Sunday, May 8, 2011

Hyper-chauvinistic type-to-type reductive materialism

OK, it’s not really hyper-chauvinistic type-to-type reductive materialism, because there isn’t anything to “reduce,” if the above arguments are persuasive. But the fact is that so far as qualitative experience is concerned, yours is what it is because you have the body that you have. “Experiencing” is just identical to living in a body like that.

A crucial difference between intentional states and phenomenal states is that phenomenal states are not picked out operationally, while intentional states are, even though the criteria for use of phenomenal predicates is operational just as they are for the use of intentional predicates. This is because phenomenal experience is outside of the reach of language altogether: precisely because it is unique to oneself and thus incommunicable to another. This is a difference between bodies.

Saul Kripke, much of whose work was inspired by Wittgenstein, argued that reduction was impossible on linguistic grounds. A phenomenal word like “pain” could never be defined as, say, “C-fibers firing” because the word “pain” referred to the feeling of pain (that phenomenal experience), and, Kripke argued, one can imagine being in pain without one’s C-fibers firing (or without having C-fibers at all) and that one’s C-fibers might be firing (or what have you) without one feeling pain. Of course Kripke’s point is about all phenomenal language but, as we have seen, there is no coherent way to separate “experience of the world” from “the world.”

Kripke’s claim amounts to saying that one can imagine experiencing this world without this world (which includes one’s body), or that this world (including this body) could exist without these experiences. I take Hume’s point that these sorts of claims about what can be conceived or imagined are meaningless, because phenomenal experience of the world and the world itself cannot be metaphysically distinguished from each other.

However this does not mean that “pain” might be defined as C-fibers firing: it could not. Use of the word “pain” will be determined operationally (as David Lewis insisted) as the use of all words is determined operationally. Constructions such as “pain-for-me” have no functional role in communication, but one’s (actual) pain can be mentioned even if there is no use for a term that designates it: it is no less real for being inexpressible. Meanwhile Kripke is not entitled to the claim that one’s body (one’s C-fibers firing) is causing one to have a sensation of pain that is distinct from its cause. Such a claim is irremediably dualist: one’s body is not the cause of one’s phenomenal experience. One just is one’s C-fibers firing etc.

Better, then, to drop the “reductive.” But “type-to-type” is also a dubious phrase. Unlike in the case of intentional states, there is no distinction between types and tokens when we are referring to conscious experience: each body is to some extent unique, and consciousness (unlike intentionality) is not supervenient. And the suffix “hyper” is perhaps a bit of rhetoric on my part. Better, perhaps, to call our theory of phenomenal mind simply “chauvinistic materialism,” if the need is still felt for a “theory” to account for a pseudoproblem.

This is no problem for science; since science, understood as a cultural artifact, is limited to the intersubjective, and phenomenal experience is wholly subjective (that’s why it’s a little silly to say that we have a “theory” here at all). Thus we can contemplate the resolution of the so-called “hard” problem of consciousness.

1 comment:

  1. Another way of arriving at the same salutary conclusion would be to ask what sort of theory of Language gives rise to a distinction between intentional and phenomenal states. Surely this must be an i-language, intensionally defined and an ideal language in that idiolectal errors can be neglected as noise.
    But, is it feasible for a species that evolved by natural selection to have an i-language? Indeed, does it make sense to speak of consciousness as being embodied in particular meat-suits as opposed to something happening across meat-suits and relatively independent of changes in the membership of the class of meat-suits thus engaged?
    Take something like reported morbidity- Economists, especially Development Economists, think of it as a function of Income, Education, degree of Social stratification etc with the low-status landless laborer in caste-ridden rural Bihar reporting lower morbidity than the better off in the Cities.

    Intentionality evolves against a fitness landscape optimizing for Social signalling. Intensionality, as a concept, evolved for certain sorts or Research Programs which- before the crisis in A.I- seemed plausible and the kind of things the RAND Corp. and MIT and so on should be doing.

    That said, this sounds a very interesting subject and, perhaps, a little more background re. recent developments in the current literature could be given to clarify points raised in the first two paragraphs of this post for the benefit of ordinary readers.