Experimental Epistemology is not possible

John Clark (jonkc@worldnet.att.net)
Thu, 16 Dec 1999 00:55:26 -0500

Dan Fabulich <daniel.fabulich@yale.edu> On December 14, 1999 Wrote:

>A magnet is defined to be the very thing which exhibits all of the
>functional properties of being a magnet.

A conscious can be defined as the very thing which exhibits all of the functional properties of being intelligent,

>Qualia aren't defined by their functional properties;

They can be. What caused John Clark to go the movie? It made him happy. Why didn't John Clark hit his finger with a hammer? because that wouldn't make him happy.

>This excessive amount of technicality is pretty pointless for regular
>discussion, but useful for philosophy.

And do you know why that is? I think I do. Whatever point you're trying to make doesn't work worth a damn in the "regular" or real world and that is far, far, deeper than the toy world of philosophy. I conclude that it's pretty pointless period.

>when I make statements of the form "Alice should X" where X is
>some action, I mean that Alice would be better off if she chose to X and
>worse off if she failed to choose to X.

Again you are using unfamiliar concepts. Normally I would interpret " better off" as being happier, or something close to that, but if happiness doesn't exist ...

> So why believe it?

I believe I'm conscious because I'm incapable of not believing it and I doubt anyone this side of a loony bin is any different, except as I said before, when they're arguing philosophy on the Extropian list.

The main objection I have is your idea that deduction, proof, Occam's Razor, inductive logic or anything else is somehow more fundamental and more important than direct sensation ( Note:I did not say perception!). Even if you did have a logical proof that John Clark is conscious I wouldn't even bother to look at it, the thing might be of use to you but to me it would be about as helpful as a sack full of dead rats in a tampon factory. Direct sensation doesn't need logic to justify itself, if anything it's the other way round.

I'd like to quote from "An Epistemological Nightmare" by Raymond Smullyan. An "Experimental Epistemologist" has built a brain analyzing machine that can interpret any brain state, in other words a mind reading machine. He thinks he can use it to turn subjective qualia into a totally objective phenomena, his good friend Frank thinks the idea is completely insane but before he says anything that rude he wants to make sure it's not just an argument over the meaning of a word.

FRANK: Do you believe we mean the same thing by the word "belief"?

EPISTEMOLOGIST: Do I believe it? Just a moment while I check with the machine. Yes, it turns out that I do believe it.

FRANK: My goodness, do you mean to say that you can't even tell me what you believe without consulting the machine?


FRANK: But most people when asked what they believe simply TELL you. Why do you, to find out your beliefs, go through the fantastically roundabout process of directing a brain reading machine to your own brain and then finding out what you believe on the basis of the machine's reading?

EPISTEMOLOGIST: What other scientific, objective way is there of finding out what I believe?

FRANK: Oh come now, why don't you just ask yourself?

EPISTEMOLOGIST (sadly): It doesn't work. Whenever I ask myself what I believe, I never get any answer.

FRANK: Well, why don't you just STATE what you believe?

EPISTEMOLOGIST: How can I state what I believe before I know what I believe?

FRANK: Oh, to hell with your knowledge of what you believe; surely you have some IDEA or BELIEF as to what you believe, don't you?

EPISTEMOLOGIST: Of course I have such a belief. But how do I find out what this belief is?

FRANK: I am afraid we are getting into another infinite regression. Look, at this point I am honestly beginning to wonder whether you may be going crazy.

EPISTEMOLOGIST: Let me consult the machine. Yes, it turns out that I may be going crazy.

FRANK: Good God man, doesn't that frighten you?

EPISTEMOLOGIST: Let me check! Yes, it turns out that it does frighten me.

FRANK: Oh please, can't you forget this damn machine and just tell me whether you are frightened or not?

EPISTEMOLOGIST: I just told you that I am. However, I only learned of this from the machine.

FRANK: I can see that it is utterly hopeless to wean you away from the machine. Very well then, let us play along with the machine some more. Why don't you ask the machine whether your sanity can be saved?

EPISTEMOLOGIST: Good idea! Yes, it turns out that it can be saved.

FRANK: And how can it be saved?

EPISTEMOLOGIST: I don't know, I haven't asked the machine.

FRANK: Well, for God's sake, ask it!

EPISTEMOLOGIST: Good idea. It turns out that ...

FRANK: It turns out what?

EPISTEMOLOGIST: It turns out that ...

FRANK: Come on now, it turns out what?

EPISTEMOLOGIST: This id the most fantastic thing I've ever come across! According to the machine the best thing I can do is cease to trust the machine.

FRANK: Good! What will you do about it?

EPISTEMOLOGIST: How do I know what I will do about it; I can't read the future!

FRANK: I mean, What do you presently intend to do about it?

EPISTEMOLOGIST: Good question, let me consult the machine. According to the machine my present intentions are in complete conflict. And I can see why! I am caught in a terrible paradox! If the machine is trustworthy, then I had better accept its suggestion to distrust it. But if I distrust it, then I must also distrust its suggestion to distrust it. But if I distrust it then I must also distrust its suggestion to distrust it, so I am really in a total quandary.

                    John K Clark     jonkc@att.net