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Thread: Subjectivity as a dimension rather than a substance or property

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    Veteran Member PyramidHead's Avatar
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    Subjectivity as a dimension rather than a substance or property

    I mentioned this in another thread, but I read somewhere that a lot of the confusion about the mind/body problem and how to account for qualia seems to stem from the assumption that first-person experiences should be interpreted either as substances (so that it makes sense to say "aha, no matter how closely you look at my brain you'll never find the experience of seeing red!") or properties (with the apparent dead end of explaining why certain physical events have this weird property of feeling like something). But when you reflect on the issue, the ineffability of the subjective has a lot in common with the ineffability of a dimension. Here I'm using "dimension" in its sense of describing an extent in which measurements can be made independently from measurements in other dimensions. Not in the sloppy way people talk about "alternate dimensions" when they really mean parallel universes and such.

    So, the ordinary concept of a dimension like height, which cannot be approximated even in theory when you're only looking at length or depth, is what consciousness behaves like in practice. Think about it: for the denizens of someplace like Flatland, where everybody is a height-less line segment or simple polygon, height isn't even something that can be put into words. Their philosophers would struggle to make sense of it, suggesting perhaps that it was a special substance that could appear and disappear magically, or a special property of some lines and not others, or perhaps some would claim all lines have height in varying degrees. Eliminativists about height would counter that a complete physical explanation of everything in Flatland could be provided without requiring anything like height as a substance nor a property, so it's actually a fairytale, an illusion.

    None of these views would quite capture the reality of the situation, of course. Height isn't a substance, for one thing. It's kind of like a property, but not in the same way being bald or being an accountant is a property. You don't say of someone: she is 36 years old, wears a leather jacket, has brown hair, and has height. In actuality, you'd say she is tall, short, or some specific height, which is how dimensions work. They aren't properties in and of themselves, but the stage or span in which properties are located relative to one another.

    The subjective world seems amenable to this interpretation. We can't make sense of it as a substance without running afoul of physics, and it seems useless as an explanatory tool when we treat it as a property. But as a dimension, it naturally takes on the qualities we expect from it. Things seem to be situated within it, like buildings and trees are apparently situated in the vertical dimension relative to the ground, and descriptions of it seem to be independent of descriptions based in other dimensions, like the measurement of an object's height is fully independent of its weight or temperature (I'm simplifying for argument's sake).

    Thus, looking for consciousness by scrutinizing the brain down to its smallest details is unlikely to ever reveal first-person sensation, not because qualia are some new kind of substance or immaterial property of all matter, but because we are like Flatlanders, unable to take a view that looks "down" upon the plane of our experience, unable to experience experiencing per se as itself an object of experience. We just have to accept the fact that the inner, outward-looking perspective of the mind is a dimension of reality that we shouldn't expect to be causally linked to any other, in much the same way that we normally don't believe height is caused by certain configurations of length, or that time arises only when there is a particular degree of complexity in an object's width. Consciousness is a dimension like those, and the mysterians are right that we will never describe it in terms of the other dimensions.

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    I don't see where the idea of dimension takes you. Dimensions are static and uniform. Minds are active, constantly changing and unique to everyone.

    The aspect of uniqueness does not make a dimension a likely candidate.

    The mind, the subjective, is an effect. There are activities in a nervous system and a mind is an effect that is created somehow by some fraction of these activities.

    A highly structured and very stable effect that appears to have a feedback capacity.

    When the brain is functioning the effect is there. When the brain stops functioning the effect no longer exists.

    The activity is visible but presently the specific activity that leads to a mind has not been isolated from all the many activities occurring in a nervous system.

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    Veteran Member PyramidHead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by untermensche View Post
    I don't see where the idea of dimension takes you. Dimensions are static and uniform. Minds are active, constantly changing and unique to everyone.

    The aspect of uniqueness does not make a dimension a likely candidate.
    But in the same way, there are virtually infinitely many variations in all of the other dimensions. There is tremendous variety and uniqueness in terms of the shapes of the various objects in the universe, for example. These are variations within the dimensions of length, depth, and height. A striking quality these dimensions all share is that they cannot under any circumstances be explained in terms of each other. I can measure your height to increasingly fine-grained degrees as technology gets better and better, but if I'm trying to get a sense of your waistline I'm looking at the wrong dimension. My claim, for now, is that this inability to reconcile the measurement of height with width is the same phenomenon as our inability to reconcile the "feel" of seeing red with its neurobiological signature. Yet, we do not claim that something magical is happening when we acknowledge that height is a separate dimension from width, and so I think it may be rational to treat subjectivity the same way.

    The mind, the subjective, is an effect. There are activities in a nervous system and a mind is an effect that is created somehow by some fraction of these activities.

    A highly structured and very stable effect that appears to have a feedback capacity.

    When the brain is functioning the effect is there. When the brain stops functioning the effect no longer exists.

    The activity is visible but presently the specific activity that leads to a mind has not been isolated from all the many activities occurring in a nervous system.
    Okay, but the Empire State building is also an effect, built from the ground up with lots of materials and planning, and designed to withstand many potential hazards. Yet, try to get an accurate description of the Empire State building by only measuring the area of its foundation. You can't do it. And you won't get anywhere by trying to take more and more specific measurements of the foundation, as if hidden somewhere in the length and width is the mysterious emergent property of height. No, you have to separately, in a different measurement context altogether, actually measure the height of the building. That's what I'm saying about this dimension of subjectivity, it's no surprise that we haven't gotten anywhere in trying to find it in the actual matter of the brain because it's simply not observable from the perspective of our limitations.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PyramidHead View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by untermensche View Post
    I don't see where the idea of dimension takes you. Dimensions are static and uniform. Minds are active, constantly changing and unique to everyone.

    The aspect of uniqueness does not make a dimension a likely candidate.
    But in the same way, there are virtually infinitely many variations in all of the other dimensions.
    The dimension has no variety. Things that are not a dimension have variety.

    Okay, but the Empire State building is also an effect, built from the ground up with lots of materials and planning, and designed to withstand many potential hazards. Yet, try to get an accurate description of the Empire State building by only measuring the area of its foundation. You can't do it. And you won't get anywhere by trying to take more and more specific measurements of the foundation, as if hidden somewhere in the length and width is the mysterious emergent property of height. No, you have to separately, in a different measurement context altogether, actually measure the height of the building. That's what I'm saying about this dimension of subjectivity, it's no surprise that we haven't gotten anywhere in trying to find it in the actual matter of the brain because it's simply not observable from the perspective of our limitations.
    I think you are saying the mind may exist in some nonperceptible dimension.

    Not that it is a dimension.

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    Mazzie Daius fromderinside's Avatar
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    Oh come now. A line is a dimension. It has extent, it can have color, shape, curves, direction, there are many things associated with dimension. Planes are even more evident of the fact dimensional variety. You claim is just BS, opinion, no reason behind it.

    I to have problems with the claim that a mental state is a dimension, but, it is not because dimensions haven't carrying capacity, No. I find subjectivity fails as a dimension because it has no reality.

    If one is talki9ng mind, a construct physically unproven, one might try to set it up with some sort of analog to dimensionality. an analog need not be real, it can be concept. Then, in that case subjective mind can be seen as a conceptual dimension of mind. The problem there is that mind has no actuality beyond the individual who claims it. So it fails dimensionality test of reality. One might say something about the workings of the brain and call those workings mind, but, as far as I can tell the workings are still phenomenal speculative attributes of the individual brain, not actual physical reality.

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    Veteran Member PyramidHead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by untermensche View Post

    The dimension has no variety. Things that are not a dimension have variety.

    Okay, but the Empire State building is also an effect, built from the ground up with lots of materials and planning, and designed to withstand many potential hazards. Yet, try to get an accurate description of the Empire State building by only measuring the area of its foundation. You can't do it. And you won't get anywhere by trying to take more and more specific measurements of the foundation, as if hidden somewhere in the length and width is the mysterious emergent property of height. No, you have to separately, in a different measurement context altogether, actually measure the height of the building. That's what I'm saying about this dimension of subjectivity, it's no surprise that we haven't gotten anywhere in trying to find it in the actual matter of the brain because it's simply not observable from the perspective of our limitations.
    I think you are saying the mind may exist in some nonperceptible dimension.

    Not that it is a dimension.
    I didn't say anything about the mind. I was careful to restrict the scope of my statement to the specific phenomenon of first-person sensation, the what-it-is-like of experience. That, I contend, is a dimension of the mind (or the brain, if you like).

    In terms of variety, the parallels are perfect. Events in space and time vary smoothly and arbitrarily with respect to the dimensions they are present in. However, concerning whether or not something can be measured in a given dimension, there are no degrees; it's either yes or no, on or off.

    Returning again to Flatland, from their perspective there is simply no height, not a very small height. There is just nothing to measure in that dimension, because in the fictional universe of the story, they only occupy two dimensions of space.

    You could make the same statement about a point in mathematical terms. It's not that a point is just really short and squat. It's simply defined as having no length, width, or height. But once you sneak in any extension in any direction, no matter how small, suddenly you have a line and not a point. It's on or off.

    In much the same way, and I want to suggest for much the same reason, you are either having an experience fully or not having it at all. Subjectively, there may be rich variation in the content of an experience, its intensity, and its duration. But it cannot be only partly happening to you as a subject. The pain of a stubbed toe is fully there in your consciousness. If you had given yourself a mild anesthetic before stubbing your toe, that diminished sensation of pain would nonetheless be fully present in your consciousness. If you whacked it really hard and broke a bone, that enormous pain would also be fully yours.

    But if I stub my toe, that pain is not yours. It's not that it's just very, very mild for you, such that you don't notice it. It's completely remote and infinitely distant from your perspective, happening in another sphere of awareness. The separation between you and someone else's subjective experience is like the relationship between a point and a line with respect to length. They can't meet halfway or reconcile each other. Each is either a point or a line with nothing in between.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fromderinside View Post
    Oh come now. A line is a dimension. It has extent, it can have color, shape, curves, direction, there are many things associated with dimension. Planes are even more evident of the fact dimensional variety. You claim is just BS, opinion, no reason behind it.
    A line is not a dimension. A line is a shape that extends in one dimension: length. If it curves, then it now extends into two dimensions (and strictly speaking is no longer a line). You're confusing possible elements within a dimension with the dimension itself.

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    Mazzie Daius fromderinside's Avatar
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    To explain a curved line one may use a plane. True. Still a line can be a curve in any plane. Its integrity as a line is maintained. A line is a physical entity independent of whatever plane with which one attaches to it. Even if I were to say a curved line resides on a plane it can still be described as a curved line. Just as it's color doesn't change it nor direction, nor extent.

    Similarly planes, defined as a surface defined by three points, another dimension, can be any three points as long as they are not all part of the same straight line.

    Actually we are probably not talking about dimensionality, Rather we are talking about as system of dimensionality.

    Now if your proposed dimension of subjectivity had properties useful in reality like imaginary dimensions then it might ber considered along with physical dimensions.

    Unfortunately, as I point to above mind is not proven so it's dimension of subjectivity must also suffer the not real fate of phenomenality.

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    Veteran Member PyramidHead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fromderinside View Post
    To explain a curved line one may use a plane. True. Still a line can be a curve in any plane. Its integrity as a line is maintained. A line is a physical entity independent of whatever plane with which one attaches to it. Even if I were to say a curved line resides on a plane it can still be described as a curved line. Just as it's color doesn't change it nor direction, nor extent.

    Similarly planes, defined as a surface defined by three points, another dimension, can be any three points as long as they are not all part of the same straight line.

    Actually we are probably not talking about dimensionality, Rather we are talking about as system of dimensionality.
    The words we use matter less than the relationship between whatever it is we are talking about. If the subject is a dimension like width, then it can't be measured in its own terms. You can measure the width of objects in space, but you can't measure the width of the dimension of width. It may be similarly (logically) impossible to perceive the actual phenomenon of perception itself, to observe as an object in awareness the plane of awareness per se.

    And just as a line remains a line under all the conditions you describe, and is never 'partly' a line and party something else, an experience is either yours or not. You as a subject, the dimension in which experience takes place, are present no matter what type or flavor of experience you may be having. And accordingly, if something is not experienced, then it has no 'extension' whatsoever in the dimension of the subject. Substances don't work this way, and properties technically don't either. This model is parsimonious in that way.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PyramidHead View Post
    I didn't say anything about the mind. I was careful to restrict the scope of my statement to the specific phenomenon of first-person sensation, the what-it-is-like of experience.
    That is mind.

    Mind is that which experiences and all that is experienced.

    And all animal experience is experience as some specific genetic construction.

    There is not just experience.

    There is experience as a cockroach. Experience as a lion. Experience as a baboon. Experience as a human.

    But experience is also individual.

    So there is experience as Mary and experience as Joe.

    The idea of qualia is just that one is a specific animal experiencing in a specific way.

    The qualia is in the experiencing. It is a part of the mind. It is not external to a mind experiencing.

    That, I contend, is a dimension of the mind (or the brain, if you like).
    Things exist within dimensions.

    They are not dimensions.

    Your mind, your subjective way of experiencing may be similar to mine but it is unique to you and your prior experiences. Your brain has been changed by prior experiences and even by contemplating on prior experiences.

    If your subjective experience is a dimension, since we know it is unique, that would mean countless dimensions.

    I don't see this going anywhere.

    Events in space and time vary smoothly and arbitrarily with respect to the dimensions they are present in.
    Yes, things that are not dimensions, like events, are varied.

    But the dimension of time is one thing.

    Dimensions do not vary.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fromderinside View Post
    Oh come now. A line is a dimension....
    Things exist within dimensions. They are not dimensions themselves.

    The brain exists within 4 known dimensions.

    A dimension is a freedom.

    So with three dimensions you have the freedom for a 3-D object to exist. You have the freedom to have a "solid" with volume.

    Add another dimension, time, and that 3-D object can change. It can change location and change shape and structural makeup.

    4 dimensions is the freedom for entities with volume to move and change.

    We and all entities exist within 4 dimensions.

    None of us are a dimension and nothing you could point to is a dimension.

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