I’m reading this recent (2021) paper by Dan Dennett -“The User Illusion of Consciousness” because it’s the one where he makes very positive reference to the work of Mark Solms.
Or rather, I’m reading it today because I have again been struggling elsewhere with arguments from people who dismiss Dennett as a determinist/compatibilist who sees consciousness (and free-will) as illusory. In this paper he’s right up-front with his “user-illusion of consciousness”. My take is not that he’s saying that our consciousness and our free-will are not real, he’s saying our subjective experience of that reality is literally an illusion – a subjective impression, not an objective thing (see Solms’ Rubicon). But the original reason above is why I happen to have the paper linked on my desktop these last few weeks.
In that vein, he says:
“Cognitive scientists in general agree that the brain is a sort of computer; it isn’t a radiator for cooling the blood and it isn’t a dynamo. It is an information processing system of tremendous power that accomplishes its primary task — controlling the body in ways that enhance its chances of surviving to produce offspring — by extracting patterns from the torrent of ‘input’ signals it receives from transducers, patterns that can guide its ‘output’, which is another torrent of signals, effector or trigger signals, that can contract muscles or release hundreds of different chemical modulators, including many that create recursive cycles that refine the information available and the uses to which it is put. Is it a digital computer? Nobody knows, but even if it is, at some level, a digital computer, its architecture, and the parts it is
made of, are profoundly unlike the architectures and parts of the digital computers we understand so well. This is what opens the door to romantic surmises about how the brain might — or must — escape
the explanatory net of functionalism. Solms and I want to close that
door, not by fiat, but by showing how the brain harnesses affect to get
the many jobs done.”
And he goes on to quote more of the passages from Solms as I have about where consciousness lies in that architecture. But the key things are here:
Affect is central and architecture is everything.
And even if I might make the metaphysical claim that “all” information processing is indeed digital (or quantum, or “atomic”) all the way down to the fundaments of physics, it’s all kinds of complex categorical information through the layers of the architecture that matter here. I’ve always liked his “sorta” operator which he uses to great effect early in that quote above. We might argue exactly what we mean by information processing – but anyone who doesn’t see brains/minds as somehow processing information, gets the “so what is it doing?” question. Definitions are conclusions, not pre-conditions.
(Need to read further to get to what he is really saying
about the “user-illusion”. Ho hum.)
Post Note: And I did follow-up a couple of times, culminating in this
Is Dennett and Illusionist? – No (June 2023)
Under No Illusion – Dennett my Hero (December 2022)