The Contestability of (P & ~Q)

The discussion of Richard Chappell’s post Understanding (Zombie) Conceivability Arguments: Part II over at Philosophy, etc has prompted me to clarify the sense in which I take (P & ~Q) to be contestable and the reasons whyI take  the primary and secondary intensions of statement in Q not to be  identical; as it turns out the two claims are related.

We first start with the primary and secondary intensions of a statement. Let’s take our old standby ‘water is H2O’ and our two ways of considering possible worlds as either actual or counter factual. So, ‘water is H2O’ is true when we consider any possible world as counter factual. This is because  ‘water is H2O’ is an a posteriori necessity. There are no worlds, considered as counter-factual, where water isn’t H2O. But there are possible worlds, which if we consider as actual instead of counter factual, ‘water is H2O’ comes out false. So, take Twin Earth. On Twin Earth ‘water is XYZ’ is true and so when we consider Twin Earth as actual ‘water is H2O’ is false. That is to say that if Twin Earth were the actual world ‘water is not H2O’ would be true (because ‘water is XYZ’ is true there). What we have here is the makings of the distinction between primary and secondary intensions. The primary intension of a statement is given by asking whether it is true or false at possible worlds considered as actual while the secondary intension of a statement is given by asking whether it is true or false at possible worlds considered as counter factual. In effect then the primary intension of a statement is given by some kind of reference fixing description and then we determine whether the statement is true or not by taking a possible world and letting the description fix the reference at that world and the secondary intension of a statement is given by assigning the actual reference of the terms in question and holding that fixed as we vary our counter factual worlds.

Primary and secondary conceivability are then defined in terms of the kind of intension at work. So, take ‘water is not H20′. Chalmers accepts that there is a sense in which this is not conceivable. This is the sense in which we give ‘water’ the reference that it actually has. Then ‘water is not H20′ is equivalent to saying ‘H20 is not H20′ which is a contradiction. But this is to use secondary conceivability. ‘Water is not H2O’ is still primarily conceivable since if we consider Twin Earth as actual it will be true. This is because we assign ‘water’ just the reference fixing description and so to say that water is not H2O is just to say that ‘the stuff picked out in the same way we pick out H2O is not H2O’ which is true at Twin Earth. This captures Kripke’s way of putting it. When we think that we are conceiving of water not being H2O were are really conceiving of a person who is in the same epistemic situation as we are when we pick out H2O but isn’t picking that stuff out (i.e. Twin Earth).  Now, Chalmers continues, the zombie argument relies only on primary conceivability, not secondary conceivability; in fact Chalmers himself accused my zoombie argument of relying on secondary conceivability and not primary conceivability. I think my response at the time isn’t as good as it could be because it focused on P and not Q So let me try and restate the case.

A crucial premise of Chalmers’ argument is that when it comes to pains and other phenomenal properties their primary and secondary intensions are identical. What that means is that the statements in question pick out the same property no matter whether we consider the world as actual or counter factual. This is supposed to capture Kripke’s claim that it is impossible for there to be someone in the same epistemic situation as someone who was in pain and yet for that person not to be in pain (and that it is impossible for there to be a person who was in the same epistemic situation as someone who wasn’t in pain and yet to be in pain. There is no appearance/reality distinction when it comes to pains. So then the upshot here is to try to show that there is a difference between the way ‘water is not H2O’ works and the way ‘pain is not C-fiber firing’ works that preserves Kripke’s general idea but is made precise by the 2-D framework. Kripke’s basic idea was that when we think that some identity is contingent what is really going on is that there is some identity statement involving a description that is contingent but this can’t be the way we explain away the seeming contingency of ‘pain is C-fiber firing’ since there  is no alternate contingent identity involving a description in the case of pains.  This translates into the 2-D framework as the claim that Kripkean a posteriori necessities have a contingent primary intension (i.e. ‘water isn’t  H2O’ comes out true at some possible world considered as actual) but ‘pain isn’t C-fiber firing’, according to physicalist, has a necessary primary intension (there are no worlds considered as actual where this comes out true).

 But what are we to make of this claim? Is it really the case that the primary and secondary intensions of ‘the painful stuff is C-fiber firing’ are  identical? Or another way of asking the question; can the painful stuff fail to be c-fiber firing at some possible world considered as actual even though the painful stuff picks out C-fiber firing here? The answer is arguably yes! This is something that may be surprising but it is arguably shown to be true by empirical results. In particular cases of Dental Fear show that we can pick out mental states as painful which are not pains. Pain Asymboilia also, arguably, shows that we can pick out pain states without picking them out as painful. So the primary intension of ‘pain is not C-fiber firing’ is contingent. There is a possible world, say, where the painful stuff is ABC, where ABC is some distinct property from C-fiber firing, and if that world were actual it would be true that pain is not C-fiber firing. But does that world threaten physicalism? Obviously not. It is not physically identical to our world so is no threat. What needs to be shown is that there is a possible world where you have C-fiber firing and no painful stuff. Is there one? Well, obviously there might be one that is physically distinct from ours (that is, a world that was NOT a micro-physical duplicate of ours, say with different laws of physics there, might have C-fiber firing and no painful stuff and if that world were actual then it would be true that ‘c-fiber firing isn’t pain’) but again this world is not threat to physicalism. But of course (P & ~Q) is supposed to describe a world that IS micro physically identical to ours and which lacks qualitative properties. But this clearly isn’t conceivable on the present account. To see this, compare the water=H2O case. Given that the watery stuff is H2O in the actual world we know that in a world micro-physically identical to ours is a world in which H2O is picked out by ‘the watery stuff’. So too, then, if pain=C-fiber firing in the actual world then we know that any world micro-physically identical to ours is a world in which C-fiber firing is picked out by ‘the painful stuff’. So IF physicalism is true of our world then zombies are not conceivable. But this is not to rely on secondary conceivability. This is to rely of the non-identity of the primary and secondary intensions of ‘pain is not C-fiber firing’ in just the same way as we do in the water/H2O case. This is why my view is in the Kripkean-tradition, and so akin to type B physicalism but not wholly so.

Notice that the upshot of this is that when the dualist says that (P & ~Q) is semantically neutral they are either wrong or do not threaten physicalism. When they go to explicitly fill in the place holder ‘~Q’ with statements like ‘RB is consciously having a pain’ they assign a semantics to terms like ‘pain’ where the primary and secondary intensions are identical, whereas a physicalist like me will assign those terms a semantics just like other natural kind terms (where these intensions are not identical). If you really were to remain neutral on this semantic issue the conceivability of (P & ~Q) is no threat to physicalism (since you need the premise (PI=SI) to make the argument go through). So to get the zombie argument off the ground you must assume a certain semantics for the terms in Q, just as to get the zoombie argument off the ground you have to assume a certain semantics for NP (namely one that stipulates that there are no qualitative properties in NP. This nicely mirrors the zombie argument where the dualist has to stipulate that there are no physical properties in Q). It may be the case that this is more obvious in the zoombie case but it still helps to expose the same flaw in teh zombie argument.

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35 thoughts on “The Contestability of (P & ~Q)

  1. “can the painful stuff fail to be c-fiber firing at some possible world considered as actual even though the painful stuff picks out C-fiber firing here? The answer is arguably yes! This is something that may be surprising but it is arguably shown to be true by empirical results.”

    Richard, trying to use empirical results to draw conclusions about qualia is begging the question. If something is empirically measurable then it must be physical by definition, that’s the meaning of causal closure.

    “There is a possible world, say, where the painful stuff is ABC, where ABC is some distinct property from C-fiber firing, and if that world were actual it would be true that pain is not C-fiber firing. But does that world threaten physicalism? Obviously not. It is not physically identical to our world so is no threat.”

    Why do you assume that this world is not physically identical to our world? All that you are saying is that at a different world a different physical state might be associated with the quale of pain. There’s nothing here that prevents the world from being physically identical to ours, as in an inverse spectrum world.

    “if pain=C-fiber firing in the actual world then we know that any world micro-physically identical to ours is a world in which C-fiber firing is picked out by ‘the painful stuff’. So IF physicalism is true of our world then zombies are not conceivable”

    What does it mean for physicalism to be true of our world? Physicalism is true if P, the conjunction of microphysical facts at our world, logically entails Q. If physicalism is true at all, it is true at all worlds. So I think this statement is trivially true. If physicalism is true anywhere, then it is true everywhere.

    by the way, my actual name is Soluman, I think you’ve been mistaking it for “Soulman”, as though I had adopted it to argue for the existence of souls, I’m not.

  2. Hi Soluman, sorry about the name snafu!! Sometimes my dislexia shows…I really saw your name as ‘soulman’!

    trying to use empirical results to draw conclusions about qualia is begging the question. If something is empirically measurable then it must be physical by definition, that’s the meaning of causal closure.

    I agree that if something is empirically measurable then it is physical and that from this you can either do a modus ponens to get my conclusion (qualia are empirically measuarble) or a modus tollens to get yours (qualia are not physical) but that’s not what’s at issue here. Rather the point is that some epirical findings (pain asymbolia and dental fear in particular) show us that our concept of pain and our concept of being painful for the person can come apart in just the same way as our concept of H2O and our concept of appearing watery can come apart.

    Why do you assume that this world is not physically identical to our world?

    Take me having a certain conscious pain right now. The question is whether or not it is conceivable that there could be a physical duplicate of me, identical to me in every physical way, which was in the same epistemic situation as me, that is was having a painful experience, but where that painful experience picked out a different state than the one I am in now (and so wouldn’t be a pain at the actual world). The answer is yes since being painful is only contingently associated with C-fiber firing (though being a pain isn’t). Since that perspn’s painful appearance picks out a state that isn’t C-fiber firing, wheras mine does, we cannot be physically identical.

    So I think this statement is trivially true. If physicalism is true anywhere, then it is true everywhere

    Well, there is a sense in which this is true for any identity between rigid designators. If Hesperous=Phospherous then it is true in every world where it designates, but before we found out that it was true of our world it was an epistemic possibility that it wasn’t true in our world. For all we knew we might have been in the world where there were two distinct objects occupying those positions. Once we found out that they were the same then we knew it was necessarily true and that what was actually possible was some physically distinct possibility. So the question is whether or not physicalism is true of our world in just the same sense as whether hespheous=phospherous was true of our world.

  3. “a physical duplicate of me, identical to me in every physical way, which was in the same epistemic situation as me, that is was having a painful experience, but where that painful experience picked out a different state than the one I am in now (and so wouldn’t be a pain at the actual world).”

    I’m afraid that I don’t really follow you here. Are you talking about a physical duplicate with different qualia?

    What do you mean by saying that the pain quale picks out a different brain state? I think that multiple realizability implies that brain states map to unique qualia, but that a single quale can be associated with more than one brain state.

    This kind of backwards mapping makes me think that you are describing a phenomenal and physical duplicate of you, but one at a world where the laws linking brain states and qualia are jumbled in just the way that when you are experiencing “pain” the double experiences the same pain, but correlated with a different brain state that is also present in both of you. Is this what you mean?

    “So the question is whether or not physicalism is true of our world in just the same sense as whether hespheous=phospherous was true of our world.”

    I think that there is a disanalogy here. Whether or not physicalism is true is an analytic question, and hence relies on primary intensions. The question of whether or not P&~Q is conceivable is identical to the question of whether or not our idea of qualia is secretly physical by definition. Unless we define Q as something physical, then we can always imagine that it is not and zombie worlds will appear.

    Whether Hesperus = phosphorus relies is an empirical question and relies on secondary intensions.

    Is this a terminological question? I think we may be agreeing, but I’m not sure what you’re getting at.

  4. Are you talking about a physical duplicate with different qualia?

    Sorry, re-reading my last comment I see I made a mistake. The point is that there could be a creature that picks out some sensory state by the contingent property of appearing painful but which wasn’t picking out C-fiber firing. This creature would not be a physical duplicate of me and so isn’t a threat to physicalism. This is NOT a case of multiple realizability (do you think that Twin Earth is showing that water is multiply realizable?). The qualitative property is the C-fiber firing (that is the property which, when we are conscious of it, reaults in there being a painful what-it-is-like experience for us), just like in the water case. H2O is the property (here) that when we are conscious of it presents to us a watery appearance. But appearing watery is a contingent property of H2O, and so, I am arguing, appearing painful is a contingent property of C-fiber firing. That is pain (C-fiber firing) and painfulness (it being painful for us) are only contingently related in exactly the same way as H2O and wateryness are and so they can come apart in exactly the same way; but this is not a threat to physicalism since we are then able to explain away the seeming conceivability of zombies.

    Whether or not physicalism is true is an analytic question, and hence relies on primary intensions

    Whether Hesperus = phosphorus relies is an empirical question and relies on secondary intensions.

    I agree that for the Type-A physicalist whether physicalism is true is an analytic question, but I am not a Type-A physicalist. I think that whether physicalism is true or not is an a posteriori empirical matter given what we know right now. Eventually, once we establish mind-brain identities we will be able to deduce Q from P but only because we have a posteriori identity statements of the form p=q. That is to say that I think that the qualitative facts just are physical facts but that we have not yet done the empirical work that is needed in order to see this. Thus whether p=q is an empirical question and crucially depends on secondary intensions (as I tried to make clear in this post)

  5. “once we establish mind-brain identities we will be able to deduce Q from P but only because we have a posteriori identity statements of the form p=q.”

    How could we possibly establish these identities?

    I think that this is the major problem of physicalism, it is secretly anti-scientific. In order to establish an a posteriori mind-brain identity, we would have to know that someone was having a quale and examine their brain state to correlate the two.

    But we have no way of knowing whether someone is having a quale. A neuroscientist trying to correlate brain states with qualia would have to experiment on himself. The result would, of course, be unusable to any other neuroscientist, who can’t know what our qualia were like, and it would also be unfalsifiable.

    If physicalism is true, then we would have to abandon the objective scientific method. It would require the collection of data that can’t be used by anyone but the self-experimenting neuroscientist, and it requires him to make reverse inductions from a single case.

    “The point is that there could be a creature that picks out some sensory state by the contingent property of appearing painful but which wasn’t picking out C-fiber firing.”

    I think I still don’t fully understand you. What do you mean by “appearing painful”. Do you mean that it appears to the creature that they themselves are in pain? Do they actual experience the same quale of pain as I do, or are they experiencing something else? “Appear” equivocates between phenomenal and functional, it could mean actual pain as I experience it, and it could mean that the creature is disposed to judge that it is in pain, but is using a different concept of pain than I am, so it is not actually in “pain”.

    I’m bringing up multiple realizability because when you say that the property of “appearing painful” is not picking out “C-fiber firing”, I understand you to mean that there should be a function in which you can input a quale and it will map to a unique neural state. I don’t think this is possible, There should be a function mapping neural states to qualia, but it is not one-to-one. I think that at the actual world there are creatures which may experience pain but don’t have “C-fiber firing” at all, instead they have some functional analogue.

    [By the way, I winced when I wrote that last sentence. C-fiber firing is neither necessary nor sufficient for pain, and I wish that whatever philosopher introduced C-fibers to this debate had done a little better research...]

  6. Soluman, I have to run so I can’t fully get to your comment right now (I will try to do so later, you raise some interesting issues) but just let me quickly say that I agree very much with your last, bracketed, point…if you want to know how I think this stuff should go see my paper What is a Brain State?” (or check out the narrated powerpoint if you want to listen to it (it is a live recording so excuse all of the ‘ums’!!!!

  7. Hi again, Souluman, sorry for not getting back to you sooner!

    “,em>How could we possibly establish these identities?

    Have you read “An Argument for the Identity Theory” by David Lewis? He there gives one way that we could extablish the mind-brain identites. The basic idea is that we identify the thing in question by a functional role and then we look to see what thing it is that plays that functional role. So, in the case of pains we start with all of the folk psychological platitudes about pain (e.g. it is caused by hitting, burning, etc, leads to screaming, distraction etc, etc, etc). We then look to find the brain state that plays that role. This doesn’t require neuroscientists experimenting on themselves…though I think perhaps the real problem here is that you are more impressed with the problem of other minds than I am…

    What do you mean by “appearing painful”.

    Just like something could look the way that water does to us and yet really be XYZ, so too something could look the way that pain does to us and yet be some other physical state (say, ABC) as the case of Dental fear shows. These people sense vibrations and that combined with fear leads them to think that they are in pain, and it is therefore painful for them. When you explain what is going on the painfulness goes away (though they still remember the experience as painful). In these kinds of cases the person is not picking out a pain sensation, but rather the vibration+fear sensations, with the painfulness.

  8. “The basic idea is that we identify the thing in question by a functional role and then we look to see what thing it is that plays that functional role.”

    Hi Richard,

    In order for David Lewis’ idea to work, you would have to first assume that qualia are fixed by functional states, which is precisely the issue at question. Like most philosophers of mind, he is also assuming that skeptical scenarios are false, an unjustified assumption in this case.

    You’re right in saying that I am impressed with the problem of other minds. It is the epistemic gap, and it is the reason for this entire physicalism debate.

    <i<"These people sense vibrations and that combined with fear leads them to think that they are in pain, and it is therefore painful for them."

    So your conclusion is that they are not in pain? I think that’s wrong. The more obvious conclusion is that this is an example of pain without C-fiber firing (in the scientific sense, meaning that no C-fibers are firing). Pain can easily be caused by emotional state, without peripheral input. Both conscious pain and emotional state are functions of the limbic system.

  9. “These people sense vibrations and that combined with fear leads them to think that they are in pain, and it is therefore painful for them. When you explain what is going on the painfulness goes away (though they still remember the experience as painful). In these kinds of cases the person is not picking out a pain sensation, but rather the vibration+fear sensations, with the painfulness.”

    I think I understand what you’ve been getting at now. When you say that the quale of pain is not “picking out” a pain sensation, you mean it in the sense that a witness picks a suspect out of a lineup.

    You’re saying that the dental patient feels a quale, and that calling it “pain” is tantamount to picking “C-fiber firing” from a lineup of possible explanations. Since his “C-fibers” are not firing, he is not in pain, and therefore there is a difference between “appearing painful”, and actual pain.

    If this is what you mean, then I have some issues with it. Doesn’t it argue backwards from mind/brain identity to show something about the semantics of qualia? Can you use this argument to convince someone that doesn’t already believe in mind-brain identity?

    I think that there are some scientific problems with this conclusion as well. The best possible reading of this scenario would be that the patient claimed to be in pain while the relevant circuits in the cingulate cortex were not firing (a little better than C-fibers, I guess). You want the neuroscientist to draw the conclusion that the patient was not in pain, but no neuroscientist would draw this conclusion. They would conclude that there is a secondary area that is responsible for pain sensations, outside of the cingulate cortex.

    Even if mind-brain identity were real, a quale is still a subjective experience and it is not falsifiable by observers. If we are going to make an empirical association between someone’s quale and their brain state, we have to believe them when they claim to be having a quale. Otherwise we are correlating their brain state to our theory of what it ought to be if they’re having a pain. This is a way to falsify out alleged mind-brain identity hypothesis, but not to falsify the subject’s qualitative experience.

  10. It is even worse in that people can actually end up disagreeing with themselves. For example you might get an experience that isn’t painful at the time but you remember it as painful, or worse yet is in an indeterminate state of whether it was painful or not depending on something completely unrelated and post the experience.

    As Eric Schwitzgebel says “Even in this apparently privileged domain, our self-knowledge is faulty and untrustworthy. We are not simply fallible at the margins but broadly inept.”

    http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~eschwitz/SchwitzPapers/Naive070907.htm

  11. GNZ,
    I don’t think that Eric’s conclusion is really warranted. Our “Infallibility” when it comes to qualia does not imply that we will have infallible memories about our qualia, it just requires that we know that we’re having the quale at the time of the experience.

    Infallibility also doesn’t imply that we should not have indeterminate phenomenal states. Being in an indeterminate state is a failure of our ability to describe things, not of our ability to know what we are experiencing.

    I think that that the idea that we have infallible knowledge of our own qualia is an analytic truth. Qualia are just defined as those experiences that it is “like something” to have. Well it’s not “like” anything to have a pain if we don’t even know that we’re having them. Of course, that’s not to say that we will know that the quale is necessarily called “pain”, it might be the first time that we’ve ever experienced it, for instance.

  12. Hey Soluman, the interesting thing about the dental fear cases is that their nerves are anestitized so there is no pain info getting to the cingulate cortex or anywhere else in the brain. In fact when you explain this to them they no longer experience the stimuli as painful (though they still remember it as painful).

    As for the bit about assuming the identity theory: the dialectic has gone as follows. Kripke mounted an argument against the identity theory and this kind of line is a way to respond to that argument. So I don’t think that it is an illegitimate thing to do. I am not trying to convince someone who isn’t an identity theorist but simply trying to show how Kripke’s argument doesn’t endanger the identify theory.

  13. I suppose it highlights how unusual qualia need to be. ‘Unintuitive’ if you like.

    The example I was thinking of was related to how we experience all sorts of things (eg my brain knows I am typing now and that the room is a little cold and that the TV is on) and I can react inteligently to all of those and yet after the fact I would not asess all of them to be part of my “stream of conciousness”.

    Or various experiments similar to dental fear which take apart the steps in having an experience, classifying that experience as pain, recording it, recalling the associations, and recalling and stating that I was in pain.

  14. Richard,
    I’m interested to read this paper about dental fear, but it is not at all compelling as neuroscience. The fact that the peripheral nerves are anesthetized simply means that pain signals cannot reach the CNS from the nociceptors at the periphery. This does not at all mean that the patient will not feel pain, because the pain circuits receive input from multiple areas of the nervous system. In this case, the source of the pain is obvious. It is caused by central inputs into the cingulate cortex from other areas of the limbic system involved in fear. This interpretation is corroborated by the fact that allaying the fear of the patient diminishes the pain.

    What you seem to be arguing for doesn’t make scientific sense. Suppose we naively thought that pain was caused by C-fibers firing, which it isn’t. C-fiber firing is exactly what is blocked by a local anesthetic, so according to this theory a patient under local anesthetic should not feel pain. Unfortunately when we apply this anesthetic, some patients do feel pain… Scientifically this result falsifies our theory about C-fibers causing pain. What you seem to want is for our C-fiber theory to falsify the pain itself.

    As far as Kripke’s argument goes, and your response to it, I’m a little confused how it is an effective counter. Kripke’s argument implies that if “pain” has identical primary and secondary intensions, then physicalism is false. Your argument seems to be that if physicalism is true, then “pain” has different primary and secondary intensions. Well, these two are the same thing.

    But drawing your reverse implication is troubling to me. Whether or not a word has identical or different intensions seems to be answerable a priori. After all, we may not know what “Dark Matter” is, but whatever it is we know that the word has divergent intensions. It seems to me like you are trying to determine whether or not the word “pain” has divergant intensions by appealing to empirical data (whether or not there can ever be any such data remaining an open question).

  15. Hi Soluman,

    Pain, in the sense we are talking about here, is a sensory state that serves to make us conscious of some kind of tissue damage. That is what is missing in the dental fear cases. What we have, plausibly, is a case where the patients mis-interpret fear+vibration as a pain sensory state –and it hurts– until you explain that they can’t be sensing tissue damage at which point it stops hurting. That is whay that is a case of painfulness without pain. We also get the opposite effect in cases like pain asymbolia; that is in those kinds of cases we have the pain sensory state but no painfulness. This clearly shgows that the primary and secondary intensions of pain can diverge at the actual world, so pobviously they can diverege at vartious possible worlds. This is not something that we knew a priori, but so much the worse for a priori knowledge!

  16. Hi Richard,

    I’m afraid that I’ve lost the thread of your argument. I thought that we were discussing “pain” as a quale. As far as it is a quale “Pain” has nothing to do with tissue damage, it probably occurs whenever the pain circuitry is active in the cingulate cortex, for whatever the reason.

    If we define the “Pain” more or less as the way that I feel when I burn my mouth on coffee, then the only relevant question to ask about the dental patient is whether their experience is like that. There is no external way to falsify their experience, for instance by demonstrating that there is no tissue damage after all.

    If we define “Pain” as “a sensory state that serves to make us conscious of some kind of tissue damage”, then we gain an external way to determine whether they are in pain, but in doing so we lose the link to their experience.

    I think that one thing that this argument succeeds at is pointing out some potential oddities in physicalism. I think that in order for physicalism to succeed, qualia have to be defined in terms of their functional properties. For some reason you have chosen to define “pain” in terms of the property of being associated with tissue damage, and you have found divergent intensions. If you had instead chosen “pain” to pick out those states which cause people to judge that they are in pain, then you would not have found divergent intensions.

    Incidentally, in neuroscience we don’t define pain in terms of tissue damage, we define it in terms of our research subjects stating that they are in pain. Like all versions of physicalism, then, your version will also be prescriptive towards science, which I think is ultimately the flaw with physicalist theories in general.

  17. A physicalist is bound to want to define quale in terms of some sort of physical reaction. Richard might not have the right one in mind here but in the end it will be somthing physical. If worst comes to worst the physicalist will start talking about multiple sorts of pain (ie individual things) if he finds out that pain is fundimentally caused by multiple different processes.

    The dualist will instead want to keep talking about quale even if it is shown that there are, for example, sub components of the quale directly related to understandable physical processes.

    Now in the debate between physicalists and dualists each side has basic assumptions and in order to convince the other side of the truth of their arguments they need to put forth an argument that doesn’t (at least obviously) beg the question. The wider pont here however is that the zombie argument does appear to beg the question and the models that Richard has proposed show how this is by creating an impasse where it is hard to defend the zombie argument without also defending one of his models.

    So I think Richard can live with a “draw” and leave the battle to be fought elsewhere. A draw being both sides accepting that some begging of hte question is going on.

  18. “The dualist will instead want to keep talking about quale even if it is shown that there are, for example, sub components of the quale directly related to understandable physical processes.”

    Hi GNZ,
    I’m not exactly sure what you mean by this sentence. We continue to talk about qualia because the debate is entirely about qualia. As a neuroscientist I wholeheartedly believe that every observable aspect of the mind is explicable in biological terms. Qualia are not observable aspects of mind, however, and so they are beyond the reach of science. We can ideally explain the behavior of the mouse, or the bat, but physicalism requires that we somehow be able to explain what it would be like to be a mouse or a bat. No reputable neuroscientist believes that this is possible, nor can the problem itself even be stated in the language of neuroscience.

    As for sub-components of qualia being understandable in physical terms, I find this highly doubtful. Who is doing the understanding? Neuroscientists do not know what qualia are, and philosophers do not understand the physical terms. Until the concept of qualia is described in biological terms, such an explanation is not only unavailable, it is downright inconceivable.

    I suppose I agree with you, though. If physicalists have a prior commitment to an identity between brain states and qualia, whether its available to science or not, then this kind of reasoning will be unfruitful. Likewise, since I don’t have a prior commitment to identifying qualia with physical processes, and I don’t accept any empirical way of doing so, then I suppose I can’t be convinced either.

  19. > Qualia are not observable aspects of mind, however, and so they are beyond the reach of science.

    Well yes – For Richard to accept that would be to concede to you. It also seems to be to be a VERY big claim.

    > As for sub-components of qualia being understandable in physical terms, I find this highly doubtful.

    And yet I don’t… It is hard to communicate why my view is different from yours. Maybe there are some similarities with asking the question “why am i me, and not you”.

  20. Hi GNZ,

    In what way do you think that qualia are observable? Do you mean in some completed neuroscience, or do you mean that you, yourself, have observed them? This is tantamount to resolving skepticism by observation, which seems unlikely.

    I don’t think saying that qualia are unobservable is a very wild claim. After all, we define a quale as “What it’s like” for a subject to be in a particular state. It is only defined in the first person. Under that definition qualia seem to be necessarily unobservable.

    The strategy of physicalism has been to change the definition of a quale to some third-person observable thing, like identifying pain with the firing of C-fibers. This allows the newly rechristened “qualia” to be observable, but it leaves no link with the subjects actual experience. As Richard’s identification of “pain” with tissue damage demonstrates, these attempts tend to be somewhat ad hoc as well.

    But no matter how you slice it, physicalism falls into that category of philosophy that begins with metaphysics and somehow ends by telling scientists what they ought to do, or be able to do, in the lab. If physicalism is true, then neuroscientists need to be able to explain “what it’s like” to be something else.

    As a scientific hypothesis “What it’s like” is both untestable and unfalsifiable. We can construct a theory about what ultraviolet colors look like to bees, but how would we test it? We would have to be bees, or at least find a talking bee to ask (Of course, if a colorblind person asked me what “red” looked like, I’m not sure how much help I would be). Physicalism is not compatible with science.

  21. Well this is all part of us not being on the same page with regard to what P, Q and P~Q are.

    In the context of what you are saying here I’m inclined to assume that your qualia are at best a shadow, and as much as you want to try to understand them without understanding the thing causing the shadow we are always left with questions that amount to “where does the shadow go during the night” Or “how much does a shadow weigh” ie they are much harder to understand than they need to be.

    >This allows the newly rechristened “qualia” to be observable, but it leaves no link with the subjects actual experience.

    Well this is what is in dispute. Physicalist think that connection is still there.
    We could go into all the sorts of evidence the physicalist has to prima face assume a link between physical facts and qualia. But of course in this case we are trying to discover if there isn’t somthing that is undiscoverable that exists in the relationship.

    Whatever the topic this sort of line of attack leaves me somwhere between applying occams razor (minnimum mesage length), induction, in as far as that isn’t how anything else in the universe works and rejecting it on practical grounds in that it just seems like such a undeveloped and useless model (for example it doesnt seem to predict anything and says more or less nothing about what qualia are).

  22. Hi GNZ,

    Well, depending on what you mean by “link”, I do believe that there is a link between brain states and qualia. Inasmuch as I think that qualia are connected to brain states via natural law, I think it’s right to say that brain states cause qualia.

    What I meant to say before was that our a priori definition of qualia only makes reference to the first-person, so based on that definition we can’t recognize a quale in the third-person; it’s simply undefined.

    Physicalists try to fill this gap by expanding the definition of qualia so that they are defined in the third-person, by identifying them with brain states, for instance. The link that can’t be found is between these two definitions.

    This is not like water and H2O. With water, all of our a priori ideas are explained by the nature of H2O. They have all the same properties. This doesn’t work with qualia, because brain states have third-person observable properties and qualia are only defined in the first-person.

    There’s plenty of room for a “link” between brain states and qualia, as long as that link isn’t identity.

    As for your arguments from parsimony, induction, and science. I think that each one critically fails, and that adding them together does not improve them.

    Occam’s razor is probably the most cited reason for physicalism, but it fails on two counts. First of all, for dualists and type-A physicalists, the truth of physicalism is knowable a priori. We can’t use Occam’s razor for a priori propositions. Imagine trying to solve Goldbach’s conjecture via Occam’s razor… Second of all, in order for it to be applicable, two explanations must equally account for the data, and the more complicated of the two can be eliminated. But the debate is precisely whether physical facts suffice to explain the data to begin with.

    I’m not exactly sure how you mean to use induction, but induction fails to solve the problem of other minds, which is equivalent to the conceivability of zombies. If you mean to show that everything else we know of is physical, so qualia are as well, I think that it’s sloppy. The set of all things that we know of consists entirely of third-person data that we observe, with the sole addition of qualia, which is first-person data and subject to skepticism and epistemic gaps. This is not the kind of set that can be used for an inductive argument.

    As for the alleged non-predictiveness of dualism, in this case I think that your thinking is dead backwards. As I’ve been mentioning, physicalism is inconsistent with science. Not only that, but it will not be supported by any scientist once it is explained to them that they must then investigate questions like “What is it like to be a bat” empirically. This is simply, and obviously, not a scientific question. But any theory of qualia that is not centered on “What it’s like” is insufficient on its own terms, because that is precisely what a quale is.

  23. “and qualia are only defined in the first-person”

    no matter how many times you state it we can’t imagine your concept – its just a straightforward contradiction. So we can’t debate it in your terms unless it contains a footnote “rubbish in rubbish out”.

    > Ocams razor

    If there is a written solution to Goldbach’s conjecture then it would probably be best stated without vague superfluous variables, if possible, would it not?

    As to explaining the data, I’m assuming for the sake of argument I am entering this debate cold and assesing two solutions. I don’t see a good reason to suspect physicalism doesn’t explain the data – so dualism (which contains an extra bridging law and an exception in almost every normal law) gets the razor until it can provide a good argument there.

    > The set of all things that we know of consists entirely of third-person data that we observe, with the sole addition of qualia

    But we haven’t established why first person data is likely to not obey the laws of the universe any more than any other fact of the almost infinite number of facts that were sucessfully explained by those laws. You seem to be assuming that “if you can point to a difference that induction doesn’t apply” (or it applies negitively) – but it is more like “if I can point to a similarity then it does apply”.

    > This is simply, and obviously, not a scientific question.

    well if your definition of Q is the one that we think doesn’t exist at all then it isnt scientific – but thats because it doesn’t exist.

    > But any theory of qualia that is not centered on “What it’s like” is insufficient on its own terms, because that is precisely what a quale is.

    Thats rather qustion begging isnt it – is it not like saying any theory of water that is not centered on “Watreryness” is insufficient on its own terms, because that is precisely what water is?

  24. Hi GNZ,

    I guess I didn’t realize exactly what position you were arguing from. If you can’t understand the concept of qualia, as you say, then this discussion is obviously unfruitful.

    I guess I’ll respond to a few of your points and you can have the last word, if you like.

    My first point about Occam’s razor is that there is no simplest solution to an a priori knowable proposition. It doesn’t make sense to question whether or not it is simpler for all even integers to be expressed in two primes, or whether it would be simpler with some other number of primes. These are not the types of questions that Occam’s razor can answer.

    Your analogy about proofs is not at all apt. How complicated a proof of GBC would be has no bearing on whether it is true, and simpler proofs are no more valid than complex ones. Mathematics doesn’t work like that.

    As for induction, I suppose it depends on how strong you want your induction to be. To make an inductive argument you have to begin with a set of things, and how you construct that set determines how strong the argument is. “Even integers” make a good inductive set, “Integers I’m thinking of” doesn’t. Your inductive argument uses “Things I know about”, declares that all of them are physical, and then decides that qualia are physical. Well we have no reason to think that “things I know about” should all have the same properties, any more that “Integers I’m thinking of”.

    As for your last point, it makes me wonder what we’ve even been discussing. Qualia have always been “what it is like”. That’s how we’ve defined them to begin with, and that is the source of this debate. You can deny that qualia exist, and drop out of zombie debates, but you can’t deny that they are “what it’s like”. If all you are really arguing for is causal closure, then it’s been unnecessary. I already believe in it.

  25. Not sure I would say I don’t “understand” it.
    But the point is the same – ie going back to Richard’s origional point -> dualists can’t give a semantically neutral definition for things like “P & ~Q” or they are describing somthing that doesn’t threaten physicalism.

    To me your posts you seem to be trying to get me to debate assuming various forms of “physicalism is false”, or “reductionism is false”. Well I can’t really do that in the context of this post or I’ll look like I’m contradicting myself and Richard. Bad enough that I got onto occams razor etc.

    So I suggest if physicalists accept that definition they do so in error… and so I suggest they reject step 1 in the zombie argument.

    As to induction etc this is to be had if we accept the impasse above. that relies on – If I have some reason to believe physicalism and no reason to believe dualism then I can go for physicalism I dont even need to debate the absolute strength of those arguments. A robust disproof acceptable to both sides may be on its way – but if you accept it is some evidence i have all I need.

  26. I’m afraid there is no sense in which the statement ‘water is not H2O′ is inconceivable. Heavy water is water, but it is not H2O — it is D2O (or whatever).

    The problem, it seems, is that rigid designation is not a feature of our semantics, but our pragmatics. There is a sense, a clear sense, it seems to me, in which our suggested means of interpreting the statement “water is not H2O” is rigid in the primary intensional treatment. But the sentence is only an input, and we choose the manner in which we are to output a clear proposition; this output is an interpreted sentence, which largely has to be qualified with statements like “…for my purposes…” in order to be satisfactory. One of our purposes might be to save the appearances; another might be a lazily tolerant attitude; another might be to target substrata. The point is that it’s a choice.

    So when you use phrases like “a priori” and “a posteriori”, I’m afraid I don’t really quite know what you mean. Suppose we take the essentialist stance. If so, then the phrase “water is not H2O” is a priori because we set up our interpretive goals in such a way to make it necessary; it is a posteriori because the information file that provides us with the semantic data had to be learned for us to even get that far.

  27. Hi Malachain, thanks for the comment. A couple of things in response.

    You say,

    I’m afraid there is no sense in which the statement ‘water is not H2O′ is inconceivable. Heavy water is water, but it is not H2O — it is D2O (or whatever).

    I agree that the deuterium case is interesting but I think you are a bit quick here. usually when people like Kripke use ‘water=H2O’ as an example of an a posteriori identity he usually stipulates “if that’s really what a complete science postulates”. That is, if it turns out that water is not strictly speaking H2O but is (H2O or D2O) or even some over ore fundamental thing, say Dy7, where Dy7 is the actual completed micro-physical understanding of water. In that case there would be a sense of ‘water isn’t Dy7′ that was inconceivable. The point is that whatever the term actually picks out it will designate in every counter-factual situation.

    The problem, it seems, is that rigid designation is not a feature of our semantics, but our pragmatics.

    I largely agree with this point, see this post and and this one, and finally, this one)

    Suppose we take the essentialist stance. If so, then the phrase “water is not H2O” is a priori because we set up our interpretive goals in such a way to make it necessary; it is a posteriori because the information file that provides us with the semantic data had to be learned for us to even get that far.

    I am not sure I would agree with your equating of the a priori and the necessary since I think there may be contingent a priori truths, but that is a different matter. More to the point, though, someone like Chalmers would agree with what you say in spirit. For him as long as experience doesn’t play a justificatory role in the deductions we are still in the realm of the a priori. That is, as long as an ideal reasoner who had all of the concepts and knew all of the physical facts could make the deductions then the deduction is a priori. So it is fine for him that we acquire the concept ‘water’ from experience since that just facilitates the deduction from physics to watery-facts. That experience plays no role in the justification of the deduction, or in our belief that water is H2O. There are philosophers (Block is a notable one) who disagree with this, but I am for the most part convinced, or at least willing to play along. In my view the point you bring up just illustrates kripke’s point that a priori and a posteriori only make sense when we talk about particular agents at particular time. Before I acquired the concepts necessary for the deduction water being H2O is not a priori for me (though it is in the sense that an ideal reasoner could know it). To count as a posteriori experience has to play a justificatory role in the deduction, like it does in my knowing that fire causes pain (according to Chalmers, that is, I would push the line that this is knowable a priori in the relevant sense)

  28. Hey Richard, thanks for the quick and considered reply!

    That would seem to be an appeal to temporal externalism. But we use our terms in the present, and while we are open to future revisions of the kind that are being talked about (eventually leading to an extension that is completely settled), we’re going far up and beyond the call of what is required in a semantic theory. To explain the meaning of a thing, at bare minimum we need to make sense of present usage, goals, and past usage. So my first reply is that it’s otiose.

    I’m glad we’re both friends of Donnellan. For my next objection, though, I need to rehearse the semantic point a bit. I hope you don’t think I’m talking over you. I just mean to engage with the interlocutors with their own terms as much as possible so that I can be as clear as is possible, and my errors (if any) can be more easily detected.

    Future usage may be vital to what we want to accomplish when we’re in an essentialist mood, and this is why we have to keep ourselves open to revision. And part of the effort involved in being open to revision is the decision against closure of the meaning, at least until such future time that (we hope) our extension will finally settle. From a non-Archimedean POV, the future is a counterfactual; we’re trapped in the present, and the future hasn’t actually happened yet. And while of course the future will inevitably become the present and past, that gives us no grounds for what future counterfactual, or range of counterfactuals, we’re supposed to predict as actual. Without specifying a particular prediction, although we’re positing that we want to hone in on the counterfactual future that will make our claim about water (whatever it is) true, we’re not at all privy ourselves to the truth-conditions involved in the claim. We were able to fool ourselves into thinking we were able to do something like that so long as canonical examples like “water is H2O” were at the ready; but the fall of that legend anticipates the fall of the doctrine. So the long and the short of it is that, for my second reply: while the essentialist vantage point is highly interesting when used retrospectively, it offers us none of the helpful semantic bells and whistles that we’re hoping for prospectively.

    And if it offers no semantic help, then it isn’t all that clear what good Chalmers is saying, except saying “For my purposes, it’s inconceivable that zombies are thinking”. This is as weak as saying, say, “Arguably, Pluto’s status as a planet is mythological”. Well, if arguably it is, then arguably it isn’t.

    We’d seem to be saved if we could draw in a few pragmatic variables, like “time” and “agent”, to supplement our semantic work. But there’s quite a bit more going on when we’re at a point where we appeal to implicit strategems like “for my purposes”. For we take the conversation to be against the backdrop of essentialist explanations, against the canvas of a physicalist stance. Our stances provide the goals that we are seeking when we do justificatory work in an effort to reach closure, which we then call apriori. But if you take that stance for granted, then the semantics narrows to the point of a pin. And if we stop taking them for granted, then the argument has seemingly lost all its gravitas.

  29. Though I hasten to add/clarify, upon second reading, that my choice of the physicalist stance was meant to apply to the essentialist’s project. Chalmers is certainly not uniquely deploying the physicalist stance! But the critique holds for both, or any, choice, since the ultimate point trades on the fact that what we’re dealing with here is a *choice* which determines our interpretations. Goodness I hope that doesn’t sound daffy.

  30. Well, as I said I for the most part agree with what you are saying as I lay out in the other posts. But I didn’t mean to be saying anything about future usage ot temporal externalism. The point is that whatever ‘water’ refers to is determined by the relationship between thoughts about water and the actual stuff out there, whatever it turns out to be. According to this line speakers of English do not know what the reference of the term is currently and so ‘water=H2O’ is rather more like ‘pain=C-fiber firing’. It is a place holder for whatever actual stuff our water thoughts are related to. So where I agree with is that at the level of communication there is a pragmatic choice that is made about interpretation, but at the level of thought there isn’t. My thought about water, –that it is wet for instance– is about whatever stuff water actually turns out to be. In my view the description that we associate with ‘water’ is a property of the language token and not the thought token, but that is a different matter.

    As far as the someone like Krikpke goes he relies on the distinction between speaking meaning and speaker reference in a broadly Gricean way. So what the person intended to be expressing will play an important role in determining what the person communicates but Kripke maintains that once the intentions are brought in and everything is settled then there are definite truth conditions for possible scenerios that depend on the thing in question…nothing about our purposes etc matter at this point according to him.

  31. Richard, fair enough, but the problem is common to both that in either the causal chain account or the temporal one. We’re still left appealing to a placeholder, though we couch our appeals in different terms. The appeal to placeholders is the very root of the problem, as claims involving placeholders have no unique and intelligible truth-conditions that would satisfy referring activity. Naturally, I don’t doubt that truth-conditions are communicable after we achieve temporary closure. But closure is fleeting, and certainly has no relationship with what is conceivable in any serious sense.

    I’m quite interested to hear your thoughts on the thought/communication distinction and how it plays into the present debate.

  32. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you! You say,

    as claims involving placeholders have no unique and intelligible truth-conditions that would satisfy referring activity.

    I don’t see why you think this. We are interested in making a claim about water so we stipulate that we are talking about the stuff that is actually water, whatever it actually turns out to be. So if it is actually H2O then, blah, blah, blah. The claims we make have truth conditions. True we may not be talking about the right kinds of scenarios now but these scenarios illustrate the points we want to make.

    The thought/communication stuff only enters because I claim that we can have singular thoughts about water and when we are we are thinking about whatever stuff actually turns out to be water but in language there are no singular terms so we have to express our singular thoughts without using singular terms. Thus we are able to communicate singular thoughts using purely descriptive means…

  33. Hi Richard,

    Thanks for your reply. It’s a busy season, I don’t mind the delay.

    After some thought, I think I may have spoken too boldly in the quoted sentence. Let me see if I can re-articulate my problem more carefully.

    Referring activity happens in the really real world in the context of our answering questions. While our water-claims have truth-conditions of some sort or other, they don’t have truth-conditions that will adequately satisfy our expectations. Let’s put intensions on hold for just a moment so I can explain myself. At least when we’re examining a particular one of our possible worlds (sp. the really real one), we’re making a quantificational statement (there is an x such that it is an F), instead of being rather specific (a is an F). For prospective purposes, the former is like saying, “The winner of the race among this group of contestants is whoever wins” (instead of saying, “Caster Semenya wins”). Stated baldly, that seems rather empty, which was what prompted my remark above. But of course appearances can be deceiving; in the context of the question, “Which of these groups will compete in the finals?”, the quantificational claim may seem like a case of referring activity (though in the context of the question, “Which person within this group here will win the finals?” it flatly fails to uniquely refer). The claim seems to promise success as a referent so long as we presuppose knowledge of the rules of the language-game and do not put the game itself under scrutiny.

    But sometimes the rules change: i.e., the team can trade its players; water extends from H2O to include D2O, because we acknowledge that hard water is a form of water; etc. And the fact that a change in the rules of the game mid-play is permissible draws our attention to the fact that the rules are made just so that we can make our point, to improve intelligibility of things we want to say: in other words, to beg the question in favor of our goals in speaking. In a way, we’re seemingly not far apart on this: I just put stress and accent on your final words in the first paragraph: “the points we want to make”.

    Moreover, there’s no reason to suppose that rule-changing is the only case of question-begging, as if they were just one-off events. Quite the opposite, rule-changing allows us a rare glimpse into the deeper structure of these philosophical games, giving us some (albeit weak or ephemeral) reason to wonder if every game is rigged until proven otherwise. But if we catch glimpses of arguments that seemingly presuppose this-or-that pragmatic stance prior to entry into the game, then when taken together with our prior suspicions about games changing mid-play, it’s prime facie evidence that we are dealing with rigged games.

    Assuming that any particular counterfactual world that is intelligible to us must be evaluated in something like the above way, and the philosophical denizens of such worlds would subject their extensions to similar grievances, it gives the lie to the “inconceivability” claim in the secondary sense (and hence in any sense). Or, if we demand on using the term “inconceivable” (despite the fact that it is an exaggeration), it is an inconceivability that is of a suspiciously convenient kind! Not the sort of stuff that makes for reasons in any but the most ephemeral of arguments.

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