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Thursday, October 24, 2019

The consciousness illusion

Keith Frankish
Originally published September 26, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

The first concerns explanatory simplicity. If we observe something science can’t explain, then the simplest hypothesis is that it’s an illusion, especially if it can be observed only from one particular angle. This is exactly the case with phenomenal consciousness. Phenomenal properties cannot be explained in standard scientific ways and can be observed only from the first-person viewpoint (no one but me can experience my sensations). This does not show that they aren’t real. It could be that we need to radically rethink our science but, as Dennett says, the theory that they are illusory is the obvious default one.

A second argument concerns our awareness of phenomenal properties. We are aware of features of the natural world only if we have a sensory system that can detect them and generate representations of them for use by other mental systems. This applies equally to features of our own minds (which are parts of the natural world), and it would apply to phenomenal properties too, if they were real. We would need an introspective system that could detect them and produce representations of them. Without that, we would have no more awareness of our brains’ phenomenal properties than we do of their magnetic properties. In short, if we were aware of phenomenal properties, it would be by virtue of having mental representations of them. But then it would make no difference whether these representations were accurate. Illusory representations would have the same effects as veridical ones. If introspection misrepresents us as having phenomenal properties then, subjectively, that’s as good as actually having them. Since science indicates that our brains don’t have phenomenal properties, the obvious inference is that our introspective representations of them are illusory.

There is also a specific argument for preferring illusionism to property dualism. In general, if we can explain our beliefs about something without mentioning the thing itself, then we should discount the beliefs.

The info is here.