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The Quale is the Difference

Over at TSZ Lizzie disagrees with me regarding my conclusions from the zombie thought experiment (see this post).  Very briefly, in the zombie post I summarized David Gelernter’s argument from the zombie thought experiment:

If a conscious person and a zombie behave exactly alike, consciousness does not confer a survival advantage on the conscious person. It follows that consciousness is invisible to natural selection, which selects for only those traits that provide a survival advantage. And from this it follows that consciousness cannot be accounted for as the product of natural selection.

Lizzie disagrees.  In her post she writes:

What is being startled if not being “conscious” of an alarming signal? What is trying to gain further information, if not a volitional act?  What is recognising that information is lacking if not a metacognitive examination of the state of self-knowledge?  What is anticipating another’s desires and needs, if not the ability to imagine “what it it is like” to be that person?  What is wanting to please or help another person if not the capacity to recognise in another being, the kinds of needs (recharging? servicing?) that mandate your own actions?  In other words, what is consciousness, if not these very capacities?

Let’s answer Lizzie’s question using her first example (the reasoning applies to all of her others).  To be startled means to be agitated or disturbed suddenly.  I can be startled by an unexpected loud noise and jump out of my seat.  Zombie Fred would have the same reaction and jump right out of his chair too.  Our physical outward actions were be identical.  So what is the difference?  Simply this.  I as a conscious agent would have a subjective reaction to the experience of being startled.  I would experience a quale – the surprise of being startled.  Zombie Fred would not have a subjective reaction to the experience.

I discussed a similar situation in this post in which I contrasted my experience of a beautiful sunset with that of a computer.  I wrote:

Consider a computer to which someone has attached a camera and a spectrometer (an instrument that measures the properties of light).  They point the camera at the western horizon and write a program that instructs the computer as follows:  “when light conditions are X print out this statement:  ‘Oh, what a beautiful sunset.’” Suppose I say “Oh, what a beautiful sunset” at the precise moment the computer is printing out the same statement according to the program.  Have the computer and I had the same experience of the sunset?  Obviously not.  The computer has had no “experience” of the sunset at all.  It has no concept of beauty.  It cannot experience qualia.  It is precisely this subjective experience of the sunset that cannot be accounted for on materialist principles.

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16 Responses to The Quale is the Difference

  1. The trouble with these zombie arguments, is that they are no more than thought experiments. Nobody has ever produced a zombie that behaves exactly like a person.

    I’ll readily grant that the kind of computer-based robots that we can design are zombies. But they do not behave exactly like humans.

    In short, I don’t see that you can draw any conclusions from these thought experiments — except, perhaps, the conclusion that many people are confused by consciousness.

  2. If both conscious and zombie are fit then both will survive. The fact that something survives doesn’t mean you can the claim what properties they have are invisible to NS without seeing what are un-fit examples of those properties.

    It is reasonable to say that consciousness confers survival advantage over unconsciousness (and for consistency, zombie confers survival advantage over an un-zombie if an un-zombie can’t be differentiated from an unconscious person).

    You have not yet shown that conscious and zombie are mutually exclusive from a fitness point of view. It is reasonable that both conscious and zombie are both fit WRT NS.

    Barry, you appear to be making the mistake of thinking that NS is actually something or some agency when you say “invisible to natural selection”. NS is the results we see and we see consciousness and zombie and they can’t be told apart and they are both fit.

    On the other hand the unconscious and unzombie are not as fit.

    As an anti-Natural Selection gaps argument you are hiding behind our lack of a clear understanding of what is consciousness but even worse is that a computer has had “experience” of the sunset and if it was programmed with a concept of beauty then it would experience beauty too. Devaluing something because you want it to be sub-human ? Now that sounds familiar.

  3. Barry,

    Lizzie also thinks that genetic algorithms mimic darwinian evolution. She is one confused person.

    Come on Lizzie- start a thread that tells us how a goal-oriented targeted search is like darwinian processes, which aren’t a search at all…

  4. Lizzie gets it wrong from the start:

    This means that not only would Zombie Fred’s “outward” (i.e. apparent to someone meeting Zombie Fred at, say, a cocktail party) reactions be identical to Fred’s, but the cascade of biological events generating those reactions would also be identical.

    No Lizzie. Originality/ spontaneity would be different than copying. One is natural one is artificial- two different things. A fMRI would show that difference.

  5. As I have said in a couple of places – but I think too late to be noticed – the Zombie argument seems to be absurd. Selection does not operate on what you can imagine could happen. It operates on what physically does happen. We have no reason to know such zombies are physically possible, much less to know that they have ever existed, so how could NS select them? While conscious animals do exist and this leads to them behaving in ways that are very good for their fitness – so naturally NS selects them.

  6. Except natural selection doesn’t select and accumulations of genetic accidents can’t explain consciousness.

  7. 7

    Neil Rickert objects on the ground that the conclusions are based on a thought experiment. He does not say whether he objects to thought experiments in general or just those that undermine materialist arguments.

    Lincoln Phipps writes:

    If both conscious and zombie are fit then both will survive.

    I assume LP is not being ironic, but one wonders if he thinks this tautology advances the ball. Maybe he does not understand that it is a tautology.

    It is reasonable to say that consciousness confers survival advantage over unconsciousness

    This is an assertion. It is not an argument. If an organism without consciousness behaves in a way that is exactly the same as an organism that is conscious, it not reasonable to say that consciousness confers a survival advantage. Merely asserting the contrary (which is all LP does), does not establish the contrary.

    Barry, you appear to be making the mistake of thinking that NS is actually something or some agency when you say “invisible to natural selection”.

    LP, you appear not to understand a metaphor when you see it.

    As an anti-Natural Selection gaps argument

    I did not make an argument against natural selection. Go back and read the post. You don’t seem to understand it.

    “programmed with a concept of beauty”

    The burden is on you to demonstrate that such a thing is possible in principle. Here is a hint: Don’t try, because it is not.

    Mark Frank:

    While conscious animals do exist and this leads to them behaving in ways that are very good for their fitness – so naturally NS selects them.

    Extra credit for the first to demonstrate how Mark is arguing in a perfect little circle here.

  8. Neil Rickert objects on the ground that the conclusions are based on a thought experiment. He does not say whether he objects to thought experiments in general or just those that undermine materialist arguments.

    I’m not objecting to thought experiments, provided that we understand their limitations. They can be good for stimulating thought and for communicating ideas. But we should be cautious about drawing conclusions from them.

  9. But we should be cautious about drawing conclusions from them.

    Unless, of course, you are Albert Einstein

  10. Unless, of course, you are Albert Einstein

    Einstein used his thought experiments to help us understand his new conceptualization. He did not use the thought experiments as a proof.

  11. Einstein used his thought experiments to help him underestand the universe. And I am sure that he knew that he was right, ie he drew conclusions from them, but trying to convince others would take something more, like a solar eclipse.

    Thought experiments are limited by the person conducting them. Very limited in the case of TSZ ilk.

  12. The zombie argument is completely appropriate. From a materialist point of view, there isn’t any difference between a zombie and a conscious agent. Both are based on chance and necessity. A non-materialist understands there is actually a difference, which the thought experiment illustrates.

  13. 13

    Over at TSZ Lizzie insists that Zombie Fred experiences qualia even though he is not conscious. Here: http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/?p=3872#more-3872
    Lizzie bases this assertion on . . . . well, exactly nothing. She merely asserts it without the slightest support. The zombie behaves the same way as the conscious person. Therefore, according to Lizzie, he simply must experience subjective qualia.
    Here is a summary of our exchange.
    Barry: If an unconscious zombie and a conscious person behave exactly the same way, then consciousness cannot be selected for by natural selection.
    Lizzie: If a zombie behaves the same way as a conscious person, then there is no difference between the zombie and the conscious person.
    Barry: Of course there is a difference. For example, the conscious person experiences qualia.
    Lizzie: If the zombie behaves the same as the conscious person, then it must mean that he experiences qualia too.
    At bottom, Lizzie’s strategy to prop up her materialist world is simply to deny that there is any difference between a conscious person and an unconscious zombie who behaves the same way. Thus, our exchange boils down to this:
    Barry: There is a difference between a conscious person and a zombie who behaves the same way outwardly.
    Lizzie: No there isn’t. An unconscious zombie who behaves the same way as a conscious person would be conscious.
    We are at an impasse, because there is no possible response to a non-sequitur other than to point out that it is a non sequitur.

  14. There are two different things getting confused here.
     
    One is whether we materialists can explain consciousness. We can, but  that is a long debate which philosophers and many other distinguished people have had for years.
     
    The other is Gelenter’s argument which fails whatever the nature of consciousness. Whether it be material or some mysterious other thing, as long as you accept that
    a) the ability to be conscious is heritable
    b) being conscious in some way helps a creature to survive
    Then it will be selected.
    The fact that Gerlenter can imagine a creature without consciousness that has the same survival potential is irrelevant for the simple reason that such a creature does not exist. We don’t even know it is physically possible for such a creature to develop. Natural selection cannot operate on something does not exist.

  15. Mark Frank:

    One is whether we materialists can explain consciousness. We can…

    Bulloney- well scientifically materialists cannot explain consciousness.

    Natural selection does nothing.

  16. Yes, Lizzie is confused:

    My argument is that if the robot behaves in exactly the same way then that robot must be conscious, because consciousness, including the experience of qualia, is required for that kind of behaviour.

    Unfortunately, as with everything she sez, doesn’t provide any evidence to support her claim.

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