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May 11, 2006



Zizek?!? Ah, I remember Zizek!

David Moles

This is almost entirely off-topic -- and grade-school stuff, I'm sure, for you actual philosophers -- but: what's the argument for the existence of consciousness, other than that people (including we ourselves, and presumably including those lying zombies) assert that they experience it?


All of my comments take this form: Have you read Panpsychism in the West?




David M, I haven't actually read a lot of this stuff, but the question is better posed (perhaps): what's the argument against consciousness (if any)? I guess Dennett is one who sort of bites a chunk out of this bullet, or at least tries. He thinks that ... oh, man I'm tired. You know what you need to do? Google "quining qualia". That'll do you better than anything I might compose this evening. Dennett is a very clear and lively stylist.

Here's a link:


David Moles

not a zombie. This objection seems so obvious that I assume someone's answered it.

(You get this a lot in SF, of course, e.g. with the Ken Macleod characters who argue that "consciousness is an emergent property of carbon" and so cheerfully exterminate AIs by the civilization-load without suffering any moral qualms.)

David Moles

Sorry -- cut and paste error. Let's try that again:

Thanks! That Dennett piece is great. (I’ve been suspicious of qualia for a while.)

I might be willing to accept consciousness, but I'd also have to take a zombie's word that he's conscious, and therefore that he's not a zombie. This objection seems so obvious that I assume someone's answered it.

(You get this a lot in SF, of course, viz. the Ken Macleod characters who argue that "consciousness is an emergent property of carbon" and so cheerfully exterminate AIs by the civilization-full.)


I don't exactly see why Zizek sees such a difference between the two formulas - "everything is matter" and "there is nothing which is not matter".

John, doesn't the very Lacanian basis of Zizek's entire program of thought, esp. as it relates to the Not-All -- that is, the very thing you've thrown out of court as inadmissable/unhelpful -- actually frame what he's doing here, and actually function as the basis for his "argument" about/against materialism/idealism, which btw isn't exclusive or original with Zizek (I use scare quotes because I realize & respect that it doesn't square with your conception of an argument)?

Adam Kotsko

Brad's right. The Lacanian notion of the not-All is something that Zizek comes back to again and again and again. It's an "argument" (respecting Brad's new convention) that takes place within this basic Kantian space, but it has its own distinctive features. The Wittgenstein stuff is interesting, and it's a genuinely possible connection (in his earlier work, Z actually refers to W kind of a lot), but you'd have to argue for the connection based on... what it's connecting to -- which, here, is Lacan.

He really does think that Lacan is almost always right, on the basis of a style of thought that he has studied and found to be tremendously fruitful and convincing. To cast aside the Lacan thing as "just a metaphor" is to miss the point pretty badly. In this whole section on cognitive science, he seems to be saying, "Hmm, these people seem to have painted themselves into corners -- maybe this Lacanian/Hegelian logic could help them."

I eagerly await Rich Puchalsky's response to this comment.


Oh, me too.

ben wolfson

What is the Lacanian notion of the not-All?

Adam Kotsko

I had to do a lot of work to figure out this shit. Do you think I'm going to just hand it out for free?


Adam writes: "To cast aside the Lacan thing as "just a metaphor" is to miss the point pretty badly. In this whole section on cognitive science, he seems to be saying, "Hmm, these people seem to have painted themselves into corners -- maybe this Lacanian/Hegelian logic could help them."

I repeat Ben's request for clarification: so what's the point? Explain the Lacanian/Hegelian logic here. I was guessing it has to do with the 'repressed Other'.

Also, 'these people have painted themselves into a corner'. How? I understand your desire to sell your insights on the open market rather than giving them away for free, but if in this case you respond to a lengthy close-reading - by me - by saying 'I know why this is wrong, but it's secret', I'll feel licensed to ignore all future criticisms of the Higher Eclecticism asjust a nervous tic of esotericism.

Adam Kotsko

How much detail should I employ in responding to a "close reading" that dismisses all but one of the figures to which he is referring (which amounts to a condensed way of referring to a particular constellation of "arguments"), choosing to focus on the one figure with which the author is most comfortable, then veers into a thinker who is not under discussion?

There are books you can read to get the basics of Lacan, and in fact the Lacan that Zizek uses is understandable just from Zizek if you read enough of him and actually pay attention to the Lacan references instead of kind of glossing over them; it's not my duty to lay it out for you. If you want to keep talking about Zizek, you might as well gain some familiarity with his primary influence. The fact that you have not yet done so is not a failing on my part.

Adam Kotsko

Bruce Fink's books The Lacanian Subject (the chapter on feminine sexuality is particularly relevant) and A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis are very accessible. Zizek's Sublime Object of Ideology also has a lengthy section in which he explains the formulas of sexuation in some detail.


Look, Adam, I think I know enough about what Lacan he is thinking about here, but I fail to see how it is relevant. Please note: I picked an example of a Kantian argument which is highly suggestive of a kind of dynamic of the repressed Other. That is, I did my best to get from sexuation, and a theory or repression, to basic ontology and philosophy of mind.

I am honestly asking for help here, and I don't what to get Zizek wrong. What the hell is the Lacan supposed to do with it, at this specific point?

Adam Kotsko

John, It's not about repression. It's about a so-called "complete" set always being constitutively lacking (so, I will risk tentatively saying, it might be more about castration). One might say that the "full" field of all facts about the world is not a saturated field; it is kept from being full by a constitutive lack. In general, in the theories of sexuation, this "not-all" field would be called the "symbolic," the order of language, law, knowledge, etc.

The feminine (or, hysterical) stance toward the symbolic is to be fully subject to it. But precisely through being fully subject, the hysterical subject is able to see the symbolic for what it is -- not-all -- and this opens up a space for a certain kind of freedom (but dialectically -- one only becomes free through a radical submission). The masculine (or, obsessional) stance is a kind of avoidance strategy that is somewhat akind to the error of taking up the position of the objective outside observer without acknowledging the fact that one is "in" what one is supposedly observing. That is to say, the hysteric sees the world the right way; that's why she suffers.

Therefore, in this particular setting, he's saying, "It's not that we can't explain subjectivity because we don't have full knowledge (akin to the revolution-prediction thing); it's not even that consciousness is such that it would escape our knowledge even if we had 'full knowledge. Rather, subjectivity arises precisely because the object of our knowledge -- the world itself, knowledge itself [in the form of the unconscious mapping function of neurons] is constitutively incomplete, not-all."

That is my extremely condensed way of showing how Lacan's logic of sexuation is relevant to the passage at hand. No repressed other is involved in this particular case.


Ah! That makes more sense of the passage. Thanks. (I don't buy it, of course. But it makes more sense of the passage.)

Adam Kotsko

I think it would at least be interesting to work out the Wittgenstein stuff in more detail with Lacan -- something that would be possible if I understood the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus (I "read through it," but it's hard to get a lot out of it without knowing formal logic).


There's a pretty good, succinct discussion of this in The Puppet and the Dwarf, pp. 67-70. Adam does a great job summing it up, though.

Timothy J Scriven

How about a Chalmers event?

tyrone slothrop

I think I recognize that opening passage.

Couldn't make hide nor hair of the review.

Still, this...

I had to do a lot of work to figure out this shit. Do you think I'm going to just hand it out for free?

made me spit a mouthful of coke on my computer screen. You're a funny man, Adam.



tyrone, the opening passage is an opening passage from Nabokov (right, John?), and the "I'm going to just hand it out for free?" remark made me spit a mouthful of cherry coke onto my screen. That's comedy gold.

Starting with the admission that, while I'm intimately familiar with Chalmers' work, only slightly less so with Wittgenstein's, markedly less so with Kant's (though not totally ignorant, especially through 20th century use of Kant), but I haven't read a word of Zizek (except what John's quoted in these two posts), and my only reading of Lacan was a quick and gratuitous one as an undergrad, let me ask a question that, given my admission, I will understand if you all choose to ignore it. When Adam writes:
"Hmm, these people seem to have painted themselves into corners -- maybe this Lacanian/Hegelian logic could help them," and after his elucidation of the Lacanian language Zizek is using (for which, since Adam gave it up without a link to his Paypal account, I'm sure we're all grateful), I couldn't help but wondering, is not Zizek's point one that, without all the esoteric language (and perhaps without the Lacan), phenomenologists made at least 50 years ago, starting with, say, The Structure of Behavior (or earlier, in Sartre?). I realize that the point in that work was slightly different in its content, but ultimately, doesn't it amount to the same thing, namely, "They're approaching this from the wrong directions [this particular wrong direction that Zizek sees in Chalmers being one], and they keep painting themselvs into a corner -- the same corner, it should be added, from these many different wrong directions; and a little Hegelian logic could help them?" And really, didn't they say this much more clearly, without hyperbole, and for the most part, without obscure (and vaguely misogynistic) sexual metaphors?


Reasoning via "does a statement make sense" appears speculative since the definition of "makes sense" depends on the matter being discussed. For example: Is reality the same as physical reality?

Re Dennet: I'll invite discussion (at a virtual location to be agreed upon ;-) ) by saying he is wrong. Qualia are indeed ineffable: We know conscious colors are real (we see them, or rather, colors are the seeing), yet we cannot describe them in a manner that two persons can say they see "blue" the exact same way. Still the statement that colors are real is meaningful. We could just know without seeing in color. www.occean.org

If you don't feel like discussing, please just ignore this post.

Peli Grietzer

It also seems to me that Zizek isn't really clear on the specific sense of consciousness Chalmers is using. When speaking of 'consciousness' here Zizek seems to be thinking about a mix of qualia,cognition, access-consciousness, and probably a good deal more. Much of his way of thinking here seems like the product of conflating some terms that analytic philosophers have been working for years to separate from each other.


There's no consciousness, only an unescapable awareness similar to that of your computer! The mistake we tend to make (and confuse ourselves) is to exclude our own brain from our environment.
Follow my link to EMAH (the Even More Astonishing Hypothesis - alluding to Francis Crick's (1994) The Astonishing Hypothesis.

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