Type-Q Materialism

Josh Weisberg and I just finished a draft of a paper that my wife likes to call “Avenue Q Materialism” but Josh and I call “Type-Q Materialism” [link to draft].

Here’s a chunk:

As Gibson (1982) correctly points out, despite Quine’s brief flirtation with a “mitigated phenomenalism” (Gibson’s phrase) in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, Quine’s ontology of 1953 (”On Mental Entities”) and beyond left no room for non-physical sensory objects or qualities. Anyone familiar with the contemporary neo-dualist qualia-freak-fest might wonder why Quinean lessons were insufficiently transmitted to the current generation. Chalmers (1996a, 2003a) has been a prominent member of the neo-dualists, though he does not leave Quine unmentioned. Neo-dualist arguments proceed by inferring from an epistemic gap between the physical and the phenomenal to an ontological gap between the physical and the phenomenal. Chalmers sorts various materialist responses to these arguments as follows: Type-A materialism denies that there’s any epistemic gap in the first place. Type-B materialism accepts that there is an epistemic gap, but denies that the epistemic gap entails any ontological gap. Type-C materialism is like type-B materialism except it thinks the epistemic gap in question is only temporary. Type-Q materialism (Q for “Quine”), according to Chalmers (2003a), rejects the kinds of distinctions needed to formulate both the neo-dualist arguments and the type-A , type-B, and type-C materialist responses to them. Such rejected distinctions include the conceptual vs. the empirical, the a priori vs. the a posteriori, and the contingent vs. the necessary. Chalmers (2003a, 123) charges Type-Q materialism with being incapable of avoiding the problems alleged to arise for the types from earlier in the alphabet. The aim of the current paper is to argue the contrary point that Quineans are inoculated against these so-called problems. We spell out how Quinean allegiance to holism and pragmatic criteria for ontic commitment protect Type-Q materialism from the complaints of the qualia-freaks.


5 Responses to “Type-Q Materialism”

  1. Eric Thomson says:

    “contemporary neo-dualist qualia-freak-fest”


  2. Eric Thomson says:

    I don’t really understand the thought experiments.

    First, the Hawthorne. Forgive me for quoting it at length here.
    In Hawthorne’s thought experiment, we are to imagine Fred and Twin Fred, both of whom, initially at least, have visual fields filled with expanses of phenomenal redness. Both are attending to the qualia on their respective right and left fields and asked to judge whether the qualia are the same on the right and on the left. They formulate judgments expressible in English by “thus is thus” where the first “thus” refers to whatever quale is present in the left visual field and the second “thus” refers to whatever quale is present in the right visual field. The content of such judgments concerns the sameness of the qualia appearing on left and right.

    So they don’t simply say ‘Left is red, right is blue’ if that is their experience? Based on what you said, if the ‘thus’ is replaced by a color and the first ‘thus’ describes the left qualia and second the right, they’s say ‘Blue is red.’ That’s confusing. I don’t understand why you don’t have them say something like my original sentence, ‘Left red and right blue.’

    Both Fred and Twin Fred are told that though it won’t be apparent, their qualia will “dance”—rapidly alternate between a red quale and a blue quale—three or four times during a five minute interval. Such dancing is stipulated to be unnoticed dancing. While no differences are apparent to either Fred or Twin Fred, Fred is lied to about whether any dancing takes place—in reality both left and right sides are occupied by constant red qualia throughout the duration of the five minutes. Twin Fred,
    however, is told truthfully—by God, we may suppose—that even though it isn’t apparent to him, his qualia do indeed dance (Hawthorne 2007, 197-198).

    I’m not sure if this really shows we can be wrong in our beliefs about what qualia we are having (note I do think this is possible, but not based on this thought experiment). Wouldn’t the qualiaphile just say something like the following: Fred and Twin Fred were mislead about the typical meaning of the term ‘qualia’ if the experimenter said the bit in bold above? Since qualia are experiences we are aware of, to tell someone there will be massive changes in their qualia (especially of gross features that they are attending to), but that such changes won’t be ‘apparent’, isn’t that to just change the subject?

    I have questions about the second thought experiment involving the qualia thief, but I think it would be good to hammer at this one first.

    Incidentally, I think one of the better arguments for our ability to have grossly false beliefs about qualia is the phenomenon of ‘blindness denial’ or Anton’s syndrome (discussed here)., where blind people emphatically say they are not blind, that they see fine.

  3. Pete Mandik says:

    Hey Eric, thanks a bunch for the comments and questions. Please let me know whether the following helps at all.

    The issue is not so much whether we can be wrong about our qualia, but whether (a la Chalmers) what confirms our beliefs about qualia is simply a relation of the belief to the having of the qualia or more complexly, (a al Duhem-Quine) a relation of the belief to a whole bunch of other beliefs as well as the qualia.

    Here’s an analogy to the TwinFred thought experiment. Imagine Fred and TwinFred are each peering through holes in a fence into their respective neighbor’s back yard. Fred sees a cat through one hole, a cat through another hole and forms a judgment like “this cat is one and the same as this cat” where the first “this cat” refers to the cat seen through the first hole and the second “this cat” to the cat seen through the second hole. TwinFred is in an apparently similar situation and forms a similar judgment. But the difference between Fred and TwinFred is that Fred is peering into a back-yard that has only one cat in it and TwinFred is peering into a backyard with a whole bunch of similar cats in it. Crucial here is that the way things look to both Fred and TwinFred is the same. The question to ask here to relate it to the Duhem Quine stuff is this one: Is the experience of looking through the holes alone sufficient to confirm a belief that “this cat is the one and the same as this cat”? It should be clear that the answer is “no”. If one had the additional belief that there were a whole bunch of cats recently released into the back yard, then the experience would not suffice to make one confident that one and the same cat was glimpsed through both holes.

    Keep in mind that important elements of the cat story include the fact that there’s a difference between (i) cats, (ii) what is apparent to viewers of the holes, and (iii) the larger set of beliefs one has about the contents of the backyards.

    Now, let’s go back to the qualia version of Fred and his twin. The judgment in question has as its content “the qualia seen on the left is the same as the qualia seen on the right”. Since it’s common for neo-dualist qualia-freaks to distinguish qualia from judgments and phenomenal appearances from epistemic appearances, it’s possible, accepting their ontology to construct analogs of (i), (ii), and (iii).

    Now, maybe you like a different ontology. You find tempting a functional analysis of qualia in terms of either properties of the world of which we are aware (a la Dretske) of properties of lower-order mental states of which we are aware (a la Rosenthal). That’s terrific: you are already not a neo-dualist qualia-freak (NDQF). But beware, they will accuse you of having changed the definition of qualia. But it’s crucial to the NDQF that qualia are distinct from judgments about qualia. This is one of the things they hate about guys like Dennett and Georges Rey who pretty much claim that there’s nothing to qualia aside from our judgments about qualia. And if qualia are distinct from judgments, then it’s logically possible for qualia to dance without your judgments being affected.

  4. Eric Thomson says:

    Ack I was indeed missing the point, I read it rather quickly so sorry about that. I will have to chew on this a bit more before responding.

    Incidentally, your paper hits right at the bits of Chalmers’ book that are most suspect. I had just finished reading Sellars when I first read Chalmers, and it seems you have provided an argument of a similar variety to what I would imagine from Sellars. I think I remember Chalmers in the book writing about whether what he was guilty of falling into the Myth of the Given (and whether givenness is indeed a myth). Sellars’ angle would be slightly different than Quine-Duhem, though, so it is interesting to see what you are doing.

    Sellars take would likely be to say that the concept of ‘quale’ gets its actual meaning partly based on the network of concepts and theories in which it figures. So he would focus on semantic holism rather than confirmational holism to attack Chalmers. I’m not sure how the two are related, but it seems your focus on confirmational holism is the right choice, as that is really the crux of the matter.

  5. Eric Thomson says:

    OK, now I’m a little better prepared….

    After the above description of the thought experiment, you add:
    A Hawthorne style thought experiment serves to cast doubt on statements like item #3 from the list of five phenomenal beliefs, “I am undergoing an orange sensation”. If the [relevant notion of experience] is one wherein what is experienced is what is apparent, then what is apparent alone does not suffice for one to know, for instance, whether one has a red quale on the right side of one’s own visual field. One needs, additionally, to rule out the skeptical hypothesis that maybe one’s visual field houses unnoticed dancing qualia.

    I. What Chalmers should say:
    I’ll say what I think in terms of a dialogue because I’m lazy…

    Sure, my notion of qualia is not theory neutral, it is part of a theory of one denizen of the human mind. I need to have evidence that I don’t suffer from blindness denial, I can ask you to clarify what you mean when you say ‘I won’t notice’ the changes in my visual field. Especially, I would press the experimenter since I have good reason to think I am a normal, healthy, person with a perfectly well functioning brain. Based on my theory-laden notion of ‘qualia’, I will surely notice any gross change in qualia at attended locations. This depends on very complicated background concepts like ‘normal’ person and brain, and I am fine with that.

    Aha! so if you had evidence that your brain wasn’t functioning well, you could reasonably doubt your beliefs about what sensation you were having, blue or red? If so, that’s all I need to Quine-Duhem claims like number 3. Bam!

    Yes, but within my theory to be wrong about something like that I would have to be so unhealthy so as to not be able to correctly apply the concepts in my qualia theory. As long as my brain is healthy enough to understand my qualia theory, healthy enough to have qualia, and to maintain the right tags for the different types of qualia (e.g., blue, red), then the above scenario would never work. So I have fairly strict requirements on what I mean by ‘healthy’, so strict that the above scenario would never happen in two healthy subjects with the right theory.

    And if it done in naive subjects without the right theory that’s just cheating. It would be like a psychologist telling a nonphysicist, “We are going to raise this dumbell 10 feet into the air, but we will do this without changing its energy.” Sure, naive subjects might accept this, but no trained physicist would.

    End dialogue…..

    II. What Chalmers does say
    While Chalmers should probably take the above approach, he does not. Rather, he takes consciousness (the phenomenon) as a brute explanandum, something that simply needs to be explained.

    While I think his book is an amazing piece of philosophy, it has something of a blind spot when it comes to the potential theory-ladenness of ‘qualia’ talk. Normal people talk about what they see out in the world (red things, blue things), not qualia. In my experience it takes some effort to get the uninitiated to understand what I mean by ‘qualia’ and to convince them qualia pose a problem. Of course, he will say that he is interested in explaining qualia, which he thinks obviously exists, and he is not as interested in the development of people’s theories about qualia. But again, this leads me to think he should advocate the above approach.

    For an example of his ‘obviousness explanandum’ claim, see pp 187-8 of his books:
    “The existence of God arguably was hypothesized to explain all sorts of evident facts about the world. When it turns out that an alternative hypothesis can explain the evidence just as well, then there is no need for the hypothesis of God. There is no separate phenomenon of God that we can point to and say: that needs an explanation….But consciousness is not an explanatory construct, postulated to explain behavior or events in the world. Rather it is a brute explanandum, a phenomenon in its own right that is in need of explanation…Our evidence for consciousness never lay with these other phenomena in the first place.”

    Chalmers then goes on to say that denying the existence of consciousness (crucially, this means denying the existence of consciousness as he has defined it, which excludes functional/causal reductions), “denies the evidence of our own experience…Our experiences of red do not go away upon making such a denial. It is still like something to be us, and that is still something that needs explanation.”

    I find this stance troublesome. For one, he is putting qualia on a par with explananda like lightning. But, like God, I have trouble pointing to qualia. Qualia seem more like God than like lightning. I point to red things out in the world, not to qualia in my mind. To get to the point where I thought I had red qualia in my mind (especially as he defines qualia) I had to go through a good deal of formal education. A monkey can see lightning, but can he see qualia? Sure, he may have qualia, but that doesn’t mean qualia are obvious.

    Second, calling something an explanandum can be used to screen it off from questioning. E.g., you could say that Jesus’s resurrection is an explanandum, but that would be tendentious when the topic under discussion is whether Jesus was resurrected.

    Pushing the same point, the term ‘explanandum’ is a “success” noun like memory, as it suggests the target is real. Chalmers is basically saying that qualia are so obvious that questioning whether they are truly explananda would be like asking whether the fact that the sun rises in the East is really an explanandum. It’s so obvious that only a philosopher with an ax to grind would have doubts. But again, is it really that obvious? And is seeming obviousness in this early stage of the neuropsychology of consciousness a good guide to reality?

    Third, he doesn’t argue for the claim that consciousness is not a theoretical construct, but simply asserts it. Sellars, of course, argues that the concept of ‘qualia’ is a theoretical construct. Indeed, the construct is so useful and applied so often in everyday life once acquired that it takes on a patina of obviousness as we come to spontaneously and noninferentially apply the concept all the time. It is easily forgotten that the concept is a term in a nonobvious theory of what it is to be human, the way I apply the concept ‘action potential’ when I see spikes in a recording from a neuron.

    This is all sort of saying “I agree with your ham sandwich argument” in the paper. However, in his defense, Chalmers does admit that he can’t give a conclusive argument that he is conscious, but he thinks it is so obvious that this shortcoming isn’t a deal breaker.

    All that said, I sympathize with his position. There are many ways we can nit-pick his ideas, but ultimately, there is something compelling about the experience of red. Because of my sympathies with qualiophilia, but antipathy toward saying qualia are just ‘brute explananda’ I would go with something like my first claim above that grants the Quine-Duhem thesis but maintains that well-informed subjects wouldn’t fall for it (note the cat example doesn’t work because, for one, we could say the experiment would have to involve looking through a single peephole at a cat that suddenly becomes a dog but we didn’t notice it).

    My intuition is that we are still left with explaining why there is something it is like to dream of electric sheep, and something like qualia will probably be part of that explanation (almost by definition, as ‘what it is like’ and ‘qualia’ are pretty much synonyms).

    I also unerstand his tendency to say that focusing on concepts of qualia it you are changing the subject from the phenomenon to people’s thoughts about that phenomenon. But this is a bit tricky. Nobody disagrees that we see colored objects, but to then add to that ‘and it isn’t functionally or causally reducible’ is certainly not something that is “given.” It is quite likely that our concept of ‘qualia’ will mutate, and become more amenable to reductive explanation. I think Chalmers needs to be careful of taking his primary intensions too seriously when it comes to consciousness.

    I’m not sure how all this jibes with blindness denial. Would such subjects be counted as ‘healthy’ using my definition of ‘healthy’ and well-informed subjects above? That’s a tough one.