Responsibility and Consciousness

August 27, 2009    By: Jacob J @ 2:26 pm   Category: Life

Lisa: You did fix them, right Dad? Because even a single faulty unit could corrupt every other computer in the world.
Homer: That can’t be true, honey. If it were I’d be terrified.

I recently checked out some books from Oxford’s “A Very Short Introduction” series. I started with A Very Short Introduction to Economics but gave up about two thirds of the way through due to it being extremely boring. Next in the hopper was A Very Short Introduction to Consciousness by Susan Blackmore. This one was plenty interesting but it made me want to strangle Susan Blackmore on several occasions.

Her basic MO is to give a brief survey of various positions on an issue followed by a conclusion that most of the positions are stupid and unsupportable. From reading the book I gather that she is a follower of Dennett and Dawkins which takes the surprise out of the fact that she thinks consciousness is an “illusion” (or sometimes, “delusion”). The brilliance of this position, as she explains, is that it avoids the so-called “hard problem” (the problem of explaining how our peculiar experience of being conscious arises from physical processes) by denying that there is a problem in the first place. If our experience of being conscious is all a delusion then all there is to explain is why we are so deluded (which turns out to be pretty easy, you just talk about optical and cognitive illusions and viola!).

As alternatives to Blackmore’s Very Short Introduction I would recommend the SEP article on consciousness as well as the Dialogue article by the nacle’s very own Steven Peck. I found both to be excellent and informative.

All this reading got me thinking about the question of responsibility and how it relates to consciousness. We generally think of a conscious person as being alert and responsive with an unconscious person being the opposite: un-alert and unresponsive. But that’s not always the case. There are those who carry out complex actions (like driving or murdering people) while fully asleep. There are people who are fully conscious but who remain inert and unresponsive (just ask my kids about my wife when she is reading).

We can add to the mix the idea of the subconscious which does all sorts of nifty things without our being consciously aware of them. When someone asks who played Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski and I’m drawing a blank, I know that I can spawn off a background process to work on that question and within an hour it will come back with the answer. Sometimes the subconscious works on more complex problems that just brute-forcing the recall of a name. My manager at work routinely wakes up in the middle of the night with solutions to complex problems involving computer architecture. As Blackmore points out, these kinds of things call into question the supremacy of the conscious over the subconscious mind.

Couple all of this with this recent post over at the Garden of Forking Paths. Apparently some clever compatibilists want to convince me that our intuitions about free will and responsibility are perfectly compatible with determinism and it is only misconceptions about determinism that make people intuit that determinism is incompatible with free will and moral responsibility. This made me curious about how people would answer the following question:

Would it change your view of a person’s moral responsibility for a crime if you could be sure that the person committed the crime while fully asleep?

It seems to me that the answer must be yes. How can we hold someone responsible for what they did while sleeping? I certainly don’t hold myself morally responsible for having sex outside of my marriage in my sleeping dreams. The obvious reasons are that (a) I believe I have control over what I do in my real life in a way that I don’t control what I dream about and (b) the consequences of extramarital affairs in my dreams are nothing when compared with the consequences that would result from a real-life affair.

In the case of a person who really kills someone while sleeping, the consequences are very real, but the argument that the sleeping person lacks control seems to hold. How can we account for this special status we give to conscious decisions? It is interesting to note that many of the mysterious and defining elements of consciousness are present in our dreams. While dreaming we have a unified, subjective, “phenomenal experience” that meets Nagel’s “what it’s like” test. It is hard to come up with what it is that distinguishes a dream experience from a waking experience. And yet, we feel that we control our waking decisions in a way that we cannot control our dreaming ones. (“Lucid dreaming” confirms this feeling that conscious control is usually missing from our dreams. Here is a good paper on lucid dreaming from the aforementioned Susan Blackmore.)

But again I ask, how can we account for this special status we give to conscious decisions? What is different about consciousness? From a compatibilist point of view, what basis exists for a distinction between a crime committed while asleep vs. waking? Both decisions were “up to us” in the compatibilist sense of being a result of our own mental processes. It seems that this is usually the only criteria compatibilists require in order to hold someone morally responsible.

That said, it’s not like this question is smooth sailing for the incompatibilist. The “ability to do otherwise” championed by LFWers as the principal enabler of moral responsibility doesn’t exactly solve the problem. From my perspective, the only thing I ever hold morally responsible is the conscious self itself. I can’t make sense of holding anything else morally responsible. An unconscious person is no more morally responsible than a car or a rock. For this to make sense it obviously requires that there is something special, something significantly different about a conscious self and a sleeping one. Figuring out the difference is taxing me, however. The usual distinctions between various kinds of materialism and various kids of dualism do not seem to help very much.

68 Comments »

  1. Incidentally, I used to be a frequent lucid dreamer when I was a teenager, although I haven’t had a lucid dream recently. If you think of it, mention whether or not you have had a lucid dream in the comments.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 27, 2009 @ 2:30 pm

  2. Curious…during dreams do we sense right from wrong…is guilt ever felt?

    Comment by Hal — August 27, 2009 @ 5:58 pm

  3. Well, just this week I had a dream in which I was begging for a person’s forgiveness for accidentally undermining their authority earlier in the dream.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 27, 2009 @ 6:07 pm

  4. I am somewhat a Lucid dreamer, I suppose. Whenever I find my behavior inappropriate or my situation impossible in my dreams I wake myself up. In fact, it
    surprised me that you said you would not hold yourself responsible in your dreams because up til this moment, I thought that was the status quo.

    As for moral responsibility, we can be responsible morally for our actions when not consciously capacitated, in so far as our actions were caused by us in a prior conscious state. Like a drunk driver is responsible for an accident. Or a parent is responsible for negligence for letting the children play in the street without supervision. Of course that leads to what extent a person should take reasonable precaution for another they are steward over.

    Anyway, I had just yesterday been at the library looking for the same book by Blackmore, but it was not on the appropriate shelf despite being checked in. I guess you saved me from my frustration.

    Comment by Matt W. — August 27, 2009 @ 6:33 pm

  5. But again I ask, how can we account for this special status we give to conscious decisions?

    Well as a fan of agent causal libertarianism I think that moral responsibility should be connected to the idea of an agent with real control over her choices and at least some level of comprehension of the consequences of those choices. Unconscious/dreaming behaviors don’t really meet those requirements.

    BTW – I remember Blake attacking Clark’s idea of all of our free “choices” being made at the moment of the big bang based on this deliberation and basic comprehension of consequences idea. It was over at Clark’s blog a few years ago.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 27, 2009 @ 6:40 pm

  6. Matt,

    I only mentioned it in passing, so I am not sure if it is clear that the term “lucid dreaming” refers to a specific phenomenon in which a person becomes aware that they are dreaming while they are still dreaming and is able to “take control” of the dream. The ability to wake yourself up might qualify in some sense, but is not on its own “lucid dreaming.”

    That said, I’m impressed that you are able to wake yourself up when your dreams become inappropriate. If you are always/usually able to do this I think that is very rare. Are you able to wake yourself up when you are being eaten by a bear? That would come in handy for me.

    As to you examples of being morally responsible when our actions are not consciously capacitated, I don’t think they really work. In the case of the drunk driver, we only hold them accountable because, as you said, their actions were caused by previous choices made with full faculties. For example, if I inject drugs into your bloodstream while you are driving (unbeknownst to you) then we wouldn’t hold you morally responsible if you caused an accident. So, I think that example is just a vanilla case of holding people accountable for things they did while in a normal state of consciousness.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 27, 2009 @ 8:48 pm

  7. Geoff,

    …should be connected to the idea of an agent with real control over her choices…

    I don’t disagree, but I guess what I have been contemplating is how consciousness provides this real control. I should say that it is not a remotely original question; it is just the age old mind-body problem. For the compatibilist, the mind is the body, which means, I think, that they would have very different options about what makes consciousness special. But even for an agent causal libertarian like yourself, figuring out how the “agent” corresponds (comes and goes, etc) through all these different states of consciousness is quite difficult.

    I don’t really have any good ideas, I posted on it only because I’ve been thinking about it and wondered what people would have to say about it.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 27, 2009 @ 9:05 pm

  8. Jacob: The first occurrence of this I can recall is forcing myself to wake up because I was being kidnapped in my dream. I have, on other occasions, projected my older brother into my dream to rescue me, as in the case when I get attacked my flesh eating zombies on a School Bus. This though is less common than just waking myself up. I have really weird dreams though, and typically can only remember them if I wake myself up. (Yes I have dreamed about waking in applesauce that had spiders in it while my best friend talked to his pet cow. Don’t you?) Anyway, the reason I said somewhat is I wasn’t sure if waking myself up as a sort of override in dreams counted as Lucid Dreaming or not.

    I guess negligence is a better example. Someone may not consciously be being negligent by not having locked their door, but when their toddler wonders off and drowns, they are held responsible according to the law, though they were not consciously responsible. I don’t know if we’d go so far as to say they are morally responsible, but I am just wondering about potential gray areas.

    In any case, I am doctrinally all for moral responsiblity being based on what our intentions are, and we can not have intentions if we are not conscious.

    Comment by Matt W. — August 27, 2009 @ 9:24 pm

  9. projected my older brother into my dream to rescue me

    When you’re doing this are you aware that you are dreaming and can therefore write your older brother into the dream, or do you just have crazy dreams where discontinuous things happen? Check out that link I included to the paper on lucid dreaming, it is short, readable, and very interesting.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 27, 2009 @ 9:41 pm

  10. Having read the homework, I would say I am not a true “lucid dreamer”. What typically happens for me is that I wake myself up, then go back to sleep and have altered the situation somewhat while I was awake. For example, last night, I woke myself up purchasing a dead body on Amazon.com, and went back to sleep shopping for books.

    Anyway, that seems tangential to me. I am interesting in your thoughts regarding negligence. As I see it their are tiers of culpability. Some can be willfully being bad, someone can be causing bad through negligence, inaction, or unintended consequences of their actions, and finally someone can be involved in bad by accident.

    For an example:
    1. Jacob hates Matt. He Runs Matt over with his car, killing him. Jacob is fully morally responsible.
    2. Jacob doesn’t maintain his car, and due to his negligence, his breaks fail and he runs over Matt, killing him. Is Jacob Responsible? (This could also be Jacob neglecting to watch the road by talking on his cell phone, etc.)
    3. Jacob sees Matt is in front of him while he is driving, but thinks Matt will move. He does not his his breaks. Jacob kills Matt. Is Jacob Responsible?
    4. Geoff asks Jacob how to kill Matt, hypothetically speaking, Jacob recommends a car. Geoff kills Matt. Is Jacob Responsible?
    5. Jacob does everything he knows to do while driving, but Matt runs out in front of his car and is killed. Jacob is not responsible.

    Comment by Matt W. — August 28, 2009 @ 6:54 am

  11. Purchasing a dead body on amazon.com, classic. All this talk of lucid dreaming led to me having my first lucid dream in years last night. I tried the thing from the article of controlling my eye movement and it seemed to work, but I didn’t have any sleep monitoring equipment hooked up to confirm.

    As to the varying degrees of culpability, I think we judge it based on a subjective standard of what we think would be reasonable risk mitigation given the situation and societal expectations. People don’t generally consider it a car owner’s responsiblity to do random brake inspections and given the very low risk of brake failure I don’t think we would hold someone accountable for their brakes giving out with no prior warning. However, I think we expect a reasonable driver to slow down if they see someone on the road rather than assuming the person will move in time, so I’d be considered negligent for not doing so. Of course, societal expectations change over time, so I would be considered negligent for endangering my kids for things that my parents did without a second thought (driving across the country with no seat belts, letting us walk to school at a young age, etc.).

    All of that seems just fine to me and I don’t have a problem with it. However, the part that is very concerning to me (I don’t know a way around it) is the fact that we hold people accountable only when their negligence happens to result in something terrible, which is largely a matter of chance. If I stupidly drive through the night and fall asleep at the wheel causing me to drive off the road then I get a traffic ticket. If I cross the lane and kill someone in a head-on collision then I’ll be charged with manslaughter. In truth, the thing I did in both cases was equally negligent, but we can only reasonably hold people accountable based on the actual consequences, which makes our system of justice seem capricious in that sense. But for me the problem is deeper because I don’t know how God deals with such a problem. When I was careless at the wheel and almost caused a terrible accident am I as culpable as if the accident really happened? Or does my culpability ultimately a function of random luck that leads to an accident on one night but not another?

    Comment by Jacob J — August 28, 2009 @ 10:12 am

  12. Ok, at first I was going to respond with God judging us based on our intentions, but then I thought about all the times I have done something really mean to someone almost instinctively. Often we are terrible without intending to be.

    So then I started thinking about the whole approach of God not judging us, but we judge ourselves, and shrink away in shame. But that doesn’t seem quite right either. I guess I have to go back to the intentions thing, and believing in the atonement to figure the rest out.

    I had been careless and almost killed a friend and myself in college falling asleep while driving. I did not intend to be careless, I just intended to get my friend back in time for his test after we drove up to New York. (And I did, after I paid the tow truck driver $200 bucks(Worse still, the test was postponed)). I guess I am grateful for the mercy of God in knowing my intentions for being foolish. I am also grateful for my safety there.

    Comment by Matt W. — August 28, 2009 @ 11:39 am

  13. Matt, you’re dead! I occasionally have lucid dreams. But usually they involve me losing a terrible fist fight, getting shot, or having a home invasion. That sort of thing. Then I can’t go back to sleep. The other thing that sometimes happens is a dream that someone is knocking loudly at my door. But no one is when I finally get pajamas on to go see. And compatibilists simply fight a losing battle I think, unless logic is really just a manifestation of chemistry. Then all is lost. Me, I think it has some independent existence. I had that lucid dream while driving home from Timp lodge this afternoon. It scared me.

    Comment by WVS — August 28, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

  14. More difficult than sleeping acts are the acts of someone who is drunk, mentally ill, or even extremely tired. I have imagined a graph with consciousness on one axis and accountability on the other with a fairly steady 45 degree line cutting across it. But I have never been able to account for any details of what points on the graph signify what.

    Comment by Eric Russell — August 29, 2009 @ 9:22 am

  15. It seems to me that there are a number of distinctions that need to be made regarding conscious and unconscious behavior that have been missed by Churchland et al. and cognitive scientists in general:

    (1) Unconscious behavior where we have the capacity for consciousness. E.g., we hold people liable for negligence (as Matt said). If I am not paying attention but daydreaming, but I could have been paying attention while driving, and I hit someone, I am liable for being negligent. That is, I have some moral responsibility for what happens. If I am totally conscious I am not merely negligent, but intentionality can be attributed me. E.g., if I think “wouldn’t it be neat to see what happens if I drive the car into that mother and daughter on the side of the road? ” then I am not merely negligent, but guilty of murder. The degree of consciousness has a direct relation to our degree of culpability. Our law is based on our widely held moral intuitions and what is needed to order our society.

    Such examples convince me that alternative possibilities are essential to moral responsibility. If I didn’t have the alternative option to become conscious (say I was hit hard on the head and therefore cannot focus enough to be conscious of my decision) then I am not responsible. If I hit the little girl with the car because I was hit in the head by a hijacker and can’t quite become conscious, then I am not responsible. It is in this sense that I disagree with Jacob’s assertion (if I understood him) that it isn’t a matter of alternative possibilities.

    (2) Unconscious behavior that results from conscious choices where an automatic system takes over. For example, I think, “I want that apple,” and I don’t think about having to move the muscles in my arm and back to reach for it. I am unconscious of what I have to do physically to accomplish my goal. I just reach for it even though unconsciously my body is sorting out which muscles have learned to move to accomplish the task. I am still responsible for getting the apple though it resulted in part from unconscious processes — and if the apple is my neighbor’s, I am responsible for stealing even though I didn’t consciously think about moving my arm that is really responsible for getting the apple and not merely my intention alone.

    (3) I believe that the Libet experiments are explained by conscious decisions made before hand that then have unconscious aspects. Subjects are told to push a button and then asked when they became aware of a choice to push it. There is a lag between pushing the button and conscious awareness of the decision to push the button (I’m simplifying it a bit). However, the conscious decision to push the button is made before the decision to implement the muscles to do so. That explains the lag in my view.

    (4) I agree with Jacob that the problem of conscious control or of intentional states causing or being related to moral responsibility is really a subset of the mind-body problem. That was the focus of my post on emergence and libertarian free will. I don’t see how we can be responsible if our actions are the result of unconscious biological processes over which we have no control. I don’t see how there can simply be a separate soul that is disparate from the material body because it would be unaffected by brain-states — and it is clear that consciousness is dependent on brain states in some sense.

    (5) Steve Peck’s process view of consciousness in his Dialogue article seems to be a form of emergence of consciousness from brain processes and is the same conclusion that I came to. That doesn’t make it gospel, but it makes it a leading candidate in my view. I think that it is quite compatible with a Mormon view of the eternal intelligence as the eternal self that is self-conscious.

    Comment by Blake — August 29, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

  16. Jacob: Moral luck is a sticky issue indeed. However, there is an easy formula:

    (1) Negligence + injury = liabiity

    (2) Negligence without injury = nonliability

    (3) No negligence + injury = nonliability

    (4) Intent + injury = crime

    (5) Intent but no injury = morally culpable state of mind

    Both state of mind and results matter. Whether you are negligent or not isn’t mere a matter of your state of mind (or failure to be conscious) but also of your state of mind where your inattention results in injury.

    Comment by Blake — August 29, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

  17. Blake,

    Thanks for your thoughts on this.

    It is in this sense that I disagree with Jacob’s assertion (if I understood him) that it isn’t a matter of alternative possibilities.

    I don’t think I made an assertion like that. What statement are you referring to?

    Steve Peck’s process view of consciousness in his Dialogue article seems to be a form of emergence of consciousness from brain processes and is the same conclusion that I came to.

    I did think of you when I was reading it. It seemed to me that the process dualism he described was a mix of property dualism and emergence. What are your thoughts on property dualism? I am drawn in some ways to property dualism.

    As to your easy formula, I agree with your equations, but they don’t do much to help solve the stickiest problem (do you agree?). If we take it out of a legal framework (liability vs. nonliability) and take it to a moral framework (culpability vs. nonculpability) then I have a really hard time figuring out why negligence in (1) should be so much less damning than negligence in (2) in the case where the difference between injury and no-injury was a matter of luck. It’s not as though negligence is an amoral issue.

    Because I make a distinction between the morality of events and the morality of people’s choices, I don’t have a problem saying that some event is much worse (morally) if bad luck leads to lots of injuries than if good luck had led to no injuries. If lightning strikes a child in the park instead of the tree 20 yards away, that is a much worse thing to have happen (just based on the badness of the consequences). But, it doesn’t seem reasonable to me that we should hold people morally accountable to different degrees if they have done identical things based on different outcomes that were ultimately the product of chance.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 29, 2009 @ 2:40 pm

  18. Eric,

    I agree, it would be very hard to draw the chart, but there clearly seems to be a relationship between the various states of mind and the accountability of the person. Probably everyone is aware of the studies that show it to be just as dangerous to drive while very tired as to drive while drunk. That’s actually a good example of something where social expectations affect my evaluation of how negligent something is. I hold people in contempt who drive drunk but I myself have driven when I was very tired. I think there is are very different social expectations about drunk driving vs. tired driving. (I should say that once I learned how dangerous tired driving is I stopped doing it and I feel very badly for doing it in the past even when I didn’t realize how foolish it was.)

    Comment by Jacob J — August 29, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

  19. Jacob: This was the statement that I had in mind: “The “ability to do otherwise” championed by LFWers as the principal enabler of moral responsibility doesn’t exactly solve the problem.”

    By my lights, the ability to do otherwise is a necessary tho not a sufficient condition for morally responsible free will. Thus, as you say it may not fully explain the conundrum of moral luck or responsibility for unconscious act, but it still explains something essential.

    I agree that in a sense process emergence is a form of property dualism in the sense that properties emerge that are not merely physical or material but also have properties of consciousness. However, the property dualism is different than usually parsed. It isn’t a dualism between mental stuff and material stuff, but between mere matter and matter in a process-relation that is more than the mere sum of its parts. This isn’t mere functionalism, because it isn’t just a function of the material parts because something fundamentally different emerges from the relational functions at a certain level of complexity.

    With respect to moral luck negligence in (1) and in (2), the difference isn’t in a level of culpability but in epistemic access to know that the negligence occurred. If I drive while drowsy I am negligent, but I can’t have liability unless I cause an accident. However, I am still culpable for driving while drowsy either way.

    Comment by Blake — August 29, 2009 @ 3:04 pm

  20. Blake,

    Yes, I agree that the ability to do otherwise is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. In that sentence you quoted I meant to convey that holding to libertarian free will (as I do) doesn’t really help answer the question of how conscious decisions become special (as I said to Geoff in #7). That may be obvious, but I was just coming off of saying that compatibilists have a rough road trying to show what is special about consciousness and I was just trying to make it clear that I don’t think LFW gets me off the hook of this tough question.

    On emergence: You seem to hold to the standard idea of emergence in the sense that you don’t think there is any conscious property inherent to matter, but that consciousness exists only when it emerges. By contrast, SteveP writes in his paper that:

    Griffin argues that the assumption that elementary forms of matter are with out some form of awareness is unwarranted and instead contends that assuming otherwise makes for a more coherent theory of the underpinnings of the universe. Griffin, expanding on Whitehead’s thought, argues that our own subjective experience with consciousness demonstrates that, at least in some form, consciousness is a natural part of the universe. Why not assume that it is a phenomenon
    as basic as gravity? These process dualists suggest that, while less complete than our own consciousness, all things may have an awareness of
    sorts.

    This combination of property dualism with emergence seems fundamentally different than the account of emergence you give. The idea of consciousness popping out of nowhere, as it were, has always seemed problematic to me in emergence, although, it is clear that this is in some ways the whole point of positing emergence: to get consciousness to be ontologically distinct from matter using nothing but matter to get there. I think it causes problems in accounting for an eternal spirit, on one hand, and I think it causes problems accounting for graded consciousness in the animal kingdom on the other.

    We can’t really say that something fundamentally different emerges at a “certain level of complexity” because just below that level of complexity that same fundamentally different thing seems to emerge as well, but just in a lesser form. I suppose it is okay if you are willing to write off most of the animal kingdom as not being conscious, but I have a hard time doing that. It seems to me that consciousness continues to exist on some level all the way down to some pretty basic little critters. I guess that’s one reason I like the idea of pushing it all the way down to the matter itself but accounting for the gradation with complexity.

    However, I am still culpable for driving while drowsy either way.

    Ah, but there’s the rub. Are you as culpable either way? If so, I could be in big trouble for things that I took no notice of due to good luck saving me from causing great harm in my negligence. I guess if we say we are as culpable either way we need to decide if that is good news or bad news. Does that mean all the negligence I took no notice of is actually very serious like the times when my negligence caused great injury, or does it mean that my injury-causing negligence is really only as bad as if I had good luck instead of bad?

    Comment by Jacob J — August 29, 2009 @ 3:34 pm

  21. Jacob: “We can’t really say that something fundamentally different emerges at a “certain level of complexity” because just below that level of complexity that same fundamentally different thing seems to emerge as well, but just in a lesser form.”

    Here is where I believe you are missing the point of emergence in a process view. The whole point of noting that properties of mind emerge with complexity is to assert that greater complexity leads to greater mental capacity. That is literally true in neurophysiology where the complexity of the dendrytes is directly correlated with intelligence. Thus, we would expect properties of mind in some sense in frogs, to a lesser extent with ants and to a greater extent with simeons. However, consciousness (which is a particular feature of mind) arises only at a certain level of complexity where neural feedback systems can become effective. Perhaps some apes have some level of consciousness — it is very difficult to say that they recognize any sense of moral responsibility. I’m positive that amoebas don’t, pretty sure that fish don’t, almost sure that dogs don’t but wonder about some apes.

    If you are attributing consciousness to animals, do you mean just being awake? Do you mean just exhibiting some features of mind like carrying on activity of feeding and so forth. It seems that what you mean by consciousness” is really mushy to me. I mean the ability to be aware of one’s choices and to intentionally direct them toward a chosen end. I don’t believe that animals have that capacity.

    As for moral luck — yes, we should be very concerned about our lack of consciousness and the accountability we have for failing to be fully conscious when we could be. Epistemically we can hide from ourselves our own unconsciousness and only with results do we become aware of how we fail to really be conscious when we could be.

    Further, by saying that something different than mere matter arises from organization, all that needs to be noted is that the organization of matter couldn’t be inherent in the mere matter itself — organization is always ad extra.

    Comment by Blake — August 29, 2009 @ 3:57 pm

  22. Blake,

    The whole point of noting that properties of mind emerge with complexity is to assert that greater complexity leads to greater mental capacity.

    That’s interesting. I would have thought that most aspects of mind could still be looked at as having materialist/reductionist explanations and that it was only when we came to consciousness that emergence would be invoked. For example, even memory and recall seems like they require no emergence for their existence. So, I’m wondering which aspects of mind you think are emergent and which are materially reductive.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 30, 2009 @ 5:47 pm

  23. No discussion of this sort is complete without mentioning the distinction between ordinary emergence and radical emergence. The former is statically reductive, and the latter isn’t.

    To take a common example, water has properties that hydrogen and oxygen do not, but all of the known properties of water can be explained precisely in terms of the properties of hydrogen, oxygen, and the structure of the assembly. That is an example of ordinary emergence.

    What I mean by statically reductive is that the origin of the structure may be hard to explain, but once you have the structure, all of its properties are reducible to the properties of the components and the way they are configured.

    Radical emergence, on the other hand, posits that some or all configurations of fundamental elements results in properties that cannot be completely explained in terms of the properties of the elements or the way those elements are configured together.

    For example, a modern microprocessor has millions of transistors arranged in an extremely intricate pattern, but nonetheless all of the known properties of a CPU are perfectly reducible to the properties of each individual atom, and the way those atoms are configured.

    The problem with radical emergence, as I see it, is that I don’t see how it can explain why such a complex structure does not have radically emergent properties. In other words, even if the theory is not mathematically precise, radical emergence is begging for a theory of what types of configurations are susceptible to radical emergence.

    Property dualism has a similar problem, of course, if everything has dual properties. i.e. if individual electrons have non-material properties, how does one explain the assertion that a human is conscious and a computer is not?

    I tend to be leaning to property dualism these days. The reason why I don’t lean to radical emergence is that it doesn’t appear to solve any problems and I have a hard time imagining that any property has ever been radically emergent. Radical emergence seems to violate the principle of sufficient reason and entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem in spades.

    That is not to say it is impossible of course, although I certainly hope it is, because it is the sort of thing that could make science not just fuzzy, but more or less impossible – at the very least a return to the days of cataloging the unique properties of an infinite number of species without having any basis for explaining what they have in common. You could have water and hydrogen peroxide, for example, and be faced with the radical emergence of “water-ness” and “hydrogen peroxide-ness” that could have properties as distinct and unrelateable as “justice” and “the color green”.

    Comment by Mark D. — August 30, 2009 @ 7:07 pm

  24. Mark: Your view of emergence reduces to microphysical determinism. Everything is explainable by reduction to properties of microphysical constituents over which we have no control. Your view just gives us the problem of physical reduction and leaves no room for intentionality, consciousness or moral responsibility.

    Here is why you can’t escape radical emergence. You begin with the properties of hydrogen and oxygen as given. Fine. But why do hydrogen and oxygen bind the way they do? Because of their basic and non-reducible physical properties of what it is to be a neutron and a proton. Why do electrons and neutrons and protons have these properties? They just do. That is why they are basic and non-reducible. There is no further reduction in terms of explanation. So we have to resort to a kind of “agent causation” even at the most basic physical level of explanation.

    It is the same with agents. They just have these properties when there is a fully functional neural system. There is no further reduction beyond the agent if you want moral responsibility and an agent who acts intentionally. Otherwise. you must reduce the agent’s acts to explanation by the physical states of the brain and the chemical make-up of synapses. But of course we don’t have control over the physical states of our brains and synapses (we don’t even know what these physical states are at any given moment and we cannot control them). Synapses aren’t conscious and they aren’t agents who are responsible and they don’t act intentionally — only agents acting as whole organisms do that.

    Jacob: Rocks have less memory than ants and ants have less memory than birds which have less memory than apes. Memory is emergent with physical complexity. All aspects of mind are emergent in the sense that the properties of mind are enhanced by greater neural complexity. Could you think of some property of mind that isn’t dependent on neuro-physical complexity?

    Comment by Blake — August 30, 2009 @ 8:47 pm

  25. Oh, and Mark, the number of subatomic particles and their basic properties is precisely the kind of unpredictable and exploding plurality of various basic properties of various kinds of constituents that you seems to fear. Too late for science to avoid this kind of messiness. In any event, if reality is messy, it’s better to deal with it than to wish it weren’t messy.

    Comment by Blake — August 30, 2009 @ 8:53 pm

  26. Your view of emergence reduces to microphysical determinism. Everything is explainable by reduction to properties of microphysical constituents over which we have no control. Your view just gives us the problem of physical reduction and leaves no room for intentionality, consciousness or moral responsibility.

    No, it doesn’t. The difference between my view and yours that I assume that the bases of intentionality, consciousness, and moral responsibility are fundamental attributes of reality that cannot be represented in material terms. That is what property dualism means, right?

    Where radical emergence has it that that the basis of consciousness and so forth arises essentially as a consequence of some sort of alchemy.

    With regard to “fundamental” particles, I think it dubious to conclude that any particle that can be transformed into one or more particles of lower rest mass is in any real sense fundamental at all.

    Comment by Mark D. — August 30, 2009 @ 11:16 pm

  27. MarK: Just what is the basis of this “fundamental reality” that supposedly grounds intentionality, consciousness and moral responsibility if not just a person or agent? I’m unclear on what you are asserting here. How could there be such a “fundamental” fact that is “reality” without something on which such properties supervene, depend or emerge from?

    How is there a difference between simply asserting some “fundamental reality” and your ad hominem charge of alchemy?

    With respect to “fundamental particles” we don’t know of the properties of anything more basic than subatomic particles having a certain spin, charm and so forth. That is, the particles are defined simply in terms of what there basic behavior is. On the other hand, we could of course just speak of the basic forces and have the same irreducible explanation.

    Finally, I fail to see how you escape microphysical determinism. If you explain behavior such as intentionality and consciousness the way you explain the properties of water — as you seem to suggest in #23 — then you rather clearly have a form of microphysical determination. If you leave your explanation of intentionality and consciousness simply basic with no relation to the material world, then you have all the problems of Cartesian substance dualism to the 10th power.

    So what is the relation between the brain and consciousness in your theory of merely basic “consciousness”? Don’t you agree that a person needs a functioning brain to remain conscious? Or would you agree that giving certain drugs to a person could make that person unconscious?

    Comment by Blake — August 31, 2009 @ 8:53 am

  28. Just what is the basis of this “fundamental reality” that supposedly grounds intentionality, consciousness and moral responsibility if not just a person or agent?

    That is admittedly a hard problem. The most likely answer is the simplest possible thing from which something with the sort of consciousness that we understand can be constructed. At a minimum, for example, pain must be real at this level.

    Alchemy is not an ad hominem – it is one of the most accurate analogies of radical emergence available. Radical emergence says that if we create the right configuration of completely insensate materials, and consciousness will appear. In other words, we really can make gold out of lead.

    Where property dualism says, on the other hand, we can only make gold out of something with tiny flecks of gold or something similar (setting aside nuclear reactions for the moment).

    I agree of course that there are things that are not reducible, I just don’t think that such irreducible entities arise by accident, or as a secondary artifact of an assembly of other irreducible entities.

    I do defend something that resembles microphysical determinism, with two fundamental differences: (1) it allows for essentially non-physical properties (2) It is not strictly deterministic.

    So if you create an assembly of a number of particles, the first order physical behavior of the whole is reducible to the physical properties of the individual components, but the second order physical behavior is a derivative of the first order mental behavior of the whole.

    Furthermore, I claim the first order mental behavior of the whole is impossible to explain without resort to the both the physical and mental properties of the component entities and the configuration thereof. The difference with microphysical determinism is that the micro-mental properties do not reduce to micro-physical properties, nor are they deterministic.

    Comment by Mark D. — August 31, 2009 @ 9:53 am

  29. Blake,

    Rocks have less memory than ants and ants have less memory than birds which have less memory than apes. Memory is emergent with physical complexity.

    But at this point, it seems you are using emergence in a second sense, one that it entirely consistent with material determinism. I can just as easily say that lawn mower has less power than a car and that power is emergent with physical complexity. If you are simply accounting for a new capability based on increased complexity, then I can point to new features in increasingly complex computers as an exact analogy and there is no special meaning for the word emergence anymore (memory is a particularly excellent example here since we add “memory” to computers all the time by adding more transistors). It seems to me that consciousness (making use of its loose definition here) is the only phenomenon which suggests we posit radical emergence to explain it.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 31, 2009 @ 10:00 am

  30. Just what is the basis of this “fundamental reality” that supposedly grounds intentionality, consciousness and moral responsibility if not just a person or agent?

    Yep, I agree that this is a really tough one and makes me suspect of property dualism.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 31, 2009 @ 10:02 am

  31. Or in short, I maintain that full blown consciousness is indeed emergent from both micro-physical and micro-mental properties of the components, but is not radically emergent.

    Comment by Mark D. — August 31, 2009 @ 10:03 am

  32. Jacob J, of course if we dispense with LFW, we don’t need any sort of dualism at all.

    Comment by Mark D. — August 31, 2009 @ 10:07 am

  33. Mark D: “Or in short, I maintain that full blown consciousness is indeed emergent from both micro-physical and micro-mental properties of the components, but is not radically emergent.”

    Then your view entails microphysical determinism and doesn’t explain how consciousness could emerge since what it emerges from “nonradically” isn’t conscious.

    Comment by Blake — August 31, 2009 @ 10:08 am

  34. Mark D. “micro-mental properties of the components”

    Just what are these supposed micromental properties of the components? Do these so-called “micromental components” have consciousness?

    Comment by Blake — August 31, 2009 @ 10:11 am

  35. Mark: “Jacob J, of course if we dispense with LFW, we don’t need any sort of dualism at all.”

    I believe that the problem of consciousness remains even if we don’t have LFW. Rocks aren’t conscious. We are. Why the difference?

    Comment by Blake — August 31, 2009 @ 10:12 am

  36. In addition Mark: If we have microphysical mental properties, does our consciousness emerge from these microphysical properties? If not, then how is consciousness related to such properties?

    The problem with such microphysical properties isn’t that they are material or physical, or even deterministic, but that we don’t know what they are and they aren’t under our control. If they are indeterministic (say like quantum events) then our actions would appear to be random and not free in the sense we could be responsible for them. If they are deterministic, then our behavior is fully determined by events over which we have no control.

    Comment by Blake — August 31, 2009 @ 10:24 am

  37. Blake, Setting aside the possibility that only the tiniest minority of fundamental particles have dual properties, I would say:

    (1) The components of rocks do have the rudiments of consciousness
    (2) The rock as a whole is not conscious because the components of the rock are not configured properly to interact with each other in a coherent manner. In short, the rock has no nervous system.

    Comment by Mark D. — August 31, 2009 @ 10:25 am

  38. Jacob: “It seems to me that consciousness (making use of its loose definition here) is the only phenomenon which suggests we posit radical emergence to explain it.”

    As long as emergence is the best explanation, it ought to be adopted whether you find it to be ubiquitous or not. Further, what else is like consciousness at all?

    Comment by Blake — August 31, 2009 @ 10:26 am

  39. Mark: “(1) The components of rocks do have the rudiments of consciousness”

    This is a hard saying (that is a kind way of saying it seems to be ludicrous). Just what “rudiments of consciousness” do rocks have?

    Mark: “(2) The rock as a whole is not conscious because the components of the rock are not configured properly to interact with each other in a coherent manner. In short, the rock has no nervous system.”

    It then follows that consciousness emerges from the organization of a nervous systems and not merely matter or microphysical mental properties, whatever they could possibly be.

    Comment by Blake — August 31, 2009 @ 10:29 am

  40. Blake: We have no reason at present to conclude that micro-physical causation per se is random. Bohmian mechanics provides the standing argument against that. In my opinion, all indeterminism is due to micro-mental causation.

    Assuming that micro-mental properties are the rule, and not the exception, I would say that all mental events have both physical and mental antecedents and both physical and mental consequences.

    Now with regard to the control argument, even if physical events were intrinsically random, they are intrinsically random in such a special way (i.e. with a distribution governed by Schroedinger’s equation) that we can’t be sure that they are random at all. On any scale above the sub-microscopic, they don’t even look random.

    Comment by Mark D. — August 31, 2009 @ 10:36 am

  41. This is a hard saying

    To paraphrase, as long as property dualism is the best explanation, it ought to be adopted whether we find it to be ubiquitous or not.

    It then follows that consciousness emerges from the organization of a nervous systems and not merely matter or microphysical mental properties, whatever they could possibly be.

    I have never maintained that structure is irrelevant, nor I have I dissented from the idea of non-radical emergence. Structure is critical.

    To first order, I would say that all of a person’s immediate (autonomous) instincts are static derivatives of his current physical configuration, not his mental configuration at all. The latter only comes into play when he starts to think about it.

    Comment by Mark D. — August 31, 2009 @ 10:44 am

  42. Mark: I don’t think that whether the microphysical events are determined or random (or some tertium quid as you argue) is even relevant. The fact remains that as agents we don’t have control over the microphysical events (whether random or determined), and we don’t have control over what arises from these events, and thus it follows that our actions result from events over which we don’t have control. Thus, we are not responsible for the effects of such events. That is the problem of microphysical explanation.

    I fail to see how what you describe as as thoughts, thinking and consciousness arising from “second order” mental configuration could be anything but radically emergent because the based from which such things emerge are not conscious and only a radical emergence could give rise to such a radically different property.

    Comment by Blake — August 31, 2009 @ 12:01 pm

  43. Blake (#38),

    Further, what else is like consciousness at all?

    Nothing–which is my point. Way back in #20 I said that it is problematic to suggest consciousness emerges as “some level of complexity” because right below that level of complexity there is usually something which is also conscious in some degree. You seemed to reply (#21) by saying that it is not consciousness that is graded, but mental properties which emerge in graded fashion. I’m trying to figure out what is graded and how it is graded in your view.

    Assuming emergence, if we agree that consciousness is the only thing that radically emerges then I suppose we could argue that consciousness is binary and all gradations and odd effects are the result of changes in the hardward? So, if consciousness is analogous to, say, Bose-Einstein condensation or superconductivity we could imagine that even if the situations necessary for consciousness arise the rest of the brain would still affect the conscious states.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 31, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

  44. Jacob: Mental properties like intelligence, speech, planning, behavior complexity and so forth only emerge with greater complexity. Monkeys have foresight and can think, but not at the levels of intelligence of humans. That is because the prefrontal cortex is much more complex and integrated in homo sapien brains.

    Memory used in a computer is not like memory in a brain because a computer doesn’t have to be conscious to have a memory — people do. Unconscious people don’t remember anything. So your analogy is based on equivocation regarding “memory.” Mere 0s and 1s don’t have mental properties and that is all that memory stores in computers.

    I adopt radical emergence — tho I’m not tied to it. If I saw a better explanation that actually explained, I’d adopt it. There is a strong sense in which consciousness and mental properties are dependent on a functioning brain. No functioning brain, no consciousness. Easy formula. That is the first thing to be explained — and mere property dualism and other kinds of dualism don’t explain that. We must also explain how an agent can act in a way that is free and responsible, and mere microphysical explanation leaves no room for such realities. If you have a better proposal that explains these kinds of facts, then I’d love to hear it (really) — but so far, I just don’t see anything that works.

    Comment by Blake — August 31, 2009 @ 12:22 pm

  45. Memory used in a computer is not like memory in a brain because a computer doesn’t have to be conscious to have a memory — people do.

    Not so. It seems clear to me that much of my memory functions without entering my consciousness. I develop subconscious aversions to things that have injured me in the past, which is surely a form of memory. Also, as in the example in the OP, sometimes we cannot remember something through conscious efforts at recall so we let our subconscious fish it out of memory for us. I think it is your use of memory to refer to something that is really intrinsic to consciousness (awareness of a memory) which is the equivocation.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 31, 2009 @ 1:22 pm

  46. Jacob: Fine, let’s say for the sake of discussion that a person who has just been knocked unconscious has latent memory (which from my point of view is a different kind of memory than we are really discussing) — so what? What about the properties of intelligence, planning, forethought and so forth? Are you claiming that snails have a memory as good as yours? Are you claim that the fact that a snail has operant conditioning behaviors means that the level of neural complexity is irrelevant to our discussion of how developed and how good your memory is? No matter how hard the snail tries, it doesn’t have a memory of the square root of 16. That is the relevant notion of memory that we discussing as I see it and it is directly correlated with neural complexity.

    Comment by Blake — August 31, 2009 @ 1:59 pm

  47. Blake, On the contrary, the whole point of LFW is that we do have control over physical events, both micro-physical and macro-physical. It would hard to explain how an agent can move his arm without changing the state of something rather microscopic by comparison first.

    Every viable theory of LFW requires dual causation. Physics is real. If physics as we know it is complete, LFW doesn’t exist. LFW posits a form of causation that is not reductively physical. Every material being with LFW necessarily exhibits both non-reductively physical and non-reductively mental causation.

    So what is your point? Micro-mental causation is impossible? If so, why isn’t macro-mental causation impossible?

    In addition, what I call second order has absolutely nothing to do with radical emergence in any way shape or form. It is simply taking the limit of a trajectory as dt approaches zero.

    If you are controlling a motor boat on a lake, it is not like you can stop on a dime. To first order the torque that you are applying to the steering wheel makes absolutely no difference whatsoever. To first order, the only thing that matters is your current momentum.

    Newton’s first law: F = d(mv)/dt. Taylor series expand that in terms of x. x = x(0) + v*t + … The first term after x(0) – that is the first order term, and it represents the contribution of your current momentum (or velocity) to your future position. Only the second order term (the acceleration) is affected by any force or torque on the boat or any component thereof.

    Now I claim that the current velocity of the motorboat is in fact a physical quantity, and one need not resort to mental explanations to explain how fast the motor boat is going right now.

    However, one generally does need to resort to mental explanations to explain the driver applying a torque to the steering wheel to make a figure eight in the water. If the driver has LFW, the torque that he applies to the steering wheel in such an unconstrained case is not fully a reflection of either physical or mental antecedents. It is in part due to what we usually call agent causation.

    I claim that any realistic entity with dual properties necessarily exhibits this dual form of causation. Otherwise the mental properties would be a nullity. And furthermore, it doesn’t matter if the level of causation exhibited is erratic or primitive. The only thing that matters is that to some approximation it reflects non-reductive mental properties of the entity concerned.

    Comment by Mark D. — August 31, 2009 @ 10:02 pm

  48. Blake, To continue, what I don’t understand is that you are making a big deal about the size of the non-reductively causal entity. In radical emergence something exhibits non-reductive causation, presumably something big, brain size even.

    So where is the slightest trace of an argument that something small can in no way shape or form have intrinsic mental properties with causal power of similar nature to accidental mental properties that manifest themselves in something big?

    Furthermore, if God has always been God, and being fully divine requires a high degree of mental capacity of the sort that radically emerges from the contingent structure of a nervous system, how is it that God was endowed with such a miraculous structure in the first place? Platonic forms? Sheer happenstance?

    Comment by Mark D. — August 31, 2009 @ 10:04 pm

  49. Blake,

    I never suggested that the level of neural complexity is irrelevant, far from it. In fact, as I said in #43, I am trying to figure out exactly what (on your view) is graded and how it is graded. It seems fairly obvious that the existence of various brain structures and also overall complexity/capacity causes something to be graded. I consider all the things you mentioned (intelligence, planning, forethought, and so forth) to fall under the penumbra of consciousness as I’ve been using it. That said, some other mental capacities do not seem to rely on consciousness. Does the subjective, unified, phenomenal experience of consciousness exist in gradation, or is this on/off with the mental capacities being found in gradation? As the discussion has gone on, I’ve been leaning toward consciousness as on/off, but I can’t tell if that is how you are talking about it.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 31, 2009 @ 10:05 pm

  50. Mark: “Every material being with LFW necessarily exhibits both non-reductively physical and non-reductively mental causation.”

    I think you’re missing what I’m saying. Look, you reject radical emergence. However, run of the mill emergence is reductive — what occurs at the mental level is fully explainable by what occurs at the physical level. Given non-radical emergence, we don’t have control over microphysical events likes neurons firing. Nor do we have control over the fact that these microphysical events issue in behavior. It follows that we don’t have control over our behavior.

    I’ve given this argument numerous times — on this thread an others — and you have simply ignored it. It follows logically from your view. You bring up the notion of microphysical “mental” events. However, I have no clue what such mental properties could be — especially if rocks have such mental properties as you claim.

    The reason micro-mental properties makes no sense is: (a) they seem to be vacuous in terms of what they explain; (b) we don’t know of these micromental properties so how could they be under control when we act? (c) they don’t seem to have any causal relation to physical things or causes.

    So let’s break it down. What is this so-called “micro-mental causation” and how is it related to physical causation? What is it that is accomplished by these supposed micro-mental properties that you claim that is not fully explained by the physical causes of physics?

    Comment by Blake — September 1, 2009 @ 11:26 am

  51. Jacob J. “Does the subjective, unified, phenomenal experience of consciousness exist in gradation, or is this on/off with the mental capacities being found in gradation? As the discussion has gone on, I’ve been leaning toward consciousness as on/off, but I can’t tell if that is how you are talking about it.”

    Well, I am more conscious than a monkey of the square root of 4. I am more conscious of the environment and how the physical structures interact and why. That isn’t to say that a monkey isn’t conscious — but it seems that memory and self-identity over time are essential to certain kinds of consciousness. The kinds of questions you are asking about consciousness are the stock-in-trade of the phenomenologists like Husserl, Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger. There aren’t easy and fast answers.

    Ultimately it doesn’t matter how we parse consciousness. What is at issue is how the unified subjective experience is possible given the material basis on which it depends — and more importantly, how it is possible at all. The question of mental causation or intentional causation is, as you say in your post, a long-standing conundrum. We agree that the issue really turn on the mind-body issues. How does a non-material thought that takes up no space relate to matter that is in space?

    Comment by Blake — September 1, 2009 @ 11:33 am

  52. Thanks Blake, I enjoyed this discussion.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 3, 2009 @ 8:07 am

  53. Given non-radical emergence, we don’t have control over microphysical events likes neurons firing.

    This seems a bit of a category error. It seems we do exercise control over such matters. Indeed to think in a particular matter is to cause a certain set of microphysical events. If you mean do we have conscious awareness of such microphysical events, then no, we don’t. But then that seems an odd way to put it – akin to saying we don’t have control of the wheels as we drive a car when we are aware only of where we are going and a kind of performance reaction.

    This is very much the Heideggarian perspective. That what one might call normal conscious awareness (what he terms present-at-hand) emerges only when there is a breakdown of these background practices. The way to think about this is when you’re driving the car. Typically you aren’t aware of the car until something goes wrong (say the steering gets loose, or a brake isn’t working right, or so forth).

    That analysis has, I think, profound implications for this discussion. (Although I recognize Blake won’t agree)

    Comment by Clark — September 3, 2009 @ 10:29 pm

  54. Property dualism has a similar problem, of course, if everything has dual properties. i.e. if individual electrons have non-material properties, how does one explain the assertion that a human is conscious and a computer is not?”

    Of course not everything need have a property for there to be property dualism. As I recall Spinoza is the classic property dualist but his view is rather more subtle. Even someone not quite a property dualist, but close, like Davidson wouldn’t say everything has dual properties.

    That said, if all matter has similar basic properties (even if for some the state is 0 – much like light has no mass) there must be some proto-property that allows a first person perspective to appear. (I think this was what you were getting at with rocks having proto-consciousness) This is part and parcel of Peirce’s thought although I’ll not go into that.

    All that said, I think we have to be cautious. It may be that some matter has this proto-consciousness but simply isn’t matter we’ve encountered with current physics.

    Comment by Clark — September 3, 2009 @ 10:43 pm

  55. BTW – I reject the idea we aren’t responsible while we dream. It reminds me of the claim we aren’t responsible when drunk. First off I think we have degrees of responsibility and degrees of control. (It’s really not hard to train yourself to have some control within dreams without doing Lucid dreaming) Second I don’t think one should point to dreams as evidence of much since dreams are a large biological mystery.

    The problem is that our normal sense of responsibility arises within a social context where normal behavior is assumed. Move beyond that and the very assumptions that define responsibility break down. Which is why I tend to be distrustful of thought experiments depending upon unusual circumstances. Some see these as telling us something about responsibility whereas I see them merely showing how we project a concept into a space where it is ill defined.

    Comment by Clark — September 3, 2009 @ 10:47 pm

  56. Wow. I am so unprepared for this discussion. Thanks, everyone.

    Comment by Ben Pratt — September 3, 2009 @ 11:05 pm

  57. I think you’re missing what I’m saying. Look, you reject radical emergence. However, run of the mill emergence is reductive — what occurs at the mental level is fully explainable by what occurs at the physical level. Given non-radical emergence, we don’t have control over microphysical events likes neurons firing. Nor do we have control over the fact that these microphysical events issue in behavior. It follows that we don’t have control over our behavior.

    Not true – you keep trying to pigeonhole all views except your own as reductive materialism. These micro-mental properties are by definition non physical.

    Now I cannot even begin to imagine where exactly in the brain any radically emergent entity or property exists, what triggers its emergence, or in what manner it is coupled with the material entities we understand. You cannot even begin to explain, and indeed claim that it is impossible to explain. In short, your position has next to no explanatory power whatsoever.

    My view is more detailed than yours and certainly at least every bit as defensible, although there are weakness and unanswered questions. So when you keep making up stuff about my view, I am strongly tempted to resume ridiculing yours, because I think it is far worse – worse than about any view on the subject I have ever encountered. But at least I admit it is logically possible, and don’t make bogus arguments against it.

    Comment by Mark D. — September 3, 2009 @ 11:45 pm

  58. If it helps, by the way, think of a entity with micro-mental properties (however rare or predominant such entities are) as a proto-consciousness, or a little bit of intelligence. Similar to Brigham Young’s view, minus all the extra baggage. Also similar to B.H. Roberts view, if there is only one dual propertied entity per individual.

    The problem with more than one dual propertied entity per individual is how such entities form a shared consciousness. Since no view that does not assume the necessary existence of an eternal mind can begin to answer this question yet, I don’t consider that much of a handicap.

    Better an open question of shared consciousness formation from little bits of proto-consciousness than a ghost appearing in a machine under unexplainable conditions, with unexplainable coupling, with unexplainable singularity, and so on.

    Comment by Mark D. — September 4, 2009 @ 12:05 am

  59. Clark: “Indeed to think in a particular matter is to cause a certain set of microphysical events.”

    This assertion begs a host of unwieldy questions. Physicalists of course deny that we set anything in motion with thoughts, rather the causation is in the other direction. However, if my thoughts are caused in me by some microphysical structure, even if a “mental” structure, then we have the problem of our behavior and thoughts arising from causes we don’t control.

    Now you’ve suggested that we aren’t aware of the tires as we drive. Actually, we are non-occurently aware of the car and tires as we drive. Your analysis also conflates two very distinct issues: conscious awareness of our environment and consciousness that supposedly results from microphysical causes. The issue is one that is discussed (as I know that you are aware) at great length regarding non-deterministic incompatibilism. We’ve discussed it at length here: http://www.newcoolthang.com/index.php/2009/02/free-will-and-emergence/820/ I’ve given me reasons why I don’t believe that such non-emergent microphysical causes (whether indeterministic or deterministic).

    Comment by Blake — September 4, 2009 @ 9:01 am

  60. What is “proto-consciousness”?

    Comment by Blake — September 4, 2009 @ 9:10 am

  61. Blake, I’m not sure where to begin with your physicalist claim. Do you mean epiphenomenalists? If so then of course they don’t make that claim about causality at all. One should keep the term “cause” separate from the more appropriate term “translation.” I can, for example, translate most aspects of talk about liquid, wet, etc. into talk about molecules, average velocities, electromagnetic forces etc. But we don’t want to say one or the other causes each other, except in a very loose and misleading sense of cause.

    As to your second point, it seems odd to say that consciousness of something and consciousness in general are separate issues. Rather consciousness in general is simply the abstraction in common when we are conscious of anything in particular. So I’d argue quite strenuously that one big problem is that some do try to make these distinct issues when they are anything but.

    Of course we’ve hashed all these issues out in the past and I recognize we’re not apt to convince each other. In my mind many of the problems arise because we privilege our way of speaking as if that tells us something about reality rather than the way we speak about reality. I also think that some take causality as a fundamental feature of the universe which I don’t think is warranted (and may arise due to the way we speak about common phenomena – although that’s more controversial)

    Comment by Clark — September 4, 2009 @ 9:23 am

  62. Generally when folks talk about proto-consciousness or the like they mean some micro-property which we don’t yet recognize and which is unlike consciousness but which allows consciousness to emerge in a reductive fashion. Much like the electromagnetic force is unlike the property of liquidity or temperature but which allows those macro-properties to emerge in a reductive fashion.

    Comment by Clark — September 4, 2009 @ 9:25 am

  63. To add to my comment in 61, it’s true we might talk about the capacity to be aware of something as consciousness in a different sense than awareness. But clearly capacities and actualizations of those capacities can’t really be separated. Much like it would be silly to talk about running and the capacity to run as if they were unrelated categories rather than the same thing.

    Comment by Clark — September 4, 2009 @ 9:27 am

  64. Clark: “So I’d argue quite strenuously that one big problem is that some do try to make these distinct issues when they are anything but.”

    When we are speaking of reductionism and whether reductionist accounts entail no LFW, there is a huge difference and your failure (or refusal) to see it rather astounds me.

    Clark: “consciousness in general is simply the abstraction in common when we are conscious of anything in particular.”

    I admit that this phenomenalist claim makes little sense to me. The issue isn’t merely general awareness of things, but the fact we are aware at all. The real issue is the subjectively unified experience — as Jacob has quite accurately termed it.

    Clark: “some micro-property which we don’t yet recognize and which is unlike consciousness but which allows consciousness to emerge in a reductive fashion.”

    I admit to having no idea what properties you’re talking about. How is something “like consciousness” but not quite endowed with consciousness? And if we don’t yet recognize them, how on earth could we know what we’re talking about? Do you understand what these putative properties are?

    Comment by Blake — September 4, 2009 @ 10:25 am

  65. Clark,

    BTW – I reject the idea we aren’t responsible while we dream. It reminds me of the claim we aren’t responsible when drunk.

    Well, I agree with you that there are degrees of responsibility and that it is possible to be responsible in a dream. However, I think that the vast majority of the time, people are completely unresponsible for what they do while dreaming. It is not quite like being drunk since we cannot avoid sleep and we cannot generally control whether we dream or what we dream about. I raise the issue primarily because it appears to be a very common situation in which we are in some sense conscious but not responsible for our actions. Dreaming is anything but an unusual circumstance, we spend as much time dreaming as anything else we do.

    The problem is that our normal sense of responsibility arises within a social context where normal behavior is assumed.

    I don’t know, we hold people morally responsible for their thoughts so I’m not sure social context is the problem in this case.

    I see them merely showing how we project a concept into a space where it is ill defined.

    I do think this is an important caution, even if we disagree on the particular example of dreaming.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 5, 2009 @ 9:20 am

  66. By social context I mean the meaning of resposibility arises in a social context. Whether we judge someone responsible needn’t be tied to their place in any particular social context (although I’d argue that a person’s social situatedness ought inform whether we judge them responsible)

    Blake, once again, I think the very question of what we mean by consciousness has to be asked first. Clearly we disagree on that matter. It appears you take your view as so self apparent that it is astounding that someone disagrees.

    The problem by saying that because there is an unified subjective experience that somehow that means we can separate that from what it is we are aware of seems odd to me. I’d say it’s an example of still being caught up in a Cartesian paradigm of understanding both matter and mind. I just think it incorrect on many levels. But because of that fundamental ontological question it’s almost impossible to talk on other issues related to it.

    As to the question of “like consciousenss” the analogy points it out. Liquidity is clearly emergent from E&M forces yet we wouldn’t recognize them as the same unless we understand emergence itself. If one requires a priori that something be fundamental then of course there’s no way to explain it. Much akin to perhaps trying to explain modern physics to someone in ancient Greek who took the four elements as ontologically fundamental. At best one can suggest that perhaps one shouldn’t take as fundamental what one does.

    Comment by Clark — September 5, 2009 @ 1:53 pm

  67. I haven’t read this post yet but saved it to my queue, so in a few weeks I will probably get to it. That said, I have enjoyed 3 of the 4 VSI books I have read. History, Literary Theory, and Theology were all really great little volumes. Postmodernism was a struggle, not because of the subject, but the writer seemed awfully disjointed, and what’s more interesting, focused more on not liking postmodernism than on introducing postmodernism. I have read one chapter of the new BoM VSI by Givens. Phenomenal. That’s a good track record so far imo.

    Comment by BHodges — September 24, 2009 @ 3:18 pm

  68. Great discussion. Jacob, I really liked the questions you raised, they are something to think about, that’s certain.

    Comment by BHodges — May 27, 2010 @ 11:40 am

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