[Wittrs] Re: reducing your toothache

  • From: "SWM" <SWMirsky@xxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 24 Mar 2010 15:15:23 -0000

--- In Wittrs@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, Gordon Swobe <wittrsamr@...> wrote:
> "Quining Qualia" by Daniel Dennett
> http://www.uoguelph.ca/~abailey/Resources/Dennetta.pdf
> -gts

Thanks for the link. I believe it will be instructive to look closely at the 
text on this list.

Early on he writes:

"Which idea of qualia am I trying to extirpate? Everything real has properties, 
and since I don't deny the reality of conscious experience, I grant that 
conscious experience has properties. I grant moreover that each person's states 
of consciousness have properties in virtue of which those states have the 
experiential content that they do. That is to say, whenever someone experiences 
something as being one way rather than another, this is true in virtue of some 
property of something happening in them at the time, but these properties are 
so unlike the properties traditionally imputed to consciousness that it would 
be grossly misleading to call any of them the long-sought qualia. Qualia are 
supposed to be special properties, in some hard-to-define way. My claim--which 
can only come into focus as we proceed--is that conscious experience has no 
properties that are special in any of the ways qualia have been supposed to be 

Note that in doing so he is not denying experience or its subjectiveness. He is 
arguing against relying on a concept of something called "qualia" to account 
for experience (which, of course, is the point I have made to you on this.)

Skipping down a bit:

"Beer tastes different to the experienced beer drinker. If beer went on tasting 
to me the way the first sip tasted, I would never have gone on drinking beer! 
Or to put the same point the other way around, if my first sip of beer had 
tasted to me the way my most recent sip just tasted, I would never have had to 
acquire the taste in the first place! I would have loved the first sip as much 
as the one I just enjoyed.

"If we let this speech pass, we must admit that beer is not an acquired taste. 
No one comes to enjoy the way the first sip tasted. Instead, prolonged beer 
drinking leads people to experience a taste they enjoy, but precisely their 
enjoying the taste guarantees that it is not the taste they first experienced. 
Endnote 9

"But this conclusion, if it is accepted, wreaks havoc of a different sort with 
the traditional philosophical view of qualia. For if it is admitted that one's 
attitudes towards, or reactions to, experiences are in any way and in any 
degree constitutive of their experiential qualities, so that a change in 
reactivity amounts to or guarantees a change in the property, then those 
properties, those 'qualitative or phenomenal features,' cease to be 'intrinsic' 
properties, and in fact become paradigmatically extrinsic, relational 

Now, because this is a Wittgenstein oriented list, I think it's useful to also 
include the following from that paper:

". . . Why does it seem that our conscious experiences have ineffable 
properties? Because they do have practically ineffable properties. Suppose, in 
intuition pump #13: the osprey cry, that I have never heard the cry of an 
osprey, even in a recording, but know roughly, from reading my bird books, what 
to listen for: "a series of short, sharp, cheeping whistles, cheep, cheep or 
chewk chewk, etc; sounds annoyed." (Peterson, 1947) (or words to that effect or 
better). The verbal description gives me a partial confinement of the logical 
space of possible bird cries. On its basis I can rule out many bird calls I 
have heard or might hear, but there is still a broad range of 
discriminable-by-me possibilities within which the actuality lies hidden from 
me like a needle in a haystack.

"Then one day, armed with both my verbal description and my binoculars, I 
identify an osprey visually, and then hear its cry. So that's what it sounds 
like, I say to myself, ostending--it seems--a particular mental complex of 
intrinsic, ineffable qualia. I dub the complex 'S' (pace Wittgenstein), 
rehearse it in short term
memory, check it against the bird book descriptions, and see that while the 
verbal descriptions are true, accuurate and even poetically evocative--I decide 
I could not do better with a thousand words--they still fall short of capturing 
the qualia-complex I have called S. In fact, that is why I need the neologisim, 
'S', to refer directly to the ineffable property I cannot pick out by 
description. My perceptual experience has pinpointed for me the location of the 
osprey cry in the logical space of possibilities in a way verbal
description could not.

"But tempting as this view of matters is, it is overstated. First of all, it is 
obvious that from a single experience of this sort I don't--can't--know how to 
generalize to other osprey calls. Would a cry that
differed only in being half an octave higher also be an osprey call? That is an 
empirical, ornithological question for which my experience provides scant 
evidence. But moreover--and this is a psychological, not ornithological 
matter--I don't and can't know, from a single such experience, which physical 
variations and constancies in stimuli would produce an indistinguishable 
experience in me. Nor can I know whether I would react the same (have the same 
experience) if I were presented with what was, by all physical measures, a 
re-stimulation identical to the first. I cannot know the modulating effect, if 
any, of variations in my body (or psyche).

"This inscrutability of projection is surely one of the sources of plausibility 
for Wittgenstein's skepticism regarding the possibility of a private language.

"'Wittgenstein emphasizes that ostensive definitions are always in principle 
capable of being misunderstood, even the ostensive definition of a color word 
such as "sepia". How someone understands the word is exhibited in the way 
someone goes on, "the use that he makes of the word defined". One may go on in 
the right way given a purely minimal explanation, while on the other hand one 
may go on in another way no matter how many clarifications are added, since 
these too can be misunderstood . . . (Kripke, 1982, p.83. See also pp. 40-46.)'"

Dennett, concluding the paper:

"So when we look one last time at our original characterization of qualia, as 
ineffable, intrinsic, private, directly apprehensible properties of experience, 
we find that there is nothing to fill the bill. In their place are relatively 
or practically ineffable public properties we can refer to indirectly via 
reference to our private
property-detectors-- private only in the sense of idiosyncratic. And insofar as 
we wish to cling to our subjective authority about the occurrence within us of 
states of certain types or with certain properties, we can have some 
authority--not infallibility or incorrigibility, but something better than 
sheer guessing--but
only if we restrict ourselves to relational, extrinsic properties like the 
power of certain internal states of ours to provoke acts of apparent re- 
identification. So contrary to what seems obvious at first blush, there simply 
are no qualia at all. Endnote 14"

My point, Gordon, is that Dennett does not deny experience (note that this is 
all about experiences!). He denies a way of explaining it, a way that depends 
on the positing of some special quality that is purely the mental part of the 
information flow into and out of our brains that results in the experiences we 

It is a mistake to suppose that by his somewhat provocative attack on the 
concept of "qualia" he is thereby saying that you and I and he, himself, really 
don't experience anything at all!


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