Linguistic Aspects of Claims about Experiencing
December 22, 2013
Joe Polanik

[Joe]: In the case of looking at a physically instantiated American flag, nothing in your brain is identical to the red stripe in your experience. True or false, Walto?

[Walto]: True. Veridical or hallucinatory, nothing in my brain is identical to what you (misleadingly) call "the red stripe in your experience."

[Joe]: How is it misleading to speak of the red stripe in my experience after inducing a flag afterimage?

[Walto]: Try and figure out for yourself why I might consider such a locution misleading. I'll grade you later.

Are you claiming it is my responsibility to reverse engineer your theoretical vocabulary?

Here, for the benefit of anyone new to the discussion, are your axioms:

[1] Experience is an 'aspect' or 'dimension' of certain neural events

[2] Experiences are identical to neural events

Now, in another thread, you stated a claim that I'll call S1:

S1: There are experiences and some of them are of red stripes that do not exist (in any sense)

I asked whether the principle of substitutibility salva veritate held allowing us to translate S1 into

S2: There are neural events and some of them are of red stripes that do not exist (in any sense)

[Walto]: I don't mind that terribly myself.

What about substituting 'experiences' for 'neural events' in Axiom 1. Doing that yields "Experience is an 'aspect' or 'dimension' of certain experiences". If you don't mind that result, would you clarify its meaning. Alternately, with the reverse substitution we would get "Neural events are aspects or dimensions of certain neural events". Again, if you don't mind that result, please clarify its meaning. It sounds like gibberish to me.

[Walto]: "My Axiom 2" is a little stark and could probably be improved

I'm not yet convinced that the only problem is with Axiom 2. Other problems are generated by the conjunction of the axioms.

For one, Axiom 1 contradicts Axiom 2. Experience, you say, is an 'aspect' or 'dimension' of certain neural events. But that would suggest that the relation between neural events and experience is not the relation of logical identity. If A is an aspect of B, I wouldn't think that A is identical to B. How could the aspect be identical to the thing of which it is but an aspect?

Another problem seems to involve an equivocation betwen the meanings assigned to the use of 'experience' in the collective singular sense and the use of 'experience(s)' in the discrete or count noun sense.

[Henceforth, to help disambiguate, I'll capitalized 'Experience' to indicate the collective singular.]

The problem is that, if I select some aspect of the blooming, buzzing confusion to comment on, I would expect that aspect of Experience to be an experience. Similarly, if Experience exists, then each experience should exist as well.

You've never affirmed the existence of Experience. The closest you've come is saying that no one you ever read denied the existence of experience. That's close; but, no cigar.

In The Rediscovery of the Mind Searle begins by listing some implausible theories. He writes:

Sixth, another extreme view is that maybe consciousness as we normally think of it --- as inner, private, subjective, qualitative phenomena of sentience or awareness --- does not exist at all. This view is seldom advanced explicitly. Very few people are willing to come right out and say that consciousness does not exist. But it has recently become common for authors to redefine the notion of consciousness so that it no longer refers to actual conscious states, that is, inner, subjective, qualitative, first-person mental states, but rather to publicly observable third-person phenomena. Such authors pretend to think that consciousness exists, but in fact they end up denying its existence. [p. 7]

The collective singular sense of 'experience' used to say "experience exists" is synonymous with 'consciousness' as Searle used it in the quoted passage. I would expect 'Experience' to refer to the totality of all inner, private, subjective, qualitative phenomena; and, I'd expect 'experience(s)' to refer to particular inner, private, subjective, qualitative phenomena.

If 'Experience' as used in your Axiom 1 doesn't refer to inner, private, subjective, qualitative phenomena, what does it refer to?

We already know from Axiom 2 that 'experience(s)' refers to neural events. However, neural events are not inner, private, subjective, qualitative phenomena.

Consequently, even if you defined 'Experience' appropriately, it seems as if you have redefined 'experience(s)' so that you can equivocate between those meanings.

Is there some word other than 'experience(s)' which can be used to refer to a particular inner, private, subjective, qualitative phenomenon --- an experienceable phenomenon?

That doesn't seem likely. You've already rejected all the words on Dennett's hit list; and, you are currently waffling with respect to 'phenomenon'.

Unlike Dennett who candidly denies the existence of first person phenomenology, you don't actually affirm the existence of first person phenomenology. You merely deny denying the existence of first person phenomenology. Which raises one obvious question: How do you do first person phenomenology if 'phenomenon' is not a referring term?

And if 'phenomenon' is not a referring term, does that not amount to denying the existence of inner, private, subjective, qualitative phenomena --- in a word, Experience?

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