Are qualia functional descriptions of meaning?

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Are qualia functional descriptions of meaning?

Post Number:#1  Postby JamesOfSeattle » November 5th, 2017, 4:00 pm

OK, this question will take some setup.

Any machine that can be said to have a purpose or function has two types of descriptions: a physical description and a functional description. The physical description simply explains the physical parts at a given level. For our purposes we don't need to go to the level of quantum mechanics. The level of atoms will be fine.

The functional description describes parts by what they do or mean. So consider an automobile. Some of the functional description of the major parts have not changed in a hundred years or so. Turning the steering wheel clockwise turns the front wheels to the right. Headlights allow the driver to see at night. There is some indicator that means the fuel level is low. Etc.

Now these differing descriptions are frequently explained via the hardware/software dichotomy, but this explanation almost always assumes digital, programmable computers. Instead, let's consider a dedicated analog computer. Let's assume that this machine has the conversational capability of Apple's Siri. Let's also assume that this machine has access to the states of the light switches in your house. You can ask, "Is the porch light on?" and the machine will answer. However, if you ask a question it cannot answer, it will reply "I don't know."

Now suppose we make the machine such that, instead of starting with information about which light switch is which, the machine can learn to associate words with particular values. Let's call the machine "House". We can imagine this conversation:

[state is no lights on]
House, are any lights on?
No.
[manually switch on porch light]
Are any lights on now?
Yes.
Which ones?
I don't know.
The porch light is on. Which light is on?
Porch.
[turn off porch light, turn on bedroom light]
Is the porch light on?
No.
Is any light on?
Yes.
Which light?
I don't know.
Is the bedroom light on?
I don't know.

So at this stage there is a functional description of the machine which includes the states of the lights, one of which the machine can refer to by name. What if we change the way the machine talks about the states of the switches. What if the conversation continues like this:

House, are any lights on?
I feel there is a light on.
Which light?
I don't know, but I feel one is on.
What about the porch light.
I feel that light is off.
How do you know a light is on?
I have a feeling that a light is on.


So here we go. What if qualia are the functional descriptions of the meanings of inputs to the functional description of the machines which are our brains?

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Are qualia functional descriptions of meaning?



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Re: Are qualia functional descriptions of meaning?

Post Number:#2  Postby Burning ghost » November 5th, 2017, 10:16 pm

No idea why this is even remotely significant. Can you flesh this out s bit more please?
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Re: Are qualia functional descriptions of meaning?

Post Number:#3  Postby JamesOfSeattle » November 5th, 2017, 11:57 pm

I would be happy to flesh it out more, but I'm not sure which part needs more explication. I've tried to propose the following:

1. All machines (artificial or biological) have a physical description and a functional description. The functional description is necessarily tied to an idea of purpose. The functional machine is independent of the physical machine (multiply realizable), but the functional machine requires some physical embodiment that performs the functions.

2. A quale is a reference to a functional description of the meaning of an input. The input may be a positive voltage in a particular circuit. The meaning of that voltage may be that a light switch is on. From the (subjective) perspective of the functional machine, there is simply a value which is there or not, but that value is a direct result of something out in the world. The functional machine doesn't know anything about the hardware it is running on. A voltage in a circuit or the weight of a bucket of water can have the same meaning, namely, that a light switch is on. In such a situation it would be appropriate for a functional machine to describe its knowledge that the light switch is on as a feeling.

The significance of the above is:
1. Machines and micro organisms have qualia, thus consciousness.
2. No zombies
3. If I know the functional explanation of a machine like your brain, I can know when you are having which experience.

So which part needs more explanation?
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Re: Are qualia functional descriptions of meaning?

Post Number:#4  Postby Burning ghost » November 6th, 2017, 1:36 am

Er ... my head is a bit muggy today. Let me mull this over some more because it just looks a little too condensed for my brain to cope with right now :/

Maybe someone else's input would be helpful too.
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Re: Are qualia functional descriptions of meaning?

Post Number:#5  Postby Gertie » November 6th, 2017, 8:39 am

James, you probably have a fair idea of what I'm going to say ;)

My overall point is that you've used terms usually associated with a Subject's experiential states (like purpose, value, meaning, quale, conscious) and redefined them in terms of only their non-experiential physical attributes/correlates and function.

Using this framing which does not explicitly acknowledge the experiential elements involved in processes there-by enables you to call eg a toaster conscious, but it doesn't address whether the toaster has experiential states, or help us know if it does or doesn't, as far as I can see.

IOW re-defining 'meaning' as physical function doesn't get you out of the Chinese Room.
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Re: Are qualia functional descriptions of meaning?

Post Number:#6  Postby Togo1 » November 6th, 2017, 8:53 am

Seems vaguely plausible.

To compare, there's a theory in psychology called the social simulator model, which states that function of most of the higher levels of the brain is to track and predict social situations. That is to model all the people around us, and work out what they are going to do next. The easiest way to do this is to model them as independent entities with individual personalities. Whether that personality comes from enviromental factors that are typical to their life, or internal factors that are inherent in them as an individual, doesn't really make any practical difference.

However, in order to make that work, you need to model the missing peice - you. So you need to model yourself as an independent social entity, just like other people would model you, so that you know what their reactions to your actions will be.

This approach has a number of implications. It means that you have to have a set of data around being a person, a social persona, irrespective of how the brain actually works. It also has a useful side-effect, which is that the same social simulator can be used to model the rest of the world, leading to science, technology, and civilisation as we know it.

The reason I only mention 'vaguely' plausible, above, is because your account seems to be focused on the idea that relabelling an internal state as a feeling somehow progresses the problem, and I'm not sure that it does. Your respondent isn't really giving you any more information by saying "I feel a light is on" as they were when they were saying "I know a light is on, but not which one". It's the same data rephrased.
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Re: Are qualia functional descriptions of meaning?

Post Number:#7  Postby Burning ghost » November 6th, 2017, 11:18 am

James -

I've looked again and still don't see the point of this. All you seem to show is that computers can be programmed to reply to questions based on certain read outs. All I can ask is a great big SO WHAT?

I fail to see any significance or what the hell this has to do with philosophical zombies, some bizarre definition of "consciousness" and referring to biological organisms as "machines" comparable to fuel gages and a steering wheel?

In short I would say all of it needs explaining from my perspective. I hope these pointers help you express whatever it is you mean to me. Thanks.
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Re: Are qualia functional descriptions of meaning?

Post Number:#8  Postby JamesOfSeattle » November 7th, 2017, 1:21 am

Gertie wrote:My overall point is that you've used terms usually associated with a Subject's experiential states (like purpose, value, meaning, quale, conscious) and redefined them in terms of only their non-experiential physical attributes/correlates and function.

That's not what I thought I was doing. I thought I was explaining that those terms (purpose, value, meaning, quale, conscious) only make sense in reference to an abstract entity without regard to the physical implementation of that entity. More specifically, a quale is a reference to the meaning of an input signal from the perspective of the abstract entity, the subject.

Using this framing which does not explicitly acknowledge the experiential elements involved ...

What are the experiential elements involved?

[this framing ...] enables you to call eg a toaster conscious, but it doesn't address whether the toaster has experiential states, or help us know if it does or doesn't, as far as I can see.

I thought my framing did address the toaster's experiential state. The toaster feels when it should be toasting (the lever is pressed down) and that's when it toasts (turns on the heating elements) accordingly. If the toaster were given sufficient additional intellectual functions, such as the ability to remember events, the ability to form concepts, and much more, it would be able to converse about its one feeling (except all those abilities would come with their own feelings in addition to the original one).

IOW re-defining 'meaning' as physical function doesn't get you out of the Chinese Room.

What I'm trying to say is physical and functional are categorically different things, and all of the things associated with consciousness are necessarily in the functional category.

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Re: Are qualia functional descriptions of meaning?

Post Number:#9  Postby Burning ghost » November 7th, 2017, 3:14 am

James -

We describe things and our descriptions are associated to phenomenal experience. I would agree that there some serious issues that come up when mistaking one category with another just because they and both enclosed in our general understanding.

You may as well have asked "Do adjectives describe things?" To which the answer would be, "Yes, if there is a corresponding phenomenological experience to associate to the adjective." Like if I say "it is grey" and to frame the meaning of "grey" as being "that kind of hue like an elephants skin." I can then go on to give multiple examples to refine the meaning. (We see this actively in different cultures and how words are used to frame a certain hue, and we know that what I may call "red" someone else speaking in a different culture will call "red-orange", or they may have no word for "orange" - which incidentally is a very recent addition to the English language!)

If the toaster were given sufficient additional intellectual functions, such as the ability to remember events, the ability to form concepts, and much more, it would be able to converse about its one feeling (except all those abilities would come with their own feelings in addition to the original one).


What are "sufficient intellectual functions" and how do these come about? Why would it then be able to "converse" about "one feeling"?

This is why I was saying what you've written is condensed. Are you expecting us to fill in the gaps for you or have you already done so yourself? Is this an issue to be tackled linguistically or otherwise?

My apologies, maybe others are more familiar with your interests than I am so they won't need as much prompting.
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Re: Are qualia functional descriptions of meaning?

Post Number:#10  Postby SimpleGuy » November 7th, 2017, 4:48 am

As the homotoy classes of the covering of a topological space represents a homotopy subgroup of the space a qualia can reduce the true functionality to some sub term algebra spoken in the language of theoretical computer science. The problem is reduction to what sense without loosing it! An example some people can talk to each other but talk about a totally different thing, so they misunderstood each other although the functionality , the relationships used were equivalent to some kind of qualia. It's an inherent problem to implent this to a machine. Just think about gas driven cookers , this could be devastating. Even for humans dimension reduction has it's price , were by far more bound to the context of a story. So the inference inside the context driven by the previous discussion is by far more important. It's just by far more dangerous for examples for gas driven cookers or open gasoline valves to use this sort of qualias.
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Re: Are qualia functional descriptions of meaning?

Post Number:#11  Postby Burning ghost » November 7th, 2017, 10:51 am

simpleguy -

As the homotopy classes of the covering of a topological space represents a homotopy subgroup of the space a qualia can reduce the true functionality to some sub term algebra spoken in the language of theoretical computer science.


Simple guy? I would say "ridiciulouslyandpurposelesslyobtuseguy" would be a better name.
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Re: Are qualia functional descriptions of meaning?

Post Number:#12  Postby Gertie » November 7th, 2017, 11:02 am

James

Gertie wrote:My overall point is that you've used terms usually associated with a Subject's experiential states (like purpose, value, meaning, quale, conscious) and redefined them in terms of only their non-experiential physical attributes/correlates and function.


That's not what I thought I was doing. I thought I was explaining that those terms (purpose, value, meaning, quale, conscious) only make sense in reference to an abstract entity without regard to the physical implementation of that entity. More specifically, a quale is a reference to the meaning of an input signal from the perspective of the abstract entity, the subject.





Not sure why you call the entity (eg me or you) abstract? You mean the notion of a 'Subject' is an abstract concept? I'd agree with that, but A Subject is a physical entity. Always, as far as we know. I'd say what gives meaning to those processes is the presence of mental states. So if I perceive a loaf and feel hungry, it has a particular meaning to Subject Me, if I'm not hungry it has a different meaning, and the outcomes might vary according to the meaning (make toast or don't make toast). Where-as if light bounces off a loaf then hits a toaster, as far as we know that has no meaning to the toaster. Likewise if I press the toaster lever, calling the lever movement the toaster's quale doesn't necessarily mean the toaster has a mental experience.

Using this framing which does not explicitly acknowledge the experiential elements involved ...

What are the experiential elements involved?


Mental states - feeling hungry in the above example. If you've ever felt hungry, then you know exactly what I mean. If you're denying mental experience exists as a phenomenon, then you're a zombie and this convo is pointless ;). Seriously tho, if you're claiming mental experience doesn't exist or isn't what we usually think it is, please clarify that now.

[this framing ...] enables you to call eg a toaster conscious, but it doesn't address whether the toaster has experiential states, or help us know if it does or doesn't, as far as I can see.


I thought my framing did address the toaster's experiential state. The toaster feels when it should be toasting (the lever is pressed down) and that's when it toasts (turns on the heating elements) accordingly. If the toaster were given sufficient additional intellectual functions, such as the ability to remember events, the ability to form concepts, and much more, it would be able to converse about its one feeling (except all those abilities would come with their own feelings in addition to the original one).




Maybe. But we have a purely physical explanation for why the toaster does what it does, and no way of testing whether it has mental feelings about it. It could be that there's an underlying reason it does have toasty mental states which involves its functional relationships, it just can't tell us, and that underlying reason is key to my own mental experiencing too. But I think you have to make the case for the underlying theory, and show it's significantly more persuasive than competing theories, which is where it gets very tricky.

So far I'm seeing you point out functional similarities between me and a toaster, but no justification made as to why functional similarities are key to consciousness (only changing the definition of conscious to match the functional similarity you've identified). Am I missing something? Stuck in a paradigm? I'm not saying you're wrong, it's a neat idea, but just another intriguing 'What if...' as far as I can see, which needs a foundational theory behind it).

IOW re-defining 'meaning' as physical function doesn't get you out of the Chinese Room.


What I'm trying to say is physical and functional are categorically different things, and all of the things associated with consciousness are necessarily in the functional category.



It might be descriptively true that meaning and purpose are features of functional conscious behaviour, but the function of a toaster can be sourced back to my desire to eat toast, not the toaster's desire to make toast. Even if you fit it with a gizmo which says 'I feel like making toast' when I push the lever - that too can be sourced back to a person's purpose. Like the function of the Chinese Room computer to translate can be linked back to the purpose of the conscious programmer. So IMO this doesn't infer the toaster or computer has mental states itself, it doesn't help us know either way. That's my objection, the claim to know that the toaster 'feels'.
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Re: Are qualia functional descriptions of meaning?

Post Number:#13  Postby JamesOfSeattle » November 7th, 2017, 11:57 am

Burning ghost wrote:This is why I was saying what you've written is condensed. Are you expecting us to fill in the gaps for you or have you already done so yourself?

Burning Ghost, this is exactly right, and I understand your frustration. In fact I think I have filled (many, not all of) the gaps for myself, and now I'm trying to figure out how to explain certain subparts. What I have found in this discussion is that I need to establish the physical machine/functional machine dichotomy before trying to explain raw qualia because the latter assumes the former.

What are "sufficient intellectual functions" and how do these come about? Why would it then be able to "converse" about "one feeling"?

I'm afraid that's a whole other chapter, so not in the scope of this thread.

-- Updated November 7th, 2017, 9:30 am to add the following --

Gertie, I think I need to intersperse my replies into your quote, so:
Gertie wrote:Not sure why you call the entity (eg me or you) abstract? You mean the notion of a 'Subject' is an abstract concept? I'd agree with that [excellent], but A Subject is a physical entity.[A Subject is an instantiation of the functional/abstract machine.] Always, as far as we know. I'd say what gives meaning to those processes is the presence of mental states. 'I say what makes them mental states is that they have meaning/function.] So if I perceive a loaf and feel hungry, it has a particular meaning to Subject Me, if I'm not hungry it has a different meaning, and the outcomes might vary according to the meaning (make toast or don't make toast). Where-as if light bounces off a loaf then hits a toaster, as far as we know that has no meaning to the toaster. [That's because most toasters don't have light sensors. The umwelt of a standard toaster is minuscule. Likewise if I press the toaster lever, calling the lever movement the toaster's quale doesn't necessarily mean the toaster has a mental experience. The movemeant is not the quale. The toaster detects the position of the lever. The functional description doesn't have to say anything about a lever. The functional description only has to specify the meaning, which is something like "time to toast". So the full functional description of the toaster might be: "when it's time to toast, toast". So my point is that qualia are references to that functional description, specifically, to meanings of sensory signals.
...

What are the experiential elements involved?

Mental states - feeling hungry in the above example. If you've ever felt hungry, then you know exactly what I mean. If you're denying mental experience exists as a phenomenon, then you're a zombie and this convo is pointless ;). Seriously tho, if you're claiming mental experience doesn't exist or isn't what we usually think it is, please clarify that now.


I'm not saying mental states don't exist. I'm saying mental states are descriptions of a functional machine with a particular physical instantiation.

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-- Updated November 7th, 2017, 1:12 pm to add the following --

Gertie wrote:It might be descriptively true that meaning and purpose are features of functional conscious behaviour, but the function of a toaster can be sourced back to my desire to eat toast, not the toaster's desire to make toast. Even if you fit it with a gizmo which says 'I feel like making toast' when I push the lever - that too can be sourced back to a person's purpose.

The source of the purpose is not relevant to the functional description. The functional description relies on the (functional?) details of the purpose, not the source of the purpose. The source of the purpose can, and often does, go away, but the functional description, and so consciousness, remains.

To bring this back up to brains, the purpose of your brain is to help procreate a set of genes, but the functional machine which is instantiated by the brain doesn't have to know or care about that purpose. It only knows and cares about (experiences) the meanings of its inputs.

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Re: Are qualia functional descriptions of meaning?

Post Number:#14  Postby Gertie » November 7th, 2017, 5:16 pm

Okey doke, to clarify then, I think you're saying -

A quale is a phemonenal experience resulting from stimuli/input (eg seeing a blue sky, or the feel of a toaster 'wanting' to heat its element)

which is an entity/system's description (representation?) of the associated physical processes involved

which gives meaning/purpose to those physical processes (light hitting retina, interacting with visual cortex, or toaster lever being pushed down etc) for that entity/system,

for entities/systems which have a function (eg eat to survive and reproduce, or get hot to toast bread, etc)?



And a Subject is an entity/system with a function ?
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Re: Are qualia functional descriptions of meaning?

Post Number:#15  Postby JamesOfSeattle » November 7th, 2017, 6:25 pm

Gertie, this is very close, so let me quibble:
Gertie wrote:A quale is a phemonenal experience resulting from stimuli/input (eg seeing a blue sky, or the feel of a toaster 'wanting' to heat its element)

Okay,

which is an entity/system's description (representation?) of the associated physical processes involved

I would say descriptions of the meanings of the associated physical processes. The entity/system might have no access/knowledge of the physical processes.

which gives meaning/purpose to those physical processes (light hitting retina, interacting with visual cortex, or toaster lever being pushed down etc) for that entity/system,

I prefer to say meaning is inherent in the input (semantic information), and purpose determines which meaning is picked out.

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