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Thinking about Consciousness Paperback – 10 Jun 2004
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Review from previous edition lucid and informative ... It synthesizes at least thirty years of relevant philosophical investigation - not only in philosophy of mind, but also in philosophy of science, metaphysics and philosophical logic. The book is an excellent introduction to this area, and those more familiar with it will find the treatment deft and insightful. (Alva Noë, Times Literary Supplement)
About the Author
David Papineau is Professor of Philosophy at King's College London. His books include Theory and Meaning (Clarendon 1979) Reality and Representation (Blackwell 1987) Philosophical Naturalism (Blackwell 1993) The Philosophy of Science (Oxford Readings in Philosophy 1996) and a collection of essays, The Roots of Reason (Clarendon 2003)
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I don't think you have to agree with Papineau's arguments to get value from the book.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Papineau argues for materialism. Not many take the time to do that, nowdays. But it is true many people are still dualists, and those who are materialists do not know how to really defend their views. Other materialists are still thinking on dualist ways, and others cannot decide between token or type identities, fuctionalism, representioalist, HOT, materialist theories. Papineau sticks with token identity. This is the simplest and most plausible view. PHENOMENAL PROPERTIES ARE IDENTICAL TO MATERIAL PROPERTIES. end of story. Papineau has here avoided a lot of baggage. The argument? the same anti-epiphenomenalists have been making. All physical causes are caused by physical things. Phenomenal states have causes, and are caused. Therefore, phenomenal states are material things. (This is not exactly how papienau puts it, but its good enough for me).
Papineau does go throught the usual job of demolishing the knowledge argument, the zombie argument, and the explanatory gap argument. NOthing very new here. Mary learns something new not because phenomenal states are nonphysical but because you cannot cause a brain state to appear (which is identical to the phenomenal state) by simply knowing things. You have to experience them. Kripke was wrong, because although identities are necesary, this does not mean that by knowing one side of the identity you will know all there is to know about the property in question. Conceivability does not entail possibility, because there exist counter-examples, in the theory of names. You can conceive of impossible things if your concepts are different. And Papienau argues for conceptual dualism. Phenomenal concepts are different from material concepts, even if they refer to a single material property. Phenomenal concepts, however, refer directly to those properties.
Another novelty is that the book is actually about how we THINK about consciousness, and not consicousness itself. So, Papineau tells us how exactly to understand phenomenal concepts. Here I have some objections. What is the difference between phenomenal concepts and the states they refer to? Papineau first takes conclusions about one thing to argue about the other, but on other occasions seems to claim arguments do not apply to both the concept and the state. It seems strange to say that because concepts are indeterminate, then the states refered to will also be indeterminate. Papienau needs to be careful to distinguish when he is arguing about the concepts ore the states refered to, but other than that, the way he constructed phenomenal concepts seems to me to be a right way to argue for a theory of phenomenal consciousness.
Ppaineau strikes on the central problem in consicousness studies: why does materialism seem to leave something out? why is there a hard problem of consicousness, but not a hard problem of heat, or energy or water? why is matter correlated with feelings at all? Simple, says Papineau. Because intuitions are the greatest barriers that oppose philosophical advance. And people simply have the intuition that matter is simply not all there is to consciousness. Materialism seems to leave somehting out, like the explanatory-gap theorists claim. Ppaineau does not show them wrong, but shows them 2 ways one can get rid of the intuition that mind and brain are separate. First, identities need no explanation. Mind and brain are identical to one another, and it is not necesary to explain why this is so. And second, the intuition is fueled by a fallacy. The fallacy of concluding that mind and brain are separate, just because when you think of consicousness it feels one way, and when you think of matter it feels another way. Thinking of qualia brings the qualia to mind, but thinking of gray neurons does not, so one must conclude they are not identical. But this is a fallacy, the antipathetic-fallacy. Thinking of something does not have to make that thing happen. Just like in the response to the knowledge argument.
Papineau argues also that scientific studies of consicousness are doomed to failure, becuase the properties of phenomenal concepts makes it indeterminate to decide of wether a creature is conscious, or of wether it is the function or the matter composing the system that is identical to the phenomenal state. Here I think Papineau goes too far. His points are that since verbal reports are the primary evidence for consciousness research, and becuase we cannot decide between exactly what level of explanation is right (atoms, molecules, chemicals, neurons, electricity?), and because pehnomenal concepts are vauge, then sicence is in trouble. But this is not a principled matter. All you have to do is find a non-verbal way to reach criterions of consicousness, and indeed researchers are looking for those methodologies. And I believe it is in principle possible to decide between levels of explanation. For example, you could decide, in principle, wether it is the matter a brain is composed of or the way it is organized that is identical to a phenomenal state like this: take a subject, replace all his neurotransmitters for agonists witht he same proportions, and ask him to make a discrimination (between color plates of gradual hue changes, or memory of a color). Next, restore the subjects brain to normallity, and ask him to make another discrimination. If the discriminations are identical, then it is the orgainization, and not the matter itself (for a chemical is not materially identical, but functional identical to its agonist), that is the material property identical to the phenomenal property.
Or why not simply change the phenomenal concepts? Then the empirical research of the material basis of consicousness would continue problem-free. Amazingly thought-provoking book, inspite of my objections. Required reading.
[PLEASE READ SPECIAL NOTE AFTER THIS PARAGRAPH] I give four stars (out of five) to this book because I think consciousness is a topic that deserves a lot of attention, and reflections on it, when dealt with in a scholarly manner, deserve full support. Also because this book does bring priceless contributions in some topics (especially in Papineau's "history of the completeness of physics," and in his "pessimism" about brain research finding the precise "spot" of consciousness). On the other hand, I cannot help directing (regretfully) acid criticism towards this work, for I think Papineau failed in many different fronts.
[SPECIAL NOTE: This review was made originally in February 2008. I rated the book, then, four stars. Now, May 2012, I am re-rating it down to 2 stars due to my, now, stricter standards. All other comments from me regarding this book remain valid.]
The Four Cardinal Sins of this work, IMO, are:
1- Papineau denies consciousness property status. He embraces ontological monism (i.e. "everything" is matter), conceptual dualism (material concepts are different from experiential/phenomenal concepts; i.e., not everything is part of the afore mentioned "everything"...), and, above all, no dualism of property! So, water may have the property of being (1) transparent, (2) fluid, (3) electro-conductive, and these properties may have different ontological histories, different structures, and different places in the Universe's causal-effect chain. Similarly, a living human body may have the property of being (1) opaque, (2) "hot" (i.e. somewhat above zero degrees Celsius), and (3) not liquid (I avoided saying "solid"...), but this very same body does not have the property of (4) having its brain-cortical neurons acting in ABC manner and (5) being conscious. Properties 4 and 5 are not different properties. They are the same!...
2- Papineau does not analyze the "turning on" of consciousness, and its "turning off." To me, this is the most mysterious thing about consciousness, and it deserves an in-depth analysis, especially in its bio-physical dynamics (biology, physiology, physics). That is, what happens to a physical system at the very moment it becomes conscious? We have physical accounts for similar transitions: liquid to solid; opaque to transparent; cold rock to hot rock; etc. What about the moment when consciousness sparkles?
3- Papineau does not deal with the issue of why consciousness came to be in this Universe of ours to begin with. That would be essential for trying to understand, from the point of view of evolutionary biology, why Humans are conscious and why Chips are not (yes, I meant chips, and not chimps ;-) ). What is the evolutionary advantage that consciousness bestows upon those who have it? As far as anyone knows, none whatsoever... Add to it that even Papineau himself does not trust the "mouthings" of those claiming to have consciousness (except when they are humans, though I am not sure why he accepts human mouthings in this regard...) and we are just up "rose" creek in our attempt of an evolutionary account of the emergence of consciousness!
4- He does not theorize solidly and compellingly on the main thesis of his book, that is, explaining why the intuition of distinctness (i.e. brain is different from mind) is false. His hunch is that phenomenal (experiential) concepts (like "the redness of the red color") instantiate the things they refer to (that is, we bring to mind the very experience of seeing the red color), whereas material concepts (like "neurons in A-K-W arrangement") do not instantiate their referents. But in fact, he says (in my terms), "the redness of the red color" and "neurons in A-K-W arrangement" are one and the same material property! (though they are two different CONCEPTS). I think it is hardly plausible that this is the key to the intuition of distinctness. Water has many very different properties: it is fluid, it is cold sometimes, it is electro-conductive, it is made of H2O, and, in a very robust way, I do instantiate some of these properties (in my imagination) while thinking about them. Yet, I have no difficulty in merging all these "properties" into one entity. If I can easily merge two very different PROPERTIES into one identity (water), how come I have such difficulty in merging two different CONCEPTS? (of just one property!).
It is easy to be a materialist if we sweep under the carpet these four items above... But, as it seems, even Papineau himself is having some trouble in hiding under his carpet the mighty dust and the dust mites (he too claims to be still kind of haunted by the intuition of distinctness).
I think Papineau was weak or wanting in many other items too. I really missed actual brain-research data, and deep reflection upon this data, for instance: the bizarre dissociations reported by Susan Blackmore in mindfulness states, or in OBE states too (Dying to Live, 1993); and a deeper analysis of Libet's findings, and of Libet-like findings (Claxton, 1999, The Volitional Brain). His categorization of concepts as "referring directly" vs "referring by description" seemed to me somewhat artificial and mistaken. I felt a "begging-the-question flavour" when he said that no amount of book learning would make Mary "know" (experience) the redness of red, and in this I ended up (much to my own surprise!) agreeing with... Dennett!!! (that is, Dennett's view is, IMO, more coherent than Papineau's). Again I scented "begging the question" when he used as one of his three premisses (of his Definitive Materialist Argument) the idea that conscious states (volition) cause physical states (free willed behaviour).
Some other times I found him rather incoherent or shallow. For instance, in his chapter on zombies, it seems that he declares zombies impossible because phenomenal concepts refer directly and there would, then, be no actual possibility that a being would have all my physical properties and yet lack my phenomenal ones. That would be ok for perfect clones. Anything less than "Godly crafting cloning perfection" would be, arguably, left out of this "impossibility"... In one curious passage, he claimed God Almighty Himself (omniscient) could not tell if an octopus has phenomenal consciousness (agreed), just as God can't tell whether he, Papineau, is...bald! (bewilderment!). (many pages onward he softened his claim, saying the Lord cannot tell who is balder, Papineau or his neighbour). In another instance we have, on the one hand, Papineau saying that phenomenal concepts are not associated with causal roles, and, on the other hand, him saying that phenomenal concepts are tools to track human experience (tools, but not role-performing...). A little bit confusing. Also, we get to learn that phenomenal concepts are vague, to the point of making it probably impossible to pinpoint what is the exact neuronal counterpart of them. However, these concepts are not so vague as to make the idea of human zombies possible... Philosophers!
The bottom line is that I ended up not being able to get past my present panpsychist persuasion. It seems to me that there is a difference in a physical system (brain or whatever) before vs after it gets conscious. Consciousness is, then, something new in the scenario. Something rather like 1 + 1 = 3. And I am left with the feeling that the materialist account of consciousness leads us to a violation of energy conservation, or perhaps to something even worse than that...
That is why I think we have only two options to keep our hearts at ease. Either we deny the existence of consciousness altogether, or we claim that it never comes or goes, it is always present. The latter view is that of panpsychism. However, beings like us, who "experience" interruptions of consciousness (by the way: how on Earth can anyone experience unconsciousness??!!...) are not likely to be fans of panpsychism. Perhaps it takes the wisdom of creatures like dolphins, that never sleep (they always keep half brain awake, in turns), to fully appreciate the virtues of this philosophy. As to its being the correct answer to the puzzle of consciousness, well, that is another story...