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Can one know that other conscious beings exist?

 
 
ElAleph
 
Reply Tue 7 Jul, 2009 04:02 pm
The philosophical problem of other minds takes on two forms.

Firstly, there is the sceptical problem about other minds. This is a purely epistemological question of how we know about other minds, on a par with the question of how we know about the external world.

The second interest in the traditional philosophical problem about other minds lies in the question, whether, given what would seem a natural way we have of thinking of the meaning of mental terms, we can even make sense of the sentences we use to attribute mental states to others. Such a problem arises because there is a natural tendency to assume that our mental terms (i.e 'pain', 'belief', etc.) get their meaning from our relating them to our own experiences. Thus, if we only understand what it is to have a pain or a belief from our own case, a question arises as to whether such a perspective on them will even allow our talk of others having pains or beliefs to make sense. This is known as the conceptual problem of other minds.

What do you think? What would you define as a 'conscious being' and is it possible to know that other conscious beings exist? Or are we to be forever plagued by an inextricable and degenerative solipsism?
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Hermes
 
  1  
Reply Tue 7 Jul, 2009 07:30 pm
@ElAleph,
Hello ElAleph, welcome to the forums! Smile

Your question is certainly a classic one for forums, I think I've debated this in many different forms... but I like the second point you make about language... if language is personal, esoteric, then how can we reasonably ascribe those functions to others... I'll have to give this some more thought!

I guess my standard response to the question goes along the lines that the solipsistic argument is a complete nonsense. There is no empirical "proof" for any single atom or photon of the galaxy, and to call this argument is to totally misunderstand how the mind works within the world it exists. Scientific proof (theory backed by experiential/experimental evidence) is, logically, as good as it gets. Our entire lives and all we can perceive, as sentient beings, is based upon what we can observe within the world. To doubt the inferred knowldge we gain from observation is pointless and illogical (even Descartes, with a Christian/mystical agenda, came to this conclusion; if we are deceived by a demon, or within a simulation to use a more modern analogy, we are still sentient).

So to answer your question more directly; even though we do not yet have a functional understanding of what causes sentience, we do have a word "consciousness" that is defined by what the average adult homo sapiens does. Even if every other person in the world was in fact a robot, this doesn't mean that "consciousness" in others doesn't exist, just that what we thought was consciousness in others turned out to be something other than our assumption - yet, still doing what we originally thought it would do. (We shouldn't forget that the solipsists themselves don't have a logical understanding of the mind, so are in no position to logically rule whether a bunch of neurons is sentient or not).


Of course, I think a great many positions, including solipsism, are going to be rendered completely untenable when there is an algorithmic theory of consciousness. Then, it will be possible to a) recreate sentient behaviour and b) correlate that model with the functional architecture of the human brain (eg. through high resolution CT scans), thus providing scientific proof that humans are sentient. Quite why it would take so much to convince some people is a sad testament to negative, sophistic philosophizing that is the bane of my life! Laughing
richrf
 
  1  
Reply Tue 7 Jul, 2009 09:44 pm
@Hermes,
Hi,

The way I would go about proving that there is another mind, is to go up to someone and try to take away their wallet. That bloody nose you get is courtesy of the other mind. Remember to say thank you for giving you the answer to your question. Smile

Rich
jgweed
 
  1  
Reply Wed 8 Jul, 2009 09:30 am
@ElAleph,
What if we only LEARN what a particular mental state is?
0 Replies
 
dawoel
 
  1  
Reply Thu 9 Jul, 2009 08:04 am
@richrf,
richrf;75826 wrote:
Hi,

The way I would go about proving that there is another mind, is to go up to someone and try to take away their wallet. That bloody nose you get is courtesy of the other mind. Remember to say thank you for giving you the answer to your question. Smile

Rich


I like it, it still prooves nothing but I like it. Ultimately, my instinct would be to say that you can know in that your belief is well justified as I will explain in a moment, but no, you cannot be totally certain there will always be that annoying little doubt as to whether your loved ones genuinely exist, which sucks.

I think the belief is well justified in that of all your sample sets 100% suggest the research hypothesis is true...albeit we have a sample set of 1:brickwall:...and even though it does the evidence could itself be deceptive just as easily so that doesn't help...never mind...

Nah I think what really justifies is that you have two choices first off, to assume all this is real, or not. Assuming it isn't gives you nothing, because you have an infinate range of possibilites all as likely (infinately unlikely) as each other to be true. Whereas if you assume all this is real you can actually do something with your life, (or think you can at least). In other words I live my life on the assumption that all this is real by dint of the alternative being utterly usless. If none of this is real and the real world lies beneath it, I still can't easily interact with this "true" reality anyway, so one might as well just assume the lie is true.
richrf
 
  1  
Reply Thu 9 Jul, 2009 08:41 am
@dawoel,
dawoel;76087 wrote:
If none of this is real and the real world lies beneath it, I still can't easily interact with this "true" reality anyway, so one might as well just assume the lie is true.


Yes, I agree. As long as you do not know one way or another, then why not believe that there are other conscious beings. It is like what Jung said about life after death. He doesn't know one way or another so he just chooses to believe there is life after death. Why not? But I guess there is uncertainty no matter what.

Rich
0 Replies
 
Nameless 23232
 
  1  
Reply Sat 11 Jul, 2009 03:42 pm
@ElAleph,
I think one can never 'know' another conscious being exists for a variety of reasons. 1/ can we know of anything, or do we just deem some things highly probable. 2/what is meant by 'conscious', as we have no comparative means of knowing whether our depiction of conscious is correct or whether we're just barking up the wrong tree and in fact conscious is something completely different.

That being said I think that if we dismiss the likelihood of other conscious beings existing then this dismisses our entire mental identity, as it is predicated on being a token identity of the thinking being, furthermore all of these words are deemed senseless as words are only meaningful if they are used and to some extent understood by more than one being (at least according to Wittgenstein and I agree with this point).

All in all I think we have to assume that we are not alone in our mode of existence not because it is likely true, but because we would have to renounce everything we are and know if it not true.
0 Replies
 
DasTrnegras
 
  1  
Reply Sat 11 Jul, 2009 04:07 pm
@ElAleph,
I think you guys are having trouble defining what another mind is. But the answer to that question lies in your own mind. A mind is something that thinks, and by thinking, acts upon the subject which it is thinking about.

Isn't it obvious that we observe phenomena doing this almost every day, namely, in the personhood of other people we meet? If all I choose to trust is my perception, I think it's quite clear that I perceive other minds. "Ah, but not directly", will be the objection. But we never perceive anything directly and the information still gets to us just fine.

So... yes. Yes, you percieve other minds. You percieve other beings changing their world and interact with them everyday. For pragmatic proof, do you think you would be on this internet forum if you didn't think you could perceive other beings?
Nameless 23232
 
  1  
Reply Sat 11 Jul, 2009 05:10 pm
@DasTrnegras,
DasTränegras;76715 wrote:
I think you guys are having trouble defining what another mind is. But the answer to that question lies in your own mind. A mind is something that thinks, and by thinking, acts upon the subject which it is thinking about.

Isn't it obvious that we observe phenomena doing this almost every day, namely, in the personhood of other people we meet? If all I choose to trust is my perception, I think it's quite clear that I perceive other minds. "Ah, but not directly", will be the objection. But we never perceive anything directly and the information still gets to us just fine.

So... yes. Yes, you percieve other minds. You percieve other beings changing their world and interact with them everyday. For pragmatic proof, do you think you would be on this internet forum if you didn't think you could perceive other beings?


You don't perceive a mind surely, you perceive a body, words, and behaviour, one can never perceive a mind for there is nothing in which to perceive, one has to imagine a mind from what he data he has observed. You don't perceive other beings either, you just observe them and then make assumptions as to how they behave when you are not observing them.
0 Replies
 
Thanda1
 
  1  
Reply Sun 1 Aug, 2010 10:42 am
There are two questions to be answered (1) Can I know if there are other beings that I am interacting with?
(2) Can I know if those beings conscious? (or are they simply p-zombies?)

The answer to both questions and by implication and to the question " Can one know that other conscious beings exist ?" is a big NO! Even if I assume (yes assume) that other beings (other than myself) exist , it is simply not possible to demonstrate empirically that they are not simply p-zombies!

Firstly I am yet to see an adequate refutation of solipsism.(As opposed to a ridicule).Secondly so called "empirical" measurements can only tell us about the physical nature of something.Can "consciousness" be reduced to the sum of readings on machines or whatever? Surely that feat that can be mimicked by some android?

I believe that other people that other people exist and are conscious in the same sense that I can believe in the existence or non-existence of some form of deity.

0 Replies
 
HexHammer
 
  1  
Reply Mon 2 Aug, 2010 07:23 am
@ElAleph,
ElAleph wrote:

The philosophical problem of other minds takes on two forms.

Firstly, there is the sceptical problem about other minds. This is a purely epistemological question of how we know about other minds, on a par with the question of how we know about the external world.

The second interest in the traditional philosophical problem about other minds lies in the question, whether, given what would seem a natural way we have of thinking of the meaning of mental terms, we can even make sense of the sentences we use to attribute mental states to others. Such a problem arises because there is a natural tendency to assume that our mental terms (i.e 'pain', 'belief', etc.) get their meaning from our relating them to our own experiences. Thus, if we only understand what it is to have a pain or a belief from our own case, a question arises as to whether such a perspective on them will even allow our talk of others having pains or beliefs to make sense. This is known as the conceptual problem of other minds.

What do you think? What would you define as a 'conscious being' and is it possible to know that other conscious beings exist? Or are we to be forever plagued by an inextricable and degenerative solipsism?
Don't quite see the clear borders of the question here, are you in doubt if other humans exist?
0 Replies
 
prothero
 
  1  
Reply Mon 2 Aug, 2010 10:29 pm
One has to be careful about terms here.
In particular the term “consciousness” has implications that terms like perception, memory, and mind do not.

What is mind and what “entities possess it”?

My personal opinion is that mind is a much more extensive and pervasive property of reality than is commonly supposed.

Most of us accept that our fellow humans have minds and possess consciousness.

Many of us feel our pets have minds and are conscious though not in the same manner or to the same degree as fellow humans.

We can not prove this scientifically but we generally believe it based on our own “experience” and analogy in behavior and structure.

Where in the chain of being or of existence do primitive properties of mind like perception, memory and interiority cease? How would you know?

The common assertion of “materialism” is that mind is an emergent property of complex arrangements of matter. The corollary to this is that mind is a rare and infrequent feature of the universe. The universe is thus assumed to be composed predominately of mindless insensate matter.

Personally I think reality is composed of events not objects and that all events have material and mental aspects. The term mental here is not meant to be consciousness only primitive mental properties like perception, memory and interiority along with some small degree of freedom or self determination.

Mind and matter cannot be separated in the manner that dualism or materialism suppose. The mental is as much a feature of the universe as the material and both are manifestations of “ultimate reality” a form of neutral monism, the truth behind the illusion

To doubt other minds, is to doubt mind in general and to doubt or deny your most direct experience and indeed your very existence. I think therefore I am the beginning point of all inquiry.
Razzleg
 
  1  
Reply Tue 3 Aug, 2010 02:06 am
@ElAleph,
ElAleph wrote:

The philosophical problem of other minds takes on two forms.

Firstly, there is the skeptical problem about other minds. This is a purely epistemological question of how we know about other minds, on a par with the question of how we know about the external world.

The second interest in the traditional philosophical problem about other minds lies in the question, whether, given what would seem a natural way we have of thinking of the meaning of mental terms, we can even make sense of the sentences we use to attribute mental states to others. Such a problem arises because there is a natural tendency to assume that our mental terms (i.e 'pain', 'belief', etc.) get their meaning from our relating them to our own experiences. Thus, if we only understand what it is to have a pain or a belief from our own case, a question arises as to whether such a perspective on them will even allow our talk of others having pains or beliefs to make sense. This is known as the conceptual problem of other minds.

What do you think? What would you define as a 'conscious being' and is it possible to know that other conscious beings exist? Or are we to be forever plagued by an inextricable and degenerative solipsism?



Nice topic!

To be honest, i'd like to dodge the first question as much as possible. I'd like to counter the skeptical position with the holistic one, with the implication that a grasp of a single consciousness, i.e. mine, also includes an awareness of the consciousness of others. The main reason i would like to avoid Q1 is because i am very, very lazy, and i don't feel like defending that assertion ad infinitum (which is what the holistic vs the skeptical debate seems to inevitably become, esp. on this site.) If the assumption that we can be aware of other conscious beings might be forgiven as a given, then i have to admit that i am more interested in your second item of interest.

While i agree with you that we tend to learn the meaning of certain terms by connecting them with our unique experiences, we tend learn to speak intelligibly with other conscious beings by learning that language operates by generalizing, perhaps we could categorize this as second order linguistic processing, although it is obviously more sophisticated. From my perspective, sophisticated language operates by an "and/also", rather than an "either/or", "design" (all designs are generated by trial-and-error [is there any form of punctuation i haven't included in this paragraph yet?! Dammit, i need to get a colon in here somewhere. Oh well...]) In other words, our qualia are comprehensible because they are accessible to collective linguistic usage, rather than accommodating themselves to some otherwise exclusive usage.

When I see something blue, and tell someone that the thing is blue, they understand me not because their perception of blue is necessarily identical to mine, but because the meaning of word "blue" includes a finite range of acceptable perceptions/observational comments. This is obviously an overly simplistic example, but hopefully it is kind of illustrative of what i am getting at.

When i observe someone else in pain, i don't simply apply the word pain to her because she displays similar behavior to that which i enact when i feel pain, but rather our similar (but not identical by any stretch) behavior both fall under the pre-existing meaning of expressions of pain (or painful behavior, perhaps? eh, i seem to be undermining semantics already, why worry about the finesse of phrasing? ). In other words, when i am learning that my sensations/behavior is "pain", this learning process doesn't institute a 1-on-1 identification of meaning and signifier so much as reveal a variety of responses within a single denotative process.

Does any of that make sense? I can try harder if not...and keep in mind, this is more of a suggestion for a thought experiment than an argument.

PS: (colon!) I like this portion of Prothero's (the previous poster's) post: (second colon!...somehow less exciting...)

prothero wrote:

Personally I think reality is composed of events not objects and that all events have material and mental aspects. The term mental here is not meant to [refer to] only primitive mental [processes] like perception, memory and interiority along with some small degree of freedom or self determination.

Mind and matter cannot be separated in the manner that dualism or materialism suppose. The mental is as much a feature of the universe as the material and both are manifestations of “ultimate reality” a form of neutral monism, the truth behind the illusion

To doubt other minds, is to doubt mind in general and to doubt or deny your most direct experience and indeed your very existence.


The parentheses in the above quote indicate my rather suspicious nitpicking qualifications.
0 Replies
 
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Tue 3 Aug, 2010 12:45 pm
@ElAleph,
ElAleph wrote:

The philosophical problem of other minds takes on two forms.

Firstly, there is the sceptical problem about other minds. This is a purely epistemological question of how we know about other minds, on a par with the question of how we know about the external world.

The second interest in the traditional philosophical problem about other minds lies in the question, whether, given what would seem a natural way we have of thinking of the meaning of mental terms, we can even make sense of the sentences we use to attribute mental states to others. Such a problem arises because there is a natural tendency to assume that our mental terms (i.e 'pain', 'belief', etc.) get their meaning from our relating them to our own experiences. Thus, if we only understand what it is to have a pain or a belief from our own case, a question arises as to whether such a perspective on them will even allow our talk of others having pains or beliefs to make sense. This is known as the conceptual problem of other minds.

What do you think? What would you define as a 'conscious being' and is it possible to know that other conscious beings exist? Or are we to be forever plagued by an inextricable and degenerative solipsism?


If the answer to the epistemological question is yes, then the question to the conceptual problem is yes. Do we know there are other minds? The standard reply is that we know, and our justification is the argument from analogy. Namely, when we behave in certain ways in certain circumstances, we have certain thoughts and feelings, and others are like us anatomically and in other ways. Therefore, when others behave like us in similar circumstances, it follows (inductively) that they also have similar thoughts and feelings.

What are your objections to this classic argument that other persons are conscious?
prothero
 
  1  
Reply Tue 3 Aug, 2010 09:17 pm
@kennethamy,
Of course one's subjective experience is largely a private matter. We imply similar types of subjective experience to other humans anyway on the basis of structural and behaviorial analogy. In the case of humans of course we also have recording and exchanging of our experience through language. Animals, plants and lower forms of life or existence do not have the medium of language and the behaviorial and structural analogy is less complete. Still there seems to be little reason to confine the notion of subjective expereince to only human type consciousness.

Human consiscousness I would maintain is merely a more complex and integrated form of more general subjective experience or mind which is more widespread and pervasive in nature than is commonly supposed.

To doubt the reality of the subjective expereince of other humans or to doubt the independent existence of a reality separate from ones own mind seems a rather severe form of solopsism. A philosophical position which few can consistently maintain.

Much more common is notion that only humans have consciousness and that all other living forms are some kind of automatan or biological machine. I think that position stems from a mechanistic and materialistic view of nature which is not entirely justified on the basis on analogy,experience or behavior.
0 Replies
 
HexHammer
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Aug, 2010 02:03 pm
@prothero,
Seems you like to confuse youself with pretty rethorics, the usual bane of most philosophers and reality.
prothero
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Aug, 2010 02:32 pm
@HexHammer,
HexHammer wrote:
Seems you like to confuse youself with pretty rethorics, the usual bane of most philosophers and reality.

Well not all ideas are reducible to symbolic logic or mathematical expression.
It is at least partly about language the medium of expression for subtle or complex formulations of thought.
What is mind? What are the simplest properties of mind? and what types of complex systems possess these properties? Those seem like reasonable questions to ask or inquiries to make, no?
In any case, it should be clear my position is that the simplest properties of mind including subjective experience (memory, perception) and interiority are more prevalent in nature than a discussion confined to human consciousness would indicate.
In fact human consciousness is just a more integrated and complex form of mind. The mental in its simplest form is a general property of nature.

Just my general objection to the still prevelant materialistic, deterministic Newtonian mechanical view of nature. A view which I might add should be questioned on the basis of science itself.


HexHammer
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Aug, 2010 03:09 pm
@prothero,
prothero wrote:
In fact human consciousness is just a more integrated and complex form of mind. The mental in its simplest form is a general property of nature.
Yes, indeed this is true, which is why we have such difficulty creating androids.
0 Replies
 
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Aug, 2010 03:18 pm
@prothero,
prothero wrote:

HexHammer wrote:
Seems you like to confuse youself with pretty rethorics, the usual bane of most philosophers and reality.

Well not all ideas are reducible to symbolic logic or mathematical expression.
It is at least partly about language the medium of expression for subtle or complex formulations of thought.
What is mind? What are the simplest properties of mind? and what types of complex systems possess these properties? Those seem like reasonable questions to ask or inquiries to make, no?
In any case, it should be clear my position is that the simplest properties of mind including subjective experience (memory, perception) and interiority are more prevalent in nature than a discussion confined to human consciousness would indicate.
In fact human consciousness is just a more integrated and complex form of mind. The mental in its simplest form is a general property of nature.

Just my general objection to the still prevelant materialistic, deterministic Newtonian mechanical view of nature. A view which I might add should be questioned on the basis of science itself.





I thought the issue was how we know other people are conscious, and not what consciousness is.
prothero
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Aug, 2010 03:49 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy wrote:
I thought the issue was how we know other people are conscious, and not what consciousness is.
I quite agree with your previous post that we know on the basis of analogy, observation, reason and the nature of our own interior subjective experience.
I do not think anyone seriously doubts this except for outright solopsism or severe skepticism.
The more general question about what are the more fundamental properties of mind and how do we know what complex societies, organisms or structures possess them or not is my interest.
It is perhaps telling that there is no objective way to directly access, measure or observe consciousness or any other property of mind. It also telling that we try to attribute a property to systems that we can not define (i,e, consciousness).
 

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