2009-04-07 -- Reply to  Jamie Wallace




Until someone can successfully answer the question "How and why do we feel (rather than just "funct")?" there is and will remain an "explanatory gap."


Attempts to close that gap invariably boil down to answers to the question of how we do and are able to do things (computationally, neurologically, evolutionariily) -- i.e., answers about how and why we "funct," rather than answers to the question of how and why we feel (or, to put it another way, how and why it (sometimes) feels like something to funct).


Hence all the attempted answers simply beg the question.


The reason I am pretty confident that the question, when not begged, will remain unanswerable -- except, of course, if dualism is true, and feeling turns out to be an independent causal force in the universe ("I did it because I felt like it"), which it isn't, and won't -- is simply a matter of causality: 


Either feeling is an independent causal force -- in which case it can play a causal role in functing -- or it isn't. 


It isn't. 


So there's no causal role left for feeling. It's superfluous. Yet it's there. 


Some of our functions are indeed felt functions. Indeed, it feels as if feeling is what life is all about. 


But there is no room for a causal account of how or why. 


Hence the mind gap. 


Stevan Harnad


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/589





2009-04-16 -- Reply to  David Chalk




DC: "...suggesting there is no causal role left for feeling leaves us with a potential problem..."


Indeed it does! And that problem is called the "mind/body problem" (or the "explanatory gap"). And the problem is actual, not potential. 


Explanation is causal explanation, and if there is no room for feeling as a cause in its own right (as opposed to just being a mysterious correlate of a functional cause), then there is no room for a causal explanation of feeling.


DC: "...feeling and functing... [are] objectively measurable and reliably correlate..."


They do indeed correlate reliably; and the functional correlates of feeling are objectively measurable. Feeling itself, however, is not objectively measurable (but it is subjectively "measurable," and that's good enough). Measurability, though, is not the problem: Causality is.


DC: "...Since feeling is not objectively measurable, it is no ordinary epiphenomenon..." 


Are there any "ordinary" epiphenomena (uncaused or noncausal phenomena)? It seems to me that feeling is the only epiphenomenon...


DC: "...feeling pain 'shadows the functing', but there is nothing objectively measurable to suggest why this epiphenomena should correlate if it serves no purpose..."


You said it (yet again!). But repeating it does not solve the problem (which, to repeat, is causation, not "objective measurability").


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/631





2009-04-16 -- Reply to  Jamie Wallace


JW: "Is there a fundamental difference between our inability to provide a causal explanation for the sheer existence of consciousness and our inability to provide a causal explanation for the sheer existence of space-time?"


Yes there is, a big one:


(1) The sheer existence of space-time (and of the four fundamental forces, and of the independent natural laws) are brute facts (until/unless superstring theory or some other unifier manages to trim them down a bit), but their causal powers are as real as causality ever gets.


(2) Feeling exists as surely as gravity does (in fact, for Cartesian reasons, even more surely), but there the resemblance ends, because feelings can have no causal power (unless telekinetic dualism is true, which all evidence suggests it is not). In other words, even though the only intuition we have about causality comes from feeling (i.e., what it feels like to do something -- to cause it to happen -- because I feel like it), that is an illusion, and the real cause is the functing with which feeling is inexplicably correlated.


Some background:


Harnad, S. (1995) Why and How We Are Not Zombies. Journal of Consciousness Studies 1:164-167.  


_____ (2000)  Correlation vs. Causality: How/Why the Mind/Body Problem Is Hard. Journal of Consciousness Studies 7(4): 54-61. 


_____ (2001) No Easy Way Out. The Sciences 41(2) 36-42. 


_____ (2001) Harnad on Dennett on Chalmers on Consciousness: The Mind/Body Problem is the Feeling/Function Problem


_____ (2003) Can a Machine Be Conscious? How? Journal of Consciousness Studies 10(4-5): 69-75.


_____ (2005) What Is Consciousness? New York Review 52 (11)


_____ & Scherzer, P. (2007) First, Scale Up to the Robotic Turing Test, Then Worry About Feeling. In Proceedings of Proceedings of 2007 Fall Symposium on AI and Consciousness. Washington DC. 


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/633



2009-04-18 -- Reply to  Jamie Wallace


(1) "Dark inside" is certainly a metaphor (and not a very good one, because there is something it feels like to see dark, and a "zombie" is not supposed to feel anything at all -- like a stone: a better metaphor).


(2) No "rigour and exactitude" being claimed here (and I am not a philosopher). Just claiming that everyone knows what it means to feel something (anything), and that to be conscious is just that, no more, no less.


(3) No point "knocking on the door" of consciousness, because of the "other-minds problem": the epistemic flip-side of the ontic mind/body problem (and equally insoluble, for much the same reasons): either the walks/talks/quacks-like-a-duck ("mirror neuron," or Turing) criterion (based on correlation and similarity) is trustworthy, or you're out of luck.


(4) It is not "in a vague sort of way" that being conscious is linked to being able to feel (something, anything). They're the same thing. And "experiencing" is just another synonym (which I have renounced since that first paper, sticking with "feeling" alone, instead of a string of distracting and question-begging equivocations).


(5) Yes, "feeling feelings" sounds redundant, but in fact it's just what's left of the Cogito. It comes with the territory (of feeling). (So much the worse for "unconscious thoughts," by the way: as incoherent as unfelt feelings: One mind/body problem is enough, and Freud was an even less rigorous and exact philosopher than I...)


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/642



2009-04-18 -- Reply to  Jamie Wallace




JW: "I cannot know my own feelings without knowing my bodily states, and these states are theoretically measurable by others."


I can't know I have a toothache without "knowing my bodily states"??


It seems to me I can know perfectly well (and cartesianly, hence incorrigibly) that I have a toothache, regardless of whether I have a tooth, or even a mouth, let alone whether anyone else is measuring or can measure anything, on my body or anywhere else, and whether that measurement does or does not correlate with the existence or locus of my tooth (or mouth) or pain.


And the only "bodily states" I know are the ones I feel, like the toothache. 


I can also feel what it feels like to look at a nocimeter in my tooth or brain that measures and indicates that I am feeling a moderate toothache, when I'm indeed feeling a moderate toothache. That correlation is "close enough for government (scientific) work" as well as for common sense. The clear and present danger of skepticism is not the problem; it's the clear absence of the possibility of causal explanation: Why is my toothache felt (rather than just my tooth-damage just functed)?


And the problem is not really with what causes feeling, as it is with what feeling causes: nothing (even though it feels like it does). That's the "explanatory gap." 


(The correlation between feeling and brain function is close enough so I lose no sleep about whether brain function indeed causes/constitutes feeling, somehow. Of course it does. The lesser problem is with the how; the greater problem is with the why: what causal role does it play that some functions are felt and others just functed? Because the answer looks to be a clear and present: none. -- though it sure doesn't feel that way...)


JW: "How can you know that your subjective "measurements" correlate to objective measurements, if the subjective knowledge were not linked to objective knowledge in a measurable way?"


A skeptic can't know that, any more than he can know that he has a body at all, or that there is a world out there. 


But let's (respectfully) doff our skeptical hats, because the mind/body problem's a lot worse than that. 


(So far, this is just the other-minds/other-bodies problem. That's just an epistemic problem, whereas the explanatory gap's ontic.) 


The real problem is with the (nonexistent) causal role of feeling (even after we've shrugged off the lesser problem of being unable to explain quite how the brain manages to cause/constitute feeling). 


All causal/functional questions are fully answerable without the slightest allusion to the fact that some functions happen to be felt functions: so the question is: why are they felt functions, rather than just functed functions? 


The answer is a resounding silence, because "why" is a causal question too (not just "how"); and there's no room for any causal answer.


Hence the mind-gap.


JW: "When we ask, "how could these brain states produce feelings?," our intuition tells us that feelings are too mysterious, too immaterial to be produced by brain states."


Nothing of the sort; and no appeal to intuition at all. 


I ask a simple, causal question. "Why are some functions felt?" 


And I encounter either silence or a lot of incoherent hand-waving by way of reply.


JW: "Imagine asking, "how does the process whereby light enters my eyes and activates certain neurological patterns in my brain produce color vision?"  The answer is, that process is color vision."


But why does it feel like something to see color? Why is chromoception not just functed optikinetics, as in the case of an optic sensor in a bank? 


(Beware of trying to reply with a complicated functional story here, because the punchline will always be: "Yes, but why is any of that functing felt functing, rather than just functed functing? What causal role does the feeling play?)


JW: "But the advocate of an explanatory gap will say, "no, no.  That is not what I mean.  I mean, how is the phenomenal quality of color vision produced?"  Well, what is that?  Is it the color itself?"


No, no. That is not what I mean. I mean, why does it feel like something to see? 


(Never mind color in particular; it's superfluous. We could do it all in black and white, or just one JND of grayness, or just intensity, in any sensorimotor -- i.e. felt -- modality, from what it feels like to hear a faint sound to what it feels like to be in a blue funk.)


Forget about the supernumerary and superfluous terminology -- "qualia" "phenomenal quality," etc. etc. Just explain how/why some functions are felt.


JW: "Scientists already have a theoretical framework for talking about colors.  Feelings are not so easy to grasp, probably because feelings are internal perceptions, and not external."


It's exactly the same problem (and I really mean exactly) when you are asking about how/why seeing blue feels like something or you are asking about why/how going into a blue funk feels like something. 


(The advantage of focusing on affective feelings rather than sensorimotor feelings is that with affects you are less distracted by the external referent: With feeling a toothache, there's that extra distraction about whether or not there is something going on in your tooth. With feeling sad, there's less scope for changing the subject and begging the question -- though of course there is always the correlated functing in the brain's affective system...)


JW: "if we do not assume that feelings and other phenomenal experiences are distinct from bodily processes, then the question, "how do specific bodily states produce or correlate with the feelings" is easily dismissable.  Bodily states are the feelings."


Hardly. Even if we finesse the lesser unsolved problem of explaining how some functings manage to be felt functings, we are still left with the greater insoluble problem of explaining why. And that (yet again) is our old friend, the explanatory gap. The "hard" problem...


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/648




2009-04-19 -- Reply to  Derek Allan




DA: "'like a stone' would not... satisfy David Chalmers. The zombie is supposed to carry on in a normal human way... but to be lacking consciousness.  It is hard to imagine a stone carrying on in any way at all."


What we are talking about is the presence or absence of the capacity to feel. A stone cannot feel. There's lots of other things that are true of a stone too: A stone can't do anything either (except fall when dropped, or just lay there wherever it is). But the relevant thing is that it doesn't feel


Now I have no idea whether or not there can be zombies (and David Chalmers has no idea either).


But I can give you one important example of what a zombie would be, if there could be zombies: A robot that can pass the Turing Test: act and talk in the world, indistinguishably (in what it does) from any of us, for a lifetime -- but without feeling anything at all whilst doing it all (just like a stone).


The reason this example is particularly instructive is that it brings out the fact that although lifelong performance capacity that is Turing-Indistinguishable from our own is certainly no guarantor of consciousness (feeling), it is the best we can hope for, and the closest we can ever hope to an explanation of feeling (which is not very close: it just explains the functing with which feeling is apparently correlated). The rest is down to whether or not there can be Turing-scale performance capacity (functing) without feeling. (I think there cannot be, but I certainly cannot prove it; I can't even explain how or why, because no one can explain how or why any function is a felt function, even though felt functions clearly exist -- in us, and other organisms.)


DA: "Does a worm '"feel"?  Probably yes... though in a sense almost certainly incomprehensible to us. Is a worm "conscious" then?  If not why not? etc, etc"  


Probably yes, a worm can feel (no scare-quotes needed), which means exactly the same thing as that the worm is conscious. 


(We can't be sure about anyone/anything else either, because of the other-minds problem, but a worm is almost as good a bet as another person.)


Whether or not the worm feels what I feel, whether or not I can understand what it feels like to be a worm, and indeed what and how much a worm feels is all completely irrelevant. The only thing that matters is whether the worm feels anything at all. If it does, it's conscious (because that's what it means to be conscious), and the fact that it feels is as utterly inexplicable as the fact that I feel.


DA: "consciousness... is so seldom - if ever - carefully defined.  There is an apparent assumption that we "just know" what we mean by it." 


Consciousness does not need to be "defined": it just needs to be pointed to. (That's sometimes called an "ostensive definition".) Something is conscious if it feels. And "feels" does not need to be defined either. Anyone who can speak already understands what it means to feel (with the possible exception of the Turing-Indistinguishable robot, if there can be zombies!). The meaning of our elementary words -- see, hear, touch, smell, taste -- are all grounded in our shared sensorimotor capacity to feel.


DA: "talk about zombies as beings minus consciousness seems so futile... Minus what exactly?"  


Minus feeling (like a stone, if, that is, there can be zombies -- i.e., entities that have our doing capacities but without feeling -- at all).


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/656




2009-04-19 -- Reply to  Derek Allan




DA: "How could a being... be "indistinguishable" from any of us yet not feel - if what we do includes feeling?"  


I was referring explicitly to Turing Indistinguishability, which means objective indistinguishability from a conscious person, to a conscious person. (The Turing Test boils down to performance indistinguishability, but it could in principle be scaled all the way up to empirical indistinguishability. This is still just an epistemic test (hence vulnerable to the other-minds problem); it is not a metaphysical identity condition. Please let us not begin a debate about the "identity of indiscernibles"! That will just leave the explanatory-gap question far behind, begging it, by conflating the epistemic and the ontic...)


DA: "do we humans 'feel' in the same way?... is human consciousness the same as worm consciousness?" 


I can only repeat: This is not about what is being felt, but about whether anything is being felt at all.


DA: "how does one point to something if one doesn't know what it is?  Could I point to a bird if I didn't know what a bird was?"


We all know what it feels like to feel. We are not pointing to an (empirically risky) external object but to what it feels like to feel: a cartesian certainty all feeling functors share (if there exist any other feeling functors than me!). 


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/662





2009-04-19 -- Reply to  Derek Allan




DA: "to say that a zombie would be indistinguishable from a human but not be able to 'feel' is... surely self contradictory"


Not self-contradictory in the least! But I was referring to a Turing-Test-passing robot, not a "zombie" (about which I am skeptical).


For a robot to pass the Turing Test it has to be able to behave (for a lifetime) in a way that is indistinguishable from a human, to a human. (Humans are very good mind-readers, but they are all subject to the other-minds problem).


All I said about zombies was (1) that I have no idea whether they are possible (but, if not, I have even less idea about how/why not), (2) that an unfeeling robot that successfully passed the Turing Test would indeed be a zombie, and (3) that I doubt that a robot that could successfully pass the Turing Test would be unfeeling -- but no one can or will ever know for sure (except perhaps the robot).


DA: "I don't [know what it feels like to feel]. Feeling to me 'feels like' feeling" 


This is not a point that can be debated further. But I do suggest that you ask a colleague to pinch you. That's an example of what it feels like to feel. And the very same is true for everything else you experience in your waking world: everything you see, hear, taste, smell, touch, if your senses are normal and intact. That's what it feels like to see, hear, taste, smell, touch, etc. 


None of the specific qualitative details matter in the least for the mind/body problem or the explanatory gap: If/when you feel anything at all, whatever it happens to feel like, then you feel (then). And that entails the full weight of the mind/body problem (and the full vacancy in the "explanatory gap" -- a gap in the scope of causal explanation.)


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/668





2009-04-20 -- Reply to  Derek Allan


DA: "To feel feels like nothing - except to feel"


That's good enough, and that was all I was looking for all along. 


You had said earlier: "how does one point to something if one doesn't know what it is?"


Well now you've confirmed that you do know what it's like to feel. So it was enough to just point to it after all.


It's the presence or absence of that (in stones, worms, people, robots, zombies) that we're talking about. Explaining the how and why of being able to do that is the mind/body problem.


And the inability to explain the existence and especially the causal role of that is the explanatory gap.


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/676



2009-04-20 -- Reply to  Derek Allan




DA: "But it is simply a tautology; it tells us nothing at all."


Derek, I am afraid you are systematically missing the point. 


It is not a tautology that some things (like people, and probably worms) feel, and that others (like stones, computers, and today's robots) don't. 


You said you didn't know what it meant to feel. You asked for a "definition" (of consciousness, which i said was exactly the same thing as feeling).


I said everyone who feels knows what it means to feel, because everyone knows what it feels like to feel, and I tried to point to it ("ostensive definition").


You first said one could not point to what it meant: that you didn't know the difference between feeling and not feeling. 


I suggested a pinch.


Then you said you do know what it means after all, but that "what it feels like to feel" is tautological. 


Meanwhile you keep missing the substantive point at issue: that feeling is something that can either be present or absent, and that that is what the mind/body problem and its "explanatory gap" (about which this discussion was launched) are all about. Not about "analytical philosophy," but about how and why some things feel (or, alternatively, how and why some functions are felt, rather than merely being "functed"). 


In discourse, one can always affect not to understand, and that effectively makes it impossible to make any progress. It becomes the dialogue of Achilles and the Tortoise


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/678





2009-04-20 -- Reply to  Derek Allan




DA: "If, as you claim, we all know 'what it feels like to feel', then presumably we would all know what it feels like not to feel?"


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/683





2009-04-21 -- Reply to  Jamie Wallace




There is no difference whatsoever between "access consciousness" and "phenomenal consciousness." The distinction is purely notional, and a particularly striking example of how, when faced with a problem that we are completely incapable of solving, we love to proliferate both synonyms and pseudo-distinctions that give us the illusion either of having made some sort of progress or of at least dividing to conquer. 


Here is a (nonexhaustive) list of these specious sememes. (You are encouraged to add the ones I've missed):


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... 


My suggestion: spare yourself this self-deception and call a spade a spade. All of the above are covered by one simple, self-explanatory anglo-saxon term: feeling.




(Its verbal ("to feel") and adjectival ("felt") forms will be handy too, if ever you feel the urge to go profligate again. Feel free to speak of "feelers" and "non-feelers" too, if you must, and all the other "nons" and "uns" that come with the anglo-saxon territory. But don't get too excited: they won't help.) 


The mind/body problem is simply the problem of explaining how and why it is that some functional (i.e., physical, mechanical, dynamic, causal) states are felt states, rather than merely "functed" states. 


Till someone comes up with an explanation, 'that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know' -- and what you are left with is the "explanatory gap."


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/696





2009-04-21 -- Reply to  Sam Coleman




SC:  "we're just the people whose job it is to probe the differences/relations between all these terms you list (and the others), and I don't think it's so straightforwardly all lumped under any one of them (or any single other term of any interest)."


Yes, it is philosophers into whose unfortunate laps the mind/body problem falls (although the explanatory gap is really cognitive science's -- i.e., reverse bioengineerings': no point blaming the messenger). 


But in fussing with all these trivial variants and differences (real and notional), the messengers are just toying with the envelope instead of reading out the message, loud and clear


SC:  "http://cogprints.org/231/0/199712004.html - that's Block on the very subject here at PhilPapers."




I know: that's why I posted the URL (as well as the BBS Call for Commentators that I posted in 1994, when I was editing BBS, the journal that published it!).


SC:  "I think awareness and feeling are pretty readily distinguishable"


Are you aware of anything that it does not feel like something to be aware of?  Do you feel (as opposed to just funct) anything you are not aware of?


If it didn't feel like something to be aware of it, what would be left of the "awareness"? 


What does it add to "I feel sad" or "I feel warm" or "I feel a rough surface" or (to change the arbitrary sensory verb) "I hear a voice or smell a smell" to say, respectively, "I am aware I feel sad" or "I am aware I feel warm" or "I am aware I feel a rough surface" or "I am aware I hear a voice or smell a smell"? or, for that matter "I am aware of my sadness" or "I am aware of the warmth" or "I am aware of the roughness of the surface" or "I am aware of the sound of a voice or the smell of the smell"?


To me this is all massaging and permuting just one thing: That there is feeling going on (and the only variation is its content, i.e., what you happen to be feeling). (Hence that you are feeling at all, and only that, is the real mystery: How/why is there feeling rather than just functing when an organism feels (say, pain)?)


Ditto for all the "2nd-order" stuff everyone loves to get excited about and to treat as if it were something substantively different -- rather than just another form of content that comes with the territory (of being able to feel at all): The rest is just about what and how much one can feel (which is how sensation grades into perception and cognition; the functional know-how increases, and with it, mysteriously, the accompanying feeling):


The monkey certainly feels what it feels like to look at a mirror: that just feels like what it feels like to look at another monkey. 


The chimp can feel more: Both monkey and chimp are able to feel the difference between what it feels like to touch their own arm versus touching someone else's arm; but only the chimp (and not the monkey) can feel what it feels like to see his own face, as opposed to someone else's face. 


The underlying functing in both cases -- i.e. the reverse-engineering of the causal system that gives both monkey and chimp the know-how to do all the things they can [or can't] do with images of faces in mirrors, whether their own or someone else's -- is fully within cognitive science's reach. 


But not how/why it feels like something to be able to do all that. 


And that, again, is why feeling -- and nothing else -- is at the heart of the M/B problem and the "explanatory gap."


Yes, there is the possibility of a certain recursivity, such as feeling what it feels like to see my own face in the mirror, or feeling what it feels like to see a monkey see his own face in the mirror, or, if there is a mirror behind the monkey, feeling what it feels like to see the monkey see the monkey seeing himself in the mirror, and so on, for an infinity of trivially higher "orders," given sufficient mirrors. (You can do all this if you have the "mirror neurons" to mind-read with.)


By the very same token (no less trivial, though interestingly instantiated in language), I can feel blue [sad]; I can feel "I am feeling blue"; and I can feel "I am feeling that I am feeling blue" etc. etc.


All of these niceties may be nice to fiddle with, but the question raised in this thread was: How to explain it? And the "it" is the fact that we feel at all. Solve that (insoluble) problem and all the niceties come with the territory, and are a piece of cake. But if the gap persists, reveling instead in the (trivial) niceties alone gets us nowhere fast (in what is basically just a hermeneutical hall of mirrors).


What is distinguishable is feeling this vs. feeling that: There is something it feels like to feel sad, to touch velvet, to see red, to feel "blue", to feel thirsty, to hear Mozart, to want attention, to recognize yourself in the mirror, to understand the meaning of "justice" (or "qualia"!)...


The usual mistake that is made is to conflate consciousness itself (feeling) with (1) consciousness of something in particular ("the worm can feel something, but can it feel what we feel?"), (2) "degree of consciousness" ("how much can the worm feel?"), (3) "self"-consciousness ("can the worm feel what it feels like to do a cartesian cogito?"), (4) "higher-order consciousness" ("can the worm feel that it feels that it feels?"). These are all cases of feeling, but they all feel different (sometimes subtly -- just a JND in feeling space). Forget the differences. What we are trying to explain is how/why they are felt at all (rather than just functed, dynamically, adaptively, but feelinglessly).


SC:  "Blindsight, anyone?"


Blindsight is optokinetic functing without felt seeing. As such, our underlying question could be reforumulated as "how/why is seeing seeing rather than just blindsighted optical functing?


This again confirms that it is the presence/absence of feeling that is (and always was) the real "hard" problem.


(But since blind-sighted people are not Zombies, it is not true that they feel nothing at all; hence when they successfully "blind-see" something it is not that they are able to do it entirely unfeelingly; it is just that their accompanying feeling is not visual. Sometimes it takes the form of a felt sensorimotor inclination to point in this direction rather than that; or a felt shaping of one's hands in preparation for reaching for something small and round, rather than large and flat; or just a hunch that the thing is green rather than blue, even though one cannot see a thing.)


So blind-seers still feel; it feels like something to blind-see; it is just that the quality of what they blind-see -- what it feels like -- is not visual.


Moreover, there is a lot that blind-seers cannot do that seers can. So their functing (know-how) is not equivalent to that of seers (and in that respect they are just plain blind).


Subtle point: Before we start to feel too triumphant about what separates us seers from blind-seers, let us recall that most of our know-how is likewise delivered to us on a platter by our brains, just as the blind-seer's inclination to point here rather than there is. We take all of this for granted, and take the accompanying feeling to be some sort of proof of the fact that we are the ones doing the underlying work, whereas all it is is passive feeling, absent the underlying functing. (And that's a lot closer to what it looks like when we attempt a causal explanation: The real work is the functing, and the accompanying feeling is just floating there, a sop...)


In sum, blindsight simply reaffirms the preplexing role played by the presence or absence of feeling alongside our functing, and our inability to explain what independent causal role it plays (because it doesn't).


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/706





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 gap.


AT: "The key question [is] "How does the brain create the gloriously varied content of consciousness?"  


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 is.


AT: "specifying putative neuronal mechanisms that can be demonstrated to generate activities in the brain that are analogous [to] feelings"


That is unfortunately just correlates again.


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 meaningless" 


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 feel."


JS: "How do you know they exist?"


I pinch myself occasionally: Try it.


JS: "How do you know they don't cause anything?"


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 causation.)


JS: "to the broad question, why are some functions felt?, I would answer, what are you talking about?"  


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 feeling them." 


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





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 same thing.


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 TT-grounded).


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 correlated feeling


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





2009-04-26 -- Reply to  David Chalk





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 [1] nonlinear physical systems are in some way holistic/non separable... and... [2] quantum mechanical systems" 


[1] 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  [2]: the explanatory gaps of one field are not filled by the explanatory gaps of another!


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/747



2009-04-26 -- Reply to  David Chalmers



DC:    (1) There's no explanatory gap, or one that's fairly easily closable.


(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



2009-04-29 -- Reply to  Derek Allan





DA: "For the unlettered outsider like me, what is 'telekinetic dualism' exactly?"


"Telekinesis" (or "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 it. 


(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



2009-04-29 -- Reply to  Arnold Trehub





AT: "Not 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 least! 


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



2009-05-02 -- Reply to  David Chalk





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.


Ordinary ("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 cheating.


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 ludicrous." 


It is not ludicrous; it is simply false.


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 measurable?"  


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 mystery...)


DC: "If you can't measure it, don't accept it."


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 definitely there.


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 epiphenomenal one."  


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 "epiphenomenon" altogether. 


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 launch."  


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 (unproblematic) functing.


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 causal!


(2) I would suggest forgetting about "epiphenomena" and just sticking with doing, causing and feeling.


(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 and equivocation.


It feels like something to see red.


The feeling is correlated with wave length (and brightness and luminosity), as psychophysics has confirmed.


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 computationally."  


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 report."  


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 funct.


(And this is not about measurement, but about explaining the causal role of feeling in human functing.)


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 example."  


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 computer...


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 respect.)


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/800



2009-05-02 -- 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



2009-05-02 -- Reply to  Jason Streitfeld





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 weasel-word!


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 up?"


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 likewise functings.)


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 gap.)


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) problem.


(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 anything."  


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 it...


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 said."  


(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 function (functing).


(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 likes...


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 dualism".


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 Psychologyhttp://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





2009-05-04 -- Reply to  Arnold Trehub





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


2009-05-04  -- Reply to  Derek Allan





DA: Could someone define the term 'functing' for me please?


"Functing" (aka, 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 "functing" to remind those who are attempting to provide a functional explanation of the causal role of consciousness (feeling) what they are really up against. 


The "mind/body" 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?"


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/827




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 explanatory gap.


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/838




2009-05-07 -- Reply to  Arnold Trehub





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!)


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/852




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 them both: 


(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!


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/857




2009-05-08 -- Reply to  Arnold Trehub






AT: "you assert that feelings are caused by the brain"


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] causes feelings). 


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 lockstep accompaniment. 


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 causal consequences." 


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 feel.


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/858





2009-05-10 -- Reply to  David Chalk





DC: "I've read through a number of your papers but I can't find an explanation of why feelings are inexplicable." 


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 just functed?)


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 assertion that!


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 fully agape.


There are two ways to construe the claim than there is "nothing left to explain." 


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 unexplained. 


Hence the explanatory gap.


DC: "First.. feeling... is something that happens... at a specific time...supervenient on the brain so... we... know... where..."


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 terms..."  


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 physical events."  


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 opinion, insoluble). 


(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 why.)


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 all." 




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 argument?"


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 concerned...


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/879




2009-05-11 -- Reply to  Derek Allan



DA: Could someone remind me please what the 'hard problem' and the 'easy problem' are?


Hard Problem: Explaining how and why we feel.


Easy Problems: All the rest of the problems of science, mathematics and engineering (except maybe quantum duality).


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/882




2009-05-11 -- Reply to  Derek Allan






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 EXPERIENCE.”


Cutting out the redundant and superfluous parts:


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





AT:  "Why, exactly, do you believe that the brain states that constitute our feelings can't ever be explained?"


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





DA: "Chalmers relies heavily on the Nagel idea that 'there is something that it is like to be a conscious organism'."  


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 'consciousness'."


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 absolutely nothing." 


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)."  


"I 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 not?" 


A: "I am feeling something."


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 has."


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 not operating" 


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





(1) There is no coherent, contentful difference between "A-consciousness" and "P-consciousness"  (that's why I insist on just talking about feeling).


(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 "mind fields."


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/897




2009-05-12 -- Reply to  Derek Allan





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 at all).


DA: "to say that something is like itself (which is what this effectively amounts to) is mere verbiage."


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).


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/900




2009-05-12 -- Reply to  Derek Allan





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  to itself. 


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






2009-05-14 -- Reply to  Colin Hales






CH: "[I (CH) am immersed] in... quantum electrodynamics..." 


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 "feeling"!..."


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 to date.)


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 (mind/body) problem.


(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 and testable..."


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





2009-05-14 -- Reply to  Colin Hales





CH: "Wow. I post a brief aside and I am sucked into the explanatory gap!" 


Well, "The Explanatory Gapis 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..." 


Translation: "Making 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 feelings too).


(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 not.)


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 behaving [lawfully]...


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 re-describing it.)


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?..."


Translation: "What is the explanation of how and why (some) brain function is felt, whereas (say) kidney function is not?"


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 "ouch.")


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 yet."


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.


 "Consistent with" just means "correlated with" here, and the gap is about causation...


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/920





2009-05-14 -- 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





2009-05-15 -- Reply to  Derek Allan





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 itself."


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





2009-05-15 -- Reply to  Derek Allan





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 to itself?"


"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 them):


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





2009-05-15 -- Reply to  Arnold Trehub





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 post! 


I missed the part about how and why there cannot be posting without feeling: Please explain (it's the explanatory gap).


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 world?"


You neglected to mention how and why the egocentric brain mechanism was felt rather than just functed...


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/945





2009-05-15 -- 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 telekinetic dualism.)


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





2009-05-16 -- 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 anything is.)


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/950





2009-05-16 -- 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 enough?"


Only plain enough to reveal that you are unfortunately not making any substantive point at all...


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/951





2009-05-16 -- Reply to  Arnold Trehub





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





2009-05-16 -- Reply to  Derek Allan



DA: "Is that a common analytic viewpoint...?"


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





2009-05-17 -- 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 brain..."


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 how/why). 


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





2009-05-17 -- Reply to  Jason Streitfeld





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. 


But "feeling 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, or that.)


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 explain it...


JS: "This error underlies your... incoherent distinctions between Cartesian and non-Cartesian knowing and between functing and feeling."


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 non-causal."


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 hasn't).  


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 uncomplemented.)


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





2009-05-18 -- 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 vote-count.


(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 through "mind-over-matter." 


[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



2009-05-18 -- Reply to  Derek Allan





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 neuroscientific terms..."


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







2009-05-18 -- Reply to  Arnold Trehub





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 proposition (a)."


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 here.)


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:


-- (a) All brain states have causal consequences.


-- (b) Feelings are (unexplained) causal consequences of brain states.


-- (c) Feelings have no causal consequences: 


-- (d) What we feel to be causal consequences of feelings are really the causal consequences of the brain states that (also, inexplicably) cause the feelings.


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



2009-05-19 -- Reply to  Derek Allan





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



2009-05-20 -- 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 brain state." 


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 epistemic epsilon....


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 consequences?"


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 not).


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



2009-05-20 -- 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





2009-05-21 -- Reply to  JWK Matthewson Matthewson





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 functional observer."


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 explaining change." 


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 (including QM).


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





2009-05-22 -- Reply to  Luke Culpitt






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 to agree..."


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 feeling. 


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





2009-05-22 -- 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 explanatory gap.


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/1027



2009-05-22 -- Reply to  Victor Panzica






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 point."


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 question.


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...


(Hand-waving about "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





2009-05-23 -- 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





2009-05-23 -- Reply to  Arnold Trehub





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 superfluous)." 


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






2009-05-24 -- 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... 


-- Joshu(a)


Permanent link: http://philpapers.org/post/1055




2009-05-24 -- 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 distinction.) 


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 the gap.)


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 inexplicability). 


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 arm..."


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 categories. 


(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 it's like...)


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 Theorem."


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 that category."


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 all." 


(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 (2), above.)


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 all." 


(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 non-dogs. 


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 not feel like something in general; rather, it feels like a particular concept."


The category in question is "what it feels like to feel something" -- not "what it feels like to have the "concept" of someone feeling something" (or of someone being alive, or of someone being awake).


JS: "Similarly, the category of “feeling nothing at all” does not feel like nothing at all."


It sure doesn't, for that would be a contradiction in terms. The category is as empty as a square circle. Only Meinong can manage such a feat...


JS: "We feel what it feels like to think about feeling something, of course, but we also feel what it feels like to think about feeling nothing.


The uncomplemented category in question is not "what it feels like to think about feeling something," it is the category "what it feels like to feel something."


JS: [Re: The Sentio vs. The Cogito] "Descartes' explicit claim was that the cogito established to himself that he existed."