Some Comments from Blue Devil Knight, and a question
Blue Devil Knight wrote these very interesting comments in the combox a couple of days ago, to which I wish to pose a question:
To clarify one point in response to Jason, I never insinuated that we or other animals are not conscious (see my point 4). I have always said this was a crazy view. I think we are not unconscious bee people, but that doesn't mean our apian friends can't have internal states that refer, are true or false, trade in inferences, or communicate the contents of these states to other bees.
What I said (and it isn't a dogma, but something I can back up) is that arrogance about the ontology of consciousness is unfounded.
There are lots of intuitions that fly around. Some of the more popular ones:
1. No matter what the neuropsychological sciences reveal in the future, they will never address my concerns about qualia.
2. Zombies are possible.
3. Consciousness is merely a biological process like digestion or respiration. To disagree is to be no better than a vitalist.
I am up to date on the relevant science, and I can confidently say that everyone is just ignorant, and not in the same way that the young-earth creationists are ignorant. We are all ignorant: there is no science out there that, once learned, will clear things up, that will convince all but the most ideologically trapped person. We are like the presocratic philosophers grasping for a theory of physics. Some of us may be right, but nobody knows it and nobody has sound arguments. The confident folk produce mere predictions about a 'future brain science', predictions based on intuitions.
The people who think their predictions are obviously true are free to act as such, see where it leads them. And maybe one of them will end up, in 500 years, looking as prescient as Democritus. Or maybe someone will come up with a good argument that we should swallow their intuition pie.
I do think we are basically a complicated arrangement of molecules, but would no more be tempted to destroy a person than to wantonly destroy a Michelangelo, another "mere" bunch of molecules. Clearly the theist will need some help in thinking about the moral implications here if they would need convincing not to become a homocidal maniac in a solely natural world. But that takes us way past the relevant into the ludicrous.
VR: If we are at this early of a stage scientifically in understanding cognition (which means that there are a lot of overconfident philosophers and scientists out there on all sides of the issue), why commit yourself to ontological materialism, as opposed to an ontological agnosticism with respect to the mind. Of course you want to be a methodological mateialist or naturalist, no argument there. Given the fact that there are a lot of anti-materialist arguments out there, and let's say all of them rest in one way or another on intuitions of some kind which, as you say, we have to wait for future science to determine of they are legitimate or not, then why not say we have to study the mind scientifically and wait to see what develops?