What is "Mind?"


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Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Topic Author's Original Post - Aug 28, 2011 - 08:17pm PT
//Scientism ~ the belief that the methods of measuring, or the categories and things described through measuring, form the only real and legitimate elements in any philosophical or other inquiry, and that science alone describes the world as it is in itself, independent of perspective, with a concomitant elimination of the psychological dimensions of experience.

While no one can argue the immanence of science and the importance of measuring in many aspects of our life, I am not alone in being unsatisfied with the definition above as it relates to consciousness. At the root of this issue are various views concerning how to approach the consciousness question, which perforce imply fundamental beliefs per what consciousness is. If not examined carefully and soberly, and without a sense of humor, said “views” can scuttle any meaningful investigation through stonewalling in principal, absurd simplification and non-sequiturs.

Per approaching consciousness, a fundamental and common pitfall, especially common in AI and computational model camps, is the failure to recognize that consciousness is qualitatively different that what scientists usually measure. Re - the direct, first person experience of hanging 2,500 up the Shield on El Capitan, in boardshorts, in a lightning storm, is a different “thing” than a milk shake or a cockroach. That’s not to say the qualitative differences preclude us from measuring consciousness in various ways, but when the singularity of “mind” is not acknowledged, that experience up on the shield can be so wildly mistaken to be the selfsame thing as cue ball or a Jujube, rendering howlers like: consciousness is what the brain does, ergo the brain is the self-same thing as the experience of hanging on the Captain. This “does” metaphor works well with purely physical things – a new dime shines, that’s what it does. But with consciousness being brain, we are in effect saying our Uncle is our Aunt, and this simply will not do for some of us.

Though I have issues with many of his conclusions, which favor a physicalist light POV, John Searle has done a comprehensive job in elimination some of the common misconceptions about consciousness often made by those who never look past their own discipline. To wit:

The characteristic mistake in the study of consciousness is to ignore its essential subjectivity and to try to treat it as if it were an objective third person phenomenon. Instead of recognizing that consciousness is essentially a subjective, qualitative phenomenon, many people mistakenly suppose that its essence is that of a control mechanism or a certain kind of set of dispositions to behavior or a computer program.

The two most common mistakes about consciousness are to suppose that it can be analyzed behavioristically or computationally. The Turing test (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test); disposes us to make precisely these two mistakes, the mistake of behaviorism and the mistake of computationalism. It leads us to suppose that for a system to be conscious, it is both necessary and sufficient that it has the right computer program or set of programs with the right inputs and outputs. We need only to state this position clearly to see that it must be mistaken.

A traditional objection to behaviorism was that behaviorism could not be right because a system could behave as if it were conscious without actually being conscious. There is no logical connection, no necessary connection between inner, subjective, qualitative mental states and external, publicly observable behavior. Of course, in actual fact, conscious states characteristically cause behavior. But the behavior that they cause has to be distinguished from the states themselves. The same mistake is repeated by computational accounts of consciousness. Just as behavior by itself is not sufficient for consciousness, so computational models of consciousness are not sufficient by themselves for consciousness. The computational model of consciousness stands to consciousness in the same way the computational model of anything stands to the domain being modeled. Nobody supposes that the computational model of rainstorms in London will leave us all soaked. But they make the mistake of supposing that the computational model of consciousness is somehow conscious. It is the same mistake in both cases, and one common to those using a rigid mechanical or computational model. In fact, the computational theory of the mind does not have a clear sense. Here is why.

The natural sciences describe features of reality that are intrinsic to the world as it exists independently of any observers. Thus, gravitational attraction, photosynthesis, and electromagnetism are all subjects of the natural sciences because they describe intrinsic/material features of reality. But such features such as being a bathtub, being a nice day for a picnic, being a five dollar bill or being a chair, are not subjects of the natural sciences because they are not intrinsic features of reality. All the phenomena I named -- bathtubs, etc. -- are physical objects and as physical objects have features that are intrinsic to reality. But the feature of being a bathtub or a five dollar bill exists only relative to observers and users.

Absolutely essential, then, to understanding the nature of the natural sciences is the distinction between those features of reality that are intrinsic and those that are observer-relative. Gravitational attraction is intrinsic. Being a five dollar bill is observer-relative. Now, the really deep objection to computational theories of the mind can be stated quite clearly. Computation does not name an intrinsic feature of reality but is observer-relative and this is because computation is defined in terms of symbol manipulation, but the notion of a symbol is not a notion of physics or chemistry. Something is a symbol only if it is used, treated or regarded as a symbol. The Chinese room argument showed that semantics is not intrinsic to syntax. But what this argument shows is that syntax is not intrinsic to physics. There are no purely physical properties that zeros and ones or symbols in general have that determine that they are symbols. Something is a symbol only relative to some observer, user or agent who assigns a symbolic interpretation to it. So the question, `Is consciousness a computer program?' lacks a clear sense. If it asks, `Can you assign a computational interpretation to those brain processes which are characteristic of consciousness?' the answer is: you can assign a computational interpretation to anything. But if the question asks, `Is consciousness intrinsically computational?' the answer is: nothing is intrinsically computational. Computation exists only relative to some agent or observer who imposes a computational interpretation on some phenomenon. This is an obvious point.

Going on, Searle adds:

A theory of consciousness needs to explain how a set of neurobiological processes can cause a system to be in a subjective state of sentience or awareness. This phenomenon is unlike anything else in biology, and in a sense it is one of the most amazing features of nature. Science quite naturally resists accepting subjectivity as a ground floor, irreducible phenomenon of nature because, since the seventeenth century, we have come to believe that science must be objective. But this involves a pun on the notion of objectivity. We are confusing the epistemic objectivity of scientific investigation with the ontological objectivity of the typical subject matter in science in disciplines such as physics and chemistry. Since science aims at objectivity in the epistemic sense that we seek truths that are not dependent on the particular point of view of this or that investigator, it has been tempting to conclude that the reality investigated by science must be objective in the sense of existing independently of the experiences in the human individual. But this last feature, ontological objectivity, is not an essential trait of science. If science is supposed to give an account of how the world works and if subjective states of consciousness are part of the world, then we should seek an (epistemically) objective account of an (ontologically) subjective reality, the reality of subjective states of consciousness.

Since a strict computational model can be summarily ruled out, and a “brain is consciousness” model is insisting that an apple is an orange, and religious explanations are equally unsatisfactory, one wonders what direction is needed to wrestle this one down.


Trad climber
Aug 28, 2011 - 08:19pm PT
searle is a good guy. serious skier. the guy claims to get in like 20 days a year.

the philosophers obviously have a way less grueling schedule than the historians.

once again, i chose the wrong discipline.

searle, btw, is hardly known as reductionist. he's one of the strongest critics of the brain science folks like dennett.

he's wrong, of course. but still smart and funny.

Trad climber
Aug 28, 2011 - 08:53pm PT
Klk, I'd pick a philosopher over a historian any day. Unless you were joking, the philosopher has a far more grueling path than a historian. Historians are more reporters than ponderers.
Largo, great to see you posting. Miss your author threads from a few years back.

Trad climber
Aug 28, 2011 - 08:55pm PT
Klk, I'd pick a philosopher over a historian any day. Unless you were joking, the philosopher has a far more grueling path than a historian.

Ha! I love you too!

Not when it comes to research and committee work, heh.

just ask murcy. as best i can tell, he spends all his time at stanford rolling naked in all that dough they give him.

Aug 28, 2011 - 08:59pm PT
So many words . . .
Mr. Rogers

The Land of Make-Believe
Aug 28, 2011 - 09:05pm PT
He may be a dualist, but it's still a good read.

Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness
David J. Chalmers

Consciousness poses the most baffling problems in the science of the mind. There is nothing that we know more intimately than conscious experience, but there is nothing that is harder to explain. All sorts of mental phenomena have yielded to scientific investigation in recent years, but consciousness has stubbornly resisted. Many have tried to explain it, but the explanations always seem to fall short of the target. Some have been led to suppose that the problem is intractable, and that no good explanation can be given.

To make progress on the problem of consciousness, we have to confront it directly. In this paper, I first isolate the truly hard part of the problem, separating it from more tractable parts and giving an account of why it is so difficult to explain. I critique some recent work that uses reductive methods to address consciousness, and argue that such methods inevitably fail to come to grips with the hardest part of the problem. Once this failure is recognized, the door to further progress is opened. In the second half of the paper, I argue that if we move to a new kind of nonreductive explanation, a naturalistic account of consciousness can be given. I put forward my own candidate for such an account: a nonreductive theory based on principles of structural coherence and organizational invariance and a double-aspect view of information.


Trad climber
Aug 28, 2011 - 09:09pm PT
So many words . . .

and so little consciousness . . .

i have no idea what that means
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Aug 28, 2011 - 09:17pm PT
Kerwin, that is John Gill speaking just now. Considering how incredibly deeply he has climbed over the last sixty years and how he has also been quite eloquent in that regard in his writings, it is quite clear to me at least what JohnG means here, as he has spent a life experiencing that subjectivity.

Thanks JohnoL for bringing up Searle and this most splendid issue of all, in philosophy and science. More in a bit, I'm barbecuing.

Trad climber
Aug 28, 2011 - 09:29pm PT
that is John Gill speaking just now.

yes it is

Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Aug 28, 2011 - 09:34pm PT
John Gill and Kerwin (KLK) are good friends,
two of the brightest, most intelligent lights along the spectrum here....
Just fun little banter between them. But Gill's comment
means a lot, really, if you give it time to meld into
the fleshy fibers... or something.

Huntley Ingalls walked up to me at a gathering in Boulder
not long ago, and I asked what he was up to these days, and
he answered, "Enjoying consciousness." That seemed a strange,
almost silly response at first, but then it has followed me
around. I realize Huntley was not being so whimsical as
simply direct and how wonderful it is, truly, to be conscious,
to have a mind, to look out at the stars, to touch and smell....
So many aspects to consciousness, truly, that we are so
fortunate to enjoy. This might be a little off topic, but
maybe not....
J. Werlin

Social climber
Cedaredge, CO
Aug 28, 2011 - 09:41pm PT
Just to put a twist on JL's thread, I like Amit Goswami's proposed solution to the quantum paradox: maybe there was consciousness before there was matter.

Trad climber
Placerville, California
Aug 28, 2011 - 09:44pm PT
i'll refer this one to werner.
he knows my mind better than i do.

Trad climber
Aug 28, 2011 - 09:47pm PT
Huntley was not being so whimsical as
simply direct and how wonderful it is, truly, to be conscious,
to have a mind, to look out at the stars, to touch and smell....
So many aspects to consciousness, truly, that we are so
fortunate to enjoy.

yeah, i'd take ingalls's comments literally.

magical, isn't it? searle would like that.

Ideeho-dee-do-dah-day boom-chicka-boom-chicka-boom
Aug 28, 2011 - 09:48pm PT
"mind" is "headache"

Aug 28, 2011 - 09:55pm PT
As an undergrad I studied under - or more accurately, around - S.A.R.L.

I found him worse than useless, a roadblock. Boring and simplistic compared to everything else that was happening at the time. For instance, the graduate class I snuck into taught by Foucault, text here:


Searle's only value was as the figurehead for a line of thought that needed to be rejected, all that intentionality nonsense, once and for all. On the other hand, what I learned from Foucault and his band of merry froggies provided a wonderful set of tools. When my day job became warping other people's sense of consciousness, they served me very well.
Mike Bolte

Trad climber
Planet Earth
Aug 28, 2011 - 10:01pm PT
my reaction was exactly the same as John's and I found it clever and ironic that he was so concise in his description

the second star to the right
Aug 28, 2011 - 10:04pm PT
I'm surprised, HFCS- you seemed pretty open minded in the thread you started on psychedelics. Amit's position, "monistic idealism", doesn't seem particularly far-fetched and elegantly solves the mind/body paradox, at least to my amateur speculation.

To me, the notion that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of matter- the brain- just doesn't make sense intuitively. The closer we examine subatomic particles, the building blocks of the brain and all matter, the more ephemeral and strange things get. How could the cohesive narrative of a person's life experience be sustained by these little bits of flotsam and jetsam twinkling in and out of existence all the time? Easier for me to swallow that the material world is created and sustained by something much more subtle and powerful. What are your objections to the idea that consciousness is fundamental to matter?

To be clear, never formally studied this stuff just read and pondered a bunch.

edit... uh, corn spirit's post I was replying to seems to have disappeared...

Trad climber
Aug 28, 2011 - 10:07pm PT
^^^^hey q, that's pretty funny. everyone at berkeley then has a killer foucault story, each more entertaining than the next.

searle is back in fashion, these days. sort of. high structuralist (and post-structuralist) and post-quine brain-science-as-epistemology are having to fight uphill against all the "subjects are real" and "consciousness" people.

these days its kant and milton friedmann. and for the pop crowd, add in some esp and biblical prophecy.

i'm going to name a route, "Chinese Box."

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 28, 2011 - 10:18pm PT
Foucault, with his quirky homosexual rants while tromping through Death Valley with his band of Frog neo-strucuralists (wank), hammered on LSD, did nothing to establish him as a player in consciousness study. Searle is not my dood, but he raises the "hard questions" with clarity, and dismissed the common pat-answers to said questions.

When the "hard issues" of consciousness don't square with our particular discipline, we end up with simplistic quips like "brain output," which neither addresses or perhaps doesn't even recognize that the computational model of consciousness is a bust for a dozen reasons.

Perhaps the challenge is to tackle the hard issues head on without dismissing the questions if we don't understand and cannot measure same, insisting as scientism insists, that if we ain't quantifying, we're surly just bullshitting each other.

But rather than blast the people who put their ideas out there, I doubt there is much progress to be made by rejecting the hard issues (as straw man arguments = simplistic) and not tackling the questions with new perspectives or info. Otherwise it's just another circle jerk, and I'm out.

I'll do Kant with anyone here if that comes up. He had some interesting ideas but they changed over time making the old Kraut a slippery study.


Trad climber
Aug 28, 2011 - 10:19pm PT
klk, I'm biased in that my dad was a philosophy prof. for 43 years and my mom taught history.
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