Gregg Rosenberg: The Argument against Physicalism

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Sciborg_S_Patel

#1
The Argument against Physicalism - an excerpt from A Place for Consciousness, the book that turned one of Dennet's students from a materialist into a dualist.

Physicalism says that the fundamental physical facts are the only fundamental facts. All other facts, whether about rocks, tables, morals, or minds, are derivative on these physical facts. In this chapter, I argue that physicalism is false by arguing that a purely physical world could not contain facts of experience. Others have given arguments of this kind, but I hope to look at this kind of argument in a fresh way. In chapter 3 I defend the argument against objections.

My argument is not a form of conceivability argument or knowledge argument. It is a direct argument that the phenomenal facts are of a type that cannot be entailed, either a priori or a posteriori,i by the physical facts. To diagnose precisely why entailment fails, I produce a working analysis of physical facts as a type. This working analysis is central to this chapter, and it recurs in part II. Because the specific lessons of this chapter s argument hold recurring importance, I ask even readers who are familiar (or impatient) with the debate over physicalism to pay some attention to this chapter.
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

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Member
#4
"The skeptic can even recruit Frank Jackson's argument about Mary, the
superneuroscientist who spends most of her life trapped in a black-and-white
room, to bolster this point. Most find it hard to deny that Mary learns
something factual the first time she sees red (even if it is just a fact
involving a new mode of presentation for an already known fact). By knowing
all the physical facts, Mary certainly had all the information about the
patterns of contrast and difference that are relevant to conscious sight.
Yet these facts are not enough to yield, even in principle, whatever it is
she learns on first seeing red."

I believe they are. In particular, if Mary is allowed to perform surgery on herself, she can see red in the black and white room.

The argument over something so apparently simple as this thought experiment shows that just agreeing on the meaning of terms such as "physical fact" is incredibly difficult. The deeper discussions suffer from this disagreement.

~~ Paul
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#5
I believe they are. In particular, if Mary is allowed to perform surgery on herself, she can see red in the black and white room.

The argument over something so apparently simple as this thought experiment shows that just agreeing on the meaning of terms such as "physical fact" is incredibly difficult. The deeper discussions suffer from this disagreement.

~~ Paul
What he actually says though, right after the part you quoted, is this:

"Whatever one thinks this implies about physicalism, it certainly implies something about phenomenal redness."


Then he continues:

"It follows inevitably that whatever she learns about the experiencing of red is not just a fact about bare difference or patterns of bare difference. Because those are the only kinds of facts a pure Life world could entail, it follows that such a world could not entail the facts about conscious experience."

That part of the argument is discussing facts in the Game of Life progam's set of states. The "Life world" mentioned in the sentence.
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

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Member
#6
What he actually says though is this:

"Whatever one thinks this implies about physicalism, it certainly implies something about phenomenal redness."

Then he continues:

"It follows inevitably that whatever she learns about the experiencing of red is not just a fact about bare difference or patterns of bare difference. Because those are the only kinds of facts a pure Life world could entail, it follows that such a world could not entail the facts about conscious experience."

That part of the argument is discussing facts in the Game of Life progam's set of states. The "world" mentioned in the sentence.
I don't understand what you think those extra statements do for his argument. He says "Yet these facts are not enough to yield, even in principle, whatever it is she learns on first seeing red." I claim that statement is incorrect.

He then infers from the Mary argument that the experience of red cannot be facts about bare differences. I therefore claim that his inference is unsound.

~~ Paul
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#7
I don't understand what you think those extra statements do for his argument. He says "Yet these facts are not enough to yield, even in principle, whatever it is she learns on first seeing red." I claim that statement is incorrect.

He then infers from the Mary argument that the experience of red cannot be facts about bare differences. I therefore claim that his inference is unsound.

~~ Paul
So how would it work in the Life World that you could entail phenomenal qualities from the rules of that world?

Whether the argument fails to hold with some additional kinds of facts that apply to the presumed physicalist world but not the Life world is another question. That part of the argument is, AFAICTell, only concerned with the Life world.
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

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Member
#8
Another interesting point here is that the author talks about the lack of an intrinsic basis to the Life world. Cells are either on or off, with no further "understanding" of what those two states mean. His suggestion is that some sort of receptive aspect to the world would enable us to experience the meaning of the states. And yet, we do not experience the meaning of the physical fundamentals in our world.

~~ Paul
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

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Member
#9
So how would it work in the Life World that you could entail phenomenal qualities from the rules of that world?
I have no idea. I'm simply rejecting his use of the Knowledge Argument. In particular, I'm suggesting that he and you and I and others probably don't even agree on what a "physical fact" is.

Whether the argument fails to hold with some additional kinds of facts that apply to the presumed physicalist world but not the Life world is another question. That part of the argument is, AFAICTell, only concerned with the Life world.
You can't use the Knowledge Argument directly to discuss the Life world. The Life world has no photons. There is no reason to believe that color is even a thing in the Life world. The Life world would have phenomenal qualities appropriate for its physics.

If Life-Mary is in a room deprived of some stimuli that produce some phenomenal experience relevant to the Life world, then I daresay we would make the same mistake about her ability to have that experience. The mistake is that we forget to include her brain state in the set of physical facts that she cannot acquire through book learning.

In particular, I think the Life world may be too simple to have any phenomenal experiences. Imagine a room where Mary can only experience on-ness, not off-ness. That sounds nice, except that there can be no such room.

~~ Paul
 
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#12
Maybe more "tree" versus "trees". ;)

Feels like we're tearing into the minutiae and in, again, what feels like quite narrow ways. As I am not a technician, I get lost quickly. No big deal as I digest what I can, but I would be interested in more "macro" discussions. At least to start.
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#13
Feels like we're tearing into the minutiae and in, again, what feels like quite narrow ways. As I am not a technician, I get lost quickly. No big deal as I digest what I can, but I would be interested in more "macro" discussions. At least to start.
The macro discussions tend to be too easy. Someone claims that making consciousness a fundamental solves all the problems. But the Devil is in the details.

~~ Paul
 
#14
Someone claims that making consciousness a fundamental solves all the problems. But the Devil is in the details.
It sure is! I tell that to people that all the time, when they ask why it will take many months to design, code, and test a software architecture and design that can be hand-waved on a whiteboard in less than an hour!

Yet, every really good and worthwhile software project I've ever done, no matter how hard the details were to work out, always started with a "big idea" usually involving bursts of insight, something that guided us to the ultimate solution. Saying "someone claims that making consciousness fundemental solves all the problems" certainly makes it sound like the whim of a lazy individual who doesn't want to deal with the details. But that idea has come throught to many people, from scientists to philosphers, who've spent a lot of time contemplating the hard problem, so it gives us good reason to persue that idea, and try to work out the details.

Cheers,
Bill
 
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