Qualia as information processing, and philosophical thought experiments

My good friend Mike Smith recently published two posts that I consider largely meant to counter some of my own positions. The first comes from his belief that qualia exist as processed information alone, and the second questions the validity of philosophical thought experiments. I consider the premise of qualia as the generic processing of information to require supernatural dynamics, and reasonably displayed through the “thumb pain” thought experiment that I’ve often mentioned at his site and elsewhere. I’ve decided to address these matters with this dedicated post, given how involved my response happens to be.

When we’re trying to decide if something should be believed (and I mean anything), I consider us to carry out that premise in other ways so that its implications can be explored more fully. For example, from the premise that there is a gravitational attraction regarding mass, it stands to reason that we should observe a given metal ball’s attraction to the earth to be similar at various locations around our planet. Or if the person that you’re married to is covertly having an affair with someone, then there should be evidence of that infidelity which might clue you in. And whatever people believe in a metaphysical, epistemological, or axiological sense, there should be ways to carry such ideas further to help clarify their meaning, whether directly testable or not.

My second principle of epistemology states that there is only one process by which anything conscious, consciously figures anything out. Here the agent takes what it thinks it knows (or evidence), and use this to assess what it’s not so sure about (or a model). As a given model continues to remain consistent with evidence, it tends to become more believed. Thus my assertion that philosophers must also be permitted to use humanity’s exclusive tool from which to figure things out.

The essential problem highlighted by the thought experiments flagged by James Wilson, I think, is not that thought experiments are referenced, but rather that the discipline of axiology resides under the social tool of morality.

For example, Peter Singer is correct to observe that I’d destroy something like my expensive Italian shoes to save a child who is drowning in front of me. It’s from this premise that he says that I should spend similar sums of money to help save the lives of even more children. He’s wrong about that however — they’re not causing me nearly as much unhappiness as a child drowning in front of me would.

This is where I get blamed for being an jerk, or I essentially get penalized through the social tool of moral persuasion. Apparently because few psychologists permit themselves to explore their field amorally (which is how all hard sciences are explored), there is a refusal to support the idea that feeling good constitutes the value of existing. It’s an obscure thesis sometimes referred to as “psychological egoism”.

So my point is that modern ethical reasoning does not fail because it’s provided with thought experiments, but rather because the social tool of morality rarely permits philosophers (and people in general) to think about these matters effectively. Until a respected community of professionals is able to agree upon something like my single principle of axiology (or that it’s possible for a machine which is not conscious to produce a value dynamic from which to drive the function of a machine which is conscious), the basic behavioral science of psychology should fail to provide a broad general theory from which to found our soft sciences.

If there is reason to believe that ethical thought experiments fail because of an existing social tool rather than because there’s anything wrong with extending a premise further in such matters, then my “thumb pain” thought experiment remains to be reckoned with. In this effort let’s consider how I responded to Mike’s first post on the matter:

Philosopher Eric May 28, 2020 at 5:33 am

It seems to me that as the term is commonly used, “information” can both be provided to a conscious entity, as well as animate the function of a given non-conscious machine. I’ll quickly display each, as well as suggest that the two shouldn’t be conflated.

If I feel a strong pain associated with the need to urinate, this will tend to “inform” me about the circumstance. Though I wouldn’t quite say that pain “exists as” information (given the conflation issue that I’m about to address), I certainly do say that I’m informed by pain.

Beyond information provided to the conscious entity, or the term’s traditional form, today it’s commonly also used in reference to non-conscious machines. A television picture may be animated by means of television signals, for example, and we’ve come to refer to such signals themselves as “information”. Note that typing provides information to your computer, and it may process that information to then provide a different set of information which helps animate a computer screen.

Regarding the conflation of the two, given that we’ve come to refer to stuff which animates our machines to exist as “information itself”, and that things like pain will inform the conscious entity in a traditional sense, it’s understandable that some today have decided that qualia probably exist as information beyond any specific mechanism — only the pattern matters here.

Beyond conflating the conscious and non-conscious forms of the word, consider a lesson that exists even from the non-conscious variety. I don’t know of anything produced by our machines which is said to exist as information alone. In all cases that I know of, specific mechanisms must be animated in order for information to help produce any output function.

Apparently some prominent scientists and philosophers have become heavily invested in qualia existing without mechanism based instantiation, however. (I’d forgotten that professor Schwitzgebel referred to information as “causality itself”, which seems like a tautological mess.) If the thus “non problem” of qualia is explained away by dismissing any need for specific mechanical instantiation, note that this frees theorists in all sorts of otherwise sci-fi ways. Few seem to have acknowledge there to be a naturalistic downside to this convention however. Wouldn’t this mean that the right set of information laden paper which is converted into another, should create what we experience when our thumbs get whacked? Strange! So it could be that causal dynamics “of this world” instead depend upon information animating the right kinds of mechanisms.

Should humanity ever grasp why any of the four forces exist? Even if further progress does happen to be made, such speculation should always end in “…because”. The naturalist however will presume that they’re mechanism based, like all else. And what mechanism might the processed information associated with brain information be animating to produce qualia? My money is on certain electromagnetic radiation produced by neurons. (And it could be that some of the popular “information only” qualia theories in neuroscience would survive such a paradigm shift anyway. Some may effectively describe what it takes to animate such mechanisms.)

Next consider Mike’s response:

SelfAwarePatterns May 28, 2020 at 9:24 am

P Eric,

So, on the two types of information, let’s give each of them a name. The more primal one, the one I equate with causation, represents information in the sense typically used by physicists, so let’s call it physical information, or p-info. The more restricted version involving usage by conscious minds, let’s call that conscious information, or c-info.

So, the question is, why do we use “information” to refer to both of these? I think the answer is that when we discover p-info and learn about its role, it becomes c-info. We refer to DNA as information because we recognize its role in transmission of the recipe for replicating biological organisms. But before we discovered it, it operated for billions of years as p-info. Once we discovered it, it also became c-info.

All c-info is also p-info. (If you can identify cases where this isn’t true, I’m very interested.) As far as I can tell, all p-info has the potential to be c-info, at least in principle, though there may be cases where it will never be practical.

So, while we can talk about these as different types of information, the use of the word “information” for both strikes me as both rational and coherent.

On the qualia argument, aren’t you the one always arguing that we should accept the other person’s definitions? If so, what objection remains for qualia being p-info, or at least processing of p-info? Wouldn’t any mechanism inevitably involve p-info? And once we understand those mechanisms, wouldn’t they become c-info? If not, why not?

I think the argument for electromagnetic fields playing a major role is weak, but even if they did, it seems it would be just another information processing mechanism.

To finally respond, no I can’t think of a single situation where c-info becomes p-info. For example, my understanding that electromagnetic radiation is able to animate a television, should not be equated with the electromagnetic radiation which actually does this. (There’s an irony here since I do suspect that understandings exist through the medium of electromagnetic radiation, though surely not the same kind that can animate one of our televisions!) So as I see it, separate ideas have been conflated, thus resulting in a supernatural idea regarding the creation of qualia. If qualia does exist this way, then what would be a second example of something which exists by means of information independent of any specific mechanisms?

The point of my thought experiment is to display that in order for information to create something, such as a television picture or thumb pain, causal dynamics mandate that associated mechanisms will need to be animated. Certain prominent scientists and philosophers seem to have unwittingly removed any causal instantiation mechanism for qualia, and thus presume there to be no associated “hard problem”. I consider this to be an unwitting use of a supernatural idea, to combat the one famously proposed by David Chalmers.

A simple solution does exist for those who would regress to the natural side of things, or to presume that qualia exist by means of associated mechanisms. This could be the electromagnetic radiation associated with neuron firing, or some other such medium. And note that bold proclamations for the status quo that qualia exist “as causation itself”, will concern a precarious tautology.

28 Comments on “Qualia as information processing, and philosophical thought experiments”

  1. Hey Eric,
    In retrospect, I can see how it might look like these two entries were aimed at you. Sorry, that wasn’t the intent.

    The first was inspired by an interaction on Twitter between Bryce Huebner and Hakwan Lau. The original draft linked to that conversation, but the post ended up being only tangentially related so I cut it. The second was triggered by Wilson’s piece.

    Of course, these were topics we’d discussed before, both privately and in comment threads, so I think you knew my positions, although I didn’t recall ever explicitly posting on them before. But they only landed together this week due to those external cues.

    On qualia and information, you linked to and quoted my arguments. (Thank you!) I don’t have much else to add, so I think I’ll let them stand for now.

    • Mike,
      It doesn’t entirely matter if you didn’t have me in mind here (though I suspect otherwise, or at least on some level). What matters is that I’m challenging the status quo by saying that it’s unwittingly promoting a supernatural position. And yes, this would include at least one of the “four horsemen of New Atheism”!

      Perhaps you consider it all to have been said between us here and so are good with agreeing to disagree. And if you are indeed done on this matter between us, then okay. I’m just getting started in general however. Who else shall assert that if certain information on paper were converted into other information on paper, that something would feel what we know of as “thumb pain”? Though professor Schwitzgebel may have studied under John Searle for his PhD, apparently it didn’t take. Some however will be able to run with a position such as this one and so challenge an apparently unnatural status quo. Who shall be the next John Searle? I’m not sure, though this “hard problem” business is but a minor element to my own ideas.

      • Eric,
        Well, I do post on a lot of topics, and will occasionally express views that clash with yours. I hope you can see them as intellectual disagreements, and not anything personal.

        I don’t want to pre-emptively terminate the conversation on your post. (Although I see James just jumped in.) So I would note that there are people around who agree with Searle. We’ve talked about Feinberg and Mallatt, who largely (in my view unfortunately) built their neurobiological naturalism on top of Searle’s biological naturalism. A philosopher that comes to mind in the Searle camp is Richard Brown, the host of the Consciousness Live Youtube channel.

        It doesn’t work for me, but I’m in the functionalist camp with people like Hakwan Lau, Daniel Dennett, Michael Graziano, Patricia Churchland, etc. To convince me that the paper system couldn’t be mental, once we allow that responding will take centuries or millenia, you need to logically (or better yet, empirically) demonstrate what functionality would be missing.

        • Of course there’s nothing personal here Mike. It just hurts me that I have a friend who considers himself a strong naturalist, but has also been sucked into, as I see it, a supernatural position, and by similarly fooled experts in the field. Science can indeed go that way, and certainly on its softer side. I’d not only like to help liberate you, but become famous for helping science in general advance in this regard. 😉

          I’ve never been a “biology only” guy — I’m a “physics only” guy. Or better yet I’m a “causality only” guy.

          What would be functionally missing from qualia which arises from generic information processing, and thus no mechanical instantiation of such information? Casual reason for its existence. As I mentioned to James, that would be something new for me to digest. So can you think of a second such example?

          • Glad we’re good. Although sorry you find the disagreement painful. I reconciled myself sometime ago to the fact that people, including friends, are often not going to agree with me. If you think about it, conversations are a lot more interesting when they don’t. It helps if you see persuasion as a long term game.

            You’re saying the missing functionality would be causal reason for its existence. Here, let me remind you that I see information as causation (or the two are so closely entangled it amounts to the same thing). In that sense, information processing is causality. Saying we have one without the other is incoherent.

            So, in my view, there’s no need (or ability) to find a second example, since there isn’t a first.

            Although he doesn’t agree, I think my view and James’ view of information are pretty close. Maybe you should give us your definition of it, because it’s starting to look like that’s where the fault line may be.

            • Mike,
              I did actually provide what I consider to be a reasonable definition for information. It was in my highlighted comment for this post. It’s the stuff which animates a given machine. So here it will not be the computer screen itself, but rather the stuff which is provided to the screen that determine which pixels light up.

              Apparently the disagreement between us comes from the theme of the first of your two post, and provided by professor Schwitzgebel. (With that line, wasn’t he responding to a comment of mine?) For pain (and presumably qualia in general) you and he propose that information processing is causality. Thus the proposal that your conception for the creation of qualia, is by definition natural. I can accept your definition for the purpose of assessing your argument, but no, I don’t accept it to be a useful definition in the end. I consider this somewhat like defining God to exist. Maybe he does and maybe he doesn’t, but our definitions change nothing in that respect.

              Anyway stepping back to my own non-tauntological definition for information, I thus consider there to be mechanisms in my head associated with the production of qualia, and so processed information incites such operation for me to feel what I do. Beyond your qualia proposal by which information is thought to exist as causality itself, I don’t know of anything which is considered to exist as information processing sans associated output mechanisms. So far you’ve been unable to provide a second. Any I do get that you’re saying “everything”, but I just don’t see it. From genetic material, to cell phones, to all else, I see information that animates associated mechanisms.

              There is a “hard” (which is not to say “supernatural”), problem of consciousness. Even if we do figure out the mechanics of it, and so produce machines which feel things like thumb pain, this problem won’t be solved. We still won’t grasp why such physics works. Similarly we should never grasp why mass attracts mass. In such matters the final assessment should always be “Because it does”. But at least if we do find some experimentally successful qualia producing mechanisms, then this should stop naturalists from unwittingly proposing “another kind of stuff”, as Dennett and others do today with their “information beyond mechanisms” hard problem solution.

              • Eric,
                “It’s the stuff which animates a given machine.”

                Your definition of information sounds very…causal. Is it that you don’t consider a human mind to be a machine? But you repeatedly use the word “mechanism” to describe what’s not provided in the information processing account. Or does it only apply to human created machines?

                As I recall, Schwitzgebel was responding to you. Now that I think about it, I didn’t fish it out and link to it because that definitely felt like it would have been calling you out, which again I wasn’t trying to do. I’d also note that his definition isn’t that much different from my older one, just shorter and snappier.

                “Thus the proposal that your conception for the creation of qualia, is by definition natural. I can accept your definition for the purpose of assessing your argument, but no, I don’t accept it to be a useful definition in the end.”

                Well, that’s probably the closest we’ll come to agreement on this issue. 🙂

                • Well Mike, if the theme of your first post did arise from the response you liked from Schwitzgebel specifically to me (which I dismiss as “naturalism by tautology”), then I think it’s clear that your posts were set up to defend against my attacks against the status quo. And I’m of course pleased that my arguments seem strong enough to warrant your defense of that quo. 😀

                  I consider the brain to be a non-conscious information processing machine, and of course we didn’t create it. Furthermore I consider this machine to have information animated mechanisms from which to produce qualia, or consciousness itself as I define it, and probably by means of em fields.

                  As such would consciousness itself exist as “a machine”? Well not the way we usually think of machines, though certainly still through material / causal stuff. Theoretically the em field based entity accepts input (valences, senses, and memories), both interprets them and constructs scenarios about what to do (or thinks), for output function (which would be muscle operation, or perhaps more thought).

                  The perpetual question for me remains “What next?” With the help of you and others, I seem to have honed some effective arguments. But as “a nobody”, how might I use them to embarrass various influential people in opposition, and so potentially become an influential force myself in the philosophy and scientific communities? I’ll take any in I can get. At some point I suppose that I’ll have the nerve to email Mark Bishop, who we briefly met over here. https://selfawarepatterns.com/2019/10/20/michael-graziano-on-mind-uploading/#comment-39339

                  He and I got on quite well. This was before I was aware of the potential for em fields to exist as the consciousness mechanism that I’ve theorized for well over a decade. I’d think that this idea would align well for he and his “embodied” friends, and surely it’s been on his radar for a couple decades. Great showmen like Dennett, though unwitting dualists, seem to have sucked up a tremendous amount of the associated resources!

                  • Mark Bishop has periodically dropped in on the blog for years. Have you seen this post before?

                  • Wow Mike, that’s tremendous! I still don’t know when I’ll get the nerve to email him, though this does continue to put him in the light of a friend who has been talking with my friends for quite some time. DM and I were emailing about this sort of thing a good year before that time. Last I heard he moved his family from Ireland to New Zealand, though its been quite a while since we’ve talked.

                    You also had me a bit fooled with your panpsychism interpretation of Mark’s presentation. I was thinking “WTF!” But I think that even he must have realized that he went far too subtle. As funky as it might always seem to us (sorry Lee), I suspect that he didn’t realize how non absurd panpsychism was perceived even then, and certainly today. Again, what the fuck?

                    “Computationalism” has always struck me as far too generous a title for its adherents. What about people who believe that the brain accepts input information to produce output function (and who doesn’t?), but not the idea that qualia can exist by means of generic information alone? When someone says that qualia (or anything else) can exist by means of any medium whatsoever which provides the proper “information”, my supernatural detector jumps. While I think “softwarism” would be an improvement for that position, I like “informationism” even better.

                    (I didn’t realize how far comments nest on my site!)

                  • Wow. I didn’t know DM had done that. When did he make that move? He drops in very occasionally on the blog, but I see him more often on Twitter these days, usually still debating Massimo.

                    Computationalism is a pretty vast view with lots of variations. A lot of people have no trouble with cognition being computational, but draw the line at feelings. I think that’s flinching away from the data, but we won’t settle it here.

                    I think the WordPress nesting max is 10. I had that set early on, but the formatting became problematic. It’s annoying that most themes don’t seem to test beyond the default of 3.

                  • Mike,
                    I’m pretty sure that no data has yet been developed which suggests that “feelings” exist by means of information alone. Otherwise that data would surely be displayed front and center for interested parties in general. Instead what we seem to have is a group which has interests believing that brains do nothing more than process information in order to create qualia, and an opposing side which considers that account outside the domain of causal dynamics. Someday credible data on the matter should exist.

                    If there’s nothing controversial about brains functioning computationally, and thus even John Searle considers this to be the case, then apparently the PR team on your side pulled off a tremendous coup when it got itself branded under the sensible name of “computationalism”. For all of John Searle’s prominence, I consider his side to have done a horrible job educating people about what I’d instead call “informationism”. (Surely professor Bishop’s talk changed almost no one’s mind, for example.) By simply and quickly getting to the essence of what your side proposes, my “thumb pain” thought experiment might help right this wrong.

                    It must have been about two and a half years ago, or before Massimo moved his blog to Patreon, that DM mentioned relocating to New Zealand.

  2. Eric, I’m trying to figure out how your understanding relates to mine, especially with regard to your thumb pain concept, so I’m going to start with mine:

    I say the experience of thumb pain requires two things: 1. a representation vehicle, and 2. an interpretation of that vehicle which produces a valuable response relative the the referent (in this case, physical thumb damage).

    Now I say all of this is information processing. Specifically, the representation vehicle is created in such a way that it bears mutual information relative to the state of a damaged thumb. This mutual information is an affordance to which a system can attach a valuable response (by responding to the vehicle). In the case of thumb pain or similar experiences there would be more than one response to the representation vehicle. For example, there would be a response that creates a memory, and one that alters attention, and one (or more) that have physiological effects on heart rate, blood pressure, etc. So when you refer to the experience of “thumb pain” you would be including all of those responses. The qualia here is essentially a reference to the pattern associated with the mutual information.

    In your thought experiment you express a concern “Wouldn’t this mean that the right set of information laden paper which is converted into another, should create what we experience when our thumbs get whacked?”

    To put this in perspective of my understanding, the first stack of paper could be a representation vehicle if it carries mutual information relative to some physical system you want to call a “thumb”, and the second stack could be a response if you can explain how that response is valuable relative to the referent of the mutual information (damaged “thumb”). I could see how the second stack might count as a memory, but I don’t think it would count as the other physiological responses, in which case it would not be fair to call it “thumb pain”. However, if you tracked down every normal physiological response to thumb damage, and you created all of the functionally similar responses to the first stack of paper, then you might have an equivalent of a “thumb pain” experience using the stacks of paper.

    Whatcha think?


    • Well James, that does suggest that we’re on opposing sides of this issue. I do respect your integrity however. I believe that you and Mike are the only two people who have formally admitted to me that paper with the right information on it which is turned into other paper with information on it, could ever create something to experience what we humans know of as “thumb pain”. How many modern theists have the integrity to agree that their god is evil given the woefully obvious evidence that this does happen to be the case? Back in ancient times plenty did, though not many do today from what I can tell. So I do respect your integrity for sticking with your “information beyond material” beliefs, and even if I do consider the position itself to be flawed in a naturalistic capacity.

      If qualia does exist as generic information beyond any specific mechanical features, I wonder if you could tell me about a second such example? I guess it’s appropriate that I haven’t been able to think of any, but Mike hasn’t yet proposed a second example of this sort of thing either.

      • Eric, not sure what kind of an example you’re looking for. Example of what?

        • Well James, I don’t know of anything “of this world” as I said, but I suppose that I could come up with a supernatural example. To begin from the natural, I’m listening to some of my standard retro 80s music right now. It doesn’t exist by means of just information in itself, but rather information which animates speakers that produce the sound waves that I hear. For this qualia proposal however, apparently we’re not talking about that sort of chain. Here what matters is the information itself regardless of any mechanical instantiation of that information. Thus theoretically not only might brains that process the right information produce qualia, but information laden paper that’s converted into other information laden paper.

          So beyond qualia, what else might exist in such a way? An example would be music which arises by means of the processing of a given set of information, whether on cd, tape, vinyl, paper, or whatever, though without animating specific sound producing mechanisms. I’d consider that supernatural. But beyond the qualia proposal, what else might function as information itself beyond mechanical instantiation?

          • Eric, I think we’re working off different concepts of “information”. All of my reference is to the Information Theory definition of mutual information, which is about correlation and is defined mathematically. Given that, I have no idea what “information itself beyond mechanical instantiation” means. There is no mutual information without instantiation.

            I guess there is a sense in which mutual information can be associated with a class of things, say, “anything with a head, four legs, and a tail”, or even a class of things of which there are no physical examples, like moons made of cheese. Explaining how this is “mutual information” gets tricky, but we can go there.


            • James S,
              I didn’t realize that you were using a “mutual” definition for information. I presume that this means information does not exist if an appropriate output mechanism is missing? Thus if I unplug the monitor for my computer, then while the computer continues to provide associated “screen information”, you wouldn’t call that “information” because the chain to the monitor would be broken? If so then it could be that you, like me, require there to be qualia producing mechanisms that the brain must animate.

              So then explicitly, you know that when your thumb gets whacked, information goes to your brain and is processed and whatnot in a way that causes you to feel thumb pain. So if information correlated with what goes to your brain were somehow inscribed on a mountain of paper, as well as quickly processed into another mountain of paper which correlates with the processing that your brain does, could something hypothetically thus feel what you do when your thumb gets whacked?

              It may be that you’d say no, nothing could feel thumb pain in that case because qualia producing mechanisms shouldn’t exist in information laden paper that’s turned into other such set. It could be that you’d say that there can only be physics based mechanisms in your head which your neurons animate in order for you to feel thumb pain. That’s how I see it. And the only mechanism that I can think of which might retain sufficient fidelity regarding neuron firing, is the electromagnetic waves that they’re known to produce. So if we are square on information not existing unless it animates something, then consider the possibility that em fields happen to be required for this…

              • Eric, again the issue is what you mean by “information”. Information “exists” only as a relative state between two physical systems. A neuron is a system, a bunch of neurons firing in a particular pattern is a system. A stack of paper is a system.

                When your computer monitor is on (and showing these words), then the computer monitor has mutual information with respect to the computer, i.e., there is a correlation between the state of the monitor and the state of the computer. When you turn the monitor off, that correlation goes away, and so the mutual information is not there.

                When your thumb gets whacked, information does NOT go to the brain. Because of causal interactions, your brain goes into a state that has a correlation, so, mutual information, with the thumb damage. Information does not move, and does not cause things. To be fair, you can talk as if information does these things, but at the risk of not understanding what’s really going on.

                So, you could have a system which completely describes the correlated state of the brain on a stack of paper, and this stack would then have mutual information with the thumb damage. If you then used this stack to create another stack, and this other stack had a response that was equivalent to every response you refer to when you talk about your “thumb pain”, then yes, that would be an equivalent to your thumb pain. It would not be the same as your thumb pain, just like my thumb pain is not the same as your thumb pain. However, it would be equivalent to your thumb pain, just like my thumb pain is equivalent to yours.


              • By the way, nothing in what I wrote precludes em fields being involved in the process. That’s another question entirely.


                • James S,
                  I don’t think I have any issue with your “mutual” stipulation about information needing to exist where it’s implemented. And yes I was talking about information “going” to the brain as a mere human convention. It’s not like it travels there as a posted letter does in the US mail. It’s more like the “travel” of sound. (But rather than just disturbing matter through wave energy and whatnot, for light based communication, don’t photons actually travel?)

                  Anyway I think we’re square on information not existing unless the circle happens to be complete. What does still sound funny to me however is your perspective that if a stack of paper completely describes the state of my brain / thumb situation, and it’s used to create another stack which is associated with thumb damage, then something would thus feel some sort of “thumb pain”. To me that sounds like answering an otherwise “hard problem” with a convenient magical solution. I suspect that for most people my thought experiment suggests that that sort of thing is unnatural. Not that everyone will interpret it in such a way.

                  To me em fields offer the potential for a naturalistic solution. If qualia exists by means of “something”, just as a tuna sandwich does for example, then we’re instead at least theorizing causal dynamics of this world.

  3. Lee Roetcisoender says:

    I’m going to throw my hat into the ring here. First and foremost, the brain is a biological “experiencing” organism, not an information processing organism that has supernatural powers as Eric so poignantly asserts. Information processing falls under the umbrella of experiencing, which means; that experiencing comes first in hierarchy, not information processing. Therefore, part of that experience of pain is information processing, not the other way around. And that process is outlined by James architecture.


    • Thanks Lee. Actually my discussion with James S does happen to be getting interesting. If you consider there to be mechanisms in your head which must be animated by information for qualia to exist, rather that exist as processed information alone, then do you have a guess about what’s animated?

      • Lee Roetcisoender says:

        “If you consider there to be mechanisms in your head which must be animated by information for qualia to exist…”

        I don’t know if you intended it that way or not, but your statement has the cart in front of the horse. Referencing my hierarchy once again: I don’t consider information to be the cause of qualia. I consider both quailia and information to be representative of something, representations of which are contained within a single manifold, and that manifold is subjective experience; emphasis once again on the word “experience”.

        As far as a mechanism is concerned per se; there is a mechanism alright, and I consider that mechanism to be the mechanism of “expression”. The neuron is an essential biological mechanism in that chain of events, there is no question about that. One could safely posit em fields, but em fields really just become another link in that long chain.

        I articulate it this way: As a biological system, the neuron “experiences” its own unique, structural and qualitative properties, properties that are intrinsic to being a neuron; and that system then “expresses” those intrinsic structural and qualitative as it interacts with other systems.


        • Right Lee. I suppose that we’ll never see eye to eye on many things given that I’ll never be a panpsychist, and you’ll never not be one.

          • Lee Roetcisoender says:


            I had a conversation on Philips Goff’s site recently with an idealist. As soon as he found out I was not an idealist, that was the end of the conversation; period. I’m not a panpsychist in the traditional sense Eric, not according to the architecture expressed by panpsychists, the likes of Goff, Coleman or anyone else. Nor am I a materialist, naturalist or an idealist, I am a pragmatist.

            As a pragmatist, I’m only interested in what works in the real world. And whatever grounding metaphysics works, a metaphysics that leads to an ontology that is practical, that’s the trail of bread crumbs I will follow. And it just so happens that the only metaphysics that works is reality/appearance metaphysics or what I also refer to as Kant’s transcendental idealism, revision 1.0. (Revision 1.0 is RAM). And it just so happens that RAM irrevocably reduces to panpsychism.

            Modern man has entered a dark, dark tunnel of ignorance with the advent of technology. We are not smarter because of this technology, we are more ignorant. It is so arrogantly audacious to pigeon hole reality by making correlations to what we understand about computers that process information, programs and algorithms. It’s all so absurd my friend.

            With that said, it appears we have nothing to discuss. So, I wish you the best of luck with your revised blog site my friend.


  4. James Cross says:


    “there is a refusal to support the idea that feeling good constitutes the value of existing”

    I can’t really buy into this idea.

    From an evolutionary perspective, our value is procreation and the creation of the next generation. “Feeling good” is one of many ancillary emotions, perceptions, and objectives to support the evolutionary purpose.

    Even from an internal human perspective, people regularly sacrifice and endure hardship and discomfort for other goals.

    “Feeling good” is simply one indicator we use to check the state of our bodies and whether action is warranted to correct or adjust something.

    • James C,
      I certainly agree with what you’re saying, though there are nuances to my position which facilitate those dynamics. For one thing, as I see it the medium by which we experience existence, or “consciousness”, happens to be a tiny aspect of what makes up the human body. The human body isn’t about feeling good, but rather just the tiny conscious element of it. This is the teleological part that gives it the ability to deal with the more open environments which doom our non-conscious robots.

      More critically however, how do I explain sacrifices? If we’re all pleasure seeking products of our circumstances in a conscious sense, then why do we sometimes choose to endure horrible situations? Or why do we sometimes make apparent sacrifices for others? The main element to consider here is the positive sensation of hope, along with the negative sensation of worry. If you’re hopeful that what you’re enduring will reward you in the end, then this will feel good presently in this regard, and may motivate you through some pretty bad stuff. And you might also be worried about things that you perceive should be done for protection. Worry feels bad presently, and so might incite you to work on those matters for the future in order to not feel this so strongly in the present.

      Then as for doing good for others in ways that are at least apparently altruistic, for one thing we have care. While the sociopath will not have this, most of us are affected by the states that others seem to experience. Thus it can feel good to help others, and certainly friends and family. Furthermore there’s a theory of mind reward for being perceived by others as “a good person”. This gets into the social tool of morality. So strong is this dynamic, that I think psychologists have been unable explore our nature amorally as “harder” forms of science are explored. Thus I believe that they fail to develop effective broad theory regarding our nature. Proposing a “we’re all self interested” theory, as I do, should tend to punish a theorist for challenging the social tool of morality.

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