Here, I'm not so much interested in Dennett's ideas on consciousness as I am in his ideas concerning privileged access.


I like the opening idea that there is the folk-belief among people that everyone is an expert on their own consciousness. After all, they have a direct relationship with their own consciousness, and this, thereby, makes them an expert on consciousness.


I'm not all that impressed with this talk -- not that it's not good -- but he really only presents one piece of evidence, and we are lead to the inference that we don't know our own minds only indirectly through that evidence. I was hoping for something a bit stronger.


I like though how he incorporates real time thought experiments into his work.

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And to refresh some of kela's initial comments on p. 1 of this thread, to see if I'm keeping on track:

“1. People are not necessarily experts on their own experience, and often times the mind plays tricks on us; being fallible humans, we are subject to self-deception. And 2. while there is no reason to doubt that you may have had some experience or other, I see no reason to make the ontological claim that X (God, or Krishna, or what have you) exists simply because you have had some "experience" or other. To claim so is to interpret the experience and to draw an inference from that experience that is not necessarily justifiable.

“Another thing I have an 'issue' with, which is related to the above but not necesssarily the same, is the supposition that meditation allows us access to the 'inner workings' of the mind, and of its 'inner structure.'"



Experience is the interpretation. To interpret an interpretation is of course comical :) privileged access to an experience or interpretation is no privilege *

What was more recently questioned in this thread was the nature of inner access and intuition and that sort of thing. isn’t the question, of a process that maybe is not an interpretation

* Though, The question then is,  is existence an experience, and who is the experiencer, is she not existing? my point is everything is not an experience and a problem with the privileged access’ extendibility is that everything about everybody is not an experience.

I agree that introspection is meaningless after a bit, or that its movement is repetitive. Perhaps it might be useful to consider the nature of activity and attention, instead of meditation with its ambiguity. Attention is not necessarily a performative act since it has the draw of the immediacy of necessity and interest. The convergence of necessity and interest is a potential inner space. Or at least a precursor. As is the gap between performative acts and activity that is unconditional – in that there is no need to perform it. Its going on anyway.

No one has ever been able to demonstrate just "where" the classical world begins and the quantum one ends (calling into question that dualism).

It is not a dualism to say that as complexity progresses features creativity emerge that were not in the more fundamental level. And as QM explores the minute realms, the more fundamental levels, it is not a leap to suggest that behavior at this level is not the same as behavior at more complex levels, the latter having emergent properties the former did not. Kennilingam makes much the same point in Quantum Questions and with that I have to agree. Especially when we get to conscious awareness, which requires much more complexity to arise than a quark. To use more kennilingus, we seem to be confusing fundamental with significant.

Also recall this post (and following), discussing nested hierarchies. I challenged not the notion of increasing complexity of form but the way it is described via algebraic nesting. Nevertheless, the point is that this view conflates the extreme ends of a hierarchy:


“(1) a largest concept: 'something,' (defined by no atomic properties), whose extension is 'everything,' and (2) a smallest concept: a particular 'object' in reality, (or possible reality), defined by all its atomic properties.”


Hence we get quantum consciousness, the lowest and highest on the hierarchical scale as being synonymous rather than in media res. In the latter we have a different kind of infinity in that there is no beginning or end.


That's it Tom, pull no punches :) Ouch!


Non-causality is very tough to "get"...

Thomas said:

Ed, if you want the truly offensive version of my view of quantum physics, Bohr is a genius, and others don't get him.  Why don't they get him?  They haven't the mental development.  I've been saying this, expressly and by implication, by my having said QM is yellow in spiral dynamics, which I'm fairly convinced it is.


There are a hundred theories out there that deny that quantum activity occurs non-causally.  I pay little attention to them.  Einstein denied non-causality, Bohm did, Feynman essentially did (though he at least went as far as saying nature is absurd), etc.  All these people, IMO, don't understand QM because they don't "get" non-causality.  Getting non-causality is IMO the same as getting enlightened insight.  Those who complain about privileged access spout a causal view.  Find that correlation and implications will be there to draw.

Much patience is required in such discussions. :)

Thomas said:
Right on, Nicole.  I can hear the kvetching already.  I doubt a desert nomad would "get" the privileged access idea.  Hmm, I wonder why that?  I've given a hundred examples why QM must imply non-causality, and such must be implied because to be explied is to speak causally.  I've heard not a single argument directly in response.  I'm still waiting.
Just more circle jerking off Tom. Enjoy it.
Theurj:  Another sample is this from the SEP entry on consciousness, the section on quantum theories. For example, would this excerpt be an example of privileged access to the nature of reality?     “Others have taken quantum mechanics to indicate that consciousness is an absolutely fundamental property of physical reality, one that needs to be brought in at the very most basic level (Stapp 1993).”This goes to Balder’s questions about what privileged access entails, just a claim to privilege of one’s own consciousness and/or whether this leads to claims that such also provides “evidence” for the nature of reality, since consciousness IS that reality and I have access to it, here and now.
Balder:  Yes, this is interesting.  What would you say, Ed, about such things as matter and energy?  Are we justified in calling them fundamental properties of reality, or should we just avoid such language altogether?
Theurj:  ...But even the more nuanced and sophisticated arguments for it are not “fact” but purely speculative, because I agree with Tom that no one even knows what energy is. I don't know. But matter and energy are much more likely candidates for something “fundamental,” there is much more consensus with physicists about that than about consciousness as a candidate. Or equating the latter with said energy.

I'd like to look at this a bit more, particularly in relation to the 'privileged access' question.  I asked the question I did, Ed, because I wanted you to clarify whether you were objecting to the very attempt to posit or speak about fundamental features of reality, or whether your objection was more specifically to making claims about consciousness being such a 'fundamental.'  From your response, it appears you don't object to speculating, in general, about fundamental constituents of reality, but rather are objecting to a line of reasoning -- e.g., "consciousness IS a fundamental aspect of reality, and I have access to it, here and now."

There is another type of claim (which is what I first thought you were talking about) that you might also be questioning:  the claim that I know consciousness is fundamental because I have immediate access to it right now.  (You hear this sometimes in Advaita talk:  This consciousness, this I AM, right now, is the only thing that is constant, that never changes.  This immediate awareness is the fundamental ground.  And Wilber: "Before Abraham was, I AM....")

Is speculation that consciousness might be fundamental, based on implications of quantum findings, in itself, or necessarily, a 'privileged access' type of argument?  If it is, then the same critique would apply to physicists who posit that energy or quarks or strings or matter are fundamental.  From a postmetaphysical perspective, to speak about any "thing" as fundamental to reality-in-itself is to venture into metaphysics.  But even if you stop short of making absolutist metaphysical claims, there is still room to treat, pragmatically, certain perceived features of the kosmos as 'basic' in some way.  Pragmatically, I think it is 'fair' and appropriate, to 'treat' matter as fundamental.  And Varela does this with consciousness, for instance, not by positing consciousness as some metaphysical 'essential thing' or 'substance,' but by taking 1-p as 'elemental' to any (experimental or other) situation we may deal with.  And physicists such as Bohr, as I have understood him (admittedly in my limited fashion), have argued something essentially similar:  in any experiment, we must include the (1-p) observer in any description of the measuring situation, and the 'finding' cannot be understood apart from that whole.

This relates to previous discussions of wholeness, and whether wholeness or the "All," can be "accessed" from any point in a given system.  Is this a privileged access argument, or not?  Arguments for holism and interconnectedness, in a quantum context, have arisen as implications from quantum experimental findings, and thus do not appear to be the kind of privileged access argument you are critiquing (where the individual says that reality is whole because, when I look within, I can see the whole of reality-in-itself within me).  The 'holism' of the experimental context -- "science as if situation mattered" -- is an example of a holistic orientation that does not strike me as problematic, from the 'privileged access' point of view.  And experimentally, quantum entanglement, for instance, has been confirmed as a 'quantum fact,' meaning entanglement will 'stand' even if quantum theory falls (and will have to be accounted for within a different theoretical context). 

But if we talk specifically about "accessing The Whole" from any point within ourselves, as Tom has, then I also would like further clarification, before I make a judgment about that (in relation to the 'privileged access' argument).  It does sound like a privileged access sort of argument.  I actually agree with Tom about the limitations of the whole 'privileged access' argument -- from my end, to the degree that 'access' language still seems to presuppose some 'thing-in-itself' which we can either access or not (e.g., it seems to stem from a representationalist mode of thinking)*.  But claiming to access The Whole from any point within ourselves would fall prey to a similar postmetaphysical critique.  So, I'd like to hear more about what is meant, and "how" that Whole is known.

Best wishes,



* I actually want to retract this statement, based on my post below.  The term 'privileged access' seems to preserve a representationalist interpretation, just by speaking in terms of 'access,' but I think it is probably better read as a critique of such (representationalist) 'access' thinking.

Ah, "I know absolutely that absolute knowledge is not possible"?

I am not taking offense to, or arguing against, the notion there are better and worse understandings. I am questioning that Bohr, for example, is the better argument and indeed making a case that a postmetaphysical understanding is better.* And I am not saying "I know absolutely that absolute knowledge is not possible," just again questioning whether claims to such absolute knowledge are defensible within a postmetaphysical frame.** As for your longer post Balder it will take some time to read and respond.

*Please spare me the kennilingus tactic of straw man reduction and performative contradiction.

* I have ample posts in fact arguing for an apprehension of the absolute, but the way the absolute is framed is different.

Yes, I think that contradiction is potentially there, depending on how the privileged access argument is interpreted and used.  But it has a more specific meaning that may not be subject to such self-contradiction:  In this form, which is largely what we were discussing before the 'quantum turn' in this thread, it is just a challenge to the idea that, because we have 'direct' access to the fact of consciousness, then 1-p knowledge of the contents (and structure, processes, etc) of consciousness must necessarily be superior to other modes of knowledge about the contents, processes, etc, of consciousness.  Related to this, it also involves, as I understand it, a critique of the idea that 1-p introspection involves direct, 'immediate,' non-inferential and non-interpretive 'access' to and understanding of the actual contents of consciousness.
Yes, I think the postmetaphysical reading of 'privileged access' critiques the notion of 'actual contents' -- e.g., the critique is not just of the notion of one mode having better 'access' to 'actual contents' than another, but includes a critique of thinking in these terms at all.  There is some ambiguity here, though, as I note in my just-made amendment to my previous post.  If privileged access is taken just as a critique of the idea that one mode has privileged access over another mode to the 'actual contents,' then it is subject to the postmetaphysical/enactive critique I mentioned in my earlier post to you; but I think it can be read also as a critique of this representationalist thinking altogether.  I can go along with the latter; the former is problematic to me, and self-contradictory, as you point out.

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