2009/7/30 Rex Allen <rexallen...@gmail.com>:

> It seems to me that the primary meaning of "to exist" is "to be conscious".
>
> But what causes conscious experience? Well, I'm beginning to think
> that nothing causes it. Our conscious experience is fundamental,
> uncaused, and irreducible.
>
> Why do we think that our conscious experience must be caused? Maybe
> this isn't a valid assumption. Maybe we are being led astray by the
> apparent nature of the macroscopic material world that we perceive?
>
> So on the surface this view of consciousness as fundamental may sound
> a bit off-putting, but I think it's not so radical compared to
> competing theories.

Of course I'm in sympathy with what you say here.  I've recently been
picking the bones out of 'Panpsychism in the West' by David Skrbina
which is a pretty comprehensive review of the surprisingly large
number of thinkers who've actually held - or hold - some version of
this view; and that's just in the West.

However, I actually think we can do better than this.  The extraneous
baggage attaching to 'mental' vocabulary really gets in the way of
clarity if we attempt to phrase it as you have.  It's open to anyone
reading what you say above to accept or reject based on the contents
of *their* 'consciousness portmanteau'.  But perhaps we don't have to
go this far: maybe we can say something more restricted which
surprisingly turns out to be more radical.  Without repeating the
whole analysis here, my view is that the heart of the matter lies in a
rigorous redefinition of the semantics of 'exist' and its cognates.

These different senses get chucked about in such a variety of
ontological and epistemological guises that one is often at a loss to
know what any particular use is attempting to pick out in the world.
So my point is simply: let's start from the understanding that to
exist is just and only what it is to exist-for-oneself: the defining
characteristic of existence is 'taking everything personally'.  The
standard put-down at this point is something like 'well how personally
do you suppose an electron takes itself?' to which the riposte is
simply 'precisely as personally as it needs to exist'.

Of course one might also ask 'how materially do you suppose an
electron take itself?' and answer 'precisely as materially as it needs
to exist'.  But in granting a 'material' ontology to ourselves and the
electron, we are immediately at a loss for somewhere to locate the
personal unless we add a second ontological category for it to
inhabit: and then any hope we might have a workable notion of
interaction is irretrievably dashed.

So now you may legitimately enquire: fair enough, but how do we get
consciousness out of 'taking everything personally?'  Well, it depends
what you mean by.....  But no, it does - really.  This is already the
'easy problem' (tee hee) in that once you see that you're at large in
a context that takes everything personally - but no more than it takes
to exist-for-itself - you can work on your theories of 'consciousness'
with some expectation that somebody will be there to take it
personally when those great thoughts and feelings emerge.  It's a bit
like (in fact exactly like) the way we construct 'material' models in
the confident expectation that NOBODY will be there to take it
personally when all those great 'processes' and 'structures' emerge.
But now we can see - as you point out below - that these 'material'
entities can really only be elements of our personal
existence-for-ourselves.  Sure, we believe they refer to something
beyond their representational role, but that something else is taking
things personally in another part of the forest.  And if they do not
thus refer?  Well, then they're just zombies.

> Take the brain. I haven't verified it myself, but I'm willing to
> believe that the structure and function of the brain is closely
> correlated with the mind. My brain represents the contents of my
> conscious experience. The activity of the brain over time maps to the
> the contents of my conscious experience over time. Fine. But the brain
> is not the cause of my conscious experience. A brain is something that
> one is conscious OF, and thus has a secondary, derivative type of
> existence.

Very well put.  I've mentioned David Bohm's model of a video game,
which actually got him thinking about the relationships inherent in
the above scenario, thus: there's a game taking place on a screen
(explicate order) being acted on by (but not itself acting on) a
program (implicate order), which in turn is being acted on by (but not
acting on) the feedback from a player (super-implicate order).  In
this analogy, the brain-body-world is akin to the on-screen
representation, which in fact emerges from, and is under the control
of, an underlying set of orderings that seamlessly incorporate both
player and game.  Subject and object then emerge as a heuristic
distinction in the guise of complementary poles abstracted from
feedback relationships.

> I can think about my brain, so it is something that I am conscious of,
> and so it exists in that sense. To the extent that I can examine and
> experiment on someone else's brain, that is also a perceived
> experience. But again, all of these things could happen in a dream, or
> hallucination, or to a brain-in-a-vat, or to someone in a computer
> simulation.

Yes, it could, but this may not be the version most conducive to sanity!

> But the brain
> is not the cause of my conscious experience. A brain is something that
> one is conscious OF, and thus has a secondary, derivative type of
> existence.

Yes, and this 'secondary' existence is just a category of
existence-for-oneself.  The contents of consciousness are precisely
what we are taking personally, else they couldn't exist for us.  We
co-habit with them.  But they don't just sit there: they connect
seamlessly beyond our personal horizons, which is how we get to
justify the belief that they refer to something - as we tend to say -
outside our selves.  But that 'outside' of course isn't outside at
all; it's just as 'inside' as we are, taking things just as personally
as it needs to exist, just like us.  The external world we see so
clearly is a reflection of the inside-out surfaces of our mindworlds.

> Similarly, science. I'm willing to believe that quantum mechanics and
> relativity both describe my observations very well. But this is just
> the fitting of various mathematical formulas and narratives to what we
> are conscious of. There's no deeper meaning to science than that. It
> doesn't tell us about what fundamentally exists. It provides us with
> stories that fit what our experiences: "IF you were made from
> subatomic particles in a physical universe, THIS system of particles
> and forces is consistent with your current observations."

Yes, and of course WERE you thus made you wouldn't find anybody there
to take things personally.  The great value of COMP, I think, is that
it pumps the intuition that we can't take persons for granted: they
don't just map directly onto our representations, which I guess we
should have expected, because god knows they don't look like anything
that could be us.  Of course a computational narrative may turn out
not to be the way to go, but I strongly suspect that we still await a
revolution in - well not physics, but..what? being-science? (gawd) -
that will be in a primary sense generative of persons prior to the
generation of appearances.  IOW, there probably has to be some sort of
fundamentally implicate-explicate-superexplicate thingamijig going on
out there - er, I mean in here.

> Science is basically us trying to make sense of a dream.
>
> So in this view, consciousness is very simple. What's complicated is
> fitting "explanatory" scientific theories to what is observed, and
> identifying and understanding causal structures (e.g., a brain, a
> machine, whatever) whose evolving state can be interpreted as
> representing a series of "connected" or "related" instances of
> consciousness. But the observed physical system is NOT conscious, it
> just represents the contents of someone's conscious experience.

Very well put.

> So initially this view seems somewhat...solipsistic (?), but
> ultimately I think it really isn't much more radical than any other
> theory on the table. For instance, any deterministic scientific theory
> entails that we have the experience of making choices without making
> actual choices (in the free will sense). And so does any
> indeterminstic theory that is based on bottom-up causation.

Well, of course it's solipsistic, but that's its strength.  You can
only know yourself: but that 'self', properly understood, extends
beyond merely perspectival horizons, to everything that is.  This is
the perennial philosophy, and in this case, perennial because
unavoidable.  And as for 'deterministic', if we want to deploy
causation in our narratives - and I don't see why we shouldn't - then
existence-for-self gives you a conveniently monistically-collapsed
version of the causal nexus that indivisibly unites perception,
intention  and action.  Since they're indivisible, they only work in
concert, and hence you can't get causal closure until the sense
necessary in context gains expression.  As to 'first' causes, I think
we've reached the end of the semantic road.  If you want, you can can
elect to be a mathematical Prospero and conjure us from the deep by
tautological force majeure, or you can accept the mystery of our
contingent 'necessity'.  Take your pick.

> Beyond that, all theories eventually boil down to having to having to
> take some set of fundamental entities and laws as unexplained,
> unsupported brute facts. So whether it's one level down or twelve
> levels down, at some point they end up saying "and these things just
> exist, created from nothing, supported by nothing".
>
> So, no matter which way we go, reality doesn't match our common-sense
> expectations. I think this view makes the fewest assumptions, and
> ultimately seems no more fantastical than any other theory on offer

This is what my mother used to call 'having the courage of your lack
of convictions'.  I like it.

David

>
> Okay, I've reworked my views a bit based on the discussion thus far.
>
> It seems to me that the primary meaning of "to exist" is "to be conscious".
>
> But what causes conscious experience? Well, I'm beginning to think
> that nothing causes it. Our conscious experience is fundamental,
> uncaused, and irreducible.
>
> Why do we think that our conscious experience must be caused? Maybe
> this isn't a valid assumption. Maybe we are being led astray by the
> apparent nature of the macroscopic material world that we perceive?
>
> So on the surface this view of consciousness as fundamental may sound
> a bit off-putting, but I think it's not so radical compared to
> competing theories.
>
> From a materialist perspective, what caused the universe (or
> multiverse) to exist?
>
> From a religious perspective, what caused God to exist?
>
> From a platonic perspective, what caused the Numbers to exist?
>
> And, of course, if anyone offers an answer to the above, the obvious
> next question would be "what caused THAT to exist?".
>
> This drive to reduce our consciousness into smaller parts, I think is
> maybe misguided.
>
> I think that there may be a problem with the idea that we must explain
> conscious experience in terms of the things that we perceive, or
> things that we infer from what we perceive. Consciousness is the
> conduit through which we experience the world, BUT I think it's a
> mistake to conclude that consciousness is a product of what is
> experienced.
>
> Maybe consciousness is fundamental, uncaused, and irreducible.
> However, what we are conscious OF is reducible and representable.  A
> crucial difference.
>
> Take the brain. I haven't verified it myself, but I'm willing to
> believe that the structure and function of the brain is closely
> correlated with the mind. My brain represents the contents of my
> conscious experience. The activity of the brain over time maps to the
> the contents of my conscious experience over time. Fine. But the brain
> is not the cause of my conscious experience. A brain is something that
> one is conscious OF, and thus has a secondary, derivative type of
> existence.
>
> I can think about my brain, so it is something that I am conscious of,
> and so it exists in that sense. To the extent that I can examine and
> experiment on someone else's brain, that is also a perceived
> experience. But again, all of these things could happen in a dream, or
> hallucination, or to a brain-in-a-vat, or to someone in a computer
> simulation.
>
> That something is perceived is no guarantee that it has an existence
> on par with, or superior to, that which does the perceiving.
>
> Similarly, science. I'm willing to believe that quantum mechanics and
> relativity both describe my observations very well. But this is just
> the fitting of various mathematical formulas and narratives to what we
> are conscious of. There's no deeper meaning to science than that. It
> doesn't tell us about what fundamentally exists. It provides us with
> stories that fit what our experiences: "IF you were made from
> subatomic particles in a physical universe, THIS system of particles
> and forces is consistent with your current observations."
>
> Science is basically us trying to make sense of a dream.
>
> So in this view, consciousness is very simple. What's complicated is
> fitting "explanatory" scientific theories to what is observed, and
> identifying and understanding causal structures (e.g., a brain, a
> machine, whatever) whose evolving state can be interpreted as
> representing a series of "connected" or "related" instances of
> consciousness. But the observed physical system is NOT conscious, it
> just represents the contents of someone's conscious experience.
>
> So initially this view seems somewhat...solipsistic (?), but
> ultimately I think it really isn't much more radical than any other
> theory on the table. For instance, any deterministic scientific theory
> entails that we have the experience of making choices without making
> actual choices (in the free will sense). And so does any
> indeterminstic theory that is based on bottom-up causation.
>
> Beyond that, all theories eventually boil down to having to having to
> take some set of fundamental entities and laws as unexplained,
> unsupported brute facts. So whether it's one level down or twelve
> levels down, at some point they end up saying "and these things just
> exist, created from nothing, supported by nothing".
>
> So, no matter which way we go, reality doesn't match our common-sense
> expectations. I think this view makes the fewest assumptions, and
> ultimately seems no more fantastical than any other theory on offer.
>
> >
>

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