[ExI] Mental Phenomena

Brent Allsop brent.allsop at gmail.com
Sun Jan 5 02:28:09 UTC 2020

Hi Ben,

OK, thanks for that.  That helps me understand your thinking.

Let me further clarify what I am asking.
Let's say you are looking at a strawberry.
We record the signals coming from the retina, through the optic nerve, of
that strawberry.
Now we surgically remove your eyes, put you on a room with no light, and
send the identical recorded signal down the optic nerve.

Except for one pixel, on the surface of the strawberry difference.
This one pixel is now changing from red to green, in this signal. As
illustrated in this video:

What is it, in your brain, that is this one pixel changing from red to

It's also important to distinguish between compsite qualitative experiences
being different from elemental qualities from which  composite experiences
are composed.

When we experience red, there are lots of other physical memories and
things computationally bound to that elemental redness, just as you pointed
out. When many people think of Qualia, they think of everything but the
elemental redness quality.  They think that is a property of the
strawberry.  But of course, in this case, there is no strawberry or light,
falsifying that belief.

So ignoring all the other physical knowledge that comes to mind, when that
one pixel of awareness changes from red to green, what physical thing is it
that changes, for only the elemental part of that one pixel?

Also, even if this physical change in your pixel of awareness was a single
neuron switching between firing with glutamate and glycene, you would not
be aware of all the other physical redness in the world because it is not
computationally bound to the composit experience that is your consciousness.

On Sat, Jan 4, 2020, 8:03 AM Ben Zaiboc via extropy-chat <
extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org> wrote:

> Brent Allsop <brent.allsop at gmail.com> <brent.allsop at gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> > Ben, let me ask you this.  What do you think your knowledge of a
> strawberry is composed of?
> The same thing as my knowledge of anything is composed of. The same thing
> my, or anyone else's, experience (and any other mental phenomena you care
> to mention) of anything is composed of:
> Patterns of neural activation in my brain.
> What are they composed of?
> An enormous number of spike-trains (sets of action potentials in a
> bewildering array of combinations) in an enormous number of axons,
> interacting in various ways (neural circuits involving lots of feedback
> loops, reinforcement, cancellation, etc.) via summation functions in neural
> hillocks and dynamic connections mediated by synapses, and modified by
> various enzymes in synaptic gaps and the properties of synaptic membranes.
> Plus a few other things not worth mentioning here.
> (this is as far as we know to date (as far as I know)).
> And what are all those things composed of?
> Probably the best answer to that, if anyone really wants to know, is to
> study biology, and especially neurology, to at least degree-level.
> Probably not the kind of answer you're looking for, but expecting simple
> answers to complex questions is rarely going to make anyone happy (except
> perhaps those of a religious disposition), and certainly isn't going to
> lead to any useful knowledge.
> One thing that is quite clear to me, though, is that no amino acid
> possesses an intrinsic 'quality' that has nothing to do with its chemical
> composition, but relates directly to mental phenomena like the perception
> of a colour. In fact, that makes no sense whatsoever. Glutamate in
> particular, is one of the most common amino acids in our bodies, is present
> in most proteins, and its use in the brain as a neurotransmitter is of no
> real significance. Anything else would be just as good, as long as there
> were corresponding receptors for it.
> If glutamate really did possess 'elemental red' (pretending for a minute
> that that means something), why would it be present in our fingernails? Our
> hair? and a hundred other places in our bodies apart from the brain?
> Someone else has remarked that its role in the brain as a neurotransmitter
> could be taken by glycine instead, with the relevant receptors changed to
> glycine receptors, with no change in any mental phenomena at all. I'd go
> further than that, and say it could just as well be exchanged for, say,
> sodium iodide, with NaI receptors, and the required metabolic pathways for
> its synthesis and breakdown, and it would make *absolutely no difference
> whatever*. If this exchange was made in your brain, you would have no way
> of telling, apart from doing a chemical analysis of your brain tissue. Any
> other substance would do as well, as long as it was biologically plausible.
> It certainly would not affect your experience of the colour red, or
> anything else.
> You could even replace all the glutamate circuits with a dozen different
> neurotransmitter/receptor pairs, anywhere you like in the brain. It would
> make things unnecessarily complicated, biochemically (as if the brain
> wasn't complicated enough!), but wouldn't make any subjective difference.
> All the neural circuits would work exactly the same as before.
> Which brings me back to my statement, "the concept of 'elemental red' is
> sheer nonsense". Experiencing a colour is very far from 'elemental', it's a
> complex process involving thousands of neural events. Apart from anything
> else, just think of some of the many different things that "Experiencing a
> colour" can mean! How many different varieties of Red can you picture or
> apprehend? See? Remember? Imagine? What do they have in common? Anything?
> Perhaps a category label, very abstract, that we can articulate as the word
> "red". I say 'perhaps', because one man's red can be another man's orange
> (or purple).
> And as far as strawberries are concerned, what if my 'knowledge of a
> strawberry' doesn't even consider the colour? Having seen yellow and green
> strawberries, I might conclude that their colour is irrelevant. Do our
> brains possess an amino acid that is 'elemental strawberry'?
> I'm confident that they don't.
> Ben Zaiboc
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