Objects, not brain states, are the answer

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sciborg2

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« on: March 14, 2020, 10:29:31 pm »
Objects, not brain states, are the answer

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Why does your experience of red feel to you the way it does? Why doesn’t it feel the way your experience of blue does or your experience of anger or a tickle? What explains its subjective character. This is the first dimension of the hard problem: why does your experience subjectively feel this way rather than that?

There is a further question: why are you undergoing a subjective experience at all? Why do the neural events underlying your experience of red have any raw ‘feel’ to them? This is the second dimension of the hard problem.

Representationalism – the view of consciousness I advocate – has a simple, and to my mind compelling, answer to the first question. Your experience of red feels the way it does because it represents the color red. What it is for the experience to feel the way it does just is for it to be an experience representing red. Your experience of blue feels different because it represents a different color. The experience of red could not feel the way the experience of blue feels because if it did, it wouldn’t be the experience of red at all but rather the experience of blue.

This is the view introspection seems to support. Turn your attention inwards as you experience red. What do you find? Obvious answer: the color red. That is what makes your experience feel as it does.  Nothing more (and nothing less).

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How does the experience of red represent red? Answer: by itself being a brain state with the natural function of indicating the presence of the color red. Compare: the heart has as its natural function to pump blood and certain neuronal cells (known as edge detector cells) have as their natural function to indicate the presence of an edge in the visual field. On this view, you can’t really discover the ways our experiences feel by peering among the neurons. That’s the wrong place to look. You have to look rather at what the neural states represent.

As for the second dimension to the hard problem, that is not answered by the reflections above. Which is not to say that there is no answer, I discuss this more complicated issue in in my forthcoming Oxford University Press book, Vagueness and the Evolution of Consciousness: Through the Looking Glass.