Rationally Speaking #242 - Keith Frankish on "Why consciousness is an illusion"Rationally Speaking Podcast
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- 29 Oct 2019
Philosopher of mind Keith Frankish is one of the leading proponents of "illusionism," the theory that argues that your subjective experience -- i.e., the "what it is like" to be you -- is a trick of the mind. It's a counterintuitive theory, but Keith makes the case for it in this episode, while explaining the other leading theories of consciousness and why he rejects them.
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Welcome to, rationally speaking, the podcast, where we explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense. I'm your host, Julia Gillard, and my guest today is Keith Frankish. Keith is a philosopher based in Greece. He's in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield. His specialty is the philosophy of mind. And he's also the author and editor of several books on philosophy of mind, specifically on consciousness, including the book Illusion ISM. So this is probably what Keith is most well-known for, being a proponent of a theory of consciousness that he's dubbed illusion ism.
So we're going to be talking about what illusion ism is and kind of the argument for it. And also, I'm hoping that Keith can help me kind of get a handle on the landscape of theories of consciousness, why people disagree with each other, what could possibly settle the disagreement. I just currently feel I have for a long time felt very lost and in trying to untangle the debate over consciousness. So that is what we're going to be talking about today.
Keith, welcome to rationally speaking.
Hi, Julia. Thanks for inviting me.
You know, every six months or so I say to myself, I should really do an episode on consciousness, you know, theories of consciousness. And then I'm like, well, let me first do enough reading so that I really understand it well enough that I can ask really good, clear questions.
And that has just never come true. So rather than putting it off indefinitely until we have, you know, settled the debate by uploading our minds onto computers, I figured I would just kind of pop one level out, you know, one level meta in the debate. And and kind of in addition to asking you about illusion of them, have you helped me understand, you know, just like get a handle on how the debate has been shaping up.
So but we'll get to that. Let's start by talking about allusion to them.
When I first heard Evolutionism, I thought that you were claiming that my experience of consciousness is illusory. Like you, Julia, think you're experiencing things, but really you're not, which seemed very implausible to me on the face of it. But after reading a little more, it started to seem like I'd misunderstood what you meant by illusion of them. Is that right? It all depends.
Forehands on the words. It all depends. It all hinges on. Of course it does. And what we mean by consciousness.
Perhaps the simplest way to put it is that I'm offering a different model of what consciousness is.
A model which rejects a very central model, a model that dominates most people's thinking about consciousness. And it says that that model is wrong and that consciousness in that sense is illusory. It's it doesn't exist in that sense. Doesn't say that doesn't mean that we stop talking about consciousness. It means that we introduce a different way of thinking about it. OK, and so now this model is so central. The one I want to dismiss is so central to some people's thinking about consciousness that it seems that I am saying that consciousness.
Doesn't exist, that it's illusory. The idea is that while I may be I'm I may be wrong about the external world, I may be wrong. But there's a cup in front of me. I may be wrong, but the cup is blue. Perhaps my eyes are playing tricks on me. Perhaps the lighting strange. Perhaps I'm hallucinating. Perhaps I'm even in the Matrix and there isn't any external plot at all.
But I couldn't be wrong about the character of this internal world. I couldn't be wrong that I'm having an experience with this kind of blue feel to it.
It seems to me that you could be a little wrong, you know, in the sense that, like we have, there are all these visual illusions that are built into our brains and our eyes, I guess, where, you know, I think that I'm perceiving color up to the edge of the periphery of my vision, but actually, I'm not. And I'm wrong about that. So it seems to me that we could be wrong, you know, at that level or to that degree.
But we it would be really hard to understand how we could be wrong about having an experience at all.
That's like kind of blue cup related.
You know, I agree that. I think that's I think that's an excellent point. And I think what you've already pointed out here that are that are kind of common sense view of what of what our inner experience is like is not as solid and reliable as we think.
Because you say we tend to assume that we encounter this a full presentation of the visual field that is complete in every detail right out to the periphery. That's how we judge it is. But that turns out to be wrong. That is an illusion. But that's an introspective illusion. Even in The Matrix, you know, we would still be having that illusion of having this complete visual field, even though there's no there's no world out there in the inner world, isn't as it seems.
Now, once you allow that, then I think you're you're opening a wedge here to the to the idea that introspection might itself be a kind of construction, a construction.
Well, I was I was trying to say that even though you are opening a wedge, it does not seem to me that that wedge could be big enough to to dislodge the basic fact that I am having an introspective experience.
It certainly doesn't seem that way. But I think he you've opened a wedge. And once we see the reasons for sort of pushing up this, that there's this wedge and once we see what we call alternative story, we can tell, then I think the big picture begins to look a bit more plausible.
But let me say a bit more about the what I call the realist picture first, because I want to stress how odd this picture with some characteristics of this internal picture, this internal it's Daniel Dennett calls it a Cartesian theater, this idea that there's this kind of in a display of experience for conscious awareness. So the outer world sort of affects us and it creates this. This is like a private cinema screen, as it were. But that we I mean, first of all, who are we here that is witnessing this or is this in a little character sitting in the theater and the theater?
That's how it seems. And I think that this sort of view that there is this this introspective display does presuppose some kind of interest introspect tour. OK, so that's one thing that needs to be cashed out. And the relation between this introspective and what they're introspective between the Spectator and the presentation on the screen is a very, very intimate one, because while I might be wrong about the cup out there being blue or that being a capital, I couldn't be wrong, it seems, when I'm actually attending directly.
This is the intuition that the bit of the intuition that your thoughts stood up. If I'm directly focusing on a central area of my experience is like right now and it seems this kind of blue, vivid, ultramarine blue thing, I couldn't be wrong about that. Maybe the, as you say, the edges of my visual field, other aspects which I might be wrong about. But this the bit that I'm actually closely attending to right now, I couldn't possibly be wrong about it.
It seems to be presented to me directly and transparently, immediately, in a way that doesn't allow for any possibility of error. So now I'm not saying that there couldn't this realist picture couldn't be true. I'm saying I don't see how it could be true in any kind of sort of mechanistic picture of what the brain is. It would have to be some sort of you'd have to have some kind of metaphysical. Speculation here. I mean, obviously, they can't you see, it was quite easy because the thing that was witnessing all this was an immaterial soul and the idea that an immaterial soul has some kind of special privileged access to its own state.
Well, if it's immaterial, all bets are off, I suppose, now.
But OK, most people, most philosophers, including realist ones, think that, well, it is just the brain that was we're not we're not two things. We're just one thing. We're just an embodied brain. But somehow the brain has these special properties that are kind of presented to the person constituted by the brain in a special, immediate way. And I find that hard to understand.
I'm not saying you couldn't produce some metaphysical theory that would underwrite it, but I find that let's. Can we do it without that first? I think that's this here's another reason for being kind of cautious about these properties. I'm cautious is all I want to be, really.
It's that they're private and private in a really deep sense. I would obviously, in a sense, everything that happens in my brain is private. It's locked away in my skull and you need special instruments and so on to detect what's going on in there. But these things are private in a much more radical way. Neuroscience could you know, scientists could map every single neuron firing in my brain, but they would never uncover, never detect the quality of the experiments that is produced by it.
It seems it's always remains conceivable. But my experience of the world, my college experience is different from yours. We all we both would agree that that's blue and that's yellow. And that's how those are the labels we put on things of that color. But what is that color like to me in on the inside subjectively? What kind of quality were produced by that?
Is that why is that suspicious, though? Like, I can see how that's inconvenient. It makes it very hard to understand and theorize about consciousness. But why it sounds like you think that suspicious makes it unlike any other aspect of the world.
I think it's certainly unlike any aspect of the world that can be studied by science, because the whole point about science is that you're trying to you try to have instruments, you try to triangulate things, you try to compensate for individual bias and get a picture of what things are like in themselves. And this requires having multiple perspectives on the same thing. The trouble with these things is that there's only one perspective on them, the perspective of this mysterious thing in my head.
And now that means I think that these are unlike the rest of the natural world and that that you can't do science on them. I see.
So that. Yeah.
So the reason it's suspicious then is just it seems unlikely that there would be this thing in the world that is unlike everything else and can't be studied and and and it would just happen to be something, an aspect of us that we kind of focus on when we start to think about our own mental processes in a kind of reflective way.
It's now that I think, too, is suspicious. I mean, it's a very we have a very we are pretty complicated creatures by any stretch of, you know, by anybody's account. And we have some sort of self-awareness of our own mental processes. And it wouldn't be surprising, I think, if that picture was not wholly accurate. Why would why would nature of equipped us to be nature has equipped us to be super neuroscientist's or to have a super understanding of our own mental, but we don't need that.
We maybe need some sort of rough-and-ready understanding of what our brains are doing and what kind of states we're in, but we don't need to know it in detail. So maybe it's provided it with something much more sketchy and caricatured. And distorting and let's put it this here is a way of putting it that I was in one paper. What we have, I think what everyone should agree, I think, is that these properties, these Prolia phenomenal properties, the different words and they they used with different connotations that I'm kind of smearing over those here.
Some people might want to say that that they matter, but I don't think they do. To the big picture. These properties are anomalous that aren't that unusual. I think everyone can agree with that. They're not like properties. They're not like other properties of the human body, properties like that, just respiration reproduction of the plant, which we got a pretty good grip on. They're not like other mental properties, like emotional emotions and memory. And so I insofar as they don't involve consciousness, we have good cognitive accounts of what's going off there.
And these seem really anomalous. There seems nothing else like this. I'm not this kind of three approaches we could take to that. One is to say, yes, they they seem anomalous and they are anomalous. And we've got to do some very radical theorizing in order to account for them. We've got to either say there's a kind of we have to do some heavy duty metaphysics, that these things are not part of the physical world. They're kind of some aspect of the world non-physical aspect of the world, perhaps.
And this is a suggestion that is gaining popularity. They are something like a fundamental feature of physical reality, like the intrinsic nature of all matter is conscious in this way. These phenomena all matter has this intrinsic, physical, intrinsic, phenomenal aspect of it.
Are you saying that that that view is beginning or that approach is gaining popularity among philosophers or. Yes, in popular culture?
Yes. Yes, it is. Yes, it is. What's the name for it?
Sikhism. Because its psyche everywhere. It's actually something like Pann phenomenon ism, because what it's supposed to be everywhere is not thought and intelligence and emotion of these things, but the feeling like there are building blocks.
And so the idea is that physics tells us what an electron does say, but it doesn't tell us what an electron is, what it's actually like in itself. If you were to get down there and sort of look at an electron, what would you see? It wouldn't be coloured or what it's like in itself. The idea as well. The only conception we have of the intrinsic nature of things is the intrinsic nature of ourselves. What it's like to be has this phenomenal aspect.
And so maybe it's the same for an electron. Electron has its own sort of private kind of subjective nature, which is a bit like with that, that seems incredibly implausible.
How would an electron have an internal. Well, I'll let you continue. What is registering the Datsuns? Very.
And the idea it's well, it's very it's a very simple form of it. You know, it's not subtle, like, you know, tasting a particular wine or something. It's not the richness of the dimensions, but it has a very primitive form of phenomenology.
And then the idea is that our phenomenology is somehow a construction from the phenomenology of all of the phenomena, of all the the molecules that compose our brains in the way that our cognitive functioning is a consequence of the dynamics and structure of all those physical. So you put the things together, the right structure in the right way, and you get the the dynamics of the brain. You put the phenomenology of the bits in place and you get the consciousness of the whole brain.
I feel like this is like like in, you know, hot and cold. I feel like we're getting colder. Like we're making the world more confusing with this.
I think this one I think there's one way in which these people are right, which is that you can't get be realist about consciousness in this phenomenal sense, in the sense that I think is the bad sense. You can't be realist about that without paying some quite heavy metaphysical price. If you really want to be realist about it, you've got to fit it into the natural world somewhere and it doesn't fit in easily. OK, so now maybe that's a way to get it into the natural world.
You've got to find a place for it somehow. Maybe it just pops into existence. When you get complex enough brains, that will be enough that that's the sort of form of emergent ism you stop nature starts building brains and you get small brains and they don't have this internal aspect to them. They just, you know, information processing mechanisms get bigger and bigger and bigger.
And at some point between the the first organism and as the kind of the lights came on inside. And with all that complexity, all that information processing, which was doing all the work, after all the lights came on and there was an interior aspect to it all. Now, then the question is, well, how did that happen? And it's there's absolutely no way of knowing because we cannot tell which other creatures have this other than US entity. Strictly speaking, you can't be sure anyone else has it apart from you.
So there you have a kind of arbitrariness. At some point, the lights come on in them in the natural world.
Is it really more arbitrary than than defining life, like there's a bit of fuzziness at the boundary of what we consider life, like viruses or what really life and you know, the world is kind of messy.
That is consciousness worse on that score?
I think it is worse in two ways. One is that there doesn't seem to be a sort of in-between condition of like just a little bit of an interior world. You know, either there is something it's like to be either it has this first person perspective or it doesn't. It may be a very impoverished perspective. And there's only a sort of something very boring, but it is like to be an electron or an amoeba or whatever it is. But there's still either something.
It's like it either has this first person perspective or it doesn't. It's hard to say. I could have a half a perspective. It's either like something or it's not the inner light. So either on or off. And second, there's just no way of I mean, with life we can the reason it's difficult is because it's just because we have difficulty specifying precisely what we count as life and what we don't. I mean, there's no hidden facts here.
It's just that. Do you call that life? Which features are necessary for life? It's a kind of a terminological issue. There's no hidden fact here. They're radically hidden. In fact, no matter how we define this thing, we just can't tell where it is and where it isn't. And if someone says, look, my capacity to that is no test you can do to prove it doesn't have it.
Yeah, although you could you could, you know, as a subjective bagian, you could you could take humans who are you know, you're very confident, have it and look at, I don't know, apes and dogs and other creatures that you're like somewhat less confident have it for reasons involving both like observing their behavior and also reasoning via evolution about, you know, how similar our brains should be. And then, you know, you can look at like what which features of of lesser and lesser species are shared with the higher species and kind of form grievances about how likely it is that the lower species each have the property of of subjective experience.
So I'm just saying, like, even though you can't know for sure, I'm saying you can you can guess with better than random chance. I hope they. Right.
I'm not sure. I think that's a very natural way of approaching it. But it assumes that consciousness has some kind of function, that it is doing something and we can detect we can accommodate it with certain behaviors and reactions. And so and so now with this kind of bad picture of consciousness, you can't do that.
It might be easier to let go of this model if we have an alternative. Absolutely. Well, let me just work through quickly what the three positions board positions you can take on this. One is to sort of accept this conception of this very anomalous thing. But we have this very anomalous aspect of our of our of our natures and say it's real, it's it's there. It can't be accounted for by science as we know it. We're going to have to expand science or go into metaphysics.
We maybe go with Psyche's and we maybe say that they are these radically emergent properties that are not explicable in terms of the properties that are in terms of lower level properties. Just that when you get certain kinds of structures, this extra property just pops into existence inexplicably. So there are various ways of doing that. But they all involve, oh, you could you could start appealing to maybe to some some strange effects in physical effect, like quantum effects that we don't yet understand.
And somehow they produce this stuff. But it means going well beyond the existing cognitive science and into completely new realms. Some people think we have to do that. Another response is a more conservative response. It says, no, we can kind of explain all this in the standard using the standard resources of cognitive science by talking about representations in the brain and maybe some sort of self-awareness. This is where the self awareness comes back. And maybe when we start to represent our own experiences to ourselves, that's when this apparent subjective experience comes in, the subjective experience comes in.
And so you have this whole bunch and their standard take on this is that, yes, experience does have this this strange, subjective aspect. But it's just because of the way that we look at it introspectively what we're actually looking when we focus on the quality of experience, the blueness of the experience itself, as opposed to the blueness of the cup, as it were.
What we're actually focusing on is just some kind of pattern of neural activity. That is what we're aware of. But we're just looking at it from an unusual angle, as it were. So, yeah, this is an identity theory. The idea is that this the pain is just the firing of certain neurons there.
The same thing. Okay, so the idea is we have some sort of introspected mechanism mechanisms that allow us to sort of scan our own brain activity when they Stanson sorts of brain activity. This is what it's like.
I think that's the view that I like. If you'd asked me to explain consciousness, I would have fumbled my way towards something like that, that's been the standard view. Now, illusionist just goes a bit in many ways, but the fundamental sort of commitments, ontological commitments are the same as the physical people. But it just goes a bit further. It says, well, yes, there is some sort of introspected mechanisms involved here, but what they're doing is misrepresenting their targets.
It's not that they're targets. These brain states really are like that really do have these simple, essentially private qualitative properties. Brain states couldn't have those. They just way too different. It misrepresents brain activity as being like that. That's my team, so it's my problem with the physical's, with that sort of picture, it's not that they're not physically they're not called physically. Well, it's a physicalist approach. I mean, so say people have representational theories of consciousness.
They identify phenomena conscious with the a certain kind of representational state or certain kinds of second-order, monitoring of representation of perceptual states, that they do it all in terms of representations of mental representations, the kind of stuff that are the bread and butter of cognitive science. My problem with them is not that they're not giving good explanations of what's actually happening, but they're passing them off as explanations of phenomenal consciousness, as explanations of consciousness, as conceived in this fake way.
Now, I think mechanisms like that may very well be operative, but they're not that they cannot explain consciousness in this strong, phenomenal sense because that is impervious to explanation. That's the whole it's a it's a folk picture. And you're never going to get I mean, look, here's an analogy. In the Middle Ages, people thought that sometimes people were possessed by demons. And I guess some people sincerely thought they themselves were possessed by demons. And they maybe, you know, this is very convincing to them, perhaps the first person perspective.
Now, then, let's say modern psychiatry, political psychology, whatever comes along, gives a lot quite a different explanation of what's happening. And now to you say that's what demons really are, that they really are really it's schizophrenia or whatever that characterization modern psychiatry gives of it. Or do you say no, stop thinking about in terms of demons altogether? This isn't an explanation of what demons really are thinking in terms of demons. Just the wrong way.
Don't even start there. Start with this other conception. That's kind of what I'm asking to do, because so long as you try to pass off some sort of cognitive explanation as an explanation of phenomenal consciousness, the realist's won't be happy, they will say. But you're dodging the hard question, the hard problem. You're not really explaining this thing that we have in mind when we talk about consciousness thing that is essentially private, that is immediately presented to us, and that could be inverted that zombies could like.
You're not explaining that because I can imagine a zombie having all those mechanisms of introspection you've just described, but not being phenomenally conscious. And so you're never going to satisfy them.
I mean, does does it seem at all worrying to you that, like, I sort of feel like if you're going to argue that something is an illusion, you need to you need to show people how the illusion is done, you know, like a magician delusion. And the way you know that you succeeded is if people have this, that's how it's done feeling and they no longer feel like there's a mystery or magic to be explained anymore. So do you think it's a bad sign about your theory that it is not producing that like, oh, OK.
Now I you know, I'm no longer confused reaction in people or is the fault in them for, like, failing to grasp the complete explanation? I don't mean to, you know, be antagonistic towards them, I just it's OK if it is an illusion and of course, nothing too much hinges on that. The word illusion and the analogies that of the connotations that illusion has, it's a mistaken belief are systematically generate a mistaken belief, I suppose, if it is an illusion.
It's a very sort of deep rooted one. Now, how far it's the product of the sort of the hardware and how far it's a product of a certain sort of reflection that we bring out of our introspective hardware and how far it's a product of reflection on the deliverances of that hardware. So we kind of introspect. I mean, something we sort of theorize it in the way we apply a scientific theory to that. I don't really know. And some people think that it's that it's kind of hardwired into our brains.
Nicholas Humphrey, the psychologist, has a quite a lovely theory about how this illusion is has been. It's it's an adaptive feature. It's a natural selection that this feature was selected for because it enhanced it made the world it made up our lives and our experiences seem richer and more important to us.
We started to have an extra level of interest in our own existence, made us seem special, adaptive.
He thinks so.
He thinks that we began to relish experience for its own sake. We began to reflect not just on the one Chrissa are thought of will to survive.
He thinks that it also he also thinks it played an important role in socialization. I think that we began to see each other as centres of specialness. So we were just like, you know, the natural world. We weren't even just like other animals. We were these pictures with souls, it seems he calls the book sold us. We began to conceive of ourselves as creatures that were special, that have this in a world which could perhaps survive death and others around us, us having these special inner worlds, as to and so does mattering in a in a in a way that other creatures didn't, that their lives mattering in a way that other creatures did.
And he sees this as kind of the root of all that makes humans human lives special.
You you mentioned earlier that pens I give them was growing in popularity among philosophers.
Are there any other kind of trends you can point to in the last 20, 30 years of of discussing consciousness, the hard problem of consciousness that people like some theories have been rejected or some theories that have been people have converged at all? And to what extent has that any of those trends been the result of like empirical evidence as opposed to just people making better arguments? Oh, right.
I think the modern debate about what to say, Martin, I mean, in the last 30 years, last 20, 30 years, was really shaken up by David Chalmers. Nineteen ninety six book The Conscious Mind, in which he stated I mean, he was building on a lot of work that had been done in the past, but he made a very forceful presentation of an anti physicalist view of consciousness, drawing on things like the zombie argument. And he really kind of helped to revive interest in the problem and to revive interest in the viability of Anta physicalist approaches to it.
And so you kind of see now the standard physicalist response to that, I think, was to say, well, yes, you know, there is something here we need to explain, but we can kind of explain it in terms of a sort of conceptual dualism rather than any metaphysical dualism. So there's two different ways of looking at of conceptualizing these states, these brain states. One is the perspective of the neuroscientists and the other is the introspective perspective of the person who is undergoing the states.
And they conceptualize these states very differently, but they are, in fact, the same state. And this was often known as the conceptual phenomenal concept strategy, because we argue that we had special concepts, introspective concepts for thinking about about experience.
And so that was that was that was the sort of view that you were attracted to originally and that tried to reduce this metaphysical division to a mere conceptual division, to a different ways of thinking about the same thing. And I think what's happened probably in the last ten years or so is that faith in that strategy has kind of waned. Increasingly, people are seeing that that strategy won't really do it.
And I think that's why they give them that rushed in to fill the void.
And I see evolutionism as the kind of the other response to the breakdown of that kind of compromise strategy, because that strategy, the phenomenal concert strategy, kind of took seriously all the intuitions that the realists had, but claimed it could, you know, say, yes, yes, we can conceive of zombies. We can. Mary, her black and white, we talked about Mary, but she takes seriously all these intuitions that the the the rebels have but say that they're compatible with physicalism.
Now, that's what the phenomenal concert strategy was supposed to do. Increasingly, people are seeing that that's not right. You've either got to take those intuition. If you take this intuition seriously, you've then got to do something like sarcasm or emergencies or something. You've got to actually pay the metaphysical price or reject those intuitions and go illusionist.
So all of this is evolution of your collective understanding of consciousness is down to argument, not to empirical evidence, right. Like, all right, I guess I don't know stuff like Mr. Was it Mr. Crabgrass who clap, clap, clap, clap. Yeah.
Or or the medical evidence about split brain patients or something like that.
Kind of. Yeah. That kind of thing influencing the consciousness debate. Was there anything like that that that ended up influencing it.
I think they, I think all that stuff is slowly pushing towards the sort of picture. I probably would say this wouldn't take the sort of picture that I have shown how that simple, introspective picture breaks down. Right.
And how we can gradually dismantle this user interface and how when the interface doesn't function properly, we begin to get glimpses of how it's actually being constructed. So I think all that stuff does what the reason we're not a lot of this debate is is conducted at a distance from the empirical literature simply because for a lot of people, it's a metaphysical debate. It's about the place of these things in the physical world. And of course, if they're not actually aspects of the physical world, then physical science know, if they're essentially subjective, then science is going to tell you zero about them, although maybe they would feel less drawn to the metaphysical explanations if they had a more compelling physical explanation.
So I could imagine empirical evidence indirectly helping resolve these debates that seem metaphysical because people realize they don't need them.
I think that's I think that's what should happen and I think it probably will happen.
But this the thing is some people start with a very, very strong intuition that these things are presented to us, that the qualia presented to us in a way that is immediate and transparent, transparent in the sense that the whole nature was the other.
Whether they are revealed to us, we know that there's nothing hidden about them, what the nature of the phenomena.
But we're not making an inference of any kind. We don't need to. It's we just by having the experience and just attending to the experience, we can know everything about the character of that property that we're experiencing now. It's pretty obvious, I think, that if that's your conception of what needs explaining, then science isn't going to get you much help on that because there's a kind of a relation here between the subject, whatever the subject in this case is supposed to be, and the object that we couldn't have to any feature of the physical world, I don't think how could we know any feature of the physical world in that immediate, transparent, revelatory way?
I it's certainly I can't think of any other model, any model for that in any other. Area of of of of natural science sites, we're out of that realm and therefore the debate, as you know, is conducted at a it's to suggest that science should shed light on this is for some people is to sort of kind of miss the point of the whole is to miss the target for the whole debate.
Can you can you conceive of any scientific evidence that maybe we can't obtain with our current scientific, you know, technology but that we could in theory obtain that, do you think would settle the debate?
I can think of some that I think should go a long way, but I don't know whether it would work. And it was something like this. I suppose we could start to to map the introspective mechanisms responsible for creating this usable of illusion so we can explain why we have this introspective picture of ourselves, why it seems to us that we are confronted with this immediate access to this private world of qualia, and we can explain all our judgments about it, all our intuitions about it, why it seems so mysterious and inexplicable, and so we can explain all of that in cognitive terms.
So we can say simply, look, I know you think this stuff is real, but even if it weren't real, you would still believe all of that.
This is kind of like it feels very parallel to attacking moral realism. Exactly. Explaining evolution. And it's like pollution would have produced these moral intuitions in us if there were no such thing as moral truth. Exactly.
It's a debunking and debunking argument. So. So. Now and David Chalmers has written a recently fascinating book called The Meta Problem of Consciousness Nanometre problem is precisely that of explaining what our intuitions about it. And he thinks it's quite possible that that we can do that in standard cognitive science terms, in physical terms, we can explain all our intuitions about it in this way. Thereby providing the premises for debunking argument against realism, and he's quite open about this and he's quite clear that that would provide a good argument for the illusionist and he actually has some and he's not an illusionist.
So that's that's kind of a nice thing for him to do, to lay out what would prove him wrong. And he's very clear.
He's very clear, though, that if he were an illusion, a physicalist, he would be an illusionist. He thinks it's the coherent way for a physicalist to go. And that's why I'm absolutely on board with him about that. I think he's right. But he says yet despite the existence of this debunking argument, which still we would still know that consciousness was reveal because we're directly acquainted with it and we are now.
Now, in response to that, I try to add a little paper comment on that. I try to run a parallel argument, which I think is analogous. That may seem a little unfair, which is something like this. We take UFO reports and we we take a bunch of reports and we managed to show that all of them are explicable of the beliefs that observers believe inexplicable in mundane terms that were some atmospheric disturbance, that was some aircraft or whatever it was that were hallucinating, whatever it was.
And we show this to everyone's satisfaction. But the the the observer says, yes, OK, I accept that.
I accept that there was an atmospheric disturbance there, but they were still definitely a UFO there as well. I know that my belief wasn't caused by the UFO.
I know it was caused by this disturbance in the air. But there was a UFO behind it all the same. Or I know that I was hallucinating. I didn't actually see the effect, but there definitely was one there all the same. And we say, how do you know that? And he says, well, I've got a kind of sixth sense for UFOs. I've got this extra sense for UFOs that is kind of they just when they're present, they just immediately reveal themselves to me.
And I know they're there with absolute conviction.
And although I'm not a very flattering analogy, I'm afraid it isn't.
But but I'm it does seem that that's kind of the dialectic that the argument is, even if it might be even if my beliefs about phenomenon consciousness are not produced by phenomenal consciousness, that's still true. David articulated this position right back in his book on in 1996 The Conscious Mind.
He called it the paradox of phenomenal judgment, that zombies who are just like us but don't have no conscience, would believe they were phenomenally conscious in his own between, would be convinced of the reality and non physicality of consciousness as he is now.
My feeling is that if we could fill in this picture or more, fill in the debunking, I get to fill in the details. I don't know. Look, I mean, I didn't really answer the question you asked earlier about the people who can't. Shake up, even if you have the illusion explained to you, it doesn't disappear. Yeah, and whether that fact is is a sign that you haven't successfully explained your theory is missing something still.
And what I talked about there was about Niks theory, about it being sort of hardwired feature of our of our evolving told us. Yes, exactly. Now, if it is, that would explain why we can't shake it. I mean, if we're hard wired to conceptualize ourselves in that way, then sure, we're not going to shake it. It's going to be like the multilayer illusion, you know, over which you don't trust it. On reflection, it's still going to seem to be there.
Yeah, and that might be right. Another approach, which I think Tenet is more sympathetic to is the idea that what we're doing here is projecting a sort of philosophical theory or fake philosophical theory onto it, introspection that we can reconceptualize it, that we're not hard wired to think that when people who are into Buddhist philosophy tell me that this is what Buddhist thinkers have been doing for a long time.
So I think it's an open question to what extent we could shake off this fake picture.
Well, before I let you go, Keith, I think that's probably as unconfused as I'm going to get in one session.
So before we wrap up, I wanted to ask you if there is a book or a thinker who you substantially disagree with, but who you nevertheless, nevertheless have gotten a lot of value out of out of reading and anyone like that come to mind?
Well, in the case of consciousness, I would say David Chalmers, his book, his 1996 book, The Conscious Mind, it's a magnificent book. He's a brilliant philosopher. He argues with exceptional rigor and clarity. And he's presented the case for a non-physical view of consciousness in the most powerful and persuasive way. And he's structured my thinking about the whole debate. And in some ways, what I'm doing is kind of having an argument with him. But it's an argument that is in many ways shaped by his way of forming the debate.
And I mean, I think he's got a lot of the of the structure of the debate. Absolutely right. I think he makes some some wrong turnings at certain points. But I think that the way that he sets up the debate is right. I think it's a brilliant writer. He's certainly had a big influence on me, I would say, in terms of the quality of his writing as a philosopher. And so I would in fact, I would encourage everyone to read the strongest presentations they can find of their opponents views, that they present a challenge.
They stimulate you. They make you really want to sharpen up your own position with people who agree with you. That's far too easy and that that would sharpen you up. If you want to go to work and find somebody who can really challenge you, really push you, really make you go the extra extra mile. And Thomas does Anthony. My knee jerk reaction was to to give an amen, but, you know, I want you to I want you to keep following me as I'm vainly searching for some reason why people shouldn't read views that disagree with them anyway.
That way lies madness. Keith, thank you so much for coming on the show.
I am still confused, but I have at least a much like, clearer and richer picture of the sort of landscape of what people are arguing over and what the sticking points are, which is really helpful.
So thank you so much. And yeah.
Well, thank you. I think it was I think you said there's no fear of consciousness. Little things said that isn't crazy.
So so I think you just pick which which flavor of crazy you want and I think might be like, oh, all right.
Well thanks again. Thank you.
You I'll have to do for now and we'll we'll link to your website and your blog and your Twitter handle, which I really enjoy following and to illusionist.
And if you want to give me a couple links of kind of charmeuse, best papers or books for people to read that present the other side in the strongest possible way, let me know.
OK, well, the. OK, thanks very much. Well, this concludes another episode of rationally speaking. Join us next time for more explorations on the borderlands between reason and nonsense.