Ten Problems of Consciousness
Michael Tye, 1999

Six Out of Ten, Not Bad ...
I have the rather curious response to this book that I generally agree with Tye's final conclusions, yet almost completely disagree with the premises he uses to reach those conclusions.

Tye does a service to the study of consciousness by isolating 6 or 7 points of interest regarding the nature of the phenomenon. These 6 or 7, he elaborates with minor, redundant variations to get a list of 10 "perplexing problems of consciousness".

Philosophy in General
I am not always thrilled in trying to follow a philosopher's twists and turns of logical argument. In the best of cases, it can be as enjoyable as pinhead dancing parties and other such merriment. But when it doesn't quite work out, beware. See my essay on
philosophy and philosophers .

Imagination
One of Tye's most productive tools is the imagination. Early in the book, he presents a ... Ch 7, what a hodge podge?? ... but is this related to metaphysics or metaphysical truth??? See
my response to Chalmers on this point.

Various mechanisms are involved to conjure up living beings and copies of living beings in various states of health, confinement, illusory existence, etc.

No Physiology
You won't learn much here about retinal cells or cochlear cells or the distribution of pain receptors throughout the body, although all of these things are discussed, some at great length.

You may learn a bit about the usage of certain terms widely used of late by philosophers debating the brain. Although, to my taste, Tye far too often uses heavily loaded terms like intention, phenomenology, or teleology without a careful statement of what he has in mind. To do this with the terms of philosophy itself is one thing, but to do it with the subject matter is much more serious. In particular, it seems to me that Tye has particular, but not clearly stated, ideas in mind when he describes brain functions and mechanisms such as cognition or symbols.

Memories of Red
Tye says that he can perceptually distinguish red29 from red30, but cannot remember the distinction so as to later determine which one a newly presented shade of red is. The problem, as he states it, is that he cannot "conceptualize" such fine distinctions, but knows only that he has previously seen a "shade of red".

Although there is a brief mention of excessive memory requirements to store all shades of red, this side of the matter is not pursued. Further, there is no mention of performance, short-term vs. long-term forgetting. Instead, he repeatedly refers to the failure to form a "concept" for each shade in an all-or-nothing manner and uses that failure as the basis of a premise in several shaky chains of logic.

Consciousness
In Tye's view, consciousness occurs at the interface between the sensory system and the conceptual system. Sensory percepts are fully processed in real time, including any feature processing required to fully elaborate any coded elements of the input, such as stereoscopic depth, vowel discrimination or identification of pain signals with particular kinds of events occurring in, on or to particular body parts. These sensory events, which he calls "PANIC"s, are not placed in any type of memory, but disappear immediately, to be superceded by new events if they are not picked up and processed by the conceptual system.

Conceptual processing of PANICs, the point where consciousness occurs, involves symbolizing and memory storage. However, Tye says no more on this point. Instead, we delve into logical mumbo-jumbo about "what it is like" to experience a phenomenon and what it means to fully "understand" the thing you are experiencing.

Tye clearly believes that there is a strong involvement of a linguistic component in this level of symbolic, conceptual processing (see p ..)

There is a lovely little tug of war going on here. In several places, Tye declares that consciousness cannot be in the brain, it must be external. Then on page 180, we are relieved to find out that "this does not mean that there is some spooky stuff out there in the world". But we never learn just where it is. It is "conceptual". ??

A type of experience, closely related to visual processing is that of afterimages. Tye makes a big deal about afterimages, claiming that they say a lot about the consciousness of illusions. He never really clarifies the low-level (retinal) source of afterimages and never mentions rhodopsin depletion and resynthesis, which would reveal that afterimages are purely sensory artifacts having nothing at all interesting to say about sensory stream processing at higher levels.

It seems there are other ways to produce a stream of sensory images in the multimedia sense (see p .., also Damasio), or their equivalent at least, at the point where they are "observed" by the conceptual mechanism; imagination and dreaming. Tye beats around the bush a lot about what it is to imagine something. I believe the problem for his theory is that imagining involves memory, which gets confused with the operation of his later conceptual component. Tye does not once mention dreaming.

I have said above that Tye places great emphasis on observing the imaginable to determine what is going on. One of his core scenarios is to imagine duplicating a person. There are various ways to do this; Star Trek transporters, lightening hitting swamps, a copy moved to the next room and connected by neural-pattern-maintaining transmitters, or with neuron-by-neuron replacement by electronic equivalents. In all of these cases, he finds it very difficult to believe that the copy would experience consciousness the same as the original person does.

On the other hand, he finds it equally difficult to believe that an entity constructed of computer parts and running any sort of computer program, no matter how sophisticated, could ever experience consciousness.

In his view, these difficulties must be resolved by introducing some spookiness somewhere. If not in our brains and not in the external world, then it must be in some sort of conceptual space.

My view is that as we learn more about how the brain works and learn more about how to make machinery that does equivalent things, we will someday hit upon the combination of sensory and symbolic processing, combined with system management and control functions, which will, upon inspection, obviously be capable of experiencing consciousness. Once we know how it works, we will say, "But of course. How could we not have seen it?"

Now that I think about it (and if I understand his view correctly), my position is not so much different from Tye's after all.


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