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All I can do is be me, whoever that is:

Two views on Physicalism and Self - Knowledge

Diane LeCrone 112-64-9703 Self and Identity Phil -3503-001 Friday, April 27, 2012 Word Count: 2,508

To take the Socratic view, acquisition of Self-Knowledge is the most fundamental step in achieving a satisfying life. Physicalists, such as Daniel Dennett, hold the view that there is no more to existence than biology and the physical world. In this view self is a fiction and selfknowledge a foolhardy endeavor. Conversely, there is the anti-physicalist argument offered by David Chalmers. This argument allows for two kinds of mental states, the phenomenal and the psychological working in tandem to create the mosaic of human action and emotion. He further asserts that through the study of such, self-knowledge is attainable, as is a rich and satisfying life. Within this paper I shall summarize both arguments. I hope by doing so I can illuminate the need for a sense of self and consciousness beyond the physical body. I will begin with Dennetts prosaic argument for physicalism, mapping why and how it occurs. I will then contrast it with the more analytical style of Chalmers refutation of physicalism in order to show the difference between the approaches and between the philosophers themselves. By examining both Dennetts claim of primary and secondary boundaries and Chalmers revamping of philosophical zombies, I will introduce the central themes of the paper. Next, I will demonstrate the divergence of Dennetts and Chalmers perspectives on Jacksons thought experiment Marys Room. In doing this I hope to instantiate my own claim on the subject of qualia and the role it plays in further developing our conscious self, as opposed to the view that both qualia and conscious self are a fiction. Also I will look at the thought experiment of The Brain in a Vat. This like the Marys Room experiment takes a deeper look at how each philosopher interoperates and defines existence and experience. Additionally, I will show that more is needed in order to live the Socratic definition of a full and happy life. You are what you control and care for[1]

Dennett believes that self is merely an adaptation of the mind occurring over generations to protect our physical bodies and the property we control, being that he sees it as an extension of our physical person. Each thing, animal and man alike, has boundaries both primary and secondary. Our primary boundaries are our bodies, families, and friends; Secondary qualities are our possessions such as cars, homes, and other objects important to us. In order to protect and maintain these boundaries we create a plethora of fictive selves, each with their own strengths that best accomplish this goal. Over a time our outside influences whittle down these selves until the most influentially relevant Head of Mind[2] dominates and eradicates the rest. Never is there a true intrinsic self nor is the concept of one present at birth. Humans, in Dennetts mind, begin life no more cognitively different from an animal or machine. We wait for physical experience to program us with expectations and obstacles to overcome. Self is just a fiction whose only reason for being is a neurological trick for survival. Dennett is weary of abstraction and reduces emotions down to physiological tricks brought about by chemical reactions in the body. The name we give to this inexplicable difference between functional knowledge and knowledge gained from experience is qualia. Dennett does not believe in qualia. This is one of the main a differences I will address later in the paper. There is nothing it is like to be a zombie.[3] Unlike Dennett, David Chalmers is a dualist. This means he believes in a non-corporeal consciousness beyond ones physical body. Furthermore he believes in two types of consciousness: phenomenal and psychological. On the phenomenal concept, mind is characterized by the way it feels; on the psychological concept, mind is characterized by what it does.[4] This means that the psychological concept of the mind is the feature of our

consciousness that has causational power it controls the way we behave. The phenomenal is the abstract feelings that build our psychology. This is another way of saying qualia. Chalmers believes that it is these two distinct features of consciousness are both substantial and the key to self knowledge, conceptualization of self, and its influence on human behavior. While psychological emergence and trends can be explained in most part by modern science the Phenomenal cannot. Chalmers furthers Descartes concept of philosophical zombies by defining them as beings physically identical to you and me who have no phenomenal consciousness. The odd aspect he attributes to this that they are unaware that they lack consciousness. If you are to prick them they feel they assert that they feel pain but in fact does not due being unable to conceptualize the phenomenal experience of really feeling pain itself. [5] 1. According to physicalism all that exists in our world (including consciousness) is physical. 2. Thus, if physicalism is true, a logically-possible world in which all physical facts are the same as those of the actual world must contain everything that exists in our actual world. In particular, conscious experience must exist in such a possible world. 3. In fact we can conceive of a world physically indistinguishable from our world but in which there is no consciousness (a zombie world). From this (so Chalmers argues) it follows that such a world is logically possible. 4. Therefore, physicalism is false. (The conclusion follows from 2. and 3. by modus tollens.)[6]

This is the first argument against physicalism being false. In contrast, in working with Dennetts definitions, we are all in fact zombies.

Marys Room Though Experiment In 1982 Frank Jackson proposed a the following thought experiment on the existence of qualia. We shall examine how both our philosophers would answer the questions raised and what that means for self-knowledge. Mary is a brilliant scientist who is, for whatever reason, forced to investigate the world from a black and white room via a black and white television monitor. She specializes in the neurophysiology of vision and acquires, let us suppose, all the physical information there is to obtain about what goes on when we see ripe tomatoes, or the sky, and use terms like red, blue, and so on. She discovers, for example, just which wavelength combinations from the sky stimulate the retina, and exactly how this produces via the central nervous system the contraction of the vocal cords and expulsion of air from the lungs that results in the uttering of the sentence The sky is blue. [...] What will happen when Mary is released from her black and white room or is given a color television monitor? Will she learn anything or not?[7] Dennett voices his answer in both Consciousness Explained and What RoboMary Knows. Mary would not, in fact, learn something new if she stepped out of her black and white room to see the colour red. If she already truly knew "everything about colour", that knowledge would necessarily include a deep understanding of why and how human neurology causes us to sense the "qualia" of color. Moreover, that knowledge would include the ability to functionally differentiate between red and other colors. Mary would therefore already know exactly what to

expect of seeing red, before ever leaving the room. Functional knowledge is identical to the experience, with no ineffable 'qualia' left over. As a consequence, that this is not a sound argument for the existence of qualia.[8] This is hardly the case for Chalmers who has used this thought experiment repeatedly to argue against the physicalist view. With this simple formula he concludes unless phenomenal truth is a priori, which by Kantian definition it is not, then logically physicalism must be false. 1. Mary knows P (the narrowly physical truths), and is an ideal a priori reasoner, but isnt in a position to know Q (a phenomenal truth). 2. If 1, P->Q is not a priori. 3. If P->Q is not a priori, physicalism is false. 4. Physicalism is false[9] This is important because without both phenomenal and physical experience we do not have a fully developed consciousness with both a functioning phenomenal and psychological mind. If both are not fully developed and working incongruently than no set pattern of behavior and preferences can emerge ergo no concrete concept of identity. Without a concrete sense of self one has neither means nor the motivation to seek self-knowledge. Mary lacks interpersonal exchange so she can never know rather what she knows to be redness is like that shared by the world outside her room. This social instantiation of a concept that only has meaning when excepted by a wide group is key to it having any deeper meaning to Mary. Mary cannot understand red any more than I can understand what it is like to live in New York. Sure I have a tentative knowledge and secondary accounts but beyond these

unreliable sources I have no frame of reference. To Mary red is no more real to her than the shadow horses on the first level of Platos Cave. Until one can perceive a thing completely you cannot claim any real understanding of a thing. One may argue with limited human perception we may never understand phenomenal experience. But that, of course, is far too dense a topic for a paper of this ilk and I digress. Artificial Intelligence and Brain in a Jar. This is another area where the two philosophers differ. While Chalmers feels it can never be truly achieved Dennett believes it is inevitability. Covered in both Dennetts Where am I and Charmers paper on Philosophy of the Matrix we are given the thought experiment in which a disembodied brain is hooked up to a supercomputer. This supercomputer has the ability to simulate any physical experience such as walking, touching, speaking with another person. Chalmers with some hesitation finally comes to the conclusion that the illusory world is still creating real facts and experiences for the disembodied consciousness so ultimately it is no different than living. This again undermines the necessity of physicality for human experience. The eighteenth-century philosopher George Berkeley held, in effect, that appearance is reality. (Recall Morpheus: What is real? How do you define real? If youre talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.) If this is right, then the world perceived by envatted beings is perfectly real: these beings experience all the right appearances, and appearance is reality. So on this view, even envatted

beings have true beliefs about the world.[10] Dennett on the other hand also believes that given the scientific architecture of the brain this kind of simulation is theoretically possible. But because he views consciousness as a illusory byproduct of electrical activity in the neurons he considers the brain neither living nor having actually experience. He maintains that this is how our perception of the world works, being called the Humoncular view. This is an outright rejection of the Cartesian theater, or the philosophical domain in which Chalmers disembodied self experiences. In particular, I think the Matrix Hypothesis is equivalent to a version of the following three-part Metaphysical Hypothesis. First, physical processes are fundamentally computational. Second, our cognitive systems are separate from physical processes, but interact with these processes. Third, physical reality was created by beings outside physical space-time. Importantly, nothing about this Metaphysical Hypothesis is skeptical. The Metaphysical Hypothesis here tells us about the processes underlying our ordinary reality, but it does not entail that this reality does not exist. We still have bodies, and there are still chairs and tables: its just that their fundamental nature is a bit different from what we may have thought. In this manner, the Metaphysical Hypothesis is analogous to a physical hypothesis, such as one involving quantum mechanics. Both the physical hypothesis and the Metaphysical Hypothesis tell us about the processes underlying chairs. They do not entail that there are no chairs.

Rather, they tell us what chairs are really like. I will make the case by introducing each of the three parts of the Metaphysical Hypothesis separately. I will suggest that each of them is coherent, and cannot be conclusively ruled out. And I will suggest that none of them is a skeptical hypothesis: even if they are true, most of our ordinary beliefs are still correct. The same goes for a combination of all three hypotheses.[11] The idea of a consciousness existing outside the body seems to imply the existence of self. Though Dennett never seems to admit this I feel it to be true. Much like Descartes dream problem one has no real test for rather or not they are a mind in a jar. The real significance of this experiment for this papers purpose is demonstrating the conditions under which each philosopher considers themselves still technically existing as some form of self. And again it brings into question that of a priori knowledge. While Dennett seems to believe all we are born with is our body and its instinctual ability to survive Chalmers seems to hint more at the concept of a priori knowledge being possible. Despite this he still stresses heavily the importance of experience being that which separates a philosophical zombie from a fully developed, possibly envatted, individual, like you or me.

An Unexamined Life is not a Life Worth Living[12] Lastly I will assert my own view on the matter in which physicalism undermines the need to seek self-knowledge and by doing so takes the ability to grow as a person from the individual.

There are many ways of receiving stimuli both physical and psychological and it is my personal view that we have a separate body and consciousness with the power to interact and influence the other. I believe that the only true knowledge is first hand yet first hand selfknowledge is hard to achieve. This does not mean I will not attempt so. I feel that for me, like Socrates, the lifelong persuit of knowledge is my only path to happiness. Happiness I define not in the hedonistic search of pleasure or the reductive path of least resistance. For me happiness is working to better the lives of those around me while always keeping an open mind to new experience and point of view. Man should always be working to improve ones self over the span of their life time. I feel this call to personal growth and acquisition of self-knowledge is the integral first step in learning in the world around us. Man is a social being and without interpersonal relationships that go beyond the superficiality of an unexamined association between two beings one can never thrive. For me my relationships with others have not always been easy but they are a cherished part of life and a necessary part of the human experience. Not only can this maladjustment hinder ones ability to thrive but it can bring undue emotional and social strain on those around us. There for a nonphyisicalist standpoint is the only logical path to self-knowledge and a healthy life.

1. Dennett, p. 362 2. Dennett, p. 362 3. Chalmers, p. 95 4. Chalmers, p. 11 5. Chalmers, p. 36 6. Jackson, p. 130 7. Dennett 1991, p. 398 & Dennett 2006 8. Chalmers, p. 16 9. Chalmers, p. 7 10. Chalmers, p. 13 11. Chalmers, p. 10 12. Socrates

1. 2. Chalmers, David J. 1996. The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. New York:Oxford University Press. 3. Dennett, D.C. 1978. Brainstorms. In Where am I? Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 4. Dennett, Daniel (1991). Consciousness Explained. Boston: Little, Brown and Co. 5. Dennett, Daniel (2006), "What RoboMary Knows", in Alter, Torin, Phenomenal Concepts and Phenomenal Knowledge, Oxford Oxfordshire: Oxford University Jackson, Frank (1982). "Epiphenomenal Qualia". Philosophical Quarterly (32): 127 136. 6. Jackson, Frank (1986). "What Mary Didn't Know". Journal of Philosophy (83): 291 295.