Response to Kozuch’s recent JCS paper (vol 22 no 9-10 (2015)) on problems with NCC..

Recently a series of papers (Kriegel, Hohwy and Bayne, Kozuch, Cohen and Dennett, Noe and Thompson and others) casts serious doubt on the conceptual validity and methodological soundness of the NCC project.

I enjoyed Kozuch’s paper on the limitations of the NCC and especially his conclusion that Block’s (2007) claim that ‘finding whatever neural property P is the neural natural kind of experience’ and then demanding that all legitimate NCC candidates exhibit P, may be the only way out of this ‘neuropsychological mesh’. Unlike Kozuch I am more optimistic about the prospects of Block’s approach despite believing, and perhaps because of believing, that discovering P must dispel the anti-physicalist intuitions that give rise to the knowledge and conceivability arguments. Block’s approach is reminiscent of Stoljar’s ‘epistemic view’ and the important question here is whether it is possible to discover some P that alleviates our epistemic malaise without providing a full causal physical explanation of consciousness. A related question is whether we can even conceive of such a P or at least sharpen it a little and this is what we will do next, but first I want to introduce three parsimony hypotheses:

1)            Intransitive Parsimony Hypothesis, or IPH – If consciousness is identical to (or constituted by) some exotic physical process or state of matter in brains (from Place, Schlicht andFeigl to Melnyck but also Lockwood as a representative of Russellian Identity theories) than it is unique both in the way in which it is almost impossible to access from ‘without’ and the peculiar, effortless, intimate, and unmediated self-access it enjoys ‘from within’. This may not seem like much but we can make the next reasonable parsimony conjecture:

The same physical mechanism that makes consciousness almost impossible to access from the outside also endows it with intimate and unmediated self-access!

The alternative is two exquisitely correlated and incredibly strange phenomena that happen to be generated by completely different, presumably strange, novel rare mechanisms.

2)            Transitive Parsimony Hypothesis, or TPH – All of our different conscious mental states, from perception to abstract thinking to anxiety to KOK and TOT fringe experiences, must satisfy the IPH and share a common physical mechanism. Again, it is highly implausible that strange but highly correlated phenomena (involving similar ‘neuronal technology’, correlation with Theta-Gamma cross frequency phase locking, and so on) such as auditory experiences and visual ones are grounded in completely different mechanisms. It is even more highly unlikely if IPH is true.

One can than conclude that it is highly probable that:

3)            The transitive properties of consciousness result from variations in a single common intransitive mechanism. (Unlike Howhy and Bayne.)

If all this is true than the ‘what it’s like ‘ characterizing conscious mental states on the one hand and the ‘other minds problem’ on the other, are two sides of the same coin because they are caused by a single mechanism. This may not seem like much but if the IPH is true than it constrains any physical explanation of consciousness by tying up its demarcation conditions (other minds problem) with its unique internal conditions (hard problem) and this can really constrain possible Ps. If IPH is true, and chances are it is, than the next scenario cannot be ruled out.

  1. a)            Condensed matter physicists discover a rare state of matter or a physical mechanism that satisfies the IPH.
  2. b)            The brain is shown to instantiate such mechanisms and they are named P.
  3. c)            These mechanisms are shown to constitute, a minimal NCC (By NCC I mean PCC or physical correlates.)

This means that determining the adequacy of potential NCC candidates should be based on more than selective activation of relevant brain parts/processes and suppression of inessential brain parts/processes combined with subjective reports; it should also be based on the existence of physical mechanisms that satisfy something similar to the IPH helping explain our anti-physicalist intuitions.

On a more speculative note, finding P is not easy. Even if you discover physical mechanisms that explain the ‘stealthiness’ of the conscious stuff such as systems that contain ‘intrinsically inaccessible’ physically realized information, as in ‘closed system measurement’ or ‘self-measurement(projection)’ approaches to the quantum measurement problem, you still need to explain why these mechanisms also cause this inaccessible information to gain peculiar and unmediated self-access. In my opinion the best candidates are physical singularities, either approaches that define physical information to be non-analytic discontinuities in the temporal evolution of the quantum mechanical wave function or geometric approaches that explore the consequences of embedding that information in time-dependent spatial topology.

On an even more speculative vain Im looking into a spatiotemporal mechanism that relates the phenomenological unity (Bayne) and the subjectivity of consciousness to the other minds problem by reviewing the history of the debates (from Descartes to Kant to Smart, Quinton others) on the (dis)unity of spacetime and the possibility of spatiotemoral demarcation conditions. This approach, which views persons as ‘island universes of sorts, satisfies the IPH because of a 1978 topological theorem by Robert  Geroch proving that cutting space into distinct spatial parts constraints their temporal architecture in a way that provides both peculiar and unmediated self-access and truly indexical actualization conditions.

I have assumed that IPH is true and then tried to explore its consequences to see where it can lead considering some pretty strange physical mechanisms, however the problem is not whether those are too strange (because  not only are they physically possible they are also ‘not exceedingly implausible’) but whether they are strange enough (Feynman.)

Uziel Awret <awretu@gmail.com>

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