Re: On The Nature Of Qualia

From: micah glasser (
Date: Wed Dec 07 2005 - 23:10:16 MST

Hey guys. This is my first post. I too am a philosopher and I have a few
comments about this thesis. First as to eliminative materialism. I agree
that this thesis is patently ridiculous for the obvious reason that qualia
are phenomenologically observable from the first person. I just don't see
how anyone can argue against what is before their own eyes. The real
question at hand is the causal relationship between qualia and the nervous
system. This is a much more difficult question. I have to admit that I
really didn't quite understand David's thesis. I am familiar with dual
aspect monism but this business of the relationship between mathematical
Platonism and qualia didn't make sense to me. I'm not saying its wrong just
that it needs to be explained better. Having said that from what I did
understand it seems that you are advocating some form of epiphenomenalism.
If this is the case then whether or not an AI experiences qualia is a
superfluous question. You can't design consciousness into a machine. If
consciousness and the corresponding qualia happen to be an emergent property
of sufficiently intelligent entities then so be it. But the fact of the
matter is that you will never be able to test if a machine is experiencing
qualia but can certainly test for general intelligence.

The question I would put forth is, given that human beings experience
qualia, what role does such qualia play in intelligence? I can't imagine
that something like a platonic form is in any way related to qualia. Qualia
is merely the name given to phenomenal conscious experience. It is, for
instance, the redness of red. This is not a universal property. I can easily
imagine an intelligent species or AI that does not experience 'redness' yet
is intelligent. On the other hand the Platonic form of Oneness or
singularity (no pun intended) is a Universal Idea that is required for any
kind of intelligent thought. Thus it makes sense to say that if a being has
human level intelligence then it must also understand a principle of oneness
(or some such notion). So if you follow what I'm saying the Platonic Forms
are the very blue print of rationality whereas qualia may be something that
is merely contingent and a happenstance of the intelligence of human beings.

As for my theory on the subject I do not have any kind of solution worked
out. To be quite honest I find the problem of consciousness to be baffling.
But I have come to certain conclusions. First, not only do I find
eliminative materialism to be an obviously false philosophy of mind but I
find the entire metaphysics of materialism wanting. Materialism is an
outmoded way of thinking that relies on the principles of reductionism. The
problem with this is that there is no bottom level causal substrate. This
kind of thinking is a leftover over of the billiard ball physics of another
age. What I propose is a more process way of thinking such as is found in
the philosophy of A.N. Whitehead. Once we back away from the
reductionist/materialist models of causation we can begin to view causal
structures through non-linear dynamics. My hunch is that there are many
different substrates out of which intelligence can arise. Some of these
substrates might be conscious some might not. Therefor I think that AI
theorists need not worry about this metaphysical issue but rather need to
focus on how to build a machine that has intelligent behavior. If the
behavior of the machine is intelligent then it is intelligent. Whether or
not it experiences qualia will never be known and is probably of no

On 12/8/05, Marc Geddes <> wrote:
> >>>David Clark wrote:
> >Ben, I think you might be giving Marc more credit
> than he deserves. I could make a program that spewed
> out a bunch of rubbish on philosophical and
> meta-physical topics and some smart people could pick
> out some interesting lines here and there. These few
> lines might be insightful to their intelligent minds
> where the rest of the text was discarded as rubbish.
> The
> program couldn't be considered intelligent at all and
> if not for the intelligence of the reader, nothing of
> value could come from this randomly created text. I
> believe this is what Marc Geddes does.
> David all I've seen from you on the list is whining.
> What have you contributed to AGI theory? If you think
> my own ideas are all a load of rubbish you should try
> developing your own AI theory instead of whining at
> other people.
> >If Marc can't back up any of this hypothesis or
> insights with something other than he believes it
> might be true, then what difference does it make if
> something he says might be correct by accident. Does
> he get credit for something that he
> never intended or understood?
> I'm withdrawing from messageboards because they're
> obviously a waste of time. I've never seen such a
> bunch of wet blankets and whiners (Ben Goerztel is the
> sole exception - a smart, hip poster).
> But if you all want one intelligent thing backed up by
> arguments here it is below - (of course you David
> won't understand a word because you're obviously
> totally ignorant of the rudiments of philosophy).
> This is an edited forwarding of a posting I made on
> another messageboards which clearly explains why I so
> strongly disagree with the currrent Sing Inst
> approach:
> ---
> The comparison between 'Qualia' and 'Numbers' is well
> made. Because the same general kinds of philosophical
> arguments that are made about phenomenological
> entities also apply to mathematical entities.
> If I could just ask: Where does the number '4' exist?
> Is the proof of 'Fermat's Last Theorem' real or a
> fiction? If the proof is real, is it part of the
> causal processes taking place in the brain? What
> about other mathematical entities? Are they real or
> fiction? How do they fit into physical causal
> networks?
> I think you can see that the 'Qualia' question is not
> as clear cut as (some) are making out. Again, if you
> are prepared to believe in the objective existence of
> mathematical entities, and if you agree that the
> relationship between mathematical entities and causal
> brain-networks is not a direct one, then why could the
> same not be true for Qualia?
> Of course it's trivially true that all metaphysical
> entities have to be related to causal processes *in
> some sense* (in order to produce observable effects).
> But this by itself establishes little. It doesn't
> follow that all metaphysical entities are fully
> reducible to descriptions in terms of *physical*
> causality at all - where I am here defining physical
> causality as: 'cause and effect relations between
> objects with spatial extensions and the forces and
> motions associated with these objects'.
> To try to explain away Qualia by demanding that
> everything be fully describable in terms of physical
> causality is simply to presuppose the very thing you
> are trying to prove (circular reasoning). A believer
> in Qualia could easily rebut simply by redefining the
> definition of 'causality' and demanding that
> everything be explained, not in terms of physical
> causality, but in terms of direct experience.
> Now it *may* well prove to be the case that talk of
> Qualia can be eliminated and replaced entirely by
> explanations in terms of physical causality
> (eliminative materialism). But it may not. The facts
> of the matter can only be determined through a
> combination of theory and observation, just like
> everything else in science.
> Suppose for instance that there's some kind of
> fundamental law of cognitive science and information
> theory such that no explanation phrased entirely in
> terms of physical causality can fully predict sentient
> behavior? For instance suppose that for some *in
> principle* theoretical reason computational
> intractability prevents accurate real-time predictions
> of sentient behavior if these predictions are phrased
> solely in terms of physical processes? Suppose that
> in order to achieve an accurate model of sentient
> behavior one needs to introduce mental concepts into
> one's explanations right from the start - i.e. suppose
> this is an *in principle* requirement? Then one would
> have to conclude that some mental concepts are just as
> 'real' and fundamental as physical ones. So you see,
> the philosophical arguments advanced in this thread
> that Qualia have to be a part of the 'causal networks
> of the brain' don't prove a thing about Qualia one way
> or the other. On the contrary, the argument is weak,
> as I have shown by pointing out examples of abstract
> entities (mathematical concepts) that many
> (Platonists) take to be objectivity real, yet clearly
> don't directly fit into the causal networks of the
> brain at all.
> The philosophical position known as 'Eliminative
> materialism'(the idea that 'qualia' don't exist but
> are simply misrepresentations of what are really
> entirely material processes which seems to be the
> position Eliezer (is) arguing for) is based on
> arguments by philosophers Paul and Patricia Churchland
> and Daniel Dennett (in fact the position traces back
> to earlier arguments by philosophers Paul Feyerabend
> an d Quine), to the effect: that (a) qualia are simply
> abstract (or theoretical entities) and (b) should be
> replaced by the objective scientific viewpoint. But
> the argument undermines itself. *Of course* I believe
> that 'Qualia' are 'theoretical abstractions' and *of
> course* I agree that the correct view-point requires
> an objective scientific account, but the conclusion
> that Qualia are fictions doesn't follow from (a) and
> (b) at all! It's a total non-sequitur. In fact the
> very arguments applied by Eliminative materialism to
> argue *against* Qualia can be used to argue for them!
> Let look at the first argument of the Qualia skeptics:
> (a) 'Qualia' are abstractions. I say, of course they
> are! But this doesn't prove a thing against Qualia.
> On the contrary, we could take a Platonic view of
> these abstractions just as some philosophers do for
> mathematics. In fact what I was suggesting was not
> just that Qualia are *similar* to mathematical
> entities, but that Qualia are in fact *identical* to
> mathematical entities. That is to say, I think
> mathematical entities are just Qualia from a different
> perspective.
> I think the reason we're all so confused about Qualia
> is due to a limitation of the human brain - as others
> have pointed out - we can't *see* qualia from an
> objective perspective, only a subjective one. This
> allows skeptics to claim that they're fictional
> entities and all that exists are material processes.
> But as gts rightly pointed out, the fact we can only
> view Qualia subjectively doesn't mean that Qualia are
> not objectively real. Eliezer of all people should
> have known better. The argument against Qualia is
> based solely on a limitation of the *human* brain and
> it is folly to suppose that this limitation applies to
> minds in general. The fact that *we* (humans) can
> only ever view Qualia from a subjective perspective
> does not mean that more advanced minds couldn't view
> them from an *objective* perspective. Now the human
> brain does not appear to be capable of direct
> perception of mathematical entities. I think if the
> human brain *was* so capable, it would be obvious to
> everyone that Qualia and mathematical entities are one
> and the same i.e. we would be having second-order
> Qualia capable of objectively viewing first-order
> Qualia.
> If it's possible to objectivity view Qualia, the
> second argument of the Qualia skeptics is also exposed
> as a total non-sequitur. Recall that the eliminative
> materialists argue that (b) The most accurate
> view-point of something is the objective scientific
> view-point. The believer in Qualia can just say: well
> of course I agree with (b), but so what? For *Qualia
> themselves are a part of objective science* ! As I
> suggested earlier, if it proves that accurate models
> of sentient behaviour are *in principle* impossible
> without introducing mental concepts into one's
> explanations (perhaps due to some theorem involving
> computational intractability), then one would have to
> conclude that some mental concepts are just as
> fundamental and real as physical concepts and the
> ontology of objective science would have to be
> broadened to include these mental concepts.
> So you see, both the arguments of Eliminative
> materialists are simply without philosophical merit.
> But if Qualia and mathematical entities are equivalent
> as I claim and if as I said, the human brain is not
> capable of direct perception of mathematical entities,
> then how is it that we have qualia at all? The
> answer, I think, lies in the truth of mathematical
> Platonism. The human brain cannot directly generate
> perceptions of mathematical entities, but if
> mathematics is *out there* in reality, then the
> actions of the brain will still *indirectly* involve
> mathematical relations (since according to Platonism
> math is the fabric of reality itself). Hence even
> without explicit modeling of mathematical entities,
> there can still be *indirect* Qualia associated with
> the brain. Clever eh?
> Are you familiar with Bertrand Russell's theory of
> 'Dual-aspect monism' ? Well basically, my
> philosophical theory is vaguely like that, but
> extended to a more complex 'Seven-fold-aspect monism'.
> In the Dual-aspect monism of Russell, the *Intrinsic*
> properties of reality were equated with mental
> concepts, and the *Relational* properties of reality
> were equated with physical concepts. But in my
> theory, I have Seven different general 'aspects'
> instead of just the two of the original Russell
> theory. My core idea, as I've explained, is to equate
> Qualia wih mathematical entities.
> Panpsychism is a secondary consequence of my theory.
> Whilst critics of Panpsychism are right to point out
> that Panpsychism *by itself* doesn't explain anything,
> it is perfectly logically acceptable to have
> Panpsychism emerging as a *secondary consequence* of
> one's metaphysics i.e. a theorem of a deeper
> explanatory theory.
> Sooner or later someone smarter than me will
> independently discover the principles of my
> Mathematico-Cognition Reality Theory (MCRT) and
> develop them in rigorous mathematical way. When that
> happens, the arguments of the Qualia skeptics will
> collapse, and with them the entire rotten edifice of
> the current AGI paradigm will crumple (including the
> ridiculous ideas that you can have general
> intelligence without qualia, that reasoning is
> entirely reducible to Bayes etc).
> ----
> Farewell
> To see a World in a grain of sand,
> And Heaven in a wild flower,
> Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
> And Eternity in an hour.
> -William Blake
> Please visit my web-site:
> Sci-Fi, Science and Fantasy
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I swear upon the alter of God, eternal hostility to every form of tyranny
over the mind of man. - Thomas Jefferson

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