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Consciousness
August 7, 2005 11:14 AM   Subscribe

Who are YOU?
posted by Gyan (47 comments total)

 
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posted by Gyan at 11:14 AM on August 7, 2005


Awesome.
[This is good]
posted by loquacious at 11:41 AM on August 7, 2005


Thanks for the post. I've been trying to figure out these questions as well.
posted by j-urb at 11:57 AM on August 7, 2005


hail ramtha!

(the fact that people involved with "what the bleep do we know" are featured here makes me highly skeptical. dubious, even.)
posted by Hat Maui at 12:40 PM on August 7, 2005


Well, Susan Blackmore is legit, and David Chalmers is featured in the article.
posted by Gyan at 12:44 PM on August 7, 2005


well, then, consider me rebutted!
posted by Hat Maui at 12:46 PM on August 7, 2005


I really want to know...
posted by stenseng at 12:57 PM on August 7, 2005


Excellent as always, Gyan.
posted by moonbird at 12:59 PM on August 7, 2005


So much nonsense has been written on the subject that I think "consciousness" is an entirely useless word by now.
posted by sfenders at 1:21 PM on August 7, 2005


sfenders, How so? 'Consciousness' has been overloaded with many loosely synonymous variants but its primary referent remains unambigious and useful.
posted by Gyan at 1:26 PM on August 7, 2005


This is what wikipedia has to say about Andrew Cohen, who's site hosts the "Who are you" link:

"By some, including some ex-members and his mother, Cohen is viewed as a charismatic and manipulative cult leader. Several books including Dr. André van der Braak's Enlightenment Blues: My Years with an American Guru and articles have been published which post various allegations including demands for large cash sums and extreme devotion from his followers."
posted by gallois at 1:50 PM on August 7, 2005


Just read the article, folks, and use your critical thinking skills to check if this is 'fringe' material.
posted by Gyan at 1:55 PM on August 7, 2005


Well, I haven't kept up with any of the latest news from that whole field, but back in the late 20th century when I was looking around at what people were saying about consciousness, the term was very poorly defined. There was no real agreement as to exactly what it is that was under discussion, or whether "it" actually existed in any meaningful way. Looking at the questions on the linked page, presumably still up for debate, I guess nothing much has changed: "Does consciousness exist outside my head?" and "Am I just a bunch of neurons?" If those things aren't obvious by now, it seems likely that they've gotten exactly nowhere. So I'm sort of reluctant to go and spend any time finding out. I'm willing to bet that Society of Mind, quaint though some of it may look after the passage of so much time, has more interesting things to say about consicousness than anything that will ever come out of the kind of stuff today's consciousness research crowd appears to still be holding fierce debates about.
posted by sfenders at 2:09 PM on August 7, 2005


...but of course, I might just be a zombie.
posted by sfenders at 2:17 PM on August 7, 2005


It's all electro-chemistry.

Period.

But damn is it some funky ass, chaotic, wild and wooly, beautiful and strange electro-chemistry.
posted by Freen at 2:17 PM on August 7, 2005


It's all electro-chemistry.

And that's all physics.
posted by euphorb at 2:32 PM on August 7, 2005


I was a bit skeptical of the article from the start, but as soon as I saw this line:

Yet when I see evolutionary biologists using the unproven dogmas of neo-Darwinian theory to convince our kids that they live in a purposeless universe, my sympathies toward science start to fade once again.

I closed it. Last I checked, there weren't roving bands of evolutionary biologists all over the country, invading schools and forcing children to believe that there is no god.

The whole article comes across as if it's saying "Listen, I'm into science as much as the next guy, BUT" - I got bored of that sentiment real quick.
posted by antifuse at 2:42 PM on August 7, 2005


Actually the hot ticket in philosophy of mind (for my money) is 'externalism' which emphasises the way various cognitive processes, perception and even the phenomenal quality of experiences are literally integrated within the environment. So if you just focus on the stuff going on inside the brain you won't get the whole picture. Neural processes are certainly essential for consciousness, but far from sufficient.
posted by leibniz at 3:07 PM on August 7, 2005


I'm v. dubious. I think there is a certain amount of cherry picking going on. To paraphrase one guy quoted within (as copy and paste on a 2col PDF is tricky): If a Fransciscan nun has the experience of being in the presence of God, I can tell that she has that experience but not whether God is (or isn't) involved. This is after he noted that Buddhist meditators had (broadly) the same neural phenomena. Now if God caused that, too what a wild and whacky God He would be - or, more appropriately, God in this instance is an entity for explanation, demonstrable by the appearance of the phonomena in subjects without apparant God buy-in).

NDEs I have no problem with dismissing as anecdotal evidence, andthe article to its credit admits that is all they have. The Mind Fields and panpsychism seem drawn with the same brush as ID, they appear to be explanatory, but I suspect what they really do is brush a whole bunch of stuff under the rug (what is the medium for this psychicism? What are the receivers? Even with 'spooky action at a distance' we know what the action is acting upon!).

Searle, who is quoted within, has always appeared desperate to maintain the irreducibility of mind, and the article follows along by mistaking the nigh-on-impossiblity of retracing emergent behaviour with irreducibility. You can't retrace the weather on a molecular basis with current computational power, either, but the lack of clouds today is still reduceable to series of physical events. And the Ganzfeld experiments, despite claims to the contrary within the article, are not universally recognised as methodolically sound in earlier cases or reproducible in later ones (see the http://www.skepticreport.com/psychics/teresi.htm for more)

I have no problem with these people developing hypotheses along whatever lines they want, and don't consider them fringe because of it - but I differ from the author in that I don't think a collection of hyptheses a competing theory (or theories) makes. There is an alarming lack of evidence here and my own instinct is that most of these hypotheses are reactions against the counter-inuitive conclusions of hard-core materialism, stated early within the article. I did like, however, how at the end of the article the author contemplated, however briefly, these exact conclusions with some fascination.

On preview: Any good links on externalism, liebniz?
posted by Sparx at 4:42 PM on August 7, 2005


an unnecessary entity for explanation, dammit!
posted by Sparx at 4:43 PM on August 7, 2005


There IS an external world of objective reality out here whether you're conscious of it or not, and dragging the word "quantum" into dipshitty bullshit does not make it suddenly "deep" and "profound". (Yes, there are worse blatherers than Trotskyite sectarians.)
posted by davy at 5:15 PM on August 7, 2005


Half way through the introductory pdf, this line struck me:
"If consciousness is, in fact, created by the brain, it turns out, very little of our commonsense picture of reality is true. Over the course of the week, I learned several important things:
1) free will is an illusion..."
I have all but submitted to the idea that dualism is an illusion, and that are consciousnesses are material. But I don't understand this sentiment. Is the idea that, because the real world follows physical laws, a neurochemical self must be deterministic? If so, how does a soul, which is ostensibly guided by an omnipotent god, have any more "freedom"?
posted by Popular Ethics at 5:17 PM on August 7, 2005


While, in context, the author is talking about things he learned at the conference, rather than things he learned to be true, the answers are:

a) in a nutshell, yes, though Gyan probably has some dissenting evidence ;-)

b) that entirely depends on how you see the nature of the soul, its relationship to God (as in "is 'guided' an appropriate term here?"), and what free will actually entails - but, again in a nutshell, because God gave us that freedom.
posted by Sparx at 5:37 PM on August 7, 2005


Just because a system is governed by known laws doesn't mean that it's deterministic in any common-sense meaning of the word. Chaotic systems, for example, are unpredicable except over very short periods of time, even though they're completely governed by (often simple) known rules. Also, there's the notion that at the quantum level, some things aren't predictable even in theory.
posted by breath at 5:50 PM on August 7, 2005


Sparx, thanks. I realize that, in context, the author was probably referring to ideas raised at the conference, but he doesn't ever seem to elaborate (leaving that to the other articles in the series I suppose). I was interested in a general summary of the conflict.

As to b), I always thought God's omnicience was much more at odds with free will than is materialism. I suppose that's a bit of a side track though.

Of course you're right that the statement means little without a definition of "free will" and "self". I am dumbfounded that these philosophical concepts might now be within range of scientific inquiry. Must read more...

breath: Good point.
posted by Popular Ethics at 6:37 PM on August 7, 2005


breath - it seems a good number of people have found a home for free will in quantum uncertainty. Huh.
posted by Popular Ethics at 6:47 PM on August 7, 2005


Breath: I tend to think of 'deterministic' as 'able to be determined' not 'able to be determined with current computational power', otherwise you'd have things like molecular interactions within nuclear explosions suddenly becoming deterministic once someone develops the hardware and software to handle events of that scale.

'Chaotic' thus describes things we don't have the computational power to derive as yet, not things that are not deterministic. See wikipedia's item on chaos theory which distinguishes between it and forms of quantum chaos.

Ascribing a quantum element to consciousness as a way of sneaking in free will is very much a minority viewpoint. I find the arguments against it convincing, but it's a neat reasearch topic if you ignore Penrose (who always seems to overreach his speciality, mathematical physics).
posted by Sparx at 7:28 PM on August 7, 2005


I don't know why the bleep Sue Blackmore is fraternizing with the "spiritual" community she cast off long ago, but this magazine is the newsletter to a pernicious cult led by "guru" Andrew Cohen. Here are some posts by a disaffected former editor of the magazine on a blog dedicated to exposing the cult.
posted by painquale at 7:49 PM on August 7, 2005


OK, so Andrew Cohen is a manipuative cult leader...I'll buy that. But what about the real brains behind W.I.E., Ken Wilber? I read W.I.E.(and enjoy it...at least it's better than Maxim or Stuff), and there is a section of the magazine that is a transcript of Andrew and Ken going off on some subject, and I've got to tell you...Ken is an F-ing genius. Andrew's interesting, but without Ken Wilber What Is Enlightenment wouldn't be the same...

It's all about the Wilber, yo.
posted by cloudstastemetallic at 8:26 PM on August 7, 2005


(OT; I'm just annoyed at the common confusion of determinism and predictability)

breath: chaos does not imply non-determinism, in fact chaos is often found in deterministic systems. The classic example of a population model with a quadratic equation defining a new generation from the previous is deterministic - you can determine the value of any future generation by simulating the system from some initial condition.

At high gain the population is chaotic - you cannot characterise it and make predictions of the sort "the population will oscillate between these two values" WITHOUT simulation. The bifurcation diagram is a very good illustration of this.

Another interesting thing related to this is the three body problem. Deterministic behaviour (we can write down the differential equations) does not imply we can predict the outcome from the initial conditions.

Sparx: do you have links to a good rebuttal of Penrose?
posted by polyglot at 8:47 PM on August 7, 2005


Sounds like we've got us the making of the first really successful, very wealthy, internet-based religion^H^H^H^H^H^Hcult.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:15 PM on August 7, 2005


Sparx: If a Fransciscan nun has the experience of being in the presence of God, I can tell that she has that experience but not whether God is (or isn't) involved. This is after he noted that Buddhist meditators had (broadly) the same neural phenomena. Now if God caused that, too what a wild and whacky God He would be - or, more appropriately, God in this instance is an entity for explanation, demonstrable by the appearance of the phonomena in subjects without apparant God buy-in).

There is a conflation here.
First, there is the experience. Our brains are similar, but similar neural activity may correspond to different things. My remembering of a book and your recollection of a (another) book may involve, more or less, the same structures and chain of activity. The resolutions of fMRI, PET..etc aren't that deep.
Second, there is the interpretation. Context matters. We may look at the same painting, yet organize our perception of it in different ways i.e. I may organize regions of the painting based on color and luminance, you may do so, based on shape and forms. Then our inspection will progress, according to those criteria. When prompted, our verbal descriptions might also reflect this.
Finally, 'God' might just be an interpretation, brought on by context (of a Fransciscan nun) rather than a visual image of God right in front of her. All that can be reasonably said of a 'religious experience' is that it is an experience that is anamolous enough to be accorded a fundamental significance in a person's worldview.

NDEs I have no problem with dismissing as anecdotal evidence

What are you dismissing, the experience or its meaning? It'd be an arbitrary dismissal. if the former, a prejudiced one, if the latter. If it's rigorous, then you are committed to solipsism, since all 'evidence' of other consciousnesses is anecdotal.

what is the medium for this psychicism?

The same as that for mass.

Popular Ethics: Is the idea that, because the real world follows physical laws, a neurochemical self must be deterministic?

Not quite. If the brain completely determines the mind, then the 'mind' is not an actor, but the product; it has no causal efficacy of its own, it just reflects activity but doesn't affect it. The underlying physical system may be deterministic or not, but 'free will' is denied, all the same.
posted by Gyan at 11:05 PM on August 7, 2005


i've always found the notion of free will to be utterly incoherent when I really think about it.

It doesn't really have a coherent meaning. The best definition that I can think of is one that is intrinsically tied in with our natural reactive attitudes of responsibility, guilt, anger, praise, etc.

i.e. free will is "that property which renders appropriate and just, our reactive attitudes towards those who peform an action"

Now our reactive attitudes are appropriate in an instrumental manner - punishment may deter/rehabilitate/protect - but to suppose that they have some deeper justification is misguided. I don't see how there is a logic to punishment beyond it being instrumental.


Now if you want to talk about free will in a different way, we can do that - such as "freedom to plan for the future and act accordingly in a rational manner". But to suppose that this allows for a "substantive moral responsibility" is, imo, flawed.
posted by spacediver at 11:53 PM on August 7, 2005


Gyan: first off, the point I was trying to make is that God is an inadaquate explanation for the specific phenomenon referenced. To admit the possibility that it is God caused is to admit that non-God causes carry similar power (as seen by the buddhists) which has interesting theological implications. By default, the God explanation is less satisfactory than the non-God one as the same results can be engendered without recourse to God. I take your point that similar does not mean equal, however. But by the same token, I would not use this as God/Spiritual activity evidence because of its lack of uniqueness. It seems more likely to be 'technique inspiration', rather than 'causal factor' in the results.

NDE: from the article - as yet, no one has provided the kind of independent verification of data that would stand as scientific proof. And I agree - it's still purely hypothetical, and thus hard to integrate into a useful theoretical form. I'm not saying it won't be ever, but at the moment it's not a valid premise for an argument. And I'm sure none of us want to start getting into solipsism :-)

Field theory: 'Spooky action at a distance' is an entirely demonstrable quantum phenomenon. I do not think it has been adequately demonstrated that minds utilise quantum events in order to exist. Again, I'm open to evidence, but undemonstrable hypotheses to not constitute evidence. The evidence provided is not up to snuff in terms of methodology and reproducibility. Again, interesting hypothesis, now prove it...

Finally, I know I once promised to provide an explanation for you for some comments I made in an earlier thread. Truth is, further research left me doubting my earlier conclusions (thanks for the study refs - I owe you one). However, I don't think this article goes far in presenting alternatives.

polyglot: Depends on which aspect of Penrose's claims you wish to investigate. Googling 'penrose mind rebuttal' provides a wealth of links - but bear in mind his 'Shadows of the mind' is supposed to be a replacement of his 'the emperor's new mind', rather than a sequel. A good place to start is Putnam's rebuttal, though that's specifically referring to the mind/machine dichotomy he insists upon rather than his quantum view of how the mind works.
posted by Sparx at 12:39 AM on August 8, 2005


Sparx: the point I was trying to make is that God is an inadaquate explanation for the specific phenomenon referenced.

On the contrary, God is a perfectly adequate explanation. It happens to be undefined. Rational humans like mechanisms and details, which is where an appeal to God feels like a cop-out.

that non-God causes carry similar power (as seen by the buddhists)

How so? Maybe this God decides who and how to bless people with experiences. Maybe God's finicky and favors the temporal lobe as the intermediary, and produces somewhat different experiences in different people. There's no contradiction or anomaly here. Don't conflate the general concept of Godhood with the characterizations given by religions.
posted by Gyan at 1:53 AM on August 8, 2005


Gyan: God's adaquacy in this case relies upon His undefinedness. Surely that's a limitation!

But still, seriously folks, G is not a perfectly adequate explanation of anything. While undefined(G) can relate to anything - it has no explanatory power.
posted by Sparx at 2:30 AM on August 8, 2005


So does having a green power crystal help me focus these external cognitive experiences?
posted by jeblis at 3:23 AM on August 8, 2005


"The battle between science and religion is heating up. Will science succeed in its quest to do away with God, the soul, and all things spiritual?"

*groan*

This sort of phrasing and framing alone tells you all you need to know about the intent and ideology of the people who made that web site.

Nice graphics, though.
posted by funambulist at 3:36 AM on August 8, 2005


Amen, funambulist..
Though the framing is always useful to direct the eye to that big, scary picture (of crazed boffins firing up the bunsen burner beneath god, faith, soul etc)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 5:22 AM on August 8, 2005


Externalism links (a.k.a. extended cognition):

Clark and Chalmers paper 'The extended Mind'
http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/courses/concepts/clark.html

Robert A. Wilson 'Boundaries of the Mind' 2004

See also Chalmers' website for lots of links.
posted by leibniz at 7:48 AM on August 8, 2005


This is pretty offtopic but I thought I'd dump the link here anyway. Syn, a magazine about synaesthesia by a graphic design student has launched. I haven't really checked it out properly yet. jpeg pages.
posted by peacay at 8:25 AM on August 8, 2005


do you have links to a good rebuttal of Penrose?

Has Penrose's latest work produced anything interesting that requires rebutting? From what I remember of his 'Emporer's New Mind' all he has is that QM may somehow be necessary for consciousness in a way that you could not duplicate with a computer for some unknown reason.
posted by Bort at 10:06 AM on August 8, 2005


Just because a system is governed by known laws doesn't mean that it's deterministic in any common-sense meaning of the word. Chaotic systems, for example, are unpredicable

Whoah whoah whoah. Determination and predictability are two different things. It is human arrogance to consider that which is unknown to be undetermined -- from coin flips to cards in a deck being drawn to people dropping by for a visit. That last has the element of "free will" which, unless freed from those known laws, is likely just a side effect of consciousness. People want to include free will by:

i) a "soul", or
ii) quantum mechanics

but the first has no means of influencing the physical realm if it is entirely non-physical (and is entirely theoretical, and has a host of other problems) and the second doesn't get us to a state of self-determination, but rather near-randomness. Well, our behaviour isn't random, and I can't say what proportion of genetics to conditioning is responsible for behaviour -- 50/50? 40/60? 70/30? -- but it is pure speculation (at best) to think that whatever the numbers it doesn't total 100%.
posted by dreamsign at 11:25 AM on August 8, 2005


Sparx: God's adaquacy in this case relies upon His undefinedness.

God is metaphysical, and that's the limits of the definition. And that's enough to be adequate.

But still, seriously folks, G is not a perfectly adequate explanation of anything. While undefined(G) can relate to anything - it has no explanatory power.

Like I said, rational humans like mechanisms. Mechanisms are chains of physical changes that precede, accompany and/or underlie the effect. God, as a metaphysical entity, presumably doesn't need or want intermediary steps or basis.. There's no "mechanism" for time to progress from one Planck instant to the next. Secondly, requiring a mechanism is prejudiced, in that it presupposes the causal closure of the physical realm, and hence omits metaphysical entities as agents, from the outset.
posted by Gyan at 11:58 AM on August 8, 2005


"The battle between science and religion is heating up. Will science succeed in its quest to do away with God, the soul, and all things spiritual?"

*groan*

This sort of phrasing and framing alone tells you all you need to know about the intent and ideology of the people who made that web site.


I'm with funambulist on this. Science doesn't have any opinion on God, last I asked him, and he's certainly not out to destroy souls. The author is confusing Science with the movies of Joel Schumacher.
posted by Lady Penelope at 12:06 PM on August 8, 2005


I would rather cut my skull open with a rusty hacksaw than read one more word from the folks who brought us What the #$*! Do We (K)now!? Also, note to idiots: using the word "quantum" as a catch-all for your ridiculous brand of mystery and magick means that you have nothing worthwhile to say and should be forced to crank out e-meters and "vibrational essence" CDs in the lowest pits of hell.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:09 PM on August 8, 2005


after at least attempting to get through each of these audio bits over the last few days, my feeling is that it's all trash except for blackmore's moments of obduracy where she levels craig hamilton with passionate dialogue like:

"i would say that we live in a pointless universe. everything is, ultimately, completely and utterly pointless. there is no purpose to anything. there is no intrinsic purpose to anybody's life, to the existence of the planet, to the existence of the universe, nothing. it's all completely pointless.

now, living with that is the task, it seems to me."

fuck you, craig!
posted by radiosig at 12:38 AM on August 9, 2005


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