Re: The return of the revenge of qualia, part VI.

From: David Picon Alvarez (
Date: Fri Jul 29 2005 - 00:52:10 MDT

> It's possibly my fault in arguing -- but I think the materialist
> position is different to science. The materialist position is that
> everything which exists is material.

OK, perhaps we're using material and materialism in a slightly different
manner. By material I mean ameanable to be perceived by the senses, or by
constructed sensors. This is, non-spiritual.

Science depends on empirical experiments to be able to provide data for
inference. If there's something non-material in the sense I mean,
observation and experimentation will not tell us ought about it, and it is
therefore ipso facto outside of science. If the mind is something that is
only, for example, ameanable to subjective phenomenological discursive
study, and it cannot be aprehended through the usual tools of science, id
est, sensors, models, etc, then the game is over.

> If materialist science cannot be predictive with respect to the the
> mind, but continues to deny the distinction between the mind and the
> brain, then there would appear to be good reason to expand ones
> ontology.

Not before the present research program finds clear obstacles. For now we
neither have the computational power nor the physiological knowledge to make
high-level predictions about the mind from its physical substrate, but
progress (or what seems like progress) is done in this area all the time,
and there's still room. If in a few years we come to a standstill and we
verify that, indeed, the stuff we can measure with our apparatus is no
longer useful to make further higher-level predictions, then we should
consider alternative explanations of the phenomenon of consciousness, the
mind, etc. For the time being though, it would be unwarranted.

> I don't think we have good enough physics to say conclusive things
> about minds and brains, so we can't reject a non-materialist
> description of the mind out-of-hand.

That much is probably the case, although I'm not entirely sure. But neither
can we say that the materialist way has been exhausted and a non-materialist
explanation is now inevitable. Until this comes to pass, the parsimonious
and standard thing to do is not to introduced new unnecessary (until now)
entities into the theories.

> I believe that science will need to undergo some expansion before it
> can properly describe mental reality, and I think that expansion will
> address my concerns.

I believe that materialism is essentially correct about the mind, but that
tractable high-level explanations of mental phenomena might require of
things such as qualia, not because they have any ontological significance
but because they greatly reduce the complexity and act as good encapsulators
of it, such as flows, which are hardly ever described in terms of their
constituent molecules, but at higher organizational levels, due to
tractability issues.

> My chief concern being that it would be possible to build a physical
> mimic of intelligence without actually reproducing the mind. i.e. it
> would be possible to build a zombie-brain, which has some
> intelligence, but which has neither a mental life, nor does the
> physics underlying its rules have any description of mental life.

You have zero evidence for this. In my opinion it is impossible, but
opinions are like....

> I hope you see what I'm saying. I'm not anti-scientific - I really
> want to hold that minds are reducible to *some* brains, but I don't
> think it's true that *all* brains will give rise to minds. And we need
> a scientific description of that difference.

Well, what is there to a mind but information processing? Are you in the
"brains have some special physical substrate that imbues them with
mind-ness" camp? If info processing is all there is to it (as it seems) that
still does not indicate that all mind-seeming processes are minds as we
would understand them, but if the information processing is identical or
substantially similar to that of a known mind, then what doubt can there be?


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