Weasel-Words for “Consciousness”

My own version of the so-called “hard problem” of consciousness (which Chalmers certainly did not invent, but merely named!) is purely epistemic, not ontic: The hard problem is all and only the problem of explaining causally how and why (some) organisms (sometimes) feel.

None of the classical and soothing ontic positions on this (materalism, identity theory, functionalism, epiphenemenalism, etc. etc.) explain a thing. They are simply metaphysical interpretations that we happen to prefer, according to taste. So (who cares, but) I myself happen to like materalism/identity/functionalism metaphysically too: of course the brain generates feeling, somehow. The hard problem is explaining how and why.

Psychokinetic dualism would have been an explanation — “feeling is one of the fundamental causal forces of nature”: then feeling would require no further explanation, any more than gravitation, electromagnetism or the strong and weak nuclear forces do. They’re just fundamental features of the universe; givens.

But feeling is not a fundamental force. It just feels as if it is a fundamental force. It feels as if I do what I do because I feel like it. But that explanation is false. All evidence is against it. Why and how I do anything and everything that I do is fully explained by the original four fundamental forces, without remainder. That’s why it’s so hard to explain the remainder: I don’t just do; I feel. Why? How?

And the rest of the ontic preferences on offer are simply empty, vacuous: They fit the evidence, of course — namely, the fact that we feel — but they do not explain it causally, which is what solving the “hard problem” would require.

So much for “identity theory”.

Perspective/Person Numerology. 1st-person/3rd-person gibberish is even worse. Not only does it explain nothing, like the various ontic stances, merely restating the facts, obvious to everyone (everyone who feels, of course): (some) biological organisms (sometimes) feel; other things don’t. But in addition, 1st/3rd “person” is an incoherent play on words, because there is no “3rd person perspective ” (or “aspect” or “state” or “phenomenon”)! That canard is just a consequence of the loose use of words when discussing consciousness: To conceal the fact that we can explain absolutely nothing, we use a huge, redundant and noisy list of weasel-words designed to make it look as if there are many different things to explain, and that we may have made more headway with some than others. Whereas in reality all the synonyms are just smoke, and there is and always was only one thing to explain: feeling.

Here, let me rattle off some of the weasel words by rote: consciousness, awareness, qualia, subjectivity, experience, phenomenality, intentionality, aboutness, mental (there are many, many more),

Metaphysical Monte: In this long tradition of N-card Monte or shell-games — just shuffling around terminology while hiding the fact that one is not explaining a thing — the distinction between the “1st person” and the “3rd person” “perspective” has been a real corker. There is no “3rd person perspective”! There are feelings, which are felt by feeling organisms (feelers). And there is the world, which, apart form those feeling organisms, is felt by and feels nothing. We can talk about feeling organisms, and what they feel. Or we can talk about the unfeeling things and processes in the world. We are not taking a different “perspective.” The only “perspective” is the feeling one (yours, ours, mine). And it amounts to no more nor less than the fact that I feel.

I am a feeling organism. Video cameras are not, and they do not change “perspectives” when forces move them around. They just move. The “spec” in perspective refers to seeing, and seeing is felt. Otherwise it’s just photon transduction. When I speak about, say, F=MA I am not “adopting a 3rd-person perspective.” (All persons, whether 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 5th, feel). What I am doing (when I take the so-called “3rd person perspective”) is simply thinking/talking about the unfeeling things and processes in the world. That is either not a perspective at all, or it’s my usual “1st-person” perspective, since it feels like something to talk and think about unfeeling things and processes too.

So I have renounced for a lifetime all these silly, non-explanatory buzzwords that give the illusion of making some sort of inroad on the “hard problem.” Nothing more nor less than a causal explanation of how and why (some) organisms (sometimes) feel will solve this epistemic problem (which I think is insoluble, because of the nature of causation and of causal explanation).

The Phenomenal/Access Consciousness Distinction.Just as bad as the incoherent 1st/3rd person pseudo-distinction (a play on words for the “3rd-person perspective” — or “aspect” or what-have-you) is Ned Block’s monumentally incoherent distinction between “phenomenal consciousness” and “access consciousness.” Without the supernumerary (hence superogatory) words supervening on the notion, there is just one consciousness, and that is feeling. If a brain state is feels like something to be in, it is conscious. If it is unfelt, it is unconscious. Unfeeling entities and unfelt processes are no kind of “consciousness.” And the only thing that feelers feel is feeling.

Information (data) can be “accessed,” and if it feels like something to access that information then the access is felt access, hence conscious. (So what? Why state the obvious in such a convoluted, verbose way?) And if accessing the data is unfelt, then it is unfelt. That is not consciousness at all. It is unfelt data-processing, as in a computer, or in unconscious parts or states of the brain. So “PC vs AC” is just another incoherent pseudo-distinction, replete with superfluous weasel-words…

“Panpsychism” may be the worst ontic dodge of all. It derives its pseudo-explanatory pseudo-sense from the notion that feeling may be a primitive “property” of the universe — which is rather like the psychokinetic dualism I mentioned earlier, but (probably) without the kinesis. (I say probably because I find panpsychism so vague and arbitrary and incoherent that I can hardly get a handle on what panpsychists mean to mean!).

According (I think) to panpsychists, everything in the universe, and every part of everything, feels: muons, leptons, atoms, molecules, stones, chairs, tables, plants, animals, people, planets, galaxies. Not only does that seem to be a rather profligate way of trying to solve an ostensibly local problem in the biosphere of one small planet in the universe, but, again, it explains absolutely nothing — or explains it only in the empty sense that the potential for life is latent in every carbon molecule in the universe, given conditions that are like those of the earth’s biosphere). Panpsychism is just another empty piece of metaphsyical hermeneutics, to be accepted or rejected purely as a matter of taste. Worse, it is metaphysically profligate, casting Occam’s Razor to the 4 winds and multiplying consciousness infinitely beyond necessity (or visibllity). And, still worse, panpsychism is incoherent, because it creates a mereological and combinatorially absurdity: Everything and every part of everything, and every combination of parts of everything, feels. Take it or leave it. Feeling seemed (felt-like!) a “simple” before: You pinch me and it hurts. But now, it seems, you pinch me and not only does the whole universe wince, but so do all the NP-complete permutations and combinations of every part of it wince. And that’s without mentioning the problem of individuating all those parts and combinations of parts. Because, till further notice, there are no absolute “boundaries” around physical entities: an atom is an atom, but is also part of a molecule, which is a part of many bigger things, and the atom also has parts and parts of parts and combinations of parts of parts, down to warps in space time and jingling strings. None of this is a problem for physicists, who do not need individual, absolutely independent entities. But the trouble with panpsychicizing all of that is that feeling is fundamentally individual: An organism feels what it feels, and nothing else in the universe feels what it feels. That is a kind of individuation and boundary that is not present for other properties, and I don’t think there is any profit in pretending it’s universal. Certainly no explanatory profit, at any rate.

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