In his book The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science, Ludwig von Mises wrote:
"An honest man, perfectly familiar with all the achievements of contemporary natural science, would have to admit freely and unreservedly that the natural sciences do not know what the mind is and how it works and that their methods of research are not fit to deal with the problems dealt with by the sciences of human action." (The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science, p.56)
Mises Forum poster StrangeLoop generally takes issue with Mises’s assertion, writing, among other things:
Once again, these all are not-too-subtlepsychological terms, so Austrians are being quite hypocritical to claim they have divorced themselves from the natural sciences.
the tadpole-like condition of neuroeconomics is already more advanced than praxeology.
I understand StrangeLoop to advocate the general position that the phenomena that aprioristic praxeology deals with are more satisfactorily dealt with by the natural sciences and/or empirical approaches utilizing an epistemology essentially the same as the natural sciences.
In what follows, I will argue that on epistemological grounds, natural science cannot provide a satisfactory, non-contradictory account of consciousness, and that therefore, an essentially non-naturalistic approach to the phenomena of consciousness is required.
In other words, I will argue that in principle, it is not possible for the natural sciences to solve the problems dealt with by praxeology. The epistemological framework of natural science precludes a satisfactory and non-contradictory account of the phenomena of consciousness.
SUPPOSITIONS OF THE PROBLEM
There are two primary suppositions which define the structure of the attempt to provide a natural-scientific account of consciousness. First, there is the supposition that there is such a thing as consciousness. Second, there is the supposition that consciousness can be explained in a satisfactory and non-contradictory way by the natural sciences.
For a general account of the phenomenon to be addressed (consciousness) and the assertion that consciousness can be explained satisfactorily and without contradictions by natural science, I will refer to John Searle’s fourteen page essay “Biological Naturalism” which can be found here:
In his essay, Searle puts forth the two primary suppositions which frame the problem we will be discussing. First, Searle acknowledges that there is a subjective experience of consciousness. He writes:
“Consciousness, I say, consists of all of one’s states of awareness.” (p.1-2)
“Some things, such as pains and tickles and itches, only exist when experienced by a human or animal subject, and they have a subjective or first person ontology. Consciousness is ontologically subjective in the sense that it only exists when experienced by a human or animal subject.” (p.3)
Second, Searle asserts that consciousness can be explained by natural science:
“All conscious states are caused by lower level brain processes.” (p.5)
“…consciousness is part of the natural world along with other biological phenomena such as photosynthesis, digestion or mitosis, and the explanatory apparatus we need to explain it we need anyway to explain other parts of nature.” (p.7)
“Consciousness is entirely caused by neuronal behavior, but all the same we are unwilling to say that consciousness is nothing but neuronal behavior. Why not?” (p.11)
“In earlier writings, I said that the irreducibility of consciousness was a trivial consequence of our definitional practices……Grant me that consciousness exists as a first-person phenomenon in a world composed almost entirely of third-person phenomena and where, indeed, at the micro level the world is entirely constituted by third-person physical particles in fields of force. Then why is consciousness not reducible in the way that, for example, liquidity, solidity and color are reducible.” (p.12)
Thus, the two suppositions which frame the problem are, 1) that there is a subjective experience of consciousness and, 2) that this subjective experience of consciousness can be explained satisfactorily and without contradictions by natural science as particles or particle-structures interacting in fields of force.
Of course, non-acceptance of either of the two suppositions eliminates the problem. If consciousness is denied from the outset, or if it is denied that consciousness can be explained by natural science, the problem outlined below does not arise.
THE STRUCTURE OF THE PROBLEM
The problem under discussion arises due to the way objectivity is conceived and defined by natural science epistemology. A brief explanation of Pareto’s conception of objectivity as rendered by Talcott Parsons will serve as our typical conception:
“These considerations yield an interpretation of an important statement of Pareto, that the objective end must be “a real end, entering into the domain of observation and experience, and not an imaginary end, foreign to that domain which may, however, serve as a subjective end.” The objective end is always arrived at by a process of empirically valid prediction of the probable effects of certain operations in a situation. For such a prediction to be possible and to be verified by the outcome, it must lie “within the domain of observation.” (Talcott Parsons, The Structure of Social Action, Volume I, p. 189-190)
In other words, what is objective is that which appears in the domain of observation, taken to mean the domain of the publicly observable. This eventually means that objective phenomena, objects, or events, are those that in principle can be identified and publicly observed within a delimited spatial location.
For example, regarding a person’s reporting of his subjective conscious experiences, the reporting itself (his audible utterances, his bodily movements, etc.) will be considered objective, while the conscious experiences he refers to will be considered subjective.
Subjective conscious experiences, while constituting the object of the natural-scientific explanation, cannot comprise a part of the natural-scientific explanation. That is, the natural-scientific explanation will seek to explain subjective consciousness entirely in terms of the causal relationships (or perhaps a-temporal correlations) of several objective objects, processes, or events. Examples of the relationships between such objective events might be:
Objective event 1: apply electrical impulse to X region of subject’s spine or brain
causes or correlates to
Objective event 2: movement of subject
Objective event 1: place black and white picture in front of subject
Objective event 2: appearance of similar black and white figures on television monitor connected to subject’s spine or brain
The important point is that the epistemology of this procedure requires that two or more such publicly observable objective entities be related causally or correlatively.
If a subject, or if the scientific observer himself, utters: “I am now experiencing…,” or even “I am now doing …,” then what is considered an objective event, and allowed as objective science are the subject's or observer's physical sounds and movements, both conceived as publicly observable events occurring in a delimitable location. The “experiencing” and the “doing”—the “internal” subjective interpretation (C) that the person gives to his own activity—is not allowed as an objective natural-scientific element that causes or correlates to a given objective situation (X,Y,Z)), since these “internal” first-person interpretations (C) are considered subjective and not objective. As Pareto writes, that which is objective must lie within the domain of observation.
Due to the epistemological constraints of natural science with respect to what can be considered as objective, “a nasty perplexion arises.” If the methodology of natural science is strictly observed, and only objective entities are placed in casual or correlative relationships, this will entirely eliminate the causal or correlative relationship to the subjective conscious experiences of the given subject. That is, to the extent the natural scientific explanation is objective, the aimed for or intended causal connection between the objective explanation and the subjective conscious experience will be eliminated. It will be impossible to demonstrate causation or correlation between the objective-causal process or setup (X,Y,Z), and any particular subjective conscious experience (C).
On the other hand, to the extent that subjective elements are allowed as part of the natural-scientific explanation, natural-scientific objectivity is compromised, and the conclusions of such a procedure cannot be considered objective science by the standards of strict natural science.
The result is that on purely epistemological grounds, and based on the way that objectivity is conceived and defined in natural science, natural science cannot arrive at a satisfactory and non-contradictory account of consciousness in terms of physical, objective, publicly observable events and processes.
A subject is looking at black and white picture on the wall in front of him. A television monitor is connected to the subject’s brain, and on the monitor, a figure is visible that matches the figure on the wall.
Natural science is making progress in describing the causal processes involved in consciousness.
“Looking” is not an objective scientific entity by natural-scientific epistemology. In this context, “looking” is a first-person description denoting what the subject believes he is doing, or what the observer believes the subject is doing. But neither of these subjective interpretations meets the criteria of a natural-scientific objective entity. In other words, “looking” is a conceptual complex, and the denotation of part of this complex refers to a person’s self-conscious “inner-interpretation” (C) that they are doing a specific thing (or it refers to the self-conscious “inner-interpretation” of an observer that the observed person is doing a specific thing). If this self-conscious interpretation enters the natural-scientific description, then the description is not entirely objective.
A strictly objective account would read something like this:
The subject’s eyelids are in the open position. The direction of the subject’s eyes is xyz. In front of the subject is black and white figure abc, and visible on the monitor connected to the subject’s brain is figure def. When we change the direction of the subject’s eyes slightly to qrs, the figure on the monitor changes to hij. Etc., etc.,
In this account of things, there is reference made to three objective entities: the figure on the wall, the location/direction of the subject’s eyes, and the figure visible on the monitor. Changes in one or more of these objects causes or correlates to changes in one or more of the others. But here there is no causal or correlative relation claimed with respect to the conscious experiences that we suppose the subject may be having. The description is objective by the standards of natural science, but no causal link to the subject’s consciousness has been thereby asserted.
Note that the scientific observer’s subjective belief that he is witnessing something important about the observed subject’s conscious experience is not itself an objective entity by natural science epistemology. The scientific observer’s subjective belief as such cannot enter the scientific description. The scientific observer’s bodily movements and audible utterances are publicly observable, but his “inner” convictions, beliefs, opinions, judgments, etc., are not.
When we remove the subjective “inner interpretation” from the scientific description (i.e., the subject is “looking” at the wall), and replace this with a purely objective description (the subject’s eyes are in xyz position), we achieve the required objectivity in the description while simultaneously relinquishing a causal description linking objective processes with subjective conscious experiences.
In the future, once more knowledge has been acquired about physical brain processes, a subject is brought in for observation. John Searle is present as are several other natural scientists. The appropriate measuring devices are attached to the subject, and the processes occurring in the subject’s brain and related organs are measured. Upon reading the results displayed on the measuring device, John Searle turns to the scientists and says:
“This guy (the subject) is in pain, even though he does not feel it yet. The thalamocortical system definitely shows the presence of pain, though it is unfelt” (p.11)
Searle has already defined a conscious experience as something that only exists when experienced by a human or animal subject:
“Some things, such as pains and tickles and itches, only exist when experienced by a human or animal subject…..Consciousness is ontologically subjective in the sense that it only exists when experienced by a human or animal subject.”(p.3)(underlined emphasis added)
By his own terms, Searle has not provided a natural-scientific account of the conscious experience of the subject. According to Searle, a pain, as a conscious experience, only exists when experienced by a human or animal subject. When Searle observes the brain process occurring in the subject, he claims the subject is in pain though the subject does not feel it yet. However, Searle’s definition of pain as a conscious experience (page 3) specifically requires that it be felt or experienced by the subject.
Thus, the physical processes that Searle is measuring, by his own definition, do not constitute or comprise the subject’s conscious experience of pain.
I surmise that Searle envisions a temporal separation between the time the subject’s brain processes are measured and the time the subject experiences pain consciously, in order to establish independence between the natural-scientific demonstration of pain happening in the subject, from the subject’s subjective report of pain. Searle wants to establish that he has described the subject’s pain objectively entirely in terms of physical processes, independent of the subjective report of the subject himself. To this end, on page 11, Searle suggests that it will be possible to establish that a particular physical process happening in a subject now, will cause the subject to undergo a conscious experience of pain later. The problem is that Searle has specifically stated that the relationship between physical brain processes and the conscious experience is simultaneous and a-temporal:
"We have been taught by Hume that causation is always a relation between discrete events ordered in time and that every singular causal relation is always an instantiation of a universal causal regularity. Lots of causal relations are like that, but not all. Many causal forces are continuous through time. Gravity, for example. The causal explanation of why this table exerts pressure on the floor is the force of gravity, but gravity does not consist of a sequence of discrete events. And lots of causal relations are….. simultaneous with the effect. For example, the causal explanation of why this table supports objects is in terms of the behavior of the microparticles, but the causal explanation of why the table supports objects is not given by first specifying one event, the molecular movements, and then a later event, the support of the object. Rather the two are simultaneous. Similarly the causal explanation of why my brain is in its present state of consciousness is in terms of, let us suppose, massive rates of synchronized neuron firings at synapses. But this does not require that, first, the brain behave in a certain way and then, later, consciousness exists, rather the conscious states are realized simultaneously with the neuron firings." (p. 13)(emphasis added)
Here, Searle argues that the causality that he intends as applying between brain processes and conscious experiences is simultaneous causality. But then by his own standards, it is not possible to maintain that:
It seems clear that Searle is caught in a plain contradiction, and this contradiction is epistemological in nature. It is not a matter of the acquisition of more empirical knowledge. It is a matter of a discord between definition 1 of consciousness that Searle provides when he acknowledges consciousness as a phenomenon, and definition 2 of consciousness that he provides when he describes how consciousness might be explained by natural science. He is not able, “epistemologically,” to provide a non-contradictory account of how consciousness could possibly be described in natural-scientific terms while maintaining a strict standard of natural-scientific objectivity.
The naturalist will generally maintain that with the acquisition of more empirical knowledge about brain processes, eventually natural science will be able to explain consciousness the same way it describes photosynthesis, digestion, or mitosis. But the problem that naturalism faces is not primarily technical, but epistemological. It is the nature of the definition and conception of what constitutes natural-scientific objectivity that limits and circumscribes the nature of the information that can be meaningfully conveyed by natural science.
What those seeking to provide a natural-scientific account of consciousness need to provide is a simple descriptive account outlining how the phenomenon of subjective or first-person consciousness can be accounted for utilizing knowledge that is rigorously objective by natural-scientific standards.
The question is simply this: How, in principle, can a natural-scientific account of consciousness be constructed?
Until such an account is provided, those who pursue the logical-deductive approach to the phenomena of consciousness do so on reasonable grounds.
"It would be preposterous to assert apodictically that science will never succeed in developing a praxeological aprioristic doctrine of political organization..." (Mises, UF, p.98)
Oh, man... I had no idea you were going to provide such a long-winded argument. (That's not an insult, but I did not realize my participation would be so demanding.)
Just so you know, I absolutely despise John Searle's philosophy of mind.
"I'm not a fan of Murray Rothbard." -- David D. Friedman
Sorry. My intention is not to require you to provide an equally long reply. I wanted to outline the problem for the possible benefit of those who may be interested, and I can't outline the problem sufficiently in a few paragraphs.
As I see it, what is required of the naturalist is a simple outline of how, in principle, it will be possible to describe consciousness via natural science, given natural science's limitations as to what may be admitted as an objective entity.
The explanation required is of the same nature as the thought experiments that were devised by Einstein, Bohr, and Heisenberg, which clearly demonstrated the problems involved without the need for constructing the assumed apparatuses. In those thought experiments, they conceived various clocks, shutters, springs, etc, and they followed the supposed or imagined experiment step by step. Doing so clearly demonstrated the correctness of Bohr's and Heisenberg's position. It was not possible, in principle, to devise an experiment that eliminated the interaction between the subject and the object.
Similarly, my argument is that it will not be possible, in principle, for you to outline a similar thought experiment that explains consciousness as the causal or correlative relationship of objective entities as outlined above. To explain consciousness without contradiction, it will be necessary to introduce (subtly or inadvertently) into the description, an entity that is not rigorously objective by natural-scientific standards.
My argument is that regardless of the amount of empirical knowledge that may accrue in the future, it is not even possible, now, to provide an account of how objectively defined observational knowledge can amount to a description of the subjective phenomenon of consciousness we set out to describe.
All that is required of the naturalist is to do what Searle attempted--but failed--to do: Provide an outline of a set-up or scientific configuration whereby consciousness is explained with natural-scientific objectivity.
E.g., "Subject A is attached to device Y. Z procedure is done, and X effect is observed." etc, etc.,
I'm arguing that it hasn't been done and it can't be done.
Any attempt to do this will reveal that a subjective entity has been subtly or inadvertently allowed to function as one of the objective entities required for the standard of strict natural-scientific objectivity to be met.
My contention is that no thought experiment can be produced that retains rigorous natural-scientific objectivity while providing a natural-scientific-causal account of consciousness.
I am most certainly in the opposing camp, but I am incredibly busy, so expect my response to be a bit delayed (essentially, I'll be taking cues from Daniel Dennett and Paul Churchland, if you're familiar with them).
I am not currently familiar with them. But I assume you will be able to explain the relevant concepts in your own words so that we can understand them.
I will be able to explain the relevant Austrian concepts, perhaps providing some quotes, without asking you to read lengthy articles or books. I hope you can do the same.
Do you mind if other people to contribute to the discussion?
I don't think Dennett is a 'greedy reductionist' like you seem to be,....
Where there is no property there is no justice; a proposition as certain as any demonstration in Euclid
Fools! not to see that what they madly desire would be a calamity to them as no hands but their own could bring
Rather than making unsubstantiated assertions, you should use evidence to claim I am a "greedy reductionist" in a manner that Dennett isn't.
Adam Knott:Do you mind if other people to contribute to the discussion?
I absolutely do mind; I've noticed that the minority of intelligent debaters here are quickly drowned out by throngs of mean-spirited, dim-witted cheerleaders.
As Gilbert Ryle argued in The Concept of Mind, a prospective student who visits a university might visit the library, the labs, the sports arena, and may finally—with a confused expression—ask the tour guide, “But where is the university?”
Likewise, when one observes the electro-chemical meshwork of synapses and neurons, one could ask, “But where is the subjective experience?”
Ultimately, when we characterize subjective experience as the "ineffable, intrinsic, private, directly apprehensible properties of [consciousness], we find that there is nothing to fill the bill” (Dennett).
One question that immediately presents itself is, “If cognitive neuroscience isn’t about the mind, then what is its subject?” That is, if cognitive neuroscience is, as I suggest, actively studying the information-processing (i.e., consciousness) of organisms, then how can consciousness be ontologically distinct?
If consciousness, as you assert, is permanently outside the bounds of empirical research, then how do you know about it all? Furthermore, and more pointedly, how do you know other human beings are conscious?
Additionally, we are--for the most part--made of meat, so how does a fundamentally “non-natural” feature become part of such a being? Moreover, what is the causal connection between the brain and consciousness, since the two must be separable (i.e., they are comprised of ontologically distinct substances, according to you). Could a being exist that matches us physically (isomorphically) but is missing consciousness, for instance?
Finally, when observing others or when you're introspective, you are not escaping empirical theory; the ideas you impose (e.g., preferences, desires) expose the theory-ladenness of your observations; you rely upon unquestioned assumptions (i.e., folk psychology). It very well might be the case that a mature neurobiology will debunk prescientific notions like "desire," for instance. Do you believe that folk psychology is both testable and falsifiable, or do you instead believe that it is an irrefutably true framework for understanding human minds?
"One question that immediately presents itself is, “If cognitive neuroscience isn’t about the mind, then what is its subject?”
To the extent cognitive neuroscience is natural science, I assert that its subject is the brain, as distinct from the mind.
This goes directly to the Mises quote in the OP:
"An honest man, perfectly familiar with all the achievements of contemporary natural science, would have to admit freely and unreservedly that the natural sciences do not know what the mind is and how it works and that their methods of research are not fit to deal with the problems dealt with by the sciences of human action." (UF, p.56)
"That is, if cognitive neuroscience is, as I suggest, actively studying the information-processing (i.e., consciousness) of organisms, then how can consciousness be ontologically distinct?"
As a first-person phenomenon.
"If consciousness, as you assert, is permanently outside the bounds of empirical research, then how do you know about it all?"
"Furthermore, and more pointedly, how do you know other human beings are conscious?"
I don't know that other human beings are conscious in the same way I know I am conscious. Or said another way, what I experience as my own consciousness, I have not to my knowledge experienced in plural, so that I could say to myself: This consciousness that I am experiencing is mine, and this other consciousness that I am experiencing is his. Since I judge that I do not experience two distinct consciousnesses, but only one, then I construct my theory of consciousness on this premise.
A theory thus constructed need not answer the ontological question of whether other people "really are" conscious (ontological or metaphysical realism). Instead, the theory addresses the question: what happens when X is considered a conscious being by person A ? (theoretical subjectivism) A person walks into a park and sees another person who has painted himself and is posing as a statue. As he walks closer, he realizes that he was mistaken, and that this object is a statue and not a person. As he walks even closer, he realizes again that no, it is actually a person posing as a statue.
A praxeological theory of consciousness can be constructed that addresses the logical implications of each discreet aspect of this scenario without answering the ontological question whether or not the object perceived is a conscious being.
"Additionally, we are--for the most part--made of meat, so how does a fundamentally “non-natural” feature become part of such a being?"
This question takes us back to the OP. My argument is that natural science cannot provide a satisfactory answer to this question, and that praxeology can provide a satisfactory answer to this question. If I am a natural scientist experiencing consciousness as a first-person phenomenon, I will not be able to arrive at a consistent scientific theory if I try to find something identical to my first-person conscious experience, confined within the same spatial local as the physical object in front of me. In other words, my theory will be inconsistent if I try to locate a duplicate of my conscious experience in the space occupied by a body in front of me.
The form of the question you pose, that the consciousness I presently experience "exists" in identity as "part" of the being in front of me (as something contained within a delimitable space in front of me), cannot be answered by a consistent theory. Because, speaking loosely, such a theory tries to conceive "awareness of" and "of" as identical.
"Moreover, what is the causal connection between the brain and consciousness, since the two must be separable (i.e., they are comprised of ontologically distinct substances, according to you)"
I don't think this question can be answered by a consistent theory. When we say "cause," this entails conceiving the brain and consciousness as categorically similar entities, or as you write, ontologically distinct substances. I.e., substance 1, substance 2, substance 3, etc...
Your question is a re-phrasing of the question that some natural scientists believe can be answered by natural science. I would refer to those holding this belief as naturalists. The idea is that if I am a natural scientist, my first-person experience of consciousness can be located in plural as a complex of substances inside the substance in front of me. Speaking loosely, the attempt to find "my awareness of" inside of my "of."
"Could a being exist that matches us physically (isomorphically) but is missing consciousness, for instance?"
I don't consider the ontological question as a necessary part of the praxeological question. The praxeological question would be something like:
What are the implications of actor A's belief that in front of him is an object of X nature?
"Finally, when observing others or when you're introspective, you are not escaping empirical theory; the ideas you impose (e.g., preferences, desires) expose the theory-ladenness of your observations; you rely upon unquestioned assumptions (i.e., folk psychology). It very well might be the case that a mature neurobiology will debunk prescientific notions like "desire," for instance."
My initial reply is to ask why the same argument doesn't apply to the term or notion "consciousness"?
If the same argument applies to the term consciousness, then those who employ that term also practice folk psychology.
In other words, if the notion of folk psychology refers to the use of terms to denote those phenomena we acknowledge, but have not been able to explain in terms of particles in fields of force, then folk psychology seems to be a generally employed device, and our acknowledgment of this presents no cause for alarm. In the OP, Searle practices folk psychology by definition, since he acknowledges consciousness but cannot explain it in terms of particles in fields of force.
As a trivial matter, wouldn't the term "folk psychology" be subject to the same general principles as the terms "desire" and "consciousness"? Until "folk psychology" has been explained in terms of particles in fields of force, isn't use of the term folk psychology an instance of folk psychology?
"Do you believe that folk psychology is both testable and falsifiable, or do you instead believe that it is an irrefutably true framework for understanding human minds?"
As I understand this term presently, I believe that folk psychology denotes an ineradicable aspect of the subject/object distinction.
The act which sets the boundary between the subject and the object, sets the subject, of necessity and by definition, as an unquestioned assumption.
Thus, what I believe you to be intending by the term folk psychology---that natural science can or will eliminate or debunk it upon the gathering of more empirical knowledge---implies to me that natural science will eliminate or debunk the subject/object distinction. I understand folk psychology---the utilization of an unquestioned assumption---to be inherent to the subject/object distinction.
It seems to me the thesis that folk psychology (the subject/object distinction) can be eradicated by natural science is itself an unquestioned assumption of naturalism, and an instance of folk psychology ??
I must admit I'm already bored of this debate. Not your fault, but I simply fail to understand several of your points. I find them incoherent.
How can a brain, in some mysterious way, affect consciousness, especially a consciousness that is ontologically separable? That is, how does ingesting LSD-25 affect consciousness? Furthermore, how can conscious experience develop flaws (e.g., optical illusions)? If the mind is not the brain, then why are the two related in any manner? Do minds need brains? Are minds necessarily embodied?
How do you know you can "desire" an object (cf. folk psychology)? Your interpretation is theory-dependent. Is there a method to test this? I would suggest neuroscience will either confirm or disconfirm the notion of "desire." You can't rely on introspection.
Is it more sensible, knowing science, to claim "I have a brain" or "I am a brain"? I would clearly suggest the latter.
More than anything else, it seems you refuse to believe neuroscience can penetrate this mystery. You don't even offer an alternative explaination; rather, you simply shrug your shoulders on the issue.
Furthermore, if you believe that fMRI can reveal a lie, a moral thought process, or happiness, then you fully agree that science can provide measurements of conscious experience, even if the first-person experience itself is off-limits. Thus, you should find neuroscience complementary to praxeology, not useless. Should psychology resist interdisciplinary research with neuroscience? It hasn't, but it too relies upon the "mind." Should psychology itself be solely praxeological?
P.S. This debate can officially be open to others. But, I would strongly urge you to read Dennett's Consciousness Explained.
Fundamentally, if you concede that "behavior is caused by action in the nervous system," then natural science can explain it through empirical means (Camerer, Loewenstein, Prelec). You might claim that we can never experience what the other person directly experiences, but that doesn't invalidate non-praxeological economics.
The blue I see is not necessarily the blue you see. Does empirical science have anything to say to that? (honest question)
ThreeTrees:The blue I see is not necessarily the blue you see. Does empirical science have anything to say to that? (honest question)
I would claim that all of those discrimination processes (evaluating wavelengths of light, etc.) are necessarily idiosyncratic and can only be understood according to the neural processes that generated them. For instance, even the "taste" of coffee can change after a few sips.
"How can [a brain], in some mysterious way, affect [consciousness], especially a consciousness that is ontologically separable?"
You are simply repeating the thesis of naturalism in the form of a question.
Your question implies that both a brain and a consciousness are entities of the same categorial nature, such that one can affect the other causally.
You are essentially arguing:
How can the answer to a question that requires that content be put here (…..) and here (…..) not be of such a form that content is put there and there?
And you repeat this over and over.
But that is not the question at issue. The question is whether or not, when content is put there and there, this will amount to a causal natural-scientific explanation of consciousness.
In the OP, I asked you to produce a simple thought experiment that would demonstrate how in principle the thesis of naturalism can be realized. This would just be a page or less outlining some procedure that would, in principle, arrive at a description of consciousness in terms of physical processes. (e.g., subject A is attached to monitor X. In front of subject A is placed chart Y. Eyes of subject are changed from position r to position t. etc…)
I assert that based on epistemological considerations, you, nor any other naturalist, will be able to sketch even a hypothetical scenario whereby consciousness can be explained by physical processes in the objective, natural-scientific sense.
I am willing to grant for the sake of argument, that all the scientists and philosophers you are referring to will succeed in the empirical inquiries they are currently involved in. Let’s assume the physical processes they are researching turn out to confirm their scientific hypotheses.
If this is the case, how, in principle, will this explain consciousness causally in the objective natural-scientific sense?
John Searle tried to do what you claim can be done. As I showed above, he wrote that when we have more empirical knowledge about physical brain processes, we will be able to claim:
“This guy is in pain, even though he does not feel it yet. The thalamocortical system definitely shows the presence of pain, thought it is unfelt.”(Biological Naturalism, document, p.11)
And as I pointed out, this is a blatant contradiction, since on page 3 of the same document, Searle writes:
“Some things, such as pains…., only exist when experienced by a human or animal subject.”
Thus, even if we grant Searle that all the empirical knowledge he believes will be available in the future is available now, he is unable to provide a non-contradictory account of how this empirical evidence will amount to a physical-causal description of consciousness.
I assert that no one can produce such an account. Any account produced will either 1) contain a clear contradiction (such as in Searle) or 2) it will be found that a subjective entity is being allowed inadvertently or subtly to serve as an objective entity of natural science, and once that subjective entity is removed from the description, it will be clear that no physical-causal description of consciousness is being provided.
(E.g., if we describe the scenario such as “subject A is looking at a screen in front of him,” this is not an objective description, since “looking” is, as you would call it, a folk psychology term similar to “desiring.” To make the description objective, we have to write something like “subject A’s eyes are in xyz position…..” But then we relinquish reference to the consciousness of the subject.)
Searle was willing to attempt a short summary (less than 14 double-spaced pages) of how naturalism will explain consciousness entirely in terms of physical-causal processes. Why aren’t you? Or, if you are unable to produce such a summary, why can’t you provide a simple synopsis that has been written by one of the philosophers you continue to link to?
I'll try to explain again why I believe it cannot be done.
If I am a conscious natural scientist studying consciousness as a physical process, the objects at my disposal for configuration or theoretical interpretation will be things such as: monitors, measuring devices, electrical wires, knobs, switches, the body of a subject, the body parts of a subject, the sounds emanating from the subject and from others in the room, the bodies of other people in the examining room, etc., etc.....
The challenge will be to interpret some number of these objects to mean that consciousness has been entirely explained as their causal interaction.
But just as looking and desiring are “folk psychology,” so is interpreting “folk psychology.” (I.e., “how do you know you can “look” at an object?” “how do you know you can “desire” an object?” “how do you know you can “interpret” a situation?” etc., etc.,…)
The interpretation is what is necessary to make the objective entities in the room into a physical-causal description of the consciousness of subject A. And that interpretation is not an objective entity of natural science. The interpretation belongs to the group of entities you are classifying as “folk psychology” objects (desire, wanting, striving, aiming, etc…)
Generally, terms such as “interpretation” are terms of human action, meaning, they are terms indicating a “purposive doing.” You are simply going to refer to all the terms and concepts of purposive activity as folk psychology. But if we accept this terminology, that won’t change the structural problems inherent in the attempt to describe consciousness in terms of physical processes. Because the “folk psychology” aspect is, as I assert, inherent to the subject-object distinction. When the observer of any physical process says or thinks “what we have here is…” or “what we are observing here is…”, then the terms “have” and “observe” will be folk psychology terms—how do you know you can “have”? “how do you know you can “observe”?—denoting the unquestioned assumption the observer is making concerning the distinction between himself (between his consciousness) and the object (that of which he is consciously aware).
When I distinguish between myself as subject, and the physical objects I observe, I indicate or imply a “duality predicament” wherein my own consciousness is not questioned. In your terms, in distinguishing between my consciousness and the objects of my consciousness, in relation to the objects of my consciousness, “I” am an entity of “folk psychology.”
Every act of mine (every instance of purposive doing) entails and implies such a distinction between the physical or perceptual aspect and the immaterial, un-perceptible, or “folk psychology” aspect.
Thus, as I will argue, if we conceive “folk psychology” is this general and universal sense, there is nothing alarming about it. We are simply acknowledging that reference to objects entails reference to a subject, and that this distinction indicates some fundamental and categorical difference between the two.