Sunday, 8 July 2012

IX. Evolutionary Advantages of Felt Functions (Sunday July 8)

Stefano Mancuso (LINV, Italy) Evolution of Plant Intelligence CANCELLED
Gualtiero Piccinini (UMO, St Louis) Is Consciousness a Spandrel? 
Malcolm MacIver (Northwestern) Sensory and Motor Spaces and the Emergence of Multiple Futures 
Jennifer Mather (Lethbridge) Evolutionary Pressures and Cephalopod Consciousness 
Eva Jablonka (TAU, Israel) Evolutionary Origins of Experiencing 


  1. Ethics : a matter of feelings or a matter of feeling that feelings matter?


      "What's the difference? (And it's more like feeling that the feelings of *others* matter. You have not much choice about your own -- which is why it is not possible to commit suicide by holding one's breath...)"

      "When you say "feeling matters", it means that whatever teh feeling, when it is provoked to an animal or another human, this feeling matter for the animal/human threatened, and therefore, this act that provoked this feeling shouldn't have been done because of the only fact that feeling matters for the animal/human threatened no matter whether or not this feeling will really have an impact on the animal/human (e.g. hurting a drunk individual who will not even remember he has been hurt except maybe if a physical scarf can testify it).
      However, when you say "feeling that feeling matters", this is no longer the fact that the animal/human actually feels something but rather the fact that the potential "pain giver" feels that a feeling is gonna be felt no matter whether it actually matters for the animal/human threatened.
      When you felt things when you are drunk but you don't even remember you felt anything, whatever you felt during that period of time, it absolutely don't matter to you (so can we really say "only feeling matters?), however, the feeling felt by the potential "pain giver" that you might feel something at that precise moment while you were drunk was actually the only feeling that really mattered (so it would be like saying "feeling that feeling matters")."


      No, I would say feeling matters because feelers can be hurt (regardless of whether they remember it afterward: it matters *while* they are hurt whether or not they remember: that was the scopolamine childbirth example during the Searle/Raz/Plourde discussion.)

      I would also say that the feelings that matter for ethics are the negative ones (hurt): No quantity of orgasms compensates for a fallen sparrow -- least of all when the orgasms are not even the sparrow's. So if we stay on the negative side of the ledger for ethical matters, the only conceivable justification for felling a sparrow is that it would spare many more sparrows (or people) hurt. (But there is no such justification for moineau sans tête sauce chasseur…)"

      "Actually Stevan, I wad asking the question "a matter of feelings or a matter of feeling that feelings matter" regarding the "memory component" as a resulting of thinking of my own experience. I've been dramatically burnt as I was 2 years old. I guess it was very painful considering the scarfs al over my legs, but I don't have any single idea of this pain because I don't remerber any single form of pain I had that day. So for me those feelings don't matter AT ALL because I can't say they really happened. So, I did the same reasoning for the animals. If they are hurt but don't really know they have been hurt, does it really matter? Animals such as dogs and cats probably have this memory but what about animals that do not really have an episodic memory? in that case if you decide to not hurt that kind of animal, the only thing that would matter would be the fact that you feel that only the feeling really matters and not the fact that feeling matters for the animal itself."

      "But Pauline, multiply your example by 100: 100 2-year-old children are before you, and you have a choice whether or not to burn them. It will hurt now, but they will forget, forever, tomorrow. I think the answer is obvious, whether or not they are your own children. And especially if the reason for burning them is to taste Moineau sans tête sauce chasseur. (Same reasoning applies to whether to use scopolamine as the "anaesthetic" for childbirth: what matters is not remembered pain, but pain, even if only while it is happening.)

      I would add another observation, about the locus of the pain, and the decision. You yourself are of course free to say, today, that you will submit again today to a pain like the (forgotten) one from your childhood burn, on condition that you will forget it afterward. (You may have occasion to regret that decision, during the pain, but that regret, too, will be forgotten.) However, the decision will be yours, based on your own feelings about your own pain. But when it comes to the sparrow (etc.) it is *you* making the decision -- whether based on theories concerning forgotten pains, uncertainty about the other-minds problem, or gastronomic pleasures -- about the *sparrow's* pain.

      I wonder if you see the self-other disparity, indeed incommensurability here. It is as big the pain/pleasure disparity, at least in the case of the sparrow's pain and my pleasure; I might be able to trade off burns against orgasms if the feelings are all my own, but not when the pain is the other's"

      "So, from what I interpret from your comment on scopolamine is that this is actually not the "feeling that matters" but the fact that we "feel that only feeling matters" (whatever the feeling really does matter for the "victim" who don't even remember what happened during her altered state of consciousness) which would come back to say that it is the feeling of the potential "pain giver" that matter and not the animal's real feeling. That's why lions don't have ethics : they don't feel that feeling matters when they kill their prey although the feeling does happen.

      For the second part of your comment. Again my example was here only to bring the memory component in the case of animals (and maybe also for the anesthesized persons as you described or any other similar cases of altered consciousness, but not in the case of a child whose consciousness is not altered at the time of the threat), but not for that precise case (I know I made quite a tricky shift in my resoning, but I do it all the time and sometimes it can appear to be problematic at some point).
      I surely won't burn a child even if I know he won't remember it several years later. I won't burn him because I feel that feeling matters. Anyways, the child example is a bad one because if I don't remember my pain at 24, I surely remembered some sort of it the days/months following the accident, so at some point in my life it probably did matter."

      "Feeling always matters to the pain-getter; one hopes the feelings of the pain-getter matter to the potential pain-giver, if only because, by the Golden Rule, every potential pain-giver is also a potential pain-getter. (And, apart from that, one hopes that most of us are not sociopaths -- or in the sociopathic thrall of theories about other-minds uncertainty or pain forgettability.)"

      "Feeling always matter for the pain-getter, I agree. But the reason why the potential pain-giver might retain his action is that because he feels that feelings matter, and because he don't want to be the one who inflicted pain to the target. As long as that person will feel some kind of relief when thinking that he avoid an animal to be hurt, it seems to me that the statement "only feeling matters" would be a bit hypocritical, and that's why I think that saying that what matters in ethics is the "feeling that feeling matters" would be a bit more apropriate. There's always a bit of selfish in human behavior even in things like ethics.
      And again, as long as you are not able to detect the other's pain (or an animal's pain), you won't never be able to do such a thing as giving rights to animals. What is weird though is why displaying an empathic behavior toward non-conspsecific. If this behavior is part of human behavior, it has to be adaptive for humans. ANd if it is adaptive it has to benefit to humans. As long as it benefits to humans, this behavior has to be at least a bit selfish. That's why I keep wondering whether only feelings matter (which would mean that the ethical behavior would be entirely altruistic. Unfortunately, complete altruistic behavior in living beings does not exist, for the only reason that living beings behave as the result of adaptations set by natural selection."


      (1) "Feelings matter" covers all one's feelings -- those about oneself and those about others. Feelings about feelings are feelings.

      (2) The truism that everything one does voluntarily one does because because one feels like doing it is not very informative, because it is mostly tautology.

      (3) Yes, evolution is based on selfish genes, but inclusive fitness (feeling like helping one's kin, especially progeny) is based on selfish genes too (and may perhaps be part of what makes us feel empathy toward strangers and other species: they look and behave like our babies and our kin, and we don't have genetic kin-detectors, just familiarity and similarity as cues to who's who to us).

      "‎(1) Feelings about feelings are feelings, I agree. But what about feelings other's might be feeling but are actually not felt by the subject (eg. someone who doesn't feel pain, or someone who is hypnothised or anesthesied)? If it is the feeling that really matters, why do others care about feelings that don't even exist in an individual's subjective world? Which come back to my previous statement saying that caring about other's feelings is purely selfish and what matters is not the subject's feelings but the observer's feelings when it comes to talk about ethics.

      (3) Familiarity detection : why in human this similarity detection would extent to such a range of human-unrelated things? Yes, we don't have kin's detectors and we interact all together through mechanisms based on similariries, exactly as other species do. But to my knowledge, I don't think other species are able to translate their similarity detection mechanisms to species very different from them as humans can do."


      Feelings matter to the feeler, including when the feeler's feelings are about the feelings of another feeler. Because feelers are not really mind-readers, their feelings about the feelings of other feelers are based on the other's doings (Turing Test). So what? Doings are a pretty good predictor of feelings. And both feelings and feelers only matter to feelers. The only thing that "matters" to evolution (the Blind Watchmaker) is doings (survival/reproduction). Evolution is sociopathic. Altruistic doings (especially toward kin, and those that resemble them) are easily explicable evolutionarily: Altruistic (or sadistic) feelings -- or any feelings at all -- are not.

      Of course the only feelings a feeler feels are his own. But if eating sweets matters to the feeler (and not just, evolutionarily "matters" to the doer) then so does feeling empathy.


    When one wants to understand the whole mechanisms underlying a specific behavioral phenomenon (such as consciousness) and factors that influence it, it is necessary to study its four different levels in order to combine them and have a complete understanding of it. Those four levels are the physiological level (proximal level), the ontogenetic level (developmental level), the phylogenetic level (evolution accross species) and the functional level (ultimate level).

    However, some of these levels are often neglected or omitted, making unable the combination needed for a whole and complete understanding of a phenomenon. Although the quality of the talks, the speakers and the organization is perfect, this summer school did not escape this general observation : where are the ontogenetic and even the phylogenetic level? Those were barely, if not, tackled. Even more striking, how can we follow a 10-days summer school on evolution and function of evolution without even focus on those points? I know some speakers tried at some point to do so, but it was always with some reserve and was always appraoched briefly. It seemed to reflect the lack of inter-disciplinary data integration in general in the scientific world.

    I think that if we do experiments and write papers on a scientific way, nothing can completely be contradictory, and that if it seems contradictory, it is surely because of unattended factors that has not been discovered yet. That's why I don't think that anything that has been said so far was completely contradictory, we just need to find the the way to explain how they can fit all together, and that's is probably one of the greatest challenge of science.


      "You're refering to Tinbergen's four questions. Burghardt (1997) suggested adding the subjective (1st person, phenomenological) level in !Amending Tinbergen: A fifth aim for ethology". I think what we saw in this summer school was both a reflection of what fields are "hot" at the moment, and what quality speakers were available. I find that we've had an excellent lineup so far, the summer school didn't have the pretense of covering everything equally. Unless one flies around the world to follow all conferences on the matter, one is unlikely to get as broad of a coverage we got I think (even ASSC tends to be much more focused in specific fields, Étienne can correct me if i'm wrong)."


    "What if phenomenological consciousness not something, but the answer to a philosophical need to rationalize what can't be rationalized, just like the invention of Gods. (I don't mean to offend anybody's belief, therefore I'm referring to sun gods found in ancient religions) After all, isn't everything possible through access consciousness?"

      "The development of the idea of phenomenological consciousness wouldn't then be a result of the mix of human's strong logical analysis with human's strong imaginative capabilities. A day dream, that needs to make sense..."

      "And what if conscioussness would be the emergence of quality upon quantity through synchrony or information integration?

      I can't help myself on always referring phenomenological conscioussness of something to quality, as depicted in this book:​wiki/​Zen_and_the_Art_of_Motorcyc​le_Maintenance

      I see conciousness as quality emerging from quantity.

      Sense/feel, Empirical/romantic, universe/cosmos and other dichnomical views of the world should be combined to really understand the word investigated.

      Just a tought. :)

      "Correct me if I'm wrong: a quality is a subjective perspective... What is a quality to one, might be a defect to the other. I'm not trying to trap you, but just to develop your point.

      However, synchrony is a physical property of dynamical systems in general, and information integration is more related to access consciousness than phenomenological consciousness. Nice try though.

      How could we define the "quality" of being phenomenologically conscious?"

      "But again, speaking in those terms lead me to ask doesn't that relate to what I was saying, phenomenological consciousness is not real, it's just an impression we have and we are trying to make a sense of it...

      It's just like asking why is a rose beautiful... because it smells good, wrong sense... because of the physical configuration of its petals... yeah, but what about it? because ladies like to receive them as gift, practical reason... but again, Stevan could ask why is it beautiful???"

      "Being phenomenologically conscious permits quality, without quality being an empiric concept, at least, from my point of view, which is only ituition, not fact.

      I would say that the quality of being phenomenolgically conscious would reside in the distance an observer takes from an object and have a feeling of, from the representations/​perspective he has of it now compared/compressed/​differenciated from personal comparisons of objects categorized in the same/other categories of similar objects seens/felt in the past. From that integration, he can feel the quality of the moment, the object, the context and so on.

      I'm not sure that information integration, in that perspective, is more related to access conscioussnes than phenomenological, since the subject having a quality "moment" is in "what it is like to feel" that moment/object/context in terms of quality.

      But like said precedently, this is a tought/intuition, not a fact. More like my perspective of consciossness. Maybe just another semantic game, but this is the way I see phenomenological concioussness."

      "Quality is essentially a part of our identity. It's our way to define in what we believe and in what we don't believe.

      Human's all have a need to socialize to be part of a group and defining our world qualitatively is a way to answer that need. When you decise to like something or to adopt a certain way of living you it's because you feel the new to be identify to this.

      Science is also a human invention a way to rationalize the world that surrounds us and it's as important as phenomenological cousciousness is."

      "Well said!

      Combining your two text I would like to ask. Is phenomenological consciousness required for decision making (admitting some kind of free will) or is it there for us to appreciate what is happening or enjoy the show, I could say?

      And the same question, but this time without any free will, the person's behavior is entirely determined in a brain process incoming information in regard to past history? (conscious perception happens after neural correlates of decision-making)"

      "I think that phenomenological conscioussness is essential to create, in a qualitative kind of way AND enjoy the show you are actually creating yourself. Action, feedback, emotions: reentrence in the processus. This kind of processus cannot actually exist without free will. At least, the way I think it actually take place in the way I fell it when doing so, in a qualitative perspective.

      I have difficulties in having this perspective in mind and substract free will of such experience. But lets say its feasible, I don't think that the result of such creation will have a feeling effect for the creator itself. For others, its difficult to say."

      "But yeah. I think that most of our actons can be completed without phenomenal conscioussness, BUT without enjoying the show. I think that free will has effects and exists, and that it was actually proved on epigenetic researches. I mean, you have to do a BIG choice to chance completely from what were your patterns, the way you were raised in every single ways. Same debate here from nurture and culture. But I think that with phenomenological consciousness, free will has a real sense of changing one's way of living, which can actually has impacts on one's life and then, epigenetic, which chances the chain of reactions..."

      "In resume: I still don't know what to think of everything that was said since the beginning of this summer school."

      "I think that with most of the decisions we take that there's a part of free wil and a part of determinism. Here I associate determinism with inconscious process... It seems that for some decisions it's easy to give complete acces to the phenomenological process. But for some others the phenomenological process and the inconsciousness are in conflict.

      I assume that these choices are related to something you experienced in the past... soimething you haven't resolved yet. So I think that yeah you can enjoy the show as long as the show is in corcondance with the repetitions or that the cost of the new ellements in the show is relatively low for your psychic apparatus."

      "The fact that we need to believe and keep believing hard in our beliefs has itself to be adaptative, otherwise we wouldn't have this ability."

      "Beliefs provide an answer to why are we here (otherwise unanswerable). A motivation to keep on living.

      Why we ask the "meaning of life" question, I would say it is a undesirable/unpredictable consequence of being too smart, we need to plan far ahead and predict what is going to happen as far as we can think of... hence life after death...

      (It's rather a radical position and I wrote it fast, this opinion can be discussed"


    The meaning of life is that organisms feel rather than just do, and feelings matter. If organisms were just Turing zombies, neither life nor anything else would have any meaning, or matter.

    Now back the the hard problem, which is explaining how and why organisms feel...