Home > cosmology, Perception, philosophy, physics, universe > The Sense of Acquaintance

The Sense of Acquaintance

February 4, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

In David Chalmers’ Precis of The Conscious Mind, in the summary of his argument for the Paradox of Phenomenal Judgment, he uses a particular wording that caught my attention:

“Knowledge of and reference to phenomenal states is based on something tighter than a causal relation; it is based on a relation of acquaintance.”

The term acquaintance sheds some new light on the idea of sense. While he uses it to pull away from functionalist assumptions, I would argue that he needs to go further still, so that there can be no confusion that acquaintance could be accomplished without an aesthetic appreciation. The question of whether an aesthetic quality can be appreciated mechanically, or if mechanism is inherently and eternally anesthetic is at the heart of all philosophical debate over consciousness and artificial intelligence.

In a related metaphysical question, can it be said that sense is truly an acquaintance, or is it always ultimately a re-acquaintance on a deeper level? Each of us, for example, had a moment when their eyes first showed them color. Of course, this would not have been possible had our eyes themselves not been expecting to fulfill a history of acquaintance with light discernment throughout the history of biology, and perhaps even biochemistry and electromagnetism itself. By contrast, our eyes do not acquaint us personally with X-Rays or radio waves. This suggests that on some level, acquaintance may be impossible if it is not ultimately a re-acquaintance.

Any understanding of sense should include this kind of holographic chicken-and-egg paradox of the expected and the unexpected. In order to support novelty in communication, there must be a common agreement on the fundamentals that comprise the channel of communication – its alphabet, protocols, the bandwidth specifications, etc. Each layer of varying information can be seen to arise from a deeper layer of invariant information, but ultimately, the capacity for sense to bootstrap itself must dissolve the difference between acquaintance and re-acquaintance. Sense is beneath time and novelty, beneath difference and similarity. It is (or ‘this is’) eternal by necessity, but it is also eternally masking itself into temporary dis-acquaintance.

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