This discussion paper continues the two eminent scholar’s different perspectives on modern mind theory.
To reiterate, Raymond Tallis explores our uniqueness as a part and apart from nature whilst Rodolfo R. Llinas favours an evolutionary explanation- where mind is purely a product of the brain.
Beginning with Llinas, he links consciousness to our neuronal circuitry- to talk one through the predictive power of neurons. His theory links the principles of computer game theory and the stock market as analogous to our high powered efficient brain functionality. For instance a stock market's ability from a huge input of individual buyers and sellers to subsequently flicker emergent buy and sell prices. In other words, our predictive neuronal circuitry power is analogous to the simultaneous operations of multi powerful computers, inclusive of some kind of clock or timing device to explain motor control.
At this point his theory lacks any specificity as to how this predictive circuity concisely communicates our feelings about everyday experiences which he covers in the following chapters. Therein he introduces the idea of Qualia which he links to an evolutionary advantage in higher order thinking that arose in tandem with the central nervous system to which it relates.
Although his ensuing commentary is very interesting and well researched- in relation to nerve cells, their personalities, the evolution of the eye, emotions and memories, it is not until one reaches the section on Qualia, that, from my perspective one can clearly deduce how this all hangs together in terms of our consciousness.
Llinas begins his commentary on the assumption the reader is already familiar with the term, so, by way of a brief introduction here is my summary : Qualia first arose way back in 1929 to support C.S. Lewis’s explanation of sense data theory, but has since been expanded in modernity. It might be defined as any phenomenal properties of experiences that have Qualia- ones in which we have phenomenal consciousness. By phenomenal consciousness we mean one is aware of that thing or of feelings or emotions in the mind's representations - being necessarily mental states.
There is some disagreement as to what to include as Qualia but the broad consensus is to accept sounds, feelings, sensations, visualisations and so forth.
Michael Tye states he would certainly include (1) Perceptual experiences, for example, experiences of the sort involved in seeing green, hearing loud trumpets, tasting liquorice, smelling the sea air, handling a piece of fur. (2) Bodily sensations, for example, feeling a twinge of pain, feeling an itch, feeling hungry, having a stomach ache, feeling hot, and feeling dizzy. Think here also of experiences such as those present running flat-out. (3) Felt reactions or passions or emotions, for example, feeling delight, lust, fear, love, feeling grief, jealousy, regret. (4) Feel moods, for example, feeling elated, depressed, calm, bored, tense, miserable.
(For more here, see Haugeland 1985, pp. 230–235) Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy - Tye, Michael, "Qualia", Fall 2021.
But Llinas simply defines Qualia as any subjective experience that is generated via the central nervous system. Qualia becomes integral to his theory of our enhanced evolutionary journey: that functional architecture of the brain as a product of the slow tumbling of evolution where natural selection has found it to be the most beneficial in terms of species survivability. My argument is that the sensory experience leading to active movement (motricity through the function of prediction is the ultimate reason for the very existence of the central nervous system. Page 202 -Qualia from a Neuronal Point of View/ I of the Vortex.
Thus for Llanas his evolutionary reason for the existence of qualia is straightforward – they represent the sensations as geometric, electrically triggered events. He believes the patterned activity in neurons and their molecular counterparts are sensations. Page 210- Qualia from a Neuronal Point of View/ I of the Vortex.
Hence our consciousness represented by enhanced awareness was facilitated by Qualia extending throughout the central nervous system. That favoured approach in evolution was underwritten by the principle smarter gave the favoured survival prospect.
According to Llinas we fall out of consciousness such as when we are asleep, when Qualia is no longer active, as is also the case during epileptic seizures.
But my particular interest is the answer he gives to the question ‘The Hard Problem”: Is it True Science Will Never Understand Feelings? Page 210- Qualia from a Neuronal Point of View/I of the Vortex
He confirms we will have to find out more about intricate workings of the nervous system before this is possible. But he does provide further commentary from mind philosopher David Chalmers and concludes on the necessity for Qualia. His so-called ultimate bottom line is that Qualia is that part of the self that relates (back) to us!
Turning now to Raymond Tallis he doesn’t place the same emphasis on Qualia. Rather (page 95 seeing ourselves) he comments many non-philosophers will be astonished by the extent to which the notion of “what it is like to be” has dominated the philosophy of the mind in the modern era. Thomas Nagel popularised the discussion with his famous paper “What it is like to be a bat: “(No) matter how the form (of phenomenal consciousness) may vary, the fact that an organism has conscious experience at all means basically, there is something that is like to be that organism. There is something like to be a conscious being, whereas where there isn’t something like it is to be as a conscious being would rather obviously not apply to a pile of rocks.
So that philosophers have correctly deduced, in relation to consciousness, you can’t have simply functional connections between inputs of experience and outputs of behaviours. Rather obviously there needs to be something in between- hence Qualia. But there is also a need to distinguish between intransitive consciousness “which is a matter of being awake rather than asleep or otherwise unconscious “and transitive consciousness" which is being conscious of something or other. These quite different modes of consciousness -and intermediate ones, like being tired - tend to be conflated with “what it is like to be” talk. Hence the notion of Quale - singular of Qualia - equivocates between what it is like for a person to have an experience and experience itself. Page 95 - Seeing Ourselves
While this is true it misses the point of "what it is like to be the immaterial representations inherent in feeling pain compared to the instant recognition of a material object such as a tree. Therein we can only say what those material things are whilst rather obviously you don't have any representations of what it is to be. Hence, it follows on, you can't understand what consciousness is by merely gathering facts about things. Page 96 Seeing Ourselves.
Furthermore, it has been proven blind people from birth can't describe colours, so trying to explain to such a person differences in hue by reference just to the facts isn't possible. Similarly, then he applies the argument against the neuronal based mind philosophers - how can the observation of neuronal activity and unobserved experience give rise to consciousness?
Tallis continues on in this vein with numerous examples - such as is there something like it to be a brain which all invite the same conclusion- they fail to translate back to an “am”. For instance we can get an accurate idea of brain functionality to identify where the older emotional type feelings come from and where abstract thinking and or consciousness becomes realisable in the frontal lobes. But none of that translates to the brain knowing that - to have a knowledge of itself ?
Tallis then makes this point emphatically- my brain is as ignorant of the fact it is inside my skull as my left kidney is of its status as a pair !!.
He closes in on a profound mystery - How does the "I am" take root, flourish, or suffer, in, or courtesy of, the "it is” of the body? Page 101 Seeing ourselves - I am and it is: Persons and Organisms.
Summing up I believe one can reasonably conclude there isn’t a theory of consciousness in respect to Qualia or related to neuroscience notwithstanding they offer various appealing hypotheses.
That thought takes me back to the heading we are neither apes nor angels and to Tallis’s chapter entitled I am and it is: persons and organisms.
Herein he returns to the theme of intentionality that ensures there is a significant space we occupy that is distinct from nature and the animal kingdoms whose greater reliance is noticeable on the environment. He makes the distinction between the self which has or even ‘owns’ -it’s experiences, encountered as something in - itself, distinct from the experience and, indeed , from the subject of the experience.
That first order of intentionality is experienced by the upper echelons of the animal kingdom but a much higher level of uniqueness in intentionality applies to humanity. He then references what he calls ontological snobbery: hatred of the body. We are of course, like all living things inseparable from our bodies, so you rather obviously cannot have one without the other except of course you can have body and person. The bodily contempt goes back to platonic references where human beings were regarded as an unstable mixture of soul as a substance and a body able to conflict that of the souls knowing as in wisdom.
His concluding thoughts are that we need not see ourselves as mere organisms as opposed to embodied subjects, for otherwise we overlook what is interesting about ourselves- in other words how we see ourselves! Our embodiment spans the huge, so far elusive, human being between the person and the organism. This -he concludes is the irruption of the conscious subject within a mindless universe and, as a result, one discovers the business we have unfinished here is, alas, unfinishable, for we shall have moved, beyond the limits of polemic, to the realm of mystery. page 101 -Seeing Ourselves.
I think this is a good point to conclude stage 2. page 101 -Seeing Ourselves.
In stage 3 I will cover: Human Being: in and out of time, the elusive inescapable self and the mystery of human agency whilst alternating to the idea of the collective mind argued by Llinas.
Conclusion and questions
What do we think of the idea of Qualia? Can it be regarded as a viable construct to explain consciousness or as mind philosopher Danial Dennett proposes is it illusory? Is it necessary or is something similar essential or not as a solution to consciousness? How do we feel about the strength of argument or otherwise of the evolutionary journey argument culminating in the enhanced interaction of neuronal networks resulting in the creation of the central nervous system? What about the objections by Ray Tallis to the brain lacking a knowledge of itself – as in what is it like to be a brain?
Do we believe that consciousness remains the hard question of science? Can we reliably abandon the Cartesian mind body separation (dualism) as proposed by Descartes' philosophy? Any further thoughts on how we see ourselves? How do we see ourselves as distinct or otherwise as part of the universe?