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Dennett and Pain

 
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Thu 2 Jul, 2009 11:44 pm
Hi all - I posed this question in a thread about Daniel Dennett but did not get an answer so will try it again here.

I don't have an in-depth understanding of Consciousness Explained so let me know if the following observation is valid.

I understand that Prof Dennett believes that it is possible to provide an objective account of the nature of consciousness that is complete and leaves nothing out.

An objection has been made on the basis that the subjective nature of conscious experience is not explicable in objective terms. You cannot describe what it is like to experience something. This is the 'hard problem' which I understand Prof Dennett does not recognise as a valid problem.

It seems to me that Prof. Dennett's argument is undermined by one simple fact, however, and that is the apodictic nature of physical pain. ('Apodictic' means incontestable. You cannot deny the reality of pain - it is undeniably real.)

It would seem to me that it is completely impossible to provide an objective account of pain. You can describe it, or provide an account of the physiology behind it. But unless you can feel it, it is not actually pain. Pain is in its very nature a subjective phenomenon.

Hence my observation: pain is apodictic and it is subjective. Therefore it is impossible to provide a complete account of consciousness in objective terms because at least one primary quality of consciousness, the feeling of pain, cannot be understood objectively.

Now it seems to me that this poses a challenge to the main thesis behind Prof Dennett's work. Surely it can't be that simple. Surely I must be misunderstanding something about his position?
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Kielicious
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Jul, 2009 02:31 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;74459 wrote:
Surely I must be misunderstanding something about his position?



No, you pretty much have a rough outline of what Dennett advocates. DD promotes a stick objectively literal interpretation of consciousness -which is unfortunate- and why alot of people have often referred to his book as Consciousness Ignored. To be honest though you can use numerous examples that are only subjective-based knowledge, instead of just the experience of pain, to which an objective notion of explanation is unsatisfactory.
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nameless
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Jul, 2009 02:36 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;74459 wrote:

I understand that Prof Dennett believes that it is possible to provide an objective account of the nature of consciousness that is complete and leaves nothing out.

It has to be a 'belief', as there is no evidence (nor will there be as he in scientifically and logically incorrect), hence, 'belief', not science but religion. Odd, Dennet a religious person... *__-

Quote:
Now it seems to me that this poses a challenge to the main thesis behind Prof Dennett's work. Surely it can't be that simple. Surely I must be misunderstanding something about his position?

Hahaha! Yeah, that simple to toss that 'belief' to the wind from a logical and scientific Perspective.

"'Truth' might be 'One', but there's certainly a lot of Perspectives of it!" - 'Book of Internal Gas' by Siddhartha Einstein
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Hermes
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Jul, 2009 09:03 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;74459 wrote:
Hi all - I posed this question in a thread about Daniel Dennett but did not get an answer so will try it again here.


Hey Jeeprs, I saw your Q before, but you directed it at the OP so I don't reply... sorry!

Quote:

I don't have an in-depth understanding of Consciousness Explained so let me know if the following observation is valid.

I understand that Prof Dennett believes that it is possible to provide an objective account of the nature of consciousness that is complete and leaves nothing out.


I haven't read Dennett at all, but I agree with this POV.

Quote:

An objection has been made on the basis that the subjective nature of conscious experience is not explicable in objective terms. You cannot describe what it is like to experience something. This is the 'hard problem' which I understand Prof Dennett does not recognise as a valid problem.

It seems to me that Prof. Dennett's argument is undermined by one simple fact, however, and that is the apodictic nature of physical pain. ('Apodictic' means incontestable. You cannot deny the reality of pain - it is undeniably real.)

It would seem to me that it is completely impossible to provide an objective account of pain. You can describe it, or provide an account of the physiology behind it. But unless you can feel it, it is not actually pain. Pain is in its very nature a subjective phenomenon.

Hence my observation: pain is apodictic and it is subjective. Therefore it is impossible to provide a complete account of consciousness in objective terms because at least one primary quality of consciousness, the feeling of pain, cannot be understood objectively.

Now it seems to me that this poses a challenge to the main thesis behind Prof Dennett's work. Surely it can't be that simple. Surely I must be misunderstanding something about his position?


OK I think there are some oversights with this argument.

It seems that you have selected pain as the subject for your argument because it has no external correlate; we see a tree, our minds perceive a tree. But sustaining injury is abstracted into a generalised sensation of "feeling something bad" by pain nerves and their interpretation by our minds... is this right so far?

However, it is quite well known that every sense abstracts the data it detects, so whilst the tree one regards certainly has a reality external to the mind and what the eyes sense, what the mind interprets is nevertheless a subjective representation of what is actually before oneself. (The tree is not cognised in its entirety with every leaf, stem, strip of bark, branch - let alone every nuance of light and shade that the eyes report).

So I would argue that your selection of pain as subjective is too restrictive, and a bit misleading. You say, "pain is apodictic and it is subjective" therefore it "cannot be understood objectively". I think this is a veiled argument against the whole objective position of Dennett.

In fact, and as is obvious from experience, all sensation, pain, sight, hearing, touch, temperature, proprioception, is all subjective. And on this point, I don't think there is much debate to be had. What I would propose, and I guess Dennett's philosophy would be along the same lines, is that the process of the mind is objective, and can be rendered completely algorithmic.

The process is objective, the information is subjective.

To make this clear: The computational process of the mind can be completely described, and a functional understanding of this will allow one to understand how one's mind works. But the information processed by the mind is entirely relative and dependent upon the context in which it is found; thus this information cannot be "read" or described without knowing the entire function and all other information within the mind. This is where the subjectivity you are describing comes from, and why it does not invalidate Dennett's POV.
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jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Jul, 2009 04:54 pm
@jeeprs,
Quote:
I think this is a veiled argument


Actually, hardly veiled.

Quote:
The process is objective, the information is subjective.


Well I don't see how you can really consider what you are calling 'the process' to be ultimately separable from 'the information'. I would have thought that, holistically speaking, the act of conscious apperception includes subject, object, sensory input, autonomic reaction, intellectual processing and interpretation. Within this context 'subjective' and 'objective' are two of the descriptive poles. I don't see how you could say it is 'entirely subjective' or 'entirely objective'. There are subjective and objective aspects. You may be able to devise a complete schema for describing the information-processing aspect of the act, but you cannot describe the 'experience of having it'. I used 'physical pain' as an example but the same principle applies to the whole gamut of felt experience. Hence my doubts about 'Dennett's POV'.

---------- Post added 07-04-2009 at 09:58 AM ----------

Actually, thinking further, I would like to consider what is driving this approach to the 'problem of consciousness'. It would seem to me that it is all part of a larger agenda, to redefine human nature in terms that are amendable to scientific control. A big part of this is to define subjectivity out of the picture, is it not? That will make us unruly humans much easier to manage, and practically eliminate all of the messy problems caused by such unscientific emotions as Love and Hope. (OK, I know I am ranting. I will stop.)

It reminds me of an old computer-industry joke:

Q: 'How many Microsoft engineers does it take to change a light bulb'

A: 'None: Microsoft just declares darkness the standard'. :bigsmile:

Anyway thanks for your replies, I'm going up country for a week where there are no computers. Will check in on return.
Hermes
 
  1  
Reply Sun 5 Jul, 2009 07:38 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;74631 wrote:
Well I don't see how you can really consider what you are calling 'the process' to be ultimately separable from 'the information'. I would have thought that, holistically speaking, the act of conscious apperception includes subject, object, sensory input, autonomic reaction, intellectual processing and interpretation. Within this context 'subjective' and 'objective' are two of the descriptive poles. I don't see how you could say it is 'entirely subjective' or 'entirely objective'. There are subjective and objective aspects.


I see what you are saying, and in a sense, if you look at the brain in its totality, I think this is correct. Certainly, the function has no meaning and cannot operate without the information, and vice-versa. But the crux of this lies with what you said next, jeeprs...

Quote:
You may be able to devise a complete schema for describing the information-processing aspect of the act, but you cannot describe the 'experience of having it'.


This is where I think many people trip up... to "describe the 'experience of [an event]" is a case of trying to answer the wrong question. Before the brain is even remotely conscious or self-aware it is an information processing device that must produce physical actions in response to stimuli detected from the World.

If one investigates from this angle alone, and comes to understand what, why and how it does what it does, the process for the experience of an event becomes uncovered. This algorithmic description of the event, is as close as one can get to "describing" the experience of the event.

We cannot put a camera on an electron and "see what it sees", nor even resolve one "visually" as through a microscope; but there are physical models in place that describe their properties and actions to very high degrees of accuracy (relatively speaking). To argue that we cannot describe the shape of the electron, but only the probability of its location at a point in time, and therefore we "do not know the electron" - would be a most pedantic philosophical argument. I propose that knowing how a thing behaves is knowing that thing.

Quote:

Actually, thinking further, I would like to consider what is driving this approach to the 'problem of consciousness'. It would seem to me that it is all part of a larger agenda, to redefine human nature in terms that are amendable to scientific control. A big part of this is to define subjectivity out of the picture, is it not? That will make us unruly humans much easier to manage, and practically eliminate all of the messy problems caused by such unscientific emotions as Love and Hope. (OK, I know I am ranting. I will stop.)

It reminds me of an old computer-industry joke:

Q: 'How many Microsoft engineers does it take to change a light bulb'

A: 'None: Microsoft just declares darkness the standard'. :bigsmile:


Hehe, well this is perhaps what some people have in mind, though I would hope that they don't have to much influence in this field! That said, I don't think it is possible "to define subjectivity out of the picture" for the same reasons above (for a long time, at least).

If ones knowledge and experiences are a product of both the information within the brain and the physical connections of the brain (ie. without context outside of the whole, therefore without meaning outside of the whole) then any one part of one's brain is meaningless unless one has the whole thing. Thus, subjectivity cannot be removed unless one has the ability to fully copy and model another's brain. This, I suspect, is something that will be technologically impossible for quite some time.

(At least, copying the brain in sufficient detail without the subject dying is impossible at this stage. And certainly running a model of a brain is probably beyond practicality. I dunno how the world's supercomputers are doing these days.)
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