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Medical Consciousness exists to make itself unnecessary

  1. Mar 3, 2006 #1
    This guy (John Bargh) thinks that consciousness exists to make itself unnecessary:

    What do u think of this idea?
    I think it sounds good, except for the part that claims the purpose of consciousness is to make itself unnecessary. It seems more likely to me that the purpose is to make processes unconscious/automatic, so that it can then focus on something else (to improve/create).
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2006
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  3. Mar 3, 2006 #2

    selfAdjoint

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    Well apply it to animals. Wouldn't you say that in the sense used by this paper they are "controlled by their environment"? And do they need to be conscious for that?
     
  4. Mar 3, 2006 #3
    They are probably controlled by the environment up to a degree, but not completely i think. Environmental factors that are unpredictable may require conscious reactions. And in the case of completely non-conscious animals(if they exist), it doesnt make sense to state that they once were conscious, but that that consciousness wiped itself out by making the behaviour automatic.

    It is like saying we want to have automated systems such as computers so that we can then commit suicide when we invent AI.
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2006
  5. Mar 4, 2006 #4
    The person who wrote this sentence is falling prey to the strange idea that things evolve "for a purpose", meaning, if we need a certain skill evolution somehow will it into existence. In fact, changes happen all the time at random. The ones that happen to provide some sort of advantage in being able to breed are the ones that become prevalent in a population . That, or they simply aren't a disadvantage.

    It's one thing to make the observation that consciousness leads to the creation of automatic, unconscious behaviors but to say it, or anything, evolved "for that purpose" is to stand with at least one foot in Intelligent Design. If there were really a mechanism behind evolution with a "purpose" we would have been rid of all kinds of flaws and problems we have long ago.
     
  6. Mar 5, 2006 #5
    Maybe he is just talking about how it evolved and not why it came into being. And it would then evolve as much for a purpose as our eyes and brains do.

    Interesting thing is that evolution theory says nothing about consciousness, so maybe it actually does have a purpose.
     
  7. Mar 5, 2006 #6

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    Some evolutionists suggest that consciousness evolved as a byproduct of our genus's known tendency to evolve for more subtlle, contingent, variable decision capabilities.
     
  8. Mar 5, 2006 #7
    See, now you're doing it too. Our eyes and brains didn't evolve "for a purpose". They happened by accident and since they proved incredibly usefull creatures that had them had the reproductive advantage over their fellows.

    What you have to remember is that for everything like sensitivity to light that happened by accident there were a huge number of stray accidents that were disadvantages. If an individual is born, for instance, unable to digest part of the available diet of his people, he won't survive to mate.
     
  9. Mar 5, 2006 #8
    Maybe 'task' is a better word.
    But would u say that the lungs serve their purpose?

    The wikipedia definition of purpose is:

    "Purpose is deliberately thought-through goal-directedness."

    So it seems purpose arises out of mind/consciousness, but it is unknown at what point consciousness arose during evolution (or if it did at all), or whether the idea of purpose is an illusion or not. If it isnt, and consciousness does have the purpose and power to "create ever more complex nonconscious processes" then is consciousness not a new evolutionary mechanism, and in fact an intelligent designer?
     
  10. Mar 5, 2006 #9

    hypnagogue

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    zoob, your point is well taken, but I think this is more of a terminological issue than anything else. Bargh equates "purpose" in that sentence with "why it evolved," which one could rephrase as "why it was selected for once it did begin to appear" or "the manner in which it confers survival and reproductive benefits." One can think of biological features as having some purpose in terms of the role they play in promoting survival and/or reproduction without conceptualizing them as having come into existence specifically for that purpose.
     
  11. Mar 5, 2006 #10

    hypnagogue

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    I think Bargh means more or less what you refer to in your last sentence. If he were a bit more careful in his wording I think he would have rewritten this sentence:

    "Intriguingly, then, one of the primary objectives of conscious processing may be to eliminate the need for itself in the future by making learned skills as automatic as possible."

    this way:

    "...one of the primary objectives of conscious processing of a given task may be to eliminate the need for itself [conscious processing] for that given task by making learned skills pertaining to that task as automatic as possible."

    I don't think Bargh implies anywhere that the ultimate end of consciousness would be to completely eliminate its own existence or anything like that. Presumably, as creatures living in a dynamic environment, we will always come across novel situations for which we have no perfect preparation in terms of experience or skill or memory. Such novel situations should require conscious processing of information in order to be dealt with optimally.

    Bargh's idea squares pretty well with what is known about conscious and unconscious processing, I think. Conscious processing is sort of the mind's swiss army knife for handling novel situations, but it has rather severe limitations in terms of processing speed and storage capacity. Unconscious information processing is much faster, has much greater storage capacity, and often is simply just qualitatively better at performing various kinds of tasks; however, it is limited in the extent to which it can generalize to new cases. So there is a trade-off between the two information processing styles, and optimally each should be free to attend to where it is needed most and/or what it can do best.
     
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2006
  12. Mar 6, 2006 #11
    You could rephrase it that way, but I am not sure that paraphrase is in keeping with his intent. It puts a very different spin on it to speak of why it evolved rather than of why it was selected.

    Speaking of "purpose" in the same breath as evolution is pretty much to misunderstand the haphazard course of it, and to suppose that there's some kind of drive behind it, some kind of goal seeking. In fact it's just a happy accident that Nature doesn't repeat itself: each new being that's born is individual. That being the case some individuals are going to be better suited for the environment they're born into than others, and there are usually plenty of extreme individuals who , while just marking time in the environment as it is, might flourish and take over if there were a sudden change in the environment.

    I'm making a point of jumping on this because alot of people who, without being proponents of ID, still are under the illusion that evolution is "directed", that it's going somewhere, that everything's becoming better and better. That's a value judgement made by ourselves about ourselves in comparison to our idea of our predecessors: homo erectus et. al. Really, all we are is more sophisticated, which doesn't necessarily amount to "better," and that is as accidental as any evolutionary step. Speaking of a things "evolved purpose" is too suggestive of a directing intelligence, or directed force, like gravity, which isn't really there.
     
  13. Mar 8, 2006 #12
    So there is no direction, yet we do tend to get more sophisticated.
    In this video, Daniel Dennett seems to think that evolution has a direction:
    http://www.meaningoflife.tv/video.php?speaker=dennett&topic=direvol

    In the case of consciousness, it is (or can be) in fact a directing intelligence. For instance u can easily imagine human intelligence manipulating genes in a lab and directing evolution. But where did the consciousness come from? I think many people (who are not even proponents of ID) will find it hard to imagine that consciousness was an evolutionary accident. What is needed to make this not a matter of imagination of either side, is empirical evidence, instead of a philosophical construct.
     
  14. Mar 8, 2006 #13

    hypnagogue

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    What exact sense of the word "consciousness" are you using here and why would you find it hard to imagine that it was an evolutionary accident?
     
  15. Mar 8, 2006 #14
    I mean phenomenal consciousness.

    And hard to imagine, because as of yet there has been found nothing in the laws of physics that would predict the existence of consciousness, and nothing in the properties of matter that says anything about consciousness.
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2006
  16. Mar 8, 2006 #15

    selfAdjoint

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    How about hominid behavior, say roughly at the level of chimpanzees today or what we can infer about autralopithecines? Would you say that was predictable from physics? Evolution says it came about from entirely natural causes and we're pretty sure consciousness (maybe not with all the freight philosophers tack on to "phenomenal consciousness") came from there, by yet more natural causes.
     
  17. Mar 8, 2006 #16
    If physics can predict their behavior? I dont think so. Assuming they are conscious, then there is at least one input physics cannot measure.

    I dont doubt that consciousness is natural, but i am not convinced that it fits nicely into the darwinian evolution proces of random mutations and natural selection.
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2006
  18. Mar 8, 2006 #17

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    As neat an example of begging the question, aka petitio principi, aka assuming what you want to prove, as I know.
     
  19. Mar 9, 2006 #18
    Well thank u, but i dont see how i begged the question much. Is it not pretty safe to assume, even by physicalist standards, that chimpanzees are conscious? Dont they have a brain and a CNS? Is it also not true that physics cannot measure the contents of consciousness?

    What i think is really begging the question (because we do not know where consciousness came from, what it does and how it does it), is to assume that consciousness is physical, and then also assume it arose by randomness+NS.
     
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2006
  20. Mar 9, 2006 #19

    hypnagogue

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    In that case, you may be taking the discussion to a place orthogonal to the content of the original post. It seems pretty clear to me that Bargh's claims apply to the operational/functional aspects associated with consciousness, i.e. access consciousness.

    Rejecting a physicalist explanation of phenomenal consciousness doesn't necessarily lead to rejection of the hypothesis that phenomenal consciousness was an evolutionary accident. The latter is a stronger position and requires additional claims about the nature of phenomenal consciousness, e.g. perhaps something along the lines of "phenomenal consciousness can exist independently of physical phenomena." One can be skeptical that phenomena described by physical theory are sufficient to account for phenomenal consciousness while still holding that they necessarily co-occur with phenomenal consciousness for example.
     
  21. Mar 9, 2006 #20

    selfAdjoint

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    Worms have brains and central nervous systems; do you assert that consciousness (your phenomenal consciousness) is present in all chordates? where is your evidence for that? It seems you just assume all this stuff about consciousness and then argue because physics "cannot measure the content of consciousness" that your empty speculations must be true.

    I think it is unsound to base any argument about consciousness on what physics can or cannot do; physics does not really study consciousness, but cognitive science and neurology do. Discuss them.
     
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