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Old 19th December 2012, 06:18 AM   #1
SusanB-M1
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Clues about consciousness

On the GH Science board, there is a poster who states:

We still don't have a clue what consciousness is.

Is this really a true statement?I have said that Science is learning more and more about how the brain functions and although the pin-pointing of the exact spot in the brain, if indeed there is one, has not been achieved yet, it most certainly is not and will never have an external existence. this as I keep pointing out!! belongs on the Inner Space board, not the Science one.

Any helpful comments here will be most gratefully received and used! My thanks in advance. I told him I was going to JREF!

(The topic started off as a definition of matter, but it's got a bit convoluted with over 110 posts! I'll put a link to it as an edit in a minute, but I'm not asking anyone to wade through it! I'm Susan Doris there.))
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Old 19th December 2012, 07:25 AM   #2
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He's basically right. There is no universally-accepted definition of consciousness, and what it is and how it manifests is a relatively new area of research for biologists, neurologists, etc.

Which is not to say that that in itself is any kind of indication that there's anything non-physical going on. There's certainly plenty of evidence that consciousness is directly related to the matter of the brain. For example, damaging certain parts of the brain affects consciousness in certain predictable and replicable ways. Ditto for altering brain chemistry in various ways. Given that, Occam's Razor nicely does away with any hypotheses involving external consciousnesses, souls, etc. and places the burden of proof on those claiming that the biology of the brain alone could not account for consciousness.
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Old 19th December 2012, 07:33 AM   #3
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I don't know; there are no doubt theories.

I tend to want to break the subject into smaller bits.

First, do we know what life is? I guess vitalism is pretty dead, so, yes, we do know what life it (although I don't know if we will be able to recognize it if someday "out there" we come across a variety that is different from what we think we know).

Second, do we know what we mean when we say that a living thing responds to something in its environment. The most primitive things seem to know how to find what they need and what to do with it. However, we can look at this as reflex actions, not too difficult to program into a computer either -- some sort of sensing mechanism and a program that says that if a certain thing happens, do a certain thing (turn on the furnace).

For later-arriving animals, there seems to be something going on besides reflexes. They are what we call "sensate." Let me divide that into three sub-groups: First, sensations -- the interface between what our sense organs report and how we experience it. Second, internal sensations-- the interface between what our bodies tell us and how we experience it (the most discussed of these is pain). Finally, there are emotions, mainly pleasure and its opposite, but also, at least later, things like fear and envy and even love.

This last aspect of being sensate is important, as evolution latched onto it as an easy way to motivate behaviors even more strongly and subtly than can be done with reflexes. (The experiences of a sensate being are often in the literature called "qualia").

Now, is a sensate animal necessarily conscious? I think it is useful to draw a distinction, although obviously no clear line is possible. We presume we are conscious beings, and, sure enough, we pass the mirror test (but that test really doesn't prove much except that the animal can figure out what a mirror is really doing -- more a measure of intelligence than of consciousness).

We all live in our internal world, interpreting the qualia that come at us, in fits and starts. The Buddhists figured this out ages ago when they decided there is no such thing as self, and from then on referred to their self, whenever they needed to, as their "non-self."

What there seems to be is a process -- just as a wave is a process -- with only loose causal connections (one thought tends to lead to another, but sometimes stuff intrudes seemingly at random, and, of course, external events constantly impose themselves). We can observe this process, although I would warn against making too much of that, since what it is is just our using short-term memory to look at our mental state a few moments in the past.

Now we presume all this takes place in brain matter, and even some of the events have been localized to certain parts of the brain (good evidence the presumption is correct), but at this point I decide to go to bed. My head aches.
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Old 19th December 2012, 07:58 AM   #4
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Many thanks for your replies, Squeegee Beckenheim and Frank Merton, much appreciated.


In case it is any use, this is the link to the topic, 'A Matter of Matter':
http://www.grahamhancock.com/phorum/...=50195&t=50195
and this one goes to one of the posts in the particular exchange:
http://www.grahamhancock.com/phorum/...=50450&t=50195

I'll post a link to here to Nesha and Karsten, although I don't think they will choose to join this forum! Pity, really!
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Old 19th December 2012, 08:40 AM   #5
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With reference to that specific post, there's a critique of van Lommel's work here: http://www.skeptic.org.uk/magazine/o...te-dying-brain

It's also worth pointing out the studies done where pieces of paper with words that nobody present have been privvy to written on them put in places inaccessible to anyone who is not a disembodied spirit. The idea is that in the case of an NDE the patient could, while out of their body, read the word and report it back upon awakening. If they could read the word, then that would be a big indicator that they really did leave their body. So far, nobody has.

As far as the "scientific" explanation for why this poster believes that consciousness is an emergent property of all matter as a whole, it seems very much like adding 2 and 2 and getting 5,000. If we grant that all quantum systems can process information (which I have yet to be convinced of), it's one hell of a leap to go from that to saying consciousness is an inherent property of nature. For one thing, if they are arguing that consciousness has yet to be adequately defined, then how can another part of their argument rely on defining consciousness as the ability to process data?

No, that just seems like the usual "throw anything labelled 'quantum' at the wall and see what sticks" stuff that's so common.
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Old 19th December 2012, 09:35 AM   #6
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Thanks again, Squeegee, particularly for the info about the lack of anyone's being able to read the hidden words. Mind you, if
anyone did actually get a word right, I'd say it was a well-planned trick or a remarkable coincidence!!

(Edited to remove stray !! marks!)
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Old 20th December 2012, 04:21 AM   #7
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Consciousness has a problem, it is a clinical term related to levels of awareness and arousal, then it is a common term with vague, amorphous and philosophical connotations. Now in terms of neurology it gets broken down into more sub-components that the straight medical model.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK380/

Then this chart
http://idealab.ucdavis.edu/IST/TermP...s/image002.jpg

So you basically have two scales that you can plot things between and make a cartesian graph awareness vs. arousal

Now the real issue here is that it gets deep very quickly:

awareness:
-response to pain
-response to loud noises
-responses to all sorts of stimuli

but then to this you can add:
-recall of past events
-recall or recent events
-general knowledge
-specific task abilities
-motor tasks and coordination

So say you have someone who comes into the ED/ER
-do their pupils respond
-can they walk and dress themselves
-if they are generally unresponsive, will they respond to pain by grimacing
-orientation person, place and time
-coherency and patterns of speech

So while doctors and neurologists have common usage and definitions of consciousness and then break it down into very specific categories or levels of arousal, awareness, recall and specific cognitive task, you then have people who say that such don't exist or because someone doesn't agree with them they don't exist.

Now I find the things like twilight anesthesia very interesting, people will respond to and follow directions during a colonoscopy but have no recall of it. Then there are the disturbed sleep states as well.

I have some memories of my colonoscopy and cut up in recovery, I also have had very disturbed sleep at times.

ETA: I forgot a story which points out some interesting aspects:
-a coworker of mine has a daughter who received a closed head injury in cheer leading practice (she got clocked in the head as a catcher during a dismount). She was in a non-responsive coma for a day and then came to alertness again, she had no apraxia, she had full motor coordination almost. She could do math problems but not write words, she responded to english commands and requests, however she did not respond verbally in english, she responded in spanish (which she was taking is high school).
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Old 20th December 2012, 06:00 AM   #8
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As David notes, consciousness (if we're talking about the human mind doing what it does) is not a single thing, but a collection of related processes, and we know quite a lot about each of those processes (though there's still a lot to explore).

People who say things like "We don't know what consciousness is" are really saying "I can't be bothered to learn the the proper terminology".

We know, beyond any sane and informed doubt, that consciousness is a brain process (or a process of something equivalent, i.e. a computer). Not only does damage to the brain cause damage to consciousness, but damage to specific parts of the brain damages consciousness in specific and consistent ways - and many of these effects are bizarre and inexplicable unless it is understood that consciousness is a complex collective function of the brain.

See Oliver Sacks for many examples of this, such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.
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Old 20th December 2012, 06:19 AM   #9
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The whole zombie/qualia thing doesn't seem to have been mentioned yet, at least not specifically. That's what people normally mean when they say that consciousness, or rather self consciousness, is unknowable/beyond science. I take it that's what is being referred to rather than the ability to wake up in the morning and respond to verbal commands?
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Old 20th December 2012, 06:20 AM   #10
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Well, the zombie/qualia thing makes no sense whatsoever, so it's probably best left unmentioned.
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Old 20th December 2012, 06:29 AM   #11
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It certainly leads to long, rambling, circular threads. I disagree that it makes no sense. At the very least it is an explanation for why some people think there's more to the world than that which is measurable and observable. For me the main problem with it is you can't go very far with the topic before you are off building imaginary castles in the sky. I don't see that qualia/zombies make no sense if you don't dissappear off into "... therefore God" or "... therefore vitalism".
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Old 20th December 2012, 07:31 AM   #12
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As well as qualia*, and simple alertness, there are lots of other phenomena associated with consciousness: memory, intention, epistemology (specifically, how we attach meaning to data), personal identity etc. Some of these phenomena we know a lot about but no-one would claim that they are solved or that a full solution is imminent.

* And just to go on record, I'm a qualia "believer": it's my opinion that it is a meaningful description of real, and not yet understood, phenomena
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Old 20th December 2012, 07:36 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by Mijin View Post
As well as qualia*, and simple alertness, there are lots of other phenomena associated with consciousness: memory, intention, epistemology (specifically, how we attach meaning to data), personal identity etc. Some of these phenomena we know a lot about but no-one would claim that they are solved or that a full solution is imminent.
No. But we do know that it's all brain function.
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Old 20th December 2012, 07:59 AM   #14
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I'd phrase it: we have no reason to suppose that the mind is anything other than / more than neurology.
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Old 20th December 2012, 08:37 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Mijin View Post
As well as qualia*, and simple alertness, there are lots of other phenomena associated with consciousness: memory, intention, epistemology (specifically, how we attach meaning to data), personal identity etc. Some of these phenomena we know a lot about but no-one would claim that they are solved or that a full solution is imminent.

* And just to go on record, I'm a qualia "believer": it's my opinion that it is a meaningful description of real, and not yet understood, phenomena
Actually there is a lot of research on the creation of visual perceptions.
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Old 20th December 2012, 09:22 AM   #16
Paul C. Anagnostopoulos
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Originally Posted by shuttlt View Post
The whole zombie/qualia thing doesn't seem to have been mentioned yet, at least not specifically. That's what people normally mean when they say that consciousness, or rather self consciousness, is unknowable/beyond science. I take it that's what is being referred to rather than the ability to wake up in the morning and respond to verbal commands?
An interesting paper on this subject:

http://classes7.com/A-MATERIALIST-RE...oad-w22940.pdf

From it you can get a good idea of just how much language munching goes on in philosophy of mind. But it's interesting for other reasons, too.

~~ Paul
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Old 20th December 2012, 09:41 AM   #17
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Dancing David, PixyMisa, shuttlt, Mijin

thank you very much for your posts; your help much appreciated. I really hope the GH posters will read here and follow the link.
I certainly feel I understand more myself.

Thank you also, Paul C. I'll have a look at that link later.
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Old 20th December 2012, 03:16 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by Mijin View Post
I'd phrase it: we have no reason to suppose that the mind is anything other than / more than neurology.
The problem is, while that is technically correct, it's rather like saying "we have no reason to suppose the world is not round" - after we've seen it from space.

No, we know that mind is brain function.
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Old 20th December 2012, 04:47 PM   #19
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We know enough about consciousness, that some are already able to piece together an evolutionary pathway or two for it. Do we know everything, yet? No. But, THAT is how much we already know!

Self Comes to Mind, by Antonio Damasio, is the best example I can offer, right now. No one is going to read that book, and still say "We still don't have a clue what consciousness is" with any honesty.
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Old 21st December 2012, 12:18 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by PixyMisa View Post
The problem is, while that is technically correct, it's rather like saying "we have no reason to suppose the world is not round" - after we've seen it from space.

No, we know that mind is brain function.
You said, we know that it's all brain function. While that's a fairly safe bet (and indeed I would bet my own life savings, house etc on it) there's just no reason to make that claim.

And the difference is, with the shape of the earth, that's the complete problem domain. With the mind, we have no overarching theory and there are holes in our understanding.

Do I think a non-local effect or whatever lurks in one of these holes? No. As I said, I would bet a lot of money there isn't.
But logically, I will concede the possibility.
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Old 21st December 2012, 12:37 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by Mijin View Post
You said, we know that it's all brain function. While that's a fairly safe bet (and indeed I would bet my own life savings, house etc on it) there's just no reason to make that claim.

And the difference is, with the shape of the earth, that's the complete problem domain. With the mind, we have no overarching theory and there are holes in our understanding.

Do I think a non-local effect or whatever lurks in one of these holes? No. As I said, I would bet a lot of money there isn't.
But logically, I will concede the possibility.
Then you have to cocnede the possibility that the world is flat, but due to an hithertio unknown space warping phenomenon , it appears as spherical viewed from space.


Problem is , such "possibility" consideration lead to nowhere.

No you have to take the null , that the consciousness is a 100% emerging process from the brain, and if somebody want to consider something else, then let them bring evidence.

But to consider "hypothetical possibilities" is a waste of time unless you want to falsify it. There is an infinite number of them.

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Old 21st December 2012, 12:53 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by PixyMisa View Post
The problem is, while that is technically correct, it's rather like saying "we have no reason to suppose the world is not round" - after we've seen it from space.

No, we know that mind is brain function.
I don't think the evidence we have about mind is as strong as the evidence we have that the world is round. Such assertions strike me as maybe a tad leading to a fall.

Now, of course mind is brain function. The evidence is good that it's not some other organ. The trouble is this doesn't really even approach the deeper question, not just of how brain does it, but how this is able to lead to our internal experience.
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Old 21st December 2012, 01:21 AM   #23
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Originally Posted by Frank Merton View Post
I don't think the evidence we have about mind is as strong as the evidence we have that the world is round. Such assertions strike me as maybe a tad leading to a fall.

Now, of course mind is brain function. The evidence is good that it's not some other organ. The trouble is this doesn't really even approach the deeper question, not just of how brain does it, but how this is able to lead to our internal experience.
After all those experience on brain or electrode excitation on its output, all live operation and sof forth, and all effect correlation to specific brain zone damaged, what make you think that the evidence is not as strong ? No really genuine question, why do you think so ? What would you see as better evidence ?

In my view , the evidence are as good as it goes for both.
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Old 21st December 2012, 01:21 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by Aepervius View Post
No you have to take the null , that the consciousness is a 100% emerging process from the brain, and if somebody want to consider something else, then let them bring evidence.
"We do know that it's all brain function" is not the null hypothesis.

And I don't think the earth is round analogy is really like for like. In that case you're talking about a single problem with a single observation that tells you all you need to know.

With the mind, sure I can hypothesize ways that that claim could be false (I think they are extremely unlikely, but still) e.g. there are some neurons outside of the brain, such as in the retinas. These neurons seem to do tasks such as edge detection. But, hypothetically speaking, what if we discovered that something happening here is actually integral to consciousness?
In this (extremely unlikely) case we'd have to say our earlier claim, which we claimed to know, is actually false.
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Old 21st December 2012, 01:40 AM   #25
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Originally Posted by Frank Merton View Post
I don't think the evidence we have about mind is as strong as the evidence we have that the world is round. Such assertions strike me as maybe a tad leading to a fall.

Now, of course mind is brain function. The evidence is good that it's not some other organ. The trouble is this doesn't really even approach the deeper question, not just of how brain does it, but how this is able to lead to our internal experience.
Reflection.
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Old 21st December 2012, 01:43 AM   #26
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Surely we have no evidence at all to indicate why there is such a thing as a non-zombie qualia experience of consciousness? We appear to have found out a lot about the information processing that goes on in the brain, but what have we done and what can we do about the zombie question except hand wave it away and say it's all just brain function?
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Old 21st December 2012, 01:44 AM   #27
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Originally Posted by Mijin View Post
And the difference is, with the shape of the earth, that's the complete problem domain.
Nope.

It could be that the Earth just looks round, because of some unexpected trick of physics. Of course, that makes no sense at all, but neither do alternate hypotheses for the mind. The only way to even make them appear briefly to be coherent is to isolate them from everything we know.

ETA: Aepervius got there first.
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Old 21st December 2012, 01:46 AM   #28
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Originally Posted by shuttlt View Post
Surely we have no evidence at all to indicate why there is such a thing as a non-zombie qualia experience of consciousness?
That question doesn't mean anything. Sorry.
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Old 21st December 2012, 01:47 AM   #29
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And apologies to Susan - it seems this thread will shortly go the way of every thread regarding the big C.
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Old 21st December 2012, 02:37 AM   #30
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Originally Posted by SusanB-M1 View Post
On the GH Science board, there is a poster who states:

We still don't have a clue what consciousness is.

Is this really a true statement?


...snip...
That's a yes and no.

The "no" is because people have many different meanings for the word "conciousness" which means it's an impossible target to hit.

It's a "yes" in that science certainly is explaining a lot of the behaviours that are often associated with the meaning of conciousness.
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Old 21st December 2012, 02:47 AM   #31
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Originally Posted by Frank Merton View Post
...snip...

Now, of course mind is brain function. The evidence is good that it's not some other organ. The trouble is this doesn't really even approach the deeper question, not just of how brain does it, but how this is able to lead to our internal experience.
Going to have to strongly disagree with this, brains don't exist isolated from the rest of the body.

Often in these discussions we seem to regard the brain as a black box with an input and an output, yet we know from anatomy alone that this isn't the case. Yes we do know that the brain is a very important part of the behaviours we associate with the label conciousness but it clearly isn't the only part.
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Old 21st December 2012, 02:51 AM   #32
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Originally Posted by shuttlt View Post
Surely we have no evidence at all to indicate why there is such a thing as a non-zombie qualia experience of consciousness? We appear to have found out a lot about the information processing that goes on in the brain, but what have we done and what can we do about the zombie question except hand wave it away and say it's all just brain function?
Problem is that "qualia" is in fact a conclusion. And when asked to explain the argument that leads to that conclusion I've only ever seen it answered by using the conclusion as part of the premise of the argument used to come to that conclusion!
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Old 21st December 2012, 03:54 AM   #33
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Originally Posted by Darat View Post
Problem is that "qualia" is in fact a conclusion. And when asked to explain the argument that leads to that conclusion I've only ever seen it answered by using the conclusion as part of the premise of the argument used to come to that conclusion!
My experience is that there are some people who immediately "get" what the phenomenon of qualia implies, and others who I doubt ever will. The extremes of the former tend to mysticism, while the extremes of the latter tend to hard-core reductionism.

I'm not sure where the above quoted statement puts you, but I would guess in the "not getting" it group, since you see well enough that qualia can't be approached from outside what it is, and tend to take that as demonstration that it isn't.

All I can say is that one cannot explain or describe qualia; one must just know.
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Old 21st December 2012, 03:58 AM   #34
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Originally Posted by Darat View Post
Going to have to strongly disagree with this, brains don't exist isolated from the rest of the body.
Well of course; indeed, brain tissue has been found in our stomachs. Still, "thinking" does for all practical purposes originate in brain matter.

Quote:
Often in these discussions we seem to regard the brain as a black box with an input and an output, yet we know from anatomy alone that this isn't the case. Yes we do know that the brain is a very important part of the behaviours we associate with the label conciousness but it clearly isn't the only part.
We have to treat some things the brain does in black-box fashion because we can't begin to imagine how it does it, even though we know it does. By going the black box route we break the problem into smaller pieces and tackle those that we are able to develop a theory about.
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Old 21st December 2012, 04:08 AM   #35
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Originally Posted by Frank Merton View Post
My experience is that there are some people who immediately "get" what the phenomenon of qualia implies, and others who I doubt ever will. The extremes of the former tend to mysticism, while the extremes of the latter tend to hard-core reductionism.

...snip...
Not bothered about philosophical worldviews - what works works and that's as far as I go!

Originally Posted by Frank Merton View Post
I'm not sure where the above quoted statement puts you, but I would guess in the "not getting" it group, since you see well enough that qualia can't be approached from outside what it is, and tend to take that as demonstration that it isn't.

All I can say is that one cannot explain or describe qualia; one must just know.
Indeed which is why I have stated a few times here that I must be a p-zombie.
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Old 21st December 2012, 04:17 AM   #36
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Originally Posted by PixyMisa View Post
And apologies to Susan - it seems this thread will shortly go the way of every thread regarding the big C.
Yep, seems like a lot of people want there to be something special about human consciousness.
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Old 21st December 2012, 04:26 AM   #37
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Originally Posted by Frank Merton View Post
I don't think the evidence we have about mind is as strong as the evidence we have that the world is round. Such assertions strike me as maybe a tad leading to a fall.

Now, of course mind is brain function. The evidence is good that it's not some other organ. The trouble is this doesn't really even approach the deeper question, not just of how brain does it, but how this is able to lead to our internal experience.
Do you think this experience is caused by something other than chemistry and physics?
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Old 21st December 2012, 04:43 AM   #38
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Originally Posted by Frank Merton View Post
My experience is that there are some people who immediately "get" what the phenomenon of qualia implies, and others who I doubt ever will. The extremes of the former tend to mysticism, while the extremes of the latter tend to hard-core reductionism.

I'm not sure where the above quoted statement puts you, but I would guess in the "not getting" it group, since you see well enough that qualia can't be approached from outside what it is, and tend to take that as demonstration that it isn't.

All I can say is that one cannot explain or describe qualia; one must just know.
If you are not able to explain qualia and you have to "get" it then maybe you should reconsider your hypothesis or definition. Frankly woo use the same reassonning for people which "don't get it"
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Old 21st December 2012, 04:46 AM   #39
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Originally Posted by Frank Merton View Post
All I can say is that one cannot explain or describe qualia; one must just know.
Sounds remarkably like religious faith...

I'm pretty sure most of us know the phenomena that qualia are supposed to label, much as we know the phenomenon that the 'spark of life' or 'life essence' is supposed to label, it's just that some of us think that those labels are redundant.
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Old 21st December 2012, 04:54 AM   #40
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Originally Posted by tsig View Post
Do you think this experience is caused by something other than chemistry and physics?
Of course, its karmic energy.

It's not possible to define a modern "materialist" perspective. In the old days one said, "All that exists is matter and the void." Now we know better, since matter is a form of "energy," and it is not really possible to say "All that exists is energy and the void," as, intuitively, we have a far weaker grasp on what "energy" might be than the materialists had on their notion of matter.

For example, we know that energy is conserved, except in an important way it isn't -- its entropy increases. I guess one can say that the energy remains but diffuses. Then, again, is it really conserved? Low entropy energy seems to have come out of the inflation of the cosmos, very early on, in immense amounts.

Well, I meander; my point is that if we don't know what energy is, but can only describe its manifestations, then how can be take a rigidly "physicalist" (nee materialist) approach?

At the same time, what else is there? If there exists forces that cannot be encompassed in a physicalist envelope, then they have to be quite unknowable. End of story. If they exist we will never know it; if they don't exist we will never know it.

As to whether phenomena of our existence such as mind and free-will derive from these unknowable forces, well, of course, we can't know it if they are. We can only know it if they aren't -- provided someone someday has the insight to "physicalize" them.
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