Zombies of qualia and intentionality

Peter at Conscious Entities has a nice discussion of the above distinction I hadn’t thought of before (h/t Brandon): p-zombies that lack qualia and those that lack intentionality, and whether we think the latter is why there are no former. We know we have intentionality, so we think that to be a qualia-zombie must imply a counterfactual – that we lack intentions. [Note to non-philosophers: “intentionality” in philosophy refers to the “aboutness” of thoughts. sentences and propositions. It is that relation that puzzles philosophers – what makes my thought about my cat about my cat and not some Platonic form of Cat? and so on. Since we all (or mostly) agree that we have intentions, how do we? This problem is like the problem of Ought-Is, and other apparently irreducible mental facts.]

He discussions the resemblance between qualia and intentionality and proposes four alternatives accounts of our philosophical incredulity about them:

  1. The resemblance is superficial: just because your mind boggles at two different things, it doesn’t mean the two things are identical.
  2. The incredulity is the same because it’s not specifically attached to qualia or intentionality, it’s just characteristic of mental phenomena of all kinds.
  3. The incredulity arises from intentionality, and qualia have it because they are intentional in nature.
  4. The incredulity arises from qualia, and intentionality has it because it arises out of qualia.

I suspect that we can explain intentionality in teleosemantic terms without requiring that there be a unique class of subjective experience attached to it (each intentional agent is intentional because they do things that were previously selected for it, but you are intentional in your way, and I in mine, and these may or may not overlap substantially). Peter, on the other hand, thinks there is “no scientific explanation” for intentionality.

Rejecting as I do the independent existence or nature of qualia, I am not thereby committed to denying intentionality ,and I think there is a scientific explanation. Ruth Garrett Millikan started it off in her Language, Thought and Other Biological Categories back in 1987, and although I don’t adopt every conclusion she gave there, I think teleosemantics is as good an explanation of intentionality as natural selection is of adaptedness – they both form the schema of an explanation in each individual case.

So, I think we can have intentions and not need qualia. Neither is ontologically distinct.

14 thoughts on “Zombies of qualia and intentionality

  1. I’d be grateful if you could turn off the “swipe left or right to change pages” on iPhone. It hovers over the page and it’s almost impossible to hit the close X, and it accidentally changes pages when I’m trying to read.


  2. This gets complicated. How do I say that qualia and intentionality are related, yet be consistent with earlier statements that qualia don’t exist? Of course, I could say that intentionality doesn’t exist, but that would greatly confuse people, so I don’t want to say that.

    Let’s try it in terms of the kind of AI systems that people currently know how to build.

    Start with experience. We both agree that there is experience. There is an objective aspect of experience, and there is a subjective aspect of experience. Suppose, for example that I experience an event. That I am present at the event, and observing it, is objective. Moreover, in some sense I am connected to that event and am consciously aware of that event. That connectedness and conscious awareness is the subjective aspect of experience.

    The AI system can experience the event in the objective sense, but as far as we know, it cannot participate in the subjective aspects of experiencing the event. The term “qualia” is supposed to capture those subjective aspects. The reason that I deny qualia, is that reference to qualia pretends to objectify what is subjective. So when I deny qualia, I am denying that we can talk about subjective experience in that way. I am not denying that there is subjective experience.

    Intentionality is a bit like experience, or at least is analogous to experience, in that there is a objective aspect that we can talk about and a subjective aspect that we cannot talk about except by way of vague allusions. We can agree that intentionality exists, without having to objectify its subjective aspects. We cannot do that with qualia, since they were invented specifically to allow objective talk about the subjective.

    I hope that wasn’t too confusing.

    Now back to the AI system. The AI system can have experience in the objective sense of being present at the event and recording information from the event (roughly analogous to observing the event). However, the AI system sees the information as a stream of meaningless symbols. By contrast, our observations of the event are full of meaning for us.

    My contention is that the subjective aspects of our experience just is the meaning that we recognize in our observations. An AI system has no subjective aspect to its experience because the information that it collects and records has no meaning to the AI system.


  3. I’m perfectly happy denying that there is intentionality, at least in the robust sense in which philosophers use the term. Even Millikan is a little too robust for me, given that she is trying to establish the normativity of the relationship by biological means. Swamp man scenarios make me think it’d be be better to rely on contextual parameters like how we accommodate our behavior to the object in question, if we’d like to keep the I-word, that is. I don’t see what work it could do apart from providing philosophical mystique to consciousness and for that matter qualia. Anti-representationalism… yes please.


    1. I fully agree that we can do without Intentionality, if not intentionality, and I think the entirety of the latter is due to behavioural context. As to anti-representationalism, I fear that is a step too far. While it must the right to say that representations are not transcendental, nvertheless we do represent our world cognitively. The fault lies in the privileging of language over, well, thinking. IMO.

      In short, mind is hard, not Hard.


      1. I think representationalism has a tendency to privilege the products over the process. Causal interactions are both continuous and dynamical with the environment whereas representations privilege the mental. If we want to privilege thinking then let’s do it as a continuous process, the fault lines of which are blurry, and not as a Cartesian dumping ground of pre-individuated mental objects.

        You’re correct that it was the philosophy of language that solidified the transcendental nature of representations. Don’t even get me started on reference. Have you read Huw Price on Subject naturalism?


  4. Looking at the Stanford entry on Intentionality, I appear to have constructed a theory, based on observing the exchange of a folk belief among small groups , that seems to look somewhat close to what is termed “the transcendental argument.”

    I need to learn the language and look at the arguments more fully.


  5. Oh dear. I think it explains how entirely fictive beliefs are constructed and reinforced in individuals through exchange . It seems to have been used in a somewhat different way by Kant.


  6. Qualia & intentionality … Yes I appreciate the significance and anticipate responding more fully.

    Before doing so, I should complete a response to Jeb in the What is Philosophy? thread.

    It all seems to come down to the distinction between timeless and timely. That issue throws me into considerable confusion but it is also the crux of things.

    It’s my responsibility to come to terms with qualia and intentionality. They are new concepts for me but I appreciate their significance in relationship to otherwise.

    Somehow I must understand them and accommodate them without falling into endless confusion over the ‘mind body’ problem … which I view as a red herring sort of distraction.

    I haven’t forgotten you, nor lost interest. I am confused. It takes time. I am sincere.

    Sorry if all this herein is superfluous.


  7. No need to respond raving. It was a what is ethnicity question? Related to natavisim rather than what is philosophy? So it was off topic.

    The strategies minorities use to assimilate in a demographic that is multi-ethnic but in which one dominant cultural form has most value in cultural exchange . The same strategies play out in much smaller groups so you can scale it down.

    It does appear to have some relationship with these question though I suspect.


  8. The homunculus argument accounts for a phenomenon in terms of the very phenomenon that it is supposed to explain (Richard Gregory, 1987). Homunculus arguments are always fallacious.

    The homunculus argument is a tautology. I do not see tautologies as fallacious. They are a descriptive declaration of that which is assumed.

    Deeply ingrained in philosophical discussions is the assumption that object is !subject.

    It is as if philosophers are quite unaware of the very specific perspective that they embrace when they insist that they are doing good philosophy.

    I think representationalism has a tendency to privilege the products over the process. … You’re correct that it was the philosophy of language that solidified the transcendental nature of representations.

    I would say that the language of philosophy has merely assumed itself to be The Universal Transcending Representation

    That is a homunculus argument. The language of philosophy does exist. It is quite emphatic ( alluding or explicit) as to that which is meant by good philosophy.

    I suppose that would make it fallacious, albeit that I personally see tautologies as substantive and not as being empty.

    There seems to be an enormous predicament. Both philosophers and psychologists are strongly critical and dismissive of {homunculus, tautology, transcendence} while at one and the same time being strongly {homunculus, tautology, transcendence} without realizing it.

    Not sure how to say this … For me{homunculus, tautology, transcendence} is not an obstacle. The self-contradiction that philosophers and psychologists have placed themselves into isn’t my own boondoggle to worry about, nor my skill for the untangling of such.


  9. Professional philosophers and psychologists have decided that the ‘subjective experience’ is rubbish.

    The two major disciplines preoccupied with ‘subject’ have ruled subjective experience to be fallacious, whereas their own critical thinking and wisdom is transcendentally superior and less tainted by subjective fallacy.

    Not sure that there is any worth to contributing further.


  10. Philosophers and psychologists in their wisdom have gone and dismissed subjective experience as rubbish (fallacy). They have disqualified their own expertise concerning ‘subjectivity’.

    This leaves a vacuum … which does indeed seem to be a bona fide vacuum … and I feel very very alone in suggesting it. Nevertheless, it is an intense and strongly repeated signal.

    Structure of the individual ‘phantom’:

    That described refers to manner that a person uses their individual perceptual awareness.

    * A person’s perceptual awareness is individual. Each has their own
    * A person’s perceptual awareness is narrow and specific.
    * A person’s perceptual awareness is enduring over months-to-years-to-lifetime. It is often repeated and cycling with a period ranging from second-through-minutes-through-however-lengthly

    At those instances wherein I perceive a person’s intense, individual and endlessly repeated pattern-of-awareness, I am sensitized to the person’s point-of-view (POV) That POV describes the voice by which they speak. It implies where they are coming from in regard to that which they are expressing. It indicates where they wish to go. It represents the direction of emphasis of that which they assert.

    It isn’t such an easy thing to catch onto a person’s individual POV and keep it overtly in mind. In those instances that I am able to perceive it, I know that the POV is a superposition and/or composition of three or more explicit patterns of awareness. Two of these patterns of awareness are constant and pertain across individuals. That common re-occurrence in different individuals provides the discrimination for the pattern-awareness specific features.

    * A pattern of awareness is set by sexual dimorphism. The masculine and feminine minds have an explicit and distinct difference of awareness. Gay men have a feminine pattern of awareness. Gay women have a masculine pattern of awareness. There is a possibility that a true ‘bisexual’ pattern of awareness exists.

    The distinction between masculine and feminine is subtle and extremely fast and fleeting. Nevertheless, the distinction ought to be measurable provided one understands and can perceive the distinction. In a sense, my expectation is that the distinction is already noticed and part of the research literature.

    The distinction that I shall describe is something very fundamental. It forms the basis for many higher order traits. (Further elaboration provided beyond this ‘quote box’.

    * Another specific pattern of awareness which is more clearly apparent and repeats itself across individuals is awareness-by-way-of-temperament.

    Temperament type is probably an old idea being described in the past by the four (more or less) humors … earth wind air fire … etc.

    Currently temperament types are recognized and described buy their pathological cluster of symptoms. … ADD, BPD, OCD, PDD, + maybe a few others. Regrettably as these personalities are only recognized in the negative sense, it is awkward to presume that they are essentially good qualities with each person taking upon themselves just one temperament from the set of possibilities. (Perhaps temperament is the wrong word to use for this awareness pattern? I am working alone in a vacuum.)

    * The third (and perhaps further unappreciated) pattern of awareness is the individual personality … or mind-set … or personal way of thinking

    When I see a person’s POV, I am seeing the composition as …
    POV = [sex + temperament + individual quality]

    It is hard enough to see even the POV. It is something very simple intense and close focus. It isn’t possible for me to step back and deconstruct by removing sex and removing temperament to see what remains and represents ‘individual quality’. The scale changes are too great. I lose memory or recollection.

    Quickly summarizing …

    Each person has an individual point of view (POV) based on pattern of awareness. This POV is something which is intense persistent and narrow. It can be reliably observed as something which is ubiquitous and repeated with high frequency. It can be ‘theoretically’ decomposed into a sex-bias pattern-of-awareness and a temperament-bias pattern-of-awareness. (This is claimed because when the specific details of the awareness patterns are considered in isolation, it is clear that they are independent activities at different scales of consideration.

    Cognition seems to be set up as in …

    Choose one of [2] ‘sexual’ awareness patten
    Choose one of [4+] ‘temperament’ awareness patten
    Choose one of [composed however] ‘personality’ awareness patten

    The divisions and attributes are provided so as to be mix-and-match commensurate.

    Quickly and feebly is a description of the distinction between masculine and feminine awareness. (Disclaimer: I warn you beforehand that it is very subtle. *Mostly* when I consider this distinction I end up concluding that I am imagining what is not there. .. Yet when I step back I frequently rediscover it. Yes, I think it is real. I know it’s subtle. )

    Masculine ‘awareness’ has single-ended continuity. Feminine ‘awareness’ has double-ended continuity.

    So what do I mean by this? I mean that it applies to awareness and a sense of the passage of time in a very fundamental manner. It is not just expressed in thought or in speech, it also applies to movement and higher order abstract thought constructions. ( and alluding to some popular stereotypes too.)

    Women relate. Women communicate with an eye to consensus. Women consider in a relative manner.

    Men see reality in absolute and directed-at target (contents) terms. Men express what needs to be stated and accommodate others.

    In particular regarding to thought’, ‘movement’, and expression of speech …

    Both masculine and feminine cognition begin the thought (or sentence/phrase spoken by ) by building emphasis from the start. … Masculine and feminine ‘awarenesses’ are attached/connected at the beginning of the thought.

    Masculine and feminine awareness patterns differ in the way that the “thought” or speech or movement is concluded and quit.

    Feminine awareness relaxes reduces de-emphasizes relaxes, brings back to neutral for a closing leveling off or connecting of the thought/speech/movement awareness.

    Masculine awareness/movement/speech cut’s the end of the thought/speech ….. leaves the emphasis which has built up closed and blind ended in isolation.

    Recapping …. Consider a quanta interval of thought/speech/awareness/interaction/movement …. That interval can be a fraction of a second, seconds, minutes , hours, years. .. That interval can be time .. the dynamics of interaction … spatial representation ….

    Masculine awareness treats it as single ended. It is attached at the origin and proceeds to the conclusion where it is abandoned without regard.

    Feminine awareness treats it as double ended. There is a diminishing … a refractory interval .. a dampening down … by the time the conclusion is reached which allows for follow on continuity or the 2nd end of the connection.

    I say one last time .. the fall off is often extremely rapid and subtle. In speech it can seem like milliseconds

    Ok .. I have wandered and reach a blind end .. /cut post here/ bam!


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