A technician explains measurements whilst a scientist explains observations.

Materialists should read this first

What is this life if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?
(WH Davies)

Materialism is the belief that everything is due to matter and the flow of matter from place to place. Materialists tend to believe that we get our identity and meaning from our interactions with society and the world in general and there is no need for any inner mind or soul. Materialism differs from Physicalism (see Note 1), Physicalism does not as yet make any emphatic predictions about mind or soul. Materialism is widespread because it is taught in school as "science".

Materialism does not allow the transfer of information from the past to the present except as recorded data so the frozen instant is all that exists in the materialist paradigm. The instant is frozen because there is no time for motion to take place at an instant. If everything is due to the flow of matter and only the frozen instant exists then time is like the succession of frames in a motion picture. At every instant reality is a frozen three dimensional pattern, like a single frame in a movie.

The materialist concept of reality as but a single instant is what underlies the "homunculus" argument in the philosophy of mind. The homunculus argument runs as follows: photons might flow to create an image on the retina and the image on a retina can create a pattern in nerve cells in the brain but then what sees that pattern? The pattern on the nerve cells might be transferred to another set of nerve cells but then what sees that pattern? According to materialist reasoning it always seems as if another person, a little man or homunculus within us, is needed to view the content of our minds. So materialism contains a contradiction - all reality is held to be due to the flow of matter but this flow can never be our experience now, at this moment, and materialism has no other time available for experiencing anything. The problem of how we can experience anything will require a scientific approach rather than the ideological approach of Materialism.

Aristotle understood this flaw in materialism, he said that perception is a problem because it seems to involve the endless transfer of "impressions" from place to place. Leibnitz saw the difficulty when he realised that mechanical devices just push one upon another. Modern philosophers see this problem when they debate how perception can be any more than the transfer of "information" from place to place. Computer scientists see the problem when they argue about the "grounding" of data or information in computers, in Leibnitz's terminology computers are just electrons pushing one on another. Aristotle, Descartes, Leibnitz, Searle, Ryle and hundreds of other philosophers have all made reputations from pointing out that you can't get to the way we perceive the world by just transferring stuff from place to place.

These arguments all describe how successions of fixed 3D states seem to fail to describe mind and the arguments are still fairly topical – Harnad, Searle, Ryle etc are recent philosophers. This topicality demonstrates that the materialism being considered here is not a straw man but an active philosophical paradigm (See Note 1).

The problem is very severe, people have been thinking about it for millennia and have split into two main groups:

The materialists say that the physical world is made from stuff moving from place to place and time is like the frames of a film so if this does not describe mind then mind does not really exist. As a result everything we call mind is really "functions" (ie: motions from place to place) and judgements are the result of functions. We only judge that we have conscious experience.

The dualists say that the physical world is made from stuff moving from place to place and time is like the frames of a film so if this does not describe mind then the mind is non-physical. As a result science has little to say about religion.

Now, notice that both the materialists and the dualists have the same theory: that the physical world is made from stuff moving from place to place and time is like the frames of a film. This underpins both philosophies which is why they love debating the issue with each other.

Nowadays materialists are a subset of "physicalists" (see note 1) that adheres to nineteenth century science with the same tenacity that dualists adhere to pre-sixteenth century science. Both agree that they should use the idea of time and space that was current when Alexandria was in its heyday. Both groups use the Alexandrian model of time in which only the present instant exists without addressing the problem of how anything can exist for no time at all (the present has no duration) or, given that reality would be frozen at the hypothetical present, how anything can be known. Both groups use the time-extended nature of their actual experience to knit together the impossible instants of their theoretical idea of the world into a continuous whole without realising that this continuum is impossible in their Alexandrian cosmology.

Both materialists and dualists have the wrong cosmology, the physical world is not made from stuff moving from place to place in a simple way and time is not like the frames of a film. Over the past hundred years scientists have discovered that the world is not like this. Of course, it could never have been like this because we are not frozen like frames in a movie and do not experience an endless regress as the individual frames play from one homunculus to another without ever being seen. Now I wait for the gasps of denial, remember, materialism and dualism are not scientific ideas, they don't say "show us the observations and we will make testable hypotheses", they just deny that any cosmology after 100 AD has any relevance to what they claim is the "real" world. Relativity? It will be claimed that it is a materialist idea and anyway, only applies to things moving at high speed. Quantum physics? It will be claimed that it is just spooky nonsense that only applies to things that can't be seen.

Both materialists and dualists should update their cosmology and read some simple introductory texts such as Wikibooks Special Relativity, especially the section on the modern approach or Taylor's elementary educational texts such as Quantum physics explains Newton's laws of motion.

It is really shocking for materialists and dualists but the truth is that the whole of physics is based on relativity and quantum theory. As an example, dynamics, which is the basis of materialism, is due to the interchange of kinetic and potential energy and kinetic energy is an entirely relativistic effect even at low velocities. The true import of Relativity is that it tells us that the universe has four dimensions. Time is not like a series of movie frames, it is another direction for arranging things, a dimension, that is interdependent with the dimensions of space. Furthermore the path taken by moving objects is a quantum effect due to the interference between all the possible paths that an object can take so the materialist idea of motion itself is suspect. Physics portrays reality as a shimmering kaleidoscope of possible events that is unmasked as the point of the present moment sweeps over it.

I know that any materialists and dualists reading this are likely to just shrug their shoulders and declare that all of this "New" (ie: century old) physics only applies to special situations like high energy laboratories. Firstly it doesn't only apply to high energy laboratories, secondly, even if it did, it shows that the physical world is not simply stuff moving from place to place and so undermines the entire basis for the dualism/materialism debate. Just read the simple introductory texts in the links above.

Any scientist will always have been appalled by the way that materialists use theory to deny observation. This dismissal of observation is now doubly appalling because modern physicalism is much wider than materialism. Materialist cosmology is now known to be false and just a sort of "folk physics" that offers illusory certainties.

The alternative to materialism and dualism is empiricism. According to empiricism the mind is a valid observation that needs to be explained and we should not jump to premature conclusions when we know so little about how the universe works (see Time and conscious experience for a new empirical start to the problem of mind). Materialists reject empiricism because if there is only the frozen instant then all experience must be doubted because nothing can be known right now. This is a highly successful intellectual trap where the erroneous theory protects itself by denying even the possibility of evidence that might contradict it. If you remove the frozen instant then the absolute doubt is unwarranted. Given that Alexandrian cosmology is false it is amazing that this creed of doubt is so widely believed. See Time and Conscious Experience for another approach that is not constrained by ancient ideas about time.

The big difference between materialism and empiricism is that materialists believe we are like frames in a film whereas empiricists can see that we are looking at the film and try to explain how this could happen. The materialist error is straightforward, materialism reasons that a geometric line is obtained by placing points adjacent to each other, a plane is obtained by placing lines next to each other and a volume is a stack of planes so time is a stack of volumes. No! Dimensional time does not enter into physics as a stack of volumes and this is evident from the equations that describe spacetime. (See Presentism and the denial of mind and Some notes on projective geometry for more discussion).

Incidentally, it is precisely because we are not like frames in a film that we find it so easy to fantasise that computers could be like us. We have the ability to join the frames together into a continuous piece of cinema, we experience the movie but each frame of the film in the projector cannot experience anything. Digital computers are just static arrangements at the end of each clock pulse so the materialist claim that digital computers could be conscious is exactly equivalent to claiming that a photograph is conscious.

Please feel free to comment below.

Image courtesy Wiki Commons


Note 1: There is a difference between materialism and physicalism. In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry for physicalism it states: "Physicalism is sometimes known as materialism. Historically, materialists held that everything was matter -- where matter was conceived as "an inert, senseless substance, in which extension, figure, and motion do actually subsist" (Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge, par. 9). The reason for speaking of physicalism rather than materialism is to abstract away from this historical notion, which is usually thought of as too restrictive -- for example, forces such as gravity are physical but it is not clear that they are material in the traditional sense (Dijksterhuis 1961, Yolton 1983)."

Note 2: Look at any recent issue of philosophy journals that deal with conscious experience. In the Journal of Consciousness Studies December issue the titles are: "Must Phenomenology Rest on Paradox? Implications of Methodology-Limited Theories" and "False-Belief Understanding and the Phenomenological Critics of Folk Psychology", both of which are saying no more than that materialism does not explain mind, the paradoxes of phenomenology being related to the regress argument and "Folk Psychology" being the term used by folk physicists to describe the observation of mind.


  1. I’m sure you are right to point out that most of us philosophers operate with naïve, pre-20th century conceptions of physical reality. Suppose the materialist says that the brain has mental properties in virtue of its computational powers, or that its mental states are definable as functional states. Either claim presupposes a picture of the brain as a material object in which various parts stand in various causal relations to one another and that this in turn relies on the idea that the world is made from stuff moving from place to place, and that moments of time can be individuated as though time were discontinuous. Fair enough. But do you want to say that a proper understanding of contemporary physics reveals that there are not things that move from place to place? I’ll confess to a high degree of skepticism about such a claim. One might as well lambast the internal combustion theory of how automobile engines work, since it too depends on the idea that the world is made from stuff moving from place to place. It might well be that our pre-theoretical notions of what objects are, what space is, and what it is for an object to move in space are inaccurate in pretty deep ways, but this, I assume, should be construed not as the discovery that this world contains no objects that move from one place to another, but that our initial understanding of this was mistaken.
    I don’t know where the idea that materialists generally deny the existence of the mind or of consciousness comes from. The claim that a mental state is identical to such and such a neural state, or such and such a functional state, etc., is not to claim that it doesn’t exist. Things don’t fail to exist in virtue of being things that do exist. Dennett, for example, has an elaborate hypothesis intended to explain consciousness; one might well reject his explanation and object that he leaves out of account some essential feature of consciousness, but it’s misleading to frame the objection as the claim that he denies the existence of consciousness. (Dennett is fully capable of making straightforward claims about things not existing, e.g., God, and that’s not what he says about consciousness.)

  2. A function is something that changes the arrangement of things in the world. This means that a material "functional state" should be defined as the succession of positions of the material objects involved in the system that changes the arrangement of things. So your description of a "mental state" as a "functional state" is to define it as a succession of arrangements of objects. This means that a mental state would be like actually being the frames in the picture that accompanies this article. Are you sure about this? Is your own conscious experience at any moment like being a photo or like looking at a photo?

    If your conscious experience is like looking at a photo at any instant then we will need to introduce extension in time into our reasoning (see Time and conscious experience), otherwise we will be no more than a frozen set of objects and incapable of observation. Once our physical theories include extension in time we have left the materialist paradigm.

    You say that you "don’t know where the idea that materialists generally deny the existence of the mind or of consciousness comes from". Well, you seem to have redefined "mental states" as "functional states" that are a succession of frozen states, equivalent to a set of photo frames. I do not recognise this description of conscious experience as being like my own experience. Sure, I can recognise myself as an observer of the frames of a movie but not as actually being those frozen frames.

    Dennett's treatment of this problem in "Consciousness Explained" is to simply mock what he calls the "Cartesian Theatre" as absurd. He expects his readers to all nudge each other and nod in agreement that the way they see the world does not even deserve consideration because it would require an impossible homunculus inside the brain. It is here that materialism makes a big mistake, if a theory needs an homunculus to explain observations then the theory is wrong, not the observation. The theory that the way we see the world is solely due to the rearrangement of material objects over time does not describe the form of our observation, as Materialism admits an homunculus would be required to allow observation, therefore the theory is wrong or incomplete.

    Most remarkably, Dennett does not actually propose a theory of phenomenal consciousness. In "Consciousness Explained" the nearest he gets to an actual theory of phenomenal consciousness is to declare that his opponents "..just can't imagine how understanding could be a property that emerges from lots of distributed quasi-understanding in a large system"(p439). This is a shame because it is incumbent on those who propose theories to explain them, not to ask their opponents to imagine the theory for them.

    You ask "do you want to say that a proper understanding of contemporary physics reveals that there are not things that move from place to place?". Not quite, what I am saying is that the proper understanding of modern physics is that there are other effects and phenomena besides movements from place to place. Quantum entanglement is an obvious example of an effect between objects without motion over the space between the objects. Another, possibly more important example, is that in four dimensional spacetime there are directions in which objects have no separation (ie: the direction that we call the path of a photon). There are many other examples of effects across space that do not involve motion. The importance of these exceptions from the materialist paradigm is not that entanglement or zero intervals are actually involved in mind, it is that materialism does not exhaust the possibilities for a scientific theory of mind. There is no need to mock the "Cartesian Theatre" simply because materialism does not describe it, we could be scientists and develop physicalist hypotheses to explain it.

  3. Thoughts,

    A couple of points. First, I think the concepts of materialism and physicalism are a bit wishy-washy. A better concept is naturalism, i.e., the idea that there are laws that specify final states as a function of initial states. This probably approximates what you mean by "function".

    IMO, it is an inescapable fact (whether or not one is a naturalist) that every final state is either random, deterministic or a combination of the two. There is no third possibility. Determinism means the final state is determined by the initial state or by constants (i.e., things outside of time). If a final state is not determined by the initial state, then it is either determined by nothing (random) or by stuff in the future. Assuming the future does not already exist to cause the past, that leaves only randomness. This is the part that most non-naturalists object to because it eliminates libertarian free will (i.e., it means that, given identical initial conditions, you will always make the same choice, except, perhaps, by accident).

    Naturalism as I have defined it includes physicalism because physical stuff is lawful. It could also include some non-physical stuff as long as that was lawful, too.

    Second, the problem you refer to (and which Feser was talking about when I followed your link here) relates to the homunculus. You are asking, "What does it mean for a physical system to think about a thing?"

    Well, lets step back and ask what it means for us humans to think about a thing. For me to know that I can think about a thing, I must be able to say what it would mean for me to be mistaken. For example, how do I know that my thought about my telephone's ring is related to my telephone?

    I know that my thought is about my telephone when I would recognize telephone-related experiences when I had them.

    My experiences with telephones have created a circuit in my head that visually recognizes telephones, and another circuit that aurally recognizes phone rings. A thought about my own phone's ring is a thought that connects the two recognitions, and this thought is meaningful and has intentionality even if no one ever calls me (or even if the ringer in my phone is broken).

    IOW, there is a fairly simple physicalist/naturalist picture in which I can have intentional thoughts.

  4. Before we divert the discussion away from materialism it might be as well to consider why materialism is important in the history of philosophy of mind.

    When people are asked what visual conscious experience is like they report that it is like looking at a view with events distributed around a central observation point. When philosophers investigated this experience Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz and many others all traced the flow of material impressions into a viewing point that appeared to be impossible if materialism is true. Descartes called the viewing point the "Res Cogitans" and Leibniz called it a monad. Aristotle seems to have been more sophisticated than more recent philosophers. He reasoned that some physical phenomenon other than material flows may be involved in perception.

    If we take Aristotle's lead then perception can be understood as a geometrical phenomenon rather than a purely dynamical phenomenon. Conscious experience can then be analysed by postulating what geometrical form in the world corresponds to the geometrical form of our observation. (See Some notes on projective geometry). This analysis does not falsify your idea of "naturalism" but it would lead to the abandonment of any simple materialism or simple functionalism that uses an Alexandrian model of space and time.(See Whitehead's comments in the article Perceiving perception and seeing seeing).

    Once the Alexandrian theory of space and time is replaced by modern concepts it still leaves a deterministic, classical (ie: non quantum mechanical) description of the world. However, the homunculus is no longer needed because a point geometry for observation may be explained (See Time and conscious experience).

    The second part of your comment is interesting. In Time and conscious experience I point out that I only seem to have the past in my experience and that any processes seem to be done non-consciously with the results just popping into mind. Descartes and Bishop Berkeley also reported that this is the case. In your telephone example all the relationships between the data items are worked out non-consciously and just pop into conscious experience.

    You can test this observation by relaxing and listening to your thoughts. As Ryle pointed out, if you actually created thoughts consciously you would need to create the thought that creates the thought before creating the thought! (See Inner speech). In fact it is a condition of consciousness that procedural thoughts should be passive, perhaps generated elsewhere in the brain away from the part that hosts conscious experience.

    If we do not have active procedural thoughts in our conscious experience then intentionality is not a property of this experience. On this point Brentano was wrong and Berkeley was right.

    So what is the function of conscious experience? I have covered this in Time and conscious experience.

    The most disturbing aspect of modern physics for the functionalist (or "naturalist") is that the evolution of the state of the world gives rise to consistent histories. As an example, if Schrodinger's Cat were found to survive then in the strand of history that contains a live cat the vial of poison appears to have no function. On the other hand, in the strand of history that contains a dead cat the cat died from a random event. If "becoming" were a quantum mechanical phenomenon then events would appear deterministic even if they were in fact due to some phenomenon that selected the state of the world.

  5. Thoughts,

    I think your (or Aristotle's) observation about time is a good one, but that there is already a very elegant physicalist explanation for it in the form of "Hierarchical Temporal Memory". An HTM is a very interesting model of the human neocortex by Jeff Hawkins. The temporal aspect of these networks explains the perception of time in consciousness. You'll find details and presentations here: http://www.numenta.com

    If HTMs are correct (and the artificial networks do indeed work), there's no need to invoke higher dimensions to explain time in consciousness. Also, quantum mechanics does not require consciousness to collapse wavefunctions. QM doesn't even need to collapse wavefunctions. There are "interpretations" of QM that use these ideas, but not all interpretations do. Furthermore, interpretations of QM are not predictive, and an interpretation that does not require consciousness is just as predictive as one that does.

  6. A one dimensional Turing Machine can simulate computation in any number of dimensions (all that is needed is to simulate the second dimension by laying aside repeating segments of the first and so on). In principle a conveyor belt carrying carrots and a few mechanical actuators can compute in the same way as HTM. But do the carrots experience things simultaneously like we do? (See Simultaneity, the key to understanding mind?.

    I introduced the QM example to illustrate how a system could appear to be classically deterministic when in fact this is not the case.

  7. Thoughts,

    If a computer has a clock speed of 1 Hertz, "now" is 1 second long. So neither HTM's nor special physics are required to get the perception of simultaneity.

    HTMs go a step further. Consider vision. The lowest level nodes in the neocortex are recognizing things like dots and colors at fine-grained locations. The next level is recognizing lines, and doing so with less-fine-grained location precision. The next level recognizes corners. And the higher levels recognize shapes and familiar objects with little location precision.

    This kind of hierarchy has a side effect. The lowest levels in the hierarchy will report more detailed, more dynamic facts than the upper levels. The higher-level facts change less rapidly than the lower-level ones. At the lowest level, the network perceives detailed facts like "pixel at position 1053x487 is black". But as we go up the hierarchy, the time and location information is getting integrated away. At an intermediate level a node is recognizing that "a corner is present at the top left of my field of view, moving slowly". Recognizing corners necessitates integrating over space. At the very top of the hierarchy, the information hardly changes with time at all. "I see a square".

    This top level node representing "I see a square" is either on or off, and so all the other details about the square (like the motion of the lines and corners in space and time) will seem coincident and simultaneous with "I see a square."

    A similar effect takes place for music. The lower levels of my auditory hierarchy recognize timbres and notes, while the top level recognizes the song. When the song is recognized, it has integrated over all variations in space and time, so it must seem coincident with all of the details of any given song.

    Not only is no special physics needed in this picture, but we happen to know that the neocortex is in fact built from HTMs, albeit neuronal ones.

    Finally, if a belt with carrots and mechanical actuators was interacting with the world analogously to the way our neurons do, it could very well experience simultaneity as we do.

  8. Is your own conscious experience at any moment like being a photo or like looking at a photo?

    The objects in your would-be conscious processor are frozen at any instant in time and by your own materialist paradigm cannot know anything at an instant. It is like being a photo.

    If your conscious experience is like looking at a photo at any instant then we will need to introduce extension in time into our reasoning (see Time and conscious experience), otherwise we will be no more than a frozen set of objects and incapable of observation. Once our physical theories include extension in time we have left the materialist paradigm and mind as simple machine.

    Given that your machine is frozen at any instant, at what time does the machine actually know anything? What you are doing with the machine model of mind is looking at your machine with your human mind and using this to join up the stages of the machine into a continuous picture. Sure your mind can extend over time but your machine is just a jerky procession of frozen patterns. When a given frozen pattern is present at the end of a clock pulse the last pattern has entirely gone.

    This site is proposing that our conscious experience should be regarded as a valid observation (see Time and conscious experience). This observation shows that thoughts and ideas enter our experience "ready made": as Ryle argued, conscious experience is not and cannot be a processor or mechanism. I made this point before but you seemed to skip over it in your reply. To use Ryle's terminology, equating conscious experience with processing or functions is a category mistake.

    Ryle used this reasoning to mock the whole idea of conscious experience saying that a phenomenon without function was just a ghost in the machine of the brain. Nowadays we can be less materialist and propose that being a form rather than a process is relevant, for instance the discussions of the Anthropic Principle revolve around the way that only universes with a particular form can support the processes that make life. Which is not to say that I am arguing for the Anthropic Principle, rather I am arguing for the conceivability of the relevance of geometrical form.

  9. >The alternative to materialism and dualism is empiricism.
    >According to empiricism the mind is a valid observation
    >that needs to be explained and we should not jump to
    >premature conclusions when we know so little about how
    >the universe works (see Time and conscious experience
    >for a new empirical start to the problem of mind).
    An alternative to materialism, dualism, physicalism, and, maybe, empiricism is informationism. It states that consciousness (being understood as an ability of making a life-sustaining profit on dealing with information) is one of the three equally important factors (together with matter and energy) that influence the existence and development of our Reality.
    The existential condition formulates as follows: for anything to exist, it must be describable simultaneously by informational, material and energetic characteristics. The correlation of these three characteristics gives rise to the entropy characteristic of the whole system (here I mean that anything can always be treated as some system; see the paragraph below). The developmental condition formulates as follows: for a system to develop, its entropy characteristic must be changeable.
    Then we formulate a postulate on the existence of the integrated information system (or the IIS for short) by which we mean the limit to which knowledge/information about the object of cognition tends. At that, whatever IIS we take -- the IIS{living cell}, the IIS{geographical site}, the IIS{galaxy}, the IIS{historic moment}, the IIS{human}, etc., -- they all possess the same properties, describe by the same set of systemic characteristics, and obey the same law of development. The formalization/representation of the object of cognition as some integrated information system constitutes the essence of the method of IIS (for details see http://cogprints.org/4633/).
    Both the IIS{stone} and the IIS{living object} are information-sensitive -- their informational characteristics are equally changeable (we suggest the doctrine of pan-informationism instead of panpsychism). The difference between these systems is only in a value of their entropy characteristics. The case is that if the value of entropy characteristic is sufficiently low, then the system acquires a possibility to keep its entropy on such a low level itself -- the system becomes self-organizing.
    The entropy can be changed by changing either informational, material, or energetic characteristics, or the combination thereof (in total, there are six possible variants). If keeping the entropy on a low level realizes through changing the informational characteristic, namely, through processing the physical sensory signals and conceptualizing them (or transforming them into new information/knowledge/experience, or producing the increment of information), then we say that the system possesses consciousness. (At that, the system not necessarily must be of the organic nature). (For more see http://groups.yahoo.com/group/jcs-online/ post #7159).
    Serge Patlavskiy

  10. Hi Serge,

    Information is an arrangement of objects and is a consequence of the existence of spacetime - it is an emergent property of the occurrence of both objects and a spacetime in which to arrange them. I can see that because a set of objects can have many arrangements it can represent the arrangement of other sets of objects. But how does this move us forward on the problem of conscious experience other than suggesting that an arrangement of things in the brain might represent arrangements in the world?

  11. Information -- it is a difference between the known and the unknown for the given subject of cognitive activity. We have better to talk about the increment of information, or the increment of knowledge. The subjective experience (i.e., the experience which belong to the given subject of cognitive activity) -- it is the amassed increments of information.

    Second. We have to make a difference between the brain functioning and consciousness functioning, between the physical models (which include such elements as “signal”, “retinae”, “optic nerve”, “brain”, “neuron”, “living organism”, “body”, etc.) and informational models (which include such elements as “experience”, “increment of information”, “point of view”, “subject of cognitive activity”, “object of cognition”, “system{organism}”, “conceptualization”, “self”, “self-subject”, “self-object”, “person”, etc.). Therefore, the element "an arrangement of things in the brain" and the element "subjective experience" belong to different kinds of models, and cannot be used in the same sentence. With this regard, there can be no answer to the formulated question. A question, to be answered, must be properly (or correctly) formulated.

    Serge Patlavskiy

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. Serge, interesting comments.

    Information is both spatial and temporal arrangements. Information has a natural hierarchical structure due to spatial and temporal localisation (ie: wheels belong to cars, he trips over a step etc.). The "incremental" information that you describe would seem to correspond to this natural classification due to "what belongs to what" and "what causes what".

    I think you have identified the difference between an arrangement of things measured in the brain and an arrangement in experience. Your examples of brain arrangements are 3D features whereas your examples of arrangements in experience such as "increment", "point of view", "self-object" are four dimensional forms (or even five dimensional forms see Time and conscious experience). Measurements are designed to isolate a succession of 3D forms rather than to produce a 4D model - in fact this is the whole import of the article above! A 4D form is not like the materialist idea of a succession of 3D forms, time enters the analysis as a negative dimension (see Perceiving perception and seeing seeing, especially Whitehead's reflections on Alexandrian cosmology).

  14. "Information has a natural hierarchical structure due to spatial and temporal localisation (ie: wheels belong to cars, he trips over a step etc.)."

    Only one remark. The cognitively independent entity possesses no immanent features. It is a subject of cognitive activity who ascribes such or other feature to the enframed (isolated) entity and, thereby, transforms it into the object of cognition. Information does not have an immanent feature of having "a natural hierarchical structure" -- information is subjective. They are we who treat wheels as belonging to the car. Moreover, when we say "car", or enframe some entity as a "car", we already presume it possesses the wheels. If there are no wheels, there is no car yet.

  15. We seem to differ on whether or not "information is subjective". You seem to be suggesting that "information" only applies to a particular arrangement of objects, the subjective arrangement. I would agree that the subjective arrangement of objects is highly important for our understanding of conscious experience.

    If we introduce a time extended, spatiotemporal form, a "view" that contains the entity "car" complete with the car moving with people inside it then there is indeed a subjective aspect to information. I would maintain that such a time extended form does not just contain spatial arrangements of objects but, being time extended, can contain whole motions so has "people go into car" and "car moves people" present as the entire sequence of events, not just as a static symbol. Such a form would have events unfolding in the way that they unfold in real life - we see motions, not static events, we hear whole words not instantaneous sounds..

    Notice that the things in experience that are laid out in time are indeed timelike: when you experience a word it is entirely present but it has a motion within it from earlier to later. Similarly, when you look at a view it is simultaneously present but directed at a point (such a point is impossible in space alone). The geometry of spacetime is different from normal, spatial geometry. Spatial geometry originates in the Pythagorean metric ( r^2 = x^2 + y^2 + z^2) whereas spacetime geometry originates in Minkowskian geometry (s^2 = r^2 - (ct)^2 ) in which time enters as a negative term that generates viewing points ( 0 = r^2 - (ct)^2 ) which are zero separations between events that are otherwise distributed in space and time.

    So, I would disagree with the contention that information is subjective but would agree with the contention that the information within our experience is arranged specially so that it contains whole temporal extensions that confer meaning.

  16. "So, I would disagree with the contention that information is subjective but would agree with the contention that the information within our experience is arranged specially so that it contains whole temporal extensions that confer meaning."

    For there to be information, there must be a certain subject of cognitive activity. Therefore, information is subjective by default. If information is not subjective, then it is not information, but a physical signal. One and the same physical (sensory) signal may be informative to me, but not informative to other person. The book contains no information, but the black and white dots. For there to be information, there must be a conscious reader who can assign a meaning to these dots. Is the book in Chinese language much informative to you? But to a mandarine? To the point, I still do not know who I am holding a discussion with.

    PS See also http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/jcs-online/message/7373 for more discussion on information.

  17. "The book contains no information, but the black and white dots."

    Absolutely. A frame of a film contains no information but coloured dots, but what of the sequence of frames, in 4D they form a projective manifold (like a "light cone"). The 4D form still has little meaning at each instant but something else is happening, our experience is not confined to an instant, we can hear whole words and see movements. In New empiricism and meaning I explore the effect of this time extended geometry.

    The actual geometry involved is perplexing. Green (2002) contends that our experience involves five directions for arranging things. Such a proposal would account for much of our experience except "becoming".

  18. "Digital computers are just static arrangements at the end of each clock pulse so the materialist claim that digital computers could be conscious is exactly equivalent to claiming that a photograph is conscious."

    The neurons that compose the brain have a ~5ms recharge time between action potentials. Action potentials have a digital nature, a yes or no manifestation, Meaning at most around 200hz of binary information can be passed as a result of the functions per element|neuron.

    Further functionally the processing that take place in the brain are believed to be describable with classical physics. Which are in turn able to be simulated by a digital computer.

    A system that operates at a few 100hz at most, as seen by the functional need for synchronization through brainwaves operating at or below said frequencies, cannot avoid the same fate of the computer.

    As for time several physicists have argued through things, like the relativity of simultaneity, for a block universe|time. That is the present is an illusion, there is no transition from past|present|future, just a relationship of the various states. The relationship between states, simply exists, and gives rise to the qualia|sensation of time.

  19. Hi Flashprogram, yes, I agree that neurons have an all-or-none activity and that electric pulses with nearly identical forms occur whether you stub your toe or hear a symphony. Given this huge gap between our experience of colour as rolling green fields and electric pulses in the brain or the smell of the winter seashore and electric pulses in the brain we are going to need a far more cunning theory than the materialist idea that conscious experience is simply electric pulses in the brain. Conscious experience is delivered using electric pulses but it, itself is not those pulses.

    On the subject of time, this article points out that you cant know anything in no time at all and even a minute later you still cannot know anything if you have no time at all to know it in. I agree that the notion of time is debatable and I think modern materialists have a nineteenth century idea of time. You might be interested in the articles on Presentism and the denial of mind and McTaggart's unreality of time.

  20. Thanks for bringing this essay to my attention. I've not read the comments, but I've noted a number problems with the original essay.

    Briefly, the problems are:

    Your numerous denunciations of anonymous materialists, and your thin description of empiricism make your essay look like an elaborate exercise in the fallacy of the inverse and (in the technical sense) ad hominem arguments.

    The "essence" of materialistic philosophy is not -- except in the most narrow technical sense -- an attachment to any particular details of the ontology of physics; the essence is (as you note but apparently fail to understand) the denial of idealism, mentalism, vitalism and other similar dualistic ontologies.

    Your critique of materialism on the basis of a particular view of time seems both unjustified and perverse: you offer no argument that we should consider your particular metaphor about time (which appears to describe time as having the cardinality of the integers, contrary to the 19th century view of physical continua as having the cardinality of the real numbers) to be even canonical, much less strictly implied by even 19th century physics.

    Relativity and quantum mechanics don't change our ontology that much: ordinary classical Newtonian mechanics is still an emergent or abstract property of relativistic quantum mechanics, and even where relativity and quantum mechanics differ profoundly from classical Newtonian mechanics, nothing firm (and little even speculative) contradicts the fundamental materialist position that physical reality (even if the counter-intuitive relativistic quantum mechanical fields comprise that physical reality) is all there is.

    Your essay fails even as a "hook" to prompt self-described materialists such as myself to investigate your philosophy in greater detail.

  21. Note that I'm not employing the apparently classical, Newtonian behavior of physical reality under ordinary circumstances as an argument that we should ignore or dismiss relativity or quantum mechanics. Rather the argument goes that if interesting phenomena such as consciousness were to be found to be an emergent property of "naive materialism" (i.e. atoms bouncing around), and if we find that atoms bouncing around is an emergent property under ordinary circumstances of relativity and quantum mechanics, the the discovery of the underpinnings of apparently classical behavior doesn't (necessarily) change our understanding of things that emerge from apparently classical behavior.

  22. A "particular view of time" is central to materialist philosophy. In the article I point out how the regress arguments are a result of considering time as a simple succession of events so that we can never have experience now because nothing happens now. I then show that this leads to the denial of phenomenal experience. This line of reasoning is common to every other materialist philosopher, it is central to eliminativism and is implicit every time a homunculus is mentioned.

    Dennett is quite clear about the involvement of time, for instance, Dennett (1988) says:

    "The infallibilist line on qualia treats them as properties of one's experience one cannot in principle misdiscover, and this is a mysterious doctrine (at least as mysterious as papal infal libility) unless we shift the emphasis a little and treat qualia as logical constructs out of subjects' qualia-judgments: a subject's experience has the quale F if and only if the subject judges his experience to have quale F."

    Notice how he redefines experience as a judgment of experience, as a process. Processes are successions of steps in time. Once he has done this Dennett can use school cosmology to deny conscious experience. Qualia are no longer infallible because each instant can record a doubt of the previous instant.

    On the subject of whether relativity influences our ontology we would need to be sure that dimensional time is not involved in conscious experience. If dimensional time is involved then the physics of Minkowski spacetime are central to our ontology. See Presentism and the denial of mind.

    I am sorry that I have not persuaded you to investigate further but as I say in my article, materialism is a deeply held ideology that cuts itself off from empirical considerations.

    Daniel C Dennett. (1988). Quining Qualia. in A. Marcel and E. Bisiach, eds, Consciousness in Modern Science, Oxford University Press 1988. Reprinted in W. Lycan, ed., Mind and Cognition: A Reader, MIT Press, 1990, A. Goldman, ed. Readings in Philosophy and Cognitive Science, MIT Press, 1993. http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/papers/quinqual.htm

  23. Barefoot Bum, your comments on emergentism are interesting. I would contend that most emergent properties are actually the result of geometry. For instance a word can emerge from a spray of ink drops because the 1D spray is expressed on a 2D surface, magnetism emerges from an electric current because of relativistic length contraction (see the Wikibook article on this), kinetic energy emerges from a moving mass because of relativistic energy-momentum in spacetime. So emergence is due to the existence of 2D paper, 4D spacetime etc.

  24. A "particular view of time" is central to materialist philosophy.

    Why? Certainly a materialist view will have some view of time, but why the view of time you describe? A view that, moreover, doesn't even match the 19th century pre-relativistic view of time, much less a modern, robust version of materialism or physicalism.

    This line of reasoning is common to every other materialist philosopher

    To convincingly support this assertion, you should cite and quote actual materialist philosophers, preferably modern ones.

    Dennett is quite clear about the involvement of time...

    Excuse me? The cited passage does not even mention time, much less the specific view of time you describe in this essay; the involvement of time in Dennett's passage is certainly not clear. The inference from "judgment of experience" to a particular view of time is not only strained and unclear, it is completely unwarranted by the cited passage.

    I would contend that most emergent properties are actually the result of geometry.

    Some emergent properties are. There's no reason from modern physics to believe that most or even many abstract emergent properties (e.g. consciousness or biological evolution) have anything to do with geometry. I fear you are verging on... er... non-standard... physics.

    I am sorry that I have not persuaded you to investigate further but as I say in my article, materialism is a deeply held ideology that cuts itself off from empirical considerations.

    This is a profoundly offensive statement to a person such as myself who aspires to be an honest seeker after the truth. I overlooked a similar offense in evaluating your original essay, but I should point out that if you truly believe my position can be only the result of obtusity rather than the quality of your arguments, then further conversation would be useless.

  25. The problem here is the idea of "function" or "process". A function or process is a change in the arrangement of objects over a period of time according to a set of rules. A change of state. Now I could introduce all functionalist philosophers at this stage and go through their reasoning one by one but my argument is not with how they have argued about "functions", it is about the concept of a function or process.

    If we move from one state to another and consider the second state to be disconnected from the first except by records (also available as a state change on a recording medium) then, at any moment, there is no scope for anything but a static arrangement of objects. This is the classical idea of a function and it is exemplified by the succession of states in a digital computer: at each clock pulse the machine has a defined and static state.

    These functions or processes are the embodiment of the materialist idea of change, they are objects being moved from one place to another. If this were to be the totality of the physical world then the message of my article is intact. Physicalism is more than materialism.

    As regards emergentism, consciousness is of unknown origin and evolution is questionable as a case of emergentism. Is there anything about a replicating nucleotide sequence and random changes in this sequence that is not predicated by simple Newtonian physics? A replicating mycoplasma is just a 3D arrangement of chemicals in motion, albeit a highly complex arrangement. It does not seem to represent any greater "emergence" than the dials showing a result on Babbage's first calculating engine or the click of a thermostat. The magnetic effect of a current however is entirely different, it is incomprehensible except as a primitive, underivable phenomenon in Newtonian physics. The same goes for kinetic energy or for explaining a 2D form solely on the basis of 1D ink sprays and 1D geometry.

    I am sorry to give offence but I truly believe that any theory that treats whole areas of observation as inadmissable because they disagree with the theory is an intellectual trap. Materialism dismisses first person reports as subject to doubt because, according to materialism, at any instant the immediate past is a subject of record, not a matter of continuing experience. It is the nature of the ideology: materialism = functionalism = presentism. Materialism is "time-blind", introduce time and we have physicalism and the possibility of progress.

  26. Interesting thoughts.

    I wonder what your view is of (if you're familiar with them) those like Susan Blackmore or Thomas Metzinger, who deny that there is a self to speak of?

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  28. Blackmore's idea that mind is an illusion is remarkable (See There is no stream of consciousness). First of all it is remarkable because she redefines illusion: "When I say that consciousness is an illusion I do not mean that consciousness does not exist. I mean that consciousness is not what it appears to be. If it seems to be a continuous stream of rich and detailed experiences, happening one after the other to a conscious person, this is the illusion."

    Secondly she bases her theory on change blindness and saccadic suppression: "What remains between saccades is not a picture of the world, but the information needed for further exploration.". But has never looked in the mirror!. The image of the eyes and face in the mirror is exactly the opposite of what Blackmore claims, we do indeed have visual experience between saccades.

    Most importantly she rejects out of hand the idea that there could be an extended present: "For example, we ask “Am I conscious now?”. At this point a retrospective story is concocted about what was in the stream of consciousness a moment before, together with a self who was apparently experiencing it."

    Blackmore is a good example of someone trying to fit Alexandrian cosmology to her experience and, after discovering that it cannot be done, rejecting her observation rather than changing her theory.

  29. I agree that Blackmore's tremendously "out there", so much so that I don't take her seriously. But given your rejection of that PoV, I was wondering if you address agency or what makes an agent anywhere on your blog? As opposed to the treatment of conscious experience divorce from any talk of a 'self' and so on.

  30. I think she is pretty cute about being out there. I see the body as a hierarchical processing system with spinal reflexes controlled by mid brain reflexes and spinal and mid-brain controlled by cerebral skilled reflexes. There seems to be little scope in this system for "conscious" control, except, maybe, in the acquisition of skills (see Conscious free will and empiricism). In that article I argue that it may be the state of my mind that fosters the acquisition of skills so if my global state of mind is my 'self' then self might be an agent, albeit an unusual and possibly non-classical agent. However this 'self' is not what many people people would call a self, my state of mind as I walk around includes objects that I call trees and dogs as well as more 'internal' objects.

  31. 'The alternative to dualism, and materialism, is empiricism'
    What? Dualism, and materialism are metaphysical positions, empiricism is an epistemological one. You can be a materialist, and an empiricist (in fact most most materialists would describe themselves as empiricists). The alternative to dualism and materialism is either physicalism (which IMO is materialists cheating by obfuscation - give me a definition of 'the physical'), IDEALISM which says that everything is ultimately mind instead of matter.

  32. Empiricism is an approach to knowledge, as you correctly assert. It is an alternative to blind belief. An adherent of idealism can be vaguely empiricist as can a materialist but both of these start from a belief rather than arriving at that belief on the basis of experience. Neither is true to the spirit of empirical research at this stage in the development of human knowledge.

    As you say, defining physicalism is notoriously difficult. I would define something else that is more useful: predictive science. Predictive science is the relationship between empirical observations. Whether this, in the long run, results in idealism or something akin to modern physicalism is a matter for philosophical argument but predictive science is independent of such outcomes.

  33. Hello, I can see the frozen time, because I always see the past, even if it is just milliseconds, but it is always the past. Therefore my perception CAN be frozen in a frame, as the thing I perceive at that moment is in fact the previous moment.

  34. But the past is not frozen, watch your fingers move or hear a sound.

  35. Your blog is full of different and therefore interesting & thought-provoking stuff. More perhaps later, but for now I’d like to comment on a comment on “Materialists should read this first”, Serge Patlavskys’s remark of 9 Ap 2009.
    The “Table-Leg Problem”. There was no word for the supports of tables and chairs. So people were forced to extend the word ‘leg’. Used this way, it’s a metaphor. It’s a forced metaphor – ‘forced’ because there’s no other term for a table-leg. But because you use the word ‘leg’ of tables, it doesn’t mean they can walk, or dance, or kick you. The technical term for extensions / metaphors of this sort is catachresis.
    Because of the way the modern world perpetually pours out inventions, we have endless quantities of this figure of speech. I.e. we have Galloping Catachresis. BUT did insects ‘invent’ winged flight? No. Does Radar ‘see’ a plane? No. That would be like saying your spectacles see a plane. A telescope sees nothing; it is I who see something through the telescope. Similarly my brain sees nothing: it is my consciousness which sees something through my brain. Do computers contain information or knowledge? Only metaphorically so. This figure of speech is responsible for a very prevalent fallacy, namely the attribution of conscious activities to material objects. ‘Seeing’, ‘perceiving’, ‘sensing’, etc, are all misused in this way. They are extended, borrowed, metaphoric.
    Machines (whether electronic or otherwise) don’t have ‘memories’, any more than a dictionary has a memory. It’s convenient and handy, one must admit, to use the words ‘memory’ and ‘information’ of them, but we must not be misled by this. They’re not ‘intelligent’. Their machinery stores vast quantities of information in unconscious and potential form, but which our conscious minds can access and thereby transform into consciously known information. Computers are (in Raymond Tallis’s beautiful phrase) ‘prosthetic extensions of the conscious human body’. See his book APING MANKIND.
    It can’t be seen therefore how an unconscious machine or assemblage of material bits and pieces could be built / put together in such a way as to "produce" consciousness. Consciousness is simply a different sort of “thing” to matter. To be precise, it is the reverse / converse / opposite of matter, because material objects can be perceived but cannot perceive – whereas conscious minds can perceive but cannot be perceived. (An ancient statement of the problem, due to Berkeley. It needs to be meditated upon.) As between matter and consciousness, we are dealing with two totally different kinds of “thing”. On the other hand, as experience shows, they plainly interlock and interact – perhaps we should look at this rather in the way we look at the interaction / interdependency of negative and positive.
    Among other problems therefore, I cannot see how a difference in entropy (which SP suggests here) could produce / explain consciousness!

    Graham Dunstan Martin (Soulreasons)

  36. I would propose that "Consciousness is simply a different sort of “thing” to matter" as we conceive it. We do not even know the nature of mass although the findings at the LHC suggest that it is due to bosonic waves, an infinity of ripples in the fields of a multidimensional universe. Materialists always seem to me to be the least scientific of those who speculate upon consciousness because they start from the false statement that the universe is known to be like a multitude of little objects bouncing off each other and then aver that consciousness MUST also be something like this.