Re: On the subjective experience of consciousness

From: Jef Allbright (
Date: Sun Apr 04 2004 - 13:39:00 MDT

Hi Ben,

I just got back from four days camping in Death Valley and read your
email. I think you and I are talking about slightly different things here.

[As an aside, but somewhat relevant to the current discussion, Death
Valley is an interesting place; it is supremely inhospitable and
uncaring toward human life, but inspires great awe and humility and
those who visit are enriched by the experience.]

I agree with your assertion that the human experience, "getting hurt,
dying, having children, falling in and out of love", is most effectively
understood through the folk psychology that you describe. We experience
our lives as humans, with much in common with other humans, and make
sense of our lives and derive meaning within this context.

I was referring to something different, the "paradox" that people can
encounter during meta-thinking about thinking. They wonder how it can
be that the experience of self, what it actually *feels* like to smell a
rose, in all its undeniable immediacy, can arise from matter that is not
itself conscious.

My point was that this paradox is explained simply (as described in my
earlier post), not that human experience with all its rich meaning is
explained simply.

- Jef

Ben Goertzel wrote:

> Jef,
> I don't accept the idea that empirical science and the "third-person
> perspective" provides a simpler and more accurate explanation of
> everyday human mental life, than folk psychology with its assumption of
> "experience" and "consciousness." Science provides interesting
> explanations for various features of my mental life, but folk psychology
> tells much far more about experiences like getting hurt, dying, having
> children, falling in and out of love, etc.
> Now, you might respond, "Sure, explanations involving experience and
> consciousness may be USEFUL in some contexts, even though the phenomena
> of "experience" and "consciousness" don't "exist" in a fundamental
> sense."
> Or, you could adopt a Nietzschean criterion of truth, in which "true" is
> defined as "useful to a given organism in achieving its goals." In this
> case, experience and consciousness are definitely part of human truth.
> Personally, I view the relationship between "human understanding" -- of
> which folk psychology is a part -- and empirical science as one of
> interdependency. Science enhances and modifies our mutual human
> understanding. But human understanding underlies our belief in science,
> by providing a prior distribution based on "human judgments of
> simplicity", which we use to ground the comparison of various scientific
> theories.
> This feedback between science and human understanding has, as a special
> case, the feedback between the scientific and experiential
> (human-understanding-based) views of the mind.
> Among other things the Singularity may result in the resolution of this
> dialectic between scientific and human understanding, via the creation
> of minds for which there is no dichotomy between scientific and innate
> cultural/psychological understanding. I suspect that the "theory of
> mind" possessed by such posthuman minds will incorporate -- and discard
> -- aspects of our current first-person AND third-person theories, and
> incorporate new aspects as well.
> -- Ben

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed Jul 17 2013 - 04:00:46 MDT