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  1. #1
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    Default The Hard Problem

    I'm sure there's a number of Hard Problems out there. I've got in mind a single one, but I'd love to hear any others.

    The Hard Problem I'm referring to is consciousness. Specifically phenomenal consciousness (qualia), which I will abbreviate as PC.

    To demonstrate, if you were to imagine a giant blue square, that square is part of phenomenal consciousness, anything else (e.g. brain chemistry) is not. As nowhere outside of phenomenal consciousness is there a giant blue square at that moment.

    The Soft Problem is essentially what physical make-up correlates with what conscious experience (e.g. dopamine correlates with the experience of pleasure). Much leeway in that area has been made already, as it is merely measuring correlation. The Hard Problem is why anything is phenomenally conscious in the first place (e.g. why is there the experience of pleasure?).

    Thoughts?

    To overly simplify the usual positions:-

    Those that deny the existence of PC. Almost always by claiming it as an illusion, hallucination or delusion.

    Those that claim a certain set of physical properties gives rise to PC. From Neural theories, to Quantum Mechanics, to Religious theories.

    Those that claim there is only PC. Usually either idealists, who claim there is only the experience of the physical world, or panpsychists, who claim everything is conscious in some sense.

    There are others, but most usually fit into one of those three categories.
    Last edited by erm; 06-02-2010 at 04:15 AM.

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    There is no evidence of consciousness without the brain.

    So first this would rule out the supernatural and the soul. It would also rule out extra-terrestrial consciousness.

    And it would rule out consciousness before death and after death.

    But we are a superstitious lot and believed both Poseidon and Zeus were conscious. We believe in consciousness after death. And we believe in consciousness on other planets. Some even believe plants are conscious.

    Of course we project our consciousness into supernatural beings, extra terrestrials, into heaven and hell and into plants and animals.

    Animals are an interesting case, for although your dog does have emotions, it is not so obvious that he is not conscious of his emotions. So dogs are the perfect screen on which to project our consciousness.

    So to discover what our consciousness is like all we need to do is look at what we project onto a dog, man's best friend.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Victor View Post
    There is no evidence of consciousness without the brain.

    So first this would rule out the supernatural and the soul. It would also rule out extra-terrestrial consciousness.

    And it would rule out consciousness before death and after death.
    There is evidence that the brain is correlated with conscious experience. That's it. Even then many debate there is no evidence for that, as one cannot prove consciousness experience in a traditional manner. To emphasise, 'conscious experience' is very different from 'consciousness' itself. Any conscious experience implies consciousness, yet consciousness does not imply any conscious experience.

    So, other than your first statement there, the rest are baseless assumptions.

    Gathering evidence of PC is very difficult. Memories are especially unreliable in this regard, we can't experience PC outside of our own, we can't measure, record or quantify it, etc.

    Oh, and the classic reversal, 'there is no evidence of the brain without consciousness'. More broadly, there is no evidence of anything without consciousness. Which is another way of saying all evidence is through the medium of consciousness, and that nothing one comes into contact with is not a conscious experience of some sort. Often used as a point in favour of idealism, supposedly leaving the burden of proof on those who claim there are non-conscious objects.

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    Tenured roisterer SolitaryWalker's Avatar
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    The conception of the Hard Problem of consciousness has been propounded by David Chalmers who is renowned for his non-reductionist view of consciousness. Non-reductionism, if broadly construed, can be defined as the thesis that the mental life is not a necessary entailment of neural activity and is in a significant respect independent from the body. However, it is not a fact that the Hard problem of consciousness exists and its very kernel presupposes a non-reductionist philosophical orientation with respect to consciousness. Anti-reductionism is essentially dualistic in character and for the purpose of the presest discourse can be used interchangeably with dualism.

    The main criticism of dualism is that it invites a theory of far greater complexity than materialism does, yet does not offer adequate compensation for the complexity. In other words, the immaterialists struggle to show what non-reductionism is capable of explaining that physicalism overlooks. Most prominently, dualists fail to evince that the quotation below does not encapsulate all of the problems of consciousness.

    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    The Soft Problem is essentially what physical make-up links with what conscious experience, so what the brain does when was has an experience of the square. Much leeway in that area has been made already, as it is merely measuring correlation..
    In other words, the non-reductionist struggles to show that it is not the case that neural activity is the sole cause of all mental activity.

    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    The Hard Problem is why anything is conscious in the first place....
    Some things are conscious because the physical structure of the universe is such that it allows for mental activity to rise. In other words, the laws of physics create a scenario where neural activity can occur which in turn renders consciousness possible. Although it is clear that the above described physicalist thesis is conjectural because neuroscientists have not shown that all mental activities are reducible to neural entities, on methodological grounds, materialism is to be preferred to immaterialism. Contemporary researchers are aware of how some mental states are caused by physical occurences and have vindicated such claims by rigorous empirical investigations, however, they have not supported any dualist conclusions with the same rigor. It is therefore more desirable to pursue the path that has been shown to be better supported by reliable inquiry. If future research furnishes similar support for dualistic views of consciousness, one will have more of a reason to be skeptical of materialism and to be more sympathetic to non-reductionism. However, as of today the immaterialist thesis is less grounded in rigorous empirical investigation than its materialist counterpart. In other words, the physicalist conception provides rigorous support for the explanation regarding how in principle all mental activity could be reduced to brain-states which offers us a basis on which we may continue our vision regarding how all of consciousness could be accounted for in physicalist terms. However, the same cannot be said about dualism as its very theoretical foundation is speculative at best.

    Recap:

    -The Hard problem presupposes a dualist conception of consciousness.
    -Dualism posits that at least some mental activity cannot be explained by neural activity.
    -One has a reason to doubt the non-reductionist thesis on the grounds that it is speculative and the fact that its rival theory, materialism, draws more on the support of rigorous, empirical and in many cases scientific investigation.
    Last edited by SolitaryWalker; 06-07-2010 at 05:14 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by SolitaryWalker View Post
    The conception of the Hard Problem of consciousness has been propounded by David Chalmers who is renowned for his non-reductionist view of consciousness. Non-reductionism, if broadly construed, can be defined as the thesis that the mental life is not a necessary entailment of neural activity and is in a significant essence independent from the body. However, it is not a fact that the Hard problem of consciousness exists and its very kernel presupposes a non-reductionist philosophical orientation with respect to consciousness. Anti-reductionism is essentially dualistic in character and for the purpose of the presest discourse can be used interchangeably with dualism.
    Emergentism/Reductionism, what you claim, is equally as dualist as Non-Reductionism. Both claim the immaterial and the material, after all.

    It is Reductionism that makes a positive claim about the nature of conciousness. Non-Reductionism merely identifies the elements, and makes no positive claim as to how they are related.

    The Hard Problem refers to the lack of a successful positive claim about the nature of consciousness, instead of presupposing the conclusion in the premises as you suggest.

    Quote Originally Posted by SolitaryWalker View Post
    The main criticism of dualism is that it invites a theory of far greater complexity than materialism does, yet does not offer adequate compensation for the complexity. In other words, the immaterialists struggle to show what non-reductionism is capable of explaining that physicalism overlooks. Most prominently, dualists fail to evince that the quotation below does not encapsulate all of the problems of consciousness.

    In other words, the non-reductionist struggles to show that it is not the case that neural activity is the sole cause of all mental activity.
    Materialism, which is not equivalent to Reductionism, invites a theory far greater in complexity than Idealism does. Further still, Idealism invites a theory far greater in complexity than Solipsism does.

    A Reductionist struggles to show that it is the case that neural activity is the sole cause of all mental activity. The Reductionist is in the weaker position because he has made a positive claim, and assumes that absence of evidence infers evidence of absence. Also that a gap in knowledge infers a gap in reality. Neither of which are truth preserving functions.

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    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    ...'conscious experience' is very different from 'consciousness' itself.
    This seems to me to reify consciousness. But whatever consciousness is, it is not a thing anymore than an action is a thing or a relationship is a thing.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    Emergentism/reductionism, what you claim, is equally as dualist as non-reductionism..
    I did not use the term emergentism and only used the term reductionism. Reductionism is necessarily a non-dualist position. It seems that what you have in mind is that reductionists do not deny the existence of mental activities. That is true, however, this fact does not imply that they are dualists in the same sense non-reductionists are. Theorists who do regard all mental activity as illusory are known as eliminative materialists, however, not all of materialists are eliminative materialists. Some are known as reductionists. What exactly is reductionism or materialism in this particular sense? It is the thesis that all mental activity can in principle be explained by an appeal to neural activity which means that the problem of consciousness in itself has a physicalist explanation.




    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    Both claim the immaterial and the material, after all...
    As I've explained above, only one brand of materialism requires a bannishment of all immaterial entities from ontology, it is known as eliminative materialism.

    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    Non-reductionism merely identifies the elements, and makes no positive claim as to how they are related. ...
    Although unlike reductionism, anti-reductionism does not make a positive claim, it makes a much stronger negative claim, specifically that it is in principle impossible to explain the nature of consciousness by an appeal to neural activity. As Bertrand Russell once aphoristically stated, you can't prove a negative which shows exactly how difficult it is to vindicate a negative claim. Merely making a positive claim creates much less of a baggage than a negative claim and we may adduce that your assertion that non-reductionism 'merely identifies the elements' is plainly false.

    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    The Hard problem refers to the lack of a successful positive claim about the nature of consciousness, instead of presupposing the conclusion in the premises as you suggest....
    The theorists who subscribe to the thesis of the Hard Problem of consciousness have a shared method of showing why contemporary researchers struggle to construct a successful theory of consciousness. In other words, they argue that they are looking for a physicalist explanations of consciousness when there are none to be found, which is indeed a very strong and an ambitious assertion to make that is very difficult to support.




    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    Materialism, which is not equivalent to Reductionism,.
    You have unduly equated materialism with eliminative materialism and assumed that the label does not include reductionism.


    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    invites a theory far greater in complexity than Idealism does.,.
    On what grounds do you make this assertion?

    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    Further still, Idealism invites a theory far greater in complexity than Solipsism does..,.
    Which does not aid the dualist's cause at all. I do not see how either idealism or solipsism are relevant to your non-reductionist contention.


    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    A reductionist struggles to show that it is the case that neural activity is the sole cause of all mental activity...,.
    Granted.

    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    The reductionist is in the weaker position because he has made a positive claim, ....,.
    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    and assumes that absence of evidence infers evidence of absence....,.
    No, he is in a stronger position because he has found a reason supported by rigorous research to believe that his theory of mind may be true, yet the dualist has not done so. In other words, the premises of the materialist are much less speculative than that of the dualist.

    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    and assumes that absence of evidence infers evidence of absence....,.
    This is not an effective argument against materialism. There is absence of evidence with respect to the thesis that all things on Earth obey laws of physics as we only know that some things do, but not all, as we have not examined every single entity that exists. This offers no reason to believe that some things exist that don't obey the laws of physics, genuine evidence would be a demonstrable instance of an entity that indeed defies the laws in question. Similarly, the fact that we have not conclusively established that all mental entities are resulant of neural stimuli does not serve as an impetus for the argument that some mental things exist that are independent of all things physical. Genuine support for such a thesis would require a demonstrable instance of a non-physical entity that is independent of the brain. We have a reason to think that all things mental are reducible to all things physical on the grounds that many mental entities have been shown to be reducible to physical entities, yet none of them have been shown be in principle irreducible to neural activity. Although it is impossible to conclude from this premise that reductionism is true without incurring the composition fallacy, as a pure conjecture, materialism is more supported by existing evidence than dualism.
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    The differences in our use of the phrase "Hard Problem" I think are:

    SW: That no Physicalist theory will provide a successful explanation for consciousness.

    erm: That no Physicalist theory has so far provided a successful explanation for consciousness.

    The former provides more problems and is a much stronger claim (requires more evidence) than the latter.

    Quote Originally Posted by SolitaryWalker View Post
    Although unlike reductionism, anti-reductionism does not make a positive claim, it makes a much stronger negative claim, specifically that it is in principle impossible to explain the nature of consciousness by an appeal to neural activity. As Bertrand Russell once aphoristically stated, you can't prove a negative which shows exactly how difficult it is to vindicate a negative claim. Merely making a positive claim creates much less of a baggage than a negative claim and we may adduce that your assertion that non-reductionism 'merely identifies the elements' is plainly false.
    If that is what Reductionism claims as the Hard Problem, then that is not what I refer to. I have already stated what I define as the Hard Problem.

    Though what you say about negative claims is false. Take for example Reductionist's negative claim. That there is no consciousness outside of the brain/certain physical states. Does that cause equal baggage?

    Quote Originally Posted by SolitaryWalker View Post
    In other words, they argue that they are looking for a physicalist explanations of consciousness when there are none to be found, which is indeed a very strong and an ambitious assertion to make that is very difficult to support.
    The burden is on the one claiming these is a successful Physicalist explanation. It is far too much effort to prove them all unsuccessful.

    Quote Originally Posted by SolitaryWalker View Post
    You have unduly equated materialism with eliminative materialism and assumed that the label does not include reductionism.
    That's fair enough. Merely a semantic misunderstanding on our parts. Which is why I did not quote your first two points in this response.

    Quote Originally Posted by SolitaryWalker View Post
    Which does not aid the dualist's cause at all. I do not see how either idealism or solipsism are relevant to your non-reductionist contention.
    Non-reductionism, those who assert the Hard Problem as either of us defined it, are not necessarily Dualists. Merely claiming there is no successful Physicalist explanation, leaves room for both Idealism and Solipsism.

    It was a response based on a semantic disagreement with the term "materialism". That said, claiming both Consciousness and Non-consciousness (what I called dualism originally) is more complex a claim than claiming merely Consciousness. Which is more complex than claiming merely one's own Consciousness.

    Quote Originally Posted by SolitaryWalker View Post
    No, he is in a stronger position because he has found a reason supported by rigorous research to believe that his theory of mind may be true, yet the dualist has not done so. In other words, the premises of the materialist are much less speculative than that of the dualist.
    Again, the burden is on those trying to provide a successful Physicalist explanation. It is too much effort to attempt to show that all possible explanations are unsuccessful.

    That is why I claim that the Non-Reductionist is in the stronger position, as he has made a weaker claim, which by nature requires less evidence. NOTE: That is in reference to the Hard Problem as I have defined it. Not that the Hard problem cannot be overcome by Physicalism, but that it has yet to be overcome.

    Quote Originally Posted by SolitaryWalker View Post
    This is not an effective argument against materialism. There is absence of evidence with respect to the thesis that all things on Earth obey laws of physics as we only know that some things do, but not all, as we have not examined every single entity that exists. This offers no reason to believe that some things exist that don't obey the laws of physics, genuine evidence would be a demonstrable instance of an entity that indeed defies the laws in question.
    It is not an effective argument for everything obeying the laws of physics. Alas, the Laws as defined by humans have regularly been defied throughout history.

    To parallel. It is not an effective argument for materialism, as you define it. It does not prove the negative claim that there is no consciousness outside of the brain and similar structures.

    Quote Originally Posted by SolitaryWalker View Post
    Similarly, the fact that we have not conclusively established that all mental entities are resulant of neural stimuli does not serve as an impetus for the argument that some mental things exist that are independent of all things physical. Genuine support for such a thesis would require a demonstrable instance of a non-physical entity that is independent of the brain.
    That is not representative of the claim I am making.

    The claim I am making is for the lack of evidence to support Reductionism. Not that some conscious object exist outside of neural stimuli. I agree that it does not support a positive claim that consciousness is in some sense outside of neural stimuli.

  9. #9
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    The Hard Problem I'm referring to is consciousness. Specifically phenomenal consciousness.

    To demonstrate, if you were to imagine a giant blue square, that square is part of phenomenal consciousness, anything else (e.g. brain chemistry) is not. As nowhere outside of phenomenal consciousness is there a giant blue square at that moment.
    I'm having trouble following the distinction you're trying to make. I see no way in which the concept of a blue square is strikingly different from the concept of brain chemistry; they're both ideas, and there's no reason they shouldn't be able coexist like millions of other ideas.

    The Soft Problem is essentially what physical make-up links with what conscious experience, so what the brain does when was has an experience of the square.
    If I behold an object, I'm having a conscious experience of it, and if I'm having a conscious experience of an object, I behold it. The soft problem can only exist by virtue of referring to the same thing by two names and then forgetting what they mean.

    The Hard Problem is why anything is conscious in the first place.
    Consciousness is the poser of problems; to behold something is to reach out for it or thrust it away or slip over it in favor of something else. There is time, and time is consciousness, and consciousness is the ceaseless judgment of the present as inadequate (which is to say problematic). In order for there to be time there must be objects for time to latch onto, otherwise there would be no things to flow toward in favor of other things and thus no basis for temporality. The things caught up in time--which is simply to say things in general--become problems the moment they arise, but in order for them to exist at all, they must also have a certain non-problematical element. This element is their presence before you, and this presence is a truth, however muddled by the flow of time, that neither needs nor can tolerate proof. In spite of this, these things can be doubted and they must be doubted (for that is what the flow of time amounts to: a process of perpetually doubting the present); the act of doubting can't itself be doubted, however, because to question doubt is only to question an idea of doubt that is at once caught up in the flow it means to capture.

    When I say to "question doubt," what I mean begins with an attempt to bring the transcendence of time down to an immanent level. In a very real sense, every act of consciousness orients itself toward that goal; to try and remember something, to pursue a goal, or simply to experience the world around you are all acts that weigh themselves against a standard of presence that you seek to attain within the bounds of time. With words like "universe," "consciousness," and "God," this orientation of consciousness becomes particularly striking, since these words directly try to encapsulate the transcendence of time with ideas that are subject to that transcendence. Once that has been done, it becomes possible to pose hard questions about consciousness, but such questions are only aimed at caricatures of the real thing.
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    Tenured roisterer SolitaryWalker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    erm: That no Physicalist theory has so far provided a successful explanation for consciousness..
    What is your derivation of this conception of the Hard Problem of consciousness as it does not strike me as at all intuitive or common. Typically the thinkers who believe in the Hard Problem of consciousness hold that it is either very difficult or impossible to explain the root cause of conscious activity. Merely stating that no physicalist theory has provided a successful explanation of consciousness does not make the problem seem hard, at best it shows that the current physicalist research is in a rudimentary stage. In fact, many materialists would not disagree with the thesis you've framed, however, they'd attribute this fact to a lack of current accomplishment rather than the nearly insurmountable nature of the 'Hard problem'.



    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    The former provides more problems and is a much stronger claim (requires more evidence) than the latter...
    No, actually the latter requires more evidence. All the former requires is more sophisticated technology that could trace all mental activity to neural activity. The latter requires showing that such technology is in principle impossible and the same is to be said for virtually all other efforts that purport to show that all mental activity is reducible to the physical. At the very least, it is conceivable how the physicalist hypothesis could be vindicated, yet no nealry as of a support for the dualist position is even conceivable.

    Only if technology sophisticates to a point where it is quite obvious that all causal powers of the brain are accounted for and its evident that some mental properties are not caused by the brain will do the dualists have the rigorous support for their position.




    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    If that is what Reductionism claims as the Hard Problem, then that is not what I refer to. I have already stated what I define as the Hard Problem. ...
    Could you cite a professional philosophical passage that led you to define the Hard Problem in such manner or at least provide a rationale for your interpretation?


    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    Though what you say about negative claims is false. Take for example Reductionist's negative claim. That there is no consciousness outside of the brain/certain physical states. Does that cause equal baggage?...
    That leads to only as much baggage as the claim that there are no alien creatures residing on other planets who reproduce sexually. We cannot be certain that this claim is true, but we do have a compelling reason to believe that it is true as our current knowledge of the universe offers us no reason to suppose that sexually reproductive creatures exist outside of planet earth. Nothing short of a revolutionary breakthrough in astronomy will be necessary to shatter this hypothesis at the foundation. I contend that the same holds for the dualist hypothesis, a revolution in neuroscience of Einsteinian magnitude shall be necessary to subvert the view of the physicalist orthodoxy.



    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    The burden is on the one claiming these is a successful Physicalist explanation. It is far too much effort to prove them all unsuccessful.?...
    Do we need to reject all evolutionary explanations of how all species emerged on the basis of the fact that evolution has not yet explained how all of life has come to be? After all, it is too much effort to prove all evolutionary explanations unsuccessful?








    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    Merely claiming there is no successful Physicalist explanation, leaves room for both Idealism and Solipsism..
    Idealism is the thesis that only mental entities exist or that they are somehow more real than the physical, solipsism is the doctrine that only I exist. I don't see the relevance of either one.




    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    It is too much effort to attempt to show that all possible explanations are unsuccessful. ..
    That is precisely what the dualist must accomplish in order to refute physicalism or to to show that all attempts to show that consciousness is caused by neural activity cannot be successful.

    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    That is why I claim that the Non-Reductionist is in the stronger position, as he has made a weaker claim, which by nature requires less evidence...
    This is a non-sequitur, replace reductionism with non-reductionism and the conclusion above would follow from the premise you've started with in your last point. A non-reductionist has to attain more evidence than the reductionist because he is required to show that even if at some point researchers are to know everything about the brain's causal power, they will not be able to show how the brain causes mental activity. This is an additional step to the task of understanding the full causal power of the brain.






    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    It is not an effective argument for everything obeying the laws of physics. Alas, the Laws as defined by humans have regularly been defied throughout history....
    Yet they have been replaced by other laws of nature and science invariably emerged with empirically documentable explanation of how the world works. I suspect that the same will happen in neuroscience. In other words, when neuroscience sophisticates, it will be possible to see exactly how physical entities cause the rise of consciousness. An alternative explanation amounts to causation altogether independent from the physical world. Thus far such explanations have been unsuccessful in both biology and physics, I suspect they won't be successful in neuroscience either.

    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    To parallel. It is not an effective argument for materialism, as you define it. It does not prove the negative claim that there is no consciousness outside of the brain and similar structures.....
    That is not necessary to do just as it is not necessary for evolutionists to prove that there are no creators or for astronomers to prove that there are no sexually reproducing aliens just as truly as it is unnecessary for zoologists to prove that there are no angels, demons, fairies or dragons. In other words, we have no reason to attempt to refute a hypothesis that has no basis in rigorous research. Precisely that is the salient problem of dualism, it has failed to vindicate the existence of a single mental entity that exists outside of a neural network and is not caused by it.




    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    The claim I am making is for the lack of evidence to support Reductionism..
    That is not a good reason to reject a theory, it is only a reason to conclude that it is incomplete. However, the proper response to this outcome is to pursue physicalism further in order to render the current theory complete in the future. In other words, if your claim is such, it offers no support to the non-reductionist position.


    Quote Originally Posted by erm View Post
    I agree that it does not support a positive claim that consciousness is in some sense outside of neural stimuli.
    In that case, why should we believe in dualism as opposed to materialism?
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