Chalmers on Physics and Phenomenology

“Physics requires information states but cares only about their relations, not their intrinsic nature; phenomenology requires information states, but cares only about their intrinsic nature. This view postulates a single basic set of information states unifying the two. We might say that internal aspects of these states are phenomenal, and the external aspects are physical. Or as a slogan: Experience is information from the inside; physics is information from the outside.

The above comes from David Chalmer’s The Conscious Mind and provides a brief account of his personal attempt to reconcile phenomenal and physical aspects of the most basic of entities (to clarify that he is speaking to basic entities, his assertion taken to an extreme postulates nothing more than information states as actually existing, at a fundamental level)—though the view could be translated up to macroscopic structures with careful consideration (he notes the difficulty of such a task in the surrounding text, though I think that he overstates the problem). I’ll take up this problem below (note, not all of my ideas follow directly from Chalmers thesis, I have incorporated ideas from elsewhere, notably Damasio):

On scaling up, from, say, a cell to a full-fledged brain, we start to get successively larger functional units—units with their own informational states—forming a sort of nested hierarchy of phenomenology all the way to the uppermost level: one full self, in the ordinary sense of the word. A problem in this process that he remarks upon is the associated “jaggedness” that would seemingly result from summing up smaller “phenomenal” (or proto-phenomenal, if you prefer) sub-units into one coherent whole. In my estimation, it seems that this is not a necessarily a problem, much in the way that upon summing up individual atoms, or even molecules to give a better sense of the problem, into physical objects, we do not experience macroscopic objects as being “jagged” in any way, but rather as continuous, complete objects. Upon investigation below the level of every day experience with modern tools of magnification, we are able to peek into the jagged quality of physical objects, but our natural tools (i.e., eyes) for observation of such entities lack the resolution to pick out the underlying jaggedness. In other words, the jaggedness is there, but we do not notice it due to the limited resolution of our perceptual systems. It may be that conscious experience is similar to this: it, too, possesses a level of jaggedness, but this eludes our introspective observation due to the high-level nature of introspection itself. On this view, implied jaggedness does not detract from Chalmers related assertions.

As for the strength of Chalmers’ overall argument, I cannot say. On the surface, it seems plausible, though many would disagree with me on that. At the very least, he has advanced thinking on the matter in a fundamental way. I’ll post a fuller critique of the theory later on.

I think that consciousness…

I think that consciousness has always been the most important topic in the philosophy of mind, and one of the most important topics in cognitive science as a whole, but it had been surprisingly neglected in recent years.

David Chalmers, expressing a sentiment that I share far too often.