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Does the approach need a leap of faith?

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At the beginning of the 20th Century, people felt that life was a mysterious thing which we were somehow infused with, and they could not conceive how this mystery could be explained by mechanistic, physico-chemical processes.

Today we no longer believe it is necessary to appeal to any magical processes to account for life. We have made a leap of faith. We believe that "life" is a word that refers to a number of capacities that living organisms possess. Each of these capacities can be explained without appeal to any magic.

The situation is similar for consciousness. The sensorimotor approach suggests a way of accounting for the particular quality of sensory experience: how it is different from other mental activities, how the qualities differ within and between sensory modalities. It claims that "consciousness" is a word that refers to a number of capacities that certain organisms possess. Each of these capacities can be explained without appeal to magic.

We need to make a leap of faith.

The leap is hard to make, because we really do feel things. But the sensorimotor approach accounts for why we really do feel things, for example when we write our professional resumes, and what those things feel like. The approach says that we feel things because it really is true that the entities that we refer to when we use the word "we" engage in certain very particular forms of interaction (namely sensorimotor skills with corporality and alerting capacity) when they have experiences, and those experiences therefore have a very particular "felt" quality.

But of course it is difficult to swallow our pride and admit that we merely are machines.




Contributors to this page: ALLISON , JohnStewart and admin .
Page last modified on Friday 19 of March, 2010 [17:28:28 UTC] by ALLISON.


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JohnStewart
Yes but....
on: Jun 12, 2006 [14:29] score: 0.00
I think the sensory-motor contingency approach is great. It EXPLAINS why qualia have the particular "feel" that they do ; and it puts neuroscience in the right place, because what brains do is participate in sensory-motor dynamics so that the mind is not "in" the brain (if it is anywhere identifiable, it is in a body acting in the world). BUT... I do still have a dissatisfaction. If a robot had not only sensori-motor contingencies, but the capacity to anticipate/master those contingencies, does this mean that the robot would be a truly sentient, conscious being? It may well be that the "hard problem" of consciousness is hard because it is wrong-headedly posed... but I still don't get it.
The text makes an analogy with "Life". Well, contemporary molecular biology (whose scientific object is the gene) declares roundly that "Life does not exist" (when you know all about the molecules). But I cannot accept that. Not because I am a vitalist ; but because genes+proteins are NOT "life" as such. In the case of "life", there IS an answer - namely the theory of autopoiesis (look via Google, or ask me for references) : life IS the ongoing self-individuation and self-production of a set of processes. But although sensori-motor contingency theory explains the CONTENT of qualia, I do not see that it explains the felt phenomenal consciousness. Help please!

author message
PaulReeve
Re: Yes but....
on: Jun 12, 2006 [15:14] score: 0.00
Although I don't know much of anything about the concept of autopoesis, it seems to me that John's point here is closely connected to my criticisms of the presentation of SMC theory as a theory of perception as "skill." It's one thing to say that as perceivers we deal with the world in terms of the couplings between our action commands and the signals coming in from the sensory periphery; it would be quite another thing to make clear what it is to be perceptually engaged with the world through such couplings - and moreover, to make clear how that engagement clears up confusion about why "recognizing" or otherwise picking up "computationally" on perceivable aspects of the world leads to feelings.

Claiming that the invocation of "action" (or "skill," normally a phrase for a repertoire of senseful physical actions) just clears up the whole problem straightaway seems to be problematic, because physical action is invoked in the theory as fixing (like John says) the *content* of perception, not as a fundamental fact about what the "doing" of consciousness is.

In another thread Erik invokes "perceptual actions," but there is what I see as a meaningful silence there about just what such a phrase could mean: in any case it's clear that it does NOT mean the physical actions that are core to the definition of any "skill" as this word is employed in everyday life: cf. "Why it (SMC theory) does not claim action is required for sensation".

So: where's the beef? What is it to "do" consciousness?

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ErikMyin
Re: Re: Yes but....
on: Jun 13, 2006 [07:50] score: 0.00
> So: where's the beef? What is it to "do" consciousness?

Here are some motivations for endorsing 'doing consciousness':

1) Saying that consciousness = engaging in an action means one denies consciousness is 'generated' - as some extra 'product' over and above just ordinary neural happenings.
This is a 'negative point' - a criticism of a certain conception of consciousness that is thought to be misleading.
(If one thinks nobody is misled by this picture, one should look at the increasing expression neuroscientists give of the idea that there is a stage in the brain where 'qualia are generated' - for a recent example see the last phrases of:
Komatsu, H. 2006. The neural mechanisms of perceptual filling-in. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 7:220-231.


2) At least in the case of touch - see the softness example described elsewhere on this site - there is an intuitive link between particular actions one undertakes and the feel - of softness if the explored thing yields when pressed, of hardness if it doesn't. The idea is this is extensible to other modalities.
One might admit there is an intuitive link between the content (the 'what'), but not the consciousnes itself (the 'why') - see Stewart's comment above.
But this problematically requires that one distinguish content from consciousness in the case of sensations. Does the FEEL of softness have a content that can be split apart from its consciousness?
The worry about the 'what' but not the 'why' might also be read as a version of the 'zombie problem'. There are two ways to react to the zombie problem: either taking it as posing a challenge one has to meet by specifying something - a mechanism perhaps - that brings forth consciousness in an undeniable manner. But, see point 1 here, one reason for endorsing 'doing consciousness' is just denying such a mechanism can be found. The other attitude to take towards the zombie problem is taking it as issuing from precisely the mistaken picture of consciousness referred to in 1), as an additional, and thus 'cancellable' property generated by some special means.


3) Now why is action and engaging in an action so special, for perception? Simply because perception normally takes place in the context of performing certain perceptual actions - obviously so in the case of touch and by extension in the other modalities. To put it straightforward: you have perceptual experience when you are confronting some thing out there and explore it with your sensing body. Other forms of (quasi-) perceptual awareness (memories, dreams, ...) are derivative of this paradigmatic situation of perceptual consciousness.
This is where the bodiliness and grabbiness become relevant too: these notions describe conditions that differentiate situations in which you have primary perceptual experience from those in which you don't.

4) Finally, stating that perception = doing or acting helps to emphasize that consciousness is a matter of being in some concrete situation. Consciousness is fleeting in this respect and resists complete recovery in later reflection. I only taste chocolate when I have piece of chocolate in my mouth, and not when I later reflect on my sensation, or not even when I try to recollect it.
This is trivial in a way, but, on the other hand, much mind/body related worries such as given shape in the 'Mary the colour scientist' and 'the what it is like' literature seem to be driven by the desire to recover in theory what can only be had in concretu...


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PaulReeve
Re: Re: Re: Yes but....
on: Jun 14, 2006 [13:57] score: 0.00
Point-by-point:
1) The argument that a "doing" view of what consciousness is eliminates the need for consciousness to be "generated" would be made more interesting if an intelligible explanation of what the proposal consists in was on the table. I can't tell that one is.

2) I can more or less understand why the softness/hardness example is appealing and intuitive for your view: it really does seem there that the results of "motor output" are fundamental to perceived qualities there. Now: just what role are the physical movements playing in this picture? It does seem that movements are necessary to find out things about softness and hardness perceptually: but ultimately that's just what they seem to do, permit you to find something out about the world - to get "information" about it. Why does it feel like something to get information about the world through exploratory activity - or just through "activation" of sensorimotor "knowledge" in situations where exploratory activity is impossible (like in the paralysis example, or a tachistoscopic display)?

This difficulty seems a lot more striking when it comes to vision: no doubt eye, head and body movements that direct the eyes in the world are crucial to what we see; but recognizing the role of this exploration in seeing is a far cry from understanding seeing as the very exploration itself. I think the physical exploring that perceivers really do is getting confounded in your explanations with the "potential" exploring that's supposed to characterize the "knowledge" that, when "activated" (or something, feel free to choose your own vocabulary here), constitutes consciousness. You can't help yourself to the "activeness" of those merely "potential" actions to claim that perception is a doing. It's as though I went around claiming to be a Casanova because of all the times I'd entertained the idea of seducing a woman I was "confronted" with. ;)

3) So a "perceptual action" is an action undertaken in order to... perceive? "confronting and exploring" are the words you use to explain this phrase, but it's not clear to me what work they do to make it plausible to construe perception as an actual action. Exploratory physical actions themselves, though they are clearly integral to having certain, surely almost all (significantly extended) perceptual experiences, are obviously not themselves perception. So again: what is the "doing" that is conscious perception here? Keep in mind that you're committed to accepting that perception can occur (at least on a short enough timescale) without actual physical movements; this is going to commit you to a conceptual distinction between physical action and "perceptual action" in any case.

4) I agree with all of this.

author message
ErikMyin
down is up?
on: Apr 21, 2006 [14:20] score: 0.00
I do not understand why that last sentence is added. It seems to mean that, if we are similar to machines, we are thereby downgraded. As if we lose a status we previously thought we had , but are not entitled to. But can't one argue the other way round? If machines are like us, they get upgraded, and acquire a status we never thought they had...


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