Consciousness, Data, Electricity, and Rock

There’s been some interesting discussion over at Dave Chalmers’ blog (Fragments of Consciousness) on the falsifiability or lack thereof of various theories of consciousness (in particular, Chalmers’ and Dennett’s). (See this, this, this, this, and this.) A paraphrase of the main question I’m interested in right now might go something like this:

What data, either first-person accessible or third-person-accessible, are predicted by your theory that could conceivably/possibly fail to obtain?

Since that wasn’t exactly the question put to Chalmers, it wouldn’t be exactly correct to say that he answered that there are none. I think, however, that’s something like the spirit of his responses, but don’t take my word for it, follow the links above and judge for yourself.

Re: data and consciousness, Eric Schwitzgebel has no shortage of interesting things to say about introspection over at his blog (The Splintered Mind). See, for example, his recent post on afterimages and weigh in on the question of whether conscious experience always involves afterimages (and how you would know).

Re: afterimages and falsifiability again, one pretty sweet thing about various versions of psychoneural identity theory is that they do predict falsifiable data about consciousness. And not just third-person accessible data. Paul Churchland makes an excellent case for one such account in his recent “Chimerical Colors: Some Novel Predictions from Cognitive Neuroscience” in which very odd color experiences are predicted by a neural model of chromatic information processing. In brief, the differential fatiguing and recovery of opponent processing cells gives rise to afterimages with subjective hues and saturations that would never be seen on the surfaces of reflective objects. Such “chimerical colors” include shades of yellow exactly as dark as pitch-black and “hyperbolic orange, an orange that is more ‘ostentatiously orange’ than any (non-self-luminous) orange you have ever seen, or ever will see, as the objective color of a physical object” (p. 328). Such odd experiences are predicted by a model that identifies color experiences with states of neural activation in a chromatic processing network. Of course, it’s always open to the dualist to make an ad hoc  addition of such experiences to their theory, but no dualistic theory ever predicted them. Further, the sorts of considerations typically relied on to support dualism—appeals to intuitive plausibility and a priori possibility—would have, you’d expect, ruled them out. (Seriously, a yellow as dark as black? Whodathunkit?)

A video of Churchland lecturing on the topic is available here.

In other news, unless there are massive blackouts (or chimerically dark yellow-outs) in New York, NC/DC (the Neural Correlates of David Chalmers) is playing tonight. And if there are massive blackouts in New York tonight, don’t blame us.

Fig 1. This is not Paul Churchland’s hyperbolic orange. A Churchlandish orange is more ostentatiously orange than that.

Fig 2. The cover art to Spinal Tap’s album, Brain-Hammer. Q: Why is Schwitzgebel’s  mind splintered and Chalmers’ consciousness fragmented? A: The Brain Hammer, baby.

Churchland, Paul. 2005. “Chimerical Colors: Some Novel Predictions from Cognitive Neuroscience.” In: Brook, Andrew and Akins, Kathleen (eds.) Cognition and the Brain: The Philosophy and Neuroscience Movement. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

See also: The Phenomenal Consciousness of Inexistent Colors, Paul Churchland book,  Cognition  and the Brain

One Response to “Consciousness, Data, Electricity, and Rock”

  1. [...] Enough about shirts. What about qualia? Does qualia-talk carry with it any empirical depth? It depends on who you ask. As best as I can tell from dualists, there’s not much empirical depth to be gained from qualia-talk. (Dualists famously maintain that attributing qualia buys you no explanatory or predictive power not had by attributions of zombie-hood.) Identity theorists however, get you empirical depth (for more on this point see “Consciousness, Data, Electricity, and Rock ” ) What I wonder about dualists is this. If qualia-talk lacks empirical depth then what justifies their phenomenal realism? Why not change teams to idealism and buy into something like Dennett’s “first-person operationalism”? Alternately, maybe they could change their mind about qualia-talk and trade shallows for depths. [...]