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What follows from the fact that we're able to think about conscious states?

 
 
Reply Mon 7 Sep, 2009 02:01 am
We're able to observe, as it were, our own conscious states, think about them and put them into words. But what follows from this fact?

I've been thinking about this for the past few days and I just can't wrap my mind around it. On the face of it, it seems to give conscious states top-down casual efficacy. Most of the current thinking about consciousness has it that consciousness is, if you will, a "top level" phenomenon. It comes about as the result of a huge number of complex interactions of smaller parts, "floating" "on top" of these. But how could it be possible for all these physical interactions in the brain to reflect on something that comes about, as it were, "on top" of themselves? (Now, when I say "on top" I don't mean to use the term literally, but rather as a metaphor for something that comes about as the result of the interaction of smaller parts.) Isn't it necessary here that the mental states themselves have some kind of top-down casual efficacy?

The above seems to me to be a problem for physicalism, but I don't want to rush to a conclusion too quickly here. Is there some way to account for this on a physicalist model?
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Type: Discussion • Score: 2 • Views: 1,395 • Replies: 16
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jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Sep, 2009 03:40 am
@Larry Boy,
When you say 'conscious states', do you mean state of mind, moods and emotions?

If you are saying it is possible to be aware of what state of mind you are in, I don't see this as being especially problematical.

Perhaps it is a matter of saying there is an awareness as distinct from consciousness.
Larry Boy
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Sep, 2009 06:18 am
@jeeprs,
Well, what I'm referring to is conscious states in general, that is is all states of mind that include qualia. Now, am I right in saying that according to physicalism qualia can't have any causal effects on the brain? But if that is so, how can the brain by itself reflect upon these states? There seems to be a need of, if you will, a two-way communication.
richrf
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Sep, 2009 09:53 am
@Larry Boy,
Larry Boy;88637 wrote:
But how could it be possible for all these physical interactions in the brain to reflect on something that comes about, as it were, "on top" of themselves? (Now, when I say "on top" I don't mean to use the term literally, but rather as a metaphor for something that comes about as the result of the interaction of smaller parts.) Isn't it necessary here that the mental states themselves have some kind of top-down casual efficacy?


I would agree and I think it is a great observation.

The metaphor I would use is humans, as individual consciousnesses, can observe aspects of the universe, but we cannot observe the whole. We need to share observations with other humans in order to piece together some image of the whole.

It is probably the same for all of those little consciousnesses that inhabit us.

But it does beg the question: Is there a greater consciousness observing us as a whole?

Anyway, I enjoyed your post.

Rich
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jgweed
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Sep, 2009 10:18 am
@Larry Boy,
It might help to consider that when we think of our conscious states, it is always as history, since they are, by nature, always in the past when we are in the process of thinking about them. They are then viewed as "events" and it becomes difficult to think of them as processes.
It is not the case that our thinking of conscious states, even though privileged when we think of our own, is somehow done without interpretation.
salima
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Sep, 2009 10:34 am
@jgweed,
jgweed;88754 wrote:
It might help to consider that when we think of our conscious states, it is always as history, since they are, by nature, always in the past when we are in the process of thinking about them. They are then viewed as "events" and it becomes difficult to think of them as processes.
It is not the case that our thinking of conscious states, even though privileged when we think of our own, is somehow done without interpretation.


hi john-
is this quote relevant to what you are saying?

"...it becomes apparent that there is an irreducible connection between our seemingly innate perception of a flowing time and progressive present moment and the phenomenon of conscious awareness. Without an inbuilt conception of a present moment in time, conscious cognition would not be possible, and would mirror that of computation; i.e., not consciously aware."

(i am just checking on my comprehension.)
0 Replies
 
jgweed
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Sep, 2009 12:36 pm
@Larry Boy,
In that the quotation discusses the role of time (in this case the "present moment") to our understanding of consciousness, it is very relevant. I was taking a different view of the role of time, namely that our thinking about consciousness (or "states") was subject to some of the same problems as our thinking of historical events.
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alcaz0r
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Sep, 2009 01:06 pm
@Larry Boy,
I am not so sure that we actually experience our conscious states, it seems just as plausible to consider our experience to be the observation of a representation of a mental state, rather than the mental state itself. Considering this to be the case for a moment, I see no contradiction in supposing that we can receive knowledge of our conscious states without directly experiencing them, and without stirring up those pesky conceptual problems about causal efficiency.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  2  
Reply Mon 7 Sep, 2009 02:43 pm
@Larry Boy,
qualia can't have any causal effects on the brain, eh? What happens if you think of something scary or something that annoys you and it triggers your adrenal glands then?
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Sep, 2009 05:18 pm
@Larry Boy,
Larry Boy;88676 wrote:
Well, what I'm referring to is conscious states in general, that is is all states of mind that include qualia. Now, am I right in saying that according to physicalism qualia can't have any causal effects on the brain? But if that is so, how can the brain by itself reflect upon these states? There seems to be a need of, if you will, a two-way communication.


I have thought about this some more. If 'qualia' can't have any causal effect on the brain, doesn't this imply that there can't be such a thing as psychosomatic illness? Or am misunderstanding the meaning of 'qualia' and/or 'causal effects'?
salima
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Sep, 2009 05:30 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;88865 wrote:
I have thought about this some more. If 'qualia' can't have any causal effect on the brain, doesn't this imply that there can't be such a thing as psychosomatic illness? Or am misunderstanding the meaning of 'qualia' and/or 'causal effects'?


now i think this is something to do with Mary's room. the idea of artificial intelligence definitely has something to do with the understanding of consciousness in human beings.

but i think in the case of psychosomatic illness it could be related to social conditioning or association made between stimuli and previous experience or memory. nevertheless, i refuse to believe qualia (whatever the heck it is) can have no effect on the brain. but i havent figured out yet how to say it.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Sep, 2009 05:33 pm
@Larry Boy,
well here's another consideration. What if you have a powerful warlord in some imaginary country. One night he has a tasty snack of highly spiced lamb with some exotic herbs on it. That night, he has a vivid dream, perhaps as a result of what he has eaten. As a result of this dream, he decides next morning to go into battle. He crosses the river and finds the neighbouring state quite unprepared, massacres the army, and then takes the King prisoner. As a result, he and his successors rule this kingdom for the next 5 generations. And all on the basis of a dream.

Stranger things have happened!
alcaz0r
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Sep, 2009 05:47 pm
@jeeprs,
I don't have a solid grasp of all this qualia business. From what I do understand though, it seems if you are going to go to the trouble of using the word qualia, then it is a matter of course that you will not attribute causal efficacy to what you describe as qualia.

If you're going to attribute causal efficacy to our mental experiences then there's no need to use the word qualia, as there is then no distinction between the mental event we have experience of and our experience of it.
0 Replies
 
RDanneskjld
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Sep, 2009 06:39 pm
@jgweed,
jgweed;88754 wrote:
It might help to consider that when we think of our conscious states, it is always as history, since they are, by nature, always in the past when we are in the process of thinking about them. They are then viewed as "events" and it becomes difficult to think of them as processes.
It is not the case that our thinking of conscious states, even though privileged when we think of our own, is somehow done without interpretation.

JG makes a very important point here. But IMO We feel that we have significantly more self-knowledge about conscious states than we actually have. A lot of this information, that we feel we have privileged access to simply doesnt exist and can be analysed away in numerous ways (And great attempts have been made). Im not alone in this view many modern Philosophers of mind hold the same position as I do, that we atribute far too much to consciousness.

The Philosophers concept of qualia is a total mess, with Philosophers often struggling about how it should be used. Some have also proposed that we drop the term qualia as it does us more harm than good.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  2  
Reply Mon 7 Sep, 2009 07:57 pm
@Larry Boy,
is 'thinking about conscious states' the same as 'being aware of conscious states'?

It seems to me you can only think about them after the event, or in the abstract, as JGWeed said.

However awareness of conscious states is immediate and is also something that can be trained.

There are definitely greated and lesser degrees of awareness of conscious states. One of the main purposes of mindfulness meditation training is to increase the subjects awareness of conscious states. Indeed this is the meaning of 'mindfulness'.

It is easy to get caught up in reaction, for example, in a road-rage incident which might escalate out of control. If you have some mindfulness training, or if you are self-aware by some other means, this awareness might act as a circuit-breaker to prevent the escalation.

There is a ton of empirical data to support this observation.
Larry Boy
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Sep, 2009 11:25 pm
@jeeprs,
Thanks for all the thoughtful replies.

I think I need to clarify what I'm trying to say a little bit further. When we talk about "mental states", I think we need to make a distinction between their informational content, their function and their structure on the one hand, and the feel of them on the other. This is basically the distinction David Chalmers does when he talks about the 'hard' problem of consciousness.

Now I'm perfectly in agreement that as far as the informational content, the function and the structure of a mental state goes, this should pose no problem for the physicalist view. I can imagine how the brain could analyze these bits of 'data', as it were.

However, when it comes to the subjective feel of mental states - the qualia or the consciousness of it all - then I think physicalism may run into some problems. What I don't see is how these subjective feels are supposed to, if you will, loop back into the system. Now of course you may argue that this is just because I see them as something "over and above" their functions and structures, and that I'm not willing to equate them with these, which would make the problem go away.

I don't think you can equate them, though. However hard you try to reduce the mental to the physical, saying that consciousness just is its functions, it seems to me that you can't get away from the fact that there is also something it is like to be these functions, to use Nagel's way of putting it. There's an objective/subjective split here that I think we need to acknowledge. No amount of mapping down the functions and structures of brain states will ever let us "see" the subjective states that accompany these. Indeed, we can't even prove that the brains we're investigating are, in fact, conscious. It is something we have to take for granted, "over and above" it's functions and structures, which we can investigate.

To return to the question of thinking about mental states, what puzzles me is that we can reflect upon, say, the sound of a tree falling, rather than just the fact that soundwaves enter our ears, are translated into elecrical signals, sent to the brain where they are represented as some kind of informational structure (now of course we can't think about this without the knowledge of soundwaves etc., but my point should be clear: the qualitative feel of sound doesn't seem to follow from these processes being performed alone).
alcaz0r
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Sep, 2009 11:39 pm
@Larry Boy,
I feel like I'm missing something Larry Boy. We can remember these feelings you describe, memories play a part in the operations of the mind, so is that not the loop by which these qualia would have their effect on the operations of the mind? Is there something else you're looking for?

I mean, if we describe these qualia as what a mental action feels like, then of course they don't have direct causal efficacy. That would be like wondering if the feeling of hotness caused a hot stove to burn us. But the memory of that hotness has causal efficacy by causing us to infer what will happen if we touch a hot stove again, which gives us quite the incentive not to the next time the oppurtunity arises. How is this different than the feeling of purely mental events?
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