Neutral Monism: A Saner Solution to the Mind/Body Problem

Discussion of articles that appear in the magazine.

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Philosophy Now
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Neutral Monism: A Saner Solution to the Mind/Body Problem

Post by Philosophy Now » Sun Aug 13, 2017 8:16 pm

Sam Coleman seeks a balance between two extreme views of consciousness.

https://philosophynow.org/issues/121/Neutral_Monism_A_Saner_Solution_to_the_Mind_Body_Problem

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PauloL
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Re: Neutral Monism: A Saner Solution to the Mind/Body Problem

Post by PauloL » Sun Aug 13, 2017 8:36 pm

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I think colour perception to be very poor for discussing mind and decide for neutral monism or whatever else.

Colours are a physical phenomenon beyond any doubt. Objects reflect light with different wavelengths and we have the capacity to discriminate some of them in the form of colour. This happens because we have sensors for that, retinal rods, and their stimulation is perceived as colors. If we had monochromatic vision, the very same wavelengths would be perceived as shades of gray, but this wouldn't change the wavelengths proper. And no one could talk about colours, because they wouldn't exist in our mind and we couldn't conceive such a thing, just like a person born blind or monochromatic can't. Of course, these persons use the words only because they hear them, but I can also tell about a world with 9 dimensions, but I can't conceive it.

Computers can "see" colours, too. Daltonic people see different colours. Blind people see none. So, what does this change? Why should a physical phenomenon perplex us? If you could touch a hairy cell in your cochlea you'd hear a sound in your brain, even though there's no sound at all.

Negating colours by assuming they are the product of our mind only, would be equivalent to negate reflection of light with characteristic wavelengths by objects, which is absolute nonsense.

The discussion about colours and mind stops here, but I'd like to add a few more comments:

Anything that is a physical phenomenon cannot explain mind, be it physical or not.

In my opinion, until proved otherwise, only those things that cannot be explained physically may pertain to the realm of mind, like Descartes' cogito or, perhaps preceding cogito, our sense of uniqueness. If a person could be rebuild atom by atom, reproducing even every memory stored in the brain, would this be a duplication of the person that would permit such person survive death? But if a brain could be transplanted to a different body, wouldn't the person be aware that woke up in a different body and that keeps existing? This sense of uniqueness must therefore reside in the brain, or more precisely some part of it (which part?), and can't be reproduced (or we don't know how to), which doesn't help decide whether monism or dualism of any kind are true or wrong.





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Last edited by PauloL on Sat Aug 19, 2017 5:22 pm, edited 2 times in total.

SamC
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Re: Neutral Monism: A Saner Solution to the Mind/Body Problem

Post by SamC » Wed Aug 16, 2017 11:13 am

Not all colour experience is wavelength perception - hallucination and dream colour are evidently not. So that suggests some colour experience at least is a product of the brain. But we have no idea how. Frankly, there seems not to be the difference between different kinds of neuronal activity that would explain the difference between red and green. So you might think there's a good case for saying colours cannot be explained in physical terms. I think colours are quite a good candidate for (at least some of) the neutral properties - assuming one thinks they don't require consciousness for their existence. But of course the neutral properties at the fundamental level may be quite different. Colours are a placeholder, as the article says.

You also miss part of the point of the argument, which is that being neutral and being physical (or mental) are not mutually exclusive. So I don't disagree when you say colours are physical. I also think they are mental, and that being mental or physical is just a role they play. In themselves colours, or the genuine neutral natures whatever those are, are neither mental nor physical.

As regards sound you suggest that if you hear a sound ('in your brain') there is not necessarily really a sound. Hearing a sound in your brain is not a real sound. But if you make the same move about colours you wouldn't say there are colours and they are in the brain (which is what you seem to say) but that colours are external and we only seem to see them, and that such 'brain colours' aren't really colours. So I think you need to make your mind up whether you think sounds/colours are mind-external or mind-internal things. If you say they are both brain products you will admit that hearing a sound 'in your brain' is a perfectly good sound, which is what you seem to say regarding colours. But it doesn't make a lot of difference to be honest: Whether colours and sounds are internal or external properties, we have not a glimmer of a physical explanation of their nature. We have lots of physical explanations of what causes us to experience them, but that shouldn't be confused for an account of what they actually are.

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Re: Neutral Monism: A Saner Solution to the Mind/Body Problem

Post by PauloL » Thu Aug 17, 2017 2:49 am

I agree that colours are mental and physical. Bees can select flowers by colour, and so they are able to perceive different waveleghts, too. I don't know what they see, but there must be some difference for them between a red and a yellow flower all the rest being equal. It's a pity if they can't see colours like us, and a great gift that we have the ability to discriminate wavelengths as colours.

Some people who suffer a stroke fail to recognize colours and see everything as shades of gray, a condition known as achromatopsia. They no longer can even imagine colours.

I don't think these people have less of a consciousness than you or me. So, colours can't be a product of consciousness. They are neurally created from wavelengths apt to impress the retinal rods, for sure at those areas of occipitotemporal cortex damaged in achromatopsic people.

Also, it isn't granted that colours, like any images, or any special sense, be perceived by the self, just like we don't perceive the lots of neuronal information that comes from our body teeming the brain at every moment. For perception by the self, there must be some form of communication or correlation between neuronal networks and the neural self (something physically undefined as far as I know), but this is as hard to explain as Descarte's seat of the soul, and at this time we won't risk the amigdala.

To illustrate that you have people who become blind after suffering a bilateral occipital stroke. Their eyes and optical nerves are intact, but once they lost visual cortex they can no longer see. However they have residual, although unconscious, vision, so-called blindsight. This allows them to avoid objects while walking even if don't see anything and don't even know why they walked around an obstacle. Blindsight is probably mediated by fibers that travel from the optic nerve to the colliculi on brainstem. It's unconscious because it fails to connect to the self and no one can tell if its images are coloured, gray scale, or just black and white (or anything else).

Neutral monism, or its more extreme cousin, panpsychism, are attractive mostly for their place as alternatives to conventional religious belief.

However, I think no explanatory model for the mind/body problem will ever be solved on the basis of empirical evidence. If I tried that, I wouldn't bet on colours for the reasons I exposed.

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Re: Neutral Monism: A Saner Solution to the Mind/Body Problem

Post by Arising_uk » Thu Aug 17, 2017 11:33 pm

PauloL wrote:...
However, I think no explanatory model for the mind/body problem will ever be solved on the basis of empirical evidence. If I tried that, I wouldn't bet on colours for the reasons I exposed.
Maybe I missed something but if you are positing a 'neural self' then surely there would be an explanation for 'mind' that is open to empirical proof?

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Re: Neutral Monism: A Saner Solution to the Mind/Body Problem

Post by PauloL » Thu Aug 17, 2017 11:35 pm

Surely there is. But this is about mind/body problem.

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Re: Neutral Monism: A Saner Solution to the Mind/Body Problem

Post by edalorzo » Fri Aug 18, 2017 12:04 am

I think the article does have a point with color, because it seems so simple in the surface but so complicated to understand once you look closer. By one hand it seems objects must have some physical properties that our eyes perceive and our mind experience as color. In a way, we might say that those physical properties are the object's color, or perhaps the objects do have color, but not necessarily the one we experience, or perhaps we should call color only to what we experience and not the physical properties of the object that produce that experience, etc, etc.

On the other hand, optical illusions show us that we can also experience illusory colors and they make us believe that we can experience colors when there are not actual physical objects that we can see.

So, I think color is truly elusive and a good candidate for the article.
PauloL wrote:
Sun Aug 13, 2017 8:36 pm
Colours are a physical phenomenon beyond any doubt. Objects reflect light with different wavelengths and we have the capacity to discriminate some of them in the form of colour.
If only it was as simple as that. For example, consider the following excerpt from the book Outside Color: Perceptual Science and the Puzzle of Color in Philosophy:
M. Chirimuuta wrote: As it happens, Armstrong's thesis that color experience is the visual representation of wavelength of light then fell out of favor because of its inconsistency with empirical facts about color constancy -the the relative stability of perceived color under changing spectral lighting conditions. The wavelengths of light reflected from objects and falling on the eye do not correlate reliably with perceived color. For instance, a banana viewed in daylight will be sending far more shortwave (blue appearing) light rays to the eye than the same fruit viewed indoors under a tungsten lightbulb. This is because the spectrum of the outdoor illuminant is shifted toward short wavelengths, compared to the tungsten light, that in fact looks more yellowy. However, the color of the banana is not seen to alter drastically when lighting conditions are changed-some difference in shade may be noticed if attention is paid, but it will always still be categorized as yellow.
The subject is already difficult to discuss from the perspective of healthy trichromatic subjects, but we can assume that monochromatic or dichromatic subjects experience color in a different way than we do.
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Re: Neutral Monism: A Saner Solution to the Mind/Body Problem

Post by PauloL » Fri Aug 18, 2017 12:55 pm

edalorzo wrote:
Fri Aug 18, 2017 12:04 am
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Bananas do have colours. And colours depend on illuminating conditions. Any perceived banana colour is true as far as it results from wavelengths reflected on it, unless you define a standard, which changes nothing.

Hume taught us that we can't trust reality as we see it because the shape of an object depends on perspective (and its colour on illuminating conditions, you may add).Hume could be right, but we obviate the perspective by using standards so that we can build an airplane with screws detailed to the micrometre.

Known monochromatic people see everything as shades of gray, no colours at all. Dichromatic people (Daltonic people) see different colours.

As I told before, it's not granted that we see colours, neither that colours are in fact what we see. Maybe bees see a different thing, but bee's reality is a true as ours. You have the capacity to discriminate some wavelengths, which depends on neural networks connected to retinal rods, and you call the result colours.

Anyway blind people do have as much consciousness as you and me, so vision, be it colourful or not, can hardly be accepted as a necessary condition for consciousness to be there.

Much more more intriguing is how visual cortex communicates with neural self so that we are conscious of what is reflected in retina, something missed by colliculi, as you can read above. Descartes raised the question how the physical world communicates with the cogito and put his head on the chopping block for the amigdala (something so dear to physicalists who would readily strike the axe). The question, however, remains unanswered and Neuroscience couldn't help by replacing the cogito with the neural self, something quite modern indeed, but as undefined materially as the cogito itself.



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Re: Neutral Monism: A Saner Solution to the Mind/Body Problem

Post by SamC » Fri Aug 18, 2017 4:25 pm

It would help in this discussion to distinguish a few things; at a minimum:

1. The physical properties of surfaces that modify light wavelengths.

2. Light wavelengths.

3. What happens in the human visual cortex (roughly), typically once one's retinal cells have reacted to 2 and further processing has gone on.

We can call all of these colours if we like, but then there are three kinds of colour. The question concerns the colours we experience, the properties we compare for their aesthetic properties etc. No one compares light wavelengths aesthetically conceived of as such (except perhaps Commander Data). It seems that these properties we aesthetically compare can occur without 1 and 2, as in hallucinations and dreams. Many people equivocate between 1 and 2, but note that if the colours you see are light, then the colours you see are not on objects - in fact you don't strictly see objects on that view (if you see light, clearly what you see is restricted to the light you see, which is distinct from the object that reflects it. As Russell drily observed, other than what you see, everything else is invisible).

The point of using the colours we experience in the article is that there is a great debate over whether they are non-physical/mental, i.e. something not identical to any of 1-3, or whether they might be identical to one of 1-3, or some hybrid view. In any of these cases the properties we are talking about are in an important sense the same: they are the properties whose aesthetic properties we routinely compare. That these properties can be construed as mental (i.e. non-physical) or physical, or possibly even both, suggests to the neutral monist that they are a good candidate for the neutral properties.

Colours serve a placeholder role, as the article explains, in that the real neutral natures might be quite different - and this is needed since not everyone experiences colour, and we all experience a lot more than colour. Whatever the basic neutral properties are they must be capable of generating all this variety by combination - as the physical items they belong to build complex systems up to brains. But colours are meant to give us a conceptual handle on the very notion of a property that is not in itself mental, nor in itself physical. That goes further than just talking about 'neutral properties' in the abstract - it gives us some positive conception to play with.

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Re: Neutral Monism: A Saner Solution to the Mind/Body Problem

Post by DisagreeableMe » Fri Aug 18, 2017 10:05 pm

Hi Sam,

You enumerate 3 types of colour, but you seem to be mostly interested in a 4th, the phenomenal experience of a colour or the quale we associate with a colour. Some people may want to identify that with number 3, but you don't, so why not list it out explicitly as a 4th point?

I do find the breakdown helpful, but to me these are just different things, so I don't find the analogy particularly moving. I'm relatively happy to regard the surface properties of an object, the wavelengths of light, the neural events of a brain processing retinal information and qualia as distinct phenomena which have certain causal relationships.

All the same, since I think you're just trying to offer an analogy rather than necessarily giving a literal example of NM at work I can suspend my disbelief and go along with you to some extent. So I can I think vaguely grasp what you're saying but all the same I don't find it very compelling. Perhaps I would if I were not satisfied with functionalist or eliminativist accounts of phenomena such as qualia.

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Re: Neutral Monism: A Saner Solution to the Mind/Body Problem

Post by SamC » Sat Aug 19, 2017 5:40 pm

In addition to the three physical options there is a fourth option, which is that colours as we experience them are non-physical.

The point I'm making is that colour-as-we-experience-it has been identified with 1-3, and with 4, by different people, and that this is an ongoing debate. That's what makes colours useful as an analogy to (perhaps as an example of) the neutral properties the neutral monist posits.

It's odd to endorse functionalism as well as eliminativism, since functionalism is reductionist - i.e. it takes the explanandum seriously (or purports to). They can't both be true, as a result. Perhaps what you mean is that you favour functionalism in general, and don't think there's anything to explain as regards conscious experience. This eliminativism is a useful reaction to contrast with the theories featured in this issue on radical solutions: it seems clear that, faced with consciousness as the explanatory target, either we are going to need to reach for something radical to explain its material basis, or we will need to reject the reality of consciousness altogether. But such a rejection is difficult to take seriously outside of the seminar room.

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Re: Neutral Monism: A Saner Solution to the Mind/Body Problem

Post by DisagreeableMe » Sat Aug 19, 2017 7:52 pm

Functionalist/eliminativist in the sense of Daniel Dennett, who is a functionalist but more or less denies that qualia exist.

I agree that a radical idea is needed. Physicalist functionalism doesn't seem to work if you buy (and I do) the arguments from the likes of Putnam and Searle that there is no fact of the matter on what functions or computations a given physical system implements -- that this is entirely a matter of interpretation. But as I have alluded to you in private correspondence I think such concerns can be addressed with radical ideas connected with Platonism. So I'm all for radical ideas, I just don't think NM is the right one.

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Re: Neutral Monism: A Saner Solution to the Mind/Body Problem

Post by jayjacobus » Sun Aug 20, 2017 4:27 pm

In addition to the three physical options there is a fourth option, which is that colours as we experience them are non-physical.
This is correct. Colors are produced in the brain in a domino like progression and then after they are produced they have a psychological effect on consciousness. The two effects however should be kept separate. Otherwise, the understanding of the progression will be confused by the psychology.

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Re: Neutral Monism: A Saner Solution to the Mind/Body Problem

Post by SamC » Mon Aug 21, 2017 4:59 pm

Some on this forum are sure colours are physical, and other people are just as sure that they are non-physical. I think that makes my point for me!

When everyone disagrees like this, maybe the truth is that they are neither. Colours could just be...colours, and not something else. Their being mental or physical might just be roles they play. We define physical particles and their properties by roles (an electron is a thing that does such-and-such, mass is defined by its effects), and physics doesn't really care what the thing or property is that really does this job, i.e. in its real nature beyond what it does. So there's nothing to stop colours (or similar properties) playing these roles. And colours clearly play mental roles sometimes since we experience them.

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Re: Neutral Monism: A Saner Solution to the Mind/Body Problem

Post by Impenitent » Mon Aug 21, 2017 11:09 pm

the tree falls silently with no one to hear...

the tree is not green in the dark...

sanity is overrated

-Imp

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