Is the brain in the world or the world in the brain?

The title is taken from Max Velmans, Where experiences are: Dualist, physicalist, enactive and reflexive accounts of phenomenal consciousness, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, Volume 6, Number 4 (2007), 547-563

In the paper, the reflexive model of perception is suggested.

“In most respects Figure 3 is the same as Figures 1 and 2. As before, there is a cat in the world (perceived by E) that is the initiating stimulus for what S observes, and the proximal neural causes and correlates of what S experiences are, as before, located in S’s brain. The only difference relates to the ontology and location of S’s experience. According to dualists, S’s experience of a cat consists of “stuff that thinks” that is located “nowhere”; according to reductionists, S’s experience of a cat is a state or function of the brain that is located in her brain; according to the reflexive model, both of the former models are theoretically rather than empirically driven with the consequence that they systematically misdescribe what S actually experiences. If you place a cat in front of S and ask her to describe what she experiences, she should tell you that she sees a cat in front of her in the world. This phenomenal cat literally is what she experiences, located where it seems to be—and she has no additional experience of a cat either “nowhere” or 10 “in her brain.” According the reflexive model, this added experience is a myth. Applying Occam’s razor gets rid of it.”

“Crucially, perceptual projection refers to an empirically observable effect, for example, to the fact that this print seems to be out here on this page and not in your brain. In short, perceptual projection is an effect that requires explanation; perceptual projection is not itself an explanation. We know that preconscious processes within the brain produce consciously experienced events, which may be subjectively located and extended in the phenomenal space beyond the brain, but we don’t really know how this is done.”

“Lehar (2003), however, points out that if the phenomenal world is inside the brain, the real skull must be outside the phenomenal world (the former and the latter are logically equivalent). Let me be clear: if one accepts that

a) The phenomenal world appears to have spatial extension to the perceived horizon and dome of the sky.
b) The phenomenal world is really inside the brain.

It follows that

c) The real skull (as opposed to the phenomenal skull) is beyond the perceived horizon and dome of the sky.”

“Put your hands on your head. Is that the real skull that you feel, located more or less where it seems to be? If that makes sense, the reflexive model makes sense. Or is that just a phenomenal skull inside your brain, with your real skull beyond the dome of the sky? If the latter seems absurd, biological naturalism is absurd. Choose for yourself.”

A related paper has been mentioned by Paul Peters during discussion on Linkedin

Rupert Sheldrake, The Sense of Being Stared At — Part 2: Its Implications for Theories of Vision, Journal of Consciousness Studies, Volume 12, Number 6, 2005 , pp. 32-49(18).

In the paper, there is a nice historical account of theories of vision. The author takes even more radical step then and introduces a perceptual field.

“My own hypothesis is that projection takes place through perceptual fields, extending out beyond the brain, connecting the seeing animal with that which is seen. Vision is rooted in the activity of the brain, but is not confined to the inside of the head (Sheldrake, 1994; 2003). Like Velmans, I suggest that the formation of these fields depends on the changes occurring in various regions of the brain as vision takes place, influenced by expectations, intentions and memories. Velmans suggests that this projection takes place in a way that is analogous to a field phenomenon, as in a hologram. I suggest that the perceptual projection is not just analogous to but actually is a field phenomenon.”

To this end, there is a nice comparison with Many World Interpretation

“The quantum physicist David Deutsch, a leading proponent of this extravagant hypothesis, postulates that there is ‘a huge number of parallel universes, each similar in composition to the tangible one, and each obeying the same laws of physics, but differing in that the particles are in different positions in each universe’ (Deutsch, 1997, p. 45).

Compared with an observer splitting the universe by looking at a cat, the sense of being stared at seems conservative.”

In general both papers shows that a theory of vision is far from being complete.

Quantum Dualist Interactionism

Max Velmans, Understanding Consciousness

In Chapter 2, Conscious Souls, Brains and Quantum Mechanics there is a nice section Quantum Dualist Interactionism (p. 17 – 21) where Max Velmans describes works that present interpretation of dualism in the framework of quantum mechanics.

Stapp, H. (2007a) ‘Quantum mechanical theories of consciousness’ in The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness, pp. 300-312.

Stapp, H. (2007b) ‘Quantum approaches to consciousness’ in The Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness, pp. 881-908.

Stapp, H. (2007c) Mindful Universe: Quantum Mechanics and the Participating Observer.

Interestingly enough Stapp refers to the work of von Neumann:

Von Neumann, J. (1955/1932) Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics/Mathematische Grundlagen der Quantummechanik.

p. 19. “In various interpretations of quantum mechanics there is in any case ambiguity, and associated controversy, about where in the observation process a choice about what to observe and a subsequent observation is made. For example, according to the ‘Gopenhagen Convention’, the original formation of quantum theory developed by Niels Bohr, there is a clear separation between the process taking place in the observer (Process 1) and the process taking place in the system that is being observed (Process 2).”

p. 21. “To differentiate the conscious part of Process 1 (the ‘conscious ego’) from the physically embodied part, Stapp (2007c) refers to it as ‘Process 0’. Stapp believes that such quantum dualist interactionism neatly sidesteps the classical problems of mind-body (or consciousness-brain) interaction (see Stapp, 2007a, p. 305). According to the von Neumann/Stapp theory, consciousness (Process 0) chooses what question to ask; through the meditation of Process 1 that interacts with Process 2 (the developing possibilities specified by the quantum mechanics of the physical system under interrogation, including the brain) – and Nature supplies an answer, which in turn reflected in conscious experience (making the entire process a form of dualism-interactionism).”

p. 21. “A central claim of the von Neumann/Stapp theory, for example, is that it is the observer’s conscious free will (von Neumann’s ‘abstract ego’ or Stapp’s ‘Process 0’) that chooses how to probe nature.”

Velmans on Popper’s Objective Knowledge

p. 215. “As Popper (1972) notes, knowledge that is codified into books and other artefacts has an existence that is, in one sense, observer-free. That is, the books exist in our libraries after their writers are long dead and their readers absent, and they form a repository of knowledge that can influence future social and technological development in ways which extend well beyond that envisaged by their original authors. However, the knowledge itself is not observer-free. Rather, it is valuable precisely because it encodes individual or collective experience. Nor, strictly speaking, is the print in books ‘knowledge’. As Searle (1997) points out, words and other symbolic forms are intrinsically just ink marks on a page (see Chapter 5). They only become symbols, let alone convey meaning, to creatures that know how to interpret and understand them. But autonomous existence of books (and other media) provides no basis for ‘objective knowledge’ of the kind that Popper describes, that is, knowledge ‘that is totally independent of anybody’s claim to know’, ‘knowledge without a knower’, and ‘knowledge without a knowing subject (see quote above). On the contrary, without knowing subjects, there is no knowledge of any kind (whether objective or not).”

Mental and Physical

p. 300 “To make matters worse, there are four distinct ways in which body/brain and mind/consciousness might in principle, enter into casual relationship. There might be physical causes of physical states, physical causes of mental states, mental causes of mental states, and mental causes of physical states. Establishing which forms of causation are effective in practice has clear implication for understanding the aetiology and proper treatment of illness and disease.

Within conventional medicine, physical -> physical is taken for granted. Consequently, the proper treatment for physical disorders is assumed to be some from of physical intervention. Psychiatry takes the efficacy of physical -> mental causation for granted, along with the assumption that the proper treatment for psychological disorders may involve psychoactive drugs, neurosurgery and so on. Many forms of psychotherapy take mental -> mental causation for granted, and assume that psychological disorders can be alleviated by means of ‘talking cures’, guided imagery, hypnosis and other form of mental intervention. Psychosomatic medicine assumes that mental -> physical causation can be effective (‘psychogenesis’). Consequently, under some circumstances, a physical disorder (for example, hysterical paralysis) may require a mental (psychotherapeutic) intervention. Given the extensive evidence for all these causal interactions (cf. Velmans, 1996a), how we to make sense of them?”

Velmans, M. 1996a: The Science of Consciousness: Psychological, Neuropsychological and Clinical Reviews, London: Routledge.

Max Velmans on Kant

p. 202 «Uncertainty appears to be intrinsic to representational knowledge. Kant’s view that the thing itself in unknowable is nevertheless extreme.»

p. 202 «We necessarily base our interactions with the world on the experiences, concepts and theories we have of it, and these representations enable us to interact with it quite well. Kant’s extreme position is in any case self-defeating. If we can know nothing about the ‘real’ world, then no genuine knowledge of any kind is possible whether in philosophy or science — in which case one cannot know that the thing itself is unknowable, or anything else.»

p. 202 «Interpreted in Kant’s way, a theory of knowledge grounded in a ‘thing itself’ is also internally inconsistent. If the appearances of the external world are not representations of the thing itself, then these appearances cannot really be representations, as there is nothing else for them to be representation of. Conversely, if they are representations of the things itself, the latter cannot be unknowable.»

Is the Visual World a Grand Illusion?

Alva Noë “Is the visual world a grand illusion?” Journal of Consciousness Studies. Volume 9, No 5/6, 2002: 1-12.

p. 10 “In general, our sense of the perceptual presence of the detailed world does not consist in our representation of all the detail in consciousness now. Rather, it consists in our access now to all of the detail, and to our knowledge that we have this access. This knowledge takes the form of our comfortable mastery of the rules of sensorimotor dependence that mediate our relation to our immediate environment. My sense of the presence of the whole cat behind the fence consists precisely in my knowledge, my implicit understanding, that by a movement of the eye or the head or the body I can bring bits of the cat into view that are now hidden. This is one of the central claims of the enactive or sensorimotor approach to perception.”

p. 11 “The enactive approach to perception—with its emphasis on the centrality of our possession of sensorimotor skills — provides the basis, then, for a satisfying reply to the sceptic, but only provided that we adopt a more plausible phenomenology of perceptual experience. On this more plausible account, it is not the case that we take ourselves to represent the whole scene in consciousness all at once. The enactive, sensorimotor account explains how it can be that we enjoy an experience of worldly detail which is not represented in our brains. The detail is present— the perceptual world is present—in the sense that we have a special kind of access to the detail, an access controlled by patterns of sensorimotor dependence with which we are familiar. The visual world is not a grand illusion.”

Comments to enactive theories of perception and cognition from Max Velmans, Understanding Consciousness

Section Can qualia be reduced to the exercise of sensory-motor skills?

p. 100 “If true, this would be a genuine advance in our understanding of how visual perception works. But what about our understanding of consciousness? While questions about perceptual functioning and about the nature of conscious phenomenology are, in principle, separable, a number of enactive theorists claim them to be connected: according to them, if one understands perceptual functioning in an enactive way as mastery of a set of sensory-motor skills, one can also understand the nature of conscious experience including its ‘qualia’ in this way, thereby (hopefully) resolving this ‘hard’ problem of consciousness.”

p. 101 “It should be apparent from earlier discussions above that this reductive identification of conscious ‘feel’ with the exercising of a sensory-motor skill is a variant of reductive functionalism, even though it locates the relevant functioning in the skiful interaction of organisms with the surrounding world rather than in causal relationships that are exclusively located within the brain.”

p. 102 “Piloting a 747 no doubt feels like something to a human pilot, and the way that it feels is likely to have something to do with human biology. But why should it feel the same way to an electronic autopilot that replaces the skills exercised by a human being? Or why should it feel like anything to be the control system of a guided missile system? Anyone versed in the construction of electronic control systems knows that if one builds a system in the right way, it will function just as it is intended to do, whether it feels like anything to be that system or not. If so, functioning in an electronic (or any other) system is logically tangential to whether it is like anything to be that system, leaving the hard problem of why it happens to feel a certain way in humans untouched.”

Max Velmans’ Reflexive Monism

I have just finished reading Max Velmans, Understanding Consciousness and below there are a couple of comments to the book.

The book is similar to Jeffrey Gray’s Consciousness: Creeping up on the Hard Problem in a sense that it takes phenomenal consciousness seriously. Let me give an example. Imagine that you watch yourself in the mirror. Your image that you observe in the mirror is an example of phenomenal consciousness.

The difference with Jeffrey Gray is in the question where the image that you see in the mirror is located. If we take a conventional way of thinking, that is,

1) photons are reflected by the mirror
2) neurons in retina are excited
3) natural neural nets starts information processing

then the answer should be that this image is in your brain. It seems to be logical as, after all, we know that there is nothing after the mirror.

However, it immediately follows that not only your image in the mirror is in your brain but rather everything that your see is also in your brain. This is exactly what one finds in Gray’s book “The world is inside the head”.

Velmans takes a different position that he calls reflexive model of perception. According to him, what we consciously experience is located exactly where we experience it. In other words, the image that you see in the mirror is located after the mirror and not in your brain. Velmans introduces perceptual projection but this remains as the Hard Problem in his book, how exactly perceptual projection happens.

Velmans contrast his model with reductionism (physicalism) and dualism and interestingly enough he finds many common features between reductionism and dualism. For example, the image in the mirror will be in the brain according to both reductionism and dualism. This part could be interesting for Stephen.

First I thought that perceptual projection could be interpreted similar to Craig’s senses but it is not the case. Velmans’ reflexive monism is based on a statement that first- and third-person views cannot be combined (this is what Bruno says). From a third-person view, one observes neural correlates of consciousness but not the first-person view. Now I understand such a position much better.

Anyway the the last chapter in the book is “Self-consciousness in a reflexive universe”.

The third-person view belongs to another observer and Velmans plays this fact out. He means that at his picture when a person looks at the cat, the third-person view means another person who looks at that cat and simultaneously look at the first person. This way, two person can change their first-person view to third-person view. However, it is still impossible to directly observe the first-person view of another observer. Everything that is possible in this respect are neural correlates of consciousness.