addressalign-toparrow-leftarrow-rightbackbellblockcalendarcameraccwcheckchevron-downchevron-leftchevron-rightchevron-small-downchevron-small-leftchevron-small-rightchevron-small-upchevron-upcircle-with-checkcircle-with-crosscircle-with-pluscontroller-playcrossdots-three-verticaleditemptyheartexporteye-with-lineeyefacebookfolderfullheartglobegmailgooglegroupshelp-with-circleimageimagesinstagramFill 1linklocation-pinm-swarmSearchmailmessagesminusmoremuplabelShape 3 + Rectangle 1ShapeoutlookpersonJoin Group on CardStartprice-ribbonprintShapeShapeShapeShapeImported LayersImported LayersImported Layersshieldstartickettrashtriangle-downtriangle-uptwitteruserwarningyahoo
Nathaniel
user 10963465
Group Organizer
Mesquite, TX
Post #: 145
I know that I am conscious and I have this knowledge more immediately and primitively than I have knowledge of anything else, but understanding what it means is a different matter.

How can you say that you know you are conscious and also say that you don't know what that means? If consciousness cannot be properly defined, then how can we attribute it to anything? Presumably, we have at least some idea of what consciousness is, otherwise we're just making stuff up. If you replace the word "consciousness" with something else, even just a place holder, you can see that the statement "I know I am x, yet do not know what x is" just doesn't make sense. I think we need to establish what we're talking about before we can decide if it makes sense and/or if it is true that we do have the quality in question.

Dictionary Definitions:
–noun
1. the state of being conscious; awareness of one's own existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings, etc.
2. the thoughts and feelings, collectively, of an individual or of an aggregate of people: the moral consciousness of a nation.
3. full activity of the mind and senses, as in waking life: to regain consciousness after fainting.

— adj
1. a. alert and awake; not sleeping or comatose
b. aware of one's surroundings, one's own thoughts and motivations, etc
2. a. aware of and giving value or emphasis to a particular fact or phenomenon: I am conscious of your great kindness to me
b. ( in combination ): clothes-conscious
3. done with full awareness; deliberate: a conscious effort ; conscious rudeness
4. a. denoting or relating to a part of the human mind that is aware of a person's self, environment, and mental activity and that to a certain extent determines his choices of action
b. ( as noun ): the conscious is only a small part of the mind


So it seems one major aspects to it and that is awareness. This is important because it helps separate conscious from unconscious thoughts and actions. If I am aware of a thought, is it a conscious thought? If I am not aware of a thought is it a subconscious thought? I think that makes sense, at least in how we use the word. Also, it doesn't necessarily apply to self-awareness. A rat may not be self aware, but it might be aware (and thus conscious) of the maze that it is in. In which case, the degree of consciousness may simply be a degree of awareness.

But is there more to it from a philosophical sense? I would hate to get my philosophy from Webster's.

Seems to me like the ability to act must be part of the deal. What good is an awareness that isn't tied to anything? That is, a sense tends to work like an input, which is fed into the system and leads to an output. It would make no sense for me to hook up a new input device to my computer, say a brain wave scanner, but it does nothing. The computer doesn't even store it, the data is received, but nothing done, there would be no point. Consciousness, must then be able to do something.

Also, when we talk about awareness, is it all things I am aware of? Is it the bulk of my senses? I don't think it's just sense data either. There are bacteria which can detect light, but I would hardly say they are conscious of it. What would be the distinction to make between a simple sense and consciousness? or is the hint in the term "awareness"? Just because something can sense something, doesn't mean that it is aware of it, or conscious of it. For instance, I may be speaking with someone and my subconscious picks up on their being attracted to me, I sense the attraction, but I am consciously oblivious. I am neither aware, nor conscious of the attraction, but the data has been received and it's possibly even being reacted to, although not on a conscious level.

Is it perhaps all about meta-cognition? Must that sense fall within a area of the mind where the mind is aware of itself in order to be considered conscious? It would be like the difference between simply having our neurons firing off pre-programmed commands and having the phenomena of the mind produced symbolically through a degree of self-awareness. I'm not talking about the sense of "I" or "me", but the sense of thinking. I am not aware of the thinking going on in my subconscious, but I am aware of the thinking going on in my conscious. It is possible that many or most animals operate purely on the subconscious level.

It may also be possible that this awareness takes place in the simulated world we build with our sense data. I'm not really sure what angle to attack any of this at, consciousness is a rather nebulous concept, as fundamental as it seems to be, it's not really a concrete concept in my head.
Jim B.
user 4260314
Arlington, TX
Post #: 316
How can you say that you know you are conscious and also say that you don't know what that means? If consciousness cannot be properly defined, then how can we attribute it to anything? Presumably, we have at least some idea of what consciousness is, otherwise we're just making stuff up. If you replace the word "consciousness" with something else, even just a place holder, you can see that the statement "I know I am x, yet do not know what x is" just doesn't make sense. I think we need to establish what we're talking about before we can decide if it makes sense and/or if it is true that we do have the quality in question.

I seriously doubt that we know the meaning of everything that we know is a fact. Some concepts may be too primitive, or too close to us, for us to get sufficient distance to formulate an explicit definition or meaning. Michael Polanyi wrote about the distinction between tacit and explicit kinds of knowing. As did Wittgenstein. We know much more than we can say. I think that this applies to consciousness.

It may be too close to us, the most basic fact about us, for us to understand explicitly. So you have the trouble of defining it non-circularly; defining it depends on use of the word 'awareness,' but that word is either equally dependent on the word 'consciousness,' and so on, or it refers to something else entirely, such as "the disposition to behave," so that people with 'blindsight' would be 'aware' of what's in their visual field although unconscious of it.

Consciousness doesn't seem to be built up out of and analyzable into its constituent parts the way most things are, such as water. Water can be defined as H2O, which actually adds to our knowledge, but it's doubtful that consciousness would obey the same principles of analysis for a number of reasons.
Nathaniel
user 10963465
Group Organizer
Mesquite, TX
Post #: 150
Perhaps this is the sort of problem that would be best solved by meeting and interacting with other forms of consciousness. That is to say that we would need to be able to sit down and talk to aliens, apes and/or AI and see if we can find similarities and differences in our theories of mind. Essentially, we would use these others as mirrors to examine ourselves... although now that I think about it, we should be able to do this with other people as well (although the effects may be somewhat limited in comparison to more unrelated Others). Even then, if they are having the same problem that we are, being stuck seeing their own consciousness through the lens of their own consciousness, then we may be stuck completely.

Another route is exploration of our own consciousness in a deliberate and methodical manner. If we examine our own thoughts, awareness, memories, dreams, emotions, etc... then perhaps we could get a better picture of what we're talking about. Much of my philosophy of mind comes from exploration of my own mind and extrapolating generalities from there. Of course, there is danger of over generalization there, because not all minds are exactly like mine. But the whole concept of solipsism plus was derived from my experiences with my own consciousness.

There are few states of consciousness that I haven't experienced. There's normal waking consciousness, then there's meditation/trance, lucid dreaming, and meditation within a lucid dream (which is awesome). I've also experienced states of consciousness caused by passing out and distinguished by intense hallucinations. I have yet to have a rage blackout or consciousness-altering drug experience... and I would personally rather not. I think I'll defer to others for those. All of these are states of consciousness that we can examine on our own and there may be more. Each one illuminates a bit of of the nature of consciousness. It's like there's a stage of consciousness and the spotlights might only shine on certain parts throughout the show... and perhaps backstage is the subconscious.

I must say, I'm not satisfied with "we don't know and can't know." I would much rather explore and extrapolate what I can and at least say "we know this, but we don't know this, and this over here might be unknowable" but to say that it's all unknowable just doesn't feel right because we're swimming in the stuff.

For instance, to ask the question "does consciousness require awareness or does awareness require consciousness?" seems like we could tease an answer out of that. If we can be subconsciously aware of anything then it would tend to suggest that it is the former, not the latter.
Jim B.
user 4260314
Arlington, TX
Post #: 318
Perhaps this is the sort of problem that would be best solved by meeting and interacting with other forms of consciousness.

It depends on the problem you're trying to solve. There's the hard problem, which is the nature of consciousness itself. There's also the problem of intersubjectivity which assumes a similarity of subjectivities, such as the other minds problem . Close similarity of first person perspectives is important in this kind of problem; for instance, no amount of third person knowledge or information could ever impart to a person blind from birth the first person concept of "red", although third person properties of red could be imparted, such as "600 nanometers of photon emission". Then there are the third person problems of consciousness, such as the mind/body problem. But all of these problems are problems because of the central fact of the apparently irreducible subjective nature of consciousness.

Another route is exploration of our own consciousness in a deliberate and methodical manner. If we examine our own thoughts, awareness, memories, dreams, emotions, etc... then perhaps we could get a better picture of what we're talking about.

This has been done in several guises, such as introspectionism, phenomenology, etc, going back at least to the nineteenth century, but I don't think they were of much help in addressing the central questions.

I have yet to have a... consciousness-altering drug experience... and I would personally rather not. I think I'll defer to others for those.

You've come to the right place. (Insert smiley face here : )

I must say, I'm not satisfied with "we don't know and can't know." I would much rather explore and extrapolate what I can and at least say "we know this, but we don't know this, and this over here might be unknowable" but to say that it's all unknowable just doesn't feel right because we're swimming in the stuff.

I don't recall ever writing that "we don't know and can't know." What I have written is that consciousness is irreducibly tied to first person perspectives, at least for us, and this perspective probably cannot be understood through the standard pattern of scientific reduction. Strongly suggests a first person, not a third person ontology, the former likely being irreducible by means of the latter. Not all understanding has to fall under one pattern or paradigm. Scientific reduction is very good at understanding certain aspects of reality, such as abstract, structural, relational, and quantitative properties, but not so good at making sense of the concrete, substantive, intrinsic, and qualitative. Good at the behavioral but not the experiential. Good at understanding the how but not so good at the why, i.e questions of meaning. But why should any one form of human understanding be capable of understanding absolutely everything? It seems very limited and parochial, not to mention anthropocentric and hubristic, to assume that all of reality must conform to one human epistemological standard.

Concepts that are irreducible under one pattern may be reducible under another. And there are many forms of reduction. The subjective aspect of consciousness is, I would say, the sine qua non of consciousness. Of course I could be wrong, but then you and or all of us could also be wrong, so that kind of bracketing is not all that interesting or informative.


For instance, to ask the question "does consciousness require awareness or does awareness require consciousness?" seems like we could tease an answer out of that. If we can be subconsciously aware of anything then it would tend to suggest that it is the former, not the latter.

But defining those terms already involves you in the philosophical problems that you're attempting to unravel.
Nathaniel
user 10963465
Group Organizer
Mesquite, TX
Post #: 151
Alright, perhaps we're getting somewhere. So the problem is, we're stuck seeing this problem from inside the problem? Not just that, but we're using the thing we're studying to study it. It's sort of like the problem people run into when trying to do self-help for mental issues (such as anxiety). Trying to fix a broken brain the same broken brain just doesn't sound like it'll work too well. Trying to understand consciousness through the application of consciousness and from the inside of consciousness seems a lot like trying to look at our own eyes without using a mirror. I can't just look at a person and see their consciousness like I could see their eye. I can study an eye because others have them, they can be removed and dissected, etc... but the consciousness cannot be studied this way... or can it?

There are certainly others who have issues with this or that in their minds. If certain brain injuries/diseases/drug influences lead to gaps in the functioning of their consciousness, then we could at least nail down a little bit. We might be able to figure out a small bit of what that part of consciousness does by comparing those who are lacking in one aspect to those who are not, and at least figure out the general area where that part of consciousness "sits" within the brain.

Besides that, given the problem of consciousness, what types of investigation might actually yield results? As far as self introspection/exploration, the more I learn about Buddhism, the more I find that they tend to agree with a lot of the findings of neuroscience and psychology. It seems like the only problem with that approach is that while we might be able to uncover some instances of mental illusions creating aspects of consciousness, it might be difficult to recognize every single illusion when we're technically (and necessarily) viewing the world (both external and internal) from within an illusion since we cannot have literal things in our heads, only symbolic and incomplete representations of the literal.

It may be possible that different drugs which have different effects on consciousness could be taken and the effects observed from within... although drugs might not necessarily be the only way to go. I have, for instance, been deprived of the sense of time, self, and objects in a hallucination I experienced while passed out. I was out for only about 15 seconds, but to me it felt like both an eternity and an instant. In this hallucination, I felt as if I had become the universe without time. That I ceased to exist and that I observed the entirety of existence as a fact instead of a process. It started off with my being aware of just myself. From there my awareness seemed to expand to encompass my home, my city, my state, nation, world, solar system, all the way up to the entire universe and then the universe at all points in time. Then from that position, my awareness retreated from my starting point (my self) so that all those lower parts became irrelevant, until I was aware of everything at every moment and all without bias. I was still aware of these things, but with no more or less awareness of the color of quark in the proton of a hydrogen atom in some far off star. All things were drowned out by the awareness of all other things. I could not see the trees for the forest. I had lost all concepts of self and even of "things" because there was only one great big thing, existence itself. Now, the question is, was I conscious or unconscious during this? To everyone else, I was passed out. To me, it was like the most intense dream I've ever had... probably the closest thing to a true religious experience I've ever had. If dreaming is a state of consciousness then this was surely a state of consciousness, and I was aware of it even though I was not aware of myself or even of my consciousness in the same sense that I am aware of those things now.

Perhaps it is things like that which make me able to imagine that a dog can be conscious without being self aware. Heck, at one point, each of us lacked self awareness... although few of us retain memories from those times... but that may merely be an encoding problem. At least with that hallucination I've had my own self awareness stripped from me for what felt like forever and an instant even though it was only 15 seconds.

Now that I think about it, we have magnets strong enough and accurate enough to disrupt brain function temporarily. I wonder what would happen if they focused such magnets on the seat of the self within the brain to effectively switch off self awareness. They should also be able to find the seat of meta cognition and do the same to see if that is a requirement for consciousness. At the very least it would be interesting, I would certain sign up for that sort of thing.
Jim B.
user 4260314
Arlington, TX
Post #: 320
I would say it's not just that we're stuck inside of it, although that's part of it. As you said, we can use the eye to study the eye, the brain to study the brain, and so forth. For me, it's more that it's a completely different ontology, that the kind of reduction we use to study nearly everything else just won't work with consciousness. To me, that's kind of an exhilarating thought, that subjectivity is a real feature of the world, as real as erasers and trees and electrons and that the world is richer and more various than any of us can imagine. It's also deflationary, because it may set a drastic limit to human understanding, including scientific understanding, because there is a potential infinity of types of subjective experience that we can never come close to experiencing, although we can draw analogies the closer the living thing is to us in behavior and structure. That's not anthropocentrism but actually its opposite, being an admission of our finitude and puniness.

There have been experiments where the brains of salamanders have been manipulated ( cut up, turned upside down, one hemisphere removed ) and the animals showed no appreciable difference in performance. This suggests that maybe we're looking in the wrong place for the 'seat' of consciousness, a holdover of Descarte's pineal gland, that consciousness may be more of a holisitic, field-like property Although you're right that physical manipulation, like injury, drugs, etc, have direct effects on consciousness, maybe this is the result of the far greater complexity and specialization of the human, as opposed to the salamander brain. Or maybe salamnders are not truly conscious. As an empirical question, I would say it's unanswerable.

I've had similar experiences to the one you described. It was kind of a meta-consciousness where all the dualities faded. I think maybe it was the unity of being itself beyond all other categories. It was kind of a mystical experience but I was too young to integrate it into my life at the time.
Nathaniel
user 10963465
Group Organizer
Mesquite, TX
Post #: 153
I realized something just today about the mind within the context of my view on experience.

As I've said before, we experience the world as a dream informed by our senses. But when it comes to internal states, do we REALLY get back sense data? I am getting signals from my eyes, relating data about the light being emitted from my computer screen, but am I getting sense data from my own brain about the contents therein? I almost hear the words forming before I type them. Still, is that awareness informed by data coming from my brain about it's internal states, or is the sense of word formation an illusion?

Put simply, if we are not receiving data about our internal states, then what we come up with is just a dream. An illusion created after the fact, conjured up to fill in the gaps just like our blind spots are filled in. I've had dreams before where I was talking with someone when I realized that no words were being exchanged. You see, I commonly monitor my own internal states and can tell the difference between the conceptual stage of thought which precedes the linguistic from the stage where actual words are formed. What I realized then was that we were not communicating with words, we were communicating purely on the conceptual level. However, my brain still filled in the blanks and essentially tricked me into thinking that words were being exchanged. It filled in the gaps with something as simple as language. I've even had instances where I dreamt of singing a song with a group of people, they knew all the words and I didn't. The thing is, they couldn't possibly know more of the song than I do (they being a part of me), but my brain filled in the gaps with confidence such that I couldn't tell the difference.

Many studies actually show that people DON'T know why they chose to do one thing or another. This is usually accomplished by influencing their behavior in certain way and then testing to see if they were aware of that influence. For the most part, people are not aware of the influence AND they also say things like "that's interesting, and might be an issue for others, but that's not why I did what I did." So even in the face of a large body of evidence, we will stick to the fiction that we dreamt up. They essentially prove that people not only don't know the real reasons behind their actions, but that they just make stuff up to explain themselves... and stick to that fiction regardless of evidence. This may be why no one can get behind the idea of our not having free will.

Also, it should be noted that we may actually get some data feedback about our internal states. Obviously, that's what emotions are doing. They're a bit more general than other more methodical things, but they are data nonetheless. Still, I would contend that the vast majority of people aren't good at introspection and cannot be properly interpreting internal data feedback. Additionally, even those who are really good at it are not going to see the whole picture, there will be an abundance of blind spots and our brains will fill those with illusions.

Understanding a dream once I've woken up is a simple task. Understanding a dream from within a dream is difficult... but gives amazing control over that dream when it is accomplished. Still, you can't get that understanding into the dream unless you first gain it outside of the dream. The problem is that I know of no way to "wake up" from consciousness to understand the dream within. That would require another level of consciousness which I'm not sure about. The meditative state has potential, but I don't think it's quite drastic enough to really sit and ponder consciousness with the same level of detail with which we view dreams from consciousness.
Jim B.
user 4260314
Arlington, TX
Post #: 321
Well, I'd say that the philosophical puzzles about consciousness are somewhat different from the ones you're addressing, which are worthwhile and interesting, but the ones you're talking about have to do more with the status of the seeming in relation to some extramental ( not excremental ) reality, rather than the puzzle of the seeming itself. I think you're talking more along the lines of neuroscience and the like, which are fascinating topics but which take for granted some fundamental concepts the understanding of which don't fall properly within neuroscience. A neuroscientist can inquire about such things, of course, just as a philosopher can do neuroscience, etc. so i'm not talking about a strict division of labor but just possibly different kinds of inquiries which can and do cross-pollinate.

The problem is that I know of no way to "wake up" from consciousness to understand the dream within. That would require another level of consciousness which I'm not sure about. The meditative state has potential, but I don't think it's quite drastic enough to really sit and ponder consciousness with the same level of detail with which we view dreams from consciousness.

Maybe some sort of meta- or mystical consciousness which supposedly expands the individual consciousness into the ground of consciousness, in essence uniting the subject/object split, which would suggest some kind of dual aspect theory of reality which I think is plausible. The problem is that I'm not sure how helpful such testimony would be, since nearly all the categories that we think with, including knowledge, are supposedly transcended in this kind of thing. It may be that the mystical we can only experience and not meaningfully talk about.

They essentially prove that people not only don't know the real reasons behind their actions, but that they just make stuff up to explain themselves... and stick to that fiction regardless of evidence. This may be why no one can get behind the idea of our not having free will.

How can we be mistaken about something we don't have a clear idea about? If people have fundamental confusions about the notions they hold, then i'd say that their notions don't even rise to the level of being mistaken. That's why I think the whole "free will" problem is much more involved than a simple yes or no, this side right, that side wrong, since we don't know what the sides are.

And if we're 'mistaken,' as you say, that implies that there's a possibility of not being mistaken, once our ideas are informed by the correct kind of evidence. But those 'correct' ideas would be as equally necessitated as the 'mistaken' ideas, so why would we have more reason to believe that they are less mistaken than our original ideas? Your talking about the reliability of certain kinds of evidence and the possibility of not being mistaken is incompatible with determinism. But we should pursue this on the other thread.
Nathaniel
user 10963465
Group Organizer
Mesquite, TX
Post #: 154
If consciousness is related to internal awareness, then the validity of this internal awareness is certainly relevant to consciousness. Still, we run into the same problem that we do with our senses of the external world. If I begin questioning my external senses, then I can trust none of my experiences.

Perhaps the problem can be resolved in a similar manner to how the "brain in a vat" problem is solved. Whether or not this is actually reality or an illusion, this is where I find myself currently. If this is an illusion, then I live in this illusion. I have no way to break free from it, all I can do is accept it. That's not to say that I should accept 100% of it. There are instances when I should question my senses.

So, just like we should assume this is the real world, perhaps we should assume that consciousness is not an illusion, or at least not all of it. If it were 100% illusion, then it would serve no purpose and do no good. There would have to be some amount of real data driving the dream in order for it to have any benefit. If my experience of the world ignored all my sense data then I would very quickly find myself dead or locked up in an asylum. If my conscious awareness ignored all feedback data about my internal states, then I'm not sure I would be able to think at all. I might be limited to simple action and reaction, but certainly I could never be proactive.

I think the problem is that we still might not get data about our internal states in real time. We may only become aware of conclusions and then backtrack and guess at how we arrived at that conclusion, essentially using cognitive detective work to sort out the path our consciousness took to arrive at that conclusion. The only use for such a thing would be to maintain a sense of self agency and continuity of thought. I have a hard time imagining that the only reason such internal awareness exists is to fool us like that.

In any case, I'll try to get back on track a bit:

Wikipedia suggests that the things which consciousness is trying to explain concerns subjective experience; awareness; the ability to experience feelings; wakefulness; having a sense of selfhood; and/or the executive control system of the mind. Personally, I think feelings and selfhood are questionable as to whether or not they are necessary, but they are certainly something which can be experienced through consciousness. Wakefulness just seems to be included to make a distinction between conscious and unconscious.

From that we can distill the essential parts to subjective experience, awareness and executive control. It may even be possible to collapse awareness into subjective experience... but I'm not entirely sure about that. Surely what we are aware of would be part of our experience (in that we experience awareness) but awareness may be more than experience. I know I can't be aware of something I don't experience. Can I experience something without being aware of it?

Could the difference be about the different ways the sense data is handled? For instance, a light sensing cyanobacteria would sense the light and move towards it. It is merely a stimulus and a response. Does the bacteria experience the sensation of light or is more required to be able to say that? If the bacteria could be said to have such an experience, then my computer is experiencing my keystrokes in the same way. I'm not sure I could make that leap. Perhaps the dream is necessary for true experience. That is, experience may take place within the mental model of the world that we create from our senses. When I am asleep, I experience the dream world, not the world where I'm laying in bed. Where then is the distinction between being aware and being unaware in relation to experience?

As far as executive functions go, it would require a part of the mind to overlook the rest and make decisions/changes accordingly. That requires an awareness of internal mental states as well as the ability to affect these states. To that end, it depends upon subjective experience and awareness. I would also argue that self awareness would require executive function as well. That is, you would have to have some experience of your mental states in order to draw the conclusion that you were the arbiter of your actions. That is, you would have to be able to see "I wanted to do x, I decided to do x, x was done, therefore I must have done x." If I looked out my window and willed that the tree outside would be struck by lightening and burst into flames, and it happened, I would conclude that I caused it to happen (perhaps until I tested it further). This is the illusion of control, but it doesn't have to always be an illusion. If I choose to strike a key and then that key is struck, then it would be reasonable to assume that I caused that key to be struck.

Other features of consciousness that are proposed are subjectivity, change, continuity, selectivity, and some argue for intentionality (or aboutness). The first makes sense to me, I can't imagine what an objective consciousness would be like... perhaps an all-knowing and all-present consciousness which pervades everything in god-like fashion, but I also know that such a concept is irrelevant to me and this discussion in general. The others are a bit more vague in what they could mean. I'm not sure I could interpret what they're getting at without equivocating the terms.

I find myself thinking that perhaps we should focus on the hard problem. If the easy problems of consciousness can fit well enough with a mechanistic worldview, then science has no problem explaining things like the ability to discriminate, integrate information, report mental states, focus attention, etc. This suggests that as far as philosophy goes, we should focus on the problem of explaining how and why we have qualitative phenomenal experiences.

Various formulations of the "hard problem" (Ripped right from Wikipedia):

  • "Why should physical processing give rise to any inner life at all?"
  • "How is it that some organisms are subjects of experience?"
  • "Why does awareness of sensory information exist at all?"
  • "Why do qualia exist?"
  • "Why is there a subjective component to experience?"
  • "Why aren't we philosophical zombies?"


Jim B.
user 4260314
Arlington, TX
Post #: 322
For me, one of the interesting aspects of consciousness is that you cannot apply the reality/appearance distinction to it the way you can to just about everything else. This distinction is crucial to all observational/inductive thought. It's the foundation of science.

For instance, when color was first investigated scientifically, researchers started with experiences of various colors. But these experiences were relevant only in pointing them towards the physical properties of light, eyes and nervous systems causing these sensations. The experiences were then carved off as mere appearances that served only to point them toward the 'real' nature of color. Once they discovered the real physical underpinnings of color, the appearances were no longer important except as markers denoting certain physical properties. But when it comes to the actual experience of green, you can't carve anything off without losing the experience. There's nothing to carve off when you deal with the appearance itself.

This suggests that in its essence, it's likely that consciousness cannot be the object of scientific scrutiny or reduction. Of course, as you say, many or most of the causal properties attached to consciousness can and will be studied by neuroscience, psychology, etc. but that seems to be a different kettle of fish.

When you say that "consciousness may be an illusion," I think you are referring to some of its causal properties. For instance, consciousness seems to be about things, seems to refer to things external to it, things making up an extramental world. This pointing or reference may very well be an illusion, meaning that the things we assume it refers to may not at all be the case. It's certainly conceivable that we could be inside of a 'matrix,' or even that 'I' may be a brain in a vat experiencing my own private matrix. But even if this were true, we are still left with the 'seeming,' with the appearances, which as appearances have their own ontology and thus their own validity regardless of their causal relations to any reality independent of them. In other words, you cannot make the appearance/reality distinction when you're dealing with the appearances ( i.e. consciousness) themselves.

If I am driving in the desert and I see a mirage, I could mistake it for a body of water. Because of properties of light and atmospheric conditions, I could be fooled, the subject of an illusion. But the original phenomenon is not an illusion in the same way.

I realize that it goes deeper than this, that this 'seeming' is an elusive thing and may be subject to some kind of 'multiple drafts theory' like Dennett talks about and you touch on, but this may be the wrong level of analysis for capturing the seeming, which no matter how you slice it still seems to fall through the net of the reality/appearance distinction. It sounds unhelpful to talk about how something really seems to me as opposed to how it merely seems to seem.

For instance, if all of consciousness is an 'illusion,' then 'I' would be an illusion too, since I can't see how to tease apart "I" from my consciousness. But then the meaning of the word 'illusion' starts to pull apart, since the word depends not only on the reality/appearance distinction but also on a subject, or at least on something that the illusion is being perpetrated upon.

It could be that the individual self is ultimately unreal, as in the anatta of Buddhism and the jivatman of Hinduism, but that is a different kind of claim from the ones made by reductionists . For Hindus and Buddhists, the individual self is less than real and is resolved within a supersensible reality.

But assuming that there is a real world out there of some sort that corresponds more or less to our experience, then consciousness must serve some purpose. It must do some real work, in terms of decision and action. It just doesn't make any sense to me that it is only there to 'fool' us. Everything we know about natural selection points away from this conclusion. If strict necessitarian determinism were true, why would there be a need for anything other than neural events, which are all that's needed for discharging necessitation? And if consciousness as consciousness makes decision and action possible, or even contributes to it, then the causal nature of the world must be different from the 18th century mechanistic model.
Powered by mvnForum

People in this
Meetup are also in:

Sign up

Meetup members, Log in

By clicking "Sign up" or "Sign up using Facebook", you confirm that you accept our Terms of Service & Privacy Policy