Discover more from The McLegibilist
Consciousness is Not Strongly Emergent
I recently read “Strong and Weak Emergence” by David Chalmers. Among other things, Chalmers suggests that
a system is conscious when there is something it is like to be that system
and that consciousness is a case of strong emergence. Emergence is when unexpected phenomena result from the building blocks of phenomena we believe we understand. Strong emergence, is when the resulting phenomena could not, even in principle, have been predicted from the initial building blocks.
It is my view that there cannot be such a thing as strong emergence. If the results of a process do not result from its building blocks, then from whence do they result? One might suggest a mysterious “missing element”, but why wouldn’t such a “missing element” be considered a building block that was just difficult to observe a priori, rather than fundamentally impossible to observe? This “impossibility” ruins the essential subjectivity that the idea of emergence is founded on. We could invent a formal language for all possible observable outcomes, then say “Each sentence in our formal language for describing possible results is hereby granted the right to predict its own describe outcome. Since at least one of these will occur when we mix the following building blocks, it is clear that at least one entity could predict the outcome.”
Chalmers suggests that it makes sense to think of a world just like our own and functions the exact same way, except without consciousness. This is a very strange argument, because if this world is exactly like our own, with Chalmers walking around talking about consciousness, then why should I believe him in this universe?
We can make recourse to our own experience—that we know what it is like to be ourselves. But I have yet to be presented evidence in any discussion of consciousness that this “feeling of existing” isn’t a natural byproduct of the chemical activities of my brain. Chalmers claims that this physical effect is likely determinative of a conscious state, but does not fully capture it. It is difficult to rule that out if one believes in an ineffable consciousness, but again: Why should we believe in a magic kind of consciousness?
Consciousness, the awareness of one’s subject state of existing, is an interesting phenomena. It is interesting to ask: How much does a dog feel that it is a dog vs. just mechanically act out being a dog the way we feel about a wind-up toy? But to ask the question in earnest, one must be open to the answer: Why, the only difference is that the dog has a negative-feedback system with a sense of “state” because it is so much more complicated to consistently be a dog than a wind-up toy, which falls apart quite easily.
Consciousness as the dark magic of that which could not have been predicted is impossible to rule-out, since the claim is that consciousness is determined by physical state but not equivalent to it. Consciousness is the passenger, stuffed into the trunk of a car that is being driven by Nature.
In that case though, does it much matter? All the consciousness free automatons are going around having the exact same conversation. Listening to their version (which is the exact same as this version), it sounds equally valid. Consciousness defined as such is independent of any observation we could make. In my view, this makes it independent of any discourse we should consider inquiring into.