Consciousness Podcast

I have made my debut appearance on a podcast, joining Dale Glover and Robert L. White on Dale’s “Real Seeker Ministries” podcast. Dale was the co-host of Skeptics and Seekers and has since moved on to do his own thing, and Robert has a blog and podcast focused primarily on presenting his epistemology (I also recently interacted with Robert regarding a particular miracle claim that he had raised when he was previously on Dale’s show).

The topic of discussion was consciousness. We covered a lot of ground and the flow was largely organized around various arguments that Dale had previously presented for and against dualism and physicalism. Having now listened back to the podcast, I am reasonably content with my contribution even though the real-time nature of the format presented a new challenge for me. It was a pleasant discussion and I’ll be interested to hear whether there are any follow-up thoughts or questions from those who manage to make it through the two and half hours. Enjoy!

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18 thoughts on “Consciousness Podcast

  1. Hey Travis,

    Thanks for the blog post on the show, yeah you did a great job on your end as a first-time Podcaster, provided substantive responses and so I think it was a great show 🙂 I will add your blog post here in my sources for people 🙂

    I may also work on an after-show just to share some of post-debate reflections for people sometime this week as Justin’s show had to be postponed. Just wanted to let you know in case you’d be interested in my take on some of things that I was a little weak on during the debate itself like the Meta-Problem for example 🙂

  2. Pingback: Debating Consciousness & the Soul/Substance Dualism- with Robert L. White (Dualist) & Travis R. (Type-C Physicalist) – Real Seeker Ministries

  3. I enjoyed listening to this. I think it can be hard to find much common ground in discussions of consciousness, as people have such different intuitions. I think distinguishing between the different types of physicalism was helpful.

  4. Pingback: The Nature of Consciousness (Real Seekers Podcast) - Robert L. White

  5. I wonder if Matt would be interested in going on the podcast; I’d love to listen to a debate between you guys.

  6. Hi Travis,
    I’ve been having discussions with Liam lately and he’s pointed me over here. I know that I’ve seen you around for quite a while, probably on occasion over at SelfAwarePatterns. In the past I suppose that the title of your blog has scared me off. I now see that you use it given how much you enjoy debating theists.

    What I mainly enjoy is discussions with other naturalists in order to test out various ideas that I’ve developed. I’m less interested in discussions with theists given our metaphysical divide. For me naturalists are challenging enough, that is given the extent to which I’d change things in science and philosophy. So if that interests you, then I might be of service.

    I believe that science fails (and mainly in its mental and behavioral forms) largely given that we have no respected group of philosophers with generally accepted understandings in metaphysics, epistemology, and axiology. I propose four. Furthermore I’ve developed a psychology based model of consciousness from the premise that we’re all self interested products of our circumstances. Apparently I’m a psychological egoist (which is a term that I wasn’t aware of until Liam mention that he had sympathy for this position).

    One issue that I can bring up from your debate, is the binding problem. Though you didn’t provide much of an answer there, didn’t you in the end mention something about the electromagnetic radiation produced by neuron firing? Since December I’ve been quite interested in em field consciousness theory. This seems most prominently proposed by a micro geneticist by the name of Johnjoe McFadden. So that might be something to discuss, though whatever you like.

    • Hi Eric,
      I’ve seen you around as well but must admit that I don’t recall having visited your blog until now. I cheated and skipped to read just your concise recap.

      As to EM field consciousness, I did allude to that in the podcast and have been following James Cross’ reports on the matter, and find it to be worthwhile consideration that I will continue to monitor. However, with regard to the binding problem, it is not obvious to me why a distributed topology of electromagnetism should be considered more unified than a distributed topology of neural excitations. Is because the light-speed interaction creates effectively instantaneous links between regions? If consciousness is itself a distributed entity, why does that matter?

  7. Travis,
    I really should do something about my blog. Pretty much everything over there concerns ideas that I developed before I began blogging in 2014, or essentially in academic isolation. I do still stand behind that material, though I’ve cultivated my original positions quite a bit since, as well as now have some ability to use standard academic lingo. I need to take some time to present my up to date positions on my own blog rather than exclusively do so at the blogs of others.

    Anyway on the binding problem, I guess one issue is that I don’t consider my own consciousness as “distributed”, but rather as a unified experience. Each of us consider there to be a truly hard problem here, so the physics does remain quite speculative to us. But could distributed neuron firing create a single experience as such by means of distributed function? To me this seems strange. Thus that December post from James Cross really scratched some itches for me.
    https://broadspeculations.com/2019/12/01/em-fields-and-consciousness/

    Here neurons would create consciousness by setting up em waves that themselves exist as the unified sentient entity. To me it’s not so much that em waves travel faster, but rather that there is the potential for any part of the brain to use an “overland” way to contribute to the existing em field based consciousness, not simply navigate synapse corridors to the right places. I see this as gaining a needed extra dimension from which to function, and naturally rather than supernaturally.

    About a decade ago I developed what I refer to as my “dual computers” model of brain function. Here the brain exists as the non-conscious first computer, and under the proper conditions it can produce the second computer by which I experience existence. The massive first computer here is powered by means of neurons, while the tiny one which is produced by the first is powered by means of sentience. (And for reference, the computers that we build are powered by means of electricity.)

    So online I’d suggest to others that instead of looking for which part of the brain happens to be the part that holds consciousness, it may be more effective to consider no part of the brain conscious, but rather that it should produce this second variety when the proper conditions exist. My analogy was that no part of a lightbulb exists as light, though under the proper conditions it may produce light. But so far my friends online have for the most part found it too difficult to think of “a computer” as something which can’t be touched. Furthermore I’d tell them that I was far more sure that it existed than my brain existed (from Descartes). Nope.

    Perhaps a bit over a year ago I gained an interest in John Searle’s Chinese room thought experiment. I hadn’t realized that standard theorists were proposing that conscious experience exists as information processing itself. Thus it’s believed that theoretically Searle could use an instruction manual from which to convert Chinese questions into appropriate Chinese answers (without knowing a word of the language himself), and by means of whatever operations that a theorized future computer would use to convincingly pass the Turing test. So theoretically the operations of Searle with an instruction manual and stuff to write with, could create something which “understands” Chinese? Paper with writing on it turned into more paper with writing on it, creates “understanding Chinese”? Strange!

    I’ve developed a version that may be stronger. Consider the information which goes to my brain when my thumb gets whacked. It’s known to be processed by means of the AND, OR, and NOT function of neuron firing, and that this somehow results in the thumb pain that I feel. But imagine if the information that goes to my brain were instead inscribed on paper, as well as processed by means of the logic gates associated with neuron function into a new set of information on paper. According to the standard position in science today, this would create something that experiences what I do when my thumb gets whacked! So theoretically information turned into other information, is what solves the hard problem of consciousness?

    If causal dynamics do hold in this world, I believe that the brain will need to use mechanisms in order to produce phenomenal experience. And what element of brain function might harbor both sufficient complexity as well as mechanistic dynamics? Em fields seem extremely likely to me. And I must admit that this perspective does set the table for my own dual computers model of brain function.

    • Eric,
      For the time being I am interested in better understanding the perceived advantage of EM fields for the binding problem – please don’t feel like I’m dismissing the rest of your comment.

      Here neurons would create consciousness by setting up em waves that themselves exist as the unified sentient entity.

      What makes the EM field a uniquely unified entity? In other words, why should we consider the spatially distributed EM field as unified, but the spatially distributed neural activation pattern as not unified?

      To me it’s not so much that em waves travel faster, but rather that there is the potential for any part of the brain to use an “overland” way to contribute to the existing em field based consciousness, not simply navigate synapse corridors to the right places.

      Why is the overland contribution to an EM field in some sense superior to the synaptic contributions to an activation pattern?

      • Well darn Travis, you seems to be focusing on the weakest element of my position! Okay, there’s a “hard problem” here, and the physics will do whatever causal dynamics mandate (or at least if it’s all natural). So I guess it could be that if neurons that fire in the right way is what somehow causally produces something sentient, then such dynamics might bind into a unified experience as well. Who am I to say that the physics can’t work that way? So I’ll concede that the brain might produce a singular conscious experience by means of neuron firing through the corridors of neural pathways. This is to say that overland em waves need not apply.

        Let’s step over to the next bit however. Do you consider mainstream science to be on solid ground for claiming that information processing itself is how the hard problem of consciousness is solved? Thus if certain information on paper were converted into other information on paper, that this conversion itself should create what I know of at “thumb pain”? Or instead do you consider it causally necessary for the processed information to animate “thumb pain mechanisms” in order for something to feel such a sensation? (I guess it’s also possible that my thought experiment itself needs more work, so let me know if anything seems off in that regard.)

      • Do you consider mainstream science to be on solid ground for claiming that information processing itself is how the hard problem of consciousness is solved?

        No. I don’t think there are any proposed solutions to the hard problem that are on solid footing. But I also question whether it’s accurate to suggest that mainstream science has any kind of consensus solution.

        Or instead do you consider it causally necessary for the processed information to animate “thumb pain mechanisms” in order for something to feel such a sensation?

        Is the question essentially whether it is possible to replicate thumb pain outside of a traditional human body? I think probably so, but I’m not sure exactly what is necessary to do that.

      • I suppose that the hard problem solution that I’m referring to is not explicit, but rather something implicit that has emerged through default and convenience. Back in 1980 John Searle noticed this trend and essentially said, “Hey, even if anyone ever does build an information processing machine that works so well that it easily passes the Turing test, it’s still not going to phenomenally “understand” what’s being said.” His Chinese room thought experiment has been a small thorn in the side of such theorists ever since.

        My perception is that acclaimed intellectuals, such as Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Patricia Churchland, and so on, have largely vanquished such concerns. Note that Global Workspace theory and its various iterations do seem popular. Of course panpsychism remains out there as well, that is for whomever would take such a metaphysical leap. My perception however is that consciousness as information processing has become extremely popular in academia. I hope to blunt this through a thought experiment that converts Searle’s perhaps fuzzy notion of “understanding”, to the relatively distinct notion of “pain”. If I’m wrong about the popularity of consciousness as information processing itself however, then all the better. That might leave more room for my own psychology based model.

        Is the question essentially whether it is possible to replicate thumb pain outside of a traditional human body? I think probably so, but I’m not sure exactly what is necessary to do that.

        My question is, is processed information in any substrate, something that can create phenomenal experience? You know, all that “Do I exist as a simulation of someone else?” business. It may be that I’ve spent more time than I should discussing things with people who are extra concerned about how it is that nature does what it does though. Regardless of all that, shouldn’t we spend some time assessing whatever it is that seems to have been created? And if we’re divinely built, then what exactly did this creater build? My own models mainly concern the “What?” of our nature, which is to say, our psychology. So my “thumb pain” thing might have been developed in defense.

      • I think “information processing” should probably be understood as a relatively ambiguous placeholder for “whatever physical events yield consciousness”. This does not mean that any black box system which can mimic the brain’s response to a set of inputs is necessarily assumed to be conscious. I think most proponents would also suggest that the underlying mechanism is probably relevant, and we’re really only in our infancy of trying to figure this out.

        is processed information in any substrate, something that can create phenomenal experience?

        If I had to bet, I would guess that the substrate is only critical to the extent that it can support the requisite structure and interactions – not that we actually know what those requisites are. A simulation of a physical system is clearly different than the physical system – otherwise we would call it a clone – and those numerous differences may very well be important to the production of consciousness.

      • It doesn’t sound like there’s much dispute between us here Travis — if causal dynamics of this world apply, then consciousness should depend upon a given substrate’s nature. Simulations of fired bullets may be useful for prediction’s sake, though simply shouldn’t do what fired bullets do, for example. And yes, it could be that when many people speak of consciousness existing as information processing, that they’re referring to information processing by means of specific rather than generic substrate. Not that they know what that substrate might be. Currently my money’s on em fields though, pending evidence of course.

        By the way, I hope you’re thinking about doing more recording. I’m sure that Liam would love to have you on his new YouTube Channel!

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