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Qualia as a function of being alive

Discuss any topics related to metaphysics (the philosophical study of the principles of reality) or epistemology (the philosophical study of knowledge) in this forum.
Gertie
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Re: Qualia as a function of being alive

Post by Gertie » January 5th, 2019, 8:51 pm

Greta wrote:
January 4th, 2019, 2:31 am
There are all manner of convoluted and esoteric ideas in this area, which I suspect just complicates the issue and may have ramifications as we attempt to digitise minds.

Daniel Dennett pointed out that consciousness is not especially any more exotic than digestion, each being a means of processing. I would take it one step further. The proposition of this thread is that the metabolism, not the brain, is the primary source of qualia and the brain the primary shaper of qualia, with some overlap due to the gut/brain axis.

The metabolism is like a farmer, producing the raw materials of qualia that the brain can process and turns them into something more useful for us. If the "manufacturers" (brains) has severe enough problems then the "raw materials" (sensations) will remain unprocessed, eg. a vegetative state. This impact on consciousness, I suspect, is why people so often mistakenly (IMO) assume that qualia is generated, rather than processed, by the brain.

As such, I reject the brain in a jar thought experiment unless an excellent digital reproduction of metabolic actions fed that brain. Even so, I would probably expect a "tinny" kind of consciousness as compared with ours, like comparing a child's first electronic keyboard with a Steinway grand piano.
The interaction between brain and gut is far more subtle and interactive than the latter being a mere energy provider for the former.

The situation is made clear by our evolutionary history. First came metabolisms. Then scattered nerve receptors (glial cells). This helped metabolisms find food and avoid dangers. Then nerve nets evolved to provide full body coverage. Then brains emerged to coordinate all that information which allows different parts of the body to work ever more in concert with each other, as governments do (theoretically). Then brains developed further, shaping the raw sensation of being (qualia) mainly generated by metabolic processes into various kinds of awareness.
I think in the end all roads lead to what Chalmers calls the 'hard problem of consciousness' - the easy ones being those which can in principle be explained in terms of our scientific physicalist model of the world (neurons, nervous system, etc). Where we get stuck in principle, is in trying to apply that physicalist model to phenomenal experience (whether it's qualia, thoughts, perceptions, memory, sensations, hallucinations, dreams, etc - any experiential states). This is what your last sentence here refers to - all the rest we have a physicalist scientific model for, but not for that.

Dennett's solution imo is to try to disappear the phenomenal experiential states in order to make consciousness fit into our established physicalist model. He does this by making bold claims which his arguments don't bear out. He calls phenomenal experiential states an illusion, but that's just slippery use of language, implying something isn't real - but illusions themselves are real experiential states! Ugh. Hence the accusation of obfuscation and slipperiness.

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Re: Qualia as a function of being alive

Post by Greta » January 5th, 2019, 10:52 pm

Gertie wrote:
January 5th, 2019, 8:51 pm
Greta wrote:
January 4th, 2019, 2:31 am
There are all manner of convoluted and esoteric ideas in this area, which I suspect just complicates the issue and may have ramifications as we attempt to digitise minds.

Daniel Dennett pointed out that consciousness is not especially any more exotic than digestion, each being a means of processing. I would take it one step further. The proposition of this thread is that the metabolism, not the brain, is the primary source of qualia and the brain the primary shaper of qualia, with some overlap due to the gut/brain axis.

The metabolism is like a farmer, producing the raw materials of qualia that the brain can process and turns them into something more useful for us. If the "manufacturers" (brains) has severe enough problems then the "raw materials" (sensations) will remain unprocessed, eg. a vegetative state. This impact on consciousness, I suspect, is why people so often mistakenly (IMO) assume that qualia is generated, rather than processed, by the brain.

As such, I reject the brain in a jar thought experiment unless an excellent digital reproduction of metabolic actions fed that brain. Even so, I would probably expect a "tinny" kind of consciousness as compared with ours, like comparing a child's first electronic keyboard with a Steinway grand piano.
The interaction between brain and gut is far more subtle and interactive than the latter being a mere energy provider for the former.

The situation is made clear by our evolutionary history. First came metabolisms. Then scattered nerve receptors (glial cells). This helped metabolisms find food and avoid dangers. Then nerve nets evolved to provide full body coverage. Then brains emerged to coordinate all that information which allows different parts of the body to work ever more in concert with each other, as governments do (theoretically). Then brains developed further, shaping the raw sensation of being (qualia) mainly generated by metabolic processes into various kinds of awareness.
I think in the end all roads lead to what Chalmers calls the 'hard problem of consciousness' - the easy ones being those which can in principle be explained in terms of our scientific physicalist model of the world (neurons, nervous system, etc). Where we get stuck in principle, is in trying to apply that physicalist model to phenomenal experience (whether it's qualia, thoughts, perceptions, memory, sensations, hallucinations, dreams, etc - any experiential states). This is what your last sentence here refers to - all the rest we have a physicalist scientific model for, but not for that.

Dennett's solution imo is to try to disappear the phenomenal experiential states in order to make consciousness fit into our established physicalist model. He does this by making bold claims which his arguments don't bear out. He calls phenomenal experiential states an illusion, but that's just slippery use of language, implying something isn't real - but illusions themselves are real experiential states! Ugh. Hence the accusation of obfuscation and slipperiness.
The standard joke is that his Dan Dennett's book should have been called Consciousness Denied and I agree with your critiques, which are echoes by many. We know it's just marketing and he's now established himself as the anti-qualia guy in philosophy even as he tacitly acknowledges its reality in so much of what he says, just as David Chalmers is Mr Hard Problem. I think the answer to that hard problem involves a broadening of the search for qualia beyond the brain and seeing the fundamental nature of the metabolism in any organism. Qualia is fundamental, the metabolism is fundamental. The brain, nervous system and mind are optional extras in life.

The brain appears to be full of filters and switches to regulate qualia generated by the whole body (but mostly the metabolic organs of the torso) rather than a generator. I suspect that this is why the problem has proved so strangely elusive, that and the "looking at the back of your head" situation.

Once it's assumed that consciousness is generated by the brain, who is the logical choice to examine the situation? A brain specialist. So brilliant brain specialists (far smarter than I could ever hope to be) continue to be completely flummoxed by the issue after all this time. Why? Because everyone was too busy focusing on the brain to backtrack from that assumption for an overview.

I think that if consciousness researchers paid more attention to what's going on the gut, lungs and heart in concert with the brain they might find some new leads. There have already been hints in this direction through studies of the microbiome and how it affects our mental states. I suspect that this "rabbit hole" goes much deeper.

The brain-only approach has been at a dead end in terms of explaining qualia for a long time as ever more exotic ideas are thrown about to explain, deny or reframe it, just as ever more ingenious ideas were created to support the geocentric universe, with elaborate (and remarkably accurate) orbital paths devised until our heliocentric situation was established as fact. In a way it's exactly the same mistake - a somewhat solipsist perspective effect in wrongly identifying the locus of things, while the real power source remains hidden in plain sight.

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Re: Qualia as a function of being alive

Post by Consul » January 6th, 2019, 12:26 am

Greta wrote:
January 5th, 2019, 10:52 pm
The standard joke is that his Dan Dennett's book should have been called Consciousness Denied…
Its title is Consciousness Explained, but it should have been called Consciousness Explained Away.
Greta wrote:
January 5th, 2019, 10:52 pm
We know it's just marketing and he's now established himself as the anti-qualia guy in philosophy even as he tacitly acknowledges its reality in so much of what he says, just as David Chalmers is Mr Hard Problem. I think the answer to that hard problem involves a broadening of the search for qualia beyond the brain and seeing the fundamental nature of the metabolism in any organism. Qualia is fundamental, the metabolism is fundamental. The brain, nervous system and mind are optional extras in life.

The brain appears to be full of filters and switches to regulate qualia generated by the whole body (but mostly the metabolic organs of the torso) rather than a generator. I suspect that this is why the problem has proved so strangely elusive, that and the "looking at the back of your head" situation.

Once it's assumed that consciousness is generated by the brain, who is the logical choice to examine the situation? A brain specialist. So brilliant brain specialists (far smarter than I could ever hope to be) continue to be completely flummoxed by the issue after all this time. Why? Because everyone was too busy focusing on the brain to backtrack from that assumption for an overview.

I think that if consciousness researchers paid more attention to what's going on the gut, lungs and heart in concert with the brain they might find some new leads. There have already been hints in this direction through studies of the microbiome and how it affects our mental states. I suspect that this "rabbit hole" goes much deeper.

The brain-only approach has been at a dead end in terms of explaining qualia for a long time as ever more exotic ideas are thrown about to explain, deny or reframe it, just as ever more ingenious ideas were created to support the geocentric universe, with elaborate (and remarkably accurate) orbital paths devised until our heliocentric situation was established as fact. In a way it's exactly the same mistake - a somewhat solipsist perspective effect in wrongly identifying the locus of things, while the real power source remains hidden in plain sight.
The brain is literally embodied. As I said, as an organ the brain is part of an organism—which is more than just a "brain-vat"—and not an organism itself. However, the brain is the (one and only) organ of consciousness, the (one and only) qualia factory. This is not to say that the brain is an isolated organ independent of and uninfluenced by extracerebral or extracorporeal factors or signals, but only that (the field of) conciousness is generated by and located in the brain, and by nothing else and nowhere else in the organism.

Here are quotes by Antonio Damasio that I just present for consideration. (Note that he agrees that "mental events are the result of activity in the brain's neurons", and that "the nervous system is the enabler of our mental life"!)

"Damasio has repeatedly highlighted that the brain and its functions, including consciousness, cannot be studied in isolation. In other words, each brain activity and cognitive function should always be regarded as part of a complex interplay between the organism and its environment. In light of this, mental states appear to be deeply embodied and cannot be accounted for without considering the reciprocal influences between the body and its surroundings. According to Damasio, unrecognizing that mind, body, and environment reciprocally shape each other was Descartes’ worst error."

(Cavanna, Andrea Eugenio, and Andrea Nani, eds. Consciousness: Theories in Neuroscience and Philosophy of Mind. Berlin: Springer, 2014. p. 105)

"Whatever questions one may have about who we are and why we are as we are, it is certain that we are complex living organisms with a body proper ('body' for short) and a nervous system ('brain' for short). Whenever I refer to the body I mean the organism minus the neural tissue (the central and peripheral components of the nervous system), although in the conventional sense the brain is also part of the body."
(p. 86)

"The brain and the body are indissociably integrated by mutually targeted biochemical and neural circuits. … When I say that body and brain form an indissociable organism, I am not exaggerating. In fact, I am oversimplifying. Consider that the brain receives signals not only from the body but, in some of its sectors, from parts of itself that receive signals from the body! The organism constituted by the brain-body partnership interacts with the environment as an ensemble, the interaction being of neither the body nor the brain alone. But complex organisms such as ours do more than just interact, more than merely generate the spontaneous or reactive external responses known collectively as behavior. They also generate internal responses, some of which constitute images (visual, auditory, somatosensory, and so on), which I postulate as the basis for mind."
(pp. 87-9)

"The idea that mind derives from the entire organism as an ensemble may sound counterintuitive at first. Of late, the concept of mind has moved from the ethereal nowhere place it occupied in the seventeenth century to its current residence in or around the brain—a bit of a demotion, but still a dignified station. To suggest that the mind itself depends on brain-body interactions, in terms of evolutionary biology, ontogeny (individual development), and current operation may seem too much. But stay with me. What I am suggesting is that the mind arises from activity in neural circuits, to be sure, but many of those circuits were shaped in evolution by functional requisites of the organism, and that a normal mind will happen only if those circuits contain basic representations of the organism, and if they continue monitoring the states of the organism in action. In brief, neural circuits represent the organism continuously, as it is perturbed by stimuli from the physical and sociocultural environments, and as it acts on those environments. If the basic topic of those representations were not an organism anchored in the body, we might have some form of mind, but I doubt that it would be the mind we do have. I am not saying that the mind is in the body. I am saying that the body contributes more than life support and modulatory effects to the brain. It contributes a content that is part and parcel of the workings of the normal mind."
(pp. 225-6)

"There is a philosophical thought experiment known as 'brain in a vat,' which consists of imagining a brain removed from its body, maintained alive in a nutrient bath, and stimulated via its now dangling nerves in precisely the same way it would be stimulated were it inside the skull. Some people believe such a brain would have normal mental experiences. Now, leaving aside the suspension of disbelief required for imagining such a thing (and for imagining all Gedanken experiments), I believe that this brain would not have a normal mind. The absence of stimuli going out into the body-as-playing-field, capable of contributing to the renewal and modification of body states, would result in suspending the triggering and modulation of body states that, when represented back to the brain, constitute what I see as the bedrock of the sense of being alive. It might be argued that if it were possible to mimic, at the level of the dangling nerves, realistic configurations of inputs as if they were coming from the body, then the disembodied brain would have a normal mind. Well, that would be a nice and interesting experiment 'to do' and I suspect the brain might indeed have some mind under those conditions. But what that more elaborate experiment would have done is create a body surrogate and thus confirm that 'body-type inputs' are required for a normally minded brain after all. And what it would be unlikely to do is make the 'body inputs' match in realistic fashion the variety of configurations which body states assume when those states are triggered by a brain engaged in making evaluations.

In brief, the representations your brain constructs to describe a situation, and the movements formulated as response to a situation, depend on mutual brain-body interactions. The brain constructs evolving representations of the body as it changes under chemical and neural influences. Some of those representations remain nonconscious, while others reach consciousness. At the same time, signals from the brain continue to flow to the body, some deliberately and some automatically, from brain quarters whose activities are never represented directly in consciousness. As a result, the body changes yet again, and the image you get of it changes accordingly. While mental events are the result of activity in the brain's neurons, an early and indispensable story which brain neurons have to tell is the story of the body's schema and operation. The primacy of the body as a theme applies to evolution: from simple to complex, for millions of years, brains have been first about the organism that owns them. To a lesser extent it applies also to the development of each of us as individuals so that at our beginning, there were first representations of the body proper, and only later were there representations related to the outside world; and to an even smaller but not negligible extent, to the now, as we construct the mind of the moment.

Making mind arise out of an organism rather than out of a disembodied brain is compatible with a number of assumptions. First, when brains complex enough to generate not just motor responses (actions) but also mental responses (images in the mind) were selected in evolution, it was probably because those mental responses enhanced organism survival by one or all of the following means: a greater appreciation of external circumstances (for instance, perceiving more details about an object, locating it more accurately in space, and so on); a refinement of motor responses (hitting a target with greater precision); and a prediction of future consequences by way of imagining scenarios and planning actions conducive to achieving the best imagined scenarios.

Second, since minded survival was aimed at the survival of the whole organism, the primordial representations of the minding brain had to concern the body proper, in terms of its structure and functional states, including the external and internal actions with which the organism responded to the environment. It would not have been possible to regulate and protect the organism without representing its anatomy and physiology in both basic and current detail.

Developing a mind, which really means developing representations of which one can be made conscious as images, gave organisms a new way to adapt to circumstances of the environment that could not have been foreseen in the genome. The basis for that adaptability probably began by constructing images of the body proper in operation, namely images of the body as it responded to the environment externally (say, using a limb) and internally (regulating the state of viscera).

If ensuring survival of the body proper is what the brain first evolved for, then, when minded brains appeared, they began by minding the body. And to ensure body survival as effectively as possible, nature, I suggest, stumbled on a highly effective solution: representing the outside world in terms of the modifications it causes in the body proper, that is, representing the environment by modifying the primordial representations of the body proper whenever an interaction between organism and environment takes place."

(pp. 227-30)

(Damasio, Antonio R. Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: Avon, 1994.)

"We are commonly given accounts of mental life—of perceptions, feelings, ideas, of the memories with which perceptions and ideas can be recorded, of imagination and reasoning, of the words used to translate internal narratives, inventions, and so forth—as if they were the exclusive product of brains. The nervous system is often the hero of these accounts, both an oversimplification and a misunderstanding. It is as if the body were a mere bystander, a support for the nervous system, the vat in which the brain fits.

That the nervous system is the enabler of our mental life is not in doubt. What is missing from the traditional neuro-centric, brain-centric, and even cerebral-cortex-centric accounts is the fact that nervous systems began their existence as assistants to the body, as coordinators of the life process in bodies complex and diversified enough that the functional articulation of tissues, organs, and systems as well as their relation to the environment required a dedicated system to accomplish the coordination. Nervous systems were the means to achieve that coordination and thus became an indispensable feature of complex multicellular life.

A more sensible account of our mental life is that both its simple aspects and its extraordinary achievements are partial by-products of a nervous system that delivers, at a very complex physiological level, what simpler life-forms have long been delivering without nervous systems: homeostatic regulation. On the way to accomplishing the principal task of making life possible in a complex body, nervous systems developed strategies, mechanisms, and abilities that not only took care of vital homeostatic needs but also produced many other results. Those other results were either not immediately necessary for life regulation or less clearly related to it. Minds depend on the presence of nervous systems charged with helping run life efficiently, in their respective bodies, and on a host of interactions of nervous systems and bodies. 'No body, never mind.' Our organism contains a body, a nervous system, and a mind that derives from both."


(Damasio, Antonio. The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures. New York: Pantheon, 2018. pp. 65-6)
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

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Re: Qualia as a function of being alive

Post by Consul » January 6th, 2019, 12:51 am

Consul wrote:
January 6th, 2019, 12:26 am
The brain is literally embodied. As I said, as an organ the brain is part of an organism—which is more than just a "brain-vat"—and not an organism itself. However, the brain is the (one and only) organ of consciousness, the (one and only) qualia factory. This is not to say that the brain is an isolated organ independent of and uninfluenced by extracerebral or extracorporeal factors or signals, but only that (the field of) conciousness is generated by and located in the brain, and by nothing else and nowhere else in the organism.
An important point is that to say that the brain is the organ of consciousness is not to say that it is also the (whole) subject of consciousness.

"The brain is the organ of consciousness, not the subject of consciousness—unless I am myself my brain. The nose, similarly, is the organ of smell and not the subject of smell—unless I am myself my nose."

(Chisholm, Roderick M. On Metaphysics. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1989. p. 126)

I do not think that "I am myself my brain." Let's call the view that I am a brain/we are brains cerebralism (about subjecthood/selfhood/personhood). I reject cerebralism (* and endorse animalism instead, which is the view that I am an animal (animal organism)/we are animals (animal organisms). I have a brain, and I have a mind and consciousness in virtue of having a brain, but I am not a brain (only). My brain is part of me, but it's only a proper part that isn't the whole of me.

(* thus defined, i.e. not defined as the view—which I accept—"that consciousness is merely a function or product of the brain" [Merriam-Webster].)
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Re: Qualia as a function of being alive

Post by Consul » January 6th, 2019, 3:24 am

Consul wrote:
January 5th, 2019, 2:02 pm
In order to have a conscious life, you need to have a life first.

"The first factor is that consciousness and the creation of feelings are fundamentally grounded in general life functions. Just look at all the basic commonalities between life and feelings. For instance, both rely on complexly organized chemical and physiological processes, and both are embodied; that is, each living thing has a body with a boundary from the outer world. So just as life requires a bounded body for survival, consciousness requires such a body for the creation of a personal (first-person) point of view. Then, beyond the general life functions, we see that conscious feelings also need an animal body with many cells, a nervous system and even a basic, core brain, although these things are not enough for consciousness. The second factor in our explanation of the ontological aspect of the explanatory gap is that to these general features are added numerous and neurobiologically unique special neurobiological features of complex nervous systems, especially of complex brains, that all together create consciousness. The special neurobiological features that we identified include an explosion of senses (eyes, good hearing, keen smell), a multitude of new neural processing subsystems, more combining of information from the different senses, more levels of information processing at the top of the brain, more back-and-forth communications between brain levels, and more memory. From these neural features arise consciousness in a way comparable to how the complex property of life naturally arises from the interactions of its chemical and cellular components."


—Todd E. Feinberg: Unlocking the "Mystery" of Consciousness
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Re: Qualia as a function of being alive

Post by Consul » January 6th, 2019, 3:42 am

"Our theory of neurobiological naturalism rests on three interrelated principles.

Principle 1: Life. To explain the subjective aspects of consciousness, we must factor in the many features that the brain shares with all living things. These are the various aspects of life that Mayr identified as distinguishing it from nonlife, and all of them are now universally accepted as consistent with standard physics and chemistry. The unique features of consciousness are in fact fully grounded in the unique features of life, so if we are to properly understand consciousness, we need to recognize it as a living process.

Principle 2: Neural features. While consciousness is built on the general features of life, it also depends on additional neurobiological features that are unique to neural systems. These are simple as well as complex reflexes and motor programs that are created at the level of the spinal cord and core brain. They are not conscious but are nonetheless critical to the creation and the evolution of consciousness.
It is at the next level of neurobiology that consciousness appears. This level has gained a complex suite of special neurobiological features that are unique to conscious brains. While these special features are built on, depend on, and display all the general-life and reflexive functions, their contribution is required for consciousness. But just because these special features are new, numerous, complex, and revolutionary does not mean they lead to consciousness through any new kind of “physics of the brain” or by tapping into any mysterious “consciousness force.” Rather, we can account for all of them as natural characteristics of certain complex nervous systems in the same way that life is a complex feature of specifically organized nonliving chemical constituents.

Principle 3: The subjective–objective barrier can be naturally explained. Once complex brains acquire these special features, there are, in addition, some unique but naturally explainable reasons why one’s own brain processes are inaccessible from the subjective (first-person) point of view, and conversely why one’s subjective experience is inaccessible from the observer’s third-person point of view. The book’s main theme is that we can attain a naturalized account of the subjective features of consciousness from these three principles. We build this three-principle theory of neurobiological naturalism as follows."


(Feinberg, Todd E., and Jon M. Mallatt. Consciousness Demystified. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2018. pp. 5-6)
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

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Re: Qualia as a function of being alive

Post by Consul » January 6th, 2019, 3:52 am

"[S]ensory consciousness is an emergent characteristic of a living, neural, and complexly hierarchical brain.

Living
The seeds of ontological subjectivity go back to the origins of life itself. We have already made the point that in nature, both life and consciousness are embodied features of individual animals and thus their existence is ontologically specific to a particular life. Because sensory consciousness is an emergent and embodied feature of a particular life, it follows that consciousness must also be an ontologically subjective feature of that specific life."


(Feinberg, Todd E., and Jon M. Mallatt. The Ancient Origins of Consciousness: How the Brain Created Experience. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016. p. 195)
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Re: Qualia as a function of being alive

Post by Gertie » January 6th, 2019, 6:37 am

Greta
The standard joke is that his Dan Dennett's book should have been called Consciousness Denied and I agree with your critiques, which are echoes by many. We know it's just marketing and he's now established himself as the anti-qualia guy in philosophy even as he tacitly acknowledges its reality in so much of what he says, just as David Chalmers is Mr Hard Problem. I think the answer to that hard problem involves a broadening of the search for qualia beyond the brain and seeing the fundamental nature of the metabolism in any organism. Qualia is fundamental, the metabolism is fundamental. The brain, nervous system and mind are optional extras in life.
I think Chalmers is probably right, in that our current (physicalist) understanding of the world is missing something when it comes to to explaining experiential states. That we probably need to understand the universe at a more fundamental level to find the relationship between the physical and mental.

So personally I wouldn't expect that examinig cells and interactions in other parts of the body would be any more enlightening as to the ultimate mind-body problem. But who knows, we should explore all possibilities, and as the technology improves we can do that in increasing detail.
The brain appears to be full of filters and switches to regulate qualia generated by the whole body (but mostly the metabolic organs of the torso) rather than a generator. I suspect that this is why the problem has proved so strangely elusive, that and the "looking at the back of your head" situation.
Right, in crude physical terms, the brain is our decision-making organ, flicking the switches and filters. People used to compare it to a telephone exchange, when that was the latest technology (now people compare it to our current latest technology, information processing computers...). It's the nexus of sensory stimuli, which get mixed in with other physical subsystems, then out pops a useful motor response. I suspect that might be a reason why it gets so much attention, that's where the behaviour gets 'decided'. But of course the whole (living/working) body is part of the overall system.

Then there's neural correlation, probably our biggest clue as to what physical stuff and processes are key to consciousness. That's more significant to me. Chop a an arm off, and your brain can still 'trick you' into feeling sensations there. Replace a lung, heart or stomach with an artificial one, I'd guess your mental states might not notice much difference. Replace your brain with an artificial one - well there's a bigger question mark there.

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Re: Qualia as a function of being alive

Post by Felix » January 6th, 2019, 2:42 pm

"I'll stand up and try to ignore all environmental factors as much as possible, to just pay attention to oneself as a tingling, churning, pulsating entity."

My, my, who knew that Greta was such a party animal!
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Re: Qualia as a function of being alive

Post by Greta » January 6th, 2019, 8:43 pm

Gertie wrote:
January 5th, 2019, 8:51 pm
Greta wrote:
January 4th, 2019, 2:31 am
There are all manner of convoluted and esoteric ideas in this area, which I suspect just complicates the issue and may have ramifications as we attempt to digitise minds.

Daniel Dennett pointed out that consciousness is not especially any more exotic than digestion, each being a means of processing. I would take it one step further. The proposition of this thread is that the metabolism, not the brain, is the primary source of qualia and the brain the primary shaper of qualia, with some overlap due to the gut/brain axis.

The metabolism is like a farmer, producing the raw materials of qualia that the brain can process and turns them into something more useful for us. If the "manufacturers" (brains) has severe enough problems then the "raw materials" (sensations) will remain unprocessed, eg. a vegetative state. This impact on consciousness, I suspect, is why people so often mistakenly (IMO) assume that qualia is generated, rather than processed, by the brain.

As such, I reject the brain in a jar thought experiment unless an excellent digital reproduction of metabolic actions fed that brain. Even so, I would probably expect a "tinny" kind of consciousness as compared with ours, like comparing a child's first electronic keyboard with a Steinway grand piano.
The interaction between brain and gut is far more subtle and interactive than the latter being a mere energy provider for the former.

The situation is made clear by our evolutionary history. First came metabolisms. Then scattered nerve receptors (glial cells). This helped metabolisms find food and avoid dangers. Then nerve nets evolved to provide full body coverage. Then brains emerged to coordinate all that information which allows different parts of the body to work ever more in concert with each other, as governments do (theoretically). Then brains developed further, shaping the raw sensation of being (qualia) mainly generated by metabolic processes into various kinds of awareness.
I think in the end all roads lead to what Chalmers calls the 'hard problem of consciousness' - the easy ones being those which can in principle be explained in terms of our scientific physicalist model of the world (neurons, nervous system, etc). Where we get stuck in principle, is in trying to apply that physicalist model to phenomenal experience (whether it's qualia, thoughts, perceptions, memory, sensations, hallucinations, dreams, etc - any experiential states). This is what your last sentence here refers to - all the rest we have a physicalist scientific model for, but not for that.

Dennett's solution imo is to try to disappear the phenomenal experiential states in order to make consciousness fit into our established physicalist model. He does this by making bold claims which his arguments don't bear out. He calls phenomenal experiential states an illusion, but that's just slippery use of language, implying something isn't real - but illusions themselves are real experiential states! Ugh. Hence the accusation of obfuscation and slipperiness.
We seem on the same page in this posting.

I don't begrudge DD, though. He needs to make a living, and to achieve that as a philosopher may well need a little dodginess for that extra edge :) Mostly, I think he seeks to burst the over-inflated bubble of consciousness, to bring it into the realm of nature rather than some mystical addendum to the natural world. He says that digestion is a similar thing and I agree with him.

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Re: Qualia as a function of being alive

Post by Count Lucanor » January 6th, 2019, 11:18 pm

Greta wrote:The proposition of this thread is that the metabolism, not the brain, is the primary source of qualia and the brain the primary shaper of qualia, with some overlap due to the gut/brain axis.
Metabolism is a process, while the brain is an organ. And the brain itself has metabolic processes, so I don't understand how the process and the organ can be differentiated as singular things: a source and a shaper.
Also, what do you mean by qualia? Since the term is controversial, I think at least some operational definition should be offered to really grasp what this proposition entails.
Greta wrote: As such, I reject the brain in a jar thought experiment unless an excellent digital reproduction of metabolic actions fed that brain.
I tend to welcome ideas that reject the notion of the brain as the central and only locus of the self (disregarding the rest of the body as accessory). I can't subscribe to the computational theory of mind. So it makes sense that the whole body chemistry is involved in consciousness, in the sense that it is the unified experience of the organism, the embodied subject, that accounts for it.

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Re: Qualia as a function of being alive

Post by Greta » January 7th, 2019, 5:54 pm

Consul wrote:
January 6th, 2019, 3:52 am
"[S]ensory consciousness is an emergent characteristic of a living, neural, and complexly hierarchical brain.

Living
The seeds of ontological subjectivity go back to the origins of life itself. We have already made the point that in nature, both life and consciousness are embodied features of individual animals and thus their existence is ontologically specific to a particular life. Because sensory consciousness is an emergent and embodied feature of a particular life, it follows that consciousness must also be an ontologically subjective feature of that specific life."
"Sensory consciousness" seems to not be an easy concept to pin down. Sensing is also done at cellular level.
The process through which cells are able to sense their environment is regulated by force detection. This is the main conclusion of a study published in the journal Nature, led by the team of Pere Roca-Cusachs, lecturer from the Department of Biomedicine and main researcher at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC).

"In this research, we determined how cells detect the position of molecules (or ligands) in their surroundings with nanometre precision," says Roca-Cusachs. "When the ligands join, cells apply a force they can detect. Since this force depends on the ligand spatial distribution, this enables cells to sense their surroundings. This would be the equivalent to recognizing someone's face in the dark by touching their face with your hands."
https://phys.org/news/2017-12-cells-exp ... ments.html

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Re: Qualia as a function of being alive

Post by Belindi » January 7th, 2019, 8:16 pm

I claim that people vary in their abilities to experience qualia. For instance the quality of a musical sound is altered by the proximity or the counterpoint of other musical sounds, and similarly with colour quality. The person who has learned the idiom of the music or of colour can experience more qualities than the person who lacks that learned experience.

I also claim that for any individual dreamed qualia are fewer than waking qualia if only because the dreamer lacks intentions.

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Re: Qualia as a function of being alive

Post by Greta » January 8th, 2019, 12:37 am

Apologies for any slowness. I will get into the detail when 2019 starts behaving better.

Consul wrote:
January 6th, 2019, 3:52 am
"[S]ensory consciousness is an emergent characteristic of a living, neural, and complexly hierarchical brain.

Living
The seeds of ontological subjectivity go back to the origins of life itself. We have already made the point that in nature, both life and consciousness are embodied features of individual animals and thus their existence is ontologically specific to a particular life. Because sensory consciousness is an emergent and embodied feature of a particular life, it follows that consciousness must also be an ontologically subjective feature of that specific life."
While it's hard to find analogies for consciousness, perhaps the nature of time is the closest in its slipperiness. Here, the idea that pre-neural entities have zero consciousness may be analogous with the idea that time did not exist before the big bang.

It has been posited that time would have existed to some extent before the BB because there were events, virtual particles appearing and annihilating, and events logically happen in time, no matter how infinitesimal. However, there were no rhythmic events with which to conceive time. There would be an extremely brief flow of time for each virtual particle's appearance and disappearance. So time in that sense in hyperspace would exist, but it would be completely fragmented, subjective. Time that flows from interconnected events only would have emerged with radioactive decay and rotations in the early universe, and from there orbits of related bodies etc.

Arguably similarly, while cells have no nervous system, they do have equivalent structures. So I suggest that cells would have a kind of primitive qualia, that treats each moment as discrete and unrelated. This essential or underlying qualia is too subjective for a self to exist (which requires awareness of other things against which a self stands in contrast at the very least).

"Cells sense and explore their environments" https://phys.org/news/2017-12-cells-exp ... ments.html
"In this research, we determined how cells detect the position of molecules (or ligands) in their surroundings with nanometre precision," says Roca-Cusachs. "When the ligands join, cells apply a force they can detect. Since this force depends on the ligand spatial distribution, this enables cells to sense their surroundings. This would be the equivalent to recognizing someone's face in the dark by touching their face with your hands."
Just as virtual particles have their their own particular time, so would cells have their own particular quales, with their small sensings of environment together faciliating much larger scale and complex sensings of colonies and organisms. Since these sensings are not contained within the nervous system you (and perhaps millions or billions of others) posit that cells lack qualia, a sense of being, that the answer to "What is it like to be a cell?" is nothing.

However, I expect that these basic sensings, as described in the above quote (and other examples of life sensing without neurons) ultimately are part of what it feels like to be a human, as opposed to cells only being functional machines that underpin the organs that exclusively bring sensation. As per the time analogy, such fragmented quales or proto-quales are "alien" to us (to borrow a word from one of your refs) and I imagine that's why they are not perceived by us to be quales at all.

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Re: Qualia as a function of being alive

Post by Consul » January 8th, 2019, 12:41 am

Greta wrote:
January 7th, 2019, 5:54 pm
"Sensory consciousness" seems to not be an easy concept to pin down. Sensing is also done at cellular level.
The process through which cells are able to sense their environment is regulated by force detection. This is the main conclusion of a study published in the journal Nature, led by the team of Pere Roca-Cusachs, lecturer from the Department of Biomedicine and main researcher at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC).

"In this research, we determined how cells detect the position of molecules (or ligands) in their surroundings with nanometre precision," says Roca-Cusachs. "When the ligands join, cells apply a force they can detect. Since this force depends on the ligand spatial distribution, this enables cells to sense their surroundings. This would be the equivalent to recognizing someone's face in the dark by touching their face with your hands."
https://phys.org/news/2017-12-cells-exp ... ments.html
"Researchers have known cells are able to perceive spatial and physical information at the nanoscale."

What they call "sensing" is a (phenomenally) nonconscious/nonexperiential form of perception/detection/registration of physical or chemical information. It's objective perception without subjective sensation. Objective sensory information is not the same as subjective sensation, i.e. sense-experience. A single cell doesn't feel its purely physiological sensings.
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

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