[Wittrs] Re: reducing your toothache

  • From: "SWM" <SWMirsky@xxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 24 Mar 2010 16:39:00 -0000

--- In Wittrs@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, Gordon Swobe <wittrsamr@...> wrote:

> --- On Wed, 3/24/10, SWM <wittrsamr@...> wrote:
> >> Like Descartes, they consider the mental qua mental as
> >> distinct from the material qua material. Because they
> >> unwittingly play that Cartesian language game, and because
> >> they want to present a supposed "scientific" point of view
> >> devoid of the supposed "special" mental phenomena, they
> >> attempt to eliminate the mental in favor of the material.
> >> They defy common sense.
> >
> > That is exactly your mistake because Dennett DOES NOT deny
> > experience. Indeed all his discussions are about explaining
> > it, what it is, how it happens, etc. In so doing he shows
> > how it is reducible to physical events in brains

> Do you realize that you just agreed with me? As an eliminative materialist, 
> Dennett believes he must completely reduce mental phenomena to material 
> phenomena (what you call physical events in brains). While paying lip-service 
> to the idea of experience, he believes he must eliminate the reality of the 
> mental qua mental in favor of the material qua material.

The issue isn't our choice of words but what we take them to mean. I actually 
think it likely we will agree on lots of formulations but it seems from what 
I've been reading that we have somewhat different ideas on what's meant. You, 
for instance, take Dennett's claim that consciousness can be explained in terms 
of physical events to be a denial that we have conscious experience while I 
take it to be a way of explaining how such experience happens. To explain 
something in terms other than itself is not to deny it. It's just to offer a 
reductive explantion -- which is what science does.

You see Dennett's frequent mentions of, and discussions about, our experiences 
as "paying lip service" whereas I do not. How is it to "pay lip service" to 
talk about things like the sounds we hear from ospreys, the taste of beer and 
coffee, etc., etc.? If he refers to them in an effort to explain how they 
happen, he is not denying them. Is the only way to avoid denying something, on 
your view, to insist that it cannot be explained in any other way than itself? 
Is to explain the wetness of water as the behavior of water's constituent 
molecules under certain ambient conditions to deny that wetness really exists???

> Searle, by contrast, preserves the subjective ontology of mental phenomena 
> and does only a causal reduction. He isn't afraid to affirm > the ontological 
> reality of the mental qua mental.

A Cartesian move, for sure, while you think Dennett's denial of the special and 
 separate nature of the "mental" to be an affirmation of what it denies!

>He understands that only a dualist would recognize that category as distinct 
>from the material in the first place.

And Searle thereby falls into self-contradiction (the CRA implies what he 
expressly denies when discussing brains) because he confuses the idea of first 
and third person descriptions with the idea of causal reductions. The latter 
involve reduction from one level of occurrence (one ontology) to another, while 
the former, Searle's way of saying we have both subjectiveness and 
objectiveness in the world, is taken by Seale as evidence that the one is 
irreducible to the other in terms of determining the line of causality. (If 
physical events in brains can cause consciousness why should physical events in 
computers doing the same kinds of things, not do so?)

> After we reduce your toothache, per Dennett, to an objective description of 
> the physical events in your brain that cause it, then we'll need to find a 
> new word to describe that subjective ache in
> your jaw.

No, no, no! Just because we can determine causes of subjective occurrences 
doesn't mean we can no longer use the language that best addresses these 
occurrences in context. Nothing in Dennett leads to such a conclusion!

> That quality of your experience *really* exists, and no third-person account 
> of its neurological causes can name it.
> -gts

I happen to think Dennett goes too far on the qualia issue but I see his point 
and why he goes that far. My experience certainly does really exist, nor does 
Dennett deny it. His point about "qualia" is to do with whether we need to 
posit an extra mental entity in order to explain the occurrence of experience. 
It is NOT to deny experience!

Dennett does think that a third person account will be possible and I'm not 
certain he's right on that (nor that he's wrong). However, it isn't essential 
to the argument I have been making: that we can discover how brains cause (in 
the Searlean sense) consciousness and that it's at least possible in principle 
that computational processes running on computers can do it, too (contra 
Searle's CRA).


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