Wow. I mean WOW. Why didn’t this racist bastard come up in my American History class in high school? Instead, we studied only a visionary for international peace and harmony.
Blech. (But thanks to Virginia Postrel for the link nonetheless.)
Last night I returned from a few days of vacation in Los Angeles. Paul and I left on early Saturday morning, after a day of my frantically finishing off a paper on moral habits for my Aristotle class and taking an exam in my Philosophy of Mind class. (I’ll be posting the Aristotle paper sometime in the next few days.) Although that Friday (the 13th) was my 28th birthday, I didn’t exactly have a celebratory kind of day, given the end of the semester rush. But I did have a good time visiting friends and family in Los Angeles afterwards.
I’ll be pretty busy with (my side of the) family between Christmas and New Years, but I do hope to get some comments on philosophy of mind blogged in preparation for my proposed Advanced Seminar paper on the subject. (A draft is due on January 23rd.) I need all the help I can get on that paper!
I recently received the following disturbing news from Will Thomas, Manager of Research and Training at The Objectivist Center:
The Objectivist Center’s student and scholarly programs are in grave danger. Due to the difficult economic situation, TOC’s fundraising has lagged. Current plans call for a refocusing of TOC on cultural commentary and a significant reduction in the amount of money, man-hours, and activities we devote to training new intellectuals. This appears to mean no more scholarly monographs, no significant time devoted to finishing the Logical Structure of Objectivism, no internship positions, no workshops aimed at students or scholars, and the possible cancellation of the Advanced Seminar in Objectivist Studies. It means no significant new initiatives aimed at students and scholars. There is concern at TOC that these kinds of programs are not attractive to a sufficient number of current and potential financial sponsors. Student and scholarly programs can only prosper if they have generous financial support.
In response, I sent a long letter to David Kelley in support of the student and scholarly programs, reprinted below. Given that fundraising difficulties are substantially to blame for these cutbacks, I also enclosed a contribution specially earmarked for student and scholarly programs with my letter. I would strongly urge others who care about these programs to do the same, even if you can only spare a few dollars. The clearest message we can possibly send about the importance of student and scholarly work is through financial support of those programs.
You can even contribute online, just be sure to note that the funds are for the student and scholarly programs in the comments.
This is serious, folks. Please forward this information onto anyone you think should be aware of this issue.
My letter to David Kelley was as follows:
2 December 2002
I recently heard from Will Thomas that TOC’s student and scholarly programs are in serious danger of suspension or elimination due to budget cutbacks. While I understand that fundraising has been particularly difficult lately, this change concerns me greatly as a sponsor, scholar, and student.
Mostly, I worry that sidelining student and scholarly programs will damage TOC’s long-range effectiveness in its mission of cultural change. Right now, TOC has only a small number of writers who understand Objectivism deeply enough to effectively advocate the philosophy to a mainstream audience. Such a small band of overworked writers has little chance of changing the culture by themselves; to be successful in that goal, TOC needs to be supporting the development of professional Objectivist intellectuals. In my opinion, the student and scholarly programs are absolutely essential for this process.
As we both know, graduate degrees are generally an essential part of any writer’s education, as they help establish credibility and generate familiarity with a given field. But universities are not particularly friendly environments for Objectivists. TOC’s student and scholarly programs help students successfully navigate these hostile waters while developing their knowledge of and interest in Objectivism.
Speaking personally, TOC’s student scholarships and Advanced Seminar helped me survive my B.A. in philosophy with my interest in Objectivism intact. (An internship and the publication of LSO during this time period would have been an amazing blessing to me.) The Effective Communications Workshop helped me overcome my fear of public speaking, thereby enabling me to give nine lectures to TOC Summer Seminars in the past three years, as well as lecture on Objectivist ideas to other groups. Now that I am in graduate school, the Advanced Seminar is of particular importance to my development as an Objectivist intellectual. Only for those three brief days do I have the opportunity to discuss Objectivism at a high level with other knowledgeable scholars, to hear a barrage of criticism and commentary from an Objectivist perspective, and to see the Objectivist methodology in action. As connected as I am in the world of Objectivist scholarship, the Advanced Seminar is a unique opportunity for young and developing scholars such as myself — to the point that I cannot imagine doing without it.
More particularly, the comments I received at the 2002 Advanced Seminar on my paper on false excuses have proved quite helpful as I revise the paper for submission to an applied ethics conference and ethics journals. I am also presently working on my submission for the 2003 Advanced Seminar: a paper outlining an Objectivist theory of mind. Given the difficulty of the subject, the feedback from others scholars at the Advanced Seminar will be critical to the success of the final version of the paper. Frankly, I’m not sure that I would even attempt the project without the hope of discussion at the Advanced Seminar. (I have, by the way, been particularly pleased to see the leaps and bounds in quality of both the papers and the feedback at the Advanced Seminar over the past few years. As a result, to know that it might be suspended just as Will’s work is starting to pay off seems particularly unfortunate.)
As I hope you can see, TOC’s support of me through various student and scholarly programs over the years has been immensely helpful to my development as an Objectivist intellectual. (I suspect that I’d still be programming web sites without this support, in fact.) However, I worry that some supporters of immediate cultural change over and above scholarly programs might see all of it as something of a waste, presuming that I will simply become another obscure academic. But in fact, my primary interest in philosophy is in writing and lecturing on practical and popular philosophy, not academic philosophy. Academic philosophy is nonetheless a necessary part of my training. As you surely know, I am not the only person in the student and scholarly programs with an interest in popular presentations of Objectivist ideas. Consequently, I fear cuts in those programs will damage the long-range success of the mission of cultural change.
Of course, I understand that student and scholarly programs are a costly and risky investment. Students tend to be an impoverished and mercurial lot, such that many apparently promising students over the years have become little more than expensive disappointments. But given the long-range importance of such programs, the solution to this problem, I submit, lies in finding ways to increase the retention rates of students rather than reducing support for them. I would suggest, for example:
1. Projects: I would love to see TOC contact particular scholars about particular projects regarded as worthwhile. (Then again, perhaps this is done, but just not for me. I wonder, as I know very little about your opinion of my work.) For example, you offhandedly mentioned the need for a practical book on the Objectivist ethics to me at the last Advanced Seminar. I’ve thought a great deal about such a project over the past few months, as that’s precisely the sort of philosophical work I most want to do. But right now, my other priorities are taking precedence over such a project, particularly given that I have no idea whether you might be interested my work or not. Being approached by TOC about such a project would make all the difference for me. Based upon various conversations over the years, I know many others feel the same.
2. Personal contact: I have been very grateful over the past few years for Will Thomas’s personal contact and encouragement of my work. However, I think more — not less — is needed, as such encouragement is critical to young scholars facing a generally uncertain, grueling, and impoverished future. For example, I will be eternally grateful for Chris Sciabarra’s encouragement to submit a paper to Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand. As an undergraduate at the time, I never would have dared without his confidence in me. The positive impact of personal encouragement cannot be underestimated. Additionally, such personal contact is critical for avoiding the disheartening oversights and omissions that have alienated various scholars over the years.
3. Thank yous: All contributors to student scholarships ought to receive personal thank you notes for their generosity from the recipients of those scholarships, as FIRE and Camp Indecon do. Such thanks would encourage sponsors to donate again in the future by giving them the sense of the real and concrete benefits their donation made possible. Perhaps more importantly, writing such notes would give students a sense of the “debt” they have incurred. I know that I didn’t give a single thought to the source of such scholarships when I was an impoverished student — although I should have!
4. Education: I was excited to hear of the “Topics” lectures on Objectivism for the upcoming Summer Seminar, as I often worry that too little emphasis is placed upon students deeply learning the philosophical system. After all, one of the common patterns we’ve all seen over the years is people losing interest in Objectivism due to misunderstandings of the philosophy. The publication of LSO, I think, is critical to addressing this problem. In addition, I’d love to see a “program” for students interested in really learning Objectivism that would include critical articles to read, exercises to perform, and so on. I’ve created such a program for myself, but I suspect that too many others do not even see the necessity.
5. Publication. I would love to see more explicit guidance in preparing Advanced Seminar papers for publication in journals. I was surprised to discover great fear and doubt about publication among my fellow graduate students at Boulder. If such hesitancy is widespread, Objectivist graduate students could stand out among their peers by being aggressive about publication. The Advanced Seminar would be an excellent place to stress such a strategy. And perhaps 15 minutes or so of every Advanced Seminar session should be devoted to discussing the broad changes necessary to prepare the paper for publication.
The investment of time, energy, and money into students and scholars is certainly a risky business. But to reduce support for student and scholarly programs is to guarantee failure. Without the support of TOC, promising students and scholars will likely either lose interest in Objectivism or go to the ARI for schooling in the philosophy. Those who manage to bootstrap themselves are unlikely to later align themselves with TOC. Such prospects are disheartening to me.
In the hopes that the proposed cuts in student and scholarly programs may be averted, I am enclosing $[omitted] specially earmarked for those programs. More importantly, I will urge other supporters of TOC to do the same, to voice their support for these programs with earmarked donations. I can only hope that others share my concerns.
I look forward to hearing back from you. Please give me a call at XXX XXX XXXX if you wish to discuss these issues over the phone.
Diana Mertz Hsieh
Update: Due to serious philosophic and moral objections, I am no longer associated with The Objectivist Center in any way, shape, or form. My reasons why can be found on my web page on The Many False Friends of Objectivism.
I am presently working on a paper on Aristotle’s theory of moral habits. As many of you know, I have a longstanding interest in this subject, as evidenced in my WashU honors thesis “Between Instinct and Habit” and my 1999 lecture “Moral Habits” to the TOC Summer Seminar. (My views on the process of habituation have, however, shifted significantly over the years.)
In my view, moral habits are integral to our understanding of moral development and decision-making. They show us how to deeply integrate abstract virtues into the messy particulars daily life. They are the best (and perhaps only) answer to the challenge posed by the Prudent Predator, as well as integral to making sense of Rand’s “no value” argument for virtue. As such, moral habits are an excellent companion to the Objectivist ethics. Although I plan to write up such an argument for submission to JARS or elsewhere, my present paper (for my Aristotle class) will concern only the Aristotelian conception of moral habits.
Unfortunately, Aristotle’s theory of moral habits is easy to misunderstand as either mechanistic or emotionalistic. (I myself have made such errors of interpretation in past writings.) But neither of these interpretations makes sense of Aristotle’s account — sketchy though it may be — of the central role of moral habits in cultivating virtue. Instead, as I am arguing in the paper, we ought to follow Nancy Sherman’s lead in understanding the process of habituation as the development of “increasingly fine powers of discernment” in our “perceptual, affective, and deliberative capacities” (Nancy Sherman, “The Habituation of Moral Character” in Aristotle’s Ethics, 232-3).
I’ll be turning in the paper on Friday, so I hope to get it posted on the web site shortly thereafter. I’ll make an announcement here, of course.
In recent years, Allan Sandage, one of the world’s leading astronomers, has declared that the big bang can be understood only as a “miracle.” Charles Townes, a Nobel-winning physicist and coinventor of the laser, has said that discoveries of physics “seem to reflect intelligence at work in natural law.” Biologist Christian de Duve, also a Nobel winner, points out that science argues neither for nor against the existence of a deity: “There is no sense in which atheism is enforced or established by science.” And biologist Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, insists that “a lot of scientists really don’t know what they are missing by not exploring their spiritual feelings.”
Ever so gingerly, science has been backing away from its case-closed attitude toward the transcendent unknown. Conferences that bring together theologians and physicists are hot, recently taking place at Harvard, the Smithsonian, and other big-deal institutions. The American Association for the Advancement of Science now sponsors a “Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion.” Science luminaries who in the ’70s shrugged at faith as gobbledygook — including E. O. Wilson and the late Stephen Jay Gould and Carl Sagan — have endorsed some form of reconciliation between science and religion.
One of the more bothersome aspects of such claims to harmony between science and theology is the fallacious appeal to the authority of the scientists. Appeals to authority are rightly considered fallacious, but in such theological debates, the scientist isn’t even an authority at all! Scientists are experts in their chosen domains of science, not in analysis of arguments about the existence and nature of supernatural beings and events. So in speaking about God, such scientists are speaking as laypersons, not as experts. Their opinions tell us nothing about the truth of claims about God. (In particular, such scientists seem not to understand that appeals to mysterious supernatural events actually provide no more explanation for the phenomena in question than a confession of ignorance.)
Let me make an analogy to make this issue more clear. Back in 1949, Albert Einstein published Why Socialism?. In that article, Einstein claimed that humankind was facing a crisis of meaning created by “the economic anarchy of capitalist society.” This crisis could be averted “only through [man] devoting himself to society.” As such, Einstein advocated
…the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.
Over the years, I’ve actually heard people advocate socialism based upon the endorsement of Albert Einstein. But the simple fact is that Einstein’s genius in physics does not give him any authority in ethics, politics, or economics. Rationality and insight in science does not guarantee rationality and insight in other areas of life.
The exact same principle works for the alleged authority of scientists in theological matters. They are no more experts on the complex issues surrounding God and the supernatural than Einstein was an expert on social systems. Consequently, we ought not give their opinions more weight than they deserve.
As an addendum, for a lucid explanation of the problems of attempting to integrate God with physics via the strong anthropic principle, read Kenneth Silber’s excellent article Is God in the Details? published in Reason a few years ago.
In the fascinating tape course “The History of the United States” from The Teaching Company, the lecturer spoke about the poor view of the African “race” that the English had in early colonial America. But then he noted that the English had a poor view of all the other “races,” including the German “race,” the French “race,” and even the Irish “race”! (It was only later in history that whites began to see themselves as a single group separate from the blacks.) After commenting on this tidbit to Paul, he pointed me to this rather funny set of charts on European prejudices. The over-the-top article that accompanies the charts is entitled 18 Ways to Hate Your Neighbour.
Wow, the victim feminists aren’t playing nice with the individualist feminists at all. Personally, I’ve found far too many victim feminists to be rather nasty toward women who disagree with their pro-lesbian, anti-men, fight-the-patriarchy agenda. I suppose that such dissenters are an affront to the victim feminist movement, as they indicate that women aren’t as oppressed as such feminists think they are.
A while back, I offhandedly remarked that “most scientists believe in God.” For some mysterious reason, I thought I remembered some survey claiming that around 80% of all scientists believed in God.
Adam Reed was kind enough to send me a correction, which I am just now getting around to posting. He wrote:
I know you can do your own Google search, but my top results were:
1. http://solon.cma.univie.ac.at/~neum/sciandf/contrib/clari.txt E.J. Larson and L. Witham, Scientists are still keeping the faith, Nature 386 (3 April 1997), 435-436. (The main source for the 40% figure)
2. http://www.americanatheist.org/aut98/T1/editor.html Larson and Witham (Nature, Vol. 394, No. 6691, 23 July 1998, p. 313) surveyed members of the National Academy of Sciences and found that among these greater scientists only 7% believed in a personal god. Biological scientists had the lowest level of belief in a personal god – 5.5% as compared to 7.5% among physicists and astronomers.
The discrepancy is probably a matter of the quality of scientists in the two surveys. (1) had a sample typical of all people who make a living at science, so that it might include, for example, a quality control technician with an MS in chemistry. (2) measured NAS members; my own experience at MIT, Rockefeller, and Bell Labs comes closer to the latter.
Anyway, I doubt that the 80% figure is based on a sample of anything better than, say, the Creation Science faculty at Bob Jones University.
I am very pleased to stand corrected.
I recently finished reading John Searle’s seminal book on philosophy of mind, The Rediscovery of the Mind. Perhaps most delightfully, the clear and engaging arguments in Searle’s book were a welcome respite from the overabundance of boring and convoluted articles assigned as reading for my “Philosophy of Mind” class. (I don’t fault my professor for choosing such articles, as they are the “classics” in the field.) Unfortunately, I don’t find much hope in Searle’s positive account of the mind as a “causally emergent property” of the physical organism (Searle 112). As my professor (Bob Hanna) has noted, accounting for mental causation (let alone free will) may well be an impossible chore within Searle’s model of consciousness. Nevertheless, Searle offers a number of compelling arguments against various wrong theories of mind, particularly against reductionism and functionalism. While I hope to address the Searle’s complex argument against functionalism in the future, his argument against reductionism shall be the topic of the day.
In Chapter 5 of The Rediscovery of the Mind, Searle first defines the fuzzily-used concept of reduction as “the idea that certain things might be nothing but certain other sorts of things” (Searle 112). Thus water could be reduced to H2O molecules if and only if water were nothing but H2O molecules. Searle then goes on to distinguish five types of reduction: ontological reduction (objects of one type are nothing but objects of other types), property ontological reduction (properties of one type are nothing but properties of other types), theoretical reduction (the laws of one theory be deduced from the laws of another theory), logical/definitional reduction (statements about one type of thing can be losslessly translated to statements about another type of thing), and causal reduction (the existence and causal powers of one type of thing are entirely explainable in terms of the existence causal powers of another type of thing). For Searle, ontological reduction and causal reduction are most relevant to modern debates about the mind, given that ontological reduction is the goal of serious reductionists, while Searle advocates only causal reduction.
Searle’s theory of the mind advocates causal reduction in that “mental features are caused by neurobiological processes” (Searle 115). In the history of science generally, Searle argues, such causal reductions quickly lead to ontological reductions because “we simply redefine the expression that denotes the reduced phenomena in such a way that the phenomena in question can now be identified with their causes” (Searle 115). For example, while we used to think of the color red as merely a type of subjective sensation, through the development of science, we came to “carve off and eliminate the subjective experience of color from the ‘real’ color” understood as “light reflectances” (Searle 115). Thus the ontological reduction of color naturally flowed from the causal reduction of color.
However, Searle argues, consciousness does not follow this same pattern of first causal and then ontological reduction (Searle 116). A complete causal reduction of pain, for example, to neurophysiological processes, would leave out “the essential features” of pain as an “unpleasant conscious sensations” (Searle 117). But why would this be so? Why is consciousness so unique? Searle argues that ontological reductions seek to “carve off the surface features” of something so as to redefine that something “in terms of the causes and produce those surface features” (Searle 119). Thus we might reduce the mass of a pile of iron filings to the mass of an individual atom of iron multiplied by the number of iron atoms in the pile because the mass of the whole is completely explained by the mass of its constituent parts.
In early scientific understandings, where “the surface feature is a subjective appearance” like color or heat, we perform the reduction by “redefin[ing] the original notion in such as way as to exclude the appearance from its definition” (Searle 119). Thus color is reduced by excluding the subjective sensations of color from the definition in favor of talk about “light reflectances” (Searle 119). And heat is similarly redefined in terms of “the kinetic energy of the molecular movements” to the exclusion of any discussion of feelings of warmth and coolness. Such reductions are possible because we are primarily concerned with the “underlying physical causes of heat” rather than the “subjective appearance” of heat (Searle 120). But we should remember that this sort of reduction by redefinition does not involve any sort of eliminativism about subjective experiences, as those subjective experiences “exist the same as ever” (Searle 120).
So why can’t we perform such reductions with mental states like pain? Searle argues that in fact we could, but that they would leave “the subjective experience of pain unreduced” in the exactly same way that “the reduction of heat left the subjective experience of heat unreduced” (Searle 121). Such a situation is acceptable for heat, given that “what interests us about heat is not the subjective appearance but the underlying physical causes” (Searle 120). In contrast, the subjective experience of mental states like pain are precisely what we are so keenly interested in understanding. An ontological reduction of mental states therefore cannot offer us the sort of knowledge of the mind we seek. As we have seen in the history of reductionist accounts of the mind, consciousness would be left unexplained by an ontological reduction.
While I am in broad agreement with Searle’s argument, I do have two objections on Objectivist grounds.
First and foremost, Searle uses the ever-so-Kantian appearance-reality distinction to summarize his objection to the ontological reduction of the mind. He argues that ontological reductions carve off the “appearance” from the “reality” of something, but that such is not possible for mental states because “consciousness consists in the appearances themselves” (Searle 121-2). Thus, he summarizes: “Where appearance [or consciousness] is concerned we cannot make the appearance-reality distinction because the appearance is the reality” (Searle 122).
Searle’s argument, however, cannot be anything but superficially Kantian given that it can easily be understood in light of the form-content distinction found in Objectivist accounts of perception (such as David Kelley’s The Evidence of the Senses). The “content” in perception is simply whatever features of the world stimulate our sensory system. The form, on the other hand, is the “aspects of appearance that result from the way our sensory systems respond to stimulation” (Kelley 42). In perception, the form and content are inextricably linked, such that colors look to be in the objects themselves, for example. But through scientific inquiry, we learn that color is the form in which we perceive the reflective qualities of surfaces. Similarly, we learn that heat is the form in which we perceive the kinetic energy of molecules and that pain is the form in which we perceive tissue damage. Consequently, we are able to conceptually separate “the way in which we perceive external objects” from the intrinsic properties of those external objects themselves (Kelley 42). Thus Objectivism rejects the Kantian gap between “appearance” and “reality.” Rather, the appearance of an object is simply our awareness of that object in a given form, as dictated by the nature of our perceptual systems. All awareness must be in some form or other — and no form of awareness is more “real” than any other. (Ayn Rand’s own brief comments on the form-content distinction are found in a discussion of the false distinction between primary and secondary qualities in the Appendix of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, pages 279-282.)
Searle’s argument can, in fact, be easily reformulated in terms of this form-content distinction instead of his appearance-reality distinction. On such a reformulation, the ontological reductions we find in science are actually attempts to distinguish the form from the content of our perceptions, i.e. to distinguish those aspects of perception that are intrinsic to reality (content) from those are the product of the perceiver’s relationship to reality (form). However, in studying consciousness per se, the form cannot be identified and sidelined through ontological reduction, since the form of perceptions and other mental states are precisely what we are interested in explaining.
My second (and final) objection to Searle’s argument against ontological reduction of mental states concerns his division between concepts that can be ontologically reduced (like color and heat) and concepts that cannot (like pain). Searle certainly admits that this distinction is based upon our “definitional practices” rather than on “any distinction in the structure of reality” (Searle 123). I think there are two good reasons to doubt those definitional practices themselves.
First and somewhat superficially, there seems to be no principled divide between allegedly reducible concepts like color and heat on the one hand and irreducible concepts like pain on the other, as all have both phenomenological and causal aspects. If we are interested in the phenomenology of color and heat, as many philosophers and scientists now are, then ontological reduction of those concepts is impossible without omitting precisely what we wish to explain, as in the case of pain according to Searle. On the other hand, if we are uninterested in the phenomenology of pain, we can reduce pain to the detection of tissue damage in the exactly same way Searle reduced color and heat. (A surgeon, for example, might be concerned with what a patient’s pain indicates about hidden tissue damage rather than how much it hurts.) Consequently, the possibility of ontological reduction seems to be solely a function of our interest — or lack thereof — in the phenomenological aspects of a given concept.
Second and far more significantly, the process of ontological reducing concepts of perceptions to their causes is not, as Searle indicates, a process of overturning or redefining those concepts at all. Rather, such ontological reduction is a process of either adding new knowledge to our existing phenomenological concepts or of creating entirely new (albeit related) casual concepts. Scientific investigation of the world shows us, for example, that differences in colors are caused by differences in the reflective properties of surfaces. For most of us, that knowledge merely serves as an adjunct to our essentially phenomenological concepts of color by helping us conceptually differentiate between the form and the content of color perception. For scientists, that knowledge may in addition justify the formation of a new concept of the reflective properties of surfaces also (and somewhat unfortunately) called “color.” But in neither case are the phenomenological concepts of color overturned, replaced, or redefined. After all, although we may conceptually distinguish between the form and content of our perception of color thanks to science, we continue to subjectively experience color as a unity of that form and content. And when a scientist tells his child that the crayon “looks more blue than purple to me,” he’s referring to his subjective experience of those colors, not readings on some sort of lightwave meter. That only one word is used ought not confuse us into thinking that there is only one concept!
My second objection to Searle’s critique of reductionism actually seems to give us all the more reason to reject reductionistic accounts of consciousness — by indicating that genuine ontological reduction is not possible with any phenomenological concepts at all. Rather, in light of science, we tend to either add information to our essentially phenomenological concepts or form new concepts that ignore the phenomenology in favor of the physical causes. Either of these processes is fine and dandy, so long as we understand that we have not reduced our phenomenological concepts to physical concepts.
As a side note, my anti-reductionistic view agrees with Rand’s comments on concepts of sensations in Chapter Five of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology:
Sensations are the primary material of consciousness and, therefore, cannot be communicated by means of the material which is derived from them. The existential causes of sensations can be described and defined in conceptual terms (e.g., the wavelengths of light and the structure of the human eye, which produce the sensations of color), but one cannot communicate what color is like, to a person who is born blind. To define the meaning of the concept “blue,” for instance, one must point to some blue objects to signify, in effect: “I mean this.” Such an identification of a concept is known as an “ostensive definition” (Rand 40-41).
Rand’s first sentence strikes me as a particularly insightful explanation of why phenomenological concepts cannot be reduced.
All in all, I think that Searle’s argument against reductionism shows why the various qualia arguments against reductionism seem plausible to us. All of those qualia arguments (the absent qualia argument, the inverted qualia argument, the gap argument, the knowledge argument, and so on) are designed to pump our intuitions into telling us that reductionism does not adequately account for phenomenology. Not being one to trust my intuitions, these arguments carry very little weight by themselves. But Searle’s argument shows that omitting phenomenology is precisely what reductionistic accounts do. As such, a reductionistic account of consciousness is impossible.