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#159- Conscious A Conversation with Annaka Harris

 
Nhoj Morley
 
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Nhoj Morley
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06 June 2019 06:25
 

In this episode of the podcast, Sam Harris speaks with his wife Annaka about her new book, CONSCIOUS: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind.

#159- Conscious A Conversation with Annaka Harris


This thread is for listeners’ comments.

[ Edited: 08 June 2019 09:57 by Nhoj Morley]
 
 
mickleby
 
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06 June 2019 09:52
 

I think I’m lost right at the beginning. Thomas Nagel’s “what’s it like to be a bat?” Is there something extra here that needs to be explained, some hard problem? It seems this is simply taken as given. Why and how is “what it’s like to be” anything different than these other intuitions that are discussed and considered false?

I suspect the above paragraph is more than I can expect a satisfying response to. But at the risk of muddying the waters, it seems I am with Daniel Dennett here?

Oh, and also I totally don’t get how/why Dzogchen DOES NOT resolve this intuitions for Sam. It seems to do just this for me.

[ Edited: 06 June 2019 09:55 by mickleby]
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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06 June 2019 11:17
 
mickleby - 06 June 2019 09:52 AM

I think I’m lost right at the beginning. Thomas Nagel’s “what’s it like to be a bat?” Is there something extra here that needs to be explained, some hard problem? It seems this is simply taken as given. Why and how is “what it’s like to be” anything different than these other intuitions that are discussed and considered false?

I suspect the above paragraph is more than I can expect a satisfying response to. But at the risk of muddying the waters, it seems I am with Daniel Dennett here?

I think it’s a sort of “test” for the presence of consciousness in lieu of actually defining “consciousness.” If there’s “something it’s like to be X,” then X is conscious. If there’s nothing it’s like to be X, then X is not conscious. What is it like to be a computer, for example?

But I haven’t listened to the podcast yet, so I don’t know if that’s what they were getting at.

 
 
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06 June 2019 11:19
 

Do you practice “Dzogchen”? Do you know what it’s like to be “a witness without a self”?

[ Edited: 06 June 2019 11:22 by mickleby]
 
RedJamaX
 
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06 June 2019 14:48
 

“I think this is boring” .... That was hilarious!  Completely random and honest. 

I think the best thing about this podcast was listening to their interaction while KNOWING that they are married.  My wife and I are probably the best couple that I personally know… (note: this assessment includes several previous relationships that were very bad… and observing the large majority of relationships for everybody else we know… some are worse than others, a few a really good, but most are made up of two people who shouldn’t be together)...  And I would suggest that the “average” marriage would never be able to withstand ANY conversation at this length, on the same topic, and with such emotional composure, cooperation and understanding… especially at the points of disagreement.  I wish that everybody could experience this level of compatibility with the person they “choose” to be with.

On the subject matter….

Pan-psychism… I find this idea absurd.  There is a reason we use words to express concepts.  If we are going to say that “a subatomic particle interacting with another subatomic particle” is having… or qualifies as, an “experience”... then why the hell do we have words at all…  See that Tree?  It’s an experience… The Sun… It’s an Experience… Water - Experience…  you, me, passionate sex, or torturous murder… it’s all just “experience”.  In fact, I could have just re-written this paragraph as follows:  ExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperience ExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperience ExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperience ExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperience ExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperience ExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperience ExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperienceExperience
... There’s no difference!!
No… that’s absurd.  And it makes any concept of.. well.. “concepts”... completely useless.

I agree with Anaka on the idea of “Regret”.  I think that the perceived element of decision is required, other wise it’s more like “sorrow”.


Modified to restore thread readability-Nh

[ Edited: 06 June 2019 16:54 by Nhoj Morley]
 
mickleby
 
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06 June 2019 15:37
 

@RedJamaX so what is consciousness? Why do think you have it, precisely?

I wouldn’t say I have anything like a defensible theory but… It seems to me, consciousness can be nothing more than “brain resonance” perceived in “mirror neurons” and processed via “filters” (think audio processing filters)

I don’t see the NEED for a hard problem, no need for CONSCIOUSNESS per se it has been understood.

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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06 June 2019 16:27
 
mickleby - 06 June 2019 11:19 AM

Do you practice “Dzogchen”? Do you know what it’s like to be “a witness without a self”?

I do not, although I do meditate every day as an exercise in mental discipline. Frankly, I don’t believe it’s possible for there to be a “witness without a self,” or to “transcend the illusion of self.” I’m open to the claim that the “self” is an illusion, but I don’t think it’s possible to “transcend” it without “transcending” consciousness altogether. The two are inseparable in my opinion. “Nirvana”—sometimes described as “transcending the illusion of self”—then, is better described as the illusion of transcending the illusion of self. It’s just another placebo, like God. But placebos are known to be efficacious, so it doesn’t really matter if they’re only illusions.

My favorite definition of “consciousness” is: the process by which a model of reality (including the model of self) is constructed in the mind. This model constitutes everything of which we are “aware.” And while I can’t define “aware” without using the word “aware” (or some other synonym), I can think of examples that demonstrate the difference between “awareness” and “non-awareness.”

One example: you accidentally touch a hot stove and pull your hand away before you’re “aware” of the pain, or even of pulling your hand away. It takes a certain number of milliseconds to incorporate the pain (and your reflexive response to it) into the model of reality; hence the delay between the stimulus/response and your awareness of either.

Another example involves learning to touch-type. As you get better at it, it becomes “subconscious” (bypassing the model of reality) and you can do it without awareness of what your fingers are doing. “What is it like to touch type?” Generally, it’s like thinking whatever thoughts you’re transcribing, and not at all like thinking about each individual keystroke. Or maybe it’s like thinking about whatever document you’re transcribing. Or, if you’re really good at touch-typing, it’s like wool-gathering on some completely unrelated topic, since reading the document becomes just as subconscious as the typing.

But again, I really should listen to the podcast before I go shooting my mouth off here. (Too late for that, ha ha!)

 
 
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07 June 2019 07:20
 
mickleby - 06 June 2019 03:37 PM

@RedJamaX so what is consciousness? Why do think you have it, precisely?

@mickleby ... I think that I may have failed to clarify the point I was making.  I’m not specifying any particular parameters for the concept, or the definition of “consciousness”.  I’m simply saying that if we use a single concept to encapsulate almost anything…. then it becomes useless in terms of language and communication.

 
nonverbal
 
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07 June 2019 07:55
 
RedJamaX - 07 June 2019 07:20 AM
mickleby - 06 June 2019 03:37 PM

@RedJamaX so what is consciousness? Why do think you have it, precisely?

@mickleby ... I think that I may have failed to clarify the point I was making.  I’m not specifying any particular parameters for the concept, or the definition of “consciousness”.  I’m simply saying that if we use a single concept to encapsulate almost anything…. then it becomes useless in terms of language and communication.

I agree. I can live with consciousness being a shared commodity among all living things no matter how microscopic the critter, as long as it decreases in scope as the critter decreases in size, approximately. But to apply it to inorganic materials doesn’t make sense to me. I’m quite a bit shy of panpsychism. Maybe just shy.

 
mickleby
 
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07 June 2019 08:22
 

@nonverbal I’m fascinated by the breadth of intuition, here—and the distribution. Seems I’m an outlier on the “who needs ‘consciousness’?” extreme. And the meditation teachers are WAY over there on the “consciousness is self evident” end.

@RedJamaX actually I took your point. My reply was hoping to poke at the “consciousness is SO obvious it needs no motivating argument” aspect I seemed to read, from you, from Sam, et al.

 
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07 June 2019 17:32
 

Anaka explains why she resorts to panpsychism at about the 24:00 mark:

Anaka: So the argument about evolution is one that sends many people including myself down the path of, “Is it possible that consciousness is a fundamental feature of all matter, and it is there in some form . . .”

Sam: So let me just understand the move you just made. So the idea that consciousness may not be doing anything seems problematic if you think that consciousness had to have emerged in the process of evolution because by default we expect those things to have been costly [?] in some way and to have been selected for and therefore by definition they were leading to differential success in breeding and survival. So if consciousness isn’t doing any of that, that seems mysterious unless you posit that it is a far more fundamental feature of physical reality. And the name for that view . . . in philosophy is panpsychism.

There’s another possibility, though, that avoids the evolution argument without resorting to panpsychism. What if consciousness is learned? The human brain wasn’t “designed” (by evolution) for consciousness, it was “designed” to process the myriad stimuli and responses that characterize highly evolved social animals’ interactions with each other. At some point, when the brain became complex enough, it became capable of consciousness before humans learned to be conscious and self aware. Perhaps even long before.

Our brains haven’t changed physically for a hundred thousand years, but look at how little progress was made for the first ninety thousand of them. Maybe that was because it took a long time to accumulate and build on knowledge. But maybe humans didn’t learn consciousness, at least not widely, until fairly recently.

We also know that infants don’t become conscious right away. I think it takes something like six to eighteen months for them to exhibit signs of self awareness. Maybe consciousness is similar to puberty in that it’s something that happens automatically. But maybe it takes that long for infants to learn it.

If it’s true that humans existed with our present brains for tens of thousands of years without learning consciousness, then it seems to me that consciousness is something which, for most people, must be taught, and not something that can be discovered without a “teacher.” Babies learn to become conscious and self aware through their interaction with conscious and self aware others.

To see if this theory is correct, I propose an experiment: raise a baby without any exposure to conscious, self aware others. (There are examples of children raised by animals, but these accounts tend to be sensationalized and not worthy of serious consideration.) If the baby grows up without becoming self aware, then we’d know that consciousness is in fact learned.

And if it’s true that consciousness is learned, then it seems to me that like most things, there are better and worse ways to learn it—and to teach it. For example, maybe there’s a way to teach it so that people wouldn’t be as selfish and greedy as most of us are now.

 
 
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08 June 2019 06:02
 

I think that awareness is responsible for the false sense of free will and consciousness is the minds way of making that sensation local to the body at all times. Like nested illusions with a tape delay.

 
 
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08 June 2019 07:45
 
Jb8989 - 08 June 2019 06:02 AM

I think that awareness is responsible for the false sense of free will and consciousness is the minds way of making that sensation local to the body at all times. Like nested illusions with a tape delay.

Awareness of what?

 
 
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08 June 2019 12:57
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 07 June 2019 05:32 PM

Anaka explains why she resorts to panpsychism at about the 24:00 mark:

Anaka: So the argument about evolution is one that sends many people including myself down the path of, “Is it possible that consciousness is a fundamental feature of all matter, and it is there in some form . . .”

Sam: So let me just understand the move you just made. So the idea that consciousness may not be doing anything seems problematic if you think that consciousness had to have emerged in the process of evolution because by default we expect those things to have been costly [?] in some way and to have been selected for and therefore by definition they were leading to differential success in breeding and survival. So if consciousness isn’t doing any of that, that seems mysterious unless you posit that it is a far more fundamental feature of physical reality. And the name for that view . . . in philosophy is panpsychism.

There’s another possibility, though, that avoids the evolution argument without resorting to panpsychism. What if consciousness is learned? The human brain wasn’t “designed” (by evolution) for consciousness, it was “designed” to process the myriad stimuli and responses that characterize highly evolved social animals’ interactions with each other. At some point, when the brain became complex enough, it became capable of consciousness before humans learned to be conscious and self aware. Perhaps even long before.

Our brains haven’t changed physically for a hundred thousand years, but look at how little progress was made for the first ninety thousand of them. Maybe that was because it took a long time to accumulate and build on knowledge. But maybe humans didn’t learn consciousness, at least not widely, until fairly recently.

We also know that infants don’t become conscious right away. I think it takes something like six to eighteen months for them to exhibit signs of self awareness. Maybe consciousness is similar to puberty in that it’s something that happens automatically. But maybe it takes that long for infants to learn it.

If it’s true that humans existed with our present brains for tens of thousands of years without learning consciousness, then it seems to me that consciousness is something which, for most people, must be taught, and not something that can be discovered without a “teacher.” Babies learn to become conscious and self aware through their interaction with conscious and self aware others.

To see if this theory is correct, I propose an experiment: raise a baby without any exposure to conscious, self aware others. (There are examples of children raised by animals, but these accounts tend to be sensationalized and not worthy of serious consideration.) If the baby grows up without becoming self aware, then we’d know that consciousness is in fact learned.

And if it’s true that consciousness is learned, then it seems to me that like most things, there are better and worse ways to learn it—and to teach it. For example, maybe there’s a way to teach it so that people wouldn’t be as selfish and greedy as most of us are now.

Last time I saw a newborn baby, it was conscious, but I’m probably misremembering.

 
Nhoj Morley
 
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08 June 2019 22:04
 

That was off-beat and amusing though it often seemed like a strained re-enactment of conversations they have had before. I suspect she will be doing the rest of the promo circuit without a straight-man.

Pan-whachacallit is nothing to be ashamed of and there is no harm in being open to it. I was open to it. I like that there are so many ways to imagine it. Now I believe it is unnecessary because a simple non-zero-based physical-ist model can account for everything we experience without an in-draft of cosmic wakefulness. If one starts with an irreducible consciousness that can only play along with things we can never be conscious of, making it cover human experience is going to need some help or oomph from somewhere. It is natural to turn to the cosmic substrate’s side door for a cup of immaterial.

Maybe it takes a cosmic spark to make a nervous system feel what it is doing or maybe we feel the info processing go by. However that works, that first step is all that is needed to build the rest of the system without further ethereal interference consciousness and all.

I love the idea of an exorcism by The Boss and the Mrs. It would be FUN to see if they could drive trioon out of me like a bad spirit while I attempt to free them from the Cult of Zero. It is embarrassing how much I have strayed from the top management.

Maybe that’s why this forum has been stuffed in old trunk and buried deep in the forest.

 
 
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09 June 2019 08:28
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 08 June 2019 07:45 AM
Jb8989 - 08 June 2019 06:02 AM

I think that awareness is responsible for the false sense of free will and consciousness is the minds way of making that sensation local to the body at all times. Like nested illusions with a tape delay.

Awareness of what?

First your surroundings. Later we develop an awareness of a distinction between us and our environment, but I think that’s more so an aspect of macro conscious activity, which merges awareness with a sense of self, emotions, focus and memories etc. I’m not sure whether this means that our initial ability to be aware of what we’re observing gets more accurate, or just more attentive to self awareness being the dominant pipeline of information.

 
 
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