Related: consciousness, neutral monism

Horizon Metaphor

Husserl had no word to denote what is not really an object, but a process of uncovering or displaying potentialities — thus, the horizon metaphor.

The existential primacy of consciousness: consciousness in the horizonal sense is not something we have; it’s something we live

Two conceptions

  1. The horizon is real: it is the farthest point the eye can see before the Earth’s surface curves away beneath our view
  2. The horizon is ideal: it is a structure of perception but not something that actually exists independent of perception

The horizon is a phenomenal structure of consciousness, not a particular phenomenal property (quale) or phenomenal content. Both qualia and other phenomenal contents always appear from within the horizon of consciousness.

Consciousness then in the horizonal sense is not something we ‘have’, it is something we live in. There is no way to step outside consciousness and measure it against something else because inside the horizon is all we know

The horizon itself is empty.

Kant defines ‘transcendental knowledge’ as knowledge which is occupied not so much with objects as with the mode of our knowledge of objects in so far as this mode of knowledge is to be possible a priori. Consciousness then is not another object of knowledge, but that by which any object is knowable — consciousness is irreducible to the domain of objects.

Merleau-Ponty on the world and consciousnessMerleau-Ponty on the world and consciousness

Two conceptions on the world and the universe

Define the life-world as the space of meaning within which anything is intelligible and thinkable

  1. Natural Science: the universe contains the life-world
  2. Philosophy: the life-world contains the universe; the universe is always disclosed to us from within the life-world

The Blind Spot

Adam Frank, Marcelo Gleiser, Evan Thompson in Aeon

Scientific materialists will argue that the scientific method enables us to get outside of experience and grasp the world as it is in itself. But experience is present at every step. Scientific models must be pulled out from observations, often mediated by our complex scientific equipment. They are idealisations, not actual things in the world.

“In principle, it is absurd to think that we can explain consciousness by reducing it to certain objects of science, since these objects are abstract relational structures extracted from the life-world of lived experience” (Husserl)

Quantum-Bayesianism (QBism) combines quantum information theory and Bayesian probability theory. It interprets the irreducible probabilities of a quantum state not as an element of reality, but as the degrees of belief an agent has about the outcome of a measurement. In other words, making a measurement is like making a bet on the world’s behaviour, and once the measurement is made, updating one’s knowledge.

Advocates of this interpretation sometimes describe it as ‘participatory realism’, because human agency is woven into the process of doing physics as a means of gaining knowledge about the world. From this viewpoint, the equations of quantum physics don’t refer just to the observed atom but also to the observer and the atom taken as a whole in a kind of ‘observer-participancy’

The upshot: there is no simple way to remove our experience as scientists from the characterization of the physical world. Observing it doesn’t only affect the measurement, observing it is the measurement

Scientific knowledge then is a self-correcting narrative made from the world and our experience of it evolving together (see Karl Popper’s Philosophy of Science)

Is Consciousness Primary?

Michel Bitbol in NeuroQuantology

Posits that consciousness is methodological and existentially primary

  • Consciousness is not something
    • Nouns refer to some manipulable or abstract object. But an object is an entity which supposedly exists independently of situations and subjective states.
    • This cannot possibly be the case as consciousness as experience is situated — it is what it feels like to be a subject/what it feels like to be

Arguing that consciousness is existentially primary and not ontologically secondary to matter. Sartre: “consciousness is never merely possible apart from existing; it is no possible instantiation of a definition apart from being actual”

They have forgotten that objective knowledge is ‘made possible’ by carving the lacuna of first person experience within it… scientists who believe that solving many such “easy problems” about consciousness will finally clear up the harder problem of its physical origin, look like somebody who believes one can finally reach the horizon by walking far enough

In the same way as the walker ignores the category gap between a line in space and an apparent line seen through space, these scientists ignore the category gap between the exclusively structural connections provided by science and the absolute and the absolute of experience analyzed through a structured framework

Two approaches to overcome the explanatory gap both fail

  1. Absolutizing some properties of matter
    • If anything can be called “absolute”, it is conscious experience
      • Lived experience is immediately and completely given from a self-evidential standpoint
      • Future experience can by no means disconfirm its existence here and now, but only take its place — it is absolute in the sense that it is indubitable whenever it is present
    • Searle: “Consciousness is the very fact that there is appearance; appearance is the reality of consciousness”
    • Something like “it appears red” instead of “it is red”. The subjective statement is admittedly indisputable, but the fact is not. This is a functional absolutization of the statement
  2. Relativizing/structuralizing experience
    • Karl Mannheim: coordinating the variety of individual or collective perspectives entails an ever increasing formalization of knowledge
    • Cassirer: history of science as a whole tends towards relinquishment of substantial and toward research of “invariant relations” instead
      • If properties are referred to, it is only after the concept of property has been redefined in such a way that it includes in itself the concept of relation
    • The problem: accounting for the self-evidentially absolute conscious experience in terms of the relational concepts of objective science
      • Chalmers and Strawson both attempt to overcome this conflict in naturalist terms, seeking to explain it in terms of some hidden nonrelational property
      • Leibnizian Monadology: “we can attribute to substances no other intrinsic state than that whereby we ourselves inwardly determine our sense”

Potential solutions

  1. Instead of absorbing or reducing contents of experience or phenomenological reports into the structural network of objective science, strive towards embedding these experiences within a broader relational network of which the law-like relations of the objective domain is only a fraction
  2. Varela’s notion of “mutually generative constraints” towards reciprocal alteration and enrichment of experiential and objective concepts
    1. Phenomenological reports may help to pick out and ascribe meaning to previously unnoticed neural configurations
    2. Neurological findings may become an incentive for re-categorization and further development in phenomenological research

These are not ‘solutions’ to the hard problem per-se but rather dissolves it. It does not arise because the physical world is no longer the standard for being, and objectivity is no longer the ultimate standard of method.