Russellian monism, the same as illusionism?

I usually have to wait for the audio version of these Mind Chat podcasts, but this one seemed a reasonable length and I had some time this weekend. Keith Frankish, an illusionist, and Philip Goff, a panpsychist, interviewed Noam Chomsky for his views on consciousness. (The video is about 72 minutes. You don’t necessarily need to watch it to follow the rest of the post.)

Mind Chat: Noam Chomsky on Consciousness

I posted a while back on a document that Noam Chomsky has on his website which discusses his views on mysterianism, the idea that some things are beyond human comprehension. Chomsky touches on consciousness a bit in that document. At the time, I came away with the vague impression that he was an idealist of some kind, someone who takes reality to be primarily mental.

However, in this interview he seems to question the existence of the hard problem of consciousness, a common conclusion for reductive physicalists, but also to endorse Russellian monism, often seen as a variant of panpsychism (as David Chalmers, with some puzzlement, noted in a tweet.) During the interview, Goff gives Chomsky a sales pitch for panpsychism (24 minute mark) and Frankish for illusionism (42 minute mark). Afterward, Chomsky seems to imply (56 minute mark) that both views could be reframed and reconciled.

I’ve noted many times that most philosophical debates are definitional in nature, and wondered on numerous occasions if this isn’t the case between illusionists and panpsychists. Maybe the distinctions amount to a verbal dispute. A certain type of naturalistic panpsychism can be seen as essentially a poetic way of describing physicalism. But most panpsychists I know draw a strong distinction between their view and physicalism.

However since what Chomsky actually talked about was Russellian monism, and because I’d never read much about it, I decided to check into it specifically. My primary source here is Derk Pereboom’s SEP article.

First, a quick review. Dualism is the view that there is both a mental and physical reality. Physicalism is the view that it’s all physical, including the mental. Idealism is the view that it’s all mental, including the outside world. “Neutral monism” is a term coined by Bertrand Russell for a view that reality is either a third substance, or that the distinction between mental and physical is artificial. (Russell didn’t invent the view. It’s reportedly a variant of William James’ radical empiricism.)

Image by Dustin Dewynne. Click through for source

Apparently there are different variants of Russellian monism. Russell seems to have worked his way through multiple versions over his career, and of course there are many interpretations of those views. But Pereboom identifies three crucial theses which seem to be common throughout.

  1. Structuralism about physics
  2. Realism about quiddities
  3. Quidditism about consciousness

The first thesis simply says that what physics describes are the extrinsic properties of matter and energy, essentially what it does, its structure and relations, rather than what it is. It says nothing about what matter is, about what it’s intrinsic properties, its quiddities, might be. We’ve discussed this distinction before when talking about structural realism. As a structural realist, I’m on board with this one.

The second thesis says that quiddities, intrinsic properties, are real. As an epistemic rather than ontic structural realist, I’m open to the possibility that they could be real. However, if they are real, they seem like things we can never know anything about, since knowing would require interactions, extrinsic relations of some sort. Which doesn’t seem to give us much to figure out their putative nature.

So I’m leery of the third thesis, that consciousness is composed of quiddities. But I can see the line of reasoning. If someone is convinced of the hard problem, that consciousness cannot be explained by standard physics with its structure and relations, then quiddities might seem like a necessity. And maybe these quiddities would interact with each other in a completely separate framework from the standard physical one.

This view seems more like panprotopsychism rather than panpsychism. Ironically, panprotopsychism is reductive in nature, but the reduction only happens on the mental side. If I understand the Russellian view, the phenomenal properties of consciousness are composed of paraphenomenal or protophenomenal properties, which are quiddities.

But if someone has ruled out the hard problem, as Chomsky appears to do, then the motivation for thinking that consciousness is composed of quiddities seems to disappear. The quiddities become an unmotivated assumption.

Although Chomsky’s specific reason for ruling out the hard problem, that the questions being asked are meaningless, might matter here. It may mean that he actually retains some version of the hard problem, which would fit with his previous discussion of mysterianism. (Chomsky actually refers to the “hard question” in the video, which may be intentional.)

So his motivation for that dismissal and its scope may be less than an illusionist’s. Illusionists reason that introspection is no more reliable than outward facing perception, meaning what it tells us is probably wrong in some cases, including impressions leading us to think that conscious experience can’t be reconciled with standard physics. Chomsky’s concern about meaningful questions resonates with this, but I could see a line of reasoning where it could exist without the illusionist’s more comprehensive dismissal.

Alternatively, we might fully dismiss the hard problem, but regard the quiddities as components of the illusion, maybe as useful fictions. But I’m not sure that’s compatible with the second thesis above. It might come down to how loose we want to be with the term “real”. Maybe “useful fictions” should be regarded as real in some pragmatic sense. But then the question is, how is the quiddity concept useful? It also implies that something might be real for some purposes but not others.

What do you think? Can these outlooks really be reconciled? Or is Chomsky holding some view that isn’t really either of them? Or am I missing something else here?

112 thoughts on “Russellian monism, the same as illusionism?

  1. “If I understand the Russellian view, the phenomenal properties of consciousness are composed of paraphenomenal or protophenomenal properties, which are quiddities.”
    Russelian monist can be panpsychist and think that consciousness of macroscopic beings is composed from consciousness of microscopic beings.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think that’s a common interpretation. But as I understand it, the standard Russellian view avoids the combination problem by seeing the composition as coming from those protoconscious components, rather than microscopic consciousnesses. Of course, these could be seen as definitional variations.

      That said, I’m talking about a view I don’t hold, so may well be missing ingredients.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey Mike,

        I don’t think RM solves the combination problem, where did you happen to read that if I may ask? And I understand RM the same as Konrad, as compatible with either proto-phenomenal micro-components or regular phenomenal components. The combination problem is really just pointing out that we seem to have phenomenal evidence that we exist as subjects (meaning that certain phenomenal states, like my visual and auditory states go together, but others, like my visual and your auditory states, aren’t unified in the same way), and yet this fact of phenomenal subject unification is not accounted for in panpsychism as a weakly emergent phenomenon. You can spell out all the micro-facts about proto-phenomenal micro-consciousness, but you still won’t have told us what types of consciousness will be unified/composed together. RM, either proto-phenomenal, or phenomenal, just tells us what certain physical states are (what their phenomenal character is like).

        Of course, there are physical/relational facts that explain the existence of physical subjects, like my body and brain, but under RM, such facts only explain how the intrinsic states are related, and not how they are composed. In other words, it seems like we could have a bunch of micro-subjects each experiencing a small part of what the current Alex experiences (but which still share some physical relation), instead of there being one macro-subject (me) experiencing the entire thing. Either scenario seems compatible with RM, so RM can’t be said to solve the combination problem.

        To solve the issue, we could always add in extra rules (if certain phenomenal states y are in physical relations x, then they will combine into phenomenal states z), but the problem is that it unfortunately negates the entire point of RM and panpsychism, which was to explain our conscious reality without the need to invoke strongly emergent rules like the traditional dualists do.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Hey Alex,
          You’re right. RM doesn’t solve the combination problem. My bad. I was going off the fact that its response to the combination problem is different than stand panpsychism (at least according to the Wikipedia on neutral monism). But I should have gone back and refreshed my memory before making the reply above.

          I’ll defer to your knowledge on all the strengths and weaknesses of the various options. I can’t say I’m well read on panpsychist or Russellian monism literature.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. No worries, it’s a very easy and understandable mistake to think. The main point of proto-phenomenal RM is actually to limit consciousness to certain structures, like animals and humans, for those more chauvinistic (shall we say) persons who don’t prefer things like rocks to have some forms of consciousness. It’s very easy to interpret this attempt to limit consciousness as a way to constrain the combination problem, but they are not actually the same thing. The former still has to introduce some rules that govern the transition from proto-phenomenal to phenomenal states, hence the combination problem. Indeed in some ways therefore, the problem is worse for proto-phenomenal RM.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Thanks. Yeah, the distinction between proto-phenomenal properties vs phenomenal properties of smaller entities seems exceedingly academic and theoretical. And as someone is pushing me somewhere else in this thread, at some point you have to wonder what exactly this framework is providing over just plain old reductive physicalism.


  2. That Russellian monism is either panpsychism or panprotopsychism fits with what I’ve heard. But interestingly, I think even the most hardcore physicalist can count themselves as panprotopsychists. After all, human beings are composed of quantum fields, according to our best physics. And so is the most inert thing you can think of, e.g. a rock. Take enough rocks, rearrange the quantum fields, and you can compose some human beings.

    I’m going to wait for the audio version before I listen to this Mindchat. But on another occasion I heard Chomsky say something like: the mind-matter problem is a pseudoproblem because “matter”, as traditionally conceived, doesn’t exist.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. As I understand it, a key thesis of panprotopsychism is that the reduction isn’t to standard physics, but only in terms of more primitive experiential properties. Those properties are supposed to exist alongside the physical ones at each level of organization.

      Of course, as I noted in the post, we could simply say that those experiential properties are useful fictions, or perhaps pragmatic conceptions, capabilities instantiated by the lower level physics, and that our mental capabilities are constructed from them. But then there’s no real distinction between that view and physicalism, just a more poetic way of talking.

      Yeah, Chomsky has definitely given me the impression in the past that he’s an idealist, but I suppose it could have come from a position of neutral monism. In general, I’m not impressed when it’s this hard to understand someone’s position.


      1. “key thesis of panprotopsychism is that the reduction isn’t to standard physics, but only in terms of more primitive experiential properties.”
        No. Protophenomenal properties are not experienced but constitutes experienced (phenomenal) properties.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. See, the fact that you have to insert a tautological “panprotopsychism’s reduction *isn’t* to standard physics”, in order to avoid reconciling the views, is itself an interesting point.


    2. I think I communicated Chomsky’s earlier statement poorly. With proper emphasis: the mind-matter problem is a pseudoproblem because “matter”, as traditionally conceived, doesn’t exist. The tradition in question goes back to Descartes if not further, and makes some very specific assumptions about matter.


      1. One plausible interpretation of neutral monism is that the distinction between matter and mental substance is artificial and ill conceived. I think it’s a better interpretation than the one that talks about a third kind of substance, but I might be putting words in the mouths of the Russellian’s. (In any case, they seem to be making their own assumptions. Devil, details, etc.) And I’m sure plenty of assumptions about matter from the 1600s are now false. It might be someone from Descartes’ time wouldn’t recognize the current scientific version of the concept.


        1. Right, but think about ordinary citizens today and their views of matter, versus modern scientists. I suspect that today’s philosophers are on average closer to the average citizen.


          1. It depends on the philosopher, but in many cases you’re probably not wrong.

            I would note that Russell himself was pretty familiar with quantum mechanics, writing about its implications as early as the 1920s. Although his neutral monism predated it.


  3. I think I’m gonna become an Ismismist. Essentially, my coffeeism, in tandem with my danishism and baconism, consumed over the life of my lifeism, results in a failed coronaryism, followed quickly by a transition to post-existenceism.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I never was much concerned about Chomsky’s opinions because I took him as a linguist and not having much to say about consciousness or metaphysics. But then, I never read any of his stuff. I have to say that after this podcast my respect for him has gone up several notches, if only because what he says is compatible with my priors.

    I’m still trying to figure out what I officially “am”. Currently I think I’m all of these: materialist, physicalist, functionalist, dualist, panprotopsychist, epistemic structural realist, informational realist (see here: To the extent any of these are contradictory, my explanation is likely to come down to my definitions of “real” and “exist”. I generally say abstractions(like patterns) are real, stuff exists. Based on your discussion I might rephrase this as relations are real, quiddities exist. (Aren’t quiddities Kant’s neumena?) I would have assumed being a dualist is incompatible with being a monist, but given my terms I have to double check that. (Have to look at the SEP you linked).

    I think I like Chomsky’s saying the hard problem is really just a hard question, i.e., a meaningless question. I agree that the question “what is it like?” does not have an answer for an individual experience, but I think it has an explanation. The word “like” requires a comparison, so applying it to a single entity doesn’t make sense.

    [oh, and consciousness is definitely real as a relation, as opposed to any involvement with quiddities]

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Okay, I didn’t get past this early paragraph:
      “ Russellian monism can be seen as combining three core theses: structuralism about physics, which states that physics describes the world only in terms of its spatiotemporal structure and dynamics; realism about quiddities, which states that there are quiddities, that is, properties that underlie the structure and dynamics physics describes; and quidditism about consciousness, which states that quiddities are relevant to consciousness.”

      Given this description (which is worded slightly differently in the OP) , I think I count as a Russellian monist. The key phrase is the last: “ quiddities are relevant to consciousness.” I say that quiddities are *relevant* in that they generate the relations that we call consciousness.

      [let me know if I should go read more]

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    2. I can’t say I was super interested in Chomsky’s views myself. I just found his assertion that the views could be reconciled interesting. Since I view reductive materialism, functionalism, and illusionism as all reconcilable, the idea of more in is appealing.

      But I can’t say Russellian monism is working for me. As I noted in the post, I’m struggling to see quiddities as a productive concept. If I simply deny or ignore them, what are the costs?

      Information realism, just based on that abstract, seems very plausible to me. But since I view information as 100% physical, it’s really my default position. Although the idea of reconciling ESR and OSR is interesting. I might have to dig deeper.

      You listing all those views reminds me of Pi in Life of Pi, the guy who wanted to be an adherent of several religions, despite their conflicting claims. In the end, the whole story ends up being a romantic interpretation of a much starker version we only learn about at the end. I’m not opposed to poetic narratives, but only if they’re not misleading.

      I think before I’d call myself a Russellian monist, I’d finish the first section and peruse the ones on objections and issues. If you do find it reconcilable with physicalism and functionalism, I’d be very interested in seeing your reasoning laid out.


      1. Hmm. I read the whole thing and it did not change anything for me. I think metaphysically I’m a dualistic Russellian monist(RM), being a realist about quiddities and a structuralist about physics. I think consciousness derives from the structures/relations of physics, so if RM requires quiddities to have properties beyond those needed for known physics, then maybe I’m not an RM. But my impression was that Russell was good w/ quiddities and structure, and newcomers are trying to squeeze consciousness into the former.

        I’ll try to explain my physicalism and functionalism and dualism.

        Physicalism says everything we know about stuff (quiddities) is structures and their relations. We identify things (quiddities) by the patterns of their interactions. Because these patterns are reliably repeatable, we call them structures and assign names to sets of them, like “electron”. I think this is epistemic structural realism, yes?

        There are two separate concepts of “function”. The mathematical concept says if a given set of inputs always produce the same output, that’s a function. Quiddities are functional in this sense. Their structures describe their “functionality”. They are thus, also, multi-realizable.

        The other concept of function is as a synonym for “purpose”, as in “the function of the heart is to pump blood”. Purpose derives from things with goals. (Will explain this statement further upon request.) This concept of function becomes relevant when considering consciousness, and so explanation of consciousness will be “functional”. Consciousness involves functions (in the first sense) with a function (in the second sense).

        My dualism comes from consideration of “physical properties”. For me, at least, a physical property is one that can be measured. Something is a physical property if it’s value can be determined by interacting with a quiddity. Any other property is a non-physical property. I think all non-physical properties that we care about will be relational properties, i.e, properties which can be determined only by referencing other quiddities (or possible quiddities). The two significant (for consciousness) examples are correlation (information) and purpose. Theoretically, there could be properties of a quiddity in itself, but if we can’t determine it by interaction (measurement), then why should we care?

        Okay, so what clubs can I get into?



        1. Thanks for your thoughts!

          I have to admit I haven’t read much of the source material from Russell on his neutral monism. It tends to be very long winded and my time these days is limited. But unless Pereboom is completely misrepresenting his views, the three theses do largely identify quiddities as something in addition to the structures and relations of mainstream physics, and phenomenal consciousness as composed of those additions. (As has been pointed out in this thread, some see the quiddities themselves as phenomenal, which gets into panpsychism territory.)

          Of course if we redefine “quiddities” as some (discoverable) part of those structures and relations, as part of the functionality, then everything is “reconciled”, but it doesn’t seem like we’re being true to the actual neutral monist view anymore.

          On clubs, I still think you’re a physicalist and a functionalist, but not holding a view that most dualists or Russellian monists would own up to. Maybe I’m being too stringent, but it seems like you’re working so much to steelman the other views that you’re not really accepting them as conventionally understood.

          But it’s always possible I’m confused and just not seeing the equivalences between the different views. It wouldn’t be the first time.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey Mike,

    As usual, it’s a pleasure to read a new post of yours. I see that I also have a lot to catch up on, including your article about Ockham’s razor, which I will try to get to if I have the time.

    Back on the topic of this thread: One thing that I would say is that I think you go a bit too far in in your assessment that “The second thesis says that quiddities, intrinsic properties, are real. As an epistemic rather than ontic structural realist, I’m open to the possibility that they could be real. However, if they are real, they seem like things we can never know anything about, since knowing would require interactions, extrinsic relations of some sort.”

    I say you go too far because to accept that “we cannot know about intrinsic states” is by definition to accept that there accepts an explanatory/epistemic gap. Basically, it’s to accept the hard physicalist stance that some soft physicalists and panpsychists don’t agree with. Nothing wrong with that of course! Although I would just be careful in undergoing your assessment of Chomsky’s attempted reconciliation between panpsychism and illusionism on the basis of this starting point.

    One thing I think most people (including you and me) can agree on is that it certainly seems like there exist epistemic primitives when we contemplate the nature of our phenomenal states. It seems to me the existence of these epistemic primitive states, which we all seem to experience, can have multiple explanations. It can be because these are real ontological primitive intrinsic states (as in panpsychism), or because the ontological physical basis (which is itself structural) for these epistemic primitive states is constructed in such a way that the mind only has knowledge of them at some level of abstraction (kind of similar to your software bit analogy). Notice that either possibility is compatible with our experience. The only reason to think that we can’t have knowledge of intrinsic phenomenal states is if you dismiss the possibility of the former case. But this, I think, is incompatible with your assertion that you are “open to the possibility that they could be real.”

    In other words, I think you’re putting the cart before the horse. You’re saying that you’re trying not to assume illusionism, but then your argument against panpsychism (which leads you to the physicalist conclusion) would seem to require the premise that panpsychism is false (because if panpsychism is true, then by definition all knowledge isn’t physical, and we would actually have knowledge of intrinsic states).

    As for Chomsky, I’m not going to touch that, in part because I haven’t listened to the podcast (an error I intend to rectify soon), and also because I too find it quite difficult to imagine how any purported reconciliation is supposed to take place.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey Alex,
      I appreciate your kind words. Good to hear from you!

      I have to admit I struggle with the epistemic aspect of structural realism. I can’t defend saying quiddities do not exist. Which is why I fall on the ESR rather an OSR camp. But I also can’t see any justification for saying anything about those quiddities, if they do in fact exist. I can see why so many people just go ontic structural realist. As you note, I am admitting to an epistemic gap here. Nevertheless, it’s where I am at the moment. (James of Seattle above linked to a paper that purports to reconcile ESR and OSR, but I haven’t read it yet.)

      When I say we can’t know anything about quiddities, I’m saying that in the sense we know anything else about the world, which is there must eventually be energy that impinges on our sensory systems. And that energy is going to only come about from interactions, which require extrinsic relations and structures.

      You point out that we do have access to our conscious experience. But as you note, our access to it stops at a certain level. If there are physical processes that constitute them, we can’t access them. But if there are protophenomenal elements that constitute them, we also can’t access them. So I can’t see that conscious experience, even if it is direct acquaintance with phenomenal properties constituted by quiddities, provides us useful insights into the quiddities themselves.

      As I noted in the post, if we’ve ruled out the physical processes explanation, I can see phenomenal properties providing motivation for taking quiddities to be involved. But I’m not sure beyond that what could be said about them, other than they exist under that line of reasoning.

      In terms of reconciliation, the only path I see for a physicalist would be to regard those extra properties in a sort of platonic manner, as something that might be useful to consider existing, but doesn’t strictly exist in the normal sense. But I’m not sure either camp would really buy that.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hey Mike,

        Thanks for the considered thoughts. My apologies I missed the reliance on proto-phenomenal elements. I had in mind the phenomenal version of RM, wherein we actually have access to ontological intrinsic states as our own epistemic states. It seems to me that is equally a possibility which cannot be eliminated.

        The bottom line for me is that a philosophical theory has to explain some sort of phenomena or behavior in order to be useful. By definition, this means the theory has to be verifiable or falsifiable in some sense. I see RM as potentially useful because I think it explains a type of behavior (that of mental states) which physicalist theories seem to struggle with. We talked before about how I think that physicalist theories can perfectly explain your complete verbal and physical behavior, externally and internally, without trouble, but that nonetheless such behavior is not identical to the behavior of certain mental states. For example, we could characterize mental relations, like the spatial relations of visualized objects in your mind, and we would find that they are unique. A physicalist theory would account only for the spatial relations among neurons and other such physical structures, so why do there appear to also exist other types of spatial relations in mental phenomena (among other things)? RM would appear to solve this by postulating the existence of relata (the intrinsic states) which can participate in the required relations.

        Anyways, we don’t need to rehash that argument. One thing I should point out is that I’m actually starting to take reductionism a lot more seriously since our last conversation, as a result of the work done by people associated with the qualia structural project. Not sure if you heard of those folks, but basically very recently (especially in the past 1-2 years) there has been some philosophical movement in the direction of exhaustively characterizing qualia in structural terms. The goal is to show (and not just assert) that qualia can exist as non-intrinsic states, by giving them a complete mathematical formalism. In the end it might be possible to show that such states are actually mathematically equivalent to certain physical relations. I’m still skeptical, but I’m definitely warming up to the possibility. I think such an approach is way more promising than illusionism and RM. I’m not sure if we discussed this before, but I actually think that illusionism as is doesn’t go far enough, and therefore can’t be said to solve the hard problem on its own. I think illusionism can only solve the hard problem by denying the existence of all/most mental relational phenomenon (in addition to intrinsicality), which most illusionists don’t appear to be willing to do.

        So that’s where I’m at right now.



        Liked by 1 person

        1. Just to clarify, I meant that I don’t think illusionism can solve the hard problem all the way just by itself, unless we take the radical measure of asserting that all mental phenomena (Structural/non-structural and functional/non-functional) are illusory, which you have convinced me that most illusionists don’t actually support.

          I obviously still think it might be useful to explain the hard problem in tandem with something like the mathematical qualia structural approach.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Hey Alex,
          I hadn’t heard about the qualia structural project. Sounds interesting. But I suspect anything they might come up with will be vulnerable to accusations of not addressing the actual issue, since qualia in the philosophical sense are supposed to be intrinsic and ineffable. The ability to analyze them and work them into a mathematical structure seems to imply that it’s more the functional perception that’s being talked about. But maybe they’ve found a new conceptual angle to this.

          Your comment about illusionism being insufficient for the HP reminds me of an interesting Twitter exchange Frankish and Chalmers had the other day. (It was buried in a silly meme thread, so I’m not sure how many people saw it.) Chalmers is concerned that Frankish is drifting away from strong illusion into theoretical eliminativism.

          Frankish rejects the distinction, which I think is right. But then I think the distinction between strong and weak illusionism is definitional, so I’m probably more absolute in my rejection of the theoretical / illusion divide than he is.

          But more to your point, I think your judgment about your mental content not being explainable via neural processing is part of the issue, one arising due to the limitations of introspection. As you note, in principle we should be able to explain all the behavior, including the behavior of talking about our mental states. It’s the idea that there’s something else there, something irreducible, indescribable, unanalyzable, and undetectable via third person methods, that’s being called into question.

          Of course, the reductive physicalist / illusionist eventually has to account for the feeling of that idea. (The reductionist sees it as accounting for phenomenality (reconstructed), the illusionist for the illusion of phenomenality, but the accounting should be the same.) As Chalmers notes, the physicalist has to find a solution to the meta problem to conclusively dissolve the hard one.


          1. Hi Mike,

            A lot to say here; I’ll be brief.

            “qualia in the philosophical sense are supposed to be intrinsic and ineffable.”

            They are supposed to be *epistemically* intrinsic and ineffable by definition, but not ontologically. Indeed, the latter would be begging the question. There is therefore nothing incompatible between the starting points of the dualist/panpsychist and the qualia structuralists, since they both agree that qualia exist. The idea of ontological intrinsic states existing “out there” is meant to be invoked as an explanation for our mental phenomena, but it’s certainly not assumed by definition, and as such very much has to be proved. Usually, such proofs take the forms of invoking zombies or inverts to show that there has to be a real physical gap here, but you can definitely always attack the leap from conceivability to possibility.

            I actually just spoke with Chalmers by email on this very issue last week, and he says he’s quite sympathetic to the structural qualia aims and goals. He still has doubts, but such doubts are focused on the practical ability of the project actually being able to succeed, and not that there has to be some definitional incompatibility or anything like that.

            “It’s the idea that there’s something else there, something irreducible, indescribable, unanalyzable, and undetectable via third person methods, that’s being called into question”

            Again, I think this is somewhat backwards actually. The RM/dualist is not committed (or should not be committed) to the proposition that qualia actually are those things as a starting point. Rather, this is something they must arrive at after having argued for the notion that our phenomenal states actually exist as ontologically intrinsic states.

            So, the idea that qualia might actually be unanalyzable and ineffable is never meant to be a “get out of jail free card”, it’s something that first must be demonstrated. Just like you wouldn’t start with the assumption that string theory is right and then use it’s unverifiability as a dodge to deflect criticisms. No, that would be nuts and contrary to the spirit of science. You must first demonstrate that string theory has a good chance of being right (maybe by appealing to mathematical simplicity or something like that), and only then would you have the grounds to characterize ultimate reality as being experimentally unverifiable.

            Thus, I think it’s a bit of a red herring to imply that non-physicalists believe that the illusionists and other reductionists have to explain the existence of “something irreducible, indescribable, unanalyzable, and undetectable via third person methods”. Once the arguments in favor of the existence of those states are dismantled by the hypothetical physicalist, then there’s really nothing left to be explained. The issue is just that most people on the other side believe the arguments still remain strong.

            “As you note, in principle we should be able to explain all the behavior, including the behavior of talking about our mental states”

            It’s not the behavior of our verbal reports which causes issues with reduction, but the behavior of the mental states themselves. Also, as I mentioned, there appears to be a serious structural mismatch between the (functional) relations governing qualitative states and the (functional) relations governing physical brain states. So, I don’t think it’s going to be enough to invoke hypothetical limits of our introspection as an explanation for this mismatch, unless you’re prepared to argue that we’re mistaken about our judgements of the functional mental facts, which like I said, most illusionists are not prepared to do.


          2. Hi Alex,
            This epistemic vs ontic distinction is interesting. If I’m understanding you correctly, maybe there are opportunities here for reconciliation after all. My understanding of illusionism (strong or weak) is that the epistemic limitations, the fact that we can’t subjectively reduce perceptual primitives, are what mislead us about the ontology. That mismatch is the illusion. (I’ve often wondered if a better name than “illusionism” wouldn’t be “abstractionism”.)

            I guess my next question is, what makes you think the underlying ontology is non-physical? If we’re not taking our impressions at face value, then what leads us to think that physics can’t explain it? I generally don’t see non-physicalists talking the way you do here, but maybe I’ve missed some key material somewhere.

            I still struggle to see the issue between the functional mental states and brain states. I wrote a reply here, then realized it was largely a repeat of what we’d batted around already. Maybe I should just ask: what is the difference, as you see it, between what you’re talking about and the way an image or CAD design is stored in a technological system?


          3. Another long post coming Mike, apologies:

            Yes, I think the epistemic vs ontological distinction is important and definitely changes our interpretations of this topic. Indeed, one of my own issues in our early conversations on this blog was that I failed to make this exact distinction and consequently interpreted your claims against the intrinsicality of qualia as just being the denial of the existence of qualia/subjective states. It was difficult to find any common ground here since it seemed to me like you were claiming that we don’t have any feelings or mental phenomena at all. I now realize that I was grossly mistaken and that we are much closer in our philosophical outlooks.

            About non-physicalists not talking in the same way:

            I don’t think that’s necessarily true. If you read Chalmers for example, like his article on the phenomenal concept strategy (, I think it’s pretty clear that he accepts there is an inference needed to transition from the epistemic to the ontic. This is how I understand most non-physicalists. The confusion only comes when they speak of qualia as being ontologically intrinsic, but we should understand such talk as implicitly accepting an inference, and not as asserting a truth by definition or tautology or anything like that.

            “If we’re not taking our impressions at face value, then what leads us to think that physics can’t explain it?”

            To be clear I’m not saying that, and I view what we take as face value as separate from the epistemic vs ontological issue. It’s possible to believe, for instance, that we should take the dualist hypothesis at face value, yet still hold that there’s an inference that needs to be made there; you would just think that the inference is prima facie obvious. But obviously if there was some strong defeater against that inference, then the dualist should drop their claims about consciousness.

            As for what we should take at face value, I generally take the opposite approach and so I think we’re on the same page here. Throughout most of my life I was a physicalist until I began to think deeply about the hard problem and realized that reduction was not necessarily so easy. In my opinion, the right way to approach this is to take physicalism as prima facie true. Any alternatives to physicalism should only be believed as a last resort; it’s just that I think we’ve reached that last resort! As I understand it from reading Chalmers biography, he approaches this in much the same way.

            On illusionism:

            I’m not as well read on this topic as I would like (although of course I have read Frankish), and I must admit that I’m not sure whether illusionism can be characterized as “that the epistemic limitations, the fact that we can’t subjectively reduce perceptual primitives, are what mislead us about the ontology. That mismatch is the illusion.”

            For one, this is a very mild claim, one that doesn’t even require hard physicalism (Type A materialism). The soft physicalists (Type B) also believe that we won’t be able to reduce our phenomenal concepts from the inside (see the article about the phenomenal concept strategy). But the illusionists go further in denying that there exists any form of epistemic or conceivability gap, meaning they don’t even believe that there’s a potential problem of reduction from the inside. I have seen some statements from Frankish which seem to belie the above and which advocate for a milder approach. But I have also seen counters by non-physicalists like Goff and Chalmers who argue that such milder re-interpretations on the behalf of Frankish are inconsistent with Frankish’s core position (as laid out in his principal writings), or at least that they really stretch the meaning of our language.

            My tentative thinking is that illusionism isn’t the position that the mismatch is the illusion, but rather that our perception of there being a mismatch is an illusion. In other words, we’re not mistaken about the true character of mental states because of some epistemic limitation preventing us from accessing this true (non-intrinsic) nature. We’re mistaken about what the subjective character of our mental states even is. It’s a subtle, but crucial distinction.

            I’m not sure how you feel about this. It seems to me that you do accept that there exists an epistemic gap of this kind, but that you believe that such a gap is easily explainable on account of our physical limitations. I actually agree that such a gap (the physical-structural being subjectively perceived as intrinsic) could, in principle, be easily explainable as well, I just don’t think that such an explanation would solve the hard problem (for the reasons I earlier elaborated on).

            “Maybe I should just ask: what is the difference, as you see it, between what you’re talking about and the way an image or CAD design is stored in a technological system?”

            Yes, this gets to my last point about how I don’t believe that positing the existence of a potential epistemic limit in regard to intrinsicality is sufficient, even if it’s true. I need to think more carefully about how I should present this point, so we don’t risk repeating ourselves. This post is already long enough, so I’ll write a separate reply to explain my reasoning later. I promise to do so in the coming days.

            It’s been nice chatting with you.


          4. Just to expand on the illusionism point: in re-reading Frankish I’m becoming more and more certain that my interpretation of illusionism (which was actually my original interpretation from when we started our first conversations, but which I lost confidence in throughout our extensive talks) is correct. That, in other words, the illusionists are NOT saying that we are confused about the ontological nature of our phenomenal states, but rather that we are confused about the subjective nature of such states. We are confused about what it even feels like from a first person subjective perspective, in other words. Note in Frankish’s writings:
            “ Illusionism makes a very strong claim; experiences do not really have qualitative, ‘what-it’s-like’ properties, whether physical or non-physical.” p.3 (

            Note the emphasis on ‘physical’ as well as non-physical. The alternative claim, that the illusionists are just asserting that our subjective states seem intrinsic because of some physical hardware limitation in our brain, can’t be right because:
            1. It’s basically tantamount to the type b materialist assertion
            2. The illusionists specifically deny the existence of an epistemic gap

            I think this is pretty radical indeed. If we are mistaken about the fact that it even feels like (from an inner perspective) we are conscious, then it seems like the illusionists really are claiming that we are not conscious in any meaningful sense. I think this is epistemically self-defeating, as I argued for in our past conversations (but I think you then didn’t fully grasp my argument because it wasn’t clear that I was objecting to this type of illusionism). That’s because we have to start with our conscious experiences (epistemically intrinsic qualia) to even justify our beliefs in the outside world and the beliefs that led us to illusionism (so it’s self defeating).

            If this is correct then I feel we’ve made substantial progress:

            1. We’ve established (it seems) that you accept the existence of qualia as the type B materialists and non-physicalists do (as experiences which present themselves as subjectively intrinsic, ineffable etc…), and accept the existence of an epistemic gap.

            2 We’ve agreed that physicalism is the obvious prima facie explanation.

            3. We agree that physicalism, if it was true, could easily explain the existence of the epistemic gap with regards to subjective intrinsicality.

            4. We disagree on whether 3 can close the entire epistemic gap. My argument is that it is not enough on the grounds that ontological structural qualia still need to be physically reduced, and there remain serious problems with doing so.

            Chalmers, by the way, as I have gleaned in my email discussions with him, rejects 3. He thinks there still remain important epistemic gaps with regards to intrinsicness, but I found his arguments here to be unpersuasive. So it seems that you and I are closer in our positions. The only thing that remains is for me to justify 4, which I will endeavor to do in my next post later this week.




          5. Hi Alex,
            No worries on long posts, although I always warn people that I have a tendency to miss points they want responses to when it gets long. But you numbered some points, which helps.

            First, let me say that definitions are the bane of these kinds of conversations. You quoted Keith Frankish and his strong claim about qualitative and what-it’s-like properties. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s the clearest writer on this. (Daniel Dennett does a much better job, but he can get pretty polemical.)

            The thing to remember is that when Frankish uses those phrases, it’s in a certain technical sense used by philosophers like Nagel. The problem is the “what it’s like” phrase is often taken to be something obvious and clear. But if it’s not being used in the Nagel sense, then it’s so vague as to be meaningless, and Nagel’s sense is far from theory neutral. In other words, taking Frankish’s statement to be a dismissal of common sense consciousness is a mistake. (Again, his writing makes it too easy of a mistake.)

            On the epistemic point, I probably should have clarified the distinction between the epistemic limitations of the subjective perspective vs the objective one. We have a lot of limitations from our subjective perspective, particularly about that perspective itself. The mistake is taking those limitations from that perspective as absolute limitations instead of blind spots that can be overcome from alternate viewpoints. And that’s what I see the objective perspective being, what we get from taking many different perspectives.

            So, I can’t subjectively reduce my perception of redness, no matter how hard I introspect. The wiring just isn’t there. The mistake is taking that to be some absolute constraint which implies that redness is something fundamental, instead of a perceptual conclusion for which we have no subjective access to the underlying computations. But once we establish the neural activity that is the conclusion of a certain color in a certain part of the visual field, that can be studied and objectively reduced. (Remember the software bit / transistor analogy. Software can’t go below a bit, but that doesn’t make a bit fundamental, except for the software.)

            So, getting to your points.

            1. I’m not a type-B materialist, which I hope the above clarifies. Believe me, I’ve dived into the distinction many times, and everytime the type-A view is the one I come away with.

            2. I’m not sure I’d say “obvious” here. We’re all innate dualists. I’m not really onboard with the PCS, but I do think it gets one thing right. That innate dualism probably comes because we have very different models for social interactions vs physical ones, which makes it seem like the minds involved in those social interactions are something categorically different. I personally had to be convinced away from dualism.

            3. I’m not sure I’d sign up for “easily” here. But I think the subjective epistemic gap is explained by the limitations of introspection. It seems like the mystery of consciousness arises from a mismatch between what introspection tells us and what science tells us about the brain and body. I won’t belabor the point since we’ve pounded on it a lot before, but for me this is the crucial fork.

            4. I’m open to being convinced. But I’ve had the same reaction to Chalmers. He usually just takes the gap as obvious. I’ve seen a similar stance from Nagel, Goff, and others. (At least based on the papers and articles I’ve read from them. I have to admit I haven’t read many non-physicalists at length. I read Chalmers’ Reality+ but it wasn’t focused on consciousness.)

            The interesting thing I find about Chalmers is how often I agree with him on things other than consciousness, including things about the mind. For example, we have similar conclusions about artificial intelligence and mind uploading. He’s a dualist, but his dualism is so thin that it has only the slightest effects on his ontology. This is why I’ve often wondered if there wasn’t a possible reconciliation between his view and the reductive physicalist one.

            Wow, this ended up being pretty long itself. As always, enjoy our conversations Alex!

            Liked by 1 person

          6. Hi Mike,

            I should begin by pointing out that the most important thing in this conversation is that we agree on what our own beliefs entail, even if we disagree about the true nature of the major positions (illusionism, type b materialism). I’m going to sidestep illusionism a little for the time being and concentrate on type B instead, but I agree with you that a lot turns on what we think the meaning of ‘phenomenal properties’ are.

            1) Can you elaborate on why you think that you’re not a type B materialist? Everything you said about the subjective/objective divide is literally word for word what they believe as I have always understood them, and also what I had in mind when I wrote my premise 3. In fact, I have heard the software/hardware metaphor on many occasions employed by such people. Type B materialism is just the conjunction of the premises that:
            A) physicalism is true
            B) there exists an epistemic/conceivability gap between the subjective and objective nature of our mental states

            The way they reconcile A and B is by positing that, as you say, “the subjective epistemic gap is explained by the limitations of introspection.”

            As evidence, check out:(

            and see what Chalmers says under the Type-B subsection, “According to type-B materialism, there is an epistemic gap between the physical and phenomenal domains, but there is no ontological gap. According to this view, zombies and the like are conceivable, but they are not metaphysically possible”

            Chalmers also elaborates in his paper on the PCS that he sees the conceivability and epistemic gap as basically the same thing.

            Furthermore, it is well known that the illusionists don’t think that there is any sort of conceivability and/or epistemic gap even in principle, so how do you reconcile that with your interpretations?

            I’d like to get more into illusionism but first I just want to see your response to the above.

            2) Ironically, we had opposite formative intuitions. In my case for example, I really was a physicalist for as long as I can remember throughout my childhood (and Chalmers I think was the same before he got into consciousness). I think we are in agreement though that physicalism is the simplest explanation for our subjective phenomena, and so it should be our prima facie explanation (intuitions aside) if it can succeed in explaining such phenomena (which of course I don’t think it does, see my point 4).

            3) I thought I had read you write in an earlier re-telling of your software/hardware metaphor that a physicalist account of the brain can easily explain why we have subjective limitations, apologies if I put words in your mouth. In any case, I would go so far as to say that it’s all quite straightforward. If our subjective introspective powers have limitations, then by definition a lower-level physical base wouldn’t be introspectively observable, turning a subjectively intrinsic state into an objectively structural one.

            I haven’t found Chalmers arguments against structural qualia all that convincing here; they basically rely on a
            rehash of the old epistemic/conceivability gap. But of course, if 3 is correct, it predicts the existence of that very same epistemic gap, so this argument seems quite weak to me (I think we are in agreement here).

            4) Yes, I promise I haven’t forgotten about my argument in favor of 4. However, about Goff and co. taking the gap as ‘obvious’. Are you sure that they don’t have the conceivability/epistemic gap in mind? Remember that illusionism denies the existence of any conceivability gap even in principle. I don’t think Chalmers thinks the epistemic to ontological transition is “obvious”.


          7. Just to clarify in case this might be helpful, when type B materialists speak of the impossibility of closing the epistemic gap, they don’t meant that we won’t be able to conceive of a solution to reductionism by thinking of the matter in some other way (reaching outside our blind spot in other words). Of course that can’t be true because otherwise they wouldn’t be physicalists in the first place!

            No, they just mean that there are deep subjective limitations that will always remain because of the way the hardware of our brain is constructed (exactly what you are saying, it seems to me). All we can do is circumvent such limitations through reason, but we can’t actually eliminate them.

            The illusionists by contrast seem to really believe that there is no epistemic blind spot to begin with. I agree that your alternative interpretation is plausible, but I think mine is better because it can easily reconcile why:

            A) Illusionists don’t believe there exists a conceivability gap in principle (how do you reconcile this?)
            B) Illusionism is seen as much more radical than type b materialism (which is basically analogous to what you are saying).
            C) Makes the most sense of Frankish’s quote. If Frankish had in mind a heavily theory laden version of phenomenal properties (as something ontologically intrinsic, ineffable) when he wrote that paper, then why would he bother to specify that he doesn’t believe that even physical things can have phenomenal properties? This would be an oxymoron and wouldn’t really need to be specified.

            Liked by 1 person

          8. Hi Alex,
            So, I think your understanding of the division between type-A and type-B materialists may be off a bit. Consider how little conceptual space you’re leaving for the type-As. If thinking we can introspectively access our own neural processing is required to be a type-A materialist, then no one is a type-A materialist. (Well, at least no one who isn’t deranged.) Hopefully it’s clear people like Dennett, the Churchlands, Frankish, and others like me have something else in mind.

            My reading of Chalmers’ categories is that a type-B materialist thinks there is an unbridgeable epistemic gap (albeit not an ontological one as the dualists think). I do think it can be bridged, and noted how above. The key difference is that just because it can’t be bridged from one end (subjective) doesn’t mean it can’t be bridged from the other (objective). A type-B doesn’t think it can be bridged from either end. Not my view. (In general, I’m skeptical of most unknowability arguments.)

            It’s worth noting that I also think the only thing to explain is functionality, and that philosophical zombies are incoherent unless we assume the dualism it’s supposed to demonstrate. So I’m pretty solidly in the type-A camp.


          9. Hey Mike,

            This is interesting, seems like we believe (almost) the same thing in reality, but we just started with different interpretations of what the other camps were saying and somehow ended up on opposite sides.

            “Consider how little conceptual space you’re leaving for the type-As. If thinking we can introspectively access our own neural processing is required to be a type-A materialist, then no one is a type-A materialist. (Well, at least no one who isn’t deranged.”

            I don’t think the Type-A stance is that we have direct introspective access to our neural processing, I don’t see how that’s entailed by the denial of an epistemic gap. I think they’re just denying (or at least the strong illusionists are) that we really conceive of phenomenal properties as something intrinsic, ineffable etc… But it doesn’t follow that we therefore conceive them in the correct physicalist way. In other words, I think the illusionists are saying that we’re mistaken about what we introspect, and not just that we’re mistaken about the ontological implications of our introspections (although the former implies the latter). As for the charge of derangement, well consider that this is the exact charge so many have levelled against them! 🙂

            However, if I may say something in defense of the hypothetical illusionist I speak of, I actually wish to take back my allegation of illusionism being self-defeating. Just because you think that we’re mistaken about the existence of subjective intrinsic states (states which present themselves as intrinsic to the first person), doesn’t mean that you don’t accept the existence of subjective functional states (states which present themselves as functional to the first person). So, it’s not necessarily self-defeating (I think you can construct a coherent epistemology from the latter). But it’s bizarre for sure!

            “My reading of Chalmers’ categories is that a type-B materialist thinks there is an unbridgeable epistemic gap”

            Let me level the “this is unfair/unrealistic to my side” charge right back at you. If this was true, then no type B materialist could be a physicalist. Think about it, if there was an unbridgeable epistemic gap that we can’t circumvent in any way, then it would be impossible to arrive at the conclusion that physicalism is true. It’s not mysterianism. So, of course we can bridge the gap; it’s just that we can’t do so from the subjective side. I actually made this exact same point in my last comment.

            “It’s worth noting that I also think the only thing to explain is functionality, and that philosophical zombies are incoherent unless we assume the dualism it’s supposed to demonstrate”

            Type B materialists also agree that we only have to explain physicality (or functionality); there’s nothing ontologically extra in need of explanation (expect for why we talk about such things). Also, zombies are definitely incoherent if you start with physicalist principles and deny dualist ones, no one is in disagreement there. But that is a question of possibility, not conceivability.

            The real question is, are they conceivable? That is, does our intuitive understanding of our mental states predispose us to dualist/zombie intuitions? You already declared that your prima facie intuitions were dualist, so your answer would appear to be yes.

            Note that this is totally separate from the issue of whether zombies are really ontologically coherent and possible. It could be that zombies are not actually coherent (as revealed through physicalist reasoning) but that they are conceivably coherent (they are not something unimaginable like a square-circle). I think the illusionists are really saying that they are literally unimaginable, and the explanation for why we think we can imagine them is simply that we are in introspective error (due to an illusion).

            To put it simply, Type B materialists agree zombies are conceivable but not possible (refer to the quote in my last post), whereas illusionists don’t even think they are conceivable (refer to the Type-A section:

            As always, this has been a very stimulating discussion.


          10. In other words just because you think there is an unbridgeable epistemic gap between our subjective introspections and their real ontological nature (because of hardware limitations), doesn’t mean that you think this epistemic gap is total (as you seem to be charging). It is only a partial gap that is apparent between the subjective and objective, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t arrive at objective knowledge through outside reasoning (if that were true, the type B people wouldn’t be materialist). Nevertheless this partial gap cannot be closed; it’s an inherent biologist limitation to our introspection. All we can do is circumvent it.


          11. Hi Alex,
            As I noted above, the definitions here are a tangled knot.

            Just to level things a bit, I’m going to quote Chalmers in the paper you cited.

            There are roughly three ways that a materialist might resist the epistemic arguments. A type-A materialist denies that there is the relevant sort of epistemic gap. A type-B materialist accepts that there is an unclosable epistemic gap, but denies that there is an ontological gap. And a type-C materialist accepts that there is a deep epistemic gap, but holds that it will eventually be closed.

            …According to type-A materialism, there is no epistemic gap between physical and phenomenal truths; or at least, any apparent epistemic gap is easily closed.


            I think my description of type-B which includes an “unbridgeable epistemic gap” matches his “unclosable epistemic gap”. Note the distinction he makes with type-C.

            I don’t think the limitations of introspection, by itself, qualify as an epistemic gap, at least not in the sense Chalmers is talking about, since to a type-A materialist, the gap can be closed by bringing in alternate perspectives, which collectively add up to the objective view. (Chalmers’ language toward type-As tends to be a bit strawmannish, but it covers the basic idea.) Which is why I see my view in the description of type-A materialists he gives after the quote above.

            Maybe it’ll help if I lay out how I see these positions.

            type-A materialist (introspection has limitations, no unclosable epistemic gap, no ontological gap)

            type-B materialist (introspection has limitations, an unclosable epistemic gap, no ontological gap)

            Dualist (an ontological gap)

            Where would you say this goes wrong?


          12. Hi Mike,

            It seems like everything hinges on what we think the epistemic gap is. I think the phrase “unclosable epistemic gap” just refers to a fundamental limitation on our introspective ability (call this a partial epistemic gap), whereas it seems you think it refers to the total inability to reconcile phenomenal and physical truths. So, I actually agree with your phrasing of the different stances; I simply disagree with your interpretation.

            As for type C, I interpret that stance as being the position that the introspective limits can be overcome if we simply introspect harder (with better introspective conceptual tools perhaps).

            Three things I will say in support of my view:
            1. To again reiterate, if type B materialists believed in a total epistemic gap (over and above introspection) then they wouldn’t be reductionist physicalists. Remember, the reductive physicalists think phenomenal truths can be purely explained and understood using physical means. But they are reductive physicalists (Chalmers characterizes them as such).

            2. Type B materialism is just the stance that we can’t reconcile phenomenal and physical truths a priori, but we can do so a posteriori:(

            This seems equivalent to a limitation on introspection. Your position that type-B materialism entails the existence of a complete (as opposed to partial) un-bridgeable gap seems unreconcilable with their belief that such truths can be known (and the total epistemic gap closed) a posteriori.

            3. Note again the emphasis on conceivability. Conceivability seems to be used by Chalmers as roughly analogous to introspection (he equates conceivability to a priori knowledge in the PCS paper), and yet he characterizes type-A as denying a conceivability gap (analogous to my interpretation that they reject any introspective limit), and Type-B as accepting a conceivability gap.


          13. Hi Alex,
            The problem with assuming it’s all about introspection is that it puts illusionists, who take the issues with introspection as a key issue, in type-B territory, something both they and Chalmers agree is not the case.

            This is clouded by the fact that the idea of the epistemic gap does arise due to limitations in introspection. But type-As see it as a limitations that can be compensated for. Type-Bs don’t. They think we have to accept brute identity relations instead, albeit ones fully within physicalism.

            On “reduction”, again definitions. Chalmers admits in that paper that he’s using “reduction” in a broader than typical manner. In his earlier paper that discusses the type-A vs type-B distinction, he refers to type-A as “hard-line reductionism”, recognizing that there is a difference.
            This actually fits with the fact that type-B materialism is often referred to as non-reductive physicalism. You can say it’s reductive, but if so it’s a different type of reduction than type-A’s.

            The a priori vs a posteriori distinction does get at the difference. “A priori” here is in the sense of a logical account of the reduction being possible, as opposed to the brute-identity relations usually taken by identity theories. Functionalist theories require a priori reduction, but identity theories accept the a posteriori version.

            I’m very much not a fan of Chalmers’ use of the word “conceivability”. It either means imaginable, which is silly since I can imagine pink dancing elephants and my ability to do so has no implications for reality, or it means something like logical coherence. He seems to use the ambiguity to rhetorically imply that type-A materialists are unreasonable. In my view, far from his finest writing. (Not that some of the type-As, like Dennett and Churchland, aren’t often just as bad.)


          14. Hey again Mike,

            “The problem with assuming it’s all about introspection is that it puts illusionists, who take the issues with introspection as a key issue, in type-B territory”

            This is only true if you first assume that your interpretation is correct. But if my interpretation is the correct one, then type A claims about introspection are actually claims about our being wrong about what we are subjectively introspecting/feeling from the first person (as opposed to our just being wrong about the ontological implications of our subjective introspections). Rendering them clearly and conceptually distinct from the Type B stance.

            It also seems to accord very well with the illusionists’ language (notice how Frankish often talks about how we misrepresent our own subjective properties to ourselves)

            On brute identity:

            I’m not sure what you mean by this? Do you mean that you think the type B materialists accept contingent identity relations in our physical universe, but not logically necessary ones? If so, I agree that’s not a form of reductionism, but that’s not my understanding of what Chalmers is saying at all. Furthermore, in reading type B materialists like Papineau, I thought they were pretty clear that they believed in logical/analytic identities. Chalmers also explicitly says that type B materialists believe in phenomenal-physical identity within all possible universes (refer to my quote below).

            “A priori” here is in the sense of a logical account of the reduction being possible, as opposed to the brute-identity relations”

            If my understanding of your concept of brute identity is correct, then no this seems incorrect to me. The a priori-a posteriori distinction is about the epistemic; it’s completely separate from reducibility. A posteriori truths can be analytic (necessarily true in all possible worlds), as Kripke showed. To quote the PCS paper by Chalmers, “More generally, type-B materialists typically hold that the material conditional ‘P⊃Q’ is an instance of Kripke’s necessary a posteriori: like ‘water is H2O’, the conditional is not knowable a priori, but it is true in all possible worlds” (

            The analogy to water and H20 is very telling. The only reason we might think that water is not H20 is if we didn’t have the introspective knowledge of its detailed molecular workings (and hence that it seemed conceivable to us that the analytic relation might be false). But clearly, we are able to acquire facts and reason our way to that conclusion (and circumvent this limitation). This is exactly what the Type B materialists are proposing.

            Again, if this wasn’t possible, then why on earth would they even be physicalist? Belief in physicalism would be purely a matter of faith, which is even crazier a stance then illusionism (I think it’s telling by the way, that no one charges Type B with being crazy, but a lot of people have labelled illusionism so).


          15. Note also that your criticisms of conceivability are misplaced if my view is correct. I think it literally just means “imaginable” and I think when Chalmers and co. (including the illusionists) say that there is no conceivability gap for type A materialism, they are literally saying that it is unimaginable. Of course we all believe that we can imagine it, but this is the illusion. We are just radically mistaken about what we think is going on inside our subjective mental heads.


          16. Apologies. I mistakenly wrote, “contingent identity relations” for my description of brute identities, when I meant to write “nomological identity relations”. The latter being true in our universe but not necessarily true in other logically possible ones.


          17. So sorry for the many posts, I promise this is the last. I thought it important to clarify how I see the difference in introspective limitations between the two camps. The type B people are saying we can’t imagine how the epistemic gap can be breached using only our first person subjective concepts.

            The type A people are denying the above, and instead asserting an introspective limitation regarding our ability to imagine things like inverts and zombies (even though we think we can). The type B introspective limitation is supported by the phenomenal evidence we are presented with, whereas the type A limitation is not (they are saying we don’t even have such phenomenal evidence).


          18. Hi Alex,
            Well, I think it’s clear we have different definitions for many of these terms. I’m not sure how productive it would be to keep iterating on them.

            I will note that Chalmers thinks type-B materialism fails for exactly the reasons you think my understanding of it is questionable, because it’s a slippery slope into dualism. I actually think he’s right on that point. From his Moving Forward paper:

            For a truly consistent type-B materialism, one would have to face up to these problems directly, rather than trying to slide over them. One would have to embrace explanatorily primitive identities that are logically independent of the physical facts and thus quite unlike any identities found elsewhere in science. One would have to embrace inexplicable metaphysical necessities that are far stronger than any a posteriori necessities found elsewhere in philosophy. And one will have to make a case that such postulates are a reasonable thing to believe in. I am skeptical about whether this is possible, but it is at least an interesting challenge.

            But even if type-B materialism is accepted, the explanatory picture one ends up with looks far more like my naturalistic dualism than a standard materialism. One will have given up on trying to explain consciousness in terms of physical processes alone, and will instead be relying on primitive bridging principles. One will have to infer these bridging principles from systematic regularities between physical processes and phenomenological data, where the latter play an ineliminable role. One will presumably want to systematize and simplify these bridging principles as much as possible. (If there are to be brute identities in the metaphysics of the world, one hopes they are at least simple!) The only difference will be that these primitive principles will be called “identities” rather than “laws”.


            As always, enjoy our discussions!

            Liked by 1 person

          19. Likewise, Mike! I too wish to express similar sentiments with regards to our conversations. I agree that it is not helpful to continue re-iterating our different definitions, I simply noted my interpretation of them to avoid the charge of inconsistency (or your criticism that they make type A materialism identical to Type B).

            I think I am getting a handle on what you mean by brute identities. Meaning identities which are physically identical to some functional states, but not logically identical (otherwise we would be able to analyze and epistemically reduce them).

            If so, I think you are misinterpreting Chalmers words here. I don’t think he’s saying that type B materialists actually believe in such brute identities. Rather, he is saying that type B entails brute identities, as a criticism of the position.

            But importantly, no type B materialist believes in actual brute identities themselves. To accept a brute identity is to dissolve the reductionist stance into a dualist stance (everyone agrees on this, so it would be odd if type B accepted this). If you go over my previous quote (in the PCS paper) concerning a posteriori knowledge (it might also be helpful to again go over some Kripke here), you’ll see that a posteriori necessary truths exist, and they are logical and analytical (true in all possible worlds) and not brute. Note again the comparison to the identity between water and H20 which is a logical and analytical truth that is knowable a posteriori and which is very much not brute.

            Finally, to quote Chalmers again from that very paper you linked: “it might be objected that if one possessed an a posteriori concept of consciousness – on which consciousness was identified with some neural process, for example – then the facts about consciousness could be derived straightforwardly. But this would be cheating: one would be building in the identity to derive the identity.”

            Note Chalmers objection, it’s not that the type B materialists actually believe that you can’t logically derive consciousness from physical processes (he admits they think they can), it’s just that he thinks its circular. Obviously, type B folks like Papineau reject this charge of circularity, and hence reject the allegation of the identities being brute and non-analytical.

            Here are some quotes from Papineau to demonstrate my point: “If conscious properties are identical to material properties, then I say there is no mystery of why material properties “give rise” to conscious properties. This is because identities need no explaining. If the “two” properties are one, then the material property doesn’t “give rise”
            to the conscious property — it is the conscious property. And if it is, then there is no mystery of why it is what it is.
            An analogy will help to make the point clear. Suppose you don’t know that Tony Curtis and Bernie Schwartz are the same person. Then you are told that they are identical. Now, thismight well prompt you to ask for an explanation of what shows they are identical (and the answer, presumably, would be that they always appear at the same place in the causal scheme of things). But it would make no sense for you then to ask for a further explanation of why they are identical… If
            they are one, then they are. That single person couldn’t possibly have been two people.”




          20. Here are some additional quotes from Papineau which express basically the same sentiment you have been saying (note the reference to a mind-brain illusion taking place). Don’t you find it strange that people like Frankish are well read on Type B materialists like Papineau, and yet Frankish insists he is making a much stronger claim?

            “Here is my explanation of why people are so disinclined to accept mind-brain identity. It relates to the analysis of phenomenal concepts given at the end of the last section. Phenomenal concepts may be similar to proper names in not invoking descriptions, but they are also dissimilar in that they refer by simulating their referents. This peculiar feature of phenomenal concepts gives rise to a powerful illusion of mind-brain
            distinctness. Elsewhere I have called this illusion “the antipathetic fallacy (Papineau, 1993a, 1993b, 1995.) I believe that this fallacy is the real reason why so many people think the mind-brain relation mysterious.”

            “This subjective commonality between the imaginative deployment of phenomenal concepts and the experiences they refer to can easily confuse us when we contemplate identities like pains = C-fibres firing. We focus on the left-hand side, deploy our phenomenal concept of pain (that feeling), and feel a teeny bit twingy. Then we focus on the right-hand side, deploy
            our concept of C-fibres firing, and feel nothing (or at least nothing in the pain dimension — we may visually imagine nerve cells and so on). And so we conclude that the right hand side
            leaves out the feeling of pain itself, the unpleasant what-its-likeness, and refers only to the distinct physical correlates of pain.

            I think that this line of thought is extremely common, both within philosophy and without. When we use our phenomenal concepts imaginatively, we bring to mind, in a literal sense, an instance of the experiential property we are thinking about. When we use non-phenomenal concepts, this does not occur. And this makes it seem to us that non-phenomenal concepts cannot possibly denote the same experiential properties that are picked out by our phenomenal concepts. (Thus consider McGinn, with my italics: “How can
            technicolour phenomenology arise from soggy grey matter?”) However, this line of thought involves a simple fallacy, indeed a species of the use-mention fallacy. There is indeed a sense in which non-phenomenal concepts (like C-fibres firing) do “leave out” the conscious experiences themselves. They do not use such experiences. But it does not follow that they do not mention such experiences. After all, most referring terms succeed in denoting their referents without using those referents in the process. “

            Liked by 1 person

  6. I haven’t done that mind chat episode or read the SEP article on neutral monism. Maybe later. I’m currently interested in the provided dualism versus monism chart however. I have a different way of framing this matter. I wonder how much of this you agree with Mike? Or if anyone else has any thoughts, please let me know.

    I realize that when people speak of “matter” in this regard that they generally mean this to also encompass energy given the famous equation of E = MC^2. But I think even with such an inclusion the term can be trouble given limited connotations for the word in general. It seems to me that when we replace “matter” with “monistic causality”, or just “causality” for short, we’re also able to razor off various extraneous notions. One such efficiency would seem to be the elimination of neutral monism.

    For the dualism category this change doesn’t seem too significant. Here there’s an existing causal world as well as an otherwise non-connected world that nevertheless ultimately facilitates subjective existence in this world, or the mind through which existence is perceived. Theists often refer to this mental part as an eternal soul, and even if worldly brains seem instrumental to such function as well. Of course there are all sorts of non-theistic dualists out there as well.

    I hold a monistic physicalism position. Here worldly causal dynamics are presumed to be responsible for creating mind. You’re in this camp as well Mike, though apparently we diverge in the sense that you believe mind emerges through the function of a certain type of computer code alone while I believe that a causal world mandates that such code would also need to animate the function of a mind producing mechanism of some kind, and possibly certain neuron produced EM fields. I realize that you’d agree with me if my position were experimentally validated quite well, just as I’d agree with you in the converse.

    Moving down a box to idealism, my causality edit would seem to render this “magical monism”. This is because when mind is presumed as the foundation, it makes no sense for it to then go on to ontologically create a causal world. Observed that here mind might legitimately create a subjective appearance of a causal world, though it should remain “mind” in the end, or “feeling”, “qualia”, “subjectivity”, and notions like this. Without a causal world, which is to say a natural world, it seems to me that existence would necessarily exist magically.

    Then as for neutral monism, without both causality and otherworldly magic, by definition nothing should be left to exist. I realize that neutral monists use different definitions such that there is a third option, and of course when I consider their ideas I believe that I must use their definitions to try to grasp their meaning. I think I do grasp their meaning however, and perceive it to only work by exploiting an insufficiency in the “materialism” term that might more effectively be referred to as “casualism”. While a third option may be perceived between mere material -> mental, not so by definition when we tighten things up to causal -> mental. Without magic or non-magic, a priori nothing will be left to exist.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Eric,
      I think most people would say that they’re including energy in those deliberations. Most of the writing about this is after Einstein’s discovery of the equivalence. But I agree that it does change the intuitions a bit to remember that matter isn’t a static thing, that different types of particles, with the right interactions, can transform into other types, including bosons. We have a pretty good understanding of those transformations, but my understanding is it does involve some ugly math fudging, a crack in the door someone who says there’s more could use to get a foothold.

      I’m sympathetic to what you’re trying to do with the monistic causality idea, but I think a proponent of neutral monism could say two things. First that you’re preemptively ruling out the possibility of a different form of interaction that happens in addition to the ones you’re talking about. They may also point out that causality, in the sense of cause and effect relations, is emergent, and may not even be a thing in this alternate framework.

      Of course this could be considered just dualism by another name, but dualism spread out over everything. (A view I’ve referred to before as pandualism.) It is different from typical dualism, in that the duality doesn’t only happen in specific systems (brains, etc) but everywhere, and is only concentrated in brains.. But many panpsychists might disagree. Definitions.

      On our divergence, I don’t think mind emerges from the functionality of computation, except perhaps in some weak sense where “mind” is just an alternate description of that functionality. The idea that something else needs to be produced is where I think we diverge. I don’t think that something-else exists. We’re only tempted to think it exists due to the limitations of our introspective systems. I think that’s the real divergence.

      Interestingly, the version of the EM theory that identifies phenomenal consciousness with the EM field without identifying why the brain’s field is different from any other EM field, has naturalistic panpsychic implications, which I believe James Cross has explored a little bit.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Pockett in particular has speculated about the EM field that pervades the universe which would place consciousness, I think, as a concentration of perhaps some larger ordering principle.

        There are some odd parallels with black holes and the black hole information paradox where information becomes enclosed and cut off from the rest of world. Yet there seem to be porous boundaries where not only information enters but also information escapes. Metaphorically consciousness is also tightly bound information about the external world across a boundary – the Markov blanket in Friston’s theories. Binding information (holographically?) about an external reality could be a more general principle of modeling that creates reality itself. The inside reflects the outside and vice versa

        That’s speculation, of course. The terms of discussion here with all of the nuances of different views (materialism, idealism, monism, dualismetc) are starting to seem antiquated to me and are of little use for explaining how a biological brain produces subjective experience, whether it be illusion or not.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I often note to people who want to argue about the materialism vs idealism / dualism divide that my conviction isn’t to materialism per se (or physicalism for those who make a distinction between materialism and physicalism) but between phenomena that operate according to discoverable principles vs those that don’t.

          In principle, I’m not completely closed off to the possibility there may be things in the second category, but it doesn’t seem like a productive epistemic strategy to assume it’s true in any particular case. If we assume that the phenomena will eventually be explainable with discoverable principles, we keep working at it. Assuming we can’t understand it seems like giving up. That doesn’t mean we might not have to radically reconstruct our view of what those phenomena are.

          In many ways, this is very similar to Eric’s causality principle, but I’m very aware that causality becomes questionable at the microscopic level where interactions become symmetric. For me, it becomes more a matter of expecting those interactions to follow rules, rules we can learn.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Mostly I agree with this. But to go back to Occam’s Razor post, it seems like reality consists of two general categories of things.

            1) Things that work by simple principles. These are the things where the Razor is most useful and we would expect relatively simple rules, laws, and simple causality.

            2) Things that don’t work by simple principles. Turbulence, complex actions arising from individual quantum behaviors of a large number of atoms/particles, chaotic systems, multivariant causation.

            The things in the second category may have some discoverable rules but the rules are statistical and highly subject to initial conditions which usually can’t be measured with enough accuracy to produce sound predictions.

            The bigger problem I have with the division of the world into matter and mind is that both are concepts that may have outlived their usefulness.

            Liked by 1 person

      2. Mike,
        For the naturalist, does “matter” (mass/energy) constitute reality in full? I’m not sure it’s thought of that way. We don’t consider time and space to be mass/energy for example. I’d like us to fill in any such epistemic gaps by using a more complete definition. Instead of basing naturalism upon the existence of “matter”, I’d like us to base our position upon “monistic causality”. This will encompass time, space, and anything else causal in a worldly sense, or a single kind of stuff. Then when dualists also add otherworldly magic to the mix, that’s fine. We can simply say that because non-causal dynamics cannot be explored in a worldly capacity, that they excuse themselves from scientific exploration in that regard. With tightened up definitions the neutral monist will not escape these domains, and even though they like to think that they’re proposing something that’s more fundamental than both magic and non-magic. Their proposal must either be causal and so potentially study-able, or otherworldly and thus magic.

        Science is still a young institution that in many regards hasn’t yet found its way. Thus instead of academia making a mockery of people who propose ridiculous things, people who propose ridiculous things commonly make a mockery of academia. This seems to be the fate of science residing without various effective principles of metaphysics, epistemology, or axiology.

        I’m not recognizing your interpretation of my interpretation of your beliefs about how the brain creates consciousness. I didn’t mention anything about a functionality to computation. I’m not sure how you’d perceive me to unpack something like that. In any case the way I see it is you believe that consciousness exists by means of some kind of code to code conversion. Thus any computer that runs the code conversion that your brain runs, would create “your” subjective experience. Conversely I think there’s a second step needed as well, and it’s not because of my introspection. This second step seems required given the way that all computers function in a natural world.

        For a simple analogy, your computer can produce the code that operates its screen, though without a connection it doesn’t operate its screen. That’s essentially my conception of your consciousness conception — non-instantiated code. And what enacts certain brain code to create consciousness? Probably certain elements of an electromagnetic field produced by neurons. I realize that you’d only believe this after experimentally verified quite well. For example if relevant scientists believed this because they were able to tamper with someone’s consciousness by injecting the right EM field in the person’s head for oral report of such disturbance.

        On the EM field and panpsychism, though I was introduced to the idea that consciousness exists this way from a blog post by James Cross of a book by Susan Pocket, after consulting Wikipedia I quickly went over to the perspective of McFadden. It seems to me that Pocket gets bit funky. I don’t think panpsychism answers anything in the end. This reminds me of a great email interview that Tam Hunt did of McFadden a few years ago. Hunt is a panpsychist who believes that fields in general constitute varying degrees of consciousness.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. “For the naturalist, does “matter” (mass/energy) constitute reality in full? I’m not sure it’s thought of that way. We don’t consider time and space to be mass/energy for example.”.

          I think that’s the problem there. “Matter” or even “physicality” really doesn’t have a coherent definition. It’s just a hodgepodge of stuff from physics. Mike’s approach of “discoverable principles” might be a better way to discuss it but that doesn’t fall into any neat materialist or idealist division especially since “principles” themselves have an indeterminate relationship with “matter”. What is “e=mc2” anyway? It isn’t exactly matter and it certainly isn’t physical. It is a description of how measurable aspects of reality relate to each other. It tells us something useful about reality without being exactly physical itself. We might argue it is real but it certainly isn’t real in the same way that actual atoms are real. It has no agency in the world. By itself it can’t cause anything. In a way, it is like mind and consciousness, a part of reality but somewhat aloof from physicality.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Eric,
          I don’t know that I implied that all of reality is matter/energy. I certainly didn’t intend to. Although it’s worth considering whether energy by itself isn’t primal in that fashion. Remember that spacetime has energy and topology (or at least the theories modeled that way are highly predictive). It’s how LIGO is able to detect gravitational waves and deduce black hole mergers billions of light years away.

          “That’s essentially my conception of your consciousness conception — non-instantiated code.”


          Liked by 2 people

          1. Right James, the words that we use can point us in better or worse directions. So perhaps it would be productive for “physicalists”, “materialists”, and so on, to instead call themselves “causalists”?

            I didn’t mean to imply that you consider all of reality to exist as mass/energy, though I guess it did come off that way. I was really just trying to state something that might help clean things up in academia in general, such as demonstrate that neutral monism seems to be yet another dead end.

            Then as for the disagreement that we have regarding consciousness, I hate how it can be interpreted as “me versus you”. It’s me versus a status quo position that I don’t believe has been sufficiently challenged so far. I’ve developed arguments from which to challenge it, and fortunately for me, you serve as a good proxy for these interests. If I ever do succeed, you will have been instrumental in this success. Regardless, I enjoy trying to help fix things like this that to me seem broken.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. “What is matter” is the question for a materialist to answer.

            But it seems obvious to me that there will be things that will not meet even a broad definition of matter. For example, the principles of nature themselves by which physics describe the world are not really matter but rather mental abstractions from measurements about how matter acts and arranges itself in the world. We cannot measure the principles per se. We can only measure attributes of matter from which the principles can be abstractly derived .

            I don’t know exactly whether you are a materialist and have some broader definition of matter than I can imagine or whether you acknowledge the reality of the mental as I do.

            Liked by 1 person

          3. Ultimately the labeling is a definitional issue. When I first heard about neutral monism years ago, I actually thought that was what I might be, until I saw all the business about quiddities.

            But “physicalist” is probably a good quick and dirty summation of my position. I actually define “physical” as operating according to those discoverable principles and being part of the causal (or interactional) framework of other phenomena we normally refer to as “physical”. I’m not as wild about “materialist” unless it’s meant as a synonym for “physicalist” and includes all forms of energy and spacetime, including aspects of it we may not have discovered yet.

            I’m actually not sure what it would mean to say that something that affects and is affected by physical phenomena isn’t itself physical. It seems like it would just be physics we don’t understand yet.

            Liked by 1 person

          4. Neither the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy or Wikipedia mention “quiddities” in discussion of neutral monism, although perhaps it is implicit in this quote:

            “matter has intrinsic properties that both constitute consciousness and serve as categorical bases for the dispositional properties described in physics. (Alter and Nagasawa 2015: 1)”


            At any rate, there are more forms of neutral monism than Russell’s.

            Personally I can’t see the rationale of trying to reduce reality to a single substance, neutral or otherwise. Physics itself hasn’t arrived at any single substance even though it constantly searches for common principles to unify its theories. However, even common principles that explain different phenomena, for example electromagnetism and gravity , won’t really tell us necessarily they both consist of a common substance. They could be independent but working on similar, emergent principles. I can see it might be possible that everything that physics deals with actually is emergent from some common prakriti – the quantum void , perhaps – but there is no way to know what that substance in itself could be since it would exist prior to measurement. It would be hidden from physics itself.

            “I’m actually not sure what it would mean to say that something that affects and is affected by physical phenomena isn’t itself physical. It seems like it would just be physics we don’t understand yet.”

            Right because you have a circular definition of the “physical” that would automatically incorporate anything “that affects and is affected by physical phenomena” into the definition of physical.

            Materialism or physicalism might be a useful construct for conducting research since it encourages us to look for causes and mechanisms by which things works. When it becomes a ontological position it ceases to make sense.

            Liked by 2 people

          5. As you noted, “quiddity” is just an alternate name for intrinsic property. It’s kind of a weird one, so I can see why a lot of discussions omit it. But the SEP article specifically on Russellian monism uses the term.
            My issue is that neutral monism seems reliant on these intrinsic properties constituting consciousness. The reasoning to get there starts with the hard problem, which I don’t think exists, at least not in the sense many seem to think.

            On my definition of “physical” being circular, I’m open to alternative suggestions. And I would point out that a system that persistently resisted any attempts to be understood by discoverable principles might fall outside of it. (Even if we take the quantum wave function collapse as real, it collectively operates according to the probabilities from the wave function.)

            It’s worth noting that the main place physicalism remains controversial is the mind. (It was once contested for biology, but most of us seem past that now.) It certainly doesn’t feel like my mind operates according to the laws of physics, according to those discoverable principles. But should we expect a system with limited insight into its own operations to have accurate first order knowledge of the rules it operates under?

            Liked by 1 person

          6. So guys, in the spirit of Occam should we not hack away some of this academic dead wood to reduce things down as much as we’re able to? If materialism has implicit energy problems and such, and physicalism has different interpretations that may not always explicitly reduce back to “worldly causal dynamics”, wouldn’t it seem productive to go beyond such titles and directly refer to ourselves as “causalists”? This should imply that we’re unsatisfied with various standard classifications. For example their gaps seem to permit the existence neutral monists.

            Observe that if explicit causalism were a major force to be reckoned with then neutral monists in general would need to make their arguments under this paradigm. Any who spurn magic could technically join us, though mainstream causalists should be able to marginalize them since they’d have no evidence for their proposed substance that creates both matter and mind. Here their movement shouldn’t be able to take advantage of formerly ill defined classifications. Thus their fabricated story should be displayed exactly that way.

            Liked by 2 people

          7. I don’t think we can use Occam to bring things to causal dynamics, since cause and effect are emergent from the microphysical.
            But I’m increasingly thinking that we can use it to dismiss epistemic structural realism in favor of ontic structural realism.

            A neutral monist will insist that we need intrinsic properties to account for consciousness, but that only holds if we assume introspection is infallible. I see no reason to make that assumption. Once we admit it is fallible, at least for me, there’s no hard problem, and no need for intrinsic properties (in the philosophical sense), hence OSR rather than ESR.

            So a ruthless application of parsimony leaves us with only structure, relations, and interactions.

            Unless I’m wrong. 🙂


          8. One thing I would quickly add (I’ve already written way too much) is that I think we should be careful in distinguishing between introspective error and phenomenal/sense data error. I myself have definitely been guilty of blurring the lines here in our conversations out of haste.

            When we introspect we are thinking about our sense data. To say that we are making an introspective error is just to say we are in error about what our sense data is/presents itself as. But I see this as separate from the claim that your sense data is directly in error (meaning it doesn’t accurately capture the real world conditions). It’s the difference between inaccurately visualizing an object (sense data error) and mistakenly perceiving your sense data to be accurate (introspective error). And it’s the difference between being in pain in the absence of external stimulus (sense data error) and of mistakenly thinking you are in pain (introspective error).

            They are separate things. You can have good introspection but bad sense data (as when you realize you are experiencing an illusion), but bad introspection and accurate sense data. As you know, I think the latter is what the SI folks are really saying, at least about the bad introspection part. The SI folks are always careful to note that they are talking about an introspective error.

            I think making this claim is a bit more radical than just making the standard “sense data/phenomenal states are wrong/misleading” claim. We have evidence for the latter all the time in the form of regular illusions. But if we’re mistaken about our own introspection, then it seems like we’re in bigger trouble. I think this is why the type B folks are not so keen on this idea, but they do accept that our phenomenal states are in error due to cognitive limitations constructing them as subjectively intrinsic.


          9. As always, definitions can be a thing here.

            “Sense data” has a particular meaning in philosophy.
            From what I’ve read, contemporary notions of qualia / phenomenal properties evolved from it. If that’s what you mean, consider that your only source of information on it comes from introspection. And introspection is the issue.

            Or you might have just meant sensory neural processing in the brain. Certainly that’s far from infallible. But I can’t see any grounds for assuming introspection is any better. Even when introspection does exactly what it’s evolved to do, the reason it evolved wasn’t to give us an accurate picture of that neural processing, but a simplified abstract one tailored to our survival needs.


          10. Hey Mike,

            Yeah I mean sense data/qualia/mental states to all be roughly synonymous here. And our introspective powers are meant to be our second-order thinking about such mental states or qualia. See: “Introspection is the process by which someone comes to form beliefs about her own mental states.”


            So introspection is not the only way to become aware of your mental states, you can also just directly apprehend them. For example, a cat presumably has mental states and experiences such states (and thus directly apprehends them), but nevertheless doesn’t actually introspect or form beliefs about its own mental states.

            I agree you can be mistaken about both, I wasn’t trying to argue otherwise. I was pointing out that to accept a sense data limitation is to accept that we experience sense data as intrinsic things, but which are nevertheless not actually ontologically intrinsic. Whereas to accept an introspective limitation is to accept that we are mistaken about the sense data we experience, and for all we know we don’t actually experience them as intrinsic. The latter seems to be more radical in that we would be mistaken about how our own mental states feel/present themselves to us.

            Okay I’m bowing out now, it was a nice conversation for sure Mike.


          11. Hey Alex,
            Direct apprehension is one of the attributes of classic qualia. If it existed, it would be part of introspection. But I can’t see any justification for assuming it does. The limitations of introspection may give us the impression it does, but we’re back to the primary bone of contention.

            Have a great evening Alex.


          12. Greetings Mike,

            Thanks, I had a pleasant night out with some friends actually. I hope your day was equally great.

            I know I promised to bow out of the conversation, but I found this latest remark of yours too interesting for me not to respond to it.

            If I am understanding you correctly, it seems like you’re saying that we don’t have any direct access to experience, and that therefore our introspection of our experience gets reduced to the experience itself. The argument, I take it, is that the above form of reduction opens up the path to reducing the SI claim about introspective error to the claim that we are in error about the ontological nature of experience (which you assert is the main SI position).

            That is, if we do have direct apprehension of qualitative properties, then introspection is a second-order process of experiential understanding. Whereas if introspection gets reduced to our primary form of knowledge concerning qualia, then introspective error is reducible to an ontological error.

            I do agree that in the absence of direct apprehension of qualia/sense data, all introspective errors get reduced to errors about ontological claims. But I don’t think this is enough to support your primary contention: that SI is mainly tantamount to the stance that our subjective experiences mislead us with regard to their fundamental ontology. We can contrast this with the stronger contention that SI is tantamount to our being seriously wrong about what our inner mental life even feels like from the inside.

            If we lack all knowledge of our inner mental states outside of introspection, and if all mental states are physical, then introspection involves one faculty/domain of the brain (the meta-cognitive area) thinking about another faculty/domain (the sensory processing area). But it still doesn’t follow that introspective error becomes tantamount to sense-datum error. There’s a clear and distinct difference. The latter involves the sense-data areas of our brain constructing incorrect models about the external world, whereas the former involves the introspective faculty misperceiving the type of model being constructed by our sense-data.

            So even if we lack direct access to our representational model of the external world outside of introspection, introspective errors still imply that we are misinterpreting the nature of our mental experiences (namely, what models we actually construct).

            The consequence of sense data error (mixed with reliable introspection) is that we’re correct to believe that our model(s) of the external world portray objects as possessing certain (phenomenal) properties which seem prima facie incompatible with physicalism. But where our model just doesn’t accurately track reality. Whereas the consequence of the SI/introspective error approach is that we’re mistaken to even assume that our model is in error (note that this is still compatible with the model error position though). The latter, to me, comes off as a much stronger claim than the alternative position that our models of the world are inaccurate.

            Indeed, for all we know, if introspection is so unreliable, there might be no such models (or they might be of radically different natures). For we all we know, it might be completely “dark inside” for all conscious beings.

            I interpret your past comments that our cognitive limitations can easily explain the appearance/subjective reality of our constructed model of the world as asserting a milder claim about sense data error, but I’d be curious to know what you think.


          13. Hi Alex,
            I may be about to pour gasoline on the fire. We agreed above that sense data is equivalent to qualia / phenomenal properties. (I see distinctions made between them in some of the articles. Apparently most contemporary philosophers discount the historical version of sense data theory.) So a strong illusionist simply says that sense data, in the philosophical sense, do not exist. Our impression of it comes from introspection.

            On whether this means introspection of experience gets reduced to experience, that depends on what we mean by “experience”. From a functionalist perspective, we could mean.
            1. Early sensory processing
            2. The contents resulting from deliberative attention.
            3. The contents resulting from introspection

            The intense intuition here is that there must be a fact of the matter answer. But that is only true if there is an additional presentation in a theater of the mind, a private internal show, essentially composed of qualia / phenomenal properties. But this is exactly what strong illusionists deny exist. (We can of course use deflated definitions and say they do exist, just not as they seem, which gets us to the functional version of weak illusionism.)

            So I may have made the illusionist position seem even more ludicrous to you, but that’s where we are.


          14. Mike,

            I’ve been trying to use the word sense-data/qualia in a very deflationary sense, as compatible with multiple candidate interpretations of qualia as found in my definitions 1-3 that I had previously laid out (ranging from functional to classic qualia). I’m not sure if you’re saying that the SI folks deny that we have direct experiential access to something like functional qualia for example. It seems to me that Dennett does indeed think that all experiential knowledge is just introspective knowledge (so no direct access to functional qualia I take it?), but I’m not sure if other SI proponents like Frankish and Kammerer go that far.

            In any case, even if you (or they) deny the existence of this weak version of sense data, I’m not sure if that’s going to be enough to counter my previous objection. Let’s say that we don’t have any perceptual access to our sense data or functional qualia, so that there is no reason to even think that they exist outside of introspection (which the SI folks anyways think is in error). Presumably we still agree that the sensory processing system(s) of the brain use representational vehicles of some kind to model the outside world (that they create some of content which bears an intentional relation to the external world). If you grant this, then my argument still goes through.

            Introspective error still makes the assumption that we are mistaken about the nature of our sensory representational capacities, which remains more extreme than just admitting that our representational capacities are in error about how they model the world. If introspective error is accurate, then for all we know we might not have any representational capacities in the brain at all, and maybe our brain isn’t even modelling the world (or the actual model is radically different from what we think we perceive). Implying we have a very different mental life from what we think we have.

            I suppose it is possible to take the even more radical step of denying not just the existence of sense data (in the deflationary sense), but of also denying that we have representational capacities present in our sensory processing areas. This article ( lays out such an approach (called disjunctivism), and needless to say it’s perceived as being quite radical. For one thing, it implies a kind of cognitive externalism.

            In any case, taking that extra step seems to me the equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot. The whole point was to portray SI as not needing to endorse any radical claims equivalent to “we are radically mistaken about how our subjective life feels like or seems like to the first person”. However, we basically ended up in the same position anyways. Very much pouring gasoline over the fire, I agree. Unless you see a third alternative?


          15. Hey Alex,
            I don’t think we have direct access to anything. (Assuming “direct access” or “direct acquaintance” refers to something that happens outside of causal processes.) Illusionists generally see it as a postulate philosophers take to make phenomenal realism work. (See page 15: )
            (To be fair, talk of infallible introspection goes back to early modern philosophers, but it’s hard for me to see any justification for it.)

            I did note above that we have introspective access to perceptual processing (which we might characterize as functional qualia), but that access is through fallible causal processes. And again, even when it works “right”, it provides a simplified picture that gives us the impression of the stronger intrinsic notion of qualia.

            (There are people who claim we don’t have even that kind of access, that introspection is a best guess the brain makes about its processing. I think our access is far more limited than we like to admit, but there is plenty of wiring for at least some privileged internal access, not to be confused with the direct acquaintance notion dismissed above.)

            It seems like we have purely functional reasons to conclude that some form of representation-like processing happens in the brain. Someone’s ability to describe a remembered or imagined object or person implies there’s some form of modeling of that object or person in their brain. Some people might insist on only talking about dispositions, but they have to insist vast clusters of those dispositions don’t amount to a representation. Personally I prefer the word “model” because representation implies an internal presentation, whereas a model just gets accessed and used.

            Anyway, no infallible direct access. Just messy, error prone, and limited perceptions and introspections. Although maybe this is just more gasoline.


          16. Hey Mike,

            I see my terms where once again rather too loaded! I meant direct acquaintance to merely imply a kind of non-introspective knowledge, but I didn’t mean to load the term with Chalmer’s theoretical baggage (as being infallible or non-causally mediated). Let’s call non-introspective knowledge ‘acquaintance’ (dropping the ‘direct’ adjective) to distinguish it from Chalmer’s notion.

            Since we appear to agree that introspection is second-order knowledge of our mental states (it’s the process of forming beliefs about such mental states), non-introspective knowledge by acquaintance is just first-order knowledge that we accrue. As an analogy, a toad plausibly doesn’t form any beliefs about its mental states (e.g. it probably doesn’t think how the food tasted yesterday and form complex judgements about such matters), but it does have direct experiential knowledge of its own senses (if we grant simple acquaintance).

            Contrast this with the human ability to later on (either some time after or in the immediate moment) introspect about what he/she was feeling in that moment.

            There are many plausible physical (and thereby causal) mechanisms by which such a process of acquaintance might occur. For instance, under GWT, knowledge by acquaintance might be the filtered sensory content that is streamed to the working memory center. Whereas introspective knowledge might be the end result of the contents of our separate attentional mechanisms (in turn directed towards the sensory processing area) being streamed to our global awareness center.

            Anyways, it seems you like accept that we have models of the objects of the world “stored” (for lack of a better term) in our brain. I think it’s just a small step from there to the conclusion that we can directly experience such models outside introspection (because it seems unreasonable to think that you need beliefs to have experiential/conscious awareness). And once you agree to that, then it seems that all introspective error invokes an extra-ontological claim. It’s not just that we’re wrong about the ontological underpinnings of our experience, but wrong about the perception of the experience itself to the first person.

            I feel that the only way to get out this would be by denying that there exists some difference between immediate perception and introspective belief. But that’s even more radical than the denial of deflated sense-data.


          17. Oops I missed the part where you said you thought that we had some privileged experiential access (implying a difference between perception and introspection). It seems we are on the same page here (I meant acquaintance to be a kind of privileged access with no theoretical baggage attached). I do think that admitting to extensive introspective error of the kind required by SI is paying far too steep a price here though. If that’s correct, then for all we know our perceptions are radically different from what we think they are.

            Surely it’s simpler to instead think that our beliefs concerning what our perceptions/immediate experiences are like are reasonably accurate, but that nevertheless our perceptions are mistaken models of the world; implying that objects come with phenomenal properties when they actually don’t?


          18. Hi Alex,
            At this point, we seem to agree that introspection (however we label and categorize it) isn’t infallible, but it seems like we disagree on what that means. I’ll again note, that it isn’t just about it being in “error”, although there’s plenty of evidence for that, but more what it’s optimized to provide. There was no real selective pressure to provide accurate impressions on how our mind works, just effective feedback for various purposes.

            Graziano describes the models provided as a “caricature” of the reality, a cartoon like version. That wording seems to make people go ballistic, so I prefer to say it’s an abstraction, one that retains details relevant for evolutionary affordances, but not details for providing an accurate idea of how information is processed in the brain.

            In terms of what’s simpler, I’d say it’s simpler to think it provides reasonable accuracy for some evolved purposes, but not others. When it’s the only source we have for ontological claims, we should scrutinize that source carefully before accepting the ontology.


          19. Hi Mike,

            We might be delving into the semantical weeds here, but I would make a distinction between a perception-based model of the world and an introspective model of our mind. I still see you as somewhat blurring the line between introspective and perception-based reasoning, and I feel as if I haven’t succeeded in getting my main point across.

            Of course, physicalists and non-physicalists alike speak of the mind as being the (potential) bearer of phenomenal properties. But this isn’t how phenomenal properties actually present themselves. Rather, our perception-based model of the world imputes phenomenal properties to external objects. The color of an apple appears to bear a “felt” qualitative aspect, and it is this aspect which we talk about being inverted or absent in zombie cases. So, the attribution of the mind having phenomenality is not a consequence of the perception of any model that we hold, but an after the fact rationalization made by us (dualists) when we realize that the objects of the external world can’t bear the properties in question (so we attribute them to the mind instead).

            Bearing this in mind, we have two choices. We can attribute the apparent existence of phenomenal qualities in the objects of the external world to a mistake found in our perception-based modelling. Phenomenal qualities are (subjectively) ‘real’ qualities present within our internal/subjective model of the world, but they just don’t exist within the external objects themselves. The reason why our perception-based model of the world models these objects as having intrinsic, ineffable qualities, is partially because (as you noted) such modeling takes place at a particular level of abstraction and misses the underlying structure (which is instead modeled or represented as being an intrinsic/ineffable primitive quality).

            The alternative approach is to instead characterize the mistake as happening at the higher-level of introspection. It’s not that we have some erroneous sensory model of the world which presents the objects of the world with incorrect properties, but rather that we are mistaken about what our models even are. If we could accurately attend to the models in question, we would realize that no qualities are being misrepresented, and that no intrinsic/ineffable characteristics are present in our sensory model of the world (not to be confused with the idea that there are no such qualities in the world itself).

            Both approaches succeed in accomplishing the task of explaining why we talk about phenomenal concepts. The former approach attributes this to our introspection correctly noting that our sensory models come built-in with these qualities, whereas the latter attributes it to an introspective error making it seem as if they do.

            Perhaps you feel that this divide is mostly semantic, but I see a big difference. If the latter is correct, then we’re mistaken about more than the existence of phenomenal ontology; we’re also mistaken about what our mental life is really like from the inside. I understand why SI goes over and above the perception-based error approach though, it’s because there are problems with explaining how a sensory-based model could be mistaken in the relevant way while also being compatible with physicalism.

            We did talk about how such a model might mispresent structural and effable properties as intrinsic and ineffable. But Chalmers et al. believe there might still remain issues with accounting for the “what’s it like” aspect over and above intrinsicality. Furthermore, as I earlier pointed out, there remains a structural mismatch. By invoking introspective error, the SI proponents can neatly sidestep all such potential issues, but like I said it comes at an added cost, which I feel is not talked about enough.


          20. To put it simply with an analogy:

            1. Sensory modeling issue:
            The map labels x as blue, but x is green in the real terrain
            2. Introspective error:
            We think the map labels x as blue, but we are mistaken. There’s no reason to think there’s an incompatibility between the map labels and the real terrain color.

            If 1 is true, then we really do have subjective experiences of qualia, but such experiences are physically explainable as being a part of an erroneous sensory model of the world. If 2 is true, then we might not even have subjective experiences of qualia.

            It seems to me that you invoke the arguments of 2, but when I try to press you on this, you pass it off as entailing the consequences of 1 (a much milder approach). So I’m not sure if we just have a different interpretation of what it means to be mistaken about the subjective existence of qualia, or if you really believe that SI is just tantamount to 1. If the latter, how do you reconcile introspective error as clearly being about the model, and not the external reality?



          21. Hi Alex,
            I fear we might be looping again. But there is a point here I don’t know if I’ve made explicit up to this point.

            You say that 1, sensory modeling, implies the existence of qualia. But consider that my laptop logs me in by scanning my face. Which means it has a sensory model, both in storage and what is being scanned when I open it, and does a comparison. Does that mean you think the laptop has qualia? Or what about the models a self driving car makes of the road and surrounding environment? I think most people would say these are only functional models, not phenomenal.

            The question is, what makes the content of 1 in us phenomenal (or seem phenomenal)? Is there something special about the biological version? If so, as Nagel pointed out all those years ago, there’s no external evidence for it. All we can do from the outside is test the functionality, the behavior, including self report.

            The only way we have for observing qualia is through our own look inward, otherwise known as introspection.

            Of course, many people insist the phenomenality actually is there before introspection gets to it. I suspect that’s your intuition as well. But as I noted above, here we run into the old refrigerator light dilemma, or as William James put it, we can’t turn up the gaslight to get a better look at the dark. We can’t push introspection out of the way to get a better look at qualia. It’s like pushing the TV out of the way to get a better look at the TV show.

            Hope that helps clarify the view.

            Liked by 1 person

          22. Yes that does clarify your view, and yes I think we can “take a look at the tv” so to speak, without introspection, in the form of privileged access. Where privileged access is just meant to be non-introspective knowledge without the theoretical baggage that is typically attached to the phrase (like incorrigibility).

            Hence my belief that it seems to us like phenomenality is there before introspection gets to it. So to invoke an introspective error is to deny a real subjective reality (in my eyes) and not just to do away with a mistaken belief about that reality.

            It seems like you agree that the physical wiring exists for such privileged access, but you’re prepared to do away with such knowledge whereas I’m not (not as easily at least).



            Liked by 1 person

          23. “It seems like you agree that the physical wiring exists for such privileged access”

            *Potentially exists


          24. Hi Alex,
            Sounds like you’re reading more into “privileged access” than I said. All I meant is that we have at least some internal access to our own mental states, as opposed to inferring them by observing our own behavior. It’s just another way of talking about introspection or its metacognitive underpinnings.

            As always, appreciate the conversation!


          25. That’s interesting to me Mike. You ended up saying “So a ruthless application of parsimony leaves us with only structure, relations, and interactions”, though began by saying that causality emerges from the micro physical. I’d instead reduce structure, relations, and interactions to the more parsimonious notion of causality itself. So I think I’m saying the same thing you are, though with a more economical term from which to represent the idea. I wouldn’t say that causality emerges from the micro physical, but rather that all elements of reality emerge from causality itself. As a naturalist I consider this fundamental. Does that seem wrong?

            I’m not exactly sure who considers introspection infallible. Maybe in the sense of cognito ergo sum rather than claiming one’s beliefs are always right? And shouldn’t I consider there to be a hard problem of consciousness regardless of that? Even if McFadden’s theory were experimentally validated quite well, I don’t know that it would ever make sense to me why a value dynamic would causally emerge from certain electromagnetic fields. And regardless of whether or not a human does grasp a good answer for this problem some day, to me it does seem pretty mysterious right now. Even a good answer should be difficult to make sense of. Well… unless that good answer were magical. In that case there should just be the magic rather than anything causal to potentially grasp.

            Liked by 1 person

          26. Eric,
            Just because you’re using fewer words doesn’t mean you’re proposing something simpler. Causality is the sequence of cause preceding effect. But when we look at fundamental physical laws, they’re symmetric, meaning you could, in principle, reverse everything and have it run the other way. Of course, we don’t observe that in our daily lives, but that’s because the second law of thermodynamics says entropy always increases. And the second law is emergent from statistical patterns in fundamental physics. Another way to understand what I said is your idea minus that directionality. The directionality will emerge with enough particles in the mix, but it’s not fundamental.

            Consider why the hard problem exists. People are troubled by it due to a discrepancy between what introspection tells us and what science tells us about physics, the brain, and the body. Now, neither source of information is perfectly reliable, but we’re always fine tuning scientific methods to increase their reliability. However, introspection is what it is. Short of modifying the brain, we can only improve its reliability to a limited degree. And decades of psychological research shows that it is riddled with limitations.

            You mentioned value, but value, in and of itself, is trivial to program into a machine. (Making use of that value in sophisticated ways is a completely different story.) You have a strong intuition that your value is in some sense different, special. But why? It’s a case where introspection is telling you something very different from science and reason. You’re trusting that intuition from introspection. I don’t think you should. I do understand that doubting it is very counter-intuitive.

            I’m not saying we should ignore what introspection tells us. I’m just saying we shouldn’t privilege it over scientific data. And that data does eventually need to account for why it tells us what it does.

            Liked by 1 person

          27. At its core I think neutral monism is just asserting there is one “stuff” but we don’t know whether it is physical, mental, both, or something else altogether.

            “Neutral monism is an umbrella term for a class of metaphysical theories in the philosophy of mind. These theories reject the dichotomy of mind and matter, believing the fundamental nature of reality to be neither mental nor physical; in other words it is “neutral”.


            Various philosophers can append other concepts like “intrinsic properties” to the core idea but I don’t see any of them as essential to the basic idea.

            Personally I see nothing in science that indicates or suggests the world is composed of “one stuff”. The closest thing would be the quantum void but there is no way to know what it is composed of since it exists prior to any measurement.

            Liked by 1 person

          28. Mike,
            Even if time/entropy were to run backwards, and so like a movie in reverse apparent effects would lead to apparent causes, I think I’d still refer to this process as “causality”. If you’d rather go with “structure, relations, and interactions” however, that’s fine. Until you can come up with a valid difference however I’ll continue to presume that you mean what I do here.

            It seems to me that both my introspection and science say the same thing about subjectivity, or value as I use the term, or Schwitzgebel’s innocent conception of consciousness. Both introspection and science suggest that a hard problem exists to potentially deal with. McFadden’s solution would, if validated, merely falsify a vast assortment of funky ideas that exist in academia today. Even then scientists shouldn’t grasp why it is that the physics works that way, or at least when they’re honest.

            It’s the same with the solution that your side proposes I think. Why would a robot with programming that we continually refine over many years to appear that it feels itchy, for example, also phenomenally feel itchy? If it were shown again and again however that this robot would phenomenally experience an itchy existence, and thus be conscious in that capacity, I don’t think the reason for this would make sense to anyone. In the end we’d just have to say that it is what it is. Whether processed information alone, or processed information that animates some kind of phenomenal mechanism, denying that there’s any mystery here seems like a convenient escape. I’m not aware of any science which suggests that such a route be taken.

            So the defining element of neutral monism is merely that mind and matter are not fundamental? Hell, that doesn’t sound so bad. It actually seems pretty good. I don’t believe that mind or matter are fundamental for example. The big question however is do any of the position’s advocates take a sensible next step? Do any of them postulate causality itself to be fundamental? Or rather do they tend to postulate the existence of some kind of exotic stuff that we have no evidence for?

            Liked by 1 person

          29. “So the defining element of neutral monism is merely that mind and matter are not fundamental?”

            In the dual aspect variation, mental and physical are just different aspects of the same thing so some people taking that approach might say reality is both mental and physical. But any “monism” thinks there is something – one kind of thing – fundamental. Neutral monism doesn’t commit itself to mind or matter by itself being it.

            Maybe we should call it “world stuff” which is a term I became familiar with from Julian Huxley.

            In my limited solipsism, effectively everything we know or can know in its nature is mind but there is something external to my mind. We will never know the true nature of what it is.

            Liked by 1 person

          30. Eric,
            I think science can ignore phenomenality, at least in any non-functional sense. Trying to do science with it is like trying to scientifically study love. The concept is too hazy and indeterminate to figure out what we should even be trying to measure. In both cases, there are more specific things that can be focused on. In the case of consciousness, Chalmers lays some of them out in his “easy” problems list.

            The easy problems of consciousness include those of explaining the following phenomena:
            the ability to discriminate, categorize, and react to environmental stimuli;
            the integration of information by a cognitive system;
            the reportability of mental states;
            the ability of a system to access its own internal states;
            the focus of attention;
            the deliberate control of behavior;
            the difference between wakefulness and sleep.


            Although as Mark Solms noted, he omits affects here. If he had included them, the gap would have appeared less severe. In any case, the there’s nothing in that gap that can’t be explained by the limitations of introspection.

            Of course, new evidence could change that at any time.

            Liked by 1 person

          31. “I think science can ignore phenomenality, at least in any non-functional sense”

            Yes, let’s ignore it. You sure write about it a lot for something you think science can ignore.


          32. What is non-functional vs functional phenomenality?

            I thought the functionalist view was that all mental states were functional. If that isn’t the case and there are non-functional mental states, then the theory is incomplete.


          33. Definitely “world stuff” James, though I also consider “causal” required to head that assertion. And of course no subjective entity can have the privilege of gaining general ontological Truth. A causal path however should at least make scientific progress possible. Science is still a young institution however that seems not yet very well founded structurally, so work is needed.

            Science can ignore phenomenality? Now there’s a bold statement Mike! At least you technically hedged this by including “at least in any non-functional sense”. Yes science can ignore what’s not functional to it, and I think should. Physicists , biologists, and even neuroscientists needn’t bother with phenomenality since their work exists at a lower level. Certain causal elements in their domains should create phenomenality, though their focus lies elsewhere. Psychology, psychiatry, sociology, political science, economics, and mental/behavioral science in general, however, should fail to the extent that they try to bypass phenomenality. And indeed, I’d say that many of them do suffer today trying to do so. This should continue to be a problem until it becomes formally grasped that phenomenal experience constitutes the exclusive value of existing for anything, anywhere. Today this only seems formally grasped in the science of economics, or a behavioral field that has achieved various relatively effective models. Perhaps the reason that it’s been permitted to take this step, while more basic fields like psychology have not, is because economics is far enough off center to not overtly threaten the evolved social tool of morality.

            Regarding Chalmers’ supposed easy problems, I’m not a fan. As I see it there’s the function of my body in a non-phenomenal sense, and certain portions of this causally create a phenomenal entity that exists as me from moment to moment. That’s right, I consider myself entirely phenomenal. Remove this phenomenal element and you’re left with a body that has no self. From this perspective his list seems to step into some “hard” stuff. The only potential easy problem I see there is “the difference between wakefulness and sleep”. Even primitive modern science might effectively study this since the question doesn’t concern a difference between conscious versus non-conscious, but rather conscious versus an altered state of it. So just as modern science is able study the effects of various mood altering drugs, it should also be able to study sleep versus non-sleep. Conversely the other questions seem to get into some “hard” stuff. Even the validation of McFadden’s cemi should not quench curiosity here. But in that case at least science would finally gain direction and so cast aside various popular but ridiculous notions in the field.

            Liked by 2 people

          34. Eric,
            If I’m understanding your reply, you basically see Chalmers engaging in scientism with most of the things he lists as scientifically tractable. And do I detect support for philosophical zombies in this sentence?: “Remove this phenomenal element and you’re left with a body that has no self.” If so, it seems like you’re more of mysterian than he is.

            All I can say is that a lot of what you’re talking about seem to me like entities multiplied beyond necessity. We’ll have to see where the science goes.

            Liked by 1 person

          35. “Science can ignore phenomenality? Now there’s a bold statement Mike! At least you technically hedged this by including “at least in any non-functional sense”.”

            Yeah, what’s more, it would seem to falsify functionalism if there are non-functional mental states. Maybe that is the intention.

            “That’s right, I consider myself entirely phenomenal. Remove this phenomenal element and you’re left with a body that has no self”.

            This is definitely on the right track. If we view consciousness itself as a model primarily with the purpose of providing agency in the world for an organism, then all consciousness would have a self that represents the organism itself in the model. It is an outgrowth of the model of the body itself that also carries the history, memories, and learning with it. My “self” now is not the same as my “self” as a teenager.

            Liked by 1 person

          36. It doesn’t sound like you are understanding my perspective very well right now Mike. It’s certainly parsimonious. And would I accuse Chalmers of scientism? That’s actually what I’m accused of for claiming that science is in desperate need of a respected community of meta scientists to better found it metaphysically, epistemologically, and axiologically. I can imagine accusing someone of scientism if they were to propose that good art and culture can be reduced back to good science, though I certainly wouldn’t expect that of Chalmers.

            Regardless of how much science is ultimately able to understand the sort of brain dynamics which create an entity that phenomenally experiences its existence, or even technologically create such beings, I don’t believe it should ever make sense to us why phenomenality would ultimately result. Even if certain things do make sense to us in retrospect (such as “Only an EM field medium should potentially exist as phenomenality in a natural world” as I suspect), in the end we shouldn’t grasp what it is about such discovered physics that causes phenomenality to result rather than not, or at least if we’re honest. At some point we should always hit a point where all we can say is, “Because that’s how it works”. I don’t doubt Chalmers and others in this regard.

            With that said however, I don’t think this hard problem matters all that much. We might still implement such physics just as we do for other physics that we only grasp tentatively. So regarding Chalmers’ easy problems, it’s not that I don’t think humanity can study those sorts of things scientifically. It’s that I don’t think such study will ever make us grasp why it is that phenomenality ultimately emerges. This curiosity should always remain.

            Furthermore I expect that modeling the nature of phenomenal existence will some day become highly successful. For example I reduce phenomenality back to an instantaneous punishment/reward dynamic. When functionally evolved this element should fuel its function somewhat like electricity fuels the function of our computers. Then with phenomenal senses like vision and hearing, as well as a preserved conception of past consciousness (or memory), this sort of a being should interpret such inputs and construct scenarios about what might improve its well being from moment to moment (or think). Only its hope and worry (manifested in the three varieties of input already mentioned) should give this entity temporal coherence. Without achieving a founding model regarding the nature of phenomenal existence, our soft mental and behavioral sciences should continue to find progress difficult.

            What happens with the removal of the phenomenal dynamic associated with my body’s function? In that case “I” don’t exist. But that doesn’t mean that my body would continue to function the same regardless, as in the case of the hypothetical philosophical zombie. In that case you might consider me a vegetable, or dead, or knocked out, or something like that given the circumstances. Non-conscious humans tend not to do much given that our bodies evolved to generally take orders from a brain created phenomenal experiencer.

            Liked by 2 people

          37. Eric, honestly I don’t have a good sense of your views. Much of your description seems to fit a type-B materialist outlook with its acceptance of an unclosable explanatory gap. (And I know you don’t go in for the other side of property dualism.) But in closing you tie phenomenality to functionality, in the sense that its complete absence leaves a body non-functional.

            Your remark about the hard problem not really mattering makes me wonder if we’re talking about an epiphenomenal type outlook, where phenomenality just coheres with the right functionality but has no causal role. But that doesn’t seem to fit with the strict causalism you espouse above. Although I suppose it might fit with your requirement for physics that generates phenomenality.

            Maybe I should ask. Do you see phenomenality as functional? If not, how do you reconcile that with your closing remarks? If you do, then what distinguishes your view from functionalism?

            Liked by 1 person

          38. Mike,
            It could be that one reason my perspective is often difficult for you to grasp, is because apparently you’ll not find a similar perspective throughout academia. McFadden merely gave me something extra that fit. But just as I haven’t developed his models, he hasn’t developed mine.

            It began when I was young with the observation that regardless of how well or poorly we’re thought of, we’re all self interested products of our circumstances. It’s a form of psychological egoism. I pair this with the notion that our various moral beliefs tend to serve as an evolved social tool which ironically punishes us for claiming that we have a self interested nature. Then in my late 30’s I used this perspective to develop a dual computers model of brain function where not only does brain function as a computer, but the phenomenality that it creates functions as another form of computer. Furthermore after I began blogging in my 40s, and so began to realize how screwed up academia happened to be, I developed four principles of meta science from which to potentially help fix it.

            I doubt that me explaining my perspective to you will ever give you a very connected picture of the whole, and somewhat given your prior of what’s popularly known of as “computationalism”. You’d need to gain a working rather than simply lecture level grasp of my position, though that prior may not permit such exploration. I don’t mind however since you nevertheless help me refine my positions. And if McFadden’s theory ever does become conclusively verified experimentally as I expect some day, then I think many like yourself will become shaken enough by this to perhaps gain a working level grasp of my ideas.

            If the type A materialist believes that science can or even will progress far enough such that it becomes clear to educated people in general that causal dynamics should produce phenomenality through “x, y, z” parameters, then no, don’t put me under that classification. But then why would I believe that the human has evolved such that it doesn’t do much when it loses its phenomenality? Because that’s what’s observed. Without “me” the brain can continue operating my heart and various other autonomous processes, though in vegetable capacity. This isn’t mandated however. Without phenomenality we might have evolved to function as robots do. Perhaps most ants have a phenomenal element to them though they also robotically function reasonably well without it. The human however seems to have evolved such that the non-conscious brain came to otherwise exclusively support phenomenal function.

            Regarding my assertion that the hard problem doesn’t matter much, I didn’t mean that phenomenality doesn’t matter to human function. Of course it matters for that. I meant that not grasping a good solution for this question shouldn’t impede science all that much. This shouldn’t stop us from figuring out things that could and should make sense to us some day. It shouldn’t stop us from designing and building conscious machines for example. I do however suspect that phenomenal existence must have began epiphenomenally. This is because a phenomenal entity would have needed to exist in order for evolution to. have functionalized it.

            What distinguishes my view from functionalism? Maybe two things. Firstly my perception is that this has been a title from which to justify the belief that phenomenality exists as nothing more than certain code properly converted into other code. I consider the position to violate causality. Then secondly it isn’t so much that I consider functionalism wrong, but rather tautological. I sometimes use tautologies in effective ways I think. For example if a person claims that there are certain moral ought realities as opposed mere “is” existence, I like to counter by stating “Is is all there is”. I don’t see that the definitional truth of functionalism makes a useful statement however.

            Liked by 1 person

          39. Thanks Eric. You’ve covered this before and we’ve had long conversations about it. So I won’t rehash all my critiques.

            I will point out that something can’t be a tautology and also be wrong. You might argue it’s trivially true or provides no real insight, but if it’s tautological, then it’s logically true. And as I noted above, functionalism fits with your strict causalism since causal relations are at the center of the view. That doesn’t necessarily rule out some of the stuff you posit, just that they need to have an identifiable causal role.

            Liked by 1 person

          40. It seems like every description I read of neutral monism includes intrinsic properties. If we do omit them, I wonder then what the difference is between it and physicalism. It seems like there’s a danger here of just getting into a labeling dispute.


          41. I just quoted a description of Wikipedia that it is simply a catch-all description for philosophies that think reality is either both mind and matter or more typically not mind or matter.

            Physicalism, if something other than materialism is meant, is simply the real is what we measure. Since what we can measure is the stuff of physics, it is simply saying the hodgepodge of physics is real. As a research program I’m fine with it. I’m off the train if it thinks it is defining reality in any sort of monistic or ontological way.

            As far as labeling dispute, this entire post and its comments are all about labeling reality in one form or another. Or do you think the labels actually mean something or are useful for something?


  7. Hey Mike,

    One thing I completely forgot to point out in our past conversation is that weak illusionism = Type B materialism. I think this is an important point to make, because I have heard you say that you think the weak/strong illusionism gap is at times definitional. So that leads to me to think that you might interpret strong illusionism as saying the same thing as the Type B camp (which of course I don’t believe).

    1) Here’s proof:
    “After all, weak illusionists —that is, standard materialists — accept the existence of the derivability gap all right, but don’t see it as a problem. Their response, as is familiar, is that phenomenal claims may well be a priori underivable from the physical facts, but this does not establish their ontological distinctness” (p.7)

    Note how this is identical to the type B materialist stance (physicalism is true but there is no a priori derivability of physicalist-phenomenal facts).

    Additionally, on pg.6 Papineau explicitly characterizes himself as believing in ‘the standard view’ and defines the standard view as being incompatible with both strong illusionism and Chalmers’ view. Finally, here is another source equating WI with Type B materialism:

    Click to access kammerer2021.pdf

    2) About strong illusionism:
    Again, I want to re-emphasize my stance that SI is much stronger than what you have been claiming. I think the evidence is pretty overwhelming at this point.

    2a) First, Papineau (a WI, Type B guy) explicitly equates SI with the denial of consciousness (or qualia), that would be a weird thing to say otherwise if the SI and WI positions were so close. (p.6)

    2b) Secondly, qualia are never really defined with ontological presuppositions. Here is the SEP article on qualia: (, see how all the definitions make no ontological presuppositions. Section 1.3 defining Qualia as intrinsic and with non-representational properties notes how such properties are potentially identical to neural states. This makes no sense if there were ontological implications to qualia, as neural states are functional/structural. Note also section 10 on illusionism.

    Observe Chalmers’ distinction between the epistemic and ontological gap in the PCS article: ( Accepting the existence of an epistemic gap (and thus accepting the existence of qualia) doesn’t entail the existence of an ontological gap, it has to be inferred. This would make no sense if qualia, by definition, carried ontological presuppositions.

    2c) More importantly, here are Frankish’ own words on qualia: “The ‘classic’ conception of qualia, on which qualia are intrinsic, ineffable, and subjective” []

    Note how they are defined as being subjective. I also can’t help but to mention with irony this article of yours ( where you point out as much and conclude that Frankish mistakenly goes too far in denying the total existence of all qualia, since by definition they are supposed to be subjective (and you argue that they can at least be said to exist in a subjective sense). Yet it seems to never cross your mind that the (strong) illusionists are in fact denying the existence of subjective states as they appear to us, and not the objective states that underlie the subjective component.

    Hope everything is going well in your personal life.




    1. It seems to me the main issue is that you have perhaps failed to appreciate the epistemic-ontological divide inherent to the usage of ‘qualia’, so that every time you read the sentence “qualia are intrinsic, ineffable etc…” you have interpreted this as referring to some objective ontological property, when in reality it is always meant (by everyone, including the dualists, panpsychists, and the materialists) to be a subjective, epistemic property (qualia feel like they are intrinsic, ineffable etc…), with no ontological presuppositions. I think this is the basis for most if not all of our understandings. This includes Nagel, because as far as I know, he’s using the word in the traditional epistemic sense.

      I really haven’t even conceived of the other ontological possibility until I encountered your claims to be honest. Additionally, it might also help you appreciate better why Chalmers and Co. take the existence of qualia as “obvious” and why the SI have such a bad rap. It might be helpful to re-read all of your favorite authors, including Chalmers, with this new interpretation in mind, as I think it would be a real eye-opener.


    2. Hey Alex,
      I’m fine in real life. Things are crazy busy at work, but that’s not unusual. What about you? Are you okay? Your postings this week have seemed more intense and rushed than usual.

      In any case, I hope you can accept that we will almost certainly have to leave this conversation disagreeing about a lot of this. As I’ve noted before, keeping conversations from descending into acrimony often means accepting that our friends won’t see things the same as we do, at least not today.

      Can’t say I’ve historically been that impressed with Papineau’s views on consciousness. I recognize him as a fellow physicalist, but find many of his opinions not well thought out. So not surprised I disagree with those quotations.

      I’ll admit that plenty of illusionists of both the strong and weak type are convinced there is an ontological difference between their views. And no doubt in some cases, there are. In my experience there’s no reason to depend on everyone who accepts the same label having identical views.

      What I can say is that when I try on the strong illusionist claim (no qualia) and the weak illusionist claim (qualia are not what they seem), I feel like I’m wearing the same view, just with different definitions of “qualia”.

      Which is why at the bottom of that post you cite, I note that what I just described is another description of illusionism. If you look through my archives, I often say I agree with the illusionists ontologically, just not terminologically. Even though I’m still not wild about their terminology, I’ve just become tired of making that caveat.

      It’s also why I’m open to the possibility that some of these other positions might amount to verbal disputes. But while I can do the reconciliation for illusionism, I haven’t succeeded yet with the others.

      Anyway, that’s where I am today. Next year might be different. But quoting lots of philosophers at me isn’t likely to be persuasive since philosophers tend to be all over the map on this stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Mike,

        Glad things are going relatively well for you. I’m fine, if also busy (probably why my posts feel rushed). I do tend to get a little manic and carried away when I contemplate these problems, especially if I think I’ve uncovered something important. It’s not so much a feeling of “I have to win this argument or convince this person” but rather “I have to write this down to finish my train of thought” otherwise I just don’t feel satisfied. I apologize to all the recipients who are the unintentional victims of my sermons. I of course agree that people on the other side won’t always be convinced and that doesn’t have to be the end goal.

        “What I can say is that when I try on the strong illusionist claim (no qualia) and the weak illusionist claim (qualia are not what they seem), I feel like I’m wearing the same view, just with different definitions of “qualia”.”

        Yeah, it seems like we just have different interpretations of what the SI folks mean by qualia. It seems like you think they (or at least Frankish) are maybe sneaking in some ontological posit (qualia as ontologically intrinsic states), which puts their denial of the existence of qualia on par with the stance of the WI folks. I personally think this is an uncharitable reading of the SI folks like Frankish, who has taken pains to show that his definition of classic qualia is something that every side can accept. Also, he’s pretty well read on folks like Papineau and Chalmers and so (I think) understands their usage of qualia.

        I just think it’s a little unfair to interpret this divide as a definitional misunderstanding (a mistake I’ve myself committed on many occasions, only to realize I just didn’t understand the implications of the philosopher in question). It makes it seem like both sides just don’t get what the others are trying to say. We should assume that they are smart and well-read people who do in fact understand the other side, until we have evidence otherwise.

        Furthermore, we shouldn’t assume that other people share our positions (even if we think they are common-sense positions). Interpreting Frankish as not speaking literally and sneaking in a different definition of qualia (which he professes is the same as that utilized by Chalmers and the other standard materialists like Papineau- meaning the non-ontological kind) simply because we don’t like the literal implications of what he’s saying (our mental states don’t even feel/seem intrinsic or ineffable from our first-person perspective) seems a bit wrongheaded to me.

        The easiest way to reconcile this is just to ask Frankish himself whether he interprets classic qualia as implicitly sneaking in some ontological supposition. Although he’s usually a very busy guy, I can try and ask him on twitter.

        In any case, I personally think the consequence of this definitional dispute is huge. Almost all of your auxiliary premises (Chalmers and co are being unreasonable about what is ‘obvious’, WI/SI folks are mostly saying the same thing, Type B materialism is not identical to your stance etc…) seem to rest on this personal definitional assumption of yours. Consequently, I think there would be a lot of potential Bayesian updating that would be need to be done here if I’m right, which is probably why I came off as intense and rushed (sorry).

        I know I also promised to write a post about the mismatch between physical qualia and structural qualia, but unfortunately, I don’t think I can get around to it, apologies. A bit too busy, and honestly, I need to reflect a bit more on the topic. Perhaps some other time.

        Thanks again for the discussion.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi Alex,
          Just to be clear, I’m not saying Frankish’s definition of qualia is any different than Chalmers’, Negal’s, Goff’s, etc. Strong illusion depends on strictly adhering to that “classic qualia” definition and not accepting anything else. It’s not even different from what weak illusionists say qualia seem to be.

          But it is different from the reconstructed version of weak illusionists, what they say qualia really are. In many cases, I think this reconstructed version is equivalent to what Frankish calls “zero-qualia”. (He think they’re all referring to what he calls “diet-qualia”, and some might be, but I don’t think the type-A functionalists are.)

          For reference:


          1. I see. Do you think Chalmers and co. conceive of classic qualia as coming with ontological predispositions (to believe in classic qualia is to believe in some non-physicalist stance)? In which case the definitional dispute hinges on the word “qualia” (to be clear, I don’t think Chalmers et al. believe that).

            Or do you interpret Frankish’ denial of the existence of classic qualia as a denial of any intrinsic non-physical base for qualia (even if classic qualia aren’t defined as being ontologically intrinsic)? In which case it would seem the definitional dispute hinges on the word “exists”.


          2. Usually what I’ve seen from Chalmers and others is a reference to Nagel’s what-it’s-like-ness, which when I read Nagel’s 1974 paper that introduced that phrase, I do see most, if not all, of those attributes. (See my post on it.) But too many philosophers use that phrase and cite Nagel, while being vague on whether they accept what Nagel actually says.

            Really Frankish gets his definition from Dennett’s 1988 Quining Qualia paper, who takes his from a review of the literature as of the late 1980s, citing people like Nagel, Block, etc.
            Tye’s SEP article implies Dennett’s version is a strawman, but then Tye cites Nagel as an alternative, which has the attributes Dennett is attacking.


          3. Mike,

            No worries if you want to discontinue the conversation by the way, we’ve spoken at length already. I’m still not sure if you think there are ontological implications to the classic qualia definition (the one used by Dennett and Frankish, and to a partial/complete extent by Nagel too), but I’m not seeing any.

            To be clear I would define them as:

            1. Zero/functional qualia:
            Qualia which introspectively appear to be functional/relational states.
            2. Diet Qualia:
            Qualia which introspectively have the “what it’s like property”. May or may not collapse to 3.
            3. Classic Qualia:
            Qualia which introspectively and subjectively appear to have all the traditional properties: Ineffability, intrinsicality, etc…
            4. Classic Qualia plus ontological presuppositions:
            Qualia which actually are instantiated by some ontologically intrinsic (and perhaps ineffable and the other stuff) substrate.

            I think my 1-3 are identical to how Frankish is using them. To be clear, I see 3 as having no ontological implications whatsoever. To assert that 1-3 exist, is just to assert a subjective existence.

            Something can appear to be epistemically intrinsic because, as you said, our introspective powers might have limitations of probing the underlying structure. The same applies to subjective ineffability, since we would have trouble characterizing an epistemic primitive. I see the type B materialists as asserting the above.

            From what I can tell, Chalmers sometimes uses definition 2 and sometimes uses 3, and the SI folks are arguing against the existence of 3. The WI folks are sometimes saying that 3 is real, but that 3 has an easy physical explanation, and other times they are saying that 2 is real but that it has an easy physical limitation (Frankish interprets WI as the latter in his paper, of course he thinks that 2 collapses to 3, and so WI fails).

            Nagel is not as clear in his language and it appears that he blurs the distinction between 2 and 3. From what I can tell, nobody is asserting that qualia are 4. I know Tye levels this charge against Dennett, but the Quining Qualia article seems to be clearly equating qualia with 3. To be fair, Tye lists some sources of Dennett which I haven’t read.

            It’s still not clear to me whether you think Frankish is arguing against the existence of 3 or 4, or whether you agree that he defines classic qualia as 3 but means the phrase “Classic Qualia don’t exist” to be referring to the denial of 4. I’m also not sure where you’re seeing the definitional disagreement between WI and SI.

            Do you disagree with any of my definitions?


          4. Hi Alex,
            I’m a little worried we’re about to start looping again, but I’ll take another shot.

            I don’t think you captured 1 correctly. For reference:

            Zero qualia
            The properties of experiences that dispose us to judge that experiences have introspectable qualitative properties that are intrinsic, ineffable, and subjective.

            Click to access Frankish_Quining%20diet%20qualia_eprint.pdf

            I actually think this more matches your 3.

            But to your question, I do think Frankish and Dennett are denying 4.

            Consider, if 3 doesn’t imply 4, if in the view of all these philosophers, qualia have no ontological implications, then where does the hard problem come from? Why does Chalmers think qualia and physics are irreconcilable? If he, Goff, and all the others are only committed to a non-ontological version of qualia, then that to me is equivalent to saying there is no problem.

            Of course, we can say there is the appearance of a problem, but if it’s only an appearance, then that appearance is misleading, we might call it illusory, in other words, an illusion. If qualia aren’t illusory, then they must reflect reality, that is, have ontological implications.

            It doesn’t seem like you can have it both ways. Either qualia have ontological implications, leading to a hard problem, or they don’t, and we’re good to go with functionalism.

            As a functionalist, I’m onboard with that, but I don’t think Chalmers and the others are.


          5. Mike,

            Oops about the zero qualia, thanks. I confused it with functional qualia (what Frankish says he believes in). 1 should be interpreted as just functional qualia. Of course I think my 1 is compatible with zero qualia anyways, and I don’t see zero qualia as the same as my 3. There is a difference between something having introspective/epistemic intrinsic properties (like my 3) and something having the property that it makes us think it is epistemically/introspectively intrinsic (zero qualia). The latter is compatible with it not really being epistemically intrinsic. I actually think the quote you mentioned was pretty clear about this.

            As for Chalmers, sorry if I wasn’t clear, but I meant 1-4 to be definitions of qualia and not the actual stances of the camps. So a dualist using 2 or 3 doesn’t mean that they don’t think dualism isn’t true. It just means that they think qualia exist (where qualia means 2 or 3) and that dualism is the explanation for the subjective phenomena of qualia. As for the hard problem, presumably it arises because Chalmers et al. are not prepared to accept the requisite epistemic limitations (they like to think that we have reasonably reliable introspective access).

            Anyways, I’ll ask Frankish on twitter whether he’s just arguing against certain ontological implications of qualia, or whether he’s arguing against their subjective existence (how they present themselves to the first person). I’ll let you know if he replies, but no guarantees of course.


          6. Alex,
            You might find this exchange interesting.

            Note Frankish’s reference in his reply to Graziano’s theory. Graziano’s attention schema theory is illusionist in orientation (although like me when I did the post below, he’s uneasy with illusionist terminology). It’s inherently about how the brain’s models of its own operations mislead us into thinking there is something non-physical going on. Note that this is about the ontology.

            Graziano’s non-mystical approach to consciousness

            Liked by 1 person

          7. Ugh. You never know how these Twitter embeds are going to go. Here’s Frankish’s reply to Chalmers.


          8. Thanks, I’ll check it out. I should point out that I think SI- meaning the denial of the subjective reality of 3 and/or 2- entails (or pretty closely entails) the rejection of a non-physical ontological substrate. So it’s not a surprise to me that Frankish thinks our brain also misleads us about ontology (what Type B guys also think, if you read the Papineau quotes). I just think he’s making an additional claim regarding how we are misled into forming incorrect beliefs about the subjective nature of our experiences (how they feel or seem to us).

            Also, it seems to me that the phrase ‘phenomenal consciousness’ is almost always used synonymously with qualia (usually definition 2 and/or 3), so I interpret Chalmers and Frankish as being on the same page here.

            I’ll let you know if I ever hear back any replies.



            Liked by 1 person

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