Sunday, June 28, 2009

I am not a selfplex

An old post I redated

In a previous post I had written:

"Now let's try a plain vanilla argument from consciousness.

1. Probably, if naturalism is true, there is no consciousness.
2. There is consciousness.
3. Threfore (probably) naturalism is false.

Now, on the face of things, it looks as if the naturalist can respond by denying 2. Ah yes, what you think of as consciousness really doesn't exist. Or perhaps they will give you a definition of consciousness which eliminates salient features of what we common-sensically think of as concsiousness, while retaining the name. I take it that's what's going on in Dennett's Conscoiusness Explained, and that is why some have suggested the title should have been Consciousness Explained Away."

Ahab on the Internet Infidels Discussion Board wrote: I don't quite understand why you think a naturalist would bother trying to deny #2. It is #1 which seems obviously flawed by its question-begging assumption that if naturalism were true there would be no such thing as consciousness.

Well, consider this from Susan Blackmore in The Meme Machine.

“each illusory self is a construct of the memetic world in which it successfully competes. Each selfplex gives rise to ordinary human consciousness based on the false idea that there is someone inside who is in charge."

or Pinker from "Is Science Killing the Soul?"

"There's considerable evidence that the unified self is a fiction--that the mind is a congeries of parts acting asynchronously, and that it only an illusion that there is a president in the Oval Office of the brain who oversees the activity of everything."

Now if I am right rational inference is an inference done by some person. The same person must have the thought "All men are mortal" that thinks "Socrates is a man" and "Socrates is mortal." When I think of consciousness I mean that there is an individual, unified person who is conscious, and to tell me that there is no unified person is to tell me, in effect, that there is no consciousness. And this kind of a denial of a unified consciousness, on my view, undermines the possibility of rational inference on which the natural sciences rest. No one could prove the Pythagorean Theorem if there were no president in the oval office making the rational inference.

This is why arguments from consciousness can be part of the argument from reason family; because denials of what I take consciousness to be, denials made by major league naturalistic scientists and philosophers, have disastrous epistemological implications.

23 comments:

Edward T. Babinski said...

No one knows what consciousness is. But one thing is for sure, supernaturalists continue to retreat behind the things we know the least about. A while back the retreating maginot line was held at memory. How could a hunk of mere grey matter store events and ideas? (For that matter, people used to think that the chemicals made by our bodies were forged via some sort of miracles inside us and could never be created in the lab, until a chemist made urea in his lab, thus the science of "organic" chemistry was born. They even thought photosynthesis was a miracle too, for how could a plant turn light into life? The same goes for respiration, how does an animal turn air into life? And now of course Vic, you raise the question of how a hunk of grey matter featuring electro-chemical energy can be equated with consciousness.

Well, we know that we each are only truly "conscious" of relatively little that happens around us. Consciousness is a mere sliver of what the brain/mind is doing at any one time (experiments have demonstrate this sieve-like effect--this filtering of data, only letting a tiny trickle be noted by our consciousness each second--going on all the time, quite unconsciously), so the brain/mind screens all incoming data, sorting through the irrelevant, focusing on particular things as based on past lifetimes of experience, and relegating the vast majority of the rest to something of which we are unconscious. In fact most of what goes on inside our brain/minds is unconscious, and handled in unknown ways. That's the mystery, that's the problem. Vic, you seem to want to jump to the solution, the supernatural solution, always jumping the gun.

But consider this, even our philosphical opinions (no matter how different such opinions may be between two people), once formed, continue spewing forth from each person with the same regularity as one's physical muscles move in unison with one another when riding a bicycle, all pretty unconscious and seemingly decisive to us, while the other person just "isn't thinking." Ha!

So you see we each lose the ability after a while to see things as others do, we grow unconconsciously set in our ways of seeing things.

Words also are tricky things, and help us to trick ourselves into thinking we know more than we do. We imagine for instance, that one word sums up "consciousness," but that words tells us precious little ABOUT "consciousness," "unconsciousness," the "brain/mind," etc. Yet philosophers such as yourself simply toss up that word and expect it to be a "challenge" to other people's philosophies.

I would say that "consciousness" simply remains unexplained. I would not say with you that citing "consciousness" is proof of anything more than our ignorance of all the things that that word represents. Where you see a "philosophical gauntlet" to be thrown down I see a couple of centuries of iteresting scientific research ahead.

WHY EVEN TRY to speak definitively and invent arguments to end all argments over a subject about which so little is presently known? The brain is what? It's a three pound piece of grey matter, and it takes decades to fill it with enough information such that the brain/mind demonstrates high intelligence, and during those decades it gets stuffed with sensations, experiences, encounters, ideas, colors, sights, sounds, all stored in that tiny 3-pound organ.

Do you know how much information that is, and how much mapping of the most minute type would have to take place of each square micro-centimeter of the brain before we could begin to glimpse how it stores all of that and how it works in unision, all the parts together? IT'S WE ARE STONE AGE HUMAN BEINGS BEING HANDED A 200 GIG HARD DRIVE, yet we are expected to have the technology and insight to figure out how that tiny hand held drive stores, say, a 3-D multi-lingual Encyclopedia of Art and Architecture, Music and Entertainment that can be held in the palm of your hand. That's where we are in relative terms of our present ignorance.

There are even some philiosophers who argue it may be impossible to explain the brain/mind in terms that the brain/mind itself could understand. Kind of like trying to lift yourself by your own bootstraps, or in this case "brainstraps." Do we know that's even possible? Maybe to a degree it is, just like we can figure out some things about sub-atomic particles and how they work. But we actually only "know" how such things work via a page of mathematical equations and super-collider experiments, which isn't really the same as actually being a sub-atomic particle or being able to interact with it like we interact with say, another human being or a work of art.

Likewise, you could explain colors to a person born blind. But they can't "see" colors, and would even find it hard to imagine distinctinos between them. Likewise if the conscious brain/mind was fully reduced to mathematical figures and experimental results, it's essence might remain just as inexplicable, like a happy circumstance no one could have ever dreamed of occurring, yet it does to those who actually have brain/minds and are able to see the cosmos via them.

So in the end "consciousness" might be able to be depicted via an incredibly complex series of inter-looping equations, incredibly complex feedback loops and reactions and counter reactions, at least on paper. But even then, to some folks like Lewis and yourself, they may decry such knowledge as just a bunch of figures on paper, just a bunch of experimental results. You might even continue to insist that your consciousness is supernatural, or that your will must be free, because you feel it, or imagine that your use of language proves it. But then I would ask, how "free" were you when your brain/mind was first born and began absorbing the world around you. Were you "free" to learn any language YOU "chose?" "Free" to believe just ANYTHING you wanted to? Obviously not.

Interestingly, there are Christian philosophers who agree that brain/mind monism could very well be true. So Christians who are scientists disagree on whether supernaturalist dualism or monism best explains the brain/mind. So Christian philosophers already HAVE both bases covered, both monism and dualism. Neither can these Christian philosophers convert each other away from their rival suspicions as to the answer to the brain/mind question, certainly NOT BY PHILOSOPHY ALONE.

In lieu of previous developments in science, I think it best to remain patient. After all, there are Christian men of science today who STILL CONTEST HELIOCENTRISM, THE GEOLOGICAL AGE OF THE EARTH, THE AGE OF THE COSMOS. So do you honestly think we live in a particularly enlightened age, and already know all there is to know about the brain/mind, and that philosphy can now decide matters? Pshaw.

Edward T. Babinski said...

LATEST BRAIN-MIND NEWS!

[Vic, This is what I'm talking about, headlines and brief descriptions from New Scientist and Science Daily, below]


Essay: Brains wide shut?
Our best hope of understanding human consciousness is to wait for neuroscience to come of age, says neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland
30 April 2005 From New
Scientist magazine issue 2497


Metaphor-processing area of the brain identified
A study of mentally lucid patients with brain damage to the left angular gyrus found they could not understand the metaphorical side of proverbs
16 April 2005 From magazine issue 2495


Researchers One Step Closer To Holy Grail Of Neurobiology (August 15, 2003) — For scientists in the field of neurobiology, defining the factors that influence the arousal of brain and behavior is a "Holy Grail." Research published by Rockefeller University scientists in the Aug. 11 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition are the first to give a rigorous definition of what is meant by arousal, considered to be at the base of all emotionally laden behaviors. > full story


Early Learning Leaves Lasting Changes In Brain, Stanford Owl Study Shows (December 20, 2004) — Educational Christmas toys can leave a mark on more than just your checkbook - they can also leave a permanent imprint on a child's brain. That's according to a Stanford University School of Medicine study in owls showing that early learning experiences forever change the brain's structure. > full story


Scientists Uncover How Brain Retrieves And Stores Older Memories (May 7, 2004) — Scientists at The Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) and UCLA have pinpointed for the first time a region of the brain responsible for storing and retrieving distant memories.


First View Of Many Neurons Processing Information In Living Brain (January 28, 2005) — Harvard Medical School researchers have applied a new microscopy technique in a living animal brain that for the first time reveals highly sophisticated time-lapse images of many neurons coordinating to produce complex patterns of activity. The approach will open up new avenues for analyzing neurodegenerative diseases and other aspects of the brain. > full story


New Technique Scans Electrical 'Brainscape' (December 10, 2004) — Using hairlike microelectrodes and computer analysis, neurobiologists at Duke University Medical Center have demonstrated that they can see the detailed instant-to-instant electrical "brainscape" of neural activity across a living brain. > full story


Researchers Pinpoint Brain Areas That Process Reality, Illusion (February 11, 2004) — A new collaborative study involving a biomedical engineer at Washington University in St. Louis shows that sometimes you can't believe anything that you see. The researchers have identified areas of the brain where what we're actually doing (reality) and what we think we're doing (illusion, or perception) are processed. > full story


Learning And Skilled Performance Use Different Brain Circuits (October 6, 1998) — The parts of the brain that enable you to do a familiar task are different from those that learn that task, a new study confirms. > full story


Salk Researcher Provides New View On How The Brain Functions (October 2, 2003) — Scientists are developing a new paradigm for how the brain functions. They propose that the brain is not a huge fixed network, as had been previously thought, but a dynamic, changing network that adapts continuously to meet the demands of communication and computational needs. > full story


Study Provides New Insights About Brain Organization (February 20, 2004) — New evidence in animals suggests that theories about how the brain processes sight, sound and touch may need updating. Researchers from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and colleagues report their findings in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. > full story

Dave said...

Ed, what's the point? Is Prof. Reppert's argument valid or not?

Brandon said...

Ed,

Going off topic...

It is difficult to discuss the merits of dualism and physicalism if there is no agreement on the definition of conciousness.

But if concsiousness is physical then I think we might agree it is the sort of thing that could be represented algorithmically. So, while the mechanisms that allow for such an algorithm or matrix of algorithms may be enigmatic and far beyond our present ability to understand, and while the algorithms as such may be complex, I can think of no reason why they could not be represented logically on paper today.

If this cannot be done now physicalism would have extraordinary difficulty remaining viable.

As I see it some chief obstacles to overcome in such an equation would be choice and motivation. I would sincerely like to see the outcome of such an effort.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Dave,
I have pointed out to Vic in the past that his argument proves nothing. He has already proven his argument to himself simply via his assumptions. I have also argued that philosophy should wait on science in this area. Philosophy nor science has examined matters and refined
definitions enough in this area.

Let me ask again, how "free" were you when your brain/mind was first born and began absorbing the world around you? Were you "free" to learn any language YOU "chose?" "Free" to believe just ANYTHING you wanted to?

As for Brandon's suggestion to list the algorithms of consciousness, I don't think it's quite possible to do that as of yet. Though I have read elsewhere that if a group of cyberntic engineers simply wrote down enough commonsense formulas about how things act in the world around us, they could eventually create (after several decades of such code writing) a machine that certainly acted as though it had consciousness.

Dave said...

Ed,

I understand that you disagree with the argument, but what reason can you give to think that consciousness does not exist? Since the existence of consciousness is the minor premise of the argument, a good reason to think that consciousness is non-existent would surely undermine it. Yet nothing you have said seems to be an argument that it doesn't exist.

You suggest that philosophy should wait on science in this arena. I think VR's post contained a germ of a response to your suggestion: "And this kind of a denial of a unified consciousness, on my view, undermines the possibility of rational inference on which the natural sciences rest."

It seems to me that there are many things, many truths, that we cannot and need not wait for the final word, if such a thing exists, from science on before we can accept and act on them. Among those things are the existence and nature of rational inference and of consciousness. It does not matter what science says about these matters now or what it will say half-a-century in the future. The fact is that I am conscious and I know this immediately, and I do make inferences, and I know this immediately. Even granting that science may some day tell me that these things have a material basis, it still is true that I am conscious and that I make rational inferences.

Critics cannot refute this argument by saying that science may one day solve the mystery of consciousness and other mental operations and show that our common-sense beliefs about them are wrong. The reason is that that is a prediction, not an argument. Even if one could incorporate the prediction into an argument, we would still not be in a position to evaluate it. Predictions have an unfortunate tendency to be wrong at times. We would have to wait for the prediction to become true (or not) before we could accept or reject the argument.

Stunney said...

Even if science eventually solves the hard problem of consciousness, as things currently stand it may well be rationally warranted to believe (in 2007) that naturalism is false given the existence and nature of consciousness.

I think, though, that the argument from consciousness works against materialism rather than naturalism. Chalmers himself is a naturalist--he just thinks that nature isn't purely material.

Anonymous said...

VR wrote: "denials of what I take consciousness to be ... have disastrous epistemological implications"

Victor, for the sake of clarification, could you please define exactly what _you_ mean by "consciousness". In particular: Are animals conscious? If so, which species? Are unconscious, comatose or brain-dead people conscious? Is there a test for consciousness? If not, why do we believe that other people are conscious? (As I presume you do.)

Apologies if any or all of this has already been covered in other posts.

mattghg said...

a

mattghg said...

Oops.

I think there's some mileage in the thought that consciousness isn't just another scientific problem, but rather the means by which all others have already been solved. Intuitively, it seems funny to think that we could explain away our ability to explain things at all, as it were. As far as I know, (other) animals don't solve scientific problems; and they certainly don't have these sorts of discussions!

Anonymous said...

"As far as I know, (other) animals don't solve scientific problems"

It all depends what your definition of a "scientific" problem is, I suppose. There have been many documented observations of problem-solving by primates, starting from Wolfgang Kohler's pioneering 1917 study "The Mentality of Apes".

Probably the most famous example of primate problem-solving was observed on Koshima Island in 1953, when a 4 year-old Japanese macaque named Imo discovered how to separate wheat grains that had been thoroughly mixed with beach sand.[1] For anyone who has not heard of this case, I will leave you to ponder what Imo's solution to this not-entirely-trivial problem was.

Now, it has been suggested that Imo made her discovery purely by accident, but the same could be said of many scientific discoveries.

[1] Kawai, M. (1965). Newly-acquired pre-cultural behavior of the natural troop of Japanese monkeys on Koshima Islet. Primates, 6, 1-30.

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

I've seen a cat use scientific method -- in fact, I blogged about it recently (http://sturgeonslawyer.livejournal.com/201508.html)

At any rate, anyone who thinks that there is a unified thing called "consciousness" has my respect and admiration. What passes for consciousness in my head is constantly in conflict with itself, and so I cannot believe it is a unity.

Victor Reppert said...

Sturgeon's Lawyer: At any rate, anyone who thinks that there is a unified thing called "consciousness" has my respect and admiration. What passes for consciousness in my head is constantly in conflict with itself, and so I cannot believe it is a unity.

VR: So when you draw a rational inference like

1. All men are mortal.
2. Socrates is a man.
Therefore Socrates is mortal.

there are just three unconnected thoughts, and no one thing that ties them together?

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

VR: So when you draw a rational inference like

1. All men are mortal.
2. Socrates is a man.
Therefore Socrates is mortal.

there are just three unconnected thoughts, and no one thing that ties them together?


No. But there is nothing, as far as I can tell, that ties them to my awareness of the itch in my foot, the ache behind my eyeballs from sleeping poorly, the smell of bacon from the cafeteria down the hall, the tune playing incessantly in my head, or the feel of the keyboard under my fingers.

Each of these seems to be an independent process, as is the rational process that considers the syllogism.

The massive thing called "my consciousness" comprises all these, and much more.

The problem with your question is that it tries to limit "consciousness" to a single thread of rational thought. Though it performs rational thought, "my consciousness" comprises much more than rational thought.

Ilíon said...

This is why all the "but an 'atheist' need not believe that" or "but So-and-So, who is an 'atheist,' does not believe that" objections are red herrings.

The point is not what this or that 'atheist' believes; the point is the logical entailments of atheism (and of which no one appears capable of actually believing).

===
[this post brought to you by "unescab"]

Clayton said...

"Now if I am right rational inference is an inference done by some person. The same person must have the thought "All men are mortal" that thinks "Socrates is a man" and "Socrates is mortal." When I think of consciousness I mean that there is an individual, unified person who is conscious, and to tell me that there is no unified person is to tell me, in effect, that there is no consciousness. And this kind of a denial of a unified consciousness, on my view, undermines the possibility of rational inference on which the natural sciences rest. No one could prove the Pythagorean Theorem if there were no president in the oval office making the rational inference."

One obstacle that you face is that you have to avoid committing a fallacy of equivocation. Hume thought that there was a sense in which there was no self, but he didn't seem to think that it was false that there were persons who drew inferences. I don't see much in the text that suggests that these authors are committing themselves to much more than the sort of thing Hume might have said. Then again, if they are, their view might be versions of naturalism without being commitments of naturalism.

Anonymous said...

Or maybe they're the only consistent "naturalists". Or maybe "naturalism" is absurd when one gets right down it.

Why limit our options?

Victor Reppert said...

Hume didn't draw the logical conclusion that there is no person that draws inferences, but if there is no self, then there is no self that draws inferences. If I am not, I do not think.

Genius said...

If one has a world view that involves naturalism then you will probably not find that naturalism makes conciousness (by your definition) unlikely.

If you have a world view that excludes naturalism it is likely that it will seem to undermine naturalism.

Anyway maybe the argument needs to be refined since I am actually not sure that naturalism being false makes 'conciousness' probable.

Clayton said...

"if there is no self, then there is no self that draws inferences. If I am not, I do not think."

Agreed to both points. Both conditionals are tautologies. But, you've said nothing about the relationship between the self, a person, and the referent of 'I'. That's why I think that the first response should be--show me that this isn't an equivocation. I take it that many, many philosophers will say that they believe in persons, that persons are the referent of 'I', but deny that there is a self in your sense.

Victor Reppert said...

Subjectivity cannot be a basic property of anything, in a naturalistic view. Whatever there is can be described from a third-person point of view.

The statements "I am in pain" and "Victor Reppert is in pain" are different statements, even if I am Victor Reppert. This is a truth that the naturalist cannot capture.

Victor Reppert said...

In order for rational inference to exists, there has to be a metaphysically real thinking subject, a single entity that perceives the content of the premses, perceives the logical relation between the premises and the conclusion, and the preceives the conclusion. The concept of a thinking subject is, to my mind, univocal. It is either there or it isn't.

You can say "ah, but computers draw inferences, and they are just a bucket of bolts." No, they don't. They don't percieve contents. They just act as if they perceive contents, because they are designed to do so.

Ilíon said...

Computers "act as if they perceive contents" in exactly the same manner that a game of Mouse Trap acts as if it perceives contents, or as an abacus acts as if it perceives contents: a mechanism built to "track" the movement of electrons is not different in kind from a mechanism built to "track" the movement of clumps of molecules.