Philosophy is actually Science.

The further back you go in history, the less separate philosophy and science are. Even Newton called his work “philosophy”. All the Greek thinkers were engaging with the frontiers of science of their own time: Euclidean geometry and astronomy. If you go back and read Plato’s explanation of the Theory of Ideas, it was nothing else besides an explanation for both craft knowledge, engineering, and science. (Think of the craftsman with his idea of the table in the Republic). Even though we now see Plato’s philosophy as rather non-scientific and religious,  what he was fundamentally after was an explanation for how humans have knowledge that allows them to get things done. We are still trying to solve this problem. While we have made a lot of progress since Plato’s time, his contribution is still important.

While the Ancients had their politics, the politics was a side dish served with their confrontation with the frontiers of science. That’s why you can spend your life reading them even if you disagree with their politics. Not the case with others who take their cue from political issues and are stuck in philosophically-“informed” rallying and shaming. In my view, anybody who makes political activism a large part of their philosophy condemns their work to oblivion rather than millennia of admiration. Look at Plato, Marx, Sartre and Heidegger; in spite of their genius, their political activity are all blots on their legacies.

I see this all the time when I engage others in discussion. This is the main problem with the Continental Tradition since (but not including) Heidegger: lack of sincere engagement with fundamental science. Husserl and Heidegger both got their start from engaging with debates on the foundations of formal or exact science, and the later Heidegger contributed essentially to my understanding of what I’m doing as I study computer science. Even “The Question Concerning Technology” is foundational for my metaphysics, if you have the subtlety to see it. However, the later politicization of his thinking was not neutral and therefore abandoned the path of true philosophy since Thales. Heidegger was too scared of the modern world to properly develop his engagement with science. It is only decades later that we can repair his mistakes.

So when I debate someone suffering from “dead-end” philosophy, I just ask them “Where’s the connection with fundamental science that we see with Thales, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Aquinas, Descartes, Hobbes, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Mill, Marx, Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger and all the analytic thinkers? What’s changed? How is that a good change? Have the foundations of metaphysics changed, or have you lost your way?”

There is no essential and objective basis for a demarcation between science and philosophy except for what ever the  limits of science might be at the time. Philosophy is the frontier of science, not it’s opposite. This has always been the case: both fields grow at the same rate, and debate the same issues from different perspectives.

Philosophy is not a part of science, rather science is part of philosophy.


Dialogue on Consciousness – Biology and Qualia

One of the major tenets of nonnaturalism with respect to phenomenal consciousness is the idea that “qualia” do not fit in anywhere in “nature”.  [Definition:”Qualia” is a coinage of recent analytic philosophy of mind. It refers to the purely subjective consciousness. “What it is like to be x.” It is generally agreed that rocks have nothing that it is like to be a rock, but there is something that it is like to be in pain, or to be angry, to be a fish or a human. This “what it is like” is called “qualia”. ]

We only have direct access to our own qualia, and have to infer or have indirect access to the qualia of others. According to many, this means that qualia cannot be interpreted as a physical process nor consequently as a biological process. I assume (but of course do not know) that there are enough people working on reverse engineering the mind such that a physical reduction will make decent progress in the next few years. In this post, I would like to discuss how this is a priori possible by interpreting qualia biologically. This will entail the basic ideas behind a theory that would be a candidate for a naturalistic theory of qualia and subjective consciousness.

First, a little background: according to my view (explained elsewhere in this blog), living creatures as such are essentially functional where ‘function’ is a combination of physical processes and information processing. Since I am not discussing the physical implementation of this function at all, I will ignore what Aristotle calls ‘material causes’ and ‘efficient causes’. Instead I will only deal with ‘formal causes’ and ‘final causes’. And these latter will be spoken of as “information processing” and biological “functions” respectively.  I will show how consciousness has a biological purpose (final cause) and how it serves that purpose ( formal causes ). More specifically, consciousness is a form of “data mining” of a person’s total accessible information, both conscious and subconscious, from the external world, metabolism and health.

Much of this analysis is derived from an online dialogue on this subject. First, there is a challenge from a non-naturalist “Q”, who denies that qualia have any biological function at all and cannot possibly be caused by any physical process.

Q: “Dennett and other naturalists claim that non-naturalism

“goes against literally mounds of scientific evidence that a functioning brain and mind (conscious experience) are one in the same and that consciousness is actually what an active brain state produces when it’s doing what it does. In some way, it’s similar to “roundness” and “rolling” of a ball down a hill. That’s what certain “round” things do when they are on a “slope” in a gravitational field.”

This analogy is ridiculous. “Roundness” and “rolling” are observable features of the physical world. “Consciousness” is not. You could run a million brain scans on me and, in the end, all you’d have is information about physical entities (neurons, electrical charges and so on.) You can’t observe my qualia in this way. Or, to put it another way: I could be a philosophical zombie and the brain scans wouldn’t pick this up. Consciousness is something above and beyond a feature of the physical world.”

A: To illustrate my response, let’s start with an example from settled science: the physics of weather. It seems natural for people to be non-naturalists concerning many natural phenomena, and among the most universal of these is the weather, especially lightning. But some humans are naturalists w.r.t. this and claim that lightning “is” static electricity. Since static electricity seems likely to be supernatural this contradicts the predominant opinion of the human race. While lightning is publicly observable, static electricity is not. Or is it? You cannot see static electricity itself, merely its effects. On the other hand, consciousness cannot be seen directly, only its effects…. unless you’re consciousness itself. But what if you were static electricity? Then would the analogy be exact?

Q: “This is a better analogy, when modified as you suggest. But then are you admitting that consciousness is not illusory or epiphenomenal — it is a force that causes effects, not an effect caused by forces?”

A: The reason I put “is” in quotes is to highlight the relevance of the Question of Being to this topic. What does it mean that one thing “is” another? That lightning “is” static electricity? Or that Earth “is” a planet? Or that humans “are” animals? Obviously being a human is not the same as being an animal, but yet the statement is true is it not? I think that same is true of the statement “humans are conscious”.

A similar problem exists with the statement “Mathematics is a human invention.”, which is either true or not depending on what you mean by “is”. Likewise with “x is consciousness”.

Q: “For the last one, I’d say that the problem resides more in what is meant by “human invention”. Still — good questions. Will give them some thought.” I think that it’s probably “real” it’s just real in a different way from other things. There is not one way to say “is”, but many, as Aristotle says. For example, lots of people say that “really” numbers don’t exist. Nonsense! What they really should say is that physical objects and numbers “are” in very different ways.

Q: I guess the central question at stake here is, “Is consciousness a causal force (or the manifestation of/effect of a causal force) that is distinct from and independent of deterministic physical forces, or is it not?” That sums it up pretty well, methinks.”

A: Yes it is a causal force; it’s much more physical than a number, but even a number has physical effects.

Q: “Am in total agreement with that — but I’m a bit puzzled. I thought you saw consciousness as, essentially, a higher-level emergent phenomenon arising from lower-level deterministic complexity. Have we been in violent agreement all along (like for the past 2 years, LOL?).”

A: That’s how I see it, all right

Q: “So if consciousness is reducible (in principle) to fundamental deterministic physical forces, in what sense can it ALSO be a causal force acting independent of them?”

A: I don’t care if physical forces are deterministic or not. It’s pretty obvious that we are physical beings who have consciousness.

How independent is “independent”? If we look at cultural concepts and memes, we see that they sort of take on a life of their own as “mass psychology” and can be said to really exist even though they are not independent of individual humans. Likewise qualia/consciousness takes on a life of its own even though it’s fundamentally dependent on matter and energy. All these things exist, they just exist in different ways.

Saying that some “x” is ultimately a “y” does not mean that x is not real. it’s a different sort of being, that can be referred to under two different aspects, one as functional adaptation, the other as qualia. As a functional adaptation, it is something which can be seen in its effects on the physical world. For the example of mathematics, one can refer to numbers as being created by humans, but you can also say truthfully that “2+2=4” was true long before humans evolved, by looking from within the “world of numbers”. From this aspect, numbers seem to be the supernatural entities revered by Pythgoras, since our very way of considering them abstracts from their physical substrate.

Abstraction from physical substrate” is exactly what makes them so useful, since the formal qualities are meant to apply to any physical situation that is formally congruent to the number, equation, shape, etc., not to something made of a certain material or in a certain location, or from a certain culture, etc., the latter all being more concrete but also more limited in scope.

From another perspective, according to Karl Popper’s ontology, there are three types of things:

1) First World- physical things

2) Second World- qualia, or subjective experience

3)Third World- memes, ideas, cultural artifacts like numbers, poems, theories, styles, techniques, etc.

Where is “consciousness” in all this? It seems that it is #2, except that for higher animals, there is overlap with #3. However, any particular creature’s experience of being aware of a number (#2) is not the number itself (#3). However, the quality of the Second World is greatly affected by what sorts of things are subjectively experienced; First World or Third World. Consciousness for animals is the existence of qualia (2nd world). Consciousness becomes human when the experience of 2nd world phenomenology because interwoven/imbued with 3rd world entities, schemas and ideas which go beyond the merely present and thus make possible both knowledge and error on a level greater than that possible for mere “non-human” animals.

You might reasonably ask about consciousness: “Why should it be good to enlarge the possibility for both knowledge and error?” The answer is to enlarge the domain of possibilities from which to select. Thus the realm of knowledge/ignorance is a special case of the Baldwin Effect and the “evolution of evolvability”. These are reasons why biological evolution follows an path of exponential growth much like Moore’s Law, where evolution proceeds at a faster pace as time goes on. We can see how consciousness reflects this because conscious creatures have much more individuality than unconscious; meaning they present a wider variety of phenotypes for selection to work with. But this ‘individuality’ is merely a by-product of consciousness, not its original function. In short this original function is to boil all the confusion of so many different stimuli from so many different levels of reality (merely physical, social, past memory, inner physical drives of sex, hunger, warmth, etc.) into a condensed form where it can affect the decision processes that define an animal’s actions. How else could all the myriad factors that go into a single decision be brought into relation with a decision other than by some form of data mining? And how else would it be implemented than by consciousness? Chalmers makes much of how “surprising” consciousness is as  the basis for non-naturalism, and I agree it is surprising. However, it is far less surprising once one sees its function. All biological functions are fundamentally information processing, so we should expect to see the essence of consciousness as a form of information processing. All that remains is to take this formal and functional analysis as the starting point for the reverse engineering of how consciousness performs this function. But this aspect of the subject is beyond my expertise.

EDIT: The following is a discussion I had concerning this topic on Facebook with a few people who disagreed with me on this and i thought that it would be good to put it here so that eventually I could revise it into a complete piece. Or maybe not. In any case, here it is:

AV – “I still cannot imagine why people think that consciousness is so weird that you have to bring in quantum physics.”

SH- Adam, this is just such a gross misrepresentation of what those who invoke quantum elements in biology present that it is laughable and you know it! The argument has NEVER been, “consciousness is weird, quantum mechanics is weird, so they must be related!” You’re implying that these people are falling for a caustion/correlation fallacy. Adam, maybe you should email Roger Penrose and tell him that he’s totally falling for this blunder! He will certainly thank you for pointing out his error. I’m sure the man who physicist Lee Smolin describes as “One of the very few people I’ve met in my life who, without reservation, I call a genius,” could really benefit from having you let him know how dumb he is.

If you want to actually address why quantum elements have no place in biology, now is the time for you to do it. But you’d better be willing to address the entire body of Henry Stapp’s work. I’m going to assume you’ve read it all and that we can have this discussion. If not, here’s his page so that you can get started:

I just find your statement so obnoxious that it is truly frightening. Apart from using unorthodox diction and syntax that renders anything beyond two lines of your writing to be unintelligible, you habitually make statements like these.

I’m really trying hard these days to be more patient and address arguments, but I find it so difficult when someone who clearly hasn’t explored the body of quantum consciousness research makes these flippant statements. It’s such a common tactic now that it is intellectually offensive and reeks of misunderstanding and desperation.

AV – What is wrong? If I am not mistaken there are people who hold some version of the “quantum consciousness” (QC) hypothesis, and probably many of them are smarter than I. Doesn’t Deepak Chopra buy into this? I assumed that he was beneath contempt as a philosopher, but perhaps not. In any case, i do not understand why someone smarter than I would go this path, but then again the behavior of living creatures becomes more unpredictable as they grow more advanced due to the Baldwin effect.

In one sense, people who make this inference to the QC hypothesis may be on to something, as follows: When there are a few things that cannot be explained at present, it seems likely that any future theory that explains one anomaly might be expected to explain the others. When any science emerges from a state of crisis to acquire a new paradigm, it is to be expected that the new paradigm should explain anything that was left unexplained by the old. Since there are numerous unexplained physical phenomena and no over-arching “theory of everything” to explain them, then perhaps physics is in a state of protracted crisis.

And given that conscious beings seem to be a subset of physical beings, then physics might reasonably be expected to have something to say about them. In this sense, QC is worth entertaining.

AV – This is exactly my point. Your statement demonstrates an epistemic hubris that is so disconcerting because it’s kind of the new cheap parlor trick being used. Make an a priori assumption, in this case that consciousness cannot have a quantum component, and then try to marginalize anyone who think it might as a crackpot.

To tell you how ugly this is getting, prestigious researchers like Sir Roger Penrose, Henry Stapp, and Jeff Schwartz are facing this exactl type of character assassination. Yes, Deepak Chopra believes that consciousness has a quantum component. He probably also accepts the heliocentric model as well. That doesn’t mean that those who accept the heliocentric model are crackpots.

Before you conclusively start spouting off nonsense, you owe it to yourself to actually look into the serious study of quantum biology of which consciousness is being explored. There are respectable people, such as Sean Carroll, who believe that it’s a load of hogwash and that anything we encounter on the daily basis, including biology, can be explained classically. I am more convinced by the other side, however it’s noteworthy that Sean Carroll doesn’t resort to the Harris/Shermer/Dawkins trope of painting anyone who might consider quantum biology as a moron or a “woomeister” who believes in “quantum woo.”

Start with the Stapp research and possibly watch the Shermer vs. Schwartz debate at UCLA in 2004. I can link them this afternoon

GC – “I still cannot imagine why people think that consciousness is so weird that you have to bring in quantum physics.”

I will say two things:

1) it’s not that consciousness is so weird that…. it’s that “consciousness” seemed to play a role in the determination of quantum states. It’s the so called effect of the observer. While I believe this interpretation of quantum physics is misleading if not absolutely incorrect, that’s how people got interested in the role quantum physics could play in the mind-body speculation.

2) quantum physics is somewhat understood as the most fundamental, foundational, level of material reality/nature. and it seems to be completely different from the rigid atomistic picture we had of matter in the old materialistic perspective. QP seemed like the death of materialism. If quantum states are indeterminate, highly unpredictable, if quantum states are behind everything… it was suggested that the origin of thoughts could come from sub-quantum dimensions of reality. and so quantum actions affected the neurons, the brain, and we get a bottom-up sort of determinism, where sub-quantum consciousness influences neuro-physical states. This is Penrose’s line of reasoning, with microtubules, etc.…/11/quantum-brain/506768/

NM – This quantum consciousness discussion is in my thesis!

AV – I admit I have changed my tune during this conversation.

I wonder if the Chopra-ists will appeeciate it.

NM – Yes, that’s kind of right.. BUT, the major fact about quantum mechanics is the unpredictability factor. So the question remains: what is it that governs quantum mechanics? It seems to be a domain of reality where there could be something like free will in the sense that.. physical reality is not following rigid laws, but is responding to an intention coming from another kind of “”substance”” or “substances”.

So what we called “physical” reality… and “physicalist” explanations of the world… sort of crumble… to give way to another kind of explanation… The nature of what is going on is radically different, transformed… And that’s the idealists’ take on reality… It’s not matter that determines everything. Matter is merely a projection of something else. A sort of mind stuff…

AV – Ok whatever.

NM – Take a video game for instance. Imagine you spent your life living in a video game, hooked up to the computer. Sure, you’ll see the walls around you, and they look rock solid. Sure you’ll be hit by a bullet and it’ll hurt and affect your lifespan. Sure this world follows a number of rules and laws. You can’t pass through walls for instance (unless said game allows for such supernatural behavior). And you can perhaps, while you’re in the game, analyze the laws governing this video game world. And you can give mathematical formulas to explain these laws. You’re somehow deciphering the code of this virtual reality. You might get as far as discovering the exact code the programmer used. But even by discovering all these laws of “nature”, you haven’t yet got a glimpse of what lies beyond and what allows for this virtual reality to exist.

How do you mean “Ok whatever” ?

NM – perhaps might have something to contribute here? How would you phrase how explaining consciousness through QP could make the explanation of reality non-materialistic?

NM – Well … I’m in a funny situation. I put experience prior to all. Experience is dissected into material and immaterial components, but experience is prior to both. EDIT “immaterial” here means “mental”. I stole this from William James, but it’s now my Official Understanding (TM)

GC – Right, I also put experience first! I mean we share the perspective at this level. Stole it from dear old Descartes 😛 But he’s not particularly liked because of his so called “dualism”. I still think he’s a good phenomenologist. It’s when we get into explaining the difference between the material and the immaterial that we run into trouble.

AV – So you think matter came from experience? Whatevs

NM – Yeah because it’s through experience only that we can describe matter. And mind as well.

AV- I have no idea what the last few comments could possibly mean. Is it really so dogmatic to think that our experience is an experience of something else that is not in itself merely an experience and nothing else? Is that what you are saying?
And I have no idea how quantum indeterminacy could possibly support free will. It is far more different from free will as is physical necessity. If God wants to play dice, that is different from playing chess. Ethical action is purposive deliberate action; if it were determined at some micro level, people would still be responsible for their actions, and there would be an adaptive purpose for the attribution of that responsibility by others.

There are lots of things in the macro world that are in practice unpredictable, but none of these are examples of free will, although we often personify them.
Honestly, am I in the position of people who for some assume that Dennet denies the existence of qualita? Am I misinterpreting your statements so badly?

NM – Okay, I’ll be as blunt as I can with my point: Qualia is all there is. EVERYTHING we know and believe comes from qualia. All our discussions of mind and matter are derived from qualia. Qualia precedes everything. My own experience precedes everything. This is more or less what Descartes was saying when he talked about trusting his senses; my experience of everyone besides myself is also derived from qualia. I can take this fact and become a solipsistic, isolated spot of awareness … or I can accept that there is something behind the qualia I am seeing. But regardless it all starts there. Whitehead thought that the cosmos was not comprised of units of matter, but “drops of experience”; this is the ‘stuff’ we are made of. And Whitehead was a pantheist, so in his view GOD is the sum total of the experience of reality. (Though not all Whiteheadians make that leap of faith)But regardless, if we are to avoid becoming solipsistic, a leap of faith of some kind is necessary no matter what.

AV – So what is your opinion of the current vogue among scientists who claim that there was matter for billions of years before qualia. Are they full of shit?

NM- No, Whitehead basically understood that the whole universe has a conscious aspect. Every particle of matter. Which again, he called units of “experience” rather than hard, physical, motionless “stuff”. My awareness is the sum total of the awareness of all my components unified into a single conscious system. Also Whitehead believed in GOD, like I said. So if you believe in GOD, and if Whitehead’s idea of GOD makes sense, I don’t see a problem. If you don’t I am sure you can come up with some other explanation within these limits.

Two things … GOD isn’t necessary for the basic idea underlying Whitehead’s panspychist view, but Whitehead went there, regardless, using the New Testament to flesh out his idea of GOD. I should think that for him, his belief came from somewhere besides science; he simply saw an opportunity to graft his beliefs together (forming a kind of pantheistic Christianity) And GOD may be derived from qualia, but not the other way around (because I myself must first experience/come to believe in GOD … I am thus subjectively prior) I would almost say this is what Descartes said, but then he argued for an innate idea of GOD we all possess. I don’

AV- Ok thanks for actually saying something that is meaningful. Panpsychism is actually somewhat better.

But you are putting your self in the same position as all those other people who built their whole case for god based on whatever had not yet been explained at that point in time.

IT is like the biggest case of moving the goal-posts in history.

This entire approach pretends to like science, but every time science advances not only have you not contributed, but you have to move along to stay out of its way.

Have you actually looked at the opposite view?

If you have, then you would know what the current ideas on the most likely adaptive function of qualia is. Looking at final causes is just as much a part of natural science as is material and other causes. It is likely that we will learn the function of qualia before we learn how they are implemented.

NM- don’t think I agree with that

AV- I do not recall where I read it, but it kind of agreed with my own random thoughts on the subject. As a result, I believe that anyone who bothered to try and imagine what the function of qualia were would come up with something similar, or maybe not. Have you bothered to research the possibility?

I am glad we all possess this concept. LOL I suppose I sound this ridiculous when I tell people my philosophy, so who knows, you may be right.

But at least I do not pretend to make explanations for the behavior of living creatures that does not rely on the current theory accepted among people who study living creatures.

NM- I see it as a fundamental property of reality, which we human beings are in a unique position to study and comment upon. I should send you a the relevant chapter from my thesis if you want (it comes with references)

AV- That would be fine. I read a DUC thesis recently by Francois Savard and it was very useful. I might make my thesis a follow-up to his.

[Digression away from the subject at hand here.]

GC- Saying there’s an evolutionary adaptive advantage to qualia, and that`s how it came to exist, to me is as mystical (in the pejorative sense) and unjustified a step as the God of the gaps. I’m not the first to think so. This is Chalmers’ observation and the old zombie problem. You don’t need qualia at all, you don’t need experience for beings to engage in complex behavior, survive, etc. You don’t need a subjective viewpoint. You just need a zombie processing machine. Is the robot using a camera to interpret the world as conscious as a human being? Dennett says yes, others think otherwise. Reducing the conscious experience to merely computing bits of matter could very well be explaining consciousness away.

AV- I am not saying that the final cause is sufficient for the effect, it also requires the efficient cause as well.

GC – Responding to “And I have no idea how quantum indeterminacy could possibly support free will. It is far more different from free will as is physical necessity. If God wants to play dice, that is different from playing chess. Ethical action is purposive deliberate action; if it were determined at some micro level, people would still be responsible for their actions, and there would be an adaptive purpose for holding the attribution of that responsibility by others.

There are lots of things in the macro world that are in practice unpredictable, but none of these are examples of free will, although we often personify them”

Well, it’s not me who says it (Quantum indeterminacy supporting free will), it’s the scientists themselves, as well as many philosophers who have written on this subject. Maybe Michio Kaku is a bad philosopher, but it’ll illustrate my point nonetheless.

I don’t have time to elaborate an adequate model here, but if at a certain level of reality everything is indeterminate, then that means anything could drive the transformation from one state to the next. Could be a bottom-up and a top-down type of influence.

Oh I have tried to imagine a function for qualia for sure. I have not found anything satisfying though, that is my problem. What do you propose is the evolutionary function of qualia?

And also… we usually consider in the natural sciences that only efficient causes are real. How are you making sense of final causes driving the process of evolution in a materialistic framework?

AV – Anything could change your mind? Anything would be free will?

What about the idea that you are an implementation of an adaptive strategy? I said “what if?” but the fact is that evolution says that all living creatures are suites of adaptations that implement a strategy. Some individuals do it better than others, but each creature has a strategy, even if the strategy is “think up a strategy on the fly”, as many people think is the case with humans.

As such, humans are naturally-evolved computers. To be sure there is randomness built in to our strategies, which gives two advantages:

1) The Baldwin effect.
2) Difficulty for our competitors to predict our actions.

These two factors alone account for the randomness in our minds, and for why people conflate randomness with deliberate action.

But while there is a random factor in our mind, much of it is not random at all, and it is the non-random part which is the primary locus of responsibility for deliberate action that is the key to free will. Randomness is merely accidental to free will. Is God really in the business of playing dice and consigning his game results to various Eternal Fates? And if we interpret ethics as an adaptive strategy, what is the adaptive function of punishing or rewarding people for random actions?

It seems as though your agenda is merely trying to find someplace for various ideas outside of well-established science. Why not use things that are known to explain the unknown? Since assigning praise and blame are behaviors of living creatures, why not explain that behaviour using biology?

Of course, the same argument goes for qualia as well, and every other behavior of every living creature, including qualia, which is after all something that living creatures have or do. If nonliving mattar has them, then the issue should be done using physics.

The following blog post is the beginning of a naturalistic theory of free will and morality, I have not yet written very much on qualia.

The fact that birds have wings is driven by the fact that wings serve a function, is it not?

To be sure, the wings got there by the efficient causes of ontogenetic development, but these efficient causes would not have created wings unless the wings served a function.

We can tell that the wings serve a function even without knowing how they are made or how they work. Likewise with qualia. I have no idea at all how qualia are made, but it is pretty clear that they serve a function. If true, this defuses one of the two versions of the Zombie Argument. If Chalmers was aware of Aristotle and evolutionary theory, then he for sure would have divided his Zomobie Argument in two. Not only does he not do that, he does not even have the knowledge to pose the question properly.

The very fact that biology and psychology are empirical fields means that the fact that he can imagine Zombies is as meaningless as the fact that I can imagine God using Special Creation, Thor making lightning, or vitalism-based life. Of course i can imagine all of this, and Chalmers could too if there were not well-established theories. But he is making an argument meant to constrain future well-established theories. It cannot do this, because these theories are empirical.

The fact that the mind has evolved is an empirical fact just as is the fact that biology is supervenient on physics. I can imagine the opposite in both cases, but in both cases i would be wrong.

GC – “It seems as though your agenda is merely trying to find someplace for various ideas outside of well-established science” Not at all. I just question the “well-established-ness” of said science. When you pass the line where empirical science becomes interpretation and philosophy, it’s easy to be making all sorts of leaps in reasoning and treacherous mistake. I’m just being hyper-scientific here and trying to avoid these mistakes. I resist your kind of evolutionary speculation because to me it is only one set of explanations among many that work just as good and that are just as probable.

Back to my question though… You haven’t outlined what would be the evolutionary advantage for qualia yet, and that’s the heart of the matter. I’m not sure it “serves a function” yet. I’d love to explore that further. It’s always on my mind in fact. But you know what… I’ve attended a full 10-day long symposium on this very topic. Montreal 2012. Look it up : And I have to say I was most disappointed… Not a single scientist nor philosopher has presented any sort of satisfying model for what the symposium was supposed to be about. Most of the various definitions of consciousness that were provided were already off track … (The videos of individual conferences are probably still online, have a look, you might be interested.. John Searle, Dan Dennett, Antonio Damasio were there.)

But yeah… I think to claim Chalmers is not aware of the theory of evolution is highly problematic… We’ll have to get back to this Zombie argument, I’m not sure we understand it exactly the same way.

GC- “We only have direct access to our own qualia, and have to infer or have indirect access to the qualia of others. According to many, this means that qualia cannot be interpreted as a physical process nor consequently as a biological process.” “This means…” No. Totally non-sequitur. That’s not the argument.

And I believe you have the wrong definition for qualia. Qualia and the “what it is like to be x” are two different things in the literature. There’s a nuance. You cannot conflate the two so easily.

Again.. The Chalmersian objection stands intact, unchallenged…

” How else could all the myriad factors that go into a single decision be brought into relation with a decision other than by some form of data mining? And how else would it be implemented than by consciousness? ”

Consciousness is not necessary for data mining or data/information processing, nor is it required in a decision making process. Computers can take decisions based on the laws registered within their program, they do it all the time. Biology, if understood as a kind of computing, is no different. You don’t, presumably (in a Whiteheadian framework, it’d be different), need consciousness for cells to reproduce, for the genetic code to assemble during reproduction, for the immune system to deal with diseases. Consciousness seems completely superfluous. You failed to show how consciousness adds anything to the process. And this is the task at hand.

And I mean, this is the whole point of the Turing Test. If you can’t distinguish a computer software from a real human person, then said computer should be considered conscious. I don’t agree with this ridiculous understanding of consciousness. The computer software was written by a human, it still directly COMES from a conscious being’s experience. But nevertheless… the computer obeys a set of laws. The computer is your Chalmersian zombie. It is not conscious, and yet, it operates just like a real human being. It will make decisions, based on the coded laws. It is NOT conscious, and yet, it makes decisions, does data mining, etc. Turn the computer into a biological robot and you get a Chalmersian zombie, deprived of consciousness, deprived of a “what is it like to be a real human being”.


Let’s assume that consciousness is in some way quantum. How is that anti-materialist? (I prefer ‘physicalist’) After all, you are explaining mind physically.

People for many years have claimed that mind could not be physical, and now these “same” people are defending one of the contending physical explanations for mind. That sounds good to me. So long as we ignore anything non-physical, we are not wasting our time.

My point is that quantum physics is naturalistic in the only way that really matters.

Thanks for reading the blog and making a constructive comment. In fact, this was something that I meant to put into the essay but forgot to do so once I got busy with school. Thanks for noticing. This is the what i call the “Wire Color Rule” and it hinges on what the essence of an adaptation is.

In short: what is the essence of qualia or subjective consciousness? Is it the function serves by qualia or is it the way that that function is implemented?

I believe that qualia is a way to implement the function of data mining for executive decision support. This the qualia itself would be a by-product of the adaptation that I described in the blog post. Kind of like how red blood is the by-product of having iron in hemoglobin. Obviously there is no function for red blood; I could easily imagine a world with green blood, but this does not mean that there is no naturalistic reason for red blood, because we know that blood color is an accidental property of blood.

Strictly speaking, qualia would be an accidental property of the executive decision support module and not it essence. This is why Zombies are as imaginable as green blood. However, the fact that someone can imagine some counterfactual about an unexplained natural phenomena cannot constrain future science in any other domain, and I have to assume that humans fall under this as well qua living creatures.

I call this the “Wire Color Rule” because qualia are like wire collars in electrical systems; their individual muchness is accidental; what is truly essential about them is that

1) They map onto networks of biologically relevant data.

2) They seem different enough from each other so that any two things which are objectively different will also be subjectively different.

Wire colors serve this function for the technician; few of the colors have any objective link to what they stand for, so they are completely arbitrary. You could easily imagine them all changing places with each other or there being no colors at all so long as their function were taken over some other way.

I am going to cut and paste your comments into the comment section of the blog so that it is preserved where I would use it. If you have a WordPress account, then you can do it your self. Other wise i will do it. Thanks!

GC – Sure, you can look at it this way. But this kind of analogical form of speculation doesn’t have more weight than the other metaphors and analogies the idealists can come up with. I hope you see that.

I was just thinking.. maybe you’d like to look into synesthesia phenomena, because that could be a way to show how arbitrary the “colors are” and how they can be all mixed up in some situations.

But the crux to me is that you’ll also have to account for the “user illusion” as Dennett would say. The main thing about qualia is that they are subjective experiences FOR somebody. That’s the Kantian problem of the transcendental unity of apperception. It is something like to be x FOR SOMEONE. I think phenomenal consciousness is better understood as this transcendental locus of perception rather than the mere qualia.

AV – If you look at any evolutionary explanation for pretty much anything, there is always some left over accidental property that is not explained. With the color of blood, the accidental property is explained by the role of iron in the hemoglobin molecule. But even if we were not privy to this knowledge, there would be no need to claim that the color of blood was non-natural in origin.

For example, the color of Cardinals is a case in point. Cardinals are red; Why? Well, we know the material causes (what sorts of matter are used to color the feathers. And we know how these red colouring agents are generated in the development process of the individuals.)

Furthermore, we assume that Cardinals of both sexes are red because they is is useful for them to recognize each other. (Note the wire color principle being used here agin.)

And we know why male birds would have more vivid coloring (of what ever colors may be had by any species).

But we do not know some things: why red at all? Why did this species “choose” red and another choose another color or perhaps no color at all? (Camouflage, or losing sexual dimorphism.)

All that is needed for belief in this account of bird coloration to be warranted is for there to be no other empirically meaningful theory to compete with it.

I believe that my account of qualia satisfies the same conditions as the above account of Cardinal’s redness, until such a time as a competing hypothesis can be presented.

And this competing hypothesis can only come from:

1) Evolutionary theory.

2) Another non-evolutionary theory ONLY if evolutionary theory were to be in a crisis stage prior to a paradigm shift.

I think that a quantum consciousness theory would not actually displace my own hypothesis, since it would deal with material causes, whereas I am dealing with formal and final causes. In fact, I am assuming that there must me some physical substrate for qualia, I just assume that it is not quantum related for similar reasons to why so many assume the opposite: my own gut feelings.

Oops I forgot to deal with the “Transcendental Unity of Apperception” (TUA)!

The “TUA” is actually an essential feature of qualia it is the form taken by the qualia such that they can belong to the organism whose relevant data has been mined to qualify the qualia. If there were no TUA, then the user illusion could not serve to support the “executive decision” of that organism.

From this perspective you can see how unessential qualia are to the TUA. So long as you have a TUA, you do not really *need* qualia. Or so it seems from our current ignorance; one we understand the material implementation of qualia, then we may see that any implementation of a TUA would also have to have qualia.

But lacking that knowledge, and to be charitable to Chalmers, we can assume that the reason we have qualia is that qualia is a by product of nature’s way of implementing the TUA. So we actually have three different things that we are talking about here:

1) The Transcendental Unity of Apperception

2) Qualia Simpliciter as the Wire Colors of particular items in phenomenal consciousness.

3) Qualia-valence – The fact that we have feelings and motives that are immanent in qualia.

4) Existential Mood – The fact that the TUA has its own qualia.



Show me the Arkhe!


I would like to challenge you to try to think from first principles. This means you are searching for an explanation for your beliefs which is the most comprehensive and cohesive with known facts.

Thinking from first principles will eliminate dualism of any kind. While there have been dualisms proposed by the great Thinkers, Philosophy and Science can never ever be satisfied with an unbridgeable dualism.

For example, why should there be an “is/ought” distinction? Are their ANY cases in which we fell confident that this does not apply? Are their any things in this universe that have a purpose as a matter of undeniable fact? What is the purpose of bird’s wings? If I say that “A bird OUGHT to be able to fly.”, am I committing the naturalistic fallacy? What if I say that “Humans ought to talk to each other and think about things.”, is THAT justified any less than something I say about birds? I don;t think so.

Not only do wings have a purpose for birds, but birds also have an ecological purpose. They perform a function for the biosphere. What’s so mystical about that? There’s nothing supernatural or non-physical about purpose or function. Perhaps you might think that there is, but the fact that you think that way has a rather nifty explanation which is far more comprehensive and cohesive than the explanation you will give for why your life has purpose.

Dualism is the mind-killer. Face your dualism and let is pass over you. When it is gone, only the Arkhe will remain.

Long ago we thought there was two kinds of matter: celestial and terrestrial. But then we found they were the Same. Later on we had a dualism of matter and energy; those also were the Same.

What about Matter/Energy and Space and Time, are they not totally different?. Later on, we found out that is the Same as well.

What about the difference between Physical reality and Information, are they not totally different? Guess what? Later on, we found out that information is a physical phenomenon. (No kidding! Look it up.)

So if you come up with some tiny thing you think is so special that it could never ever be the Same as something else. I will laugh at you.

Any statement of the form “There are only two types of things: x and everything else.” is by definition unwarranted. Its very form violates the conditions of possible knowledge. This is because all explanation as such must subsume the explanandum under a genus as a new species with a difference from other species.

Formerly light was essentially the field of visibility and on the other hand there had recently been discovered “radiation”. One was visible and the other not; two things could not seem to be more different, could they? But in due course science explained radiation. How? Simple, we found that it was actually a form of light; invisible light, but light none the less. Now are you going to accept an argument that light qua light must be visible? In a very common sense way “light” is visible by definition, but science is not limited by common sense usage of any term. What physics has done with “light”, Philosophy must do with “consciousness” and “ethics”. Ethics is not necessarily ethical, and consciousness is not necessarily conscious.


Naturalism and the “Testimonial Imperative”


Introduction: the Challenge of Philosophy

Years ago, a creationist challenged me to justify the assertion that people evolved from apes when we share lots of characteristics with raccoons. Now I know that we have many more characteristics in common with apes than any other animal, but rather than quibble about details I realized that I did not know the basis of evolutionary theory. My philosophical studies had focused on the history of astrophysics and cosmology, and I realized that I could not generalize my philosophy of science to explain the Darwinian revolution. I admitted to him that I could not justify it other than out of respect for scientific authorities.

For the next few years, I read the relevant books to understand evolution. First the “Origin of Species” itself, which easily refutes all the haters, but I kept on going for years, because evolution and its related disciplines are so vast; they overlap with mathematics, economics, and computer science quite a bit.

Realizing your ignorance is the beginning of a wonderful new stage in the search for truth. I know what it is like to reply to an objection using empty nonsense without really understanding the argument in its strongest sense. Of course I understand that evolution has not fitted the human race to be composed of freethinkers; we will always be the exception. It’s a law of nature. So I am very compassionate when I see people replying to me with empty nonsense. However, I will never ever willingly waste a day of my life believing in empty nonsense, for reasons explained below.

The Practical Basis of Naturalism – the “Testimonial Imperative”

The “Testimonial Imperative” simply means calling a spade a spade; or more precisely for the subject of ethical theory, every “ought” must be cashed out in terms of an “is”, and every “is” is only that which can be referred to without ambiguity, is defined operationally, and is known to exist with some specific level of certainty and evidence.

One may reasonably challenge me to cash out the Testimonial Imperative (TI) itself in terms of the “is” as a test of its completeness. After all the TI is itself and ethical standard like any other. So let us test it by applying it to itself and translate it from “ought” to “is” thusly: My strategy is to clearly define everything so that people know what I am saying and can better judge my words, and to clearly show how my words relate to higher principles which unite other areas of accepted knowledge. I cannot do this on my own, but require others to follow the same rule. Therefore, if you will not speak naturalistically, I will ignore you. I will ignore you because ultimately you are using vague terms which refuse to give up their meanings under scrutiny. Why should I put up with your nonsense ? You can’t possibly have any reply worthy of my time without accepting the Testimonial Imperative and its corollary, Methodological Naturalism.

If you decide to provisionally accept for the time being my demands of discourse, you could say that “How do you know that your Imperative is actually an Evolutionary Stable Strategy (ESS)? If it is not, then within Selection Theory your whole position is as unfounded as any theocracy.” I accept that caveat, since it applies to any ethical stance whatsoever concerning anything from scientific honesty to  the prohibition of murder to abortion rights. This is exactly what our moral basis is: I am taking a stance with my life on a certain definition of an adaptive strategy. Mine is “Philosophy”; which includes science, secular politics and freethinking in general. I am simply phrasing my definition of this strategy in the same way that any other moral principle is *actually * defined (iif it is ever defined at all!). When I oppose murder or aggressive warfare, I am taking a stance by pledging allegiance to an adaptive strategy that excludes these practices. Prohibiting murder and aggressive warfare have proven effective stratgies over many thousands of years, not only for humans but almost all other animals, so I am safe in this respect. Few will object on the point of theory, perhaps only quibbling over how this rule applies to specific cases. The number of ethical rules that are supported with this level of certainty are rather large; lying, stealing, gluttony, greed, envy, and lust are good examples.

So far so good. But when I take an ethical stance concerning the Search for Truth, I am on far shakier ground than with murder. However, the form of justification in both cases is the same because intellectual honesty is just as much an ethical virtue as other forms of honesty. I like to think it’s the most important, but perhaps it’s not. The main thing is that for Selection Theory, I am clearly defining all my terms, including “ought”, and I am clearly explaining how my oughts are binding. While you are clearly free to refuse to accept my ought, this only means that you are declaring yourself as one who does not care for the Truth, because you are not at all willing to accept the first principles of discourse, Aristotle’s “Three Laws of Thought”.

The Testimonial Imperative, like every other imperative (ethical or otherwise), is part of an adaptive strategy, which for humans means the regulation of cooperation. This strategy is a new thing; it seems weird to people because our ancestors did not search for the Truth in the way that some modern people do; i.e. by practicing Philosophy. (NOTE: When I capitalize “Philosophy”, it includes “science”.) Part of following the strategy of Philosophy is to define things clearly (Aristotle’s “Three Laws”) and to look for ultimate principles (the “arkhe”). Ignoring the arkhe means to take an unprincipled position. Truths are either axioms, or they are derived from axioms. Even contingent empirical truths have an axiom: For example, “I saw it happen.” is based on the axiom, “If you see it, it happened.”

While in my personal life, I like and cooperate all kinds of people, in my Work I will not respect anyone who tries to avoid the duty of defining what they mean or of relating what they say to the Arkhe. The desire to avoid this is a way to avoid the Truth. I agree that there are many well-founded fields where certain things are left vague because they are not ‘interesting’. These vague terms could be seized on by others unfairly. Creationists do this with certain aspects of legitimate biology, and I very much hope that I do not commit this error. However, it is very clear that almost every evolutionary concept is more clearly defined than almost every creationist concept. And this clarity is not merely in theory but also in practice. Likewise, when I do metaethics, I will define the broad range of my concepts more clearly and with firmer basis than is possible with any other competing theory. Also, my ethical concepts will be defined and explained using higher principles. It may be handy to simply define a principle out of nowhere, such as when Newton created “Gravity” and a name for some unknown force that affected matter. However, this cannot be the final result of science; gravity must eventually be explained in its relation to other phenomena. This is exactly what Selection Theory does with ethics. Just as gravity must eventually be cashed out in terms of other natural forces, ethics must be brought into theroretical relation with the rest of Nature. Perhaps Selection Theory has some fatal flaw unseen by me, but something like it must be the case. The nice thing about a naturalistic theory like mine is that even if it is wrong, it’s still a better use of your time than non-naturalism. This is because a naturalistic theory refutes itself, while non-naturalism never hazards any meaningful assertions about anything and merely maintains the deceptive appearance of knowledge.

The relation of ‘Physics’ and Ethics in Aristotle

‘Physics’, for Aristotle, is essentially the study of things which change in space and time.  The only things that are not ‘physical’ in this sense are unchanging essences (math, logic) and God (which for Aristotle was an ‘unchanging substance’.). God is included in the Physics Book VIII because of its role in explaining eternal physical motion, not because it is physical in itself. On this view, anything that changes through time is part of “physics”. IN algebra, adding x to y to get z is a ‘change’ in a sense, but it’s not taking place in time, so it’s not ‘physical’. Rocks, planets, stars, the weather, atoms, light, lightning, etc. are all physical because they change in time.

Living things are also ‘physical’ in Aristotle’s sense; they have every attribute that any other physical thing has: mass, energy, size, et cetera. However, they also have other things that nonliving physical objects do not have: heredity, metabolism, adaptation, function, ecological niche, genome, genotype, phenotype, et cetera.

These are very interesting and surprising characteristics that you could not predict from physical characteristics, so many people are tempted to say that there is something nonphysical about life. This intuition is nearly universal among traditional beliefs and in “vitalism”. Vitalism was taken seriously by Aristotle and  many other scientists up until the early 20th century, but no longer. However, it is still a fact that biological properties are different in meaning from physical properties, so in philosophy some people try to make this seem like some fatal flaw in physicalism. However, every such criticism cannot get around the fact that every biological fact is “superveninent” on the physical. This  means that you cannot change a biological fact without changing a physical fact., and conversely the only way to change a biological fact is to change some physical fact. Life may of may not be ‘reducible to physics (whatever that means), but there is nothing supernatural about life; it breaks no physical laws and it is implemented only by physical laws. Biology is perhaps just a shorthand that simplifies the expression of certain things that certain physical objects do.

Just as “physics” has the subfield of biology, so also Aristotelian biology has a further subfield: ethics .  According to Aristotle, “ethics” is the study of a certain subset of living creatures which “have logos” and are “political”. Neither of these terms have a simple translation from Greek into English. But in my view it means those animals which can:

  • Speak.
  • Think.
  • Live in a society.
  • Be “responsible”, which means:
    • Be held responsible for one’s actions by others.
    • Accept responsibility from others for one’s own actions.
    • Hold others responsible for their actions.
  • Have character (behavioral tendencies).
  • Perhaps many others….

All of these above processes are changes which take place in time, and which can only be done by particular kinds of living creatures. In any case, there is no way that ethics could possibly be relevant to any non-physical being without engaging in fantastic speculations that contradict ancient and modern physics. For Aristotle, the ‘soul’ was defined as a principle of change in living creatures, and not as anything ‘supernatural’ or having anything to do with an afterlife. Ethics was thus defined as a subfield of “physics”, the study of the principles of change in nature.

The famous ‘Four Causes’ apply within ethics just as they do in every other subfield of “physics”. Perhaps there are some differences in how they are used, but they apply. As such, Aristotle’s “Physics” can be seen as a foundation for his Ethics. It is certainly a foundation for my adaptation of his ethics to our modern world. The biggest change that we see in the modern world is that only biology and ethics have final causes, whereas nonliving physics does not. This is not a very contraversial thing to say nowadays, and it leaves the validity of final causes in biology and physics intact. Biology cannot get along at all without final causes, because without final causes you could not say “birds should be able to fly” or “the immune system should retain antigens from previous pathogens” or “the temperature of the earth should allow for liquid water”. Of course each of these statements makes some assumptions to be true, but they are all naturalistically meaningful and decidable. Furthermore, if ethics is a subfield of biology, then it must also have final causes, and they must work in a similar way. Just as birds should fly, humans should be able to talk and cooperate to satisfy their mutual needs in an efficient manner. While some ants rely on slavery exclusively, humans tend to rely on voluntary cooperation, and in both cases the ultimate causes are those common to all living creatures. And as time goes on, slavery is losing out to voluntary systems and this trend is is the basis for the ethical statement “Slavery is wrong.” It could have been the case that slavery was more adaptive than freedom, but as it turns out this is not true.

Modern physics also includes everything we need to explain ethics, since all living creatures follow the physics of information. All life is just information processing; evolution itself as well as the behavior of living creatures are all essentially forms of information processing. This means that without information processing, there can be no life and vice versa, because they ultimately mean the same thing.


So what is the upshot for our current situation? Obviously Aristotle’s Physics as he has presented it cannot be accepted, so are all the above irrelevant to us? No, In my opinion the teleological aspect of Aristotle’s Physics has been merely “demoted” down to biology, which is where it was really suitable in the first place. Aristotle saw that final causes were ubiquitous in biology, so he assumed that this was true of the rest of ‘physics’ as well. But in the modern world, we know that final causes originated  with life and are meaningless apart from life. Since we know that physics preceded biology, the sun is not ‘for’ the Earth’s biosphere in the robust sense that Aristotle and Classical Theism have in mind. Rather, the teleological aspect is emergent from the behavior of certain molecules in certain conditions.

The applicability of Aristotelian teleology is limited to the results of evolution, the biosphere, and the inputs necessary for life.  Ethics falls within this sphere, and as such Aristotelian final causes are applicable. The final causes are the same as those defined by evolution: not going extinct, also known as “inclusive fitness”, the passing on of DNA. That’s what ethics is for: promoting forms of cooperation which pass on DNA. Something like this view is or should be the default view, since it assumes that the behavior of a certain organism has an evolutionary origin. This axiom is assumed in the study of all other organism besides humans, and the world will not end if you try out this assumption on one more creature.

If you disagree with this, please leave a comment telling the rest of us what ethics is for. While you formulate your answer, ask yourself is your alternative really the sort of thing that could be the founding theory of a branch of natural science? Because that is what ethics is. The only other conception that makes any sense is the Platonic and Kantian conception of ethics as a formal or exact science. This theory cannot be dismissed out of hand, but on my view all the aspects of ethics that support Platonism are most parsimoniously seen as deriving from the most general axioms of evolutionary game theory, which even in their general form are imperatives followed for a purpose.