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ON THE QUESTION OF CONSCIOUSNESS

 
johnrobert
 
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johnrobert
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25 January 2008 14:13
 

When a dog sees himself in a mirror, he barks and may look behind the mirror. When a chimpanzee sees himself, he may, at first think the same thing. However, after pondering a few minutes, he usually comes to the conclusion that this abstraction is somehow himself. Although he may come to a subtle understanding of this anomaly, it is not the same as full human consciousness.

Almost by definition, all creatures on earth are conscious and aware to a degree. This has developed to help them survive by assisting in the finding of food, a mate, and avoiding danger. However, of all the creatures on earth, only humans are thought to have the ability of being aware of being aware. The uniqueness of this enhanced consciousness is our ultimate gift and our greatest capability. We alone, by contemplating not just awareness, but the awareness of it, opens the door for us to investigate a vision of our reality not available to lesser developed life forms.

The remarkable phenomenon of our ability to be occasionally conscious of our consciousness presents us with an amusing as well as a perplexing question. If one of you is looking at the other of you, then, it would seem, there evidently must be two of you: one to do the looking while the other is being looked at. A Looker and Lookee.

A very appealing interpretation of this perception is that of an ever lingering, hidden in the shadows, kind of inner-self. It is most tempting to conclude that awareness and observation of this ‘extra’ self, is direct evidence of the existence of an entity, separate from me, my conscious me. Doubtless, many through out history have made the leap that this additional entity must be no other than an immortal soul. Could not these concepts be at the core of theories regarding a second self that lives after death and/or is reincarnated?

Hopefully, most modern, objective-minded persons of intelligence will tell you this ‘second entity’ concept is pure nonsense. Awareness of our own consciousness is remarkable, marvelous, laughable, or just plain scary depending on the sophistication of your viewpoint. It provides the basis for great poetry and fabulous fiction, but very poor science. That is not a supernatural you are looking at. It is only you reflecting back on yourself. It is directly analogous to the dog barking at the dog in the mirror. This time it is a reflection in the mirror of your very own consciousness.

By further development of awareness, humans can hope to achieve their ultimate purpose. It is the ultimate tool, with which to obtain a larger view and understanding of our world. It is the one evolutionary advantage humans have that can be used to move us in a direction away from our present mesmerized and dreamy mental state and toward one where one is fully awake and reality is taken at face value without being seen with a wishful face on it.

Or so it seems to me.                      johnrobert

 
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25 January 2008 14:59
 
johnrobert - 25 January 2008 07:13 PM

By further development of awareness, humans can hope to achieve their ultimate purpose. It is the ultimate tool, with which to obtain a larger view and understanding of our world. It is the one evolutionary advantage humans have that can be used to move us in a direction away from our present mesmerized and dreamy mental state and toward one where one is fully awake and reality is taken at face value without being seen with a wishful face on it.

Ooops. JR says we have an “ultimate purpose.” (To be distinguished from Steve Martin’s “special purpose” in the Jerk - I’m not jerking with that kind of special purpose). This means that evolution has an “ultimate purpose.” This means that there is a “will” someplace in there, since only a will can give rise to an “ultimate purpose.” This means that evolution comes from a “person,” since only persons have “wills.” This means that a very powerful and intelligent person with a will is responsible for evolution and us and everything else. This means that G…....  Oh, sorry, I got carried away. Never mind.

 
Jehu
 
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25 January 2008 15:16
 

John,

An interesting supposition, but what if you are wrong? What if there is a self beyond that which we generally hold to be our self; that is to say, our physical bodies, personal preferences, private concepts, habitual patterns of behavior, and the like? Sam Harris says that we must not hold to any belief which is based upon blind faith, and I would think that this must apply to the sciences as well; for the sciences are based upon the belief that there is an ‘objective reality’, the elements of which are space, time, matter, energy and motion. The fact is, however, that these elements have never be logically demonstrated, but are merely accepted as being ‘self-evident’; by I think the term ‘apparent’ would be more fitting.

Now, according to the scientific view, I (my self) exist now, but did not exist in the past, and will not exist in the future; and so it may be said that, scientifically speaking, there is both existence and non-existence. But I say that this cannot be, for to say that anything does not exist is to violate the law of contradiction, one of the three laws that govern rational thought. Further, if you are willing to enquire with me, I will logically demonstrate that there is indeed a self that transcends the self of everyday consciousness.

 
 
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25 January 2008 15:28
 
Jehu - 25 January 2008 08:16 PM

Further, if you are willing to enquire with me, I will logically demonstrate that there is indeed a self that transcends the self of everyday consciousness.

Well, Jehu, are you willing to drive your chariot as furiously as your OT namesake, and to cast Jezebel down from her lofty perch?  I, for one, would like to see your argument, and then I would like to see Waltercat’s response. I hope that you win, but you’d better be real good.

 
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25 January 2008 18:05
 

[quote author=“Bruce Burleson” date=“1201321705]Well, Jehu, are you willing to drive your chariot as furiously as your OT namesake, and to cast Jezebel down from her lofty perch?  I, for one, would like to see your argument, and then I would like to see Waltercat’s response. I hope that you win, but you’d better be real good.

First, let me say that philosophy, so far as I am aware, is not a blood sport, nor even a contest, it is simply the pursuit of truth; and I have no wish to become embroiled in contentious arguments that ultimately lead nowhere; save to the aggrandizement of egos. I simply wish to get to the matter of things, and I believe, as I hope you do, that a rational enquiry is the only way to proceed.

However, if you are earnest, I will begin our enquiry where every metaphysical enquiry must begin – with the concept of ‘being’.  Further, I will proceed strictly in accord with the three laws of thought:

Law of Identity: everything is the same with itself, but different from another.
Law of Contradiction: a thing cannot, at the same time, both be and not be.
Law of Excluded Middle: everything must either be or not be.

P1   That which is ‘is’, and that which is not ‘is not’. [law of identity]
P2   We cannot rightfully say that that which ‘is not’ ‘is’. [law of contradiction]
C1   Therefore, there is only that which is, and naught else.

As there is only being (that which is), we must set aside the terms ‘non-being’ and ‘non-existence’, for they signify nothing, and every meaningful term must have a referent, be that referent real or not real.

Would you agree thus far?

 
 
Traces Elk
 
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26 January 2008 07:26
 

If you mooks want to pursue the study of consciousness, all I can say is:

“Knock yourselves out”. Once you wake up again, you will know what consciousness “is”.

But you won’t know what it “is not”.


tongue laugh

 
 
Aaron
 
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26 January 2008 07:34
 
Bruce Burleson - 25 January 2008 07:59 PM
johnrobert - 25 January 2008 07:13 PM

By further development of awareness, humans can hope to achieve their ultimate purpose. It is the ultimate tool, with which to obtain a larger view and understanding of our world. It is the one evolutionary advantage humans have that can be used to move us in a direction away from our present mesmerized and dreamy mental state and toward one where one is fully awake and reality is taken at face value without being seen with a wishful face on it.

Ooops. JR says we have an “ultimate purpose.” (To be distinguished from Steve Martin’s “special purpose” in the Jerk - I’m not jerking with that kind of special purpose). This means that evolution has an “ultimate purpose.” This means that there is a “will” someplace in there, since only a will can give rise to an “ultimate purpose.” This means that evolution comes from a “person,” since only persons have “wills.” This means that a very powerful and intelligent person with a will is responsible for evolution and us and everything else. This means that G…....  Oh, sorry, I got carried away. Never mind.

I think there’s a little misinterpretation going on here.

 
 
SkepticX
 
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26 January 2008 08:29
 
Bruce Burleson - 25 January 2008 07:59 PM

Ooops. JR says we have an “ultimate purpose.”

Quite right. If we were to change that to “ultimate potential” however, the problems go away, though the odds aren’t low that the term “ultimate” may prove to be laden with a problematic degree of baggage. I’d simply avoid such baggage-laden terms, personally ... of course I’m not trying to solve the answer to life, the universe and everything in 42 easy steps.


[quote author=“Bruce Burleson”]This means that there is a “will” someplace in there, since only a will can give rise to an “ultimate purpose.”

That still leaves the problem of what’s ultimate about it. With will we can decide on a purpose, but actually it seems an “ultimate” purpose would transcend individual will rather than to depend upon it.

Byron

 
 
mcalpine
 
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26 January 2008 10:09
 

“By further development of awareness, humans can hope to achieve their ultimate purpose. It is the ultimate tool, with which to obtain a larger view and understanding of our world. It is the one evolutionary advantage humans have that can be used to move us in a direction away from our present mesmerized and dreamy mental state and toward one where one is fully awake and reality is taken at face value without being seen with a wishful face on it.”

So “reality” is: humans evolved with the purpose of finding out everything there is to know. The hurdle to get over, though, is trying to understand oneself. Oooooooooooookay.

 
eucaryote
 
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26 January 2008 13:34
 
Salt Creek - 26 January 2008 12:26 PM

If you mooks want to pursue the study of consciousness…..

Mooks?!

This forum has been all over consciousness issues, but I appreciate jr’s interest. I suggest that he research the past posts of some of the respondents to his original post. It’s interesting to note how sensitive many of us are to some red flags, like the implication of intent on the part of evolution.

With consciousness, Dennett makes the most sense to me. The kind of consciousness that most of us think to “exist”, like the idea of evolutionary intent, it simply doesn’t, (exist).

I have recently read most a book, “How many people are there in my head and hers?” by Jonathan Edwards. His hypothesis is most interesting to me. Those who have read some of my posts on this subject have found me in favor of the “slime mold” peception of consciousness. Edwards advances a “single cell consciousness” model which resonates with my perceptions of self as what is really an evolving colony of cells, a relatively blind, evolving colony.


Edward notes….

“Late in the genesis of this viewpoint I received a timely prompt from Paul Marshall to read Chapter VI of William James’s Principles of Psychology (1890). Not only did I find James discussing cellular consciousness, or polyzoism, but considering it the only explanation which is not self-contradictory.”

Thus there is nothing “meta-physical” with this approach. After leading the reader on an organic “search for consciousness” in the body or the brain, he develops a concept in which individual cells are individually aware, (often of different things in different ways), but are simultaneously unaware of each others awareness. This just as we are unaware of each others awareness. This accounts for the extraordinary behavior of individual cells that seem to act with awareness and intent.
Edwards also invokes the wave nature of matter and discusses the double slit experiment so as to demonstrate the idea that waves simultaneously contain the information from the present and the past and makes all the information available to the entire organism simultaneously. He suggests that waves interact with cell membranes in complex ways. He uses an analogy of awareness in an organism as a “ringing bell”. It’s like various organisms and the cells that make up the organism develop sense apparatus that allows the environment to “ring our bells” in different ways. The awareness of whales and bats must certainly be different from ours. What we see is a function of how we are built.
This approach seems perfectly compatible from an evolutionary perspective where we see that life has evolved from single cells to colonies of cells and “grew” through natural selection to to adapt to different features of our environment. And all this happened without intent.

Apparently William James went on to reject this idea, but I think maybe he had it right the first time.
http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~regfjxe/awnew.htm
http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~regfjxe/aw.htm

 
 
waltercat
 
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26 January 2008 14:26
 
Jehu - 25 January 2008 11:05 PM

[quote author=“Bruce Burleson” date=“1201321705]Well, Jehu, are you willing to drive your chariot as furiously as your OT namesake, and to cast Jezebel down from her lofty perch?  I, for one, would like to see your argument, and then I would like to see Waltercat’s response. I hope that you win, but you’d better be real good.

First, let me say that philosophy, so far as I am aware, is not a blood sport, nor even a contest, it is simply the pursuit of truth; and I have no wish to become embroiled in contentious arguments that ultimately lead nowhere; save to the aggrandizement of egos. I simply wish to get to the matter of things, and I believe, as I hope you do, that a rational enquiry is the only way to proceed.

However, if you are earnest, I will begin our enquiry where every metaphysical enquiry must begin – with the concept of ‘being’.  Further, I will proceed strictly in accord with the three laws of thought:

Law of Identity: everything is the same with itself, but different from another.
Law of Contradiction: a thing cannot, at the same time, both be and not be.
Law of Excluded Middle: everything must either be or not be.

P1   That which is ‘is’, and that which is not ‘is not’. [law of identity]
P2   We cannot rightfully say that that which ‘is not’ ‘is’. [law of contradiction]
C1   Therefore, there is only that which is, and naught else.

As there is only being (that which is), we must set aside the terms ‘non-being’ and ‘non-existence’, for they signify nothing, and every meaningful term must have a referent, be that referent real or not real.

Your conclusion, “There is only that which is and naught else” does not imply the further conclusion, which you draw, “We must set aside the terms ‘non-being’ and ‘non-existence’ for the signify nothing.”

To say that there is only that which is is just to say that only things that exist are.  Which just amounts to the tautologous, “Only that which exists exists.”  But that does not tell us anything about the aplicability of terms like “non-existence.”

Normally, when we say that some thing does not exist, what we mean is that there is no such thing as . . . .  And we fill in the blank with a description.  Thus, what is meant is that there is no entity that fits the description.  And it is thus perfectly meaningful to speak of the non-existent:  The Non-existent are those things that do not exist, i.e., to speak of the the non-existent is to speak of those descriptions which are not satisfied.

Further, it is not the case that every meaningful term must have a referent. Here is a counter-example:

The present king of France.

This expression does not have a referent; but it is perfectly meaningful.  And what that means is that it is description; but the description is not true of any actual thing.  We understand the description and we know that there is no thing in the world of which the description is true.  So, the expression is meaningful but it lacks a referent

 
 
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26 January 2008 18:17
 

[quote author=“Jehu”]First, let me say that philosophy, so far as I am aware, is not a blood sport

You may find that it is around here.

[quote author=“Jehu”]

P1   That which is ‘is’, and that which is not ‘is not’. [law of identity]
P2   We cannot rightfully say that that which ‘is not’ ‘is’. [law of contradiction]
C1   Therefore, there is only that which is, and naught else.

As there is only being (that which is), we must set aside the terms ‘non-being’ and ‘non-existence’, for they signify nothing, and every meaningful term must have a referent, be that referent real or not real.

Would you agree thus far?

Yes. Next installment, please.

 
eucaryote
 
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26 January 2008 18:26
 

[quote author=“waltercat”]
Normally, when we say that some thing does not exist, what we mean is that there is no such thing as . . . .  And we fill in the blank with a description.  Thus, what is meant is that there is no entity that fits the description.  And it is thus perfectly meaningful to speak of the non-existent:  The Non-existent are those things that do not exist, i.e., to speak of the the non-existent is to speak of those descriptions which are not satisfied.

This is all perfectly circular non-sense to me. Part of our problem is imagining or speaking of some “thing” that is not apparent in reality. This is what opens the door to god along with a lot of other crazy notions that are equally unfounded.

 
 
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26 January 2008 22:19
 
Jehu - 25 January 2008 11:05 PM

[quote author=“Bruce Burleson” date=“1201321705]Well, Jehu, are you willing to drive your chariot as furiously as your OT namesake, and to cast Jezebel down from her lofty perch?  I, for one, would like to see your argument, and then I would like to see Waltercat’s response. I hope that you win, but you’d better be real good.

First, let me say that philosophy, so far as I am aware, is not a blood sport, nor even a contest, it is simply the pursuit of truth; and I have no wish to become embroiled in contentious arguments that ultimately lead nowhere; save to the aggrandizement of egos. I simply wish to get to the matter of things, and I believe, as I hope you do, that a rational enquiry is the only way to proceed.

However, if you are earnest, I will begin our enquiry where every metaphysical enquiry must begin – with the concept of ‘being’.  Further, I will proceed strictly in accord with the three laws of thought:

Law of Identity: everything is the same with itself, but different from another.
Law of Contradiction: a thing cannot, at the same time, both be and not be.
Law of Excluded Middle: everything must either be or not be.

P1   That which is ‘is’, and that which is not ‘is not’. [law of identity]
P2   We cannot rightfully say that that which ‘is not’ ‘is’. [law of contradiction]
C1   Therefore, there is only that which is, and naught else.

As there is only being (that which is), we must set aside the terms ‘non-being’ and ‘non-existence’, for they signify nothing, and every meaningful term must have a referent, be that referent real or not real.

Would you agree thus far?

Jehu, have you been reading Parminides?

Before continuing this line of argument I suggest that all who would participate get hold of the Encyclopedia of Philosophy and read the entry on Nothing.

 
Jehu
 
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27 January 2008 14:08
 
waltercat - 26 January 2008 07:26 PM

Your conclusion, “There is only that which is and naught else” does not imply the further conclusion, which you draw, “We must set aside the terms ‘non-being’ and ‘non-existence’ for the signify nothing.”

To say that there is only that which is is just to say that only things that exist are.  Which just amounts to the tautologous, “Only that which exists exists.”  But that does not tell us anything about the aplicability of terms like “non-existence.”

Normally, when we say that some thing does not exist, what we mean is that there is no such thing as . . . .  And we fill in the blank with a description.  Thus, what is meant is that there is no entity that fits the description.  And it is thus perfectly meaningful to speak of the non-existent:  The Non-existent are those things that do not exist, i.e., to speak of the the non-existent is to speak of those descriptions which are not satisfied.

Further, it is not the case that every meaningful term must have a referent. Here is a counter-example:

The present king of France.

This expression does not have a referent; but it is perfectly meaningful.  And what that means is that it is description; but the description is not true of any actual thing.  We understand the description and we know that there is no thing in the world of which the description is true.  So, the expression is meaningful but it lacks a referent

The force of your argument appears to turn upon the fact that the terms ‘existent’ and ‘actual’ are generally held to be equivalent, and while this may be so, this is an erroneous belief, and one that is not logically tenable. Clearly, what people mean when they say that a thing does not exist, is that the thing does not exist in ‘actuality’, not that it does not exist at all. If there were but the one mode of existence, then there would be no need to use existential qualifiers such as ‘actual’ and ‘imaginary’; or ‘absolute’ and ‘relative’. However, the fact of the matter is that if I am to claim that there ‘is’ something that does not exist (i.e., is not), then I have violated the law of contradiction; and for you to claim that it is mere tautology, does not change the fact that such an expression is meaningless. For example, how you one reasonable set about defining that which does not exists? Can that which ‘is not’ be possessed of any definable characteristics? Certainly not!

With respect to you example “The present king of France.”, the reason that it is ‘perfectly meaningful’ is that although there is no actual entity associated with this designation, one can readily imagine such an entity; having a prescribed understanding of the various terms that comprise the designation (e.g. king, France, etc.). However, say I were to introduce the designation ‘Hujinol’, but did not define what it was, would it be meaningful? Or if I told you that there exists no such thing, neither actual nor imaginary; of what use would such a designation be to our communicating?

[ Edited: 27 January 2008 18:30 by Jehu]
 
 
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27 January 2008 18:34
 
burt - 27 January 2008 03:19 AM

Jehu, have you been reading Parminides?

Before continuing this line of argument I suggest that all who would participate get hold of the Encyclopedia of Philosophy and read the entry on Nothing.

I should like to make it clear here, that I do not equate the term ‘nothing’ with the terms ‘non-existent’ or ‘non-being’.

 
 
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