Solving the color purple

If education is reason multiplied by imagination, then what is the product of the imagination multiplied by ignorance?

In his blog, philosopher David Chalmers makes note of a new book, Daniel Stoljar's Ignorance and Imagination: The Epistemic Origin of the Problem of Consciousness.

The basic problem of consciousness is how to fit what we know intuitively to be true - consciousness is phenomenal and irreducible - with a world that is largely explained in terms of structure and dynamic. Consciousness is a series of first person experiences. The color purple, for example, can be described in terms of saturation and hue, but we are conscious of the color as we experience it, not after we compute its ratio of reds and blues.

Similar arguments can be found in Chalmer's piece, Consciousness and its Place in Nature. Arguments for the inseparability of consciousness from its description as a material system can be found by reading the work of Daniel Dennett.

Daniel Stoljar suggests yet another way of viewing the issue. From Oxford University Press:

The correct response to the problem, Stoljar argues, is not to posit a realm of experience distinct from the physical, nor to deny the reality of phenomenal experience, nor even to rethink our understanding of consciousness and the language we use to talk about it. Instead, we should view the problem itself as a consequence of our ignorance of the relevant physical facts.

"Reasoning from ignorance" is another way of saying that the truth is out there. Not having read Stoljar's book - and being worried that its analytical philosophy would escape me anyway - let me just say it's a fine way to suggest answers to what has been intractable problem. If the answers are unsatisfactory, change the question. More than one discovery has been made by framing the problem differently.

Like Stoljar, I prefer another expository framework. In his approach to uncertainty, philosopher, phenomenologist and theologian Jean-Luc Marion gets to more satisfactory answers for consciousness by thinking deeply about the notion of experience. In his view, knowing isn't so much what as how.

Or perhaps when the object of our thinking is an opaque understanding to begin with, the goal is simply to eliminate the worst answers, not proof positive. Another philosopher, Sherlock Holmes, once had this to say about problem solving that might fit here. "How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"

Sometimes less really is more.


Technorati: consciousness, epistemology, cognition Wikipedia: phenomenology