Is the fact that we can talk about "consciousness" evidence that we have it?

Discussion in 'Mayberry Lounge' started by Caveat, Jul 17, 2017.

  1. Caveat Mozart in a Go-Kart

    Caveat
    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2010
    Messages:
    8,552
    Likes Received:
    3,433
    Location:
    p-hacking your subjectivity
    Hear me out.

    One of the inherent difficulties in analyzing consciousness (defined here as "what it's like to be something") is that there doesn't seem to be any way of accounting for it from a third-person perspective. In other words, there's no way to explain it scientifically, which is how we come to the best understanding of things.

    A famous thought experiment that illustrates this problem is that of philosophical zombies, or p-zombies, which are imagined creatures that are identical to human beings in every physical way except that they lack an experience of inner subjectivity - in other words, they exist unconsciously. Essentially they are sleep-walking all the time, yet remain perfectly functional in a way that is indistinguishable from a normal, conscious human.

    The question that arises from the thought experiment is: how do we know we're not living in a world of p-zombies, and extending from that, what criteria would we use to decide if this was a world of p-zombies or a world of conscious humans? As far as I know there's never been a compelling answer to this question.

    Sam Harris hosted the philosopher of mind David Chalmers on his podcast a while back, and Chalmers articulated an answer I hadn't heard before. Basically what he suggested (he didn't make this a formal argument or anything) was the unlikelihood that creatures that lack consciousness would sit around talking about it. He compared it to humans in a world lacking gravity talking about anti-gravity. The intuition is that without the experience of the initial concept, there wouldn't be any way of discussing places where it lacks.

    Now I suppose p-zombies could invent a concept like consciousness, rather than discovering or experiencing it. Importantly, all it would take is for that invention to happen a single time to throw the whole zombie world into philosophical chaos. One unconscious troll-zombie convinced that he really did have an inner experience of being himself could force the others to consider the same thing, and perhaps remain uncertain about the answer (we've got Dan Dennett doing something like the reverse of this in our world, professing that the experience of consciousness is a fake one).

    But I think I sit in agreement with Chalmers that discussing consciousness is a great example of something that could finally differentiate us from p-zombies. It's not the absolute solution, but it's something.

    Discuss.
     
    #1
    HunterAcosta likes this.
  2. BisexualMMA Don't Put My Name in the Name of Steroids!

    BisexualMMA
    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2010
    Messages:
    28,535
    Likes Received:
    40,894
    Location:
    Super Fight League Corporate HQ
    Could a philosophical zombie quote Nietzsche?

    [​IMG]
     
    #2
    IndyCovaHart, HunterAcosta and Fawlty like this.
  3. John Wang Double Yellow Card

    John Wang
    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2016
    Messages:
    12,053
    Likes Received:
    20,481
    Location:
    AT YOUR PARENTS' HOUSE!
    Stopped reading at "Hear me out."
     
    #3
  4. Spoken Silver Belt

    Spoken
    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2009
    Messages:
    12,042
    Likes Received:
    1,096
    Essentially this is a Cartesian question.
    Contemporary hermeneutics refute this, I think, by revealing that we are actually constituted by our experience. As Gadamar said: we do not own history, we belong to it.
    So I'd say that contextualization which is apparent in all of our interaction, which further contextualizes and shape our consciousness, implies the concept of otherness. Otherness, of course, being what constitutes us.
     
    #4
  5. Caveat Mozart in a Go-Kart

    Caveat
    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2010
    Messages:
    8,552
    Likes Received:
    3,433
    Location:
    p-hacking your subjectivity
    Yes.

    I agree that the question is a Cartesian one, but I think a p-zombie could acknowledge the truth of the cogito without being conscious, so long as it understands the first-person pronoun "I" to correspond to some other aspect of its individuality. That could be tricky though.

    The rest I think could happen without consciousness with even less controversy.
     
    #5
  6. splendica Purple Belt

    splendica
    Joined:
    Jul 12, 2017
    Messages:
    2,209
    Likes Received:
    2,437
    Location:
    Peniel
    I would say so. You had me at thread title.
     
    #6
    Caveat likes this.
  7. Spoken Silver Belt

    Spoken
    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2009
    Messages:
    12,042
    Likes Received:
    1,096
    I don't think so. Contexualization does have subconscious effects--or better stated, reveals subconscious, cultural biases to not be objective, but rather a result of a certain history where we assume shit ad infinitum. But the concept of context, of being rooted in history, means the possibility of understanding ones self as tradition, which requires an "I". The difference is that I isn't cartesian. I do not know I exist because I think, but know I exist because the experience of other seemingly thinking things reflects back my own consciousness. It's the interplay between others that affirms the I. But I tend to really dislike analytic philosophy, and often dont find these thought experiments compelling.

    We could roll with critical realism, which essentially asserts what the OP said from Chalmers.
     
    #7
  8. Fawlty cussed 'em belt

    Fawlty
    Joined:
    Dec 16, 2015
    Messages:
    15,165
    Likes Received:
    22,143
    Location:
    podcast
    It's a weird question. I guess it makes sense to say the unconscious creatures wouldn't sit around thinking about consciousness, but where do you take that? Yes, we're different from a thing that is exactly like us except that it lacks a property we can't define. We're a little better at thinking than monkeys are. We're a lot better at thinking than spiders are. We're a little more aware of what we are than dogs are, and we're a lot more aware of what we are than flies are. We have the prerequisite brain for all kinds of complicated ways of thinking, and ours is by far the most powerful of these organs. But if you shut off the power to that organ, we go off too. There isn't some supernatural not-quite-a-thing-thing. Consciousness has to be whatever we define it to be along with whatever we expect it to be, because we're the only ones doing this relatively high-level thinking about it. I also don't see any reasonable way to have a brain that can do normal human stuff without displaying that familiar awareness that we call consciousness. It's tough because there isn't much to compare it to objectively. We can compare it generally between each other- some people are more aware, and we can generally compare it to other life- they show varying degrees of consciousness, but there isn't a standard for it.

    "What it's like to be something" is a mess of an expression. What is the "it?" And "is like to be" is like saying "being like being." Might as well just ask what something is, and then you're forced to describe the thing, which is useful.
     
    #8
  9. Bullitt68 Senior Moderator

    Bullitt68
    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2006
    Messages:
    23,958
    Likes Received:
    1,139
    First off, I can't help but wonder why you chose to define an awareness of oneself as a conscious being as "consciousness" rather than self-consciousness, despite the latter seeming to be the more accurate designation.

    In any event, the fundamental problem when it comes to these types of discussions is that they rely for their "sense" on a logical fallacy that Ayn Rand termed the fallacy of the stolen concept, or, less formally, concept stealing. She explains it - and its consequences when it comes to discussions of the axiomatic concepts of existence, identity, and consciousness - in the following passage from Atlas Shrugged:

    "As [people] use effects while denying causes, so they use our concepts while denying the roots and the existence of the concepts they are using … They proclaim that there are no entities, that nothing exists but motion, and blank out on the fact that motion presupposes the thing which moves, that without the concept of entity, there can be no such concept as motion … they proclaim that there is no law of identity, that nothing exists but change, and blank out the fact that change presupposes the concept of what changes, from what and to what, that without the law of identity no such concept as change is possible … ‘We know that we know nothing,’ they chatter, blanking out the fact that they are claiming knowledge – ‘There are no absolutes,' they chatter, blanking out the fact that they are uttering an absolute – ‘You cannot prove that you exist or that you’re conscious,’ they chatter, blanking out the fact that proof presupposes existence, consciousness, and a complex chain of knowledge: the existence of something to know, of a consciousness able to know it, and of a knowledge that has learned to distinguish between such concepts as the proved and the unproven. When a savage who has not learned to speak declares that existence must be proved, he is asking you to prove it by means of nonexistence – when he declares that your consciousness must be proved, he is asking you to prove it by means of unconsciousness – he is asking you to step into a void outside of existence and consciousness to give him proof of both."

    As to the question of self-consciousness in particular, your example from Chalmers seems to accord with the logic of concept stealing. More specifically still, as it pertains to what is often referred to as "other minds skepticism" (as opposed to "external world skepticism), I think you'd find Stanley Cavell's book The Claim of Reason fascinating. In particular, he spends a lot of time dealing with what in ordinary language philosophy are commonly referred to as best cases for knowing, from J.L. Austin's famous discussion of the goldfinch to an elaborate thought experiment involving a "perfected automaton."
     
    #9
  10. Graverobber ******WTF Belt******

    Graverobber
    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2009
    Messages:
    57,643
    Likes Received:
    18,892
    Location:
    California, n00b!
    my head hurts
     
    #10
  11. Phlog Black Belt

    Phlog
    Joined:
    Oct 11, 2012
    Messages:
    7,479
    Likes Received:
    3,850
    Location:
    The glorious and independent southwest
    Nah, I think it's only evidence that we have something to think with.

    The feeling of consciousness itself is a convincing illusion.
     
    #11
  12. Caveat Mozart in a Go-Kart

    Caveat
    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2010
    Messages:
    8,552
    Likes Received:
    3,433
    Location:
    p-hacking your subjectivity
    I've got a few ideas about where to go after that, but none that are really definitive. Even I would prefer an answer to the question that was a little more necessary - a complete qualitative difference between us and them, so to speak - whereas this one seems merely empirical. You could still have a subset of the set of all p-zombies that was aware of the concept of consciousness is what I mean, though it seems even less likely that they'd be able to adopt its language completely.

    As for the comparison to the animals, that can be described in terms of computation, which I'm not really concerned about here. Consciousness is described as the "what it is like to be" a thing because that's the minimal possible commitment that captures its essence. I've also heard it described as "the experience of the world". Chalmers spoke about it by saying that if you were turned into something else, and your experience does something other than shut off completely, then that thing has some aspect of consciousness. It's not easy to describe to someone who outright denies it, but it's not trivial either.

    You're right about there not being a standard though, and about how we're stuck comparing everything else to our own.
     
    #12
  13. Caveat Mozart in a Go-Kart

    Caveat
    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2010
    Messages:
    8,552
    Likes Received:
    3,433
    Location:
    p-hacking your subjectivity
    Would you mind explaining what you mean by "assume shit ad infinitum"? Just curious how far that goes, or if you just meant it to exaggerate the point.

    I like where you're going with the rest, but I'm not sure it quite gets there for me. If I'm reading you right, you're suggesting some sort of bidirectional interplay between consciousness and the brain/body, where consciousness changes the individual in a way that goes beyond the simple interaction of one brain state with another. I can flirt with this idea, but not commit to it. I think it's most likely the case that the brain activity does the vast majority of the work and the conscious results are epiphenomenal - though I don't especially *like* that conclusion, especially from an evolutionary standpoint.

    In other words, I think a being lacking interiority could still situate itself historically, because that situation is ultimately reducible to a sequence of brain states. But I understand if that answer sort of feels like begging the question, and I'm open to listening to a more extended case against it.
     
    #13
  14. Caveat Mozart in a Go-Kart

    Caveat
    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2010
    Messages:
    8,552
    Likes Received:
    3,433
    Location:
    p-hacking your subjectivity
    Similar to what I said to Fawlty above, I think that would be going too far. On a sliding scale with unconsciousness on the left side and (whatever constitutes) full/complete consciousness on the right, I think we could expect to see the emergence of the most basic experience of "what it's like to being a thing" further to the left than that same thing with the experience of "I am a thing having an experience," which your proposed term denotes. No need to add the extra complexity.


    I see what you're getting at, but I'm not sure Rand even needs the full concept of "consciousness" as I've explained it above to make her case here. Mostly it just seems like she's poking fun (did she ever experience fun?) at some of the sillier philosophical problems that refute themselves. Like I was saying to Spoken, Descartes' argument for his own existence could be acknowledged by something that doesn't have that extra bit of awareness, so long as it can still identify the concepts of "itself" and "existence" through a means other than raw experiential data. It's assumed (perhaps improperly) that language and knowledge are still possible for p-zombies despite their unconscious state, the same way they would be for a sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence.

    I don't think consciousness falls into the criticism here because we do have an intuitive understanding of its absence that isn't absurd to consider. I like to tweak the idea of sleepwalking as an example, and expand it until you can imagine yourself sleepwalking as you do everything you would otherwise do consciously. Assuming that being asleep in this case only meant being unconscious, and not changing your perception of external stimuli (i.e. you can still see), what behavioural functionality would you necessarily lose?

    There is definitely an analogy to the "other minds" problem here, but as that's one of the duller ones, I'd like to make it more than that. Hence the urgency of solving the problem of p-zombies.
     
    #14
  15. Pwent Guest

    Pwent
    you couldve summarized all of that with "I think, therefore I am"

    as it applies to consciousness as well, and covers the concepts in the argument you referred to

    the most brilliant philosophers can convey complex messages concisely.
     
    #15
  16. Caveat Mozart in a Go-Kart

    Caveat
    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2010
    Messages:
    8,552
    Likes Received:
    3,433
    Location:
    p-hacking your subjectivity
    No.

    Read the thread.
     
    #16
  17. Pwent Guest

    Pwent
    i did, the idea was that for it to be possible to doubt your own existence and consciousness, proves that it exists

    his further explanation was

    "I have convinced myself that there is nothing in the world — no sky, no earth, no minds, no bodies. Doesn’t it follow that I don’t exist? No, surely I must exist if it’s me who is convinced of something. But there is a deceiver, supremely powerful and cunning whose aim is to see that I am always deceived. But surely I exist, if I am deceived. Let him deceive me all he can, he will never make it the case that I am nothing while I think that I am something. Thus having fully weighed every consideration, I must finally conclude that the statement “I am, I exist” must be true whenever I state it or mentally consider it."

    when he refers to himself or "I" it equally applies to his conscious self or conscious awareness

    your argument is that something can fake consciousness, then it wouldnt consider it and discuss the concept. his argument is the reverse version, that his consciousness cant be disproven because for it to be disproven requires him to consider it, and the ability to consider it=existence of a conscious self
     
    #17
  18. Caveat Mozart in a Go-Kart

    Caveat
    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2010
    Messages:
    8,552
    Likes Received:
    3,433
    Location:
    p-hacking your subjectivity
    He only talks about "himself" and "existence," and makes no mention of consciousness in the sense Chalmers was referring to.

    I see no reason a p-zombie wouldn't be able to do the same.
     
    #18
  19. Pwent Guest

    Pwent
    he doesnt have to, its the same argument.

    for one to consider his own conscious self, already proves that he is capable of consideration.

    or the reverse, (the p zombie thing) if ones is unable to consider his conscious self, then it is possible that his conscious self doesnt exist.
     
    #19
  20. ReAnimator Reagan Banned

    ReAnimator Reagan
    Joined:
    Apr 23, 2017
    Messages:
    2,969
    Likes Received:
    3,181
    Location:
    Innsmouth Circa 1981
    You have to watch Sam Harris because that truth can only come from the scientific method. There is no scientific model for consciousness currently. I think that is why Sam thinks we do not have free will which is ridiculous.
     
    #20

Share This Page

monitoring_string = "fd5733925866a04e50edd70f38dfaa35"
monitoring_string = "603ac9fff68f23709f2a42bf5e29272b"