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Kutta comments on Dennett's heterophenomenology - Less Wrong

5 Post author: RichardKennaway 16 January 2010 08:40PM

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Comment author: Kutta 17 January 2010 06:11:07PM *  2 points [-]

I think the issue that underlies much of the gnashing of teeth and confusion that often arises around consciousness-involving discussions is that we simply don't yet have a real, technical, comprehensive theory of how our brains work. As soon there is one, the confusions around the fuzzy, hard-to-grasp concepts, like "qualia", "experience" or " consciousness" should either dissolve or transform into other concepts that describe phenomena and regularities better in the context of a technical understanding.

Right now, one obvious mistake is to have excessive doubts about the fabric of reality as it is established by science and reductionism just because some seemingly paradoxical, mysterious thing that goes on in our heads.

On the other hand, people arguing in favor of a reductionist account - this is my impression - tend to trivialize the problem that we are having philosophical debates mostly made of magical concepts and black boxes. Because the case for a reductionist ontology is so solid, it's tempting to play the game by the rules of philosophy, not technicality, and to argue our ways towards our preferred reductionist belief. As far as we don't exactly know how consciousness works, there is no guarantee that any step of reasoning involving it is not completely invalid or nonsensical; it's just building a castle from a heap of black boxes.

The Dissolving the Question technique is a pretty good example of how this should be done, and I think Eliezer provided some genuine insights in the free will sequence and in How an Algorithm Feels from Inside. But both are rather limited compared to the totality of human experience. In hindsight, the problem of free will in particular does seem relatively easy because there we don't have to work exclusively within the domain of the human mind; we're aided by "outside" musings about algorithms, causality and physics.

In short, we'd better have trust in reductionism and at the same time not make up complicated philosophical arguments until we have a grasp of what consciousness & co. are all about.