Thursday, April 10, 2008

Why philosophy of mind is an utterly pointless discipline

I'm going to draw some fire for this one.


Philosophy of mind is an utterly pointless discipline.

Philosophy in general irks the hell out of me in several ways; it looks for things that have really been only rationalized to exist by philosophers and haven't been proven to exist any other way (which makes them sound like fundamentalists of some theistic religion and frankly makes me not take them seriously at all); I can think of too many philosophers whose only source of proof was the logical assumptions made by their brains. Ethics, logic, and thought experiments are great, but postulating about things such as mathematics and the mind makes philosophers look like remoras of the intellect.

Consciousness is an especially contentious thing - David Chalmers, for one, has this silly notion of 'qualia', which are 'the way things seem to us'. These are, according to Chalmers, ineffable, intrinsic, private, and directly apprehensible in consciousness. Say you see a red cup which contains beer. Chalmers says that 'redness' is a quale of the cup, as is the 'brownness' of the beer or the 'liquidness' of the beer or the 'truncated conicness' of the cup.

These phenomena are easily explainable by the fact that the chemicals which compose the plastic and the beer reflect the colors red and brown, and that beer exists at room temperature in a liquid state (since it is mostly water) and that the plastic was poured into a mold and hardened that way, since it is solid at room temperature. The reason we see red and brown is the fact that human eyes are designed to see those colors. This is how the electromagnetic spectra reflected by these substances looks to our eyes and how our eyes process them. If we were dogs, we would see shades of gray, and if we were bees, we would see some funky purple stuff. The reason we have those colors is that that is what people have called them over time, and, well, we can't do much about the electromagnetic spectrum, that's just the way it is and there's no 'why' to it. There is essentially no 'why' to the most basic aspects of existence.

Also, this 'zombie' thing: If zombies were physically similar to us, they would be conscious. Consciousness is a physical property which exists because of our neurophysiology. There is no supernatural woo-woo explanation to it, and any supernatural woo-woo assumptions are about as good as saying there's a big flying teapot on the other side of the universe. (OBVIOUS CONNECTION TO THE ABSURDITY OF THEISM FOR THE WIN)

The Chinese room experiment is about the only plausible thing I have ever seen come out of philosophy of mind; for the answer as to why this is plausible, see Developing Intelligence.


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Genius said...

this debate is a bit of a trap...

Qualia is used by psychologists in a more experimental form to describe 'that feeling you get'. So at one level everyone agrees qualia exist. It is just that people like Richard attribute them a special status.

Under normal situations when doing this one would go to a lot of effort to define the differences but in this case it is presented as a philosophical difference

they are tend to be poorly defined However this is also compounded by how they tend to not provide much of a definition. In this context that would amount to talking about how they relate to other objects and themselves as the main point in a debate. However I tend to find these sorts of things are generally left unstated.

A lot of people attacking the Qualia model misinterpret it as a religious model, one needs to realise that while they attribute a special status to qualia it isn't a very special status. they dont attribute qualia magical powers (in fact it doesn't even have normal powers!) . It is just 'beyond nature'.

This leaves those who disagree in somewhat of a difficult position because they are trying to use terms in ways that are unnatural to them to attack a position that is poorly defined and the definition that does exist for it is in a sense hidden.

Science is dangerous to this field, so another common position is to assert that science has no role in this domain and then ask you to prove that it does - people are generally tempted to try an use science to do that which leaves them able to reject every attack with 'yeah but I reject science in this context so you haven't got anywhere'. A logical argument from the premise, of course many would not take the premise seriously...

I think Ive developed some more penetrating attacks but I expect you might be more of the opinion that the argument doesn't deserves complicated attacks.

kldickson said...

I'm curious to hear those more penetrating attacks. They sound fascinating.

Genius said...

There is quite a few but one of my favorites is as follows

First for background Richard (and a lot of zombie philosophers) have the position that qualia (the soul if you like) effects nothing. To be clear they really should call them "effectless qualia" (i.e. effected by bot no effect themselves).
what this does is create a real world/qualia divide

1) a complex thought (as in an argument for qualia), because it effects things, must be in the real world
2) the thought about qualia cannot be informed by 'effectless qualia' (because it's a real world item)
3) if you say 'effectless qualia' exist your 'statement' should be taken by others as either illogical (not based on anything logical) or wrong.
but its gets worse
4) Since thought orders qualia, qualia the 'effectless' soul can't even tell it exists, because that would require at least two (probably billions) bits of soul to communicate. (this can be tightened to close loopholes but one needs to see which way they try to jump)
5) so even thinking internally (thinking it is just your soul thinking) that you know 'effectless qualia' exist doesn't make much sense.
and worse yet
6) if 'effectless qualia' do exist then your soul can't change your mind but if it doesn't exist then you can change your mind to not believe in it. So to maximize your chances of being right you should not believe in it.

of course I'm tempted to just say "effectless qualia? you can't have something that is effected but doesn't effect - thats just nonsense" but of course they will counter with 'yeah but we stipulated physics doesn't apply" or some such thing.

kldickson said...

There's a small debate going on at The Uncredible Hallq between me and Richard, which mostly consists of him insisting something to the effect that 'science has nothing to do with this' and me saying 'how does science NOT have anything to do with philosophy of mind, idiot?'