On Friday March 29 we will meet to discuss 'The Utility of Conscious Experience'.
Kiril Sinkel will present the case for the utility of conscious experience and then we will join in on a discussion.
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The Utility of Conscious Experience
The classic questions asked by hard problem theorists like Thomas Nagel and David Chalmers are these:
Why does conscious experience exist in the first place?
Why is there something that it is like to be a bat or to be human?
Why aren't we all just zombies?
These questions come out of a conviction that conscious experience is a functionally unnecessary phenomenon -- that we would be just as intelligent, mentally efficient, and evolutionarily successful if we were mere automatons. Chalmers, for instance, is so convinced that conscious experience confers no survival advantage that he believes that it could not have developed through Darwinian evolution. Such arguments naturally lead to epiphenomenalism, dualism and other theories which place understanding of the mind beyond the province of the sciences.
But what if we could account for the existence of conscious experience on purely functional grounds? What if we could identify its role in normal brain processes and understand how it contributes to intelligence?
To see if we can convince ourselves of the utility of consciousness, Kiril introduce us to two discussion topics that will address the problem.
1. Does pain need to be painful? There are some philosophers (e.g. Jaegwon Kim) who argue that the qualia of pain is functionally superfluous -- that nerve sensations of heat, cold, injury, etc. actually totally account for pain response behavior and that painful sensations play no role. We will examine this claim. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaegwon_Kim
2. What do Libet's decision experiments tell us about the role of consciousness in decision making? Benjamin Libet has famously established that decisions are made unconsciously and that subjects become aware of their decisions only after the fact. We will discuss the claim that our perception that we make decisions via conscious reasoning is thus illusory and that consciousness actually plays no role in decision making itself. (Some believe its role may be akin to that of a press secretary, that is, to explain or defend the decision.) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Libet
In discussing these topics, Kiril suggests that we focus on the functional roles of conscious awareness as it is normally experienced.