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Qualia exist

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Martian Visitor

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Qualia exist

Post Number:#1  PostMarch 28th, 2012, 8:53 am

Belinda wrote:The only thing I can say is that a philosophical zombie, such as Mary the Colour Scientist although a useful thought experiment, is impossible because there is no firm division between what an experience feels like and what it looks like from the outside as it were. I think that the two descriptions of the same event are true but use different sorts of language, one mentalistic and the other physicalistic.


I don't think Mary is a philosophical zombie. A P-zombie is indistinguishable from a normal human being except that it lacks conscious experience, aka qualia. Mary does have those things, when she is in the black and white room she has conscious experiences of black and white, and when she goes out of the room she has conscious experience of red.

This fascinating and extremely promising research: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/09/colortherapy/
demonstrates that the circumstances described in the Mary thought experiment are certainly possible.

All male squirrel monkeys lack the receptor chemical in the retina which allows perception of red and green. The same deficit is responsible for the most common form of colourblindness in (male) humans. Female monkeys see red and green (and yellow and blue). Monkeys were trained to touch a screen for a small reward (grape juice) when coloured patches appeared. Male monkeys ignored red and green patches, which were indistinguishable from grey for them, but responded to yellow and blue. Female monkeys responded to all four colours.

Gene therapy was used to introduce the missing receptor chemical (l-opsin) into the retinas of two male monkeys. After a delay of some weeks, they began to respond to red and green.

The same procedure could be used with humans, and almost certainly will be used, probably within the next decade. Similar therapy has already been used to allow previously totally blind humans to experience light.

Qualia is a way of talking about phenomenal consciousness, "what it is like" to experience things like light and colour. Before their treatment, the blind humans didn't know what it is like to see light, the colourblind monkeys didn't know what it is like to see red. Now they do. Qualia exist.

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Re: Qualia exist

Post Number:#2  PostMarch 28th, 2012, 12:06 pm

I don't see how curing colorblindness is evidence that qualia exist. In fact, the same reasoning could be used to make the experience of anything proof that qualia exist: My neighbor couldn't experience what it was like to look at the pictures on my wall and I could, so one day I opened my apartment door and brought him in and pointed at the pictures and he looked and now he does know what it is like to see those pictures; therefore qualia exist. Depending on how such an argument is interpreted, I'd say it may be either an instance of begging the question or, otherwise, plain non-sequitor.
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Re: Qualia exist

Post Number:#3  PostMarch 28th, 2012, 12:23 pm

Scott wrote:I don't see how curing colorblindness is evidence that qualia exist. In fact, the same reasoning could be used to make the experience of anything proof that qualia exist: My neighbor couldn't experience what it was like to look at the pictures on my wall and I could, so one day I opened my apartment door and brought him in and pointed at the pictures and he looked and now he does know what it is like to see those pictures; therefore qualia exist. Depending on how such an argument is interpreted, I'd say it may be either an instance of begging the question or, otherwise, plain non-sequitor.


Your neighbour would already know what it was like to see pictures on a wall before he saw yours. You could explain to him what it would be like.

A colourblind person wouldn't know what it is like to see colours, a blind person wouldn't know what it would be like to see at all. And crucially, you couldn't explain it to them.
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Re: Qualia exist

Post Number:#4  PostMarch 28th, 2012, 6:28 pm

But Mary the Colour Scientist while she is in her black and white phase cannot know (in the Biblical sense of know) what it is like to see red. Therefore whilst she is in her black and white phase she knows everything there is to know about colour, but in the Biblical sense of 'know' she does not know colour.This is what I mean by her being a philosophical zombie, although only while in her black and white phase.The thought experiment of Mary the Colour Scientist has been very useful to me in explaining what people mean by 'qualia', and it is after all only a thought experiment.

Qualia are intuitively true, there is no doubt. But I am sticking with my scepticism

A colourblind person wouldn't know what it is like to see colours, a blind person wouldn't know what it would be like to see at all. And crucially, you couldn't explain it to them.
But you could explain by means of synaesthesia, if such were available. The blind person could also know(Biblically) the colour via synaesthesia.The synaesthesia being the same for both meanings of 'know'.
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Re: Qualia exist

Post Number:#5  PostMarch 29th, 2012, 4:15 am

Belinda wrote:But Mary the Colour Scientist while she is in her black and white phase cannot know (in the Biblical sense of know) what it is like to see red.


Hahahaha Belinda!! From "Oxford Dictionaries Online (The World's Most Trusted Dictionaries)":

Know someone in the biblical sense informal, humorous have sexual intercourse with someone.


Belinda wrote:Therefore whilst she is in her black and white phase she knows everything there is to know about colour, but in the Biblical sense of 'know' she does not know colour.This is what I mean by her being a philosophical zombie, although only while in her black and white phase.The thought experiment of Mary the Colour Scientist has been very useful to me in explaining what people mean by 'qualia', and it is after all only a thought experiment.

Qualia are intuitively true, there is no doubt. But I am sticking with my scepticism.


I think you are going to have to have another go at explaining your scepticism, this time maybe leave out philosophical zombies and the Biblical sense of know, as you are not using these terms with their generally accepted meanings, which makes it impossible to know what you are trying to say.
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Re: Qualia exist

Post Number:#6  PostMarch 29th, 2012, 4:07 pm

Martian Visitor wrote:
Scott wrote:I don't see how curing colorblindness is evidence that qualia exist. In fact, the same reasoning could be used to make the experience of anything proof that qualia exist: My neighbor couldn't experience what it was like to look at the pictures on my wall and I could, so one day I opened my apartment door and brought him in and pointed at the pictures and he looked and now he does know what it is like to see those pictures; therefore qualia exist. Depending on how such an argument is interpreted, I'd say it may be either an instance of begging the question or, otherwise, plain non-sequitor.


Your neighbour would already know what it was like to see pictures on a wall before he saw yours. You could explain to him what it would be like.

A colourblind person wouldn't know what it is like to see colours, a blind person wouldn't know what it would be like to see at all. And crucially, you couldn't explain it to them.
The structure of your argument is contradictory. I could try to explain what it is like to experience looking at the pictures on my wall to my neighbor, and I could try to explain what it is like experience seeing red to someone who is color-blind, but in both cases they would not have access to the direct experience. The colorblind person has seen black and white as well as used other senses, and my neighbor has seen other pictures but doesn't know what it is like to experience looking at the pictures on my wall. The structure of the argument in both cases is the same, but you come to different conclusions. That is either a contradiction or a non-sequitor.
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Re: Qualia exist

Post Number:#7  PostMarch 30th, 2012, 4:04 am

Scott wrote:The structure of your argument is contradictory. I could try to explain what it is like to experience looking at the pictures on my wall to my neighbor, and I could try to explain what it is like experience seeing red to someone who is color-blind, but in both cases they would not have access to the direct experience. The colorblind person has seen black and white as well as used other senses, and my neighbor has seen other pictures but doesn't know what it is like to experience looking at the pictures on my wall. The structure of the argument in both cases is the same, but you come to different conclusions. That is either a contradiction or a non-sequitur.


No, the position is different in the two cases. Perhaps it's easier to see if we think about restored light perception following total blindness, my other example.

You could say to your sighted neighbour that your walls are pale lemon yellow and they would be able to understand "what that would be like". You're right, they wouldn't have access to your direct experience, they would have to draw on their own. But that amounts to an acceptance that qualia do exist!

Even if you showed the neighbour the wall, they wouldn't have access to your experience. But they would know what it is like.

A blind person wouldn't.
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Re: Qualia exist

Post Number:#8  PostMarch 30th, 2012, 4:59 am

Martian Visitor wrote:

You could say to your sighted neighbour that your walls are pale lemon yellow and they would be able to understand "what that would be like". You're right, they wouldn't have access to your direct experience, they would have to draw on their own. But that amounts to an acceptance that qualia do exist!


It does not, because the sighted neighbour might be not intimately feel the lemon yellow despite his ability to have an intelligent, even an emotional or artistic discussion about lemon yellow walls. Your neighbour might even be allergic to lemon yellow in any form, lemon yellow might bring him out in a rash, and he still cannot prove to himself or to another person that he intimately feels lemon yellow as I can assure you that I do.

I presume that Martian is not colour blind. I assume that Martian, who rather terrestrially believes in qualia,is as like a human as I can tell through exchanges on philosophyclub. However despite all his protestations it is impossible for Martian to prove to me that qualia intimately exist for him.
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Re: Qualia exist

Post Number:#9  PostMarch 30th, 2012, 5:12 am

Belinda wrote:he still cannot prove to himself or to another person that he intimately feels lemon yellow as I can assure you that I do.


So you agree that qualia exist.
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Re: Qualia exist

Post Number:#10  PostMarch 30th, 2012, 6:56 am

I saw a TV documentary many years ago, it covered the first few weeks after an operation that restored the sight of a man in 40's who had been born and lived 40 years blind. When he first took the blindfold off he saw light and colour and explained, the most peculiar thing was he couldn't distinguish between objects, the world was a Sassurian homogenous blur. However he quckly learned to pick out the objects in the hospital room such as chairs and TV's, the names of colours and so on, but the thing that illuded him was depth of field, as he explained the world was completely 2D to him. It took him several days to begin to be able to judge the distance things were away from him and many weeks to master it. He would see a chair a few feet in front of him and have no idea if it was next to him a 50 feet away.

Clearly he understood depth of field and had knowledge of it, he had been operating in a 3D world as a blind person for 40 years and completely grasped the concept of near and far, but the first time he saw it, couldn't even see it.

I like this because it is a reversal of Mary's Room. In Mary's Room she would go out into the colour world and experience the awe of colur. We would have to modify it for the above example to she walks out into the world of colour and still sees in black and white until she gradually learns to see colour over time.
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Re: Qualia exist

Post Number:#11  PostMarch 30th, 2012, 8:44 am

Grendel wrote:I saw a TV documentary...

I like this because it is a reversal of Mary's Room. In Mary's Room she would go out into the colour world and experience the awe of colur. We would have to modify it for the above example to she walks out into the world of colour and still sees in black and white until she gradually learns to see colour over time.


Interesting Grendel. The researcher who carried out the experiment on the colourblind monkeys says that there is reason to believe that the monkeys would very quickly begin to see read and green after the missing chemical was restored, and that the weeks of delay before they began to respond to red and green colour patches was that they didn't initially realise that they were seeing anything different.
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Re: Qualia exist

Post Number:#12  PostMarch 30th, 2012, 4:08 pm

I don't think that qualia exist as events that are basically different from other sorts of knowledge such as knowing the chemical structure of water. I know that I feel water as wet stuff ,and I know that water is H2O, and that it is a solvent for salt and so on. Each of those is an item of knowledge, and the subjective feel of water is not on some different level from other attributes of water that are also within the scope of my knowledge.

My attitude towards Martian Visitor is that he probably feels water as wet stuff just as I and most other people do. I fully expect that Martian Visitor knows other facts about water besides the fact that it feels wet. Those are just facts. Naturally, I and Martian Visitor can be misled about the wetness of water if we should become demented or delusional, just as we could be misled about other items of knowledge.
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Re: Qualia exist

Post Number:#13  PostMarch 30th, 2012, 6:13 pm

Belinda wrote:I don't think that qualia exist as events that are basically different from other sorts of knowledge such as knowing the chemical structure of water. I know that I feel water as wet stuff ,and I know that water is H2O, and that it is a solvent for salt and so on. Each of those is an item of knowledge, and the subjective feel of water is not on some different level from other attributes of water that are also within the scope of my knowledge.


The question in the Mary's Room thought experiment is whether she will gain any new knowledge upon leaving the room. If she does learn something new on seeing red, qualia exist. Since you accept here that qualia are a type of knowledge, you are accepting that qualia exist.
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Re: Qualia exist

Post Number:#14  PostMarch 30th, 2012, 9:25 pm

Scott in post #2 wrote:I don't see how curing colorblindness is evidence that qualia exist. In fact, the same reasoning could be used to make the experience of anything proof that qualia exist: My neighbor couldn't experience what it was like to look at the pictures on my wall and I could, so one day I opened my apartment door and brought him in and pointed at the pictures and he looked and now he does know what it is like to see those pictures; therefore qualia exist. Depending on how such an argument is interpreted, I'd say it may be either an instance of begging the question or, otherwise, plain non-sequitur.
Martian Visitor wrote:You could say to your sighted neighbour that your walls are pale lemon yellow and they would be able to understand "what that would be like". You're right, they wouldn't have access to your direct experience, they would have to draw on their own. But that amounts to an acceptance that qualia do exist!
That's my point all along: The hypothetical argument I make regarding my hypothetical sighted neighbor not knowing what it is like to directly experience looking at the pictures on my wall but only having access to my second-hand detailed description of all the facts I can practically communicate of it is no less a valid argument that qualia exist than the one you make in the OP regarding color-blindness or the new one you make regarding completely blindness. The fact that the argument may require accepting qualia exist as a premise speaks to why in my first post in this topic I suggested it may be an instance of begging the question, but if not than it is a non-sequitur.

Martian Visitor wrote:Even if you showed the neighbour the wall, they wouldn't have access to your experience. But they would know what it is like.

A blind person wouldn't.
This is begging the question. Saying the blind person can't experience the qualia of sight and thus that proves there is qualia is begging the question. The exact same argument can be made with my sighted neighbor, and it's either begging the question or non-sequitur because the only way for it not to be a non-sequitur is to assume that the qualia is there in the first place.


The fact that it is begging the question or a non-sequitur is easy if we realize the phrase what it is like is equivocal. In one sense, saying 'what it is like' is synonymous with qualia. Interpreting the phrase in that sense, both your original argument regarding color-blindness being cured and my hypothetical argument regarding my neighbor not having seen the picture on my wall and then seeing it would be a fallacy of begging the question because we both just would say that the color-blind-person or my neighbor doesn't know what it is like to see colors or the-pictures-on-my-wall respectively, and then conclude that qualia exists. Saying they don't know what it's like is begging the question in that sense. In another sense, saying they don't know what it is like is a reference to the fact that it is practically speaking impossible for me to explain via words all the information contained in the pictures on the wall; the pictures on the wall might have a gigabyte worth of pixels, for instance, and even to explain all the pixel data to my neighbor which would take hours would not be enough since it wouldn't explain the feelings and meaning of the picture gained from seeing it as a whole which would take even more information to explain. Similarly we can imagine it would be just as impractical to communicate the feelings of seeing colors and the way colors look in our imagination to someone who is color-blind. It may be impractical because the information -- in both the case of explaining what it feels like to look at the pictures on my wall to my neighbor who has never seen them and of explaining the feelings and beauty of looking at colors to a color-blind person -- is too great and complex to fully translate into non-visual, communicated data in practice, NOT that there is something inherently impossible to communicate. Assuming the latter in this case is a non-sequitur. Of course, one can make a non-sequitur follow by assuming their conclusion but then that's begging the question again.
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Re: Qualia exist

Post Number:#15  PostMarch 31st, 2012, 3:47 am

Scott wrote: Similarly we can imagine it would be just as impractical to communicate the feelings of seeing colors and the way colors look in our imagination to someone who is color-blind. It may be impractical because the information -- in both the case of explaining what it feels like to look at the pictures on my wall to my neighbor who has never seen them and of explaining the feelings and beauty of looking at colors to a color-blind person -- is too great and complex to fully translate into non-visual, communicated data in practice, NOT that there is something inherently impossible to communicate. Assuming the latter in this case is a non-sequitur. Of course, one can make a non-sequitur follow by assuming their conclusion but then that's begging the question again.


I've singled out this section as I think this is the crucial point.

The impossibility of communicating what it is like to see light or particular colours is not due to practical difficulties relating to the amount and complexity of the information to be communicated. When the colourblind monkeys are cured they can see red, when the totally blind person has their sight restored they can see light. We're not talking here about any feelings they might have, or judgements about beauty, we're talking about the "raw feel".

The difficulty in explaining is just as great when the experience to be explained is simple, simple light or colour perception for example. But also, the difficulty in explaining "what seeing X is like" is just as great if you are trying to explain it to a sighted person. It is in fact impossible, as you will see if you try it. You can only communicate what it is like by exemplification, by allowing the other person to have a comparable experience, for example by showing the sighted person X, or asking them to recall times they have seen something that you assume will look like X to them.
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