problems of consciousness

Posted in Uncategorized by sarkology on June 11, 2011

I have come across many great attempts at solving the mystery of consciousness. One trait they all share though is that either they conflate variants of the problem or they try to oversell themselves. Here I will try to distinguish the variants. In later posts I will try to match up their (mostly successful) attempts with these variants.

  1. A computer seems to perform the same feats of calculation we are also capable of. 1+2=2, say. But it isn’t aware of itself performing such computations. We do.
  2. Our mental events seem intrinsically conscious. It doesn’t seem possible that they could exist without our consciousness of it. For example, the psychological sensation shifting your walk to avoid dog poo. It can’t possibly be there if you are not aware of it.
  3. We have subjective experience. The feel of conscious experience. We are certainly aware of the pain in our right foot, but we also feel that pain. It doesn’t seem possible for mere physical phenomena to give rise to this.
  4. Closely related but distinct, is the intrinsic quality of desire, of wanting something. When you want to eat pie, the wanting feels like something. Specifically it feels like the pie is just so desirable. Why can’t you merely know that pie is good, or that you need pie to survive, then execute a plan to attain pie? Why all the attendant melodrama?
  5. The ineffability of feel. This is separate from feel itself. Instead it’s about why you can’t express your feel in words.
  6. The inter-agent comparison of feel. How do I know when we say we both see red, you are having a green-feel while I’m having a blue-feel?

We should also distinguish a dissolution of the problem from a solution. What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? The answer “at least one of them cannot exist” doesn’t provide an answer of the kind we were expecting. Nevertheless we would accept that answer, because our original question was shown to be meaningless.

Related but separate is the distinction between showing why the problem is solvable, or at least not impossible to solve, versus actually providing a solution. The former is certainly also of value. We should not let our disappointment of not getting the letter get in the way of us realizing that a solution is possible and will some day be found.

I have to admit something. I may have missed something up there. This is because I haven’t actually organized all my thoughts on this. Yes, unfortunately for the very few loyal followers of this blog, it is now turning into some kinda notebook of mine. But it’s not so bad you know? Most of my notes are still offline. Stuff up here is supposed to be of significantly higher quality, though not necessarily publishable to be widely read. So thank you. And so it begins.


2 Responses

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  1. […] Previously, on sarkology: We discussed but did not solve any of the various problems of consciousness. […]

  2. Alrenous said, on December 3, 2012 at 6:51 am

    5. We could have such words, and indeed I think it would be of extreme value. That said, there is almost certainly a good reason we don’t have them yet, and that reason is almost certainly making it expensive.

    For example, I have a red lamp. The red-feeling and lamp-shape-feeling combine (with others) to form a there’s-a-red-lamp feeling. If you’re in the room, I can point to the red lamp, but I have to assume that you learn the lamp is there through the same there’s-a-red-lamp-feeling that I feel. It seems this is usually the case, as my red-lamp-feeling stands in the same relation to (say) my sunset-feeling as yours does. For example when I ask which red is better, you agree with me.

    There, we have some words for some feelings. They’re kind of bad, though – long and ad hoc. Another issue is that they’re absurdly narrow. Looking at my somewhat dull red, beat-up dusty red lamp is different even from a less dusty red lamp, let alone a clean, well-repaired red lamp of a slightly different shape. Using the convention from other fields, we need a word for all the components of the red-lamp-feel.

    Further, the dust-feel of a dusty lamp is different from the dust-feel of say a dusty book, so it doesn’t even break down nicely by object-component that the feeling corresponds to. One of my hobbies is hunting for new feels and I repeatedly find them in combinations of things I’d already known about separately. As a stupid example, combining words I know in very novel ways.

    “Why can’t you merely know that pie is good”

    What does it feel like to know that pie is good? If it doesn’t feel like anything, how would you know?

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