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Chalmers’ Rough Thoughts On Spinoza and Panprotopsychism

Below is a question and answer over the idea that Spinoza may have been the first to present the idea of a Zombie World, not while considering a logical hypothetical, but in describing our own world, expressed here Does Spinoza present a Zombie World? 

David Chalmers: Interesting. I don’t think that a spiritual automaton world is a zombie world, though. Such a world has consciousness, where a zombie world has none. Perhaps the spiritual automaton world is more like a world with epiphenomenal consciousness, or perhaps it is a world in which consciousness is governed by deterministic laws. I can’t tell for sure from the passages. The link between Spinoza and panprotopsychism is certainly interesting.

Myself: It would depend what you mean by Spinoza’s spiritual automaton world having “consciousness”. Viewed from the totality, it definitely “thinks” as a whole, but it has no “affects” (that is, it would have no qualia) ideas without qualia. Would you hold that things thinking without qualia are still conscious?

David Chalmers: Well, there’s a broad sense of “qualia” in which consciousness requires qualia. But then it’s not obvious that Spinoza’s “affect” means the same as qualia, in this sense.

Myself: I am not sure how one could insist that qualia exist under Spinoza’s description. Affects are either the thoughts (inadequate ideas) we have about the body being in a certain state, or one could say, the body being affected to be in that state (affection), under an inadequate idea. Because God-Substance has no inadequate ideas, it has no affects. There is no way to squeeze qualia in, it would seem. God-Substance (of which everything is just a modal expression) is a thinking-zombie, one huge non-affective expression. That is, God-Substance acts like it thinks (extensionally) and has thoughts (ideationally), but feels nothing. That you and I “feel” things is just an illusion of our inadequate state of being. I say this only because you seemed to deny that Spinoza’s was a zombie world on the basis that there was consciousness in it; but when asked if the thinking of a non-feeling being (Substance) still qualified as consciousness, you suggested that just because Spinoza denies affects, he might not be denying qualia. This would mean that unless someone could argue that Spinoza indeed embraces the reality of qualia, indeed Spinoza’s is a zombie world, a world where Substance “thinks” but is not conscious (has no qualia).

Here is a short essay by Lilli Alanen, (considered here: The Reality of the Affects: Spinoza’s Plotinian Real ), which is a comment on Michael Della Rocca’s essay “Rationalism Run Amok: Representation and the Reality of the Emotions in Spinoza”. In his essay Della Rocca argues that affects themselves are illusions for Spinoza, and he does so in a denial of qualia. Alanen takes on Della Rocca’s position, while also denying qualia for Spinoza, attempting to embrace some reality of what is felt. I think Alanen misses some important points in regards to how Spinoza qualifies “being real”, but in either case, qualia are denied as being held by Spinoza.

This would seem to put Spinoza’s depiction of the world to be a zombie world, under your loose definition of consciousness.

David Chalmers: Thanks for the paper. On a quick look, I don’t see much direct evidence that “affect” is being used as broadly as you suggest. It seems to be used for some fairly limited aspects of consciousness, tied to emotion and to the body. Also, although the author rejects qualia, I suspect that she is using this term in a narrower sense than you, i.e. for nonrepresentational states only (whereas consciousness may well be representational). Of course i am no expert, though.

Myself: I suppose to restate my thoughts: I agree that the author is speaking of non-representational states, but the difficulty comes when assessing Spinoza’s representational states (adequate ideas), and deciding whether to call them “qualia”. If you take “qualia” to be durative in nature, that is coming to and passing away, then I don’t think that Spinoza ideas qualify for this. If you take “qualia” to merely be representations (and necessary absence of feeling or affect), then perhaps yes, there are qualia in Spinoza’s world. But this seems like a very extended use of the term “qualia” for “what it is like” simply would not appear to apply.


[correspondence reproduced with professor Chalmers' permission]

The Operated Jew and the Thinking Machine

In support of the thesis that much of the Behaviorist inspired thought-experiment horror (Zombies, Swampmen, Inhumanly raised Marys, even soulless Chinese Speakers and HAL’s), in the field of Philosophy of MInd, is really a philo-sociological issue, and issue between the difference between a person and a thing, and the concordant fears of what might erupt if Behavior otherwise experienced to be coherent and “human” suddenly were exposed to be something both “less” and “more” than these, a reference: 

Eric Santner writes in his wonderful, My Own Private Germany: Daniel Paul Schreber’s Secret History of Modernity, of the story “The Operated Jew” which represents the very repressive projections which are involved in the case of such fears, the fear that what is more than perfect, seamless, is hiding a filth, flesh, or mechanism. 

“Published in 1893, “The Operated Jew” tells the gastly story of a Jewish medical student, Itzig Faitel Stern-a stock character in nineteenth century anti-semetic literature-who undergoes a series of surgical and orthopedic procedures in his efforts to transform himself, body and soul, into a true German…(113)

 “…The story culminates in the scene of Faitel’s wedding banquet, when, under the influence of alcohol and, it is suggested, anxieties about exposing his uncircumcised penis to his Christian bride, Othilia Schnack, Faitel’s body and soul regress back to their preoperative Jewish condition. The advent of the breakdown is signaled by the repressed linguistic repletion compulsion: “Those people who have a good ear could already hear could already hear now a few ‘Deradángs! Deradángs!’” Eventually Faitel’s entire “assimilation” comes undone:

‘Those people who remained behind watched with horror as Faitel’s blond strands of hair began to curl during the last few scenes. Then the curly locks turn from red to dirty brown to blue-black…His arms and legs, which had been stretched and bent in numerous operations, could no longer perform the recently learned movements, nor the old ones…Everyone looked with dread at the crazy circular movements of the Jew…Klotz’ work of art lay before him crumbed and quivering, a convoluted Asiatic image in wedding dress, a counterfeit of human flesh, Itzig Faitel Stern (Panizza, “The Operated Jew”)’ (115).

What lies beneath the surface of Behaviorist tellings of what constitutes “consciousness”, in the fears of those who protest that there must be something more than mere behavior, I suggest is something this most human of projective fears and capacities, that acceptable articulations will become malignant “speech particles”.   


Zombies and Monsters of a Philosophy of Mind


This is the thing of significance. Behaviorism has fueled many of the third person approaches to consciousness, Dennett and Wittgenstein come to mind. Behaviorism is often countered by some kind of phenomenal approach to experience. The problem is that “phenomenal” descriptions are often linked to Lockean like empirical conceptions of knowledge, wherein what is experienced is somehow imagined to be a representation of “reality” which it “reflects” with more or less clarity, like a mirror. More sophisticated versions of this conception imagine that there is “Information” out there, and that it has to somehow be replicated, or represented “in here”.

What Davidson’s triangulation approach does is help unseat the Self-World binary which governed philosophy for so long. Philosophy, because it was an extension of religious attempts, one suspects, concentrated on connecting the soul-self-perception-knowledge-representation to the God-reality-world, as Rorty pointed out, in a metaphor of reflection. After the linguistic turn in philosophy, accelerated by Wittgenstein, primary attempts to connect internal states to external reality in any one-to-one fashion, became grafted onto the very process of languaging. This opened up the other (repressed) leg of the Triangle.

But there is something dissatisfying about Behaviorism. It is this third person account of what supposedly is going on “inside”. It is for this reason that a host of ghoulish philosophical thought experiments arise, a race of zombies, deceptive robots and swampmen. The reason for this reaction to behavioral accounts of consciousness are two fold, I believe. One is that they leave out a fundamental aspect of communication itself, and that is the feeling of communication, the very rich affective consquences of communicating with others. When issues of justifcation promote such an affectiveless picture of a process, something seems utterly wrong. This intuition really is the intuition which governs our capacity to interpret others in the first place. When the behavior of others clues us into thinking that they are not what we thought they were, alarm bells go off. When behavor alone seems to be key to justifying truths, the potenital for the same alarm bells sets them shaking, for such behavior could suddenly deviate without explanation or prediction. (This is not to say that Behaviorist arguments are wrong, but perhaps that they are incomplete.) The monsters of philosophical thought experiment are the expression of this potential sense of alarm. The other reason I suspect that monsters are conjured up when we start thinking of consciousness (or theories of meaning) in this different, Behaviorist way, is that such shifts in conception (for instance away from a one-to-one idea of what it means to know the world) promote new ways of interacting and valuing socially. That is, the essential conceptual barriors between ourselves and others, upon which much of our world is organized, are being challenged. And it is right that when a world is threatened that monsters arrive (in the world of philosophy they have appeared). The science fiction of thought experiment is really alerting us to the power of the fiction of new concepts, as they will determined our ways of relating to and valuing others, and the world. Monster is from the Latin monere “to warn”.

Now if someone were to say that behavior and affection are synonymous (as for instance a Spinozist account may allow), I believe that in trianguation what is necessary to complete the behavioral accounts of justification and the resultant theories of meaning and truth (be they Wittgensteinian or Davidsonian), is to understand that affection, that is the imitation of the affects of others, through the recognition of their behavioral responses to a shared environment, is the bodily ground for any conceptual capacity to interpret others. That is, in the kind of perceptual triangulation that Davidson brings to bear there must be a less-than-always-conscious causal realtion between the percieved affects of others, and our own affects, in order to give context for the meaning of our abstract descriptions of behavior itself.

In this way, the intuitional divide between behaviorism (with its cold capacity to allow even robots and zombies into our epistemic midst), and the various appeals to phenomenological experience (leaving behind their accompanied one-to-one representational conceptions of what knowledge is), is thus so to speak, filled in. Behavior is synonymous with affect, in the sense that there is no reading of behavior in triangulating concepts, I would think, without a corresponding causal affective response, one which, on the basis of com-passion creates a community of communications, at the level of the body itself. This does not mean that “qualia” as they are commonly argued for, “exist”.




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