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4
The First-Person
View of the Mind


Introduction
The first-person viewpoint is based on introspection, where
the individual turns his attention inward to examine his own
mind. This is the ultimate personal experience: What am I
thinking and feeling? Why do I enjoy the taste of an apple?
How do I recognize the face of a friend? And the most
important question we ask ourselves: What am I? It is the self
examination of one™s experiences, feelings, and thoughts. It is
the mind perceiving itself. In this chapter we focus on five of
the most striking aspects of the mind as seen by introspection:
qualia, mental unity, semantic thought, present tense, and free-
will. These and similar characteristics are the heart of the first-
person view of the mind. Most important, all of these things are
irreducible; they cannot be broken into components. Therefore,
as seen from the first-person viewpoint, the mind is one or more
Elements-of-reality.

How We Discuss Consciousness
The first-person view of the mind is private; the individual
alone has access to his innermost thoughts and experiences. No
one can enter the consciousness of another. This is a formidable
obstacle to our study of the mind. How can we communicate
about things that are known only in this personal and private
way? To answer this question, imagine you are thrust into a
foreign land with those around you speaking an unfamiliar
language. How do you convey your thoughts? The answer is,
you point. If you want to eat, you point at food and then your
mouth. If you want to leave, you point at yourself and then the

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door. Pointing allows us to indicate what object we are referring
to without having to describe the object in more detail.
This is the same way that we discuss our introspective
experience. It would be easier if we could physically point at
these things with our finger, but in most cases this isn™t
possible. Our introspective pointing is primarily done with
language. For instance, consider the phrase: the redness of red.
These words point to a particular thing seen from the first-
person viewpoint. Most of us know what this refers to, because
we have directly experienced it. Likewise, we expect others to
understand it in the same way, from their personal experience.
No one can tell another what the redness of red is. You either
know about it from direct experience, or you know nothing
about it at all. Either way, the words redness of red do not
define the thing; they only point to something that we may or
may not already be aware of.
Communicating in this way has obvious limitations. First,
it requires that both parties already know the thing being
pointed at. For instance, you cannot discuss the beauty of a
sunset with one who is blind, or the pleasure of a child™s laugh
with one who is deaf. Second, language itself is an imperfect
tool. As an example of this, imagine asking several people to
describe a physical object, such as a book. Even though they
are referring to the same thing, there will be a considerable
difference in the language they use. This problem becomes
worse when the thing being described is nonphysical, such as a
“political party,” or a “computer program.” Trying to describe
what is seen from the first-person perspective is perhaps the
worst of all. Even if two people had an identical introspective
experience, they would probably describe it differently.
This brings up the third and most perplexing problem in
communicating about our first-person knowledge. How do we
know that others are having the same introspective experience
that we are? Suppose you and a friend look at a clear sky and
simultaneously proclaim, “what a wonderful shade of blue.”
You are both experiencing something, and have agreed to call
Chapter 4: The First-Person View of the Mind 47

your respective experiences by the same name. This seems
reasonable, since both of your experiences correspond to the
same physical object. But this does not guarantee that you are
having the same experience. Suppose that your friend had
surgery at birth to switch the blue and green neural pathways
between his eyes and brain. When he now looks at the sky, he
experiences what you would call “green.” However, he calls it
“blue” simply because that is the name he has been taught.
Taking this example a step further, now imagine that
everyone has their visual system altered in this way. For
instance, the blue, green, and red neural pathways might be
randomly connected as a natural part of the brain™s development
in the womb. Even so, we would not be able to tell this
difference by speaking with each other. We would all still gaze
at the sky and remark about its blueness, even though it would
be a different experience for each of us. There is no way to tell
if one person is having the same experience as another. Our
ability to communicate about these things is just too limited.
The primary purpose of this chapter is to show that the first-
person viewpoint sees the mind as one or more Elements-of
reality. To do this, we will discuss five fundamental aspects of
consciousness that are seen by introspection: qualia, mental
unity, semantic thought, present tense, and free-will. Of course,
we cannot define what any of these are; all we can do is use
words to point to them. Your task is to look inside yourself by
introspection and try to understand what is being referred to.
The existence and nature of these things cannot be shown by
words, but only by our individual and personal ability to
experience them.

Qualia
We experience a wide variety of sensations in our day-to-
day lives. For instance, vision allows us to perceive brightness,
color and shape. Likewise, from hearing we experience
loudness, pitch, and timber. The senses of touch, taste, and
smell provide similar sensations that are equally unique. We
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are also aware of how it feels to have emotions, to think, to be
in pain, and even to exist. All of these sensations are different;
we can recognize one from another, and remember our previous
encounters with each of them. Philosophers call these raw
sensations qualia, after the idea that each has its own
characteristics or qualities associated with it.
We will use color as an example of qualia, beginning with
the simple question: What is it about red that is different from
blue? From the first-person perspective these two colors are
clearly not the same. They are different in a basic characteristic;
red has the property of redness, while blue has the property of
blueness. Those with normal vision understand this concept
very clearly; our words are sufficient to point to something that
most people already know by direct experience. This allows us
to communicate about the property, but only with the severe
limitations previously described. For instance, a color blind
person would think that the phrases redness of red and blueness
of blue are gibberish.
To examine this further, suppose we ask several scientists
and medical researchers what makes red different from blue. A
physicist might say that the two colors are different wavelengths
of light. An ophthalmologist will have a slightly different
answer, telling us that red and blue arise from the activation of
different sensory cells in the retina of the eye. Lastly, a
neurologist might describe the difference as being the neural
activity in different parts of the cerebral cortex. These
descriptions are accepted by science as a complete explanation
for what is observed from the third-person viewpoint.
But what about the first-person perception of color? Do
these scientific accounts tell us why we consciously experience
red and blue in the particular way that we do? Most people
would say no; there is something about color that cannot be
expressed in terms of wavelength or neural activity. Simply put,
red looks red and blue looks blue. For instance, a color-blind
physicist knows how science and medicine understand color,
but nothing about how it feels to see a red apple or a blue sky.
Chapter 4: The First-Person View of the Mind 49

The reverse is also true; a person with normal vision knows
about color from direct experience, but might be totally ignorant
of the scientific explanation. In other words, the first-person
viewpoint of color is one thing; the third-person viewpoint of
color is another thing; and having a knowledge of one provides
little or no knowledge of the other. Or so it would seem on the
face of it.
In this same manner, the ears detect vibration in the air; the
nose and tongue detect chemicals in the air and saliva; and
specialized neurons in the skin detect pressure, temperature and
irritation. In the end, all of these result in neural activity in
various parts of the brain. This is how the world of science sees
raw sensations, the machinery of the physical world interacting
with the machinery of our nervous system.
But all these things appear drastically different from inside
of our minds, the first-person perspective. We see an apple as
red and smell it as fruity. We hear it crunch as we take a bite.
We taste its sweetness, and savor the pleasure it brings to us.
We feel the pain as we scrape our lip on the stem. Many find it
inconceivable that these raw sensations, these qualia, arise from
the machine-like activity of the brain. Even stranger, it is not
even possible for one person to describe these things to another.
All we can do is experience them for ourselves, and point at
them for vague and incomplete communication.
Why do qualia seem so elusive and hard to describe? The
answer is very simple and straightforward. It is because qualia
are irreducible; they cannot be broken apart by the method of
reduction. For instance, if we could separate the redness of red
into more basic components our task would be done. "It is
simple," we would say, "our perception of red is A plus B plus
C, assembled according to the instructions in D." But, of
course, this is not possible. The redness of red, the terrible
feeling of pain, the fragrance of a rose, and all of the other
qualia, are irreducible; they are Elements-of-reality of the first-
person viewpoint.
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Mental Unity
When we look inside ourselves by introspection, we see a
mind that is unified, a single cognitive agent, one and only one
consciousness. Our many emotions, thoughts, and sensations
are inherently part of the whole; they do not exist independently
on their own. The mind perceives itself as a single thing, not a
mixture of individual components. From the first-person view
we see exactly one mind, no more and no less.
This mental unity is perplexing because it does not fit well
with what we know from science. As briefly outlined in the last
chapter, different areas of the human brain handle different
mental tasks. For instance, speech is recognized in one area,
bodily movements are controlled in another, and abstract
reasoning takes place in yet another. Further, we must
remember that the human brain is composed of about 100
billion individual neurons, each capable of producing nothing
but individual action potentials. How is it possible that the
neural activity in these many separate regions, and this vast
number of individual components, can give rise to a conscious
experience that is unified?
Brain researchers call this the binding problem. In spite of
being given a separate name, this issue it is no different from
other aspects of the mind-body problem. The third-person view
sees a multitude of individual action potentials passing through
a neural network (i.e., Information), while the first-person view
sees an irreducible unified mind (that is, an Element-of reality).

Semantic thought
In order to think, one must be able to form relationships
between abstract concepts. This is obvious from both the first-
person and the third-person viewpoints. For instance, if you
mentally say to yourself: “I am afraid of pain,” you can easily
recognize the individual concepts (I and pain), and the
relationship between them (“am afraid of”). In spite of this,
introspection tells us that there is more to our thoughts than
formal definitions and logic. From the first-person perspective,
Chapter 4: The First-Person View of the Mind 51

thoughts are semantic, that is, they have meaning. Each has a
unique and personal message; they matter to us in a way that the
individual components do not. The thought of “being afraid of
pain“ is more than just words and syntax.
To put this into context, we can compare it with a computer
program designed to interact with humans by voice command.
A good example is the telephone routing systems used by many
companies. When you dial their telephone number, a computer
generated voice answers and identifies the company. It may
then give you several options, depending on such things as
whether the business is open or closed, and which employees
are available to take calls. As you proceed through the menus,
you might be thanked for your selection, be informed of errors,
told to wait, given more options, and so on. In other words, the
computer program is selecting words and phrases from its
memory, and combining them in various combinations
according to predetermined rules. Of course, no one would
suggest that these computers understand what they are saying.
These are simply automated responses; it is unthinkable that
these devices derive any type of introspective “meaning” from
their activity.
But now let™s take this a step further by making the
computer program more sophisticated. We will increase the
vocabulary of available words and phrases, improve the
algorithms that control the sentence syntax, and enhance the
logic that determines what to say in particular situations. If our
programmers are clever enough, it may be difficult or
impossible to tell that we are speaking with a machine instead
of another person. However, even with this ability to fool us,
there still isn™t any apparent way that the computer could be
experiencing an introspective ”meaning” of its thoughts or
speech. But if this is true, how is it possible that a machine
such as the brain can generate “meaning?” In short, we have
bumped into yet another example of the mind-body problem.
The third-person viewpoint sees definitions, syntax, and logic;
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all of which are Information. However, from the first-person

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