewhat obscured my central point.

Qualia may be a hopelessly confused term, but in dispensing with it and its philosophical baggage one should not create the impression that one is denying that we have experiences with some of the features enshrined in the idea. At that point people stop listening, because it (appears that it) flies in the face of everyday experience. This is the rhetorical/pedagogical mistake.

The definitional mistake is to deprecate wholesale the intuition-related terms (free will, experience, etc) beneath the hard epiphenomenalist (or whatever) positions, since those terms generally do attempt to descriminate real patterns in the world. The task is to rehabilitate the term so that it refers to the real pattern rather than the unworkable theoretical superposition. This has to be done carefully to show that we're retaining all the meaning worth wanting or the redefinition tends to be rejected and the rhetorical part gets much harder.

I tend to view the rhetorical part as critical for two reasons: 1) poor rhetoric leads to poor arguments in which people respond to some position they thought you advocated rather than the one you did and 2) the outcome of the arguments has real moral consequences, just like stepping into a boat with a tiger, though mostly confined to the future as of yet.


Ok, my position is as follows.

There is only one world, call it "the natural world", "the cosmos", "the physical universe", etc.

The notion that there are two worlds, the world of substance and another world of ideas, this is what I reject.

I reject this notion because "ideas" are elements of the one world, they are no intrusions upon it from another universe, they are not praeter-material manifestations of the "spirit world", or any such nonsense.

When we dream, this is not a "world" of ideas and imagination, there is no dream world. The dream images are part and parcel of this world.

Likewise the ego-self, the activity of the brain called conscious awareness, is also fully part of this one world.

As such, the explanation for all phenomena, can be found in this world, it can not be found by attributing some phenomena into this other "sacred" and unapproachable world.

When we consecrate something as "sacred" we take it out of this world, we embellish it with other-worldly attributes, and we put a taboo against properly investigating the phenomena, and thus desecrating the phenomena.

In short the only motive behind dualism, is as a defense mechanism to keep a realm of the sacred, a need some have for a magical escape from this world into some "other world" of security.

But, ultimately where is this "other world" it is a world shrouded in ignorance and mystery, protected only by fear, it is a world of darkness which dissolves with the slightest spark of knowledge and is penetrated by the gaze of rational investigation.

Ask the dualist what is this non-physical element, and he will say "I don't know, it's just not physical, it's something greater, something sacred, something other worldly" If you get him to be honest with you he will tell you that not only does he not know, he does not want to know, he does not want to lose his fantasy, he does not want order, understanding, meter and measure, he has a WILL to ignorance, fancy and obscurity.

Thus, we have here not a battle between two seekers of truth, but a battle between those who seek to reveal knowledge and those who seek to obscure knowledge.


Is the argument between physicalists and dualists et al really about which is composed of the real truthseekers? Or are we trying to improve the human condition? If one frames the argument so that one side wins by showing the others to be fools and liars, we'll never make headway.


I don't want to improve the human condition, I wand to be rid of the condition of being human. Humans are soft and weak, they are limited by evolved animal instincts, beguiled with superstitions, and their good sense if more often than not over run by developed emotional reactions.

I expect that humans can become one with computers, that we can become one mind which encompasses many perspectives not a single limited point perspective, that we can live possibly forever, that we can be immune to physical attacks, we can be creatures of reason and logic rather than instinct and emotion.

That what we call human, is the filth we mush purify ourselves from, that humanism is as much the enemy as religion.

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