2009-04-22 -- Reply to Fred Cummins
FC: "many spurious and unhelpful distinctions have been drawn in the
literature [but] 'feeling' can[not] cover for all of them. My
phenomenological world of experience is big, rich..."
You feel a lot of different
things, but the (one and only) mind/body problem is the fact that you feel at
all. And the (one and only) explanatory gap is that there is no causal
explanation of how or why you feel, rather than just "funct." (And
I argue that there cannot be a causal explanation because there is no causal
room -- unless telekinetic dualism is true, and it isn't.)
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/716
2009-04-22 -- Reply to Arnold Trehub
AT: "a fruitful theoretical path
would be to accept (at least initially) the existence of consciousness
as an unexplained fundamental concept"
In other words, accept that we
do feel, and that we cannot explain how or why. I agree. It's true, so we
might as well accept it.
AT: "much of the content of
consciousness/feeling can be distinguished, described, compared, publically
represented, and analyzed"
What we feel can be described,
and its brain correlates (which are almost certainly also its causes) can
be found and analyzed. Reverse-engineering those will explain, functionally
and unproblematically, everything we do, and are able to do. But it will
not explain how or why any of that functing underlying our behavioral
capacities is felt. And although
we cannot do anything about that, it is definitely a (profound) explanatory
AT: "The key question [is]
"How does the brain create the gloriously varied content of
That question will not be
answered either. We will find out how the brain generates adaptive
behavioral capacity, and, given that generating that capacity also happens
to feel like something, we will find out the correlates (and probable
causes) of those feelings. I don't think we'll have a substantive
explanation of how the brain generates feeling, but I think that there will
be little doubt that it does; but not being able to explain how the brain generates feeling is
the lesser problem: the fact that we cannot explain why (functionally speaking, i.e., causally speaking) the
brain generates feeling is the greater problem: all those gloriously varied
feelings, when all that was needed for adaptive purposes -- and all there
is causal room for -- is the underlying functing. The fact that (some of)
those underlying functions happen (for mysterious, unexplained reasons) to
be felt just stays the dangler it
AT: "specifying putative neuronal mechanisms that can
be demonstrated to generate activities in the brain that
are analogous [to] feelings"
That is unfortunately just
AT: "unlike the smell of a rose, the
elementary properties and detailed spatial relationships in our
feeling of a triangle can be displayed in an external
expression which others can observe and examine"
I'm afraid I can't agree: The
geometric properties of detecting and manipulating triangles are functing,
and unproblematic. What it feels like
to see or imagine or manipulate a triangle, in contrast, is every bit
as problematic as what it feels like to see red. (Lockean primary and
secondary properties don't help here.)
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/717
2009-04-22 -- Reply to Robin Faichney
RF: "I don't believe non-functions
necessarily need reasons to be"
You are not surprised that
organisms are not just the Darwinian adaptive machines (functors) that they
ought to be (based on everything else we know and can explain)? And you are
not bothered that this cannot be explained in the usual (functional) way
everything else in the universe can be?
RF: "Consciousness is nothing more nor
less than a point of view"
Isn't viewing a felt function? Assuming that you
would not say that a camera has a "point of view," does our
having one not deserve an explanation?
RF: "'consciousness' and 'free will' are
The fact that we feel (i.e.,
are conscious) is not only not
meaningless, but it is perfectly true. The fact that feeling cannot have
any independent causal power (unless telekinetic dualism is true, which it
isn't) is likewise true, and perfectly meaningful, if not especially
satisfying, if one is looking for an explanation of how and why we feel...
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/718
2009-04-22 -- Reply to Jason Streitfeld
JS: "you can know that you have a
toothache, but not if you don't have a tooth"
No? What about referred pain,
or phantom limb pain, or hysterical pain, or hallucinated pain?
JS: "what are feelings?"
Everyone who feels knows that,
even if they effect not to.
Please see earlier in the
thread about ostensive definition and knowing what it "feels like to
JS: "How do you know they exist?"
I pinch myself occasionally:
JS: "How do you know they don't cause
I know they feel as if they cause things (e.g.,
when I move my finger because I feel like it). But I notice that there are
4 fundamental forces in the universe, and that they cover my brain's every
move, with no remaining degrees of freedom. There's no room for a 5th force
unless telekinetic dualism is true (and it's not).
JS: "And how do you know they correlate
with brain functions?"
Classical psychophysics: as my
anxiety level goes up, my GSR goes up, and vice versa. (That does not prove correlation, because there's
always room for skepticism as well as incommensurability arguments, but
it's good enough for a realist and a naturalist. It's not good enough to
close the explanatory gap, though because it's just correlation, not
JS: "to the broad question, why
are some functions felt?, I would answer, what are you talking
No reply, if the difference
between what happens to you when I pinch you and what does not happen
(presumably) to a robot if I pinch it does not make it crystal clear to you
exactly what I am talking about.
JS: "I would not say that these functions are felt. That
would imply that there is something else apart from the functions which is
Well what would you say that
pinching you was and pinching the
robot (or you under anesthesia) wasn't?
JS: "I see nothing problematic about
regarding feelings as neurological functions interacting with other
neurological functions, just as I see nothing problematic about regarding
colors as wavelengths of light interacting with neurological
functions. The idea that these functions could occur without the
feeling of color vision implies a notion of feeling which I
do not understand."
Where you are not just seeing truths
(as I too see them), you seem to be seeing necessary truths, whereas all I see is unexplained truths --
and truths for which it seems perfectly reasonable (by analogy with
everything else) to feel as if they call for explanation...
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/719
2009-04-25 -- Reply to Arnold Trehub
ON PSYCHOPHYSICAL INCOMMENSURABILITY AND
AT: "brain analogs... are much more
informative than mere correlates"
I am going to think out loud
about "duals" now, because I am not really sure yet what
implication I want to draw from it for the question of psychophysical
"analogs" vs "correlates."
The question is interesting
(and Saul Kripke gave it some thought in the '70s when he expressed some
skepticism about the coherence, hence he very possibility, of the notion of
"spectrum inversion": Could you and I really use exactly the same
language, indistinguishably, and live and interact indistinguishably in the
world, while (unbeknownst to us) green looks (i.e., feels) to me the way
red does to you, and vice versa?
Kripke thought the answer was
no, because with that simple swap would come an infinity of other
associated similarity relations, all of which would likewise have to be
systematically adjusted to preserve the coherence of what we say as well as
do in the world. ("Green" looks more like blue, "red"
looks more like purple, etc.)
At the time, I agreed, because
I had come to much the same conclusion about semantic swapping: Would a
book still be systematically interpretable if every token of
"less" were interpreted to mean "more" and vice versa?
(I don't mean just making a swap between the two arbitrary terms we use, but between their intended meanings, while preserving the usage of the terms exactly as
they are used now.)
I was pretty sure that the swap
would run into detectable trouble quickly for the simple reason that
"less" and "more" are not formal "duals" the
way some terms and operations are in mathematics and logic. My intuition --
though I could not prove it -- was that almost all seemingly local pairwise
swaps like less/more would eventually require systematic swaps of countless
other opposing or contradictory or dependent terms ("I
prefer/disprefer having less/more money..."), eventually even
true/false, and that standard English could not bear the weight of such a
pervasive semantic swap and still yield a coherent systematic interpretation
of all of our verbal discourse. And that's even before we ask whether the
semantic swap could also preserve the coherence between our verbal
discourse and our actions in the world.
But since then I've come to a
more radical view about meaning itself, according to which the only
difference between a text (a string of symbols P instantiated in a static
book or a dynamic computer) that is systematically interpretable as meaning
something, but has no "intrinsic intentionality" (in Searle's sense) and a text (say, a string of symbols P
instantiated in the brain of a conscious person thinking the thought that
P) is that it feels like something
to be the person thinking the thought that P, whereas it feels like nothing
to be the book or the computer instantiating the symbols string).
Systematic interpretability ("meaningfulness") in both cases, but
(intrinsic) meaning only in the (felt) one.
I further distinguish meaning,
in this felt sense, from mere grounding,
which is yet another property that a mere book or computer lacks: Only a
robot that could pass the robotic Turing Test (TT; the capacity to
speak and act indistinguishably from
a person to a person, for a
lifetime) would have grounded symbols. But if the robot did not feel, it still would not have symbols with
intrinsic "intentionality"; it would still be more like a book or
computer, whose sentences are systematically interpretable but mean nothing
except in the mind of a conscious (i.e., feeling) user. (It is of course an
open and completely undecidable question whether a TT-passing robot would
or would not actually feel, because of the other-minds problem. I think it
would -- but I have no idea how or why!)
But this radical equation of
intrinsic meaning (as opposed to mere systematic interpretability) with
feeling would make Kripke's observations about color-swapping (i.e.,
feeling-swapping) and my observations about meaning-swapping into one and the
It is not only that verbal
descriptions fall short of feelings in the way that verbal descriptions
fall short of pictures, but that feelings (say, feelings of greater or
lesser intensity) and whatever the feelings are "about" (in the
sense that they are caused by them and they somehow appertain to them) are incommensurable: The relation
between an increase in a physical property and its felt quality (e.g., an
increase in physical intensity and a felt increase in intensity) is a
systematic (and potentially very elaborate and complicated) correlation
(more with more and less with less), but does it even make sense to say it
is a "resemblance"?
For this reason, brain
"analogs" too are just systematic correlates insofar as felt
quality is concerned. I may have (1) a neuron in my brain whose intensity
(or frequency) of firing is in direct proportion to (2) the intensity of an
external stimulus (say, the amplitude of a sinusoid at 440 hz). In
addition, there is the usual log-linear psychophysical relationship between
the stimulus intensity (2) and (3) my intensity ratings. The stimulus
intensity (2) and the neuronal intensity (1) are clearly in an
analog relationship. So are the stimulus intensity (2) and my intensity
ratings (3) (as rated on a 1-10 scale, say). And so are the neuronal
intensity (1) and my intensity ratings (3). But you could get all three of
those measurements, hence all three of those correlations, out of an
unfeeling robot. (I could build one already today.) How does (4) the actual
feeling of the intensity figure
in all this?
You want to say that my
intensity ratings are based upon an "analog" of that felt
intensity. Higher rated intensity is systematically correlated with higher
felt intensity, and lower rated intensity is correlated with lower felt
intensity. But in what way does a higher intensity rating RESEMBLE a
higher intensity feeling? Is the
rating not just a notational convention I use, like saying that
"higher" sound-frequencies are "higher"? (They're not
really higher, like higher in the sky, are they?) (Same thing is true if I
instead use the "analog" convention of matching the felt
frequency with how high I raise my hand. And if it's instead an involuntary
reflex rather than a voluntary convention that is causing the analog
response -- say, light pupillary dilation in response to increased light
intensity -- then the correlated feeling is even more side-lined!)
The members of our species
(almost certainly) all share roughly the same feelings. So we can agree
upon, share and understand naming conventions that correlate systematically
with those shared feelings. I use "hot" for feeling hot and
"cold" for feeling cold, because we have both felt those feelings
and we share the convention on what we jointly agree to call what.
That external corrective
constraint gets us out of another kind of incorrigibility: Wittgenstein
pointed out in his argument that there could not be a purely private language because then there could be no error-correction, hence
there would be no way for me to know whether (i) I was indeed using the
same word systematically to refer to the same feeling on every occasion or
(ii) it merely felt as if I was
doing so, whereas I was actually using the words arbitrarily, and my
memories were simply deceiving me.
So feelings are clearly
deceiving if we are trying to "name" them systematically all on
our own. But the only thing that social conventions can correct is their grounding: What we call (and do
with) what, when. I can't know for sure what you are feeling, but if you
described yourself as feeling "hot" when the temperature had gone
down, and as feeling "happy" when you had just received some bad
news, I would suspect something was amiss.
Those are clearly just
correlations, however. Words are not analogs of feelings, they are just
arbitrary labels for them. And although a verbal description of a picture
can describe the picture as minutely as we like, it is still not an analog
of the picture, just a symbolic description that can be given a systematic
and coherent interpretation, both in words and actions (if it is
Yet we all know it can't be
symbolic descriptions all the way down: Some of our words have to have been
learned from (grounded in) direct sensorimotor (i.e., robotic) experience.
"How/why did that experience have to be felt experience?" That's the question we can't answer; the
explanatory gap. And a lemma to that unanswered question is: How/why did
that felt experience have to resemble what is was about -- as opposed to
merely feeling like it resembles what
it is about? Why isn't grounding just functing (e.g., the cerebral
substrate that enables us to do and say whatever needs to be done and said
to survive, succeed and reproduce, TT-scale)? And why is there anything
more to meaning than just that?
To close with a famous example
of analogs: Roger Shepard showed psychophysically that the time it takes to detect
whether two shapes are different shapes or just the same shape, rotated, is
proportional to the degree of rotation. This suggests that the brain is
encoding the shapes in some analog form, and then doing some real-time
analog rotation to test whether they match. This is all true, but as it
happens the rotation occurs too fast for the subject to feel that it is
happening! So here we have the same three-way correlation ( internal neural
process (1) external stimulus (2), subject's outpu (3)) as in intensity
judgments), but without any
So is the neural
"analog" still to count as an analog of feeling, even when there is no feeling?
By the very same token, how is
one to determine whether psychophysical data are analogs of feeling, rather than merely systematic functional
correlates (especially when the explanation of how and why the correlated
functions are felt at all remains a complete mystery, causally, hence
functionally)? (This is the public counterpart of Wittgenstein's private
problem of error.)
All this, but I still think
that global systematic duals do not in general work, so neither sensory nor
semantic pairwise swapping is possible (except perhaps in some local
special cases) while preserving the coherence of either actions in the
world or the interpretability of verbal discourse. I don't think, however,
that the fact that coherent global duals are impossible, even if it is
true, entails that feelings are analogs
of physical properties, rather than merely systematic correlates.
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/744
Reply to David Chalk
CORRELATION, CORRESPONDENCE AND INCOMMENSURABILITY
DC: "One can either claim phenomenal
consciousness is epiphenomenal or not"
[I'd have said "One can either claim that feelings are
or are not causal"]
DC: "forget about why we should experience
anything at all. If p-consciousness is epiphenomenal...'Why should
the experience produced correspond to reality instead of simply... [having]
no correlation whatsoever?'"
First, a simplified gloss:
"forget about why we should feel anything at all.
If feelings are noncausal... 'Why should they correspond to reality instead
of simply... [having] no correlation whatsoever?'"
This was the subject of the
thread about correlates vs. analogs in psychophysics. "Correspondence" is a bit of a weasel word: It
could refer to a reliable but arbitrary mapping or a physical isomorphism.
I'd say (some) feelings were reliably correlated with (some) objects and
events temporally and functionally, but that they were qualitatively
incommensurable with them -- and that those were just two sides of the same
coin: the noncausal status of feeling. It is always the functing that bears
the weight, not the feeling.
DC: "I'd be very interested if you...
suggest papers or literature that might address this perspective."
(I regret I cannot help on this
score, except to add that for my part I would be grateful if pointers to
the literature were also always accompanied by a simple summary of the argument
that the cited work is making. Without wishing to offend anyone, I do think
this topic is more likely to advance if we minimize both the terminology
and the reliance on prior Writ, since too many words and too little of
substance have been written on the problem, and simplicity is so much more
likely to keep our eyes on the ball. The "arguments" referred to
below are a case in point.)
DC: "The argument that  nonlinear physical
systems are in some way holistic/non separable... and...  quantum mechanical
 is (in my opinion) empty
hand-waving (all the specifics of feeling slip right out of
"nonlinearity" -- ubiquitous in the world) and as for QM
: the explanatory gaps of one field are not filled by the
explanatory gaps of another!
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/747
Reply to David Chalmers
DC: (1) There's no explanatory gap, or one that's fairly
(2) There's a deep explanatory gap for now, but we
might someday close it.
(3) There's a permanent explanatory gap, but not an
ontological gap (so materialism is true).
(4) There's a permanent explanatory gap, and a corresponding
ontological gap (so materialism is false).
(3') There's a permanent
explanatory gap (because feelings are noncausal), but not an
ontological gap (because telekinetic dualism is false).
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/750
Reply to Derek Allan
TELEKINETIC DUALISM: MIND OVER MATTER
DA: "For the unlettered outsider like
me, what is 'telekinetic dualism' exactly?"
"psychokinesis") is often also called "mind over
matter": It's spoon-bending by Uri Geller. Not just "action at a
distance" as in electromagnetism or gravity, but action at a distance
caused by mental power alone. It's what psychics do. Spooky stuff.
I (and I assume you) don't
believe a word of it.
But even when I bend a spoon
with my hands, rather than at a distance, it feels as if it is my mind that is causing the bending, by
causing my hands to bend the spoon.
The alternative is that it is
electrochemical activities in the motor regions of my cerebral cortex that
are causing my hands to bend the spoon, and that my mentally willing it had
nothing to do with it -- except that it was quite closely correlated with
(How closely correlated is
still a matter for some debate, as, for example, the work of Benjamin Libet might possibly be showing: It could be that an unfelt
cerebral event very slightly precedes
my feeling of willing my hand to move.)
So telekinetic dualism would be
true if there really existed a mental force, rather like the other 4
fundamental forces of nature -- electromagnetism, gravitation, strong
subatomic; weak subatomic (if there are indeed 4, for they may be destined
to be unified by some grand theory one day) -- and that 5th force, not the
other 4, were the cause of the movement of my arm.
But there is no 5th force. The
electrochemical/mechanical brain state preceding my movement, and
triggering it, explains the cause of my movement as fully as its trivial
counterpart does in a simple robot (except of course that the brain is much
more complicated and capable); and whether the trigger point in the causal
chain coincides with the moment I feel I am initiating the movement or
precedes it slightly does not matter a whit: Unless telekinetic dualism is
true, my feeling that I am doing it
because I feel like like it in reality plays no causal role in my
movement (even though the feeling is real enough).
And that is the mind/body
problem. Telekinetic dualism would have been the solution -- if it had been
true. But it isn't. There is no mental force, even though it feels like it:
It's all matter over matter. But we cannot explain why or how, because
there is no causal room. That's the explanatory gap.
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/783
Reply to Arnold Trehub
ON PREDICTING WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO BE A BAT...
all analog representations are felt, but all felt representations are
analogs of something somewhere in our egocentric space"
Arnold, I am afraid you have
given up the game here! The M/B problem and the explanatory gap are about
explaining how/why functions are felt,
rather than just functed. You work on analog functions, which is fine --
valuable, informative. But it is how/why (some) analog functions are felt that is at issue here, not
how/why they are analog, or functional.
AT: "while the existence of consciousness
(feelings) may be beyond our ability to explain, the contents of
consciousness can be explained"
What can be explained is the
functionality of analog functions; and what we have (as a gift) is their
correlation with feelings. How and why feelings are there and correlated
with functions is completely untouched. That is the explanatory gap.
AT: “Suppose the functing of a particular
kind of brain mechanism was theoretically specified, and on the basis of
its putative operating principles, one predicted the occurrence of a
particular kind of feeling never experienced before. Suppose the prediction
was successful and repeatable. Would you then be inclined to accept the
idea that the functing of the specified brain mechanism was the biophysical
aspect of the predicted feeling?”
Not inclined in the
You are simply re-affirming the
feeling/functing correlation, not explaining. Sonar perception (of a bat)
feels like something. Humans don't feel sonar. If someone genetically
engineered a sonar perception mechanism that could be added to the human
brain and it produced not only bat-like functional capacities, but felt
perception, this would of course not prove anything at all (insofar as the
feeling/function problem is concerned), even if all went exactly as
"predicted." No one but a bat knows what it feels like to be a
bat today *although we do have a very rough idea from our other sense-modalities,
as all the senses resemble one another in a very general sense: guessing or
describing what it feels like to be a bat, for us, is rather like a
congenitally blind person guessing what it feels like to see.)
The very same is true of a
brand-new, artificially engineered sensory modality: Even if it works, and
produces both functioning and feeling, correlated, as predicted, it still
does not explain in the slightest how/why it is felt. It simply migrates
the mystery to a brand-new sensory modality.
And the fact that it uses
analog function does not illuminate the f/f problem by even a single
candela (or jnd), alas!
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/788
Reply to David Chalk
ON MEASURING, FEELING, AND
COMMENSURABILITY: (AND MIND THE ONTIC/EPISTEMIC GAP!)
David, I think you have
misunderstood a number of things:
(1) The most important is the
ontic/epistemic distinction: Distinguish been what there really is (ontic) and what we can know about what there really is
(epistemic), e.g., what we can observe or measure. Although it was
fashionable for a while (though one wonders how and why!), it will not do
to say "I shall assume that what I can observe and measure is all
there is and can be." Not if you want to address the question of the
explanatory gap, rather than simply beg it!
(2) Observation and measurement
also have to be looked at much more rigorously. In the most natural sense
of "observe," only seeing creatures observe. A camera does not
"observe," it simply does physical transduction, producing a
physical "image" (on the film) which, again, is simply another
object that has some properties (which in turn are analogs of some of the
properties of the object from which the light entering the camera
originated). The seeing person who looks at the image on the film is the
one who observes, not the camera.
The same is true of
measurement: A thermometer does not "measure" temperature; people
measure temperature. The thermometer itself simply implements a physical
interaction, in which its mercury rises to a certain point on the
(man-made) scale, which can then be read off by a seeing, observing, measuring
human. The user is the one doing the measuring, not the thermometer.
But there is no reason to be
quite this rigid: There is not much risk in talking about instruments doing
the measurements, rather than the users of the instruments, just as long as
we do not read too much into "measuring." Ditto for
"observing." In particular, we must on no account make the
mistake of treating this instrumental sense of measuring and observing as
if it were felt measuring and
observing, because then, again, we are simply begging the question of the
explanatory gap and the feeling/functing problem.
In the instrumental sense of
"measurement," we can say, for example, that unattended
temperature sensors in the arctic transmitted their
"observations" to computers, which analyzed them and produced a
result, which (correctly) predicted global warming and the destruction of
the biosphere in N years. And that event would be the same event if humans
were already extinct and the arctic sensors and computers were running on
auto-pilot. But what would it mean?
(Remember that I have a
radically deviant view, not the standard one, on the subject of the relation between feeling and meaning: I think only felt meaning is meaning; without feeling
all one has is grounded robotic functing (and semantic interpretability).
So even if, after the extinction of humans, the arctic sensors and the
computers transmitted their data to robots that then took the requisite
steps to avert the global warming and save the biosphere, that would all
still just be physical transduction and nothing else -- except, of course, if the robots actually did feel --
but in that case it would be irrelevant that they were robots! They might
as well be us; and all the observing and measuring is again being done by
feeling creatures, and the feeling/function gap is as unbridged as ever!)
(3) Your third equivocation in
what follows below, is in the weasel-word "experience" -- which
can mean felt experience, as in
our case, or, used much more loosely and instrumentally (as with
"observing" and "measuring") it can merely mean an
event in which there was again some sort of physical interaction. Whether
the event was one billiard ball hitting another, or a camera snapping a
photo after all life is gone, or a computer receiving the bits and applying
an algorithm to them -- these are all pretty much of a muchness. There's no
"experience" going on there, because of course it's only really
an "experience" -- rather than just an event or state with
certain functional properties -- if
it is felt (by someone/something).
And that (and only that) is
what this discussion is all about, and has been, unswervingly, all along
(for those who grasp what the explanatory problem at issue is).
DC: "'telekinesis' is abhorrent because
it suggests there are nonphysical phenomena which influence the comings and
goings of material things.
("paranormal/psychic") telekinesis is not "abhorrent,"
it is simply false, in that all evidence contradicts it. All seemingly
telekinetic effects keep turning out to be either due to chance or to
And as for (what I've called)
"telekinetic dualism" -- that too is not abhorrent. It is
perfectly natural, indeed universal, to believe and feel that our feelings
matter, and that most of what we do, we do because we feel like doing it,
and not just because functing is going on, of which our feelings are merely
correlates -- correlates of which we do not know the causes, and, even more
important, correlates which themselves have no effects of their own, and we
cannot explain how and why they are there at all. (That, yet again. is the
f/f problem and the explanatory gap.)
DC: "To suggest...momentum, position and
fields... might be influenced by 'feeling' seems
It is not ludicrous; it is
DC: "However, suggesting that momentum, position or
fields can create phenomena that are not measurable by measuring the
momentum, position and field is just as serious a problem as suggesting
said phenomena influences those measurements"
How did we get into
"measurability"? We can measure momentum today that was too
minute to measure yesterday. Maybe there's still momentum we can't measure,
or don't even know about. This is the ontic/epistemic error: What there is
(and isn't) in the world owes nothing, absolutely nothing, to what human
senses and instruments can or cannot "measure."
Moreover, the f/f problem and
the explanatory gap have nothing to do with the limits of human senses or
measuring instruments. They have to do with the fact that we feel, yet we
cannot explain how or why, because all evidence is that feelings, though
they are there alright, have no independent causal power. They are just
inexplicable correlates of the things that really do have causal power
(functing). Hence the mystery about why everything is not all just unfelt
functing: Why are some functions felt?
DC: "If you don't want to accept
telekinesis, then why accept the corollary which is that objectively
measureable properties produce phenomena that are not objectively
I have no problems whatsoever
with the very real possibility that measurable properties may also have
unmeasurable effects. The problem is that that has absolutely nothing to do
with the problem of explaining how and why some functions are felt. It is
not immeasurable effects of
functing that are the problem; it is the fact that some functing is felt.
(And although feeling is not, strictly speaking "measurable," it
is certainly observable -- indeed, it is the only thing that is
unproblematically observable! (It is no wonder that -- in struggling with
their own "explanatory gap" -- philosophers of quantum mechanics
have made something of a cult out of human observation, as being the
mysterious cause of the "collapse of the wave packet" that
separates our punctate world from the continuously superimposed smear it
would be if there were no people to read off the outcome of a
geiger-counter experiment! But, alas, this is just piling mystery atop
DC: "If you can't measure it, don't accept
There's the barefoot
operationalism, again. This may be useful advice to an experimental
physicist -- if not to a superstring theorist -- because all they deal with
is functing anyway, whether measurable or unmeasurable. But it is just
question-begging if you are trying to explain how/why organisms feel rather
than just funct.
DC: "Earlier you suggested that experience/qualia/feeling
are measurable by the subject and reportable, but are not causal or perhaps
are epiphenomenal. Could you...clarify this?"
(First, why the needless
synonyms "experience/qualia/feeling" when feeling covers them all
and is problem enough?)
Second, I did not say feelings
are measurable. (I think physical properties and feelings are
incommensurable, and that measurement itself is physical, functional.) I
said our feelings correlate with functing. We say (and feel)
"ouch" when our skin is injured, not when it is stroked, or
randomly; we say (and feel) a sound is louder when an acoustic amplitude
increases, not when it decreases (or randomly). So the correlation is
But this does not help explain
why (or how) tissue damage and acoustic amplitude change is felt, rather
than functed. If our neurons simply fired faster when we were hurt, or when
a sound got louder, and caused our muscles to act accordingly, but we did
not feel, then we'd still have the psychophysical correlation
(stimulus/response) -- including, if you like, JND by JND psychophysical
scaling -- but no correlated feeling. So the question naturally arises:
what's the point of the feeling?
I also don't think I am
measuring anything when I feel, or report my feeling. I am simply feeling.
When I say "more" or "less," I am saying this feels
like more and that feels like less. The psychophysicist is doing the
measuring (not I): He is measuring what I do (R) and comparing it to the
stimulus (S) and noting that they are tightly correlated. I am just saying
how it feels. As I said in my reply to Arnold Trehub: apart from the S/R
correlation, there is not a separate "sentometer" to measure the
feeling itself; it's not even clear what "measuring a feeling"
would mean. Nor, as I said, am *I* "measuring" what I'm feeling,
in feeling it, and acting upon it. I'm just feeling it, and acting on it.
And there is a tight correlation between what happens outside me (S), what
I feel, and what I do (R). There better be, otherwise I would come from a
long line of extinct ancestors. But the co-measurement is only between S
and R, which are both functing and unproblematic. It feels as if I am
drawing on feelings in order to generate my R, but how I do that is rather
too problematic to be called "co-measurement" in any
non-question-begging sense of measurement. So although the feeling is
correlated with S and R, they are not commensurable, because the feeling is
neither being measured, nor is it itself a measure, or measurement.
You also seem to be
misunderstanding "epiphenomenal": Epiphenomenal does not just
mean "unimportant or unmeasurable side-effects." It means (1) an
effect that is uncaused, or (2) an effect that has no effects. I am a
"materialist" in that I am sure enough that feelings are caused
by the brain, somehow (i.e., they are not uncaused effects (1)); I simply
point out that we have no idea how
feelings are caused by the brain (and we never will). But the real puzzle
is not that: the real puzzle is why feelings are caused by the brain, since
feelings themselves have no effects (2). They are functional danglers,
which means that they are gaps in any causal explanation.
There is one and only one
epiphenomenon (unless QM has a few more of its own), and that is feeling: Caused (inexplicably) by
the brain, feelings themselves (even more inexplicably) cause nothing --
even though it feels as if they do.
DC: "You don't want experience to influence anything
physical. You don't want there to be an unmeasurable influence on any
material comings and goings."
First, this has nothing to do
with what I do or don't want!
Second, rather than equivocate
on "experience," can we please stick to calling it feeling!
Feelings have no independent
causal power, not because I don't want them to, but because telekinetic
dualism is false: there is no evidence for feelings having any causal
power, and endless evidence against it.
And whereas there can certainly
be unmeasurable effects, one cannot invoke them by way of an explanation of
something without evidence. Besides, the problem with feeling has nothing
to do with measurability; it's their very existence that is the problem.
And even if they were completely uncorrelated with anything else (the way
our moods sometimes are), they would still defy causal explanation.
DC: "As an example, we might consider a computer being
used to control some process such as the launching of a rocket. One
might say the computer has a causal influence over this process, albeit an
Why on earth would you want to
say the influence was epiphenomenal? This is a perfectly garden-variety
example of causal influence!
DC: "One might take the position that everything above
the molecular level is epiphenomenal, and certainly philosophers have
suggested exactly this."
Philosophers say the strangest
things. If everything about the molecular level is
"epiphenomenal," we have lost the meaning of
And that's just fine. I get not
an epsilon more leverage on the inexplicability of how and why some
functions are felt if I add that they are "epiphenomenal"!
DC: "computers, circuits or transistors are... all part
of a causal chain from atomic and molecular interactions to rocket
Indeed they are. No causal gaps
there. It's with feelings that you get the causal gap that lies at the
heart of the explanatory gap.
DC: "you're suggesting that experience is not part of
that causal chain. Experience/qualia/feeling can not play a part in
any way in this causal chain."
First, can we just stick with
the one term "feeling"? The proliferation of synonyms just
creates a distraction, and what we need is focus, and to eliminate
everything that is irrelevant.
The evidence (not I) says that
feelings have no independent power to cause anything. All the causal chains
on which they piggy-back mysteriously are carried entirely by
DC: "What I don't think you're suggesting is that
feelings are epiphenomenal in the same sense as the computer's causal
influence is epiphenomenal"
(1) I don't for a minute think
a computer's causal influence is epiphenomenal. It's causal influence is
(2) I would suggest forgetting
about "epiphenomena" and just sticking with doing, causing and
(3) All evidence is that
feelings do not cause anything, even though they feel as if they do. All
the causation is being done by the functing, on which the correlated
feeling piggy-backs inexplicably.
(4) The inability to explain
feeling causally is the explanatory gap.
DC: "let's suggest that the experience of the color
red can be reliably measured by a person."
Alas we are back into ambiguity
It feels like something to see
The feeling is correlated with
wave length (and brightness and luminosity), as psychophysics has
Persons don't measure. They
feel, and respond (R). Psychophysicists measure (S and R).
S and R are reliably
correlated, and since R is based on feelings, we can say feelings are
reliably correlated with S too (even though, strictly speaking, S and R are
commensurable, but neither is commensurable with feelings).
The human subject, however, is
not measuring, but feeling, and doing.
DC: "a digital camera can take light
and convert it to a digital pattern which can be reconverted to wavelength
using just three pixels on a computer screen. The intensity we
observe from each pixel is interpreted and converted to color inside the
brain. I doubt anyone would say that the experience of color exists
at any step of the process between recording the color red using the camera
and the reproducing of the color at a computer screen."
No, the feeling (sic) of seeing
color occurs in the brain of the feeling subject. Not before or after in
the causal (or temporal) chain.
(And why the computer? Let the
stimulus be color. No need for it to be computer-generated color. If the
digital-camera/computer is used instead as an analogy for the seeing
subject, rather than the stimulus, the answer is that there is no feeling
in the camera or the computer.)
DC: "let's say we had a device which could reliably
measure the experience of red. A human is just such a device if
experience reliably correlates to function/behavior."
David, with this
"assumption" you have effectively begged the question and given
up (or rather smuggled in) the ghost (in the machine): Until further notice,
the only devices that have experiences (feeling) to "measure" are
biological organisms. If you declare some other device to feel by fiat,
you're headed toward panpsychism (everything and every part and combination
of everything feels) which is not only arbitrary and as improbable as
telekinesis, but is probably incoherent too.
No device can measure a feeling
(sic); it can only measure a functional correlate of a feeling. And a human
subject feels the feeling;
he does not measure it.
DC: "Now, if this internal measurement
is reliable, then let's assume we can similarly produce this experience
You've lost me. There is no
internal measurement going on, just feeling. And it is "reliable"
inasmuch as it correlates with S and R.
It is of course the easiest
thing in the world to replace a human -- feeling, say, sound intensity --
by a computer, transducing sound intensity, in such a way as to reproduce
the human S/R function.
Trouble is that in so doing you
have not solved the f/f problem but simply begged the question -- which is,
let me remind you: How and why are we not also like that unfeeling device,
transducing the input, producing a perfect S/R function, but feeling
nothing whatsoever in the process?
DC: "Let's assume our computer's transistors can produce
this reliable correlation and report dutifully the experience has been
accomplished. If this is possible, then that computer... has
physically measured the phenomenon in question and produced a physical
You seem to think that the f/f
problem is getting a device to produce a reliable psychophysical detection
(S/R) function: It's not. The problem is to explain how and why we are not just devices that produce a
psychophysical detection (S/R) function: how and why we feel whilst we
(And this is not about
measurement, but about explaining the causal role of feeling in human
DC: "If the measurement of the experience is reliable,
then that measurement can be (must be) converted to a physical signal so that
it is reportable, else it is not reliable. So if the measurement of
experience is reliably reported, then something can be done with that
signal. The signal can be interjected into a causal chain..."
I'm afraid you have left the
real problem long behind as you head off into this measurement
operationalism that begs the question at issue, which is not about reliable
"measurement" but about felt functing.
DC: "We can have an if/then statement in our computer
which says, If Xperience = RED then "SCRUB LAUNCH". In this
way, qualia/experience/feeling is interjected into the causal chain."
You really think feeling is
just a matter of an if/then statement in a computer program? Would a
problem with a solution as trivial as that really have survived this long?
If the physical substrate of feeling were (mirabile dictu) if/then
statements in a computation, there would still be (as with the perpetuum
mobile) that niggling little problem about why the if/then statements were
felt rather than just functed...
DC: "Unless I've screwed up somewhere, which is entirely
possible, the bottom line is that experience/feeling can be a part of the
causal chain if it is internally measurable (subjectively measurable) and
as long as that measurement is reliable."
I regret to say that you have
indeed screwed up at a number of points, big time! I've tried to point them
out. They begin with your operationalism about "measurability,"
they continue with the equivocation on "experience" (felt
experience? how/why felt, then, rather than just functed?), and your
(arbitrary) equation of feeling with "measuring,"
DC: "One might still claim this influence is
epiphenomenal as I've defined epiphenomenal above using the rocket launch
As you've defined
epiphenomenal, epiphenomenality is so common that it casts no light at all
on the special case of the causal status of feeling.
DC: "We can explain everything a computer does by
examining the function of each transistor and circuit. The experience
for a computer therefore is merely functing.”
Here the equivocal word
"experience" has even led you to saying something that is
transparently false or absurd if stated in unequivocal language: "The
feeling for a computer is merely function" i.e., the computer does not
feel, it merely functs. (And our problem -- remember? -- was not computers,
but *us*, 'cause we really do feel, rather than just funct, like the
DC: "Experience can not be proven to
reliably correlate inside a computer, and in fact, experience is never
needed to explain anything a computer does."
For the simple reason that
(replacing the weasel-word "experience") the computer does not
feel. (Hence we are not just computers, or like computers in that crucial
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/800
Reply to Arnold Trehub
AT: 1. If we ask
how/why some functions are felt, we seem to grant that some functions are
not felt, and we can ask if there is a systematic biophysical
difference between felt functions and unfelt functions.
We had better grant that some functions are felt and some are not felt
(since it's true!): My toothache is felt; my thermoregulation is not
(although I can feel hot); a furnace's thermoregulation is unfelt, and the
furnace does not feel hot (or anything).
We can certainly look for
biophysical differences between my felt and unfelt functions; but just as
the functional correlates of my feelings will not tell you how or why I
feel, the functional correlates of felt and unfelt functions won't tell you
either. (And the reason is that there simply isn't the causal room for
feelings to have any effects at all (independent of their correlated
functions), hence there isn't any room for a causal explanation of how and
why we feel: the correlated functions tell all there is to tell.
AT: 2. We can
also ask why any felt function is felt. -- It seems to me
that question 2 is equivalent to asking why anything like feeling
(consciousness) exists at all. Would you agree, Stevan?
Yes, which is why I've
reformulated the mind/body problem as the feeling/function problem: How and why
are some functions felt?
About the "how" --
i.e., how are feelings generated? -- I don't doubt for a minute that the
cause is the brain. What I doubt is that we can explain how the brain
generates the feelings, rather than just the correlated functions. So this
is not about whether materialism is true. (Of course it is.) It is about
whether material (functional) explanation is complete: No it isn't. There's
an explanatory gap, insofar as the (fact of) feeling is concerned.
But the harder question is the
"why." The "why" is not teleological, it is functional,
and causal: In a sense, the only satisfactory answer to a functional
question -- why does this device work this way? what functional role does
property X play? -- is a functional answer. But if we ask a functional
question about feeling -- why does this device feel? what functional role
does the fact that it feels play? -- we draw a blank, because feelings have
no independent functional role. All the functionality is accounted for by
the functional correlates of feelings! That's why "Why are some
functions felt rather than just functed?" is the core question. And
since a satisfying answer could only be a causal/functional one -- and
there is simply no causal room for such an answer (given that telekinetic
dualism is false), we are stuck with an explanatory gap.
(I should have added in my earlier
reply, Arnold, that the object is not to predict what we feel,
but to explain that we feel (how, why). And that will not be
accomplished by analogs, representations, etc.)
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/801
Reply to Jason Streitfeld
UNTOWARD CONSEQUENCES OF
JS: "You may be right about the four
fundamental forces accounting for all brain activity, but I do not see why
we should think feelings can't be manifestations of these forces.
Thus, to rephrase my question, how do you know that feelings are not
as causally efficacious as anything else in nature?"
"Manifestations" is a
I'm pretty sure feelings are
caused by the usual four FFs (i.e., I'm not a "dualist," for what
my beliefs are worth!).
But I am pretty sure no one has
explained how feelings are
caused by the usual four FFs. And I'm pretty sure it's impossible to
explain how they are caused. As usual, the attempted explanations will turn
out to be explanations of doings,
and doing capacity (i.e.,
functing), not feeling.
As for the fact that feelings
have no (independent) effects (i.e., apart from the unproblematic direct
effects of the same four FFs on which the feelings are piggy-backing
causally): I'm as sure of that as I am that telekinetic dualism is false.
(For that is what it would take for feelings to have effects.)
JS: "a correlation... does not answer my question. How do
you know that your anxiety level goes up when your GSR goes
I think I made it clear I was
not invoking a cartesian "know" (i.e., certainty) for the
correlations between feeling and functing, just for the fact that I feel. For the
correlations I am no surer than I am that, say, night follows day, or that
there's an external world...
JS: "why you think that you know about your
feelings in an indubitable and inexplicable way."
I am as certain I feel (when I
feel) as Descartes was of his cogito -- indeed, it is the cogito, which should have been "sentio ergo sentitur".
And I'm as sure that it's
inexplicable as I am that the 4 FFs are all there are, and all that's
needed to cause all that's caused. Thus, whereas there's room for feelings
as effects, there's no room for them as causes.
And explanation (here) means
causal explanation (of how and why feel rather than just funct).
JS: "a slightly different interpretation of
Wittgenstein... It is not only that a wholly private language lacks the
possibility of error correction; it is that the very notion
of error makes no sense here.
[so] you can... use the word "feeling" to
refer to something... private, but you cannot claim that this usage is
correct, and so it cannot indicate knowledge"
I do interpret Wittgenstein on private language much the same way you do, and that is the problem of error:
I can't nonarbitrarily name what I'm feeling, even with
public correction: I could be calling what it feels like to feel sad
"sad" one day and "happy" another day, without the
possibility of anyone -- including me -- being any the wiser, as long as my
public sayings about feelings were reliably correlated with my public
doings and sayings, and it all kept feeling fine to me.
(I could of course do the same
thing if Zombies were possible and "I" were a Zombie:
"My" sayings [including my sayings about feelings] and my doings
[of which my sayings are of course just a particular case] would be
reliably correlated in that case (i.e., if "I" were a Zombie)
too, again with the help of public corrective feedback on my doings and
sayings -- except that instead of random feelings that just fooled me each
time into feeling as if they were familiar recurrent feelings, there would
simply be no feelings at all: just
the functings that subserve the doing and the saying, which are of course
In a fundamental sense, all of
this is true about every feeling: even with public corrective feedback,
there could be a reliable correlation between whenever I'm feeling F and
what I refer to publicly as "F", but that correlation could be
just as reliable if it were just a correlation with the inclination to call
F "F" publicly, plus the feeling that I'm feeling that old
familiar F at the time, when in reality I am feeling something randomly
different every time. But that's really just about the reliability of
public naming (and the correlation plus external feedback takes care of
that); it's not about the reliability of the recurrence and identification
of the self-same feeling every time it feels as if it's recurring. (It's
not for nothing that "feeling" and "seeming" are fully
interchangeable in all of this!)
But none of that touches on the
fact of (ongoing) feeling itself, about which I have cartesian certainty
every time it happens. Not only do I know that I'm feeling, whenever I'm feeling, but even if I'm not
feeling what I called F the last time, and instead only
feeling-as-if-I'm-feeling what I called F the last time, the fact that I am
nevertheless feeling something
remains a cartesian certainty there too.
The best way to see this is to
forget about the naming of the feeling; in fact, assume we are talking
about a species that has no language. An alligator can have a headache
(that feels much like our headache feels) without knowing he has a head,
and without calling the feeling anything, nor even remembering ever having
felt that feeling before. Whatever the alligator is feeling at the time, it
is a certainty that it is
feeling, and that it is feeling that (though
that poor precartesian alligator may not be feeling that certainty!) And if
an alligator were capable of
cartesian doubt, he would be incapable of doubting he was feeling a
headache (when he was indeed feeling a headache), exactly as I would be
incapable of doubting I was feeling a headache -- i.e., doubting that I was
feeling whatever I was feeling -- when I was feeling a headache (though I
would be perfectly capable of doubting I had a head). (I repeat, the
current feeling need not be the same feeling as the feeling I had the last
time I felt I had a headache; it could just be déją vu. This one could feel
hot and that one could have felt cold, and I could simply have forgotten
that. It doesn't matter. What matters is that I can be sure I am feeling
something (or other) now, and that whatever that something (or other) feels
like now is what it feels like (and not something else). (Again, the
synonymy of "feeling" and "seeming".)
An important further point I
made earlier in another posting: If I am to have a well-defined category, it must have both positive
and negative instances (i.e., members and nonmembers), and I must have
sampled enough of both to be able to pick out what distinguishes them,
reliably. Only then can I really "know" (this is not the cartesian know, just a
quotidian cognitive capacity to distinguish reliably) what's in the
category and what's not in it.
But the category
"feeling" is one of a family of special cases (each of them
causing conceptual and philosophical problems) because they are "uncomplemented categories" -- a kind of "poverty of the stimulus" problem arising from the fact that they are based
(and can only be based) exclusively on positive instances: In contrast, the
category "redness" is perfectly well-complemented: I can sample
what it feels like to see red things and non-red things, no problem. But
not so with the category "feeling": I can sample what it feels
like to feel: I do that every time I feel anything. And I can sample what
it feels like to feel X and to feel not-X. So through feeling X and
feeling not-X (if there's no evil demon playing random scrambling tricks of
the kind I mentioned above on the recurrence of my X and not-X feelings),
"X" and "not-X" (or, if you prefer external negation,
not-feeling X [when feeling Y instead]) are perfectly well instantiated
and complemented, hence reliably identifiable categories (insofar as
ordinary, noncartesian cognition is concerned).
But feeling itself is not; for
I can never feel what it feels like to not-feel (as opposed to merely
not-feeling X, in virtue of feeling Y instead). All I have is positive evidence for what it feels like to feel.
But I do have evidence. So
although the category "feeling" is uncomplemented, hence
pathological in some ways, it is nevertheless a category. It leaves me with
some indeterminacy about what to call what I'm actually feeling, and about
whether or not I've actually felt it before (as it seems). It will also
leave me with a lot of puzzles about what "feeling" is
(including, notably, the mind/body problem!). But it will still leave no
cartesian doubt as to the fact that feeling is indeed going on, when it is:
sentitur. (Of course "sentio ergo sum" would be far
too strong a conclusion to draw from such evidence: What is this
"I" that I supposedly am? (It's almost -- but just almost -- as
uncertain as the existence of my head, when all I have to go on, by way of
evidence, is my headache.) The best we can say is that it feels as if there is an "I"
-- but that's hardly more certain or cartesian than that it feels as if
there's an outside world, or a "you". (Life could have been just
one isolated, amnesic "ouch" after another, with no
"ego" -- yet that would already be enough to create the explanatory
So sentitur is all we can be certain about, regarding feeling; but
that's quite enough to generate the full-blown mind/body (feeling/function)
(All this is by way of my
sketching my update on Wittgenstein's private-language argument and
problem-of-error, plus a minor tweak of Descartes' cogito.)
JS: "so, when you say, "I know with absolute
certainty what red is, because it is my feeling alone and I experience it
directly"... we should conclude that you aren't saying
No, as I've just argued, I
cannot have Cartesian certainty about the coupling between my feeling and
the world, nor about the recurrent identity of my feeling (what it's
called, and whether it's the same thing I felt before under that name) but
I can have cartesian certainty about the fact that I am feeling, when I'm
feeling (and despite the fact that feeling is an uncomplemented category).
JS: "As W. says, 'a nothing would serve just as
well as a something about which nothing could be said' "
It's a subtle point, but I am
not talking here about what can be said; I
am talking about about what can be known,
with the same certainty as "if P then P" -- and even by an
alligator, who cannot think "if P then P" but is just as bound by
JS: "Perhaps you only mean to say that you
can know you feel like you have a toothache without observing
your body in any way."
Yes: I am talking exclusively
about what and when one feels, not about any coupling between the feeling
and the world (of bodies, etc.). That has exactly the same scope as the
cogito -- indeed it is the
cogito, properly put (sentitur).
JS: "In your view, feelings do not inform us about
our bodies at all--for, if they so informed us, then they would play a
causal role in our ability to learn about and function within the
world. And if observations of our bodies could inform us of our
feelings, then there would be no ''hard problem'"
Correct. It is the functing (on
which feelings piggy-back, inexplicably) that takes care of our doings and
sayings about bodies, including, mysteriously, the correlation between
bodily functings and feelings. And there is no cartesian certainty about
functings (though of course they are largely reliable, adaptive and
veridical); there is certainty only about the fact of ongoing
feeling (and about "if P then P").
JS: "This is a form of dualism. Whatever
feelings are and whatever functions are, information about one cannot be
gained from the other. You prefer to call your position
"epiphenomenalism," because you wish to maintain some notion of
causal dependence between bodily states and feelings, even if that
dependence is only one-way. But such a causal dependence is
unknowable--a something about which nothing could be
(1) For what it's worth, I
fully believe the brain causes
feelings (about as fully as I believe that gravity causes apples to fall);
hence I am not a "dualist."
(2) But gravity is one of the
four fundamental forces (FFs), hence it calls for no further causal
explanation. Feeling is not, hence it does.
(3) And hence I note that
although the brain causes feelings, no one has explained how the brain causes feelings.
(4) Worse, no one has explained
why the brain causes feelings,
given that the four FFs unproblematically cause and constitute all causal
(5) So feeling remains a
causal/functional dangler: caused (somehow) by the brain, but not itself
having any causal power of its own, over and above the functing that it is
correlated with, and that accounts causally -- and fully -- for everything
we do and say, without the need or room for any extra causal help.
(6) I don't find it
particularly useful or informative to call this
"epiphenomenalism": it is simply a failure of causal explanation,
an "explanatory gap" (one might as well call it
"exceptionalism," equally unilluminatingly) -- but I suppose one
is free to call an unsolved and insoluble explanatory problem whatever one
JS: "When you ask "why are some functions
felt?," what is it that you suppose is feeling the functions?
What sort of entity can feel? I do not see how you can answer this
question without explicitly embracing dualism; and if you do not answer it,
then your usage of the term "feel" becomes highly suspect"
The trouble with uncomplemented
categories is that they do raise a host of puzzles:
(a) I know (cartesianly) that
feeling is going on (sentitur).
(b) I have evidence
(noncartesian) that there is a world, that I have a body, that others have
bodies, and that my feelings (seemings) are very closely correlated with
what seems to be going on (doings, functing) in that outside world.
(c) It is part of the nature of
feeling that feelings are felt.
"Unfelt feelings" are self-contradictory (and meaningless), and
the notion of unfelt feelings has given rise to a lot of incoherent
hocus-pocus (such as the notion of unconscious thoughts and an unconscious
mind -- rather than the [mostly] unfelt functing plus the [minority of]
felt functing that is all there really is).
(d) It also seems to be part of
the nature of feeling that a feeler feels the feelings and that it
feels-as-if I am the feeler. Insofar as cartesian certainty is concerned,
all I can say is that it is certain that feeling is going on (when it is),
and that it feels like I am the feeler. In certain disordered states,
that's not so clear; but from a sober (but noncartesian) standpoint, it is
very likely that my brain causes my feelings, and also causes me, as a
continuous identity, feeling and remembering the feelings I've felt.
(e) No one know how or why the
brain causes feelings; the brain (like everything else, including Darwinian
evolution) is a functor. It is natural to ask how and why some brain
functions are felt, but there is no causal room for a causal answer.
I think I've answered your
question as well as one can, and without "explicitly embracing
JS: "There is no practical difference between
epiphenomenalism and dualism that I can see."
Rather than talking ontics (on
which I am a monist), I prefer to talk epistemics (on which I prefer to
call an explanatory failure by its proper name).
JS: "Your position cannot be established a
posteriori. Appeals to common knowledge and ostensive definitions can
only beg the question. You do indicate something like Chalmers'
conceivability argument when you talk about robots, and that is an a priori
argument; however, I am not convinced"
I take the cogito (or sentitur,
rather) to be based on evidence we have from experience (hence a
posteriori) -- indeed it is the paradigmatic case of evidence from
experience (i.e., feeling). But it is experiential evidence only of the
indubitable (incorrigible) fact of experience, not more -- and it is
certainly not an explanation of the causes or effects of experience.
No, I have no use whatsoever
for "conceivability" arguments. I have no idea whether or not
there can be Zombies (i.e., unfeeling Turing-scale
robots, indistinguishable in their
doing/saying capacities from ourselves), but what I happen to believe is
that if a T-scale robot is possible, it will feel.
Nor is the argument that there
is no causal room over and above the 4 FFs an a priori argument. It's
contingent on the evidence that there are only the 4 FFs. Telekinetic
dualism seems a perfectly conceivable, indeed plausible, alternative. It
just happens to be false.
Harnad, S. (1987)
Uncomplemented Categories, or, What is it Like to be a Bachelor? 1987
Presidential Address: Society for
Philosophy and Psychology. http://cogprints.org/2134/
Harnad, S. (2005) To
Cognize is to Categorize: Cognition is Categorization, in Lefebvre, C. and Cohen, H., Eds. Handbook of Categorization. Elsevier. http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/11725/
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/804
Reply to Arnold Trehub
PREDICTING WHAT WE FEEL IS NOT EXPLAINING THAT WE FEEL
AT: What, in your opinion, might count as a
causal explanation of a feeling rather than a mere correlate or an analog
of a feeling?
Since I do not believe that
feeling can be causally explained, you are actually asking me to give you a
counterfactual-conditional reply. That's a bit like asking someone who does
not believe that one can trisect an angle or build a perpetuum mobile what
would count as a trisected angle or a perpetuum mobile! But for trisection
we have a proof it's impossible and for perpetual motion we have a law of
Nature that entails that it is impossible -- whereas I have neither proof
nor law in the case of the causal explanation of feeling. So all I can do
is repeat the argument:
If telekinetic dualism were
true -- that is, if there were evidence that there could be "mind over
matter," with the mental force being a fifth addition to the existing
array of four fundamental forces of Nature (electromagentic, gravitational,
strong, weak) -- then that would be a causal explanation: Apples fall
because of gravitation, and our fingers rise because we will it (we do what
we do because we feel like it, not because we are impelled by the other
four forces to do it).
But telekinetic dualism is
false; all evidence is against it.
So whereas we certainly cannot
(thanks to Descartes) doubt that feelings exist (and whereas feelings are
themselves caused [though we have no idea how] by our brains almost as certainly as apples are
caused to fall by gravity), we can conclude from the fact that telekinetic
dualism is almost certainly false that feelings almost certainly do not
themselves have any causal consequences. So we cannot explain (causally)
why we feel. All we can explain is what our bodies can do (and how).
Feelings piggy-back (somehow) on that functing, without any causal
consequences, although they are quite tightly correlated with our functing.
Your own focus, Arnold, is on
predicting what we feel (which
can in many cases be done, thanks to the tight correlation); but predicting
what we feel, no matter how minutely, is in no way explaining that we fail, neither how, now why.
(Predicting what we feel simply
takes the fact that we feel for
granted, thereby begging the question of explaining how or why, and leaving
the explanatory gap gaping.)
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/819
Reply to Derek Allan
"FUNCTING" IS ALL OF
PHYSICAL, BIOLOGICAL AND ENGINEERING CAUSAL DYNAMICS
DA: Could someone define the term
'functing' for me please?
function) is just ordinary causal dynamics, whether in natural inanimate
physical systems, biological ones, or artificially engineered ones:
everything observed and described in the physical sciences, biological
sciences, and engineering.
Physical, biological and
engineering explanation is all causal and functional. (It's sometimes
called "functionalism."). And I coined my tongue-in-cheek term
to remind those who are attempting to provide a functional explanation of
the causal role of consciousness (feeling) what they are really up
problem is really just the "feeling/functing" problem. When you
put it like that, it becomes transparent that "explanations"
such as "the function of pain is to alert the organism to the
presence of tissue damage and the need to take evasive action" are
circular and hence empty, hence question-begging, because one can always
reply: "Yes, but how/why is the function felt, rather than just functed?"
2009-05-05 -- Reply to David Chalk
David, your treatment has
become a bit too complicated for something that should be kept simple if
there's to be any hope of gaining any new insight at all.
The answer to (what I think
is) your question -- "How can feelings be there, reliably correlated
with the functing, and yet not be in the 'causal chain'?" -- is
this: Both the feeling and the correlated functing have a common cause
(the functing unproblematically, the feeling inexplicably), and that
common cause is functing too. The felt effects of the functing are
correlated with the functed effects of the functing, but only the functed
effects are, in their turn, causal. The feelings just dangle --
correlated, but lacking any causal power of their own. And that's the
2009-05-07 -- Reply to Arnold Trehub
THE EXPLANATORY GAP IS EPISTEMIC,
AT: "is feeling a physical brain event or
a non-physical event?"
Feeling is an (inexplicable)
effect of physical brain events. No use fussing over whether or not it's
"physical" (of course it is, somehow): the problem is with explaining its causality (how? why?). That's the mind/body
(feeling/function) problem, and it's an explanatory gap, not a pretext for ontologizing about whether
there are one or two kinds of "stuff." Even if God sent a
messenger and reassured us that everything was strictly physical, that would not answer the how/why
question about causality, hence it would not close, nor even narrow,
the explanatory gap one bit!
(By the way, I have a
response to your earlier, longer posting underway. Just need the time to
put some finishing touches on it!)
2009-05-07 -- Reply to Arnold Trehub
AT: "what exactly is your reason for
asserting that feeling is a causally inexplicable brain event?
(You might say unexplained, but inexplicable?!)"
Arnold, you are right that
there are two distinct things one can say here, and I am in fact saying
(1) Unexplained. That there is no explanation of how-and-why we feel is, I think,
uncontested and incontestable. The only explanation would be an account
of how feelings are caused by the brain, and what effects they have, and
there isn't one.
(2) Inexplicable. That there cannot be a causal explanation of how-and-why we feel is
just an argument: I have argued that it follows from the fact that (a)
functions and feelings are correlated but incommensurable and (b) that
there is neither need nor room for feelings to be independent causes
(except if telekinetic dualism were true, which it is not), because the
four fundamental forces cover all of causality, which is all of
functionality. Hence if brain function does somehow cause feelings in
some mysterious way (as it is virtually certain that it does, and I of
course believe it does), feelings are doomed to just dangle, functionally
superfluously, having no independent causal power of their own, all
effects we feel as being caused by feelings being in reality caused, and
hence fully explained by the brain functions (and brain I/O) that
(mysteriously) cause the feelings. This leaves the feelings dangling,
inexplicably. An explanatory gap.
Arnold, with apologies, I
hope I will be able to finish my longer response to your earlier,
unanswered pointing N - 2 this evening!
2009-05-08 -- Reply to Arnold Trehub
TURING-INDISTINGUISHABLE ZOMBIES TALK ABOUT FEELINGS
(AND WHAT, IF ANYTHING, WOULD THEY
AT: "you assert that feelings are caused by
I said that (for what it's worth)
I believe that feelings
are caused by the brain almost as confidently as I believe that apples
are caused to fall by gravity. The difference in confidence is because we
can explain causally how apples
fall (we understand universal gravitation) but we cannot explain causally
how the brain causes feelings.
I also said that I do not believe it is possible to explain
causally how the brain causes feelings (but all I gave to support that
belief was negative evidence [that telekinetic dualism is false] plus a
methodological argument [incommensurability].
AT: "you assert that feelings
have no causal consequences"
I asserted that in the form
of the empirical fact that telekinetic dualism is false: All causal
consequences of brain activity are causal consequences of the four known
forces. There is no fifth force (feeling).
It is a fact -- an
unexplained fact but a fact -- that we feel, and it is almost certain
that our feelings are caused (mysteriously) by our brains. But as feeling
is not an independent fifth force, whatever feels as if it it is caused
by feelings is actually caused by the brain (which also [mysteriously]
The paradigmatic example is
the feeling that my finger moved because I willed it. It does indeed feel
that way, but all evidence is that it moved because of activity in my
brain -- perhaps the same activity that (mysteriously) caused the feeling
that my finger moved because I willed it.
Feelings have no causal
consequences; it is only what (mysteriously) causes feelings that has
causal consequences. It only feels
as if the feelings are the causes.
It is for this reason that
although it is a mystery -- and I think an unresolvable mystery -- how we feel, it is an even bigger
mystery why we feel. For it
looks as if everything that we do that is accompanied by feelings --
including the feeling that the doing is happening because of those feelings -- can
be done without feelings: Indeed, the fact that the doing is accompanied
by feeling is not an explanatory aid
(apart from the fact that it squares with how we feel when we do):
Rather, it is an overwhelming explanatory burden, because we cannot explain either how feeling is
caused by the brain or what feeling itself causes that is not already
caused by whatever (mysteriously) causes feeling.
This might help set
intuitions: I don't think anyone will deny that if the human species were
able to do all it can do --
talk, learn, teach, socialize, invent, do science and engineering, write
history, biography and fiction, etc. -- but it did not feel, then there
would be no mind/body problem or explanatory gap. Things would be much
more straightforward: Cognitive neuroscience would only need to explain
the (formidable) capacity of this hypothetical insentient species to do
and to say all that our own species can do and say, but not the fact that
they feel (because they do not feel).
(I am not here suggesting
that Zombies are possible: I am just trying to highlight the extra
explanatory burden that the undeniable fact of feeling imposes on causal
explanation. It should be clear that the existence of feelings is a
liability rather than an asset for causal, functional explanation.)
Now I said things would be a
lot more straightforward, explanatorily speaking, if there were no feeling, just doing -- if all
"functing," nonbiological and biological, were just unfelt functing. There would,
however, be an unresolved puzzle even then -- though it would not be a
causal puzzle: Why would such an insentient species speak of feeling at
all? Why would they say "I am feeling tired" rather than just
"I am tired" (meaning my body is fatigued)? (I don't think
there would be any problem with the use of the indexical "I" by
such a species, by the way, despite all the fuss some make about the
concept of "self" and "self-consciousness": the
trouble, as usual, is with the felt
aspect and not the functional
aspects of "selfhood.")
Possibly the feeling
vocabulary would be useful as a shorthand for speaking of internal states
in the speaker and others. After all, internal
states are just as invisible as mental (i.e.,
felt) states. "Feeling happy" and "feeling sad"
may all have internal functional counterparts in the sort of "mind-reading" that this twin species would still have to be
able to do, if it were to have the same adaptive social and verbal
capacities as our own species. (To "feel happy" might for them
be an internal state that was relatively free of processes correlated
with actual or impending tissue damage, or free of data predictive of
other current or future untoward adaptive consequences, and/or correlated
with the attainment, or the impending attainment, of a functional goal,
perhaps related to survival, reproduction, competition, or social
success: all of these make sense as purely adaptive, functional
categories, in a Darwinian survival machine, irrespective of whether it
just functs them, or also feels them as it functs them.)
Maybe even the locution
"I am sincerely sorry," uttered in its pragmatic social
context, has a purely functional role to play, even for a Darwinianly
successful Zombie; and the only reason we find that counterintuitive is
that we do feel, and find it
difficult even to imagine what it would be like not to -- with good
reason, because "be like" means "feel like," and of
course it would feel like nothing, "feeling" being an uncomplemented category. (Thus
does the fact of feeling not only create the mind/body [feeling/function]
problem and the gap in causal explanation, but the anomalous nature of
"feeling" as a category adds a further sense of
"mystery" to the explanatory gap:
A tougher distinction in such
a Zombie species would be the distinction between Zombie psychopaths
(who, like our psychopaths, purportedly do not feel guilt or remorse) and
Zombie normals, who purportedly do. But I think that it only takes a
little reflection to see that there are behavioral and functional distinctions
between our psychopaths and normals that could, in Zombie psychopaths and
normals, be based on responsiveness to certain internal states, without
the internal states having to be felt states. (These behavioral and
strategic distinctions might even be relevant to explaining functionally
why the psychopath genotype exists at all, in our sentient species.)
(Note that, because we do
feel, we have trouble imagining a species saying and doing the same
things we say and do, but without feeling. But the real trouble is in the
other direction! It is the Zombified version of feeling-talk and
feeling-action that has the straightforward functional explanation, and
the feeling that is the a-functional dangler, not the other way round!)
So what about "the mind/body
problem" itself? Would philosophers in this hypothetical insentient
species still ponder and argue over the causal power of feeling when they in fact have no feeling,
and the only referent for "feeling" in their discourse is
"internal functional state"? Would Zombie philosophers
"know" that for them, there was no distinction between felt and
unfelt functing? Would they really have any knowledge at all, as opposed to mere know-how, given that they are
incapable of more than lip-service to the Cartesian "sentio ergo
sentitur"? The cogito does not work, after all, for inferred states: It only works for
felt states. (That's the quintessence of Descartes' method of doubt.)
Some may want to conclude that this puzzle is in fact
evidence for the causal power of feeling after all, for only a species that actually felt could engage in
discourse about the feeling/function problem coherently!
I'm inclined to conclude
otherwise. I happen to doubt that there could be a feelingless
("Zombie") species (natural or artificial) that was
nevertheless Turing-Indistinguishable from ourselves. If they were really
feelingless, there would be other differences in what they did and said.
And what squares our own species' discourse with our feelings is whatever
it is in our brains that keeps our feelings so correlated with our
functing: It is not an independent causal consequence of the fact that we
feel, but a consequence of the common (functional) cause of both our
doings/sayings and the feelings that they (mysteriously) generate as a
So the question of how and
why we feel (which is exactly the same as the question of how and why we
are not just Darwinian Zombies) also leads to the question of how and why
there could not be Zombies that were Turing-Indistinguishable from us --
if there could not be. For if there could, then the mystery could be just
due to some (colossal) evolutionary quirk or coincidence in the case of
the terrestrial biosphere. If there could not be Zombies, then the
mystery could be a fundamental principle of functional organization that
we will never know or understand, because the felt component will always
be functionally superfluous under any causal explanation that does not
cheat or beg the question.
AT: "you are claiming feelings are
either (a) non-physical events caused by the brain in a dualistic
universe and naturally have no causal consequences for
subsequent brain activity, or (b) they are physical events cause by the
brain but have no causal consequences for subsequent brain
activity. Which case (a or b) do you endorse?"
I hope it is clear by now
that I endorse (b) and add only that I think that how the brain causes
feelings is also inexplicable, because of the incommensurability of
function and feeling, despite their correlation. (I invite others to
attack me on this, and force me to defend it more rigorously: Is it
coherent to say "correlated yet incommensurable"?)
AT: "[You say] that in order to
explain why we feel we would have to show that feelings have
Indeed we do, otherwise
feelings remain the mysterious, unexplained dangler they are -- and the
explanatory gap gapes.
AT: "Am I correct in assuming... you
believe we can explain how the brain causes feelings, but we
are unable to explain why the brain causes feelings?
No, I don't believe we can
explain how the brain causes feelings either (but I do believe the brain causes
feelings). I do not, however, believe that feelings cause anything else:
As I said, there's no causal room. Hence here it is not a matter of an
actual causation that we cannot explain (the way we cannot explain how
the brain causes feelings, even though it undoubtedly does) but an
inexplicable lack of causation,
making it inexplicable why we
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/858
2009-05-10 -- Reply to David Chalk
HOW AND WHY FEELINGS ARE
DC: "I've read through a number of
your papers but I can't find an explanation of why feelings are
They are inexplicable because
explanation is causal (functional) explanation, and we cannot explain (1)
how (functionally) the brain
causes feelings (even though it undoubtedly does), because feelings are incommensurable with function, and
we cannot explain (2) why
(functionally) the brain causes feelings, because there is no causal room
for feelings themselves to have any effects (hence any function) apart
from the effects and function of whatever (mysteriously) causes feelings.
Apart from that, all I can
give is examples of the way functional/causal explanation of both how and
why is always destined to fail:
Example 1: The reason
tissue damage is felt (as pain) rather than just processed (as stimulus
avoidance, etc.) is that the felt pain signals the organism to avoid the
stimulus. (Explanatory Gap:
Why is the signal to avoid the
stimulus (etc.) felt, rather
than just functed? And how is
it felt, rather than just functed?)
Example 2: The reason
we hear sounds rather than just process acoustic signals is that we have
to select which sounds are relevant. (Explanatory Gap: Why
is the selection felt, rather
than just functed? And how is
it felt, rather than just functed?)
Example 3: The reason
it is important that we understand what sentences mean, is that we have
to be able to act in accordance with what they mean. (Explanatory Gap: Why is the understanding felt, rather than just functed?
And how is it felt, rather than
Etc. You will find that if
the goal is to explain how or why a function is a felt function rather than just a "functed" function
(with exactly the same
functionality), it will always turn out that there is no independent functional role that can be
attributed to the fact that it is felt: The same thing, unfelt, would be
functionally equivalent. And it is not an explanation to insist that it
is just some sort of "brute fact" about certain functions that
they just are felt functions.
That may well be the case. But we were looking for a causal/functional
explanation of how and why, not merely a mysterious
That's the explanatory gap:
It's an epistemic gap, not an ontic one.
DC: "...someone in DJC's (1) category above might claim
that once science has explained how and why all the neurons and glia
cells in our brains interact... every molecular interaction... there is
nothing left to explain."
They can claim that. But it
does not answer our how/why question, hence it leaves the explanatory gap
There are two ways to
construe the claim than there is "nothing left to
One is that we cannot explain
any further. That, I think, is quite correct (because feeling and
function are incommensurable and because there is no room for feelings to
have causal power of their own, over and above the causal power of the
functions that [mysteriously] cause them).
The other is to say that
therefore everything has been fully explained. That, I think, is
obviously false, since we have not explained how or why some functions
are felt. Yet it is a fact that they are felt. And it is as natural as
can be to ask "how and why?". To reply that it is simply a (mysterious)
brute fact of nature is not to reply at all, hence to leave it
Hence the explanatory gap.
DC: "First.. feeling... is something that happens... at
a specific time...supervenient on the brain so... we... know...
I find the weasel-word
"supervenience" as vacuous and ineffectual as all the synonyms
and paranyms of "feeling" ("consciousness,"
"qualia," "mind," etc. etc.) that we love to fall
back upon when we have nothing substantive or new on offer: We feel.
That's a cartesian certainty. Hence there are feelings. Sentitur. Based on everything else
we know about the world, it's of course the brain that causes feelings.
The question is: how? and why?
Replying that feelings
"supervene" on brain function adds absolutely nothing.
DC: "I'd agree with Leibniz... [that
it is] inexplicable on mechanical grounds... in mathematical
David, I wonder why -- if you
agree with Leibniz that feeling is inexplicable -- you are asking me to
explain how/why feeling is inexplicable! But I hope I have by now
explained it: Because we cannot say how or why we feel rather than just
funct; how/why are functional questions.
DC: "Physical phenomena in
comparison, are explicable... an easy problem. [Explaining feeling
is] a hard problem.. not a physical event, although it... supervene[s] on
Yes, a functional/causal
explanation of everything other than feeling is (in principle) an
"easy" problem: normal science and engineering. Explaining how
and why we feel is not just "a" hard problem, but the hard problem (and, in my
(On the other prominent
candidate for being a "hard" problem -- "duality" in
quantum mechanics -- I can only plead nolo
contendere, for want of the technical expertise even to judge how
much of a problem it is, whether or not it is soluble, and if so, how and
But the only thing that is
being said in saying that the feeling/function problem is
"hard" is that all other scientific and engineering problems
are functional (and often also mathematical), but that those resources
are ineffectual for explaining how and why some functions are felt -- for
the (simple!) reason that "how/why" are functional, causal
questions, and (except on pain of telekinetic dualism), feeling has no causal (hence no functional) power.
DC: "[T]he TT isn't a test... in any
scientific or engineering way... [it] does not check for the motion
of parts... no mathematical treatment... a non-starter..."
I think you are profoundly
wrong about that. Candidates for passing the TT will be designed by human
beings; the candidates will have moving parts, and both dynamic and
computational processes, known to the designer.
What the TT tests is
performance capacity. It of course cannot test whether the successful
candidate feels. But that's part of the point of the TT. It is an embodiment of the explanatory gap: We will
never know whether or not a successful candidate feels (only the
candidate can know); and if it does, we will never know how or why.
DC: "I like the way
you put that: the robot has grounded symbols, but we still have a
symbol grounding problem because we haven't provided a test to see if
those symbols are in some way intrinsic and can therefore have meaning
and produce feeling."
Alas, you misunderstood me. A
TT-passing robot certainly has grounded symbols, which certainly solves
the symbol grounding problem. But grounding is not meaning, And only a
TT-passing robot that feels would have intrinsic meaning.
In other words, not only is
systematic interpretability insufficient for grounding, but robotic
grounding (even TT-scale) is not sufficient for (intrinsic) meaning,
unless it generates feeling. But we have no way of knowing -- let alone
explaining -- whether, how or why a TT-robot (or any functional system)
feels rather than just functs.
DC: "So I conclude that the TT isn't a test at
Of course it's a test: a test
for having functionally explained our total performance capacity. It is
not, however, either a test or an explanation for your feeling capacity.
DC: "We're stuck with mental events
being distinct from physical events and untestable, and that is why...
the explanatory gap is so difficult and feelings are inexplicable."
You're back into the
verificationist observationalism I pointed out before: The problem is not
the untestability. (The TT robot might feel, after all.) The problem is
with inexplicability. And that
problem arises from causality and causal explanation, not from some sort
of physical/mental "dualism" (which explains nothing, but
merely gives yet another name to the explanatory gap.)
DC: "I'd be interested in understanding why you say
that feelings are inexplicable."
I hope this time I have
succeeded in conveying an understanding!
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/876
2009-05-11 -- Reply to Arnold Trehub
AT: "Isn't this mysterious
inexplicability of feelings a direct consequence of an incoherent
I'm afraid not, Arnold. It's
a direct consequence of the peculiar nature of feelings. That peculiar
nature can of course be blithely disregarded, but only at the price of
begging the question, insofar as the "hard problem" is
2009-05-11 -- Reply to Derek Allan
DA: Could someone remind me please what
the 'hard problem' and the 'easy problem' are?
Problem: Explaining how and why
Problems: All the rest of the
problems of science, mathematics and engineering (except maybe quantum
2009-05-11 -- Reply to Derek Allan
WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO FEEL:
APPLYING OCCAM'S RAZOR TO THE
MIND/BODY (FEELING/FUNCTION) PROBLEM
DA: "But If I recall, that is not the
'hard problem' or the 'easy problem' as Chalmers defines them?"
Chalmers is talking about the
same problem, the mind/body problem. Putting it in the language of a
causal explanation of the "how/why" of feeling is my own way of putting it, but it's exactly the same
(age-old) problem. If it sounds like a different problem, that just shows
how the way we put it can fool us (including fooling us into thinking
that we have found a "solution" -- or that there is no problem,
or more than one.)
Let me do a reductive
transcription of Chalmers's way of putting it. (And let me note that his is already one of the
simpler, more economical, and direct ways of putting it, even before I
apply Occam's razor and a little anglo-saxon uniformity.)
DA: “The really hard problem of CONSCIOUSNESS is the
problem of EXPERIENCE. When we think and perceive, there is a whir of
information-processing, but there is also a SUBJECTIVE aspect. As Nagel (1974) has put
it, there is something it IS like to be a CONSCIOUS organism.
This SUBJECTIVE aspect is EXPERIENCE. When we see, for example, we
EXPERIENCE visual sensations: the FELT QUALITY of redness, the
EXPERIENCE of dark and light, the QUALITY of depth in a visual field.
Other EXPERIENCES go along with perception in different modalities: the
*X* sound of a clarinet, the *X* smell of mothballs. Then there are
bodily SENSATIONS, from pains to orgasms; MENTAL images that are conjured
up internally; the FELT QUALITY of emotion, and the EXPERIENCE of a
stream of CONSCIOUS thought. What unites all of these states is that
there is something it IS like to be in them. All of them are states of
Cutting out the redundant and
Transcription: "The really hard problem of FEELING is the
problem of FEELING. When we think and perceive, there is a whir of
information-processing, but there is also a FELT aspect. As Nagel (1974)
has put it, there is something it FEELS like to be a FEELING
organism. This FELT aspect is FEELING. When we see, for example, we
FEEL visual sensations: the FEELING of redness, the FEELING of dark
and light, the FEELING of depth in a visual field. Other FEELINGS go
along with perception in different modalities: the *FELT* sound of a
clarinet, the *FELT* smell of mothballs. Then there are bodily FEELINGS, from
pains to orgasms; FELT images that are conjured up internally; the
FEELING of emotion, and the FEELING of a stream of FELT thought. What
unites all of these states is that there is something it FEELS like to be
in them. All of them are states of FEELING."
(Note the slightly
odd-sounding special case of how we speak of some of our sensations: We
say we feel surface
textures, heat, emotions, but to distinguish the sense modalities,
we say we see (rather than
feel) colors, hear (rather than
feel) sounds, smell (rather
than feel) smells, etc. That the invariant in all of these is in reality
still feeling (and the variation is just in what it feels like, not in whether it feels like something at all), all of these
instances can be readily replaced by a still more perspicuous variant of
Tom Nagel's already more perspicuous way of putting it, which is
"what it feels like to X": what it feels like to see, hear,
smell, etc. That is, and always was, the essence of the mind/body --
feeling/function -- problem, just as "sentio ergo sentitur" ("I feel, therefore there is feeling going
on") was always the essence of Descartes' cogito.)
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/887
2009-05-12 -- Reply to Arnold Trehub
PUTATIVE FUNCTIONAL EXPLANATIONS OF
FEELING: A CHALLENGE
AT: "Why, exactly, do you believe
that the brain states that constitute our feelings can't ever be
Because in every attempt to
explain the functional role of feeling, feeling turns out to be
functionally superfluous (except if telekinetic dualism is true, and feelings have causal power -- but it
isn't, and they don't).
I long ago made a challenge
(the universal "translatability thesis") -- to any linguist who claimed that there was
something that could be said in language X that could not be translated
into language Y -- that they should tell me (in English) what it was, and
why it could not be translated into language Y, and I would show that it
could be translated into language Y, even if I did not know language Y.
I hereby make the same
challenge for "explanations" of the functional or causal role
of feeling: Tell me what it is, and I will show it is functionally
superfluous on its own terms.
(I gave some samples in earlier
postings. This is not unlike Dan Dennett's "demoting"
mentalistic explanations into mechanistic [usually behavioristic] ones, except
that I am not denying the reality of feeling -- just its causal role.)
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/894
2009-05-12 -- Reply to Derek Allan
WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO FEEL SOMETHING
DA: "Chalmers relies heavily on the
Nagel idea that 'there is something that it is like to be a conscious
He's right to rely on it:
Nagel's was an apt insight.
But, to expose the redundancy
and root out the equivocation, it's "There's
something it feels like to be a feeling organism."
DA: "there is no attempt to
distinguish between human consciousness and any kind of animal
No need to distinguish: The feeling/function problem is about the fact that
we feel (something), not about what
we feel -- whether this or that.
DA: "there is surely nothing it is
'like' to be conscious other than being conscious - which tell us
First, to expose the
redundancy and root out the equivocation, it's: "there is surely
nothing it feels 'like' to feel other than to feel."
Yup: And your point is...?
DA: "'I know what it is like to have
a broken finger'... I would compare - in memory - my present painless
state with the sharp throb I felt at the time)."
know what it feels like to feel like I have a broken finger."
But as for comparing your
present painless state with the sharp throb you felt the last time:
(Strictly [indeed, Wittgenstrictly] speaking, you are now feeling what it seems to
feel like to feel no pain and to be feeling a memory of what seems to
feel like it once felt like to feel a pain.)
Yup, and your point is...?
DA: "But suppose someone says to me. "I am
conscious", and I reply "I know what it is like to be
conscious". It's an absurd conversation, is it
A: "I am feeling
B: "I know what it feels
like to feel something."
Not absurd in the least
(spoken betwixt cognoscenti --
or, rather, sentienti). (Rather
more puzzling spoken between Zombies --
however, as noted in a previous posting, it might be functionally adaptive as a way of
referring to internal states unobservable to one's interlocutor, even
when those internal states are not felt states).
DA: "And for good reason. I haven't anything to compare
(human) consciousness with - any more than the person I'm speaking to
You are alluding here to the
fact that feeling is an uncomplemented category: it is both impossible and self-contradictory to feel
what it's like to not feel anything at all -- though it's perfectly
possible to feel what it's like not to feel something in particular: to
not feel this, but to feel that.
Well, yes, that -- i.e., the
"poverty of the stimulus": the fact that we can only sample
positive instances of feeling -- does make the category
"feeling" all the more problematic, puzzling and troublesome,
But it definitely does not make it empty or meaningless.
DA: "being asleep, in a coma etc, is
not that state: they are simply states in which human consciousness is
Yes, when you are not
feeling, you are not feeling. In that sense, "you" are not
"there," you're gone. (If Descartes over-reached with his
"cogito," in concluding that he existed [sum] rather than just that feeling was going on [sentitur], we can safely, though not cartesianly, say that where
[and while] there is no feeling going on, there is nobody home.)
Fortunately, you are
reconstituted when you wake up. (A stone is not.)
DA: "I don't really think that your
change of 'consciousness' and 'experience' to 'feeling' makes any
material difference. Whatever we call it, we are still left with
essentially the same problems."
We are indeed. But calling
them by one name highlights that they are all one and the same problem...
Harnad, S. (1987) Uncomplemented Categories, or, What is it
Like to be a Bachelor? 1987 Presidential Address: Society for
Philosophy and Psychology.
ABSTRACT: To learn
and to use a category one must be able to sample both what is in it and
what is not in it (i.e., what is in its complement), in order to pick out
which invariant features distinguish members from nonmembers. Categories
without complements may be responsible for certain conceptual and
philosophical problems. Examples are experiential categories such as what
it feels like to "be awake," "be alive," be
aware," and "be." Providing a complement by analogy or extrapolation
is a solution in some cases (such as what it feels like to be a
bachelor), but only because the complement can in princible be sampled in
the future, and because the analogy could in principle be correct. Where
the complement is empty in principle, the "category" is
intrinsically problematic. Other examples may include self-denial
paradoxes (such as "this sentence is false") and problems with
the predicate "exists."
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/895
2009-05-12 -- Reply to Colin Hales
MIND THE MIND-FIELDS
(1) There is no coherent, contentful difference between
"A-consciousness" and "P-consciousness" (that's why I insist on just talking about
(2) If a scientist (or
anyone) learns something new (either by observation or because he's told)
then all that's happened is that his brain has new data (either
sensorimotor or linguistic), and hence new ability to act accordingly
(whether behaviorally or verbally).
(3) The problem -- a.k.a.
the feeling/function problem or the mind/body problem -- is explaining how and why
the gaining or the having of this new knowledge and ability is felt (rather than just
"functed," as it would almost certainly be in an
"artificial agent," unless it was Turing-Test scale).
(4) I think you are
deceiving yourself with your "phenomenal field P(t)": To
formalize a mystery is not to solve it.
(5) The only fields there
are are the garden-variety electromagnetic, gravitational etc. fields
resulting from the four fundamental forces of physics.
(6) There are no extra
2009-05-12 -- Reply to Derek Allan
WHEREOF ONE CANNOT SPEAK...
DA: "Nothing in what I said alluded to what might
happen to be [THE OBJECT OF CONSCIOUSNESS]. My point is that there
seems to be an assumption... that there is no important difference
between [BEING CONSCIOUS AS] a human and [BEING "CONSCIOUS"]
(can we even use the same word?) [AS] an animal. What on earth could
justify this huge assumption? Your change of vocabulary doesn't make
any material difference so I will leave that aside."
Here is the transcription
into the vocabulary that you think makes no material difference:
Transcription: "Nothing in what I said alluded to what might
happen to be WHAT IS BEING FELT. My point is that there seems to be
an assumption... that there is no important difference between FEELING
WHAT a human FEELS and "FEELING" (can we even use the
same word?) WHAT an animal FEELS. What on earth could justify this huge
assumption? Your change of vocabulary doesn't make any material
difference so I will leave that aside."
As this transcription should
illustrate, the change of vocabulary makes it clear that you are talking
about differences in what
humans and animals may be feeling, whereas what is at issue is whether they are feeling (anything
DA: "to say that something is like
itself (which is what this effectively amounts to) is mere
No. Reminding ourselves that
we all (including animals) feel, and that, stones, (today's) robots --
and just about everything other than people and animals -- do not
feel is not mere verbiage. It is perfectly comprehensible and perfectly
true (except if one is determined to play the verbal game of Achilles and the Tortoise [or
one is unable to do otherwise), in which case further verbiage will
indeed make no material difference).
2009-05-12 -- Reply to Derek Allan
EXTRACTING CATEGORY INVARIANCE FROM
POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE INSTANCES
DA: "Not sure I'm happy with you
changing everything to 'feels' etc. We are, after all, talking about
consciousness and that's the term that the mainstream of this debate
seems to use."
And your point is...?
DA: "one cannot assume that human and
animal CONSCIOUSNESS are the same... Issues about 'OBJECTS' or 'WHATS'
have nothing to do with it."
Transcription: "one cannot assume humans and animals FEEL
the same... Issues about WHAT THEY FEEL or WHAT IT FEELS LIKE have
nothing to do with it."
The problem is not the
sameness or differences in what they feel; the problem is the fact that
they (both) feel anything at all.
DA: "I'm simply suggesting that
comparing something to itself (as in the Nagel 'insight') is not likely
to prove a very informative step."
No one is comparing something
We all feel (and we all feel
different things during every instance we are awake and compos mentis). Just as we can see
daisies, lilacs, crysanthemums, etc. and notice that they are all
instances of seeing flowers, we can feel toothaches, and see red, and
smell smoke, and notice that there is something (different) that each
feels like, but that they all feel like something or other.
There is, however, a profound
and important difference between all of our other categories (such as
flower, or red) and the special category "feeling," namely,
that with categories like red we can sample both positive and negative
instances. We can sample instances of both red and non-red things,
thereby allowing our brains to detect what the invariant features of the
members of the category "red" are: the ones that reliably
distinguish them from the non-members.
In contrast, with feeling, we
can only sample positive
instances: everything we feel (toothache, what red looks like, what smoke
smells like) is an instance of what it feels like to feel, but nothing is
an instance of what it feels like to not-feel, because that is
self-contradictory. (Note, again, that I don't mean what it feels like to
feel sad rather than feel happy, i.e. what it feels like not to feel
happy; I am talking about what it feels like not to feel at all.)
It is because of this
positive-only instantiation of feeling that the category
"feeling" is anomalous. Unlike all other categories, in which
we have sampled not just their membership, but also the membership of
their complement (i.e., their non-membership), "feeling" (and a
few other uncomplemented categories) create certain peristent conceptual problems for us.
But that does not mean that
uncomplemented categories are empty. Nor that instantiating them amounts
to "comparing something to itself": The positive instances of
feeling something (toothache, red, smoke) are all different from one
another; so we do have some idea of what is invariant under all that
variation. But not as decisive an idea as we have with normal,
complemented categories, because there we get to sample the variations
and transformations not only among the positive instances, but also the
critical transitions to the negative instances, the ones that do not
preserve the category invariance. With feeling we cannot do that. In that
sense, uncomplemented categories are conceptually incomplete.
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/904
Reply to Colin Hales
HOW/WHY IS OBSERVATION FELT OBSERVATION, AND KNOWLEDGE FELT KNOWLEDGE?
(NO QUANTUM-COLLAPSE REPLIES, PLEASE!)
CH: "[I (CH) am immersed] in... quantum
I became a little apprehensive
when I read this, Colin, because I was afraid you were going to invoke the
alleged causal role of "consciousness" (human [felt] observation)
in the collapse of the quantum wave packet. (That would have been a non-starter, for one cannot
solve the unsolved puzzles of one field with the unsolved puzzles of another
field! But fortunately, I think, you are not taking quite that route here
-- though you are coming close!)"
CH: "The 'dynamics' posting was about a causal role of
'feeling' in brain adaptation (learning) dynamics, specifically in the
brain of a scientist undergoing change in "knowledge", where you
can objectively relate the result with 'feeling'... [T]he causality of
knowledge change in scientists... use[s] the 'feeling' that... is [inherent
in] scientific observation to constrain knowledge change..."
There is no doubt that science
is based on observations. There is no doubt that observations are felt.
There is also no doubt that knowing is felt. But the question was:
"How/why are observations (or anything else) felt? What is the causal
role of the feeling?"
(You have not answered that
question; you have simply noted the fact that needs to be explained: that
observations -- which play a crucial causal role in science -- also happen
to be felt observations. Well, yes. And so too are observations that play a
crucial causal role in everyday survival and reproduction. But how/why are
any of them felt observations rather than just functed observations?
A meter-reading, after all, is
a meter-reading (even if it seems to be mysteriously insufficient to collapse
a wave-packet unless the meter is read by a feeling observer!).
Observations are simply data in computational or dynamic (robotic)
processes. Why do the data need to be "felt"?
[I wonder, by the way, why you
keep putting "feeling" in scare-quotes: They're real enough, you
know! I can safely say "I feel hot." No need for me to say
"I 'feel' hot"...]
CH: "[No] empirical science [is] done without “feeling”
(=scientific observation) supporting it... [and] abstract speculation and
philosophical muddlement [are] BTW all mediated by
All true. Feelings are a fact.
The correlations are a fact. But now we are waiting for a causal
explanation: what causal role does the fact that observations are felt
rather than just functed play? (Ditto for knowing.) ("Mediating"
is just renaming the mystery: mediating how, why?)
CH: "[The claim of a causal role for feeling in
scientific observation and knowledge-change is] empirically cogent [and] no
less supported... than any other science claim..."
So far, the "claim"
is only about a correlation between feelings and observations
(measurements, data). We have yet to hear what causal (rather than mere --
and mysterious -- correlative) role they play.
CH: "To deny this claim [of a causal role for feeling in
observation-based knowledge-change] is to construct, using the same causal
mechanism of “feeling”, a claim (a change in knowledge of the denier) to
the contrary... that force[s] a denier to become logically inconsistent in
an empirically testable way..."
It sounds like you may be
imagining you have some sort of a Cartesian argument there, but I am afraid
you do not.
Feelings (though they are
undeniably, cartesianly, there,
being felt) have yet to reveal their causal role. Neither correlating with functional causes,
nor feeling as if they're causal
will do. (It matters not whether their causal role is discovered, somehow,
via empirical observation and causal inference, in the usual scientific
way, or their causal role somehow turn out to be a matter of logical
necessity or cartesian certainty, via mathematics or the cogito.
What's missing, still, is a coherent, viable hypothesis as to what their
causal role is -- a hypothesis that cannot be immediately rejected by
showing that it is either functionally superfluous on its own terms or
draws on an extra telekinetic power that is contrary to all known evidence
CH: "This... is rather odd [for] I am... claiming that
"feeling", is literally the brain's solution to the (your!) symbol grounding problem..."
I hate to seem ungrateful, but
the solution to the symbol grounding problem is sensorimotor grounding: The
symbols in a Turing-scale robot -- a robot whose symbols are not only
systematically interpretable as being about X (in the way the symbols in a
book, computer or toy robot are) but a robot that also has the sensorimotor
capacity to interact (behaviorally and verbally) with whatever the symbols
are systematically interpretable as denoting, and to discourse about
whatever the symbols are systematically interpretable as
denoting, Turing-indistinguishably from the way we do -- are grounded.
Their semantic interpretability (derived intentionality) is congruent with
the robot's interactions with what its symbols are about.
But grounding is not meaning! And, a fortiori, it is not felt meaning, or feeling.
So Turing-scale robotic grounding is enough to solve the (easy)
symbol-grounding problem, but not to solve the (hard) feeling/function
(By the way, it is not at all
evident why Turing-scale robots could not do empirical observation or
causal explanation even if they don't feel [i.e., even if their observing
is not felt observing]. Grounding sounds like all they need.)
CH: "The act of "grounding" is an act of causal
constraint on knowledge change consistent with the "feeling"
involved in the representation of the external natural world in a
scientist. It's an indirect (2nd order) causal link, but it's real
Sensorimotor grounding is
certainly a causal constraint on a symbol system, and if it is Turing-scale
grounding it is probably as much as cognitive science (including cognitive
neuroscience) can tell us about cognition.
But, alas, it still leaves a
gaping explanatory gap.
("Consistent with the
feeling" is not the same as "caused by the feeling," any
more than "correlated with the feeling" is. And
"representations" per se are no help; moreover, if they are felt
representations, then they are part of the problem, not the solution: How
and why are they felt representations, rather than just functed
representations? And I have no idea at all what an "indirect" or
"2nd order" causal link means...)
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/915
Reply to Colin Hales
GAP INTACT UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE...
CH: "Wow. I post a brief aside and I am sucked into the
Well, "The Explanatory Gap" is
the theme of this thread...
CH: "Empirical corroboration of...
predictions [from Laws of Nature (LON)] puts a scientist in a state
of feeling that is scientific observation..."
So does empirical falsification
of predictions from LON. So does just about everything else we say and do
whilst awake and compos mentis...
CH: "LON... are (statistical) descriptions...
(predictive) of how the natural world/scientist combined system feels to
the scientist... in the act of scientific observation..."
a 'scientific observation' and making and understanding a scientific
explanation feel like something, and those feelings are tightly correlated
with the data of the observation and the explanation."
But we already knew that. We
are now talking about explaining how and why making an observation, and
making and understanding an explanation -- and just about everything else
we do whilst alive, awake, and compos
mentis -- feels like
something and correlates tightly with what is going on in the world.
You are not touching the
question of how and why at all. You are just reformulating what you take to
be the nature of scientific observation and scientific explanation (and
presupposing feeling as somehow part of the package). In other words, you
are, I'm afraid, begging the question (underlying this topic thread, which
is about the explanatory gap), completely.
CH: "There is nothing to a brain but (a) nucleons and
(b) electrons and (c) space..."
Fine. Now how and why do they
sometimes generate feeling?
CH: "Now the meat:... ALL of the descriptions of
particles and fields and forces [were] constructed by scientists inside the
described system, made of it, using ‘feeling’..."
"Using" feeling, or
whilst feeling? This is where you beg the question, by presupposing
(without explanation) that feeling is causal, rather than just correlated
with brain processes that are causal (and mysteriously generate correlated
(Keep it simple, Colin. Your
complicated and somewhat idiosyncratic way of putting things is fooling you
into thinking you are making inroads on the explanatory gap, when you are
CH: "LON are constructed presupposing the existence of
the scientist and the ability (feeling) that is scientific observation. The
scientist is implicitly built into the LON..."
You said that already:
Now, how/why are scientists' (and laymens') observations and explanations felt rather than just brain-functed?"
CH: "NONE of the above LON predict the existence of the
feeling that is scientific observation...All presuppose both..."
Quite right. And that is the
explanatory gap: Now let's hear how you propose to bridge it...
CH: "[W]e have not
even begun to describe the universe in the fashion needed to predict a
scientific observer of the kind we are, who sees the observation mechanism
Indeed; but your point is...?
CH: "The universe is NOT made of atoms or molecules or
cells or subatomic particles. These are the things we perceive it to be
made of when we look (feel it) as scientists..."
We feel when we do things;
scientists do too. But we knew that. (I'm not sure whether you are also
telling us that current scientific theory is wrong, and if so, why; but I
am pretty sure you are not making any inroads on the explanatory gap: just
Or perhaps you are alluding
here to the fact that although feelings are correlated with the way things are in the world, they are
nevertheless incommensurable with them (so it is
erroneous to think of feelings as somehow "resembling" the things
that correlate with the feelings: red with felt-red, round with felt-round,
etc.). -- That's true too, but likewise does not help to bridge the
explanatory gap; it's part of the gap.
CH: "What perspective must I adopt on the universe such
that electromagnetism behaving in certain specific ways (like a brain)
makes it acquire a 1st person perspective (from the point of view of BEING the
electromagnetic fields that ARE the brain), when elsewhere in the body
(such as in the peripheral nerves) it fails to do that?..."
is the explanation of how and why (some) brain function is felt, whereas (say) kidney function
That's the question, alright:
But what's the answer?
(The equivocation on
"perspectives" won't help; it just milks the mystery. And the
fact that you are focussing on scientific observations and scientific
explanations about what there is in the world is not relevant; the same
problem would be there if you were just focusing on a layman's
CH: "This rather awkward non-explanation of ‘feeling’ is
as far as I need go for now. What the above tells me is that I can blather
on forever about LON_X and I will NEVER leap the explanatory gap. It is
a-priori meaningless and any expectation that it can is misguided. This
does not mean the gap cannot be leapt. It means we haven’t leapt it
OK, I'll wait till you've leapt
it, or at least give a principled account of how it could be leapt...
CH: "To leap the explanatory gap is to construct
descriptions... in such a way as to show how an observer might function. I
know I have the right... descriptions [when they] start to produce
observations consistent with [Laws of Nature] such that it reveals itself
as the brain material of the (scientific) observer."
This unfortunately sounds as if
it is going in circles, without substantive content, just a hope.
with" just means "correlated with" here, and the gap is
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/920
Reply to Arnold Trehub
AT: "I have the feeling that the very way in which you
propose the notion of a feeling-function divide implicitly precludes any possibility
of a causal role for feeling."
Your feeling may well be right
-- but please don't blame the messenger! It's the truth (or falsity) of the
message that matters, not whether one feels it's true or false.
AT: Because of this feeling on my part, I am writing
this response to you. Would you claim that this feeling on my part plays no
causal role in my typing the post that you are now reading?
I am pretty sure that you feel
that you posted this message because you felt like it, and not because you were
impelled to by some unfelt force. I am not sure you are right about that,
though. Are you? If so, please explain how and why... That way we'll be
surer we're not just trading feelings...
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/922
Reply to Derek Allan
DETECTING CATEGORY INVARIANTS FROM
POSITIVE INSTANCES ALONE
DA: "the Nagel 'insight'...that 'There is something
that it is like to be a conscious organism'... is in effect
comparing something to itself... [This] is philosophically vacuous. If
you (or anyone) can produce an argument to show why I am wrong...
I would be very happy to consider it."
Several such arguments have
already been made, but here's another, spelled out: You know what a (ripe)
tomato looks like; you know what a (red) apple looks like; you know what
blood looks like; you know what the top of a traffic light looks like; you
know what a cardinal (bird, or prelate in robes) looks like; you know what
a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman looks like. If you showed pictures of
all those things to a child and asked what they all had in common, he would
immediately say that they were all red. That would all be possible exclusively on the basis of positive
instances of red things, by detecting the (obvious) invariant
property they all shared, even though they differed from one another in
every other respect.
This sampling of diverse
positive instances would not be "comparing something to
The same is true in the case of
sampling instances of feeling this, and that, and that.
(However, as I have also kept
stressing, the category of feeling is nevertheless abnormal and and
problematic, because negative instances are impossible, whereas negative
instances of red (e.g., green things) are possible, and every child has
sampled them too -- though you don't really need to sample them in order to
notice what all the instances of red things I listed above have in common.
It is true, however, that for more difficult (more "underdetermined") categories, those that are highly confusable with
other, very similar-looking categories, it is necessary to sample negative
instances too (i.e., members of the other categories), with
error-corrective feedback; positive instances alone are not enough for
detecting which are the invariant properties in such cases. The category
"feeling," however, is not such a case. Even though it is a
defective category, because it is uncomplemented and uncomplementable, it
is not empty, and everyone (except perhaps Lewis Carroll's Tortoise) can
easily detect the invariant underlying its many diverse instances to a good
enough approximation from the positive instances alone.)
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/925
Reply to Derek Allan
KNOWING SOMETHING WHEN YOU FEEL IT
DA: "[No] problem with your
example [of a child recognizing the category red from positive instances
alone]... [But]... how precisely does [this] refute my argument
that...Nagel['s] ''There is something that it is
like to be a conscious organism"... is comparing something
"Red" is a category;
"feeling" is a category. What red looks (feels) like is a
recognizable category; so what feeling feels like is likewise a
recognizable category. We know it when we see (feel) it, and we know it on
the basis of positive instances alone (which does not mean "comparing
something to itself").
And that's all Nagel meant.
That we all feel, that we all know what that is and what it means, and that
we all know it when it is happening.
(Of course, the only thing we
feel is our own feelings, so
those are the only feelings about which we have cartesian certainty, when
they are actually being felt [sentio ergo sentitur], whereas about the feelings of other creatures we can
only guess. I'd have to be the other creature -- say, Nagel's bat -- in
order to know for sure that it
[i.e., I] feels, and also to know what
it feels, i.e., what that feeling feels like. [It might feel quite
different from anything I am currently able to feel, being me.])
That, by the way, is all I want
to exegesize and defend in Tom Nagel's viewpoint. The rest of the
hermeneutics of "viewpoints" is not (in my view) all that
relevant, insofar as the explanatory gap (on which Nagel is unaccountably
an optimist!) is concerned. Viewpoint is just one of the many
manifestations of consciousness and its countless synonyms and paranyms
that one can single out and hermeneuticize without making any real inroads
on the explanatory gap itself.
And that is yet another reason
why I insist on sticking to straight talk about feeling rather than riding off in all directions with paranyms: A privileged "viewpoint" is already implicit
in feeling, since the only one that
can feel a feeling is the feeler. Anything else is just guesswork --
but guesswork "grounded" in your own feelings (if you feel at
all). Otherwise [attention Colin Hales!] it is just "functing"...
Here, to jog everyone's memory,
is a partial list of these soothingly distracting euphemisms, with the
invitation to add your own particular favorites (and then forget about
consciousness, awareness, qualia, subjective states,
conscious states, mental states, phenomenal states, qualitative states,
intentional states, intentionality, subjectivity, mentality, private
states, 1st-person states, contentful states, reflexive states,
representational states, sentient states, experiential states, reflexivity,
self-awareness, self-consciousness, sentience, raw
feels, experience, soul, spirit, mind..., viewpoint, ...
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/942
Reply to Arnold Trehub
ON UNFELT EGOCENTRISM
AT: "May I assume, Stevan, that even though you feel that
my feeling played no causal role in my posting, you also feel that your
feeling about this might be wrong?"
Sure. (I might be wrong about
anything except the cogito and 2+2=4.) Telekinetic Dualism could be true.
But I wouldn't count on it...
AT: If I were...(without feeling) I would be unable to
I missed the part about how and
why there cannot be posting without feeling: Please explain (it's the
And whilst you're at it, please
also explain how and why it is that your brain generates the feeling that
you feel like posting (as well as generating the posting, for whatever
reasons you posted it), rather than your brain just generating the posting
(for whatever reasons you posted it)?
AT: "I have shown how a biologically credible system of
egocentric brain mechanisms might constitute the brain state that is the
feeling causing the selection of the unfelt biological processes which
execute the posting. Can you show the brain mechanisms that can do a
similar selection without an egocentric representation of the salient
You neglected to mention how
and why the egocentric brain mechanism was felt rather than just functed...
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/945
Reply to Derek Allan
DA: "'Feels' in this context obviously
means much the same as 'experiences' and 'be conscious of'.... It
doesn't give us any leverage on the idea of consciousness at all i.e. it's
not an explanation..."
Glad you got the point, at
last. (The "hard" problem of consciousness is to explain how and
why we feel. There is no such explanation. Unlike Tom Nagel, I also think
this explanatory gap cannot be closed, and I've stated many times why: the
incommensurability of feeling and function, despite the correlation; the
functional superfluousness of feeling in a functional explanation of the
brain's performance capacity; the exhaustiveness of the four fundamental
forces, leaving no room or evidence for a fifth force; hence the falsity of
Now, what's your point, Derek? Is it just
nonspecific animus against what you keep calling "analytic
philosophy"? Or do you actually have a substantive point to make about
the explanatory gap?
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/946
Reply to Robin Faichney
RF: "I don't believe that we feel
feeling... We think that we feel"
When I am feeling something
(which is most of the time when I am awake), I don't think I feel, I know I
feel, if I know anything at all!
I think Descartes is with me on
that one, despite his unfortunate choice of "cogito" for his cogito. (There is indeed something
it feels like to think something; there's also something it feels like to
think something is true, and even something it feels like to think you know
something for sure. But -- again thanks to Descartes -- only in two cases
are we actually justified in feeling that we know something for sure: one
is the law of noncontradiction -- and everything that follows from anything
else on pain of contradiction, hence necessity -- and the other is the fact
that we are feeling, when we feel. That is a matter of certainty, if
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/950
Reply to Derek Allan
DA: "[I]s there an 'easy' problem, by the way?"
Sure, all of ordinary science,
including all of cognitive science, including brain science. There's only
one hard problem, and that's how and why we feel. (QM might have another
hard problem, with its own duality puzzles, but I don't think it's as hard,
or hard in the same way.)
DA: "I would have thought the 'hard problem'...
is... to explain what... feeling -is."
No, I think we all have as good
an idea of what feeling is as we are ever likely to get of what anything
is: The hard problem is explaining how and why we feel. (But if you want to
wrap the explanation of the causal origins and consequences of something
into what you mean by explaining what it is, then, yes, that is the hard
problem after all.)
DA: "[M]y point was that... one... is on the
completely wrong track... I hope all that is plain
Only plain enough to reveal
that you are unfortunately not making any substantive point at all...
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/951
Reply to Arnold Trehub
OF COURSE THE BRAIN'S THE CULPRIT: BUT
HOW, AND WHY?
AT: "If we can agree... that
feeling is a particular state of the brain... then... we can discuss
what... state of the brain might constitute feeling [and] make progress on
the how and why of feeling..."
"Constitutes" is a
bit of a weasel word. Is feeling a cause of, an effect of, or the same
thing as a brain state or property? Those are all the questions around
which the feeling/function problem has always revolved:
"constitutes" simply conflates these questions without answering
them. (John Searle used to try the same trick by saying "caused-by-and-realized-in," really fast.
It doesn't help. The questions are still begged.)
But I have no problem at all
with agreeing that brain states somehow "constitute" feeling. Of
course they do! I am not a spiritualist. The "hard" problem,
alas, is explaining how and why they do.
Bland (and blind) agreement on
the fact that the brain must be the culprit does not give us a clue of a
clue as to how and why it committed the crime!
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/957
Reply to Derek Allan
DA: "Is that a common analytic
Derek, I regret to have to say
that until and unless you can stop shadow-boxing with this
"analytic" bugaboo of your own invention and instead say
something of substance about something, there is simple nothing more that
anyone can either say about or reply to your postings (at least nothing more
that this non-analytic, non-philosopher can say).
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/961
Reply to Arnold Trehub
AT: "...you have claimed that explaining how and
why is not merely hard, but impossible because feelings have
no causal consequences..."
I have. And I've given my
reasons for concluding that (incommensurability, the exhaustive quota of
fundamental forces, the falsity of telekinetic dualism, and the sufficiency
of functing for causally explaining all functing, hence the superfluousness
and inexplicability of feeling).
But if you find my conclusion
wrong, I'd be happy to hear how and why.
AT: "It seems to me that you contradict your own
argument when you acknowledge that feelings are states of the
There's no contradiction
whatsoever. My argument is epistemic rather than ontic (except for the
innocuous bit about the exhaustiveness of the four known forces). I am not
saying that feelings are and are not
caused by the brain. I am saying we cannot explain how or why. The
explanatory gap is an epistemic
gap, not an ontic gap. It's a
shortfall in causal explanation, which seems to work successfully for
everything else except feeling.
And please distinguish (1) the
problem of explaining how brain function causes feeling (the
"how" in the how/why) from (2) the even bigger problem that
feelings cannot themselves be causes (the "why" in the
In the first case there is
(almost certainly) causation (but no causal explanation). In the second
case there is not even causation.
AT: "...if one grants that feelings are
constituted by particular brain states one is not justified in claiming
that feelings cannot have causal consequences."
It makes little difference what
I "grant" about how the brain causes feelings, if neither I nor
anyone else can explain how or why. But the question of the causal
consequences of feelings (as opposed to the causal consequences of the
functing that causes the feelings) is, in my view, the more perplexing side
of the feeling/function problem.
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/973
Reply to Jason Streitfeld
BELIEVING IS FEELING: CORRELATION,
CAUSATION AND INFORMATION
JS: "you are wrongly assuming that the
"problem" generated by uncomplemented categories... exists
outside of the grammar in which those categories are defined..."
I do not see that anything I
have said has anything to do with grammar! I am not speaking of grammatical
categories but sensorimotor and verbal categories: kinds of
things (objects, events, actions, states, properties) that we are able to
recognize, call by their names, and to an extent describe. Many of
these categories -- especially the first ones we acquire -- are not derived
from definitions or descriptions, but grounded in
sensorimotor experience (which also happens to be felt). (And those
categories that we do acquire via definition are
recombinations of categories we have acquired through sensorimotor
experience, likewise felt. It also feels like something to understand what
a word means.)
JS: "To feel is to feel some X, so that any knowledge of
feeling is knowledge of feeling some X. Knowledge of feeling cannot
be separated from knowledge of X."
To feel something is to feel
something. We all know that. The way we know is by feeling this (e.g., a headache) and by
feeling that (e.g., a toothache),
and noticing that they feel different, but that they both feel like something. We all know that too.
There is no point mystifying it. (And "something" is a
perfectly serviceable -- if rather abstract -- generic category too, though
it too might have some complementation problems of its own!)
Feeling a headache is something
we can recognize and call by its name. So is feeling a toothache. And so is
generic feeling; that means feeling something;
and feeling something is
something that all feelings of X or Y or Z have in common.
JS: "There is thus no uncomplemented (and no
"Cartesian") knowledge of feeling, just as [there] is no
uncomplemented (and no Cartesian) knowledge of thinking..."
One thing at a time. Feeling this (e.g., a headache) is a complemented category. We can all
recognize and call it by its name. Feeling that, a toothache (part of the complement of feeling a
headache), is not feeling a headache. Hence the category "what it
feels like to feel a headache" (aka "what a headache feels
like") is a perfectly well-complemented category.
In contrast, the category
"feeling something" (where "something" can be anything
at all) is likewise a category ("what it feels like to feel anything
at all, be it headache or toothache) -- a category that we can all
recognize and call by its name.
something" is not a complemented
category, because we do not and cannot know what it feels like to feel
nothing at all. (We can know what it feels like to feel this and not-that, but that's not the complement of feeling itself, but
only the complement of feeling this,
So neither the recognizability
and identifiability of the category "feeling (something)" nor its
uncomplementedness is in doubt. We do have the category even though we can
only sample positive instances of it.
We have other categories based
on positive instances alone -- for example, what it feels like to be a bachelor, if one is and always has been a bachelor. There we flesh
out the complement, and the invariant features of what it feels like to be
a bachelor, from guessing what it would feel like to be married. Of course,
once one gets married, one may discover that being married does not feel
like what one had expected at all -- in which case one did not fully know
what it feels like to be a bachelor either, having only experienced
positive instances of it.
The difference in the case of
the category "feeling" itself is that its complement cannot be
filled in by proxy hypothesis or analogy, as in the case of imagining what
it would feel like to be married, because in the case of feeling, the
category "what it would feel like not to feel" is both empty and self-contradictory.
So we may be off (somewhat) about what, exactly, it feels like to feel, in
the way we could be off about what it feels like to be a bachelor; and that
may (and indeed does) create conceptual problems. But it does not mean the
category "what it feels like to feel (something)" is either empty
or incoherent; just a bit pathological, cognitively.
You also seem to be denying
that I can have cartesian certainty that I am feeling ("[t]here is
no... "Cartesian"... knowledge of feeling") when I'm feeling
(sentio ergo sentitur) -- and
that's a rather bold denial. I wonder if you have an argument to support
it? And unless I'm misunderstanding, you even seem to be tilting against
the cogito itself, in its
original formulation by Descartes, in claiming that "[there] is no...
Cartesian... knowledge of thinking.ý
I'd say your chances are better
if you just attack my notion of uncomplemented categories, rather than trying
to take on Descartes too!
JS: "Feeling is not an object of knowledge, but rather a
way of knowing..."
I would say feeling's the only way of knowing, since unfelt
"knowledge" (as in the case of an encyclopedia, computer, or one
of today's robots) is no knowledge at all. And that includes things that
Freud (no philosopher) lulled us into calling "unconscious
knowledge": In a feeling creature like me, there's knowledge, namely,
the things I know, and know that I know, and feel that I know, whilst I'm
busy feeling that I know them. All the same things. These are not cartesian
(certain) knowledge; they're just beliefs I have, some of which might even
be true. But all the beliefs are felt
(whilst they're being believed, which of course feels like something).
(The same data, including
verbal, propositional data, implemented inside a feelingless robot, would
not be beliefs or knowledge, but merely data and states, along with the
functional capacity that the data and states subserve; in other words, all
just functing. Even in a feeling, hence true-believer/knower like me, those
of my brain states that are not being felt are not beliefs but merely
functional capacity plus the [mysterious] potential to be felt, hence to
become beliefs while being felt.)
I also have know-how -- sensorimotor and even cognitive skills that I am able
to perform without knowing how I
manage to perform them. (Most of cognition and behavior is like that. You
can do it, but you have no idea how: you're waiting for cognitive science
to discover how you do it, and then tell you.) Some like to call that
"unconscious" or "implicit knowledge," but I think it's
more accurate to say that it's the functional basis of my know-how, of my
performance capacity. (It's also the explanatory target of cognitive
science in general, and the Turing Test in particular.)
Another way of thinking of the
"explanatory gap" is to ask why feelings accompany any of this --
whether my explicit knowledge or the exercise of my implicit know-how: Why
is it all not just functed? Until that question is answered, feeling cannot
be said to be a "way of knowing," but merely a passive (and
apparently superfluous) correlate of some forms of know-how. (Don't forget
that, functionally speaking, explicit, declarative knowledge is just a form
of know-how too -- let's call it "know-that" -- a form of
know-how in which we happen to be able to verbalize and describe some of
the underlying functional algorithms or dynamics.)
Harnad, S. (2007) From Knowing How To Knowing That: Acquiring Categories By Word of
Mouth. Presented at
Kaziemierz Naturalized Epistemology Workshop (KNEW), Kaziemierz,
Poland, 2 September 2007.
JS: "The problem you have been discussing is not a
"hard problem"... but a simple problem... with your categorizing
"feelings" as objects of knowledge, and not ways of knowing.’
I'll settle for your solution
to the simple problem of how and why
feeling (rather than just functing) is a way of knowing -- as soon as you
JS: "This error underlies your... incoherent distinctions
between Cartesian and non-Cartesian knowing and between functing and
You've remembered to call them
incoherent but you've forgotten to explain how and why...
JS: "It also explains the contradiction between your
allegiance to physicalism and your insistance that feelings are somehow
No contradiction at all (as
I've just got done explaining to Arnold Trehub). I have not said feelings
both are and are-not causal. I have said that we cannot explain how or why.
That's called the explanatory gap.
JS: "the term "physical" implies
functional/causal congruity with respect to predictive models, and... this
is a property which you deny feelings..."
I am denying nothing except
what one can only affirm if one can explain how and why (and one
JS: "...your argument... is motivated by the existence
of feelings [but] if feelings cannot causally influence behavior, how could
they motivate it?
Did I say anything about motivation? (What is motivation,
anyway, apart from yet another set of feelings correlated with yet another
set of functions?)
But, to answer your question:
feelings can correlate with behavior if the feelings and behavior are
caused by the same functing. The trouble is, we don't know how or why the
brain would bother to funct feelings as well as behavior, rather than just
go ahead and funct the behavior, without any sentimentaliy...
JS: "Perhaps you wish to claim that one can feel without
feeling some X, or that one could know that one was feeling without knowing
that one was feeling some X..."
No I don't wish to claim that,
since it's not true. And why would I wish or need it to be true? (Please,
before you pounce on "wish" or "need" as
selt-contradicting, read again what I said above about correlates and
common causes above.)
JS: "...the only support you have provided is... that
feeling could be separated from feeling some X and... that [to] den[y]
this... is... [to] beg... the question. These tactics are no more
persuasive than the theistic arguments they resemble..."
I think you have not understood
the argument. I said that from feeling A, feeling B and feeling Z, we could
abstract the invariant feeling X (where X is something, anything). And that
was perfectly ordinary categorization (except that "feeling" is
And what I said was
question-begging was assigning a causal role to feeling without explaining
how and why.
(Theistic??? I have inferred
(by abstracting the common invariant across many postings) that NA has some
sort of thing about "analytic philosophers." Do you perhaps have
some sort of bugaboo too -- with "theists"?)
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/975
Reply to Derek Allan
DA: "Is that a common viewpoint -
that if one doesn't think that the brain "constitutes"
consciousness, one is a "spiritualist'? (I thought spiritualists
were people who held seances etc)."
(1) I'm afraid I have no idea
how common the viewpoint is. What I take to be important in trying to reach
a valid conclusion is the evidence and the reasoning rather than the
(2) The common term for those
who don't think the brain "constitutes" consciousness is
"dualist." But I don't think "dualist" is
self-explanatory. I have also referred to the position as "telekinetic dualism." And of course telekinesis, clairvoyance,
teleportation and telepathy are what spiritualists believe in, and what
they try to do in their seances.
(3) The link is causality: If I
am ready to believe that I am using a mental force to move my arm when I
feel like it, then I have much the same belief as those who believe in
action-at-a-distance in space and time
[As the quip goes:
"Madame, we have established your profession, we are merely haggling
over the price" -- or, in this case, the distance, in time and space.
(This quip is sometimes attributed to Churchill, but
who knows? Unspeakable quanities of hokum -- and often spiritualist hokum
-- have been attributed to poor Einstein, no longer here to defend himself
from his putative "sayings.")]
(4) Note that telekinetic
dualism (though not under that name) is the default belief of most people,
that it is a perfectly natural belief, congruent with all of our
experiences and intuitions; and it is of course at the root of our belief
in an immaterial, immortal soul, and thence all the rest of the
supernatural, including the the afterlife, the demiurges, and the
omnipotent deities. (It just happens to be untrue, although, again, no one
can explain how or why, other than to point out, quite sensibly, that the
brain is the only credible culprit, which it surely is.)
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/977
Reply to Derek Allan
PASCAL'S WAGER, OR "WHY I AM NOT
DA: "...for the afterlife, omnipotent deities
etc... I would have thought the default position for many people
is a modest agnosticism."
Although this is getting
distinctly silly (and drifting ever further from the "explanatory
gap"), I cannot resist replying (because the connection is not
altogether zero) that default agnosticism suffers from the same rational
(and practical) defect as Pascal's Wager:
Pascal thought that -- given
the trade-off between the grave risk of eternal damnation if Received Writ
is all true and one fails to be obey, and the mild risk of a somewhat more
constrained finite lifetime if it's false yet one obeys anyway -- the
lesser risk should be the default option.
This founders on the fact that
there are competing claims on our obedience, from the Mosaic edicts to the
Mohammedan injunctions to voodoo to the dictates of the Great Pumpkin. Is one to hew then, as in Selfridge's Pandemonium model, to whichever demon raises the ante the highest? (If so, I'll meet you and double the
eternities of agony you will suffer if you don't send my temple a $1M
pledge and make and send 100 copies of this letter to 100 other infidels.)
There are also links here with
"flat priors" in Bayesian Inference, with the Cauchy Distribution, with Zeno's Paradox (especially Lewis Carroll's version of it), and with Dawkins's "Green-Eyed Monster," but I alas haven't the time to explain them all.
DA: "The claim that 'it all depends on the brain'
etc strikes me as a kind of scientistic dogmatism... until someone can
demonstrate clearly that consciousness can be explained in purely
Just a clarification, that the
predicate "all depends on the brain" referred, yet again, only to
the explanatory gap: how/why the brain causes feelings. (The eschatology
was just a bonus -- though of course the brain, indeed multiple brains, are
behind that too, if rather more circuitously!)
Derek seems to think that the explanatory
gap -- an epistemic gap -- somehow sanctions agnosticism about the brain; I
think it just sanctions scepticism about the power of causal explanation to
explain the fact of feeling. It raises no doubts whatsoever, in my mind, about the fact that feelings are caused
(somehow) by the brain.
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/982
Reply to Arnold Trehub
MAKING COMMON CAUSE
AT: "Your conclusion is wrong because you
appear to be endorsing each of the following propositions:
-- (a) All brain states have causal consequences.
-- (b) Feelings are brain states.
-- (c) Feelings have no causal consequences.
"Given (b), proposition (c) is contradicted by
Here is a sure way to know that
one has either cheated, trivialized, or otherwise begged the question in
the way one has formulated the problem: if one's formulation would apply
unproblematically and indifferently to any old brain property at all.
"All brain states have causal consequences - X is a brain state - So X
has causal consequences - No problem" then there is a problem with
one's formulation of the problem.
The problem is that when
"X" happens to be feeling, it is not at all evident what we are
saying when we say "feeling is a brain state." Behavior, for
example, is not a brain state,
though it is caused by brain
states. ("State" is a weasel-word, covertly doing double-duty
So let as assume (since it is
surely true) that brain states cause feelings, just as they cause behavior
(even though we can explain how and why brain states cause behavior, but we
cannot explain how and why they cause feelings).
Now with behavior -- which, to
repeat, is not a brain state, but is caused by brain states, with no
problem at all about explaining why and how it is caused -- there is also
no problem with the consequences
of what the brain state causes, in causing behavior. Behavior itself has
its own consequences: My brain, with the help of a slippery pavement,
causes me to stumble; I fall on your cake; the cake is squashed; you send
me the bill.
But with feeling -- which, to
repeat, is not a brain state, but is caused
by brain states, inexplicably [that's the first part of the problem, and
hence of the explanatory gap] -- there is indeed a problem, an even greater
problem, with the consequences of
what the brain causes, in causing feeling. For feeling does not have (and
cannot have -- on pain of telekinetic dualism) any independent causal
consequences of its own: My brain, with the help of a slippery
pavement causes me to stumble (though I feel I tried everything I could to
keep my balance); I fall on your cake (I feel clumsy); the cake
is squashed (I feel embarrassed; you feel angry); you send me the bill. (I
pay it, because I feel I should) etc.
So, to reformulate your
scenario without begging the question:
All brain states have causal consequences.
Feelings are (unexplained) causal consequences of brain states.
Feelings have no causal consequences:
What we feel to be causal consequences of feelings are really the causal
consequences of the brain states that (also, inexplicably) cause the
Given (d), proposition (c)
is perfectly consistent with propositions (a) and (b).
Common causes (functing) can
have multiple correlated effects, and in the case of behavior (functing)
and feeling, the feeling has no independent (i.e., non-telekinetic) effect,
it just dangles, inexplicably.
The explanatory gap (which
cannot be closed by a series of non-explanatory propositions presupposing
the solution of non-existence of the "hard" problem.).
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/985
-- Reply to Derek Allan
'NESCIO' IS NOT A SUBSTANTIVE OPTION
The reply to Derek is exactly
the same as the reply to Arnold, but for the opposite reason:
First the reply, again: "Here is a sure way to know that
one has either cheated, trivialized, or otherwise begged the question in
the way one has formulated the ["hard"] problem: if one's
formulation would apply unproblematically and indifferently to any old
brain property at all."
Now Derek's contribution to the
discussion of the problem:
DA: "I am agnostic about explanations
of consciousness... [not] because of the so-called 'gap'... but simply
because I confess I do not know."
This casts neuroscience's
failure to explain how and why we feel with its failure to
explain schizophrenia, two (unsolved) problems of an entirely different
order (one "easy," the other "hard," for a number of
reasons that have been repeatedly made explicit in this discussion, and
that constitute the "explanatory gap.").
The trouble, again, with what
Derek seems to be saying, is that it simply has no substance, one way or
the other. Apart from inveighing repeatedly against the straw man of
"analytic philosophy," nothing whatsoever is being said other
than that consciousness has not yet been explained (and that "we need
to 'define' it").
Schizophrenia will be
"defined" when we know how and why the brain generates it; till
then, it's enough to point to it. Ditto for consciousness (feeling). But
for the latter (and not the former), principled problems of explanation
have been repeatedly pointed out, very explicitly. "I confess I do not
know" does not even begin to engage the question.
The following, says even less:
DA: "...the... explanatory 'gap' ... may in fact be an
explanatory abyss - or dead-end... [T]hat possibility has at
least to be acknowledged..."
It has been acknowledged, repeatedly, with substantive reasons.
Now it's your turn to say something of substance, rather than just
repeating that we need to "define" consciousness, because maybe
that will make the problem of explaining it go away.
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/993
Reply to Arnold Trehub
AT: "Your endorsement of the
"explanatory gap" clearly depends on the key assumption that a
feeling is not a brain state despite the fact that a feeling is caused by a
It doesn't really depend on
that at all:
If feeling were a "brain
state" rather than an (unexplained and inexplicable) effect of a brain
state, then instead of an effect of the brain state being a causal dangler,
the brain state itself would be a causal dangler. Either way, we are just
massaging terms, but not explaining how and why we feel. That's why all of
this explanatorily-empty ontological house-keeping does no good. It's a
substantive explanation we want (despite the obstacles that have been
itemized), not metaphysical comfort-calls without explanation.
Besides, I suggested that
feeling was no more a brain state (as opposed to the effect of a brain state) than behavior is: Both feeling and
acting are things our brain does
rather than things our brain "is."
AT: "In accordance with a non-dualistic view of the
matter, you take feelings to be physical events."
It no more helps to call
feelings "physical" (or "nonphysical") than it does to
call them "brain states." What we want to know is how and why we (or our brains --
makes no difference) feel, rather
than just "funct". Solemnly pledging ontic allegiance to
"monism" or "dualism" does not advance us by one
AT: "As physical events, feelings must exist somewhere
in the physical universe. A legitimate question is this: If a feeling does
not exist as a part of the brain of the individual having the feeling,
where does it exist?"
...nor does pinpointing where (or when -- or even what)
we feel help to close the how/why gap one iota...
AT: "If a feeling is a physical event (physical events
can have causal consequences without telekinetic dualism), what is your
principled explanation for the assumed inability of feelings to have causal
I'm not the one giving the
explanations, I'm the one asking for them! And dubbing feeling "a
physical event" does not answer the how/why question either.
Here is another way to put the
entire feeling/function problem in such a way as to bring the problem of
causality out into the open:
When I lift my finger, it feels as if I did it
because I felt like it. In reality, my brain did two things: (1) it caused
me to feel like lifting my finger and (2) it caused me to lift my finger.
The "hard" question about causality, the one that creates the
explanatory gap, is: how, and especially why, did my brain bother with (1)
at all, since it is obviously causally superfluous for (2), an effectless
(ineffectual) correlate (except if telekinetic dualism is true, which it's
In other words, if telekinetic
dualism (i.e., the 5th-force causal power of feelings) is false, then the
burden for "principled explanation" is on those who wish to claim
that feelings do have causal
consequences: how? why?
AT: "In your reformulation, you speak of feelings as
being 'unexplained' rather than 'inexplicable'. I have no problem with this
change of stance."
Again, if we agree that there
is no explanation so far of how and why we feel rather than just funct, the
burden is on those who think that there ever can be an explanation, in
light of the causal obstacles (unlike anything else under the sun) that any
explanation would have to surmount. Preferring "unexplained" to
"inexplicable" does not help; it just gives the soothing feeling
(without justification) that the mind/body (feeling/function) problem is
just another problem science has not yet solved; no reason to expect it
won't get round to it eventually...
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/1003
Reply to Luke Culpitt
LC: "...the explanation that would fill the explanatory
gap appears to be a non-functional, non-causal explanation to the question
of why [feeling] occurs..."
That would be a terrific way to
keep begging the question indefinitely, since the question of why we (or
our brains) feel is a functional, causal question, just as the question of
why we (or our brains) act is.
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/1004
Reply to JWK Matthewson Matthewson
IMPORTED QUANTUM PUZZLES DON'T HELP,
THEY JUST DISTRACT
JWKMM: "[There] is the implicit assumption that the
'physical' is straightforward and explicable whilst the mental [feeling] is
difficult to define and currently inexplicable."
No assumptions. The problem is
explaining how and why we feel rather than just "funct." The
problem is neither solved nor dissolved by pointing to putative problems in
physical (i.e., functional) explanation.
JWKMM: "...the contributors.. all seem to agree that a
succession of brain states is something that could be easily understood,
being physical, although they disagree about how far such a succession of
states might explain experience [feeling'."
The problem is explaining how
and why people feel, not with explaining how and why apples fall.
JWKMM: "Suppose we could explain all experience [feeling[
in terms of some kind of functionalism, we would then need to understand
the nature of a 'function'."
We understand function well
enough. And to suppose that feeling can be explained functionally is to
suppose an answer to a question that some of us are arguing is unanswerable.
That is begging the question.
JWKMM: "One of the most difficult problems in the
philosophy of physics is the notion of 'change'. No-one understands
how one physical state gives rise to another."
It's understood to a good
enough approximation to make functional explanation unproblematic
(everywhere except possibly in QM). But it does not even begin to explain
how and why we feel.
JWKMM: "So, if it is conceded that conscious experience
[feeling] is purely functional then classical physicalism needs a conscious
[feeling] observer outside of this purely functional world to observe the
A moment ago we were to
"suppose" (against all reasons adduced) that feeling could be
explained functionally. Now we are to "concede" it, and the result
is suppose to be that we need a feeling observer of function. (This strikes
me as QM-puzzle-motivated gobbledy-gook, I'm afraid.)
JWKMM: "Quantum mechanics does not bring us any nearer to
So let's stay far away from
quantum mechanics and focus on the explanatory gap, which is about
explaining how and why we feel rather than just funct, like everything else
JWKMM: "...the problem of conscious experience [feeling] is
somehow linked to the problem of time and change in physics."
No, the problem is that feeling
is correlated with time and change in biological systems but no one can
explain how or why.
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/1015
Reply to Luke Culpitt
THE (NONEXISTENT) EFFECTS OF FEELING
ARE A FAR BIGGER PROBLEM
THAN THE UNKNOWN CAUSES OF FEELING
LC: "If... 'why we (or our brains) feel is a
functional, causal question'..., is there any distinction... between
the question of how, and the question of why, we feel? You
indicated... that the explanatory gap is a question of 'especially
why' we feel,
and David Chalmers appears
Both questions are functional,
causal ones (but they are really flip sides of the same coin).
"How" is about the
causes of feeling and "Why" is about the effects of
I don't know about David, but I
don't lose much sleep about whether
the brain causes feeling (of course it does); and if the only problem with
explaining how the brain causes feeling had been some uncertainty about
objective measurement of feeling, I would not give such a small explanatory
gap much thought.
No, for me the real puzzle is
the "why" aspect rather than the "how" aspect. For
whereas it is merely mysterious how the brain causes feeling (but there is
no doubt that it does), the real explanatory puzzle is why the brain causes feeling, since
there is no room for feeling to have any causal power of its own (even
though it feels as if it does), except on pain of telekinetic dualism.
That's the heart of the feeling/function problem -- and the real locus and
force of the explanatory gap.
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/1026
Reply to JWK Matthewson Matthewson
(Is JWKMM perchance V. Petkov?) In
any case, I think you have answered your own question: The quantum puzzles
and their alleged implications for the causal explanation of dynamics would
be there even in a feelingless universe, so they have nothing to do with
the feeling/function problem and its
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/1027
Reply to Victor Panzica
NO COMPLEXITY THRESHOLD FOR A PHASE
TRANSITION INTO FELT FUNCTION
-- AND THE WATCHMAKER IS BLIND TO
VP: "For the purpose of evolution, isn't feeling a
necessary trait for the survival of complex organisms in a complex
environment? Would a complex organism and complex brain be able to
evolve without feelings? Please correct me if I am missing your
I am afraid you are missing the
point: Darwinian evolution is, unproblematically, a causal, functional process.
Survival, reproduction, behavior, behavioral skills, learning -- all of
these are unproblematically functional. So are RNA, DNA, protein synthesis,
physiological function, brain function: all functing.
But the explanatory gap is
about explaining how and why some functions are felt. That includes explaining it adaptively, evolutionarily,
in terms of mutations and selective advantages, for survival and
reproduction, of felt functions over unfelt functions.
But the minute you propose a
functional advantage that would allegedly be conferred by feeling X (e.g.,
pain), or by X's being a feltrather than jan unfelt function (seeing, vs.
optical input processing), it becomes apparent that the functional
advantages are identical (indeed Turing-indistinguishable), whether or not
they are felt. Feeling does not -- and cannot, on pain of telekinetic
dualism -- confer any functional advantages of its own. It merely dangles,
inexplicably, and ineffectually.
That is the explanatory gap.
Neither adaptive function nor brain function fills that explanatory gap.
And simply assuming that there must
be a function, even though for each candidate function the feeling can
easily be seen to be functionally superfluous, is simply begging the
One thing is certain: If there
is an answer, it will not be an easy answer. And saying "feeling must
have survival value, somehow" would be an easy answer...
"complexity" (see Churchland's argument) won't help at all either. How/why should greater
functional complexity (if such it is) become felt complexity, rather than just functed complexity, like the
rest? What's the functional complexity threshold for a "phase
transition" into felt function?)
Harnad, S. (2002) Turing
Indistinguishability and the Blind Watchmaker. In: J. Fetzer (ed.) Evolving
Consciousness Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Pp. 3-18.
Harnad, S.&Scherzer, P.
(2008) First, Scale Up to the Robotic Turing Test,
Then Worry About Feeling.Artificial Intelligence in Medicine 44 (2): 83-89
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/1031
Reply to Luke Culpitt
LC: "I don't believe that the explanatory gap is also a
question of free will. The putative feeling of free will is just one
feeling/sensation/perception/thought among many. The explanatory gap as I
understand it is to provide an explanation for the mere existence of any
and all feeling, in addition to the functional explanation for how the
brain causes that feeling."
I am indeed arguing that they
(the problem of explaining the causal role of willing and problem of
explaining the causal role of feeling) are exactly the same problem, because the problem of feeling
(consciousness) is the problem of the causal status of feeling.
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/1037
Reply to Arnold Trehub
HOW/WHY IS PLANNING FELT?
AT: "If feeling were a brain state, it would have all
the causal biophysical properties of a brain state and could not be
considered a 'causal dangler'."
Feeling is and remains a causal
dangler until it is explained how and why certain brain states are felt rather than just
"functed." That is precisely as true whether we assume feeling is
a "brain state" or feeling is an "effect" of a brain
state. Causality (both coming and going) is the problem, either way.
AT: "Surely, if one claims that feelings are physical
but are not located in the brain of the individual having the feelings, one
should suggest where else they might be located."
The problem is not the locus of
feelings, but their causal status.
AT: "If lifting your finger were a reflex, then
[feeling like doing it] would be superfluous. But if lifting your finger
were an intended action, then you would have to feel like lifting your
finger and [feeling like doing it] would be causal (not
What on earth does
"intending" mean, other than feeling
like doing it? Your reasoning is unfortunately circular.
To break out of the circle,
explain to me how and why intentional action is felt rather than just
functed. A reflex is not only nonintentional (it feels like something, but
something passive): it is also simple and automatic. Intentional action is
often more complex than a reflex, to be sure (though intentionally lifting
a finger is not, and that's why it's better to stick to that example); but how (and even more importantly, why)
should the planning of a complex action be felt, rather than just functed,
like a reflex?
AT: "It is also possible that you lifted your
finger reflexively and then, after the fact, felt like you lifted your
finger because you felt like doing it. In this case [feeling like doing it
before the fact] would not occur and [feeling like doing it after the fact]
would be superfluous."
And your point is...?
The question was: How/why is feeling like doing it "before
the fact" not superfluous too? (By the way, the "fact" here,
as always, is the act; so the
question is, what's the point of feeling before the act? Planning before the act is of course
unproblematically functional and causal -- but, again, why felt planning, rather than just
"functed" planning (e.g., as in a computer or robot)?
AT: "A better example of the causal necessity of
feeling is planning a trip. In this case you have to imagine (feel) all
sorts of things... before you can act --- make your selection of
destination, consider possible weather conditions, when to leave, means of
travel, what to pack, etc."
How/why felt (rather than just
functed) selection of destination?
How/why felt (rather than just
functed) consideration of possible weather conditions?
How/why felt (rather than just
functed) consideration of when to leave?
How/why felt (rather than just
functed) consideration of means of travel?
How/why felt (rather than just
functed) consideration of what to pack, etc.?
Your reasoning is completely
circular, Arnold! You simply take it for granted that certain functions are
felt, and as a result you are simply begging the question, with your
comfortable focus on brain function: Brain function will explain the causal
basis of everything we can do, such as all the things listed above (and
lifting our fingers too), but it won't explain how or why any of that
functing is felt.
And that's the "hard
problem" and the locus of the "explanatory gap". It's a
causal gap -- or rather a gap in ordinary causal explanation, which works
just fine for everything else, from neutrons to neurons.
(Please, please let not another
quantum mysterian chime in on the QM entanglements of neutrons!)
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/1039
Reply to JWK Matthewson Matthewson
SH: “(Please, please let not another quantum mysterian chime
in on the QM entanglements of neutrons!)"
JWKMM: "I would like to defend myself against the
accusation of "mysterianism"... defined as... 1 Ontological
naturalism: the view that holds (inter alia) that [feeling] is a natural
feature of the world; 2 Epistemic irreducibility: the view that holds that
there is no explanation of [feeling] available to us".... I admit
to agreeing with (1) but not with (2). So rest assured, I will not chime in
with a mysterian point, I will just restate the fact that... Physical
theory cannot (and could never) explain why an action potential actually
moves up a membrane or why a neutron is emitted at a particular moment from
a mass of U235..."
By this definition I am more
than happy to declare myself a feeling ("qualia") mysterian; but
what I was referring to was quantum mysterians (which you assuredly are!);
and, in particular, the importation of quantum mysterianism into the
sanctum of qualia mystery: Two unrelated koans neither explain, eliminate
nor engulf one another...
Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/1055
Reply to Jason Streitfeld
JS: "Your repeated "how/why" questions
presuppose the very distinction which is in question here, namely that
between feeling and functing. Until this distinction is clarified, we
will remain at an impasse."
How about the distinction
between feeling and doing, then? Is that clear enough? (It's much the same
How and why the brain causes
adaptive behavior is a tractable scientific question, a functional one,
that will one day have a full, clear answer.
Not so for how (and especially
why) the brain causes feeling. (And that's the point, and the problem, and
JS: "if feelings have no causal efficacy, they do not make
a difference to anything, including the conclusions we draw in our
discourse on feelings. So why do we have words for them?"
(1) Feelings are there, being
felt (when they are being felt).
(2) There is an (unexplained --
and I think causally inexplicable, though undoubtedly -- if not undoubtably
-- causal) correlation between our feelings and our doings (hence between our feelings and our sayings),
probably explained by the common
functional cause that (explicably) causes the doings and (inexplicably)
also causes the feelings.
So there are feelings there, to
speak of, and we do speak of them; and speaking certainly has causal
consequences. But until and unless there can be a causal explanation of how
and why we feel, the only available explanation of why we speak of feelings
is that the same cause that
(inexplicably) makes us feel and (explicably) act also (mysteriously) makes
us speak of feeling; but the fact that we actually feel has no
independent causal role, hence no causal explanation. It just dangles on
the joint cause of the feeling (unexplained) and the speaking.
(I did speculate a bit -- on
one of the earlier threads of this discussion: "WHY WOULD TURING-INDISTINGUISHABLE ZOMBIES TALK ABOUT FEELINGS (AND
WHAT, IF ANYTHING, WOULD THEY MEAN)?" --
concerning why Turing-Test-scale robots, with behavioral capacities indistinguishable
from our own -- if they were
feelingless Zombies -- would speak of feelings at all. One possibility
might be that the words would be used as metaphors for unobservable
internal states -- unfelt states, but also states that are inaccessible to
other agents with which the TT-passing robot must interact adaptively. So
"you have hurt me" might be a short-hand for "you have
caused damage to my internal functioning." That would make
feeling-talk ("mind-reading") functional rather than a dangler,
like feelings themselves. But I have not yet carried through the exercise
so far as to try to construe what functional role "feeling" talk
could play if the exchange between us [in this very email dialogue] were
taking place between Zombies, and they were talking specifically about the
difference between the functional role of talk about feelings between
feelingless Zombies versus talk about feelings between feeling people.
Maybe that's just further evidence that there
could not be feelingless Zombies Turing-indistinguishable from us. But
unfortunately that leaves completely unanswered, yet again, the [same old]
question, this time in the form: how and why not! Same old explanatory gap... [Peter Carruthers has a recent target
article on this in BBS, but I think he gets it somewhat backwards: it is
feeling that is primary, not mind-reading, whether of the unobservable
states of others or one's own...])
JS: "Your view makes all talk of feelings superfluous,
including the claim that there is a feeling/functing distinction."
No. It just points out that how
and why we feel is unexplained (and how and why I think it is also
inexplicable: functional superfluousness; no telekinesis; causal
JS: "The notion of 'what it is like to be a bachelor' does not
pick out any particular feel or category."
"What it feels like to be
a bachelor" picks out what every waking minute feels like (to a human
male) from birth to the first minute one gets married -- at which point it
is complemented (and one discovers how right or wrong one had been about
"what it feels like to be a bachelor"). No such possibility for
what it feels like to be awake, or alive...
JS: "there is nothing it is like to not have a third
That's largely true (except in
contrast to what it feels like to have a third arm, as, say, siamese twins,
spiders, or a surgically-altered-me might experience).
But in general I do agree that
arbitrary counterfactual complementations are of no more interest than
"what it feels like to see something that is bigger than a
breadbox" (which does happen to be complemented) or "what it
feels like to have lived fewer than an infinite number of years"
(which is not).
We only single out categories in cases where the complement
is in some way salient (and where the invariant features of the category
members -- relative to the complement members -- are used to resolve uncertainty about what is a member of the category and what is a
member of its complement). It does
make sense to say "I know what it feels like to be a bachelor,"
and I can even discover that I was wrong.
In much the same way, it does
make sense to say "I know what it feels like to be alive" or
"I know what it feels like to be awake." And we probably do have
a pretty good idea from our positive-only evidence. But the difference is
that there is no way we can discover whether we were spot-on or not quite right; and perhaps we are not really justified in making all
the inferences we tend to make from our uncertain grip on these problematic
(The standard kluge we use for
"what it feels like to be alive" is to complement it with
analogies, including an imaginary afterlife or rebirth; and for "what
it feels like to be awake" we incoherently complement it with what it
feels like to be asleep and dreaming -- which is of course not exactly a
"nonawake" experience in the same way that delta [dreamless]
sleep is -- but in delta sleep you're gone, so there is no one feeling what
JS: "If we admitted all of these “what
it is likes” into our experiential set, then each person would have to
“sample” (to use your word) an infinite number of feels before they could
know what it is like to feel anything at all."
No, not only do all those
hypothetical complements never occur to us, but even when they do, they can
easily be dismissed as arbitrary, inconsequential and uninformative. Not so
for some of them, though, because we persist in thinking of and speaking of
them as if the distinction were salient: "It feels good to be
alive" or "Some of my brain functions are felt and others are
not." Nor are the intended distinctions empty in those cases. They are
merely uncomplemented, hence problematic.
(On arbitrary negative
categories and their relation to our sense of similarity, see also Watanabe's "Ugly Duckling
JS: "There is no "invariant feeling" running
through all feelings."
The reason there is no
functional invariant here is that it is normally the complement that
determines what is and is not invariant in a category: The invariant is
relative, based on contrasting what all members of the category share and
what all members of its complement lack. (Please let's not get into family
resemblances: invariants can be disjunctive and conditional too.) But with
positive-only categories, we nevertheless have access to what all the
positive instances have in common. After all, we do know we are feeling
when we are feeling. We are never in doubt about that...
JS: "To complement the category of feeling something, we
don’t need to know what it feels like to feel nothing at all. Rather,
we must simply have the category of not feeling anything. And we have
I'm afraid not. The positive
category is "what it feels like to feel something" and hence the
complement would have to be "what it feels like to feel nothing at
all." And that category is empty, hence we have no idea (or only
incoherent fantasies) of "what it feels like to feel nothing at
(Your error is, I think, a bit
like mixing up the categorical distinction between (1) what is alive versus
what is non-alive with the categorical distinction between (2) "what
it feels like to be alive" versus "what it feels like to be
non-alive": We have no trouble distinguishing things that are alive
from things that are dead [or have never been alive]; but we never even
face the problem of distinguishing "what it feels like to feel
something" from "what it feels like to feel nothing at all,"
because the latter is impossible, hence empty. The only reason you have
that category in your repertoire at all is that you are going by the
positive instances plus some provisional analogy-based imaginary complement
-- as I would be doing, in imagining what it would feel like to be married,
whilst I'm still a bachelor -- except that in the case of "what it
feels like to feel something" it is certain the imaginary complement is impossible, hence empty.)
(I think you may also be
missing the essentially relational nature of feeling: the feeling is always
felt, hence it has an implicit feeler: this is taken up in the discussion
of the cogito, later below.)
JS: "I can distinguish between something which feels and
something which does not feel."
Of course you can, but that's
like distinguishing between something that's alive and dead (as in (1)
above). That's not the category we're talking about! (We are talking of
JS: "We have positive and negative categories for
feelings. Some feelings are categorizable as “not feeling boredom”
and others as “not tasting mustard.”
I've mentioned these before
too. You are complementing the wrong category. What it feels like to feel this (versus that) is perfectly well-complemented. But that's no help if the
category in question is "what it feels like to feel something
(anything) at all" versus "what it feels like to feel nothing at
(An analogy: If the only
sense-modality were vision, and the only experience were to see shapes, and
all shapes were colored -- counting black as a color -- then the
subordinate category "red" would be complemented by anything
non-red, but the superordinate category "colored" would be uncomplemented.)
JS: "I can thus form the categories of “not feeling
this” and “not feeling that,” and I can further abstract and form the
category, “not feeling anything”. This is exactly what we do when we
abstract from “feeling this” and “feeling that” to “feeling
something.” So why talk about uncomplemented categories here?"
You're simply repeating, I
think, your conviction that in complementing subcategories of a category
against other subcategories of a category, we are somehow also
complementing the category as a whole, against its own complement. But we
are not. You are making a category error...
JS: "Despite your assertion to the contrary, we do not
know 'what it feels like to feel anything at all, be it headache or
toothache.' “Anything at all” does not pick out any particular experience.
There is nothing it is like to feel anything at all."
The category in question is
"what it feels like to feel something," where the something is
anything that can be felt. That's no different from saying that once a
child has learnt the category "dog," he knows what a dog is, and
can now (correctly) recognize any dog
at all, not before seen, as a dog. The same is true for
"feeling": We (correctly) recognize any feeling we feel at all as
a feeling. The difference is that the child has learned the category
"dog" from having sampled both dogs and non-dogs, and abstracting
the invariants that reliably distinguish any dog at all from
We have done only part of that
with feelings: We can (correctly) recognize "what it feels like to
feel something" on every occasion, but we really have no idea how to
distinguish "what it feels like to feel something" from
"what it feels like to feel nothing at all" (even though we think
we have) because it is impossible to feel "what it feels like to feel
nothing at all."
JS: "The abstract category of “feeling something” does