Minds: Death, anaesthetic, babies, animals and Sonic the Camcorder-Doom player.

Well, I’m trying to set forth the logical consequences of what you yourself have agreed in order to understand your position. I can see no way to escape the consequence that I have ‘dead’ consciousness now, as well as 'live consciousness. That would lead inexorably to the conclusion that dead people are less conscious than living ones, since living ones have the ‘dead’ arrangement and the live activity as well. Is there anything in this you object to? I’m trying not to do anything you consider underhand here.

Again, instead of positing such a baffling enigma, surely the simpler explanation is that cadavers have not plural consciousnesses (since I, a cadaver with additional brain activity, can’t detect anyone else in here but me!) but lesser or none?

And I am exploring the consequences of the latter. What might my memory be retained in, do you think - what does birth wipe, exactly? Surely it is, again, far simpler to guess that there was no memory apparatus?

And what I interpreted as the ghost at the end of the bed? Some interpretations and experiential observations are illusions.

I appreciate your open-mindedness here, Gyan. Like I said, I’m uncertain that cognitive science yet provides the explanation of consciousness in terms of computational entities, and the boundary between consciousness and non-consciousness will inevitably be as fuzzy as that between life and non-life.

But the step you have made, considering cadavers, elementary particles and yourself in the 13.7 billion years before your birth as conscious, is as enormous a leap as calling atoms “alive”: it’s rather cutting off your nose to spite your face, philosophically speaking (and I won’t repeat the adjectives which even respected ‘awkward’ philosophers of mind like John Searle or Colin McGuinn use on the Stanford page). Adhere to it as you will, but it is a poor substitute for mere skepticism regarding the physicalist view, which I appreciate entirely.

Your line of questioning is trying to poke into nature of consciousness. My rejection of physicalism is predicated on a fatal explanatory flaw (of consciousness and supervienence). Not just as what I see as a current lack, but a fundamental divide. I haven’t really explored the phenomenon of consciousness speculatively in dead cadavers, and the like.

We don’t know the nature of self and its generation, so “simpler” doesn’t hold much currency here.

A physical substrate. As per Hindu philosophy, there’s only one Self, which is replicated and embodied in different instantiations. The Self always exists, and is conscious. While I’m not sure I entirely agree with that, I sympathize.

Can you falsify that? Be sure that what you originally saw, wasn’t a ghost.

Like I said, there’s a fundamental flaw in physicalist theories of consciousness. I again ask you to present the physical mechanics of consciousness.

OK, I’ll come to that later in this post.

Well, let’s do so here!

“Simpler” in tht it requires fewer entities to be explained in an Ockham’s Razor sense, agreed?

Like what in those billions of years before Earth’s formation? Hydrogen gas?

There is no such thing as certainty. Are you saying there is no such thing as illusions, ie. it is never the case that one’s experiential observations turn out to be utterly mistaken?

OK, the physical mechanism of consciousness is, at heart, that of working memory. If we agree that working memory is physical, we can move forward to consider what other “modules” are necessary to go from, say, “bee consciousness” or “robot consciousness” and approach waking human consciousness, via all kinds of intermediary steps, any one of which the skeptic can shout “Halt!”. Again, I’ll try not to make any step without your explicit agreement.

Can you imagine that a bee or a robot is conscious? (For someone who imagines photons to be so, it’s surely no big deal?) If so, what must cognitive science do in order to convince you that bee or robot consciousness is explained by the sensory inputs to working memory and the processing therein? Perhaps it might model a bee or robot as accurately as it could, and make extremely specific predictions of the model which would be absurdly unlikely to come true based on chance alone? This is how other branches of science progress and demonstrate that they are not merely spouting hot air, such as molecular or evolutionary biology or (appropriately enough) climatology. Would this be good enough for cognitive science as well, would you say? Or would you, like the vitalist, demand more than such sciences can ever provide if they are to remain scientific?

Not ultimately, as consciousness has yet to be explained. If you take as a given that physical entities are sufficient and necessary for consciousness, then Yes.

Doesn’t matter. If carbon complexes can hold memories, don’t see a problem for hydrogen. You’ll probably bring up order and complexity. Maybe burning H2 appears chaotic only to us. It’s just molecules in motion, either way.

As long as we can’t control time like we do a VCR or DVD, that statement can’t carry that weight. “I thought I saw a ghost; when I moved closer, turnd out to be X.” That relates experience of X few seconds later with the apparition of ghost earlier via the concept of common identity. If you assume common identity, then yes, that would describe an illusion.

If it involves mental objects then of course not.

Change: If it contains mental objects then of course not.

Note that you say you do accept that physical entities are sufficient and necessary for life (since you do not accept vitalism). And yet, life is not yet fully explained physically (heck, that’s why universities still have biology departments!). Do those explanatory gaps mean that physical entities are insufficient for life, in your opinion?

Carbon (and silicon) complexes can access past states, but only after evolution (or design) has brought about complex structure characterised by working memory. Hydrogen is just a gas. If you don’t see the problem, I’d suggest you don’t understand basic thermodynamics.

Well, I don’t know what ‘common identity’ means, but I’ll take it that you do agree that experiential obsevations can sometimes be illusions.

And this is the nub of the …ahem… matter, isn’t it? You have defined mental entities to be unphysical, and so when I present a physical mechanism for the formation of a mental object like a memory, you say “No it isn’t” in the manner of the Monty Python sketch where a man seeks an argument but finds only automatic contradiction.

Memory and memory formation are perfectly well understood in physical silicon computers, agreed? The question is whether memory and memory formation in carbon computers can be said to be similarly physical. We might examine the very molecules of the cerebellum (PDF) when something was being memorised and find activity which wasn’t there before, and even identify the memory molecules. Of course, this doesn’t provide a comprehensive model and we could not determine what was being memorised just from that activity alone (in the same way that the Enigma codebreakers required known German signals to model that machine properly), but it demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that memory has as physical a basis as any other biological process, like cancer or anaesthesia. We could even write an entire book on the giant leaps in experimentally understanding memory from a neurophysical perspective of the past few decades.

And still, like the vitalist who refused to accept that life was physical, we might meet with simple Pythonesque naysaying in return. What would convince you that memory was physical?

I did not imply that. What I meant was that life does not require any extra essence beyond that required by other “lifeless” physical matter. Life is an empirical phenomenon, consciousness isn’t. Life can be characterized by degrees. Consciousness can’t. Difference between Consciousness with a single object and No consiousness, is not the same as that between Nonlife and Life, which goes to the heart of the matter. BTW, I am not against vitalism. I, currently, don’t see the need for it.

They may be. But probably not. The crucial difference is that Abiogenesis can and has been observed, consciousness, and its genesis, can’t be.

Putting the cart before the horse. You have already assumed that gases can’t encode memory, hence the a priori defining of criteria for memory, in terms that processes, non-analogous to life, don’t satisfy.

Pretty simple. At time ‘t0’, you witness the apparition initially. You move closer, and at time ‘t1’, you scrutinize and notice that it was just a curtain. You conclude the apparition was an illusion. This requires that you assume that object examined at ‘t1’ be the same object as that at ‘t0’, i.e. they share a common identity. Else, the conclusion is invalid. Maybe the apparition was real and just disappeared quickly. Note that I’m not defending ghost sightings (I don’t believe in them), but elucidating an implicit assumption, which I uphold in pragmatic terms, in discovering ‘illusions’

Except you haven’t. What you have shown is a mechanism that correlates to the appearance of the memory. Furthermore, this does not select between panpsychism and physicalism. Because the train of events would be the same in both cases. The only difference is that in the case of panpsychism, there’s the open possibility of other mechanisms for memory formation. So, one can disprove physicalism by noticing a new memory without changes in the physical substrate, but panpsychism can only be disproved by actually observing consciousness, which by its nature, doesn’t happen.

Interesting. Bearing in mind the vitalist’s objection, how do you know something is alive, may I ask?

And yet you say I and other waking humans are conscious, and dead humans are differently conscious. Why is that? Are you not labelling these things this way based on your observations?

No I’m asking you, who think they can, how they could, given their entropy.

So people who say they see them are mistaken in their experiential observations.

I hear the Monty Python theme tune again. I asked you what evidence would convince you that memory formation had a physical mechanism. Note that if you answer “none”, you are not debating but merely asserting. You said there was a ‘fatal flaw’ in physicalism, but all I have heard is automatic naysaying like that of the vitalist.

Then tell me them, like I have told you. That’s a fair trade, is it not?

Requiring a “perfect” detector, of course, but yes, physicalism is falsifiable in this way, and thus scientific.

So you admit that panpsychism is unfalsifiable?

Depends on what I consider life. I would say, one requirement would be exhibition of motion (externally or internally) that is not (yet) reducible to a mathematically-expressed law. I don’t know if this law is sufficient.

Assumption, for the sake of pragmatism. Solipsism would be the alternative.

I don’t think they can, just I’m not sure they can’t.

That’s my working assumption.

Ability to experience other consciousnesses, or rather observe consciousnesses directly. That would be an alien mode of experience, so I’m not sure there’s any point speculating.

No. If I could observe other consciousnesses in action, this wouldn’t remain a theoretical debate.

Empirically-driven epistemology has limits. Popperism does not transcend Truth.

Yes, unless alien modes of perception arise, or some hitherto unknown aspects of nature are discovered.

But, says the vitalist, motion is not life - it is only the observed behaviour of living things. Just because something moves ‘unmathematically’, like a robot, does not mean it is alive.

So why not assume that photons aren’t conscious, given that their observed characteristics tell us that they are no more conscious than alive?

I’m not absolutely certain either, any more than I am certain they’re not conscious. I am asking why do you not think that they have memory, but you do think that they have consciousness.

Again, can we observe life so directly, bearing in mind the vitalist’s objection? Can we experience the computations occuring in the devices near which we sit? All we can observe directly is the flicking of the gates and charges in the chips and memory: does this mean that computation is not physical?

But you do: you see the people around you, to whom you ascribe consciousness, in action.

So panpsychism is pseudoscience, or even faith, yes?

Then I don’t know what vitalists mean by life. Know a handy site?

Life’s a matter of observation, consciousness isn’t.

I said “I don’t think they have”, not “I think they don’t”. I haven’t made up my mind of memory.

If you’re ascribing a consciousness and self to those gates, then No, else Yes.

You just highlighted why I don’t. If I could observe their consciousness, I wouldn’t have to resort to ascribing it to them.

It’s not a faith for me, just less arbitrary. As per Popperism, it is a pseudoscience, but so is physicalism.

Some corrections and clarifications:

of == about

then Yes, else No

Would this be fair to say, Gyan?
You accept the physical description of things, but think more may prove necessary to fully describe the universe.

Or do you have a particular example where you do not think the physical description of a thing will ever adequately explain that thing?

That’s fair, with the ‘may’ being a pretty strong ‘may’.

The Wikipage will do for now: they insist (for some reason I don’t understand) that life is more than what we observe in those things to which we ascribe life, just like you do (for some reason I understand just as little) with things to which we ascribe consciousness. In any case, everyone (including, surely, yourself) agrees that life is not just motion: it is just one observed characteristic of things which are alive.

What’s the difference?

What’s the difference?

I am asking you to entertain the notion that processing of sensory input in working memory is the basis of what consciousness is. When I ask you what would convince you of this, you suggest something we both agree is impossible, namely “experiencing the computations in another device”. You said there was a flaw in the thesis that consciousness is based on the processing of sensory input in working memory, but when I ask you what is actually is, all I encounter is Pythonesque naysaying. Your argument is surely not “the basis of consciousness is not processing of sensory input in working memory because we cannot experience the working memory of a separate device to ourselves”? That would surely be a simple non sequitur.

But you see them in action. Again, you cannot directly observe their life any more than their consciousness, and yet you don’t accept vitalism.

I’m afraid I don’t understand how it’s less arbirary to ascribe consciousness to photons despite no observed indications of such whatsoever.

But we just agreed that physicalism was falsifiable, and therefore scientific, did we not?

I wondered about anasthetic and how it relates to consciousness. One thought maybe worth considering is that anasthesia may just be the inability to write new memories to the brain. Full consciousness might remain, but without the ability to lay down new memories during that period it becomes impossible after that period to look back at what you consciously experienced during that period.
This idea has some support when you consider dreams, that are ‘conscious’ activities that quickly dissapear as the memory of the dream fades becoming as if the dream had never existed.
There is the conscious that we experience in the here and now, but any knowledge of a previous state of consciousness requires some reference to memories or other recordings of that previous state.

Heck, I’d agree with that! Otherwise, universities could close all of their science departments because there would be nothing left to research.

Unless I’m mistaken, he suggests consciousness will never be explained by physical mechanisms (computational or otherwise), although this seems to be an asserion rather than argument.

How does this explain the utter lack of any response to stimulus which a fully conscious person shows, or indeed the lack of activity in the cognitive modules which light up like a veritable Christmas tree when we dream in REM sleep? Surely the obvious conclusion is that anaesthetised people are unconscious?

Unless you define life as a characteristic exclusive to conscious entities, life is just motion.

In response to:

Should be clear now.

In response to:

The first implies the absence of a positive thought, the latter the presence of a negative one. I don’t assertively believe that gases do or can encode memory. I just don’t rule it out.

I can entertain the motion but it doesn’t hold up. Why this particular process? Why this threshold of complexity? Why only in certain arrangements? Unless you can explain this arbitrariness, physicalism smells of anthropocentrism, rather than rigor.

The production of phenomenon of consciousness itself. That’s what this all comes down to.

Doesn’t make a difference. Scientific theories have privileged positions only if the object of inquiry is amenable to a scientific method. If consciousness in all its aspect can’t be dissected empirically by a third-party, it’s relegated to philosophy rather than science.

Jon meant extraphysical entities, not more physical facts.