2 - Crash Course In Philosophy Of Mind
Hi Jason,

Time for the long-overdue (and probably long-winded) update!

Long-winded is good!

I’ve read through all the links you posted in crash course in philosophy of mind - they were all very interesting! In some ways, they were too interesting, because I now have a huge number of unanswered (and perhaps unanswerable) questions. I’ll note down my thoughts - even though some of my questions are probably silly ones.

As discussed on the phone: these are actually great questions, and even if they weren't it would be fine at this stage.

David Chalmers seemed to have a sensible perspective on many of the problems associated with consciousness - his arguments were well-articulated and seemed logically sound. But I did struggle a little bit with the ideas of ‘property dualism’ and ‘epiphenomenalism’.

Intuitively it seems like a distinction should be drawn between what goes on subjectively in my brain and what my brain does in a more objective physical sense. But I feel like drawing distinctions between the physical and non-physical world is a tricky area to deal with. For a start...I’m not really sure I can pin down what ‘physical’ means in this context. There are a lot of things that are associated with models of the objective physical world which seem highly abstract and almost non-physical (e.g. aspects of quantum theory). Is the line between the non-physical/ physical world so black and white? Could it be more of a continuum? Or is it all just semantics? (Still confused about this.)

I'm confused about this too, and so, I think, is everybody else, except for the people who have untenably simplified views about it.

I think Chalmers’ proposition of the fundamental nature of consciousness is reasonable, given that we haven’t seemed to be able to reduce consciousness down to other fundamental quantities. But if consciousness is fundamental, isn’t it somewhat counterintuitive to then say that it is ‘caused’ by physical phenomena (epiphenomenalism)? I’m not completely against this idea, but I feel like I’d need to think about it a lot more to be fully convinced. For some reason the idea seems asymmetric - as though consciousness is ‘special’ in some way and thus runs independently of our physical laws. I don’t really like the idea that ‘universal laws’ are divided into ‘bits’. Perhaps this is how things actually are of course - but my brain doesn’t like it. Or maybe I just completely misunderstood what he was getting at.

It's fashionable at the moment to think that physical laws are causally closed — i.e. that everything physical can be explained by other physical things — but that mental laws aren't. So that's where the asymmetry comes in. I don't think there's any actual evidence for this, though. You can go either way on this question.

On a side note, I feel like an important idea is that of ‘information’ and ‘information transfer’. What exactly is information? (I’m going to see if I can find any useful definitions.)

I have no idea! Good question.

Something else that I found interesting was the idea of ‘explanation’ in this context. Is it possible to explain something like consciousness? If indeed it is possible, what would such an explanation look like?

See Nagel (the bat paper and, if you like Nagel, his whole book "The View From Nowhere").

Given that scientific explanation in a general sense seems full of problems (i.e. issues with induction, issues with DN/ causal-mechanical models of explanation) - I have my doubts that we could ever fully explain something like consciousness, at least in a certain sense. So I’m not really sure what to look for when deciding between different ‘models’ of consciousness. I was thinking about the Tononi model, and whether - assuming it was true - this would count as an valid ‘explanation‘ of consciousness. How would one differentiate between a ‘good’ and 'bad' explanation of consciousness?

Well, an explanation has to predict at least some of the things that happen. Most "explanations" of consciousness don't actually predict any experiences at all. We discussed this when we were talking about Dennett, I think.

These are just some of the things I was thinking about whilst reading through the material - there is a lot that I wasn’t able to articulate and I'll probably add things as I go.


In terms of looking through papers for the literature review, because this research area is so broad, I’m wondering how I should pick papers to focus on. Should I try and give a good general overview of what everyone seems to think (even if I heartily disagree) or should I just pick out the people I agree with and focus on their ideas?

For the moment, pick out the people you enjoy reading (especially if you agree with them, but even if you don't). Later, when we've worked out what your topic is, you can have a broader sweep.