Archive for August, 2010

The Hard Problem Of Consciousness

August 29, 2010

The Hard Problem Of Consciousness

“The famous philosopher of mind, John Searle, said, “Not only do we have no idea what consciousness is, we have no idea of what it would be like to have an idea of what consciousness is.”

Saint Augustine had an idea: Consciousness is our Soul, and exists by direct connection to the Mind of God. The Catholic Church is willing to accept evolution of the human body, but not the conscious mind or soul. Descartes just posited mind, Res Cogitans in his famous dualism of Res Extensa — i.e. matter and machines including the human body, and Res Cogitans, the conscious mind.

Modern Connectionists often equate consciousness as another emergent property of sufficiently complex computational systems. I worry, since water buckets by the millions pouring water into one another above and below a bucket level threshold for 1 or 0 could be a complex computer. I just have a hard time believing they would be conscious…..” (by Stuart Kauffman, NPR blog entitled The Hard Problem: Consciousness)

These days I spend my computer time looking for appropriate subjects (blogs) to comment on. Typically, after a bit of introduction, my comments take the form of cut and pastes from my blog. I am about to enter the changing life experience of retirement, so maybe I’ll find the time to blog again—I can’t say for sure. Anyway, yesterday I posted a comment on Reijo’s blog (see below) and today I googled “consciousness blog ontology” and came across the NPR blog noted above. When I started to leave my comment on the NPR blog I discovered “comments closed.” So here I am with no place to go except my own blog. I found the comments under the NPR blog interesting, especially the one’s that protested the use of “quantum fuzziness” to suggest the consciousness/physics connection. Here’s an example:

“This discussion reminds me of the early 20th century search for the “ether” through which electromagnetic waves propagate. There was compelling reason for the search for ether, as radiation behaves much like matter waves (which propagate through matter). However there should be no reason to search for any ontological possibilities through which quantum waves “wave” as they are complex and thus have no physical meaning. Schroedinger’s equation and its solutions are only tools by which to understand physical phenomenon.

In short, I think the logic is fuzzy.”—Colin Clement

What the above comment suggests to me is that QM is describing a physical universe, albeit one different from the classical one we live in, but nevertheless one that we discover as opposed to the one that some people believe identities the consciousness/physical reality interdependent connection. But then, a few pages over in the NPR blog you find this comment by Pankaj Seth:

“We have theories about a lifeless, insentient early universe, early earth but they have been established due to inference, and obviously not direct perception… these theories rely upon the assumption of a fundamental duality between matter and mind. When we try to isolate matter apart from consciousness, we can do it from the POV of the I-self witnessing the classical world, but when we dig deeper as in QM, we cannot establish such a duality between the perceived matter and the perceiving consciousness. There is a duality at the sensory, I-self level (and hence the evolution of the early universe and life… . Similarly, it is found in Buddhist and Yogic meditation practice that at the depth of self-experience, there is a non-duality between perceiver and perceived… “Nothing perceived is independent of perception.”

What I am suggesting below is a structured universe which, at the appropriate structural level, acquires the ability to focus in on the different layers of the structured universe’s contents. In this respect, think of this ability (self-consciousness) as the lens that accounts for knowing consciousness, a consciousness that informs on the different levels of the universe, i.e., informs on the quantum, biological, and psychological levels of the universe. In this way, we come to the experience and understanding of a universe of content, a universe of structure, a universe that preserves the integrity of the Affirmative Ideal, and a universe that answers Heidegger’s question: “Why are there beings at all instead of nothing.”

So now we come to the comment that inspired this blog. Below is my response to Reijo’s comment concerning my comment on nothingness– Nothingness by calthai

Thanks for the interesting comment. Parmenides was right, “what is not, is not,” but that is definitively not the end of it.

It certainly is true that (not not) interesting implies the word interesting, but, similarly, I would like to suggest that “being what is not while not being what is” implies something akin to Parmenides’ plenitude/being. While reading Sartre’s Being And Nothingness, I wrote the following:

“Being-in-itself (Sartre’s concept of being) cannot be defined because language is ‘definition dependent,’ while Being just is (is free of dependence). I wonder if Sartre, in this respect, was influenced by Parmenides’ poem. In Parmenides’ ‘way of truth’ being was beyond description. Time, plurality and motion, all aspects of duality, were not compatible with Being. Although I don’t understand why, knowledge was considered an extension of Being in Parmenides philosophy. For Sartre, if you strip away all determinate characteristics and all those meanings which are due to human interpretation, you are left with being-in-itself.”

In today’s world, we do not give much thought to concepts that cannot be defined. That said, the notion of “wholeness” has found its way into the lexicon of scientific theories. When solving relativistic space-time problems, the geometry of the space-time continuum supersedes all notions of the physical nature of space and time. Likewise, at the quantum level of applied physics, the uncertainty relationships (Heisenberg), particle probabilities (the decoherence problem) and the non-local universe (Bell/Aspect results), when taken into account, suggest the existence of a universe-wide connectiveness. Given this turn of events, I will describe in next few paragraphs not only the “wholeness aspect of Being” that is consistent with Sartre’s philosophy (its ontological aspect), Parmenides’ Being, and the universe of connectiveness, but also how this “wholeness aspect of Being” expresses itself in the unique relationship that is up-right walking, language speaking, analytical thinking, empathy feeling, imaginative, curious, and goes by the name–human being. Thanks for the opportunity to post. (Sorry for the length, I only post when inspired—thanks for that too).

I want to begin my discussion of structured existence by revealing its shape. It looks like the letter v. The first thing to notice about the V is its openness. This openness moves the content of existence forward; in fact, one is tempted to say that “to be free” is why existence exists. Science does a good job explaining the content of existence, but it is severely challenged when it comes to explaining the “otherness of existence,” or the liberating process that structures existence. As existence and liberation move up the V, freedom expands. Freedom expands diachronically at each level of structure (think evolution here), but, over time, lower level structure becomes “content” for higher level structure (Piaget). At each “step up” freedom yields a new synchronic (frozen in time) structure, one that, although different from the lower structure, still preserves the integrity of the lower structure while structuring a whole new dimension of freedom. This process continues until it reaches the level of freedom (content) that occurs among symbol generating, language speaking life forms. Yes, that be “us.” So let’s take a look at this process that moves existence forward and expands freedom in a little more detail.

Let the V image represent the liberation of the “otherness of existence.” Let one side of the V represent the empirical world (aesthetic continuum) and the other freedom. Identify the vertex, the bottom of V, as ~~b (not, not-being is the structure of existence, not the content). The “double negative” characterizes the entire V, and implies that which exists outside the V– the Affirmative Ideal (Piaget), or, more to the point, an affirmation of the Affirmative Ideal. In other words, the V and all that it represents/manifests, via the “double negative,” connects/embeds everything to everything else, first through the empirical world and second through the Affirmative Ideal. In terms of quantum strangeness this state of affairs is revealing. But, this is only the first structural level; the second level occurs somewhere above the V vertex.

On the liberation side of the V, let the letter b represent the more liberated form of the “otherness of existence” (life is the content) and ~b, (~b on the empirical side of the V,–~bb is the structure of life), represent the conservation of the integrity of the Affirmative Ideal vis-à-vis the space that separates, embeds, and connects. The word most often used to describe this condition, however, is death. Albeit, life, now firmly established, moves freedom forward until an even more liberated form of the “otherness of existence” emerges.

Let b~b~bb represent this highly evolved form of structured existence. We are familiar with this structure because it represents the participatory moment of a conscious being where b~b (on the empirical side of the V) represents the existence of embodied self-conscious and ~bb (on the freedom side of the V represents the participatory moment of “time of mind”—the conscious content of a thinking human being). With the advent of self-consciousness, freedom moves forward and the V grows larger and wider as the story of civilization unfolds (unfortunately, sometimes the story of civilization takes two or three steps backward before forward momentum is restored).

In summation, the b~b~bb structure liberates the interplay of self-consciousness and environment. Embedded in the physical environment (b~b), human self-consciousness (~bb) creatively reaches out for the accouterments and the necessities of life while at the same time generating new (and sometimes logically precise) meanings that give content and “color” to all perceptions–a percept is product. This creativity, in our cosmopolitan world, gets identified with technological advances, beauty (art) and ethics—all of which can be measured against the significance of b~b~bb—the most potentially expressive product of freedom’s dialectic. Someday, perhaps, the day will come when people will thirst for cooperation, education and shared resources in the same way that today they thirst for power, wealth, and fame.