Seattle Analytic Philosophy Club Message Board › Cohen and Dennett's 'Perfect Experiment'

Cohen and Dennett's 'Perfect Experiment'

Jon C.
JonCohen
Mercer Island, WA
Post #: 151
Gene links to an article that describes an experiment

imagine that, in the future, surgeons are able to isolate the parts of the visual cortex that
represent color while wholly preserving their activation
patterns. After this surgery, the areas involved in color
perception (visual area V4, inferotemporal cortex etc.)
behave normally but are simply unable to project to higher
brain areas [53–57]: perfect isolation. Although the color
areas are isolated, all other visual areas (e.g. motion,
luminance, object recognition etc.) are untouched and project to higher-level regions in a normal manner

Their conclusion seems to be


theories that posit dissociation between consciousness and function
would necessarily assume that participants of the ‘perfect
experiment’ are conscious of the apple’s color but simply
cannot access that experience. After all, the conditions
these theories stipulate for phenomenal consciousness of
color are all met, so this experiment does not disprove the
existence of isolated consciousness; it merely provides
another particularly crisp example of consciousness without access.

This line of thinking seems to presume some type of emergentism, where the qualia have emerged in one part of the brain but have been cut off from the parts of the brain involved in reporting. Another theory would be that what has happened is that a neural input into the mind has been cut off, and that the reporting mechanism would correctly report the absence of color. From that perspective, their claim that


It is clear, then, that proper scientific theories of consciousness are those that specify which functions are necessary for consciousness to arise.

is not justified. The real question remains what it is the nature of the mind. Studying the neural inputs and outputs of the mind will no doubt be surprising and informative, but unless something fundamental is discovered will not reveal the nature of consciousness itself. Conversely, we might also discover that nature without studying the brain, via the study of computation for example. Consciousness is conceptually quite different from function, but function is certainly a clue as to why we experience consciousness.
Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 332


This line of thinking seems to presume some type of emergentism, where the qualia have emerged in one part of the brain but have been cut off from the parts of the brain involved in reporting. Another theory would be that what has happened is that a neural input into the mind has been cut off, and that the reporting mechanism would correctly report the absence of color.


Cohen and Dennett are addressing actual biological "localist" scientific theories (such as those proposed by Lamme) not philosophical ideas like emergentism. For example, in Lamme's theory, recurrent loops with shallow propogation (e.g., not into the superior frontoparietal areas) might constitute phenomenal consciousness without awareness. In another example, iconic memory is sometimes proposed as an example of phenomenal consciousness outside of access. So this would not be consistent with the absence of color experience at all - rather color WOULD be present phenomenally but not able to to be reported. Cohen and Dennett's point is that once you claim this, there is no way it could ever be disproved, so you have left the realm of science.

On the other hand, the hypothesis that there would be no color consciousness (if access is cut off) would be supported by Cohen and Dennett. In the perfect experiment, this was confirmed by asking the subject and is consistent with functionalist theories such as global workspace.

You say that studying the inputs and outputs of the mind will not reveal the "true" nature of conscousness. Cohen and Dennett do not deny this in the paper (although Dennett would deny there is a true nature of consciousness in the sense you sugget). What they are saying is that if there is some additional element consciousness outside function, it is outside the realm of science, and should not be the subject of a SCIENTIFIC hypothesis.
Jon C.
JonCohen
Mercer Island, WA
Post #: 152
One doesn't need a perfect experiment to know that making a claim about phenomenal experience without a report or other evidence is unscientific. So then what is the benefit of their experiment? I think it does have significant benefit, which is to clarify why emergentism doesn't work logically, but not for the reasons that Cohen and Dennett claim.

My claim is that consciousness exists, regardless of the function to which it is employed in biological processes. It just turns out the evolution somehow accessed it, and we do not yet understand how. So clearly if random evolution succeeded in connecting physical processes to mental phenomena, it is not impossible that we could do it also scientifically. Cohen and Dennett simply have given up, and for some reason have dedicated a significant portion of their careers to get others to do so also. That might not be such a bad idea, but it has nothing to do with their faulty arguments here.
Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 334
One doesn't need a perfect experiment to know that making a claim about phenomenal experience without a report or other evidence is unscientific. So then what is the benefit of their experiment?


The point is that some scientists (e.g. Lamme) and philosophers (e.g. Block) have been making the claim that there are phenomenal experiences without access. The Cohen and Dennett article is a response to that, it has nothing to do with emergentism, but should be understood as a response to specific "dissociative" theories of consciousness which separate phenemonal consciousness from function. It's hard to fully understand the point of the article unless you are aware of the prior detailed debate over this topic. See the article below (I know it is 70 pages but the point is the area is complex and both empirical and philosophical).

http://www.nyu.edu/gs...­
Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 336


My claim is that consciousness exists, regardless of the function to which it is employed in biological processes. .

The question that Cohen and Dennett would ask you is - how could this be falsified? What piece of evidence would lead you to give up this claim?
Jon C.
JonCohen
Mercer Island, WA
Post #: 153
If someone could show how a series of symbols can be used to create an actual electron, I would happily withdraw my claim.
Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 356
If someone could show how a series of symbols can be used to create an actual electron, I would happily withdraw my claim.

I don't see how this is related to the issue of consciousness and function.
Jon C.
JonCohen
Mercer Island, WA
Post #: 154
Biological organisms exist regardless of their function. Of course we ascribe function because the pressure of natural selection makes it look like things have function. If you take away the selection pressure entirely, then entropy would gradually destroy the function, but the organisms would continue to exist. Likewise with consciousness. A real phenomenon exists that biology discovered and made use of. From introspection we can see that it is fundamentally different from the physical or conceptual worlds, just as the physical and conceptual are fundamentally different from each other. My reply meant that if someone could bridge the divide between physical and conceptual then I would no longer be convinced that the mental world was also inseparably divided from the other two.
Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 362
Biological organisms exist regardless of their function. Of course we ascribe function because the pressure of natural selection makes it look like things have function. If you take away the selection pressure entirely, then entropy would gradually destroy the function, but the organisms would continue to exist. Likewise with consciousness. A real phenomenon exists that biology discovered and made use of. From introspection we can see that it is fundamentally different from the physical or conceptual worlds, just as the physical and conceptual are fundamentally different from each other. My reply meant that if someone could bridge the divide between physical and conceptual then I would no longer be convinced that the mental world was also inseparably divided from the other two.

Ok but this is a metaphysical thesis and not a scientific one. You state grounds for giving up your metaphysical thesis. But Cohen and Dennett are talking about consciousness and function as a scientific thesis - and some scientifsts do think they can be studied separately. So essentially, to answer Cohen and Dennett, you would have to 1) provide a scientific thesis - based upon the available data - as to why you think consciousness could be separated from function and 2) provide conditions - e.g., direct experimental results - where you would give it that thesis.
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