Home > discussion, neuroscience, phenomenology, philosophy > “Is Consciousness a Controlled Hallucination?” part 2

“Is Consciousness a Controlled Hallucination?” part 2

Picking up again* for the second hour of this new video from 8/25/2021, where philosophers Philip Goff and Keith Frankish discuss consciousness with neuroscientist Anil Seth, whose new book is Being You: A New Science of Consciousness 

Just after 1:00:00 Anil is talking about voluntary action as a freedom from immediacy, which I think carries a bit of misdirection or burying the lead. Freedom from immediacy, fine, there can be complicated clocks and timed systems in the brain, etc, but what is the feeling of will, how can it exist, and why? In addition, I don’t think many people question what is meant by ‘immediacy’. Isn’t that determined by some informal average of sensory sample rates? How is it not anthropocentric to project our arbitrary sense of now onto the universe as a whole? Timescale is one of the great keys to resolving the hard problem IMO.

I understand what Anil is saying about the sense of will or redness not needing to be real to be experienced, and not being part of the causal structure of the universe (I used to see it that way also for many years), but it fails to consider that by its own logic, asserting consciousness as something that isn’t completely real (a controlled or controlling hallucination) necessarily means that any idea we have about a universe or experiment that we can perform can be no more real. With physical science experiments, we can learn more about the physical-seeming end of our shared hallucination, but that is not to say its causal closure is anything more than the tautological limits of the very sense and sense making modalities we are using to locate this part of the universe in the first place. If redness can arise from a history of evolutionary utility then so can our sense of physicality. If, however, we can be right about anything, then at least some part of consciousness cannot be less real than physics.

Around 1:04:28 it starts getting a little animated, with Anil insisting that neuroscientific studies are not neutral with regard to free will. In the next minute, he steps back from that slightly to say that there’s merely no evidence of anything like free will. It’s hard to imagine how the lack of physical evidence wouldn’t be neutral, since Dualism would hold that of course there’s not going to be material evidence of non-material qualia. There no olfactory evidence for sight or colors either. I’m sure that Anil would agree that our sense of will is part of the universe that we model in our conscious experience as ‘physical’ or material, but I don’t think that he has considered that materiality itself may simply be conscious experience that has been rendered in a truncated form through our local interface/filter. The difference is that with the latter, our will can be both immaterial or transmaterial and have concrete material effects, because both subjective will and objective forms share the same common context of origin – there’s just no good reason to assume that context is more like our sense of physicality than our sense of mentality. To the contrary, with relativity and quantum mechanics, it seems clear that even the most physical of phenomena originate from a substrate that is more mind-like than it is matter-like. I see them both as categories of sensory-motive, aesthetic-participatory phenomena (universal qualia).

Around 1:12 they get into the inaccessibility of consciousness, with Anil saying that we will gradually have access to more data and Keith saying that science is irreducibly third person. My contribution to that is that if we study brain conjoined twins we can develop tech that will get us closer to sharing first person experience (or rather, those aspects of conscious experience that qualifies itself to itself as first person). There may be other ways to get around privacy also (which would unfortunately interest a lot of dangerous organizations as well). Maybe we can technologies to extend natural sensitivities and empathy to a degree that they produce rigorous science…maybe that’s a long way off but probably less invasive than brain sharing tech.

Seth goes on to say that he wants to see how far we can get pursuing the materialist project in science before considering other possibilities. I don’t think that anyone is suggesting on giving up on that, but I don’t see any advantage in presuming it is metaphysically accurate or waiting before exploring other possibilities. Around 1:18 Philip makes an excellent case for rejecting Anil’s approach of setting aside the hard problem, citing the somewhat unscientific decisions of Galileo, Descartes, and others to put non-material qualia outside of the domain of science.

At 1:22 the conversation gets slightly heated again as Anil suddenly gets personal by saying “Now you’re making a mistake you said you don’t make, and I’m a bit disappointed. You say you don’t make this mistake, but you just did!” Those of us who have debated at length about the Hard Problem recognize this pivot very well. The conversation has gone from a cordial sharing of perspectives to one of accusation and condescension. I wish that we had fMRI visualizations on everyone in the conversation and could see the frontal cortex activity getting hijacked by limbic activity. There is more going on here than just science – there is something that Anil, and most everyone that I have come across that subscribes to a physicalist view perceives as a threat, and one that demands an offensive response.

Both Anil and Philip agree here that there is something that a color blind person misses out on if they cannot see red – Philip says it is information (or knowledge from Frank Jackson’s Knowledge Argument/Mary’s Room), Anil isn’t really willing to formalize it though, saying only that the topic is a separate issue, a different thing for him and that it is irrelevant.

My Multisense Realism view defines qualia as the sole fundamental phenomenon, and one that includes a capacity to divide or limit (entropy-negentropy/insensitivity) access (sense/sense-making/empathy) to parts of itself. Qualia is what exists eternally – the Holos, insensitivity is what Graphs the Holos into local sub-holarchies of experience, and sense or consciousness is what reunites the latter with the former (making it holographic rather than hallucinatory). Sense is access to the totality. Entropy, including temporalization and spatialization, are functions of dynamically gating or limiting that access.

At 1:25 Anil and Keith affirm each other’s view that we should ignore the hard problem (the standard ‘shut up and calculate’ response, or non-response). Keith at least acknowledges this position as Illusionism, which he advocates, but Anil stops short of subscribing to it, saying at 1:26:07 “It doesn’t change what I would do very much.”

I think this attitude ironically supports Dualism. It’s a crytpo-dualism in which Res Cogitans is understood not to have an effect on Res Extensa (the doing that Anil cares about exclusively), and therefore doesn’t matter. Philip is correct when he says around 1:27 that the private/subjective phenomena are part of a totally different explanatory project from physical explanation, but I would go further and say that the project of physical explanation can be subsumed within the other project, as long as we don’t make the assumption that privacy/subjectivity is something other than (universal) qualia. With a universal qualia model like MSR, all physical forces and structures can be understood in sensory-motive terms.

Good job all around. I agree most with Philip, then Keith, and least with Anil, but I respect the nuance of his positions (not functionalism, not IIT, pragmatic, etc). Still, I think that Seth’s pragmatism is more biased than the wants to believe it is. Part of that seems like an unwillingness to care about the difference between pursuing materialistic methods (I think everyone agrees that we should) and the validity of the prospect of extending reality to the non-material. Anil seems to conflate the two positions, as if the former justifies the latter.

*My comments on the first hour are here.

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