Consciousness consciousness
April 14, 2017 9:57 AM   Subscribe

The mirror article is a great introduction; it makes me want to go read the original papers. At first glance it seems like Povinelli is straining to find a way to say the chimp maybe does not recognize itself in the mirror. If the chimps use the mirror to coordinate self inspection, moving their hands while their eyes are focused on the mirror-image hands, that would be pretty conclusive to me. It can't really be mimicry if you make the first move, right? A nice follow-up experiment would involve mirrors, or closed-circuit cameras (where left and right are not interchanged), and a previously recorded video chimp who doesn't match your motions as well. At some point we might be just messing with their poor minds though.
posted by TreeRooster at 10:30 AM on April 14, 2017

Neat stuff. Thanks.
posted by erikgrande at 10:57 AM on April 14, 2017

I hadn't heard of "the hard problem of matter" before. That "dual-aspect monism" might be a solution to that and the other "hard problem" is pretty fascinating. Looking forward to reading the other articles.
posted by kozad at 11:42 AM on April 14, 2017

Mirror Agnosia exists within thinking, functional humans.

We can design robots (fairly simply) such that they can recognize themselves in a mirror (by, say, scanning an ID code around their own scanning sensor.)

Mirror recognition is thus neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for consciousness.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:44 PM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

"dual-aspect monism" aka "russellian monism" aka "proto-panpsychism" is the last desperate gasp of dualists. Please tell a physicist, with a straight face, that electrons in themselves are actually conscious experiences, and see where that gets you.
posted by leibniz at 11:52 PM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Physicalism takes the objective, scientifically accessible aspect of reality to be the only reality, which arguably implies that the subjective aspect of consciousness is an illusion. Maybe so—but shouldn’t we be more confident that we are conscious, in the full subjective sense, than that particles are not?

This bit from Mørch reminds me a bit of Nagel's piece-of-trash book "Mind And Cosmos," which similarly rests the theory that consciousness as separate and real on the pillar: "but it, like, FEELS real, right?"

Of course a fucking being whose whole job is studying consciousness would have a vested interest in pretending consciousness is wicked special. Maybe I'm a fucking Chinese Room, Nagel and Mørch, fucking come at me, I'll fight you both with nary a thought in my dusty vacant brain
posted by Greg Nog at 5:21 AM on April 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

I really like the idea of dual-aspect monism, and at one point believed some version of it to be true.

But it ends up failing in a way that's pretty predictable given other wrestings with the hard problem of consciousness back when "natural philosophy" was still a thing.

The answer to the question of why the subjective experience of consciousness cannot be an emergent property of physical forces given by dual-aspect monism is the intuition of something more, something ineffable of qualia.

That Hassel Mørch doesn't seem to recognize that phenomenology started with this as its explicit mission: to provide a logical, even mathematical, rendering of subjective consciousness. The way to do this was an "epoche," where context was bracketed out and phenomena would be described in coherent form. But Husserl's project for phenomenology didn't make it past Heidegger, and existentialism largely abandoned any attempts to posit metaphysical justifications for exploring the subjective, and analytic philosophers largely deflated "epoche" as either impossible or meaningless or both.

Hassel Mørch's appeal to intuition functions in the same way that Husserl's epoche does: providing a magical justification for why a non-magical justification is unsatisfying. And this is why the pseudoscience is both attractive and misleading: one of the things that physical sciences do best is disabuse us of our intuitions in favor of what the evidence supports. For a small example, I'm on a local quasi-governmental board that deals with transportation problems in my neighborhood. A stakeholder was complaining that changes to a street had increased traffic, and that traffic was much worse than it had been a couple years ago. But we have traffic counts every couple of years there that go back to about 2002, and there's been a variance of about 30 cars out of 3,000 over those 15 years. The last count we have is 37 cars fewer than 2002 per day.

Intuitions can be wrong. An argument that relies purely on intuition as its justification is a poor one. As such, the idea that abstractions interacting through relationships is not the same thing as matter colliding with matter is not rebutted by the intuition that consciousness must be different somehow.

And think of the argument as carried through. Words have meanings, defined largely by relations and letters effectively abstractly alienated from the sounds that they represent (i.e. there's no reason a "P" makes a bilabial plosive; in Russian, it's a rhotic). From there, we can intuit that there must be something that separates words from just random collections of sounds, ergo words must themselves be conscious. The word "being" must know what it means to be; the word "being" has being in itself?

Or might it be more simple to think of consciousness as a subjective, emergent property of synthesized sense input that follows physical laws, and that physical laws still allow semiotic meaning to be assigned to things that have objective existence? This seems even more reasonable in the face of pareidolia, where meaningless accidents appear to have meaning. Or, as delmoi once argued here and I found fairly convincing, at some point a sufficiently detailed simulation by a robot of emotional engagement is indistinguishable from actual emotional engagement, and doesn't imply meaningful consciousness to the robot, just that the distinction between subjective experience of emotional engagement and a sufficiently accurate simulation is meaningless to the subject —likewise connected to the problem of lies in assessing meaning. Think about lies of opinion — there's no way to know that the pants are actually flattering, or that the person telling you that they are flattering is telling the truth, outside of a general pattern of trust. That same "leap of faith" — that subjective experience implies assigning meaning where there may not be meaning independent of an observer — seems at least comparable to the leap of faith that all matter is consciousness, and it comports better with what we know about the physical world.

I think the fundamental failing of Hassel Mørch is that she's falling into an ancient (human) mistake of confusing a desire for meaning with the undetectable presence of meaning. We may never have a satisfying answer to the hard problem of matter or hard problem of consciousness, just like we don't have a completely satisfying answer to the hard problem of induction. But solving them by positing a subjective inherent consciousness still feels too much to me like answering "God did it" to resolve contradiction or ambiguity.
posted by klangklangston at 5:59 PM on April 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Human consciousness is a special case of a general property. This has been the position of thinkers from Parmenides to Spinoza. Even the Christian thinker Augustine understood that consciousness is general, and manifests itself in infinite ways:
For if we were cattle, we should love the carnal and sensual life, and this would be our sufficient good; and when it was well with us in respect of it we should seek nothing else. Again, if we were trees, we could not, of course, be moved by the senses to love anything; but we would seem to desire, as it were, that by which we might become more abundantly and bountifully fruitful. If we were stones or waves or wind or flames or anything of that kind, we should indeed be without both sensation and life, but we should still not lack a kind of desire for our own proper place. For the weight of bodies is, as it were, their love, whether they are carried downwards by gravity or upwards by their lightness. For the body is carried by its weight wherever it is carried, just as the soul is carried by its love.--The City of God, Book 11 chapter 28
The absolute materialism that dominates today is a relatively recent phenomenon, a product of the dazzling successes of the physical sciences. It is, however, a woefully one-sided and inadequate view, as many scientists have asserted. Philosophy has embraced this view, and died.
posted by No Robots at 6:58 PM on April 15, 2017

"Human consciousness is a special case of a general property."

Prove that it's a general property prior to imputing a special case.

" This has been the position of thinkers from Parmenides to Spinoza. Even the Christian thinker Augustine understood that consciousness is general, and manifests itself in infinite ways:"

And Aristotle thought dolphins were fish.

"The absolute materialism that dominates today is a relatively recent phenomenon, a product of the dazzling successes of the physical sciences. It is, however, a woefully one-sided and inadequate view, as many scientists have asserted."

Prove it's inadequate. An appeal to an authority of deist scientists means as much as Linus Pauling's opinions on vitamins.

For the majority of human history, philosophy and religion have both made fact claims that have been proven wrong by the advance of empiricism.

"Philosophy has embraced this view, and died."


i mean, philosophy that's dependent upon metaphysical claims

but Nietzsche let that horse out so

There's still tons of lively philosophy, but mysticism becomes indistinguishable from bullshit pretty quickly.
posted by klangklangston at 9:53 PM on April 15, 2017

Well well. College Boy here thinks dolphins ain't fish
posted by Greg Nog at 4:36 PM on April 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

They is mammaries, like us.
posted by No Robots at 6:33 PM on April 16, 2017

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