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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 by a moderator: Apr 22, 2017
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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

    selfAdjoint

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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

    selfAdjoint

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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.
     
  22. Mar 10, 2006 #21
    Its possible, and personally i would say yes, but the problem is we dont know when, how or why it arose.
    Evidence, how?

    What are u talking about? What empty speculations? If there is one speculation that is currently empty, it is that consciousness arose by random mutations and natural selection. Are we now living in an opposite world where we must believe in miracles because physicalists say so?

    This is exactly my point.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2006
  23. Mar 10, 2006 #22
    I didnt see him make a distinction so i assumed he meant all of it. Suppose that this access consciousness had the task to make itself unneccesary and succeeded, would phenomenal consciousness then dissappear or is it known that they can exist independently from eachother?

    Im not really rejecting anything. Im simply not convinced but i wont hide for the truth when it pops up.
     
  24. Mar 10, 2006 #23

    hypnagogue

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    From what I've seen, in scientific discussions on consciousness, it's usually safer to assume that the author means "access consciousness" unless s/he explicitly states otherwise. (And even when subjective experience in particular is the stated meaning of the word "consciousness," usually the extended discussion implicitly switches over to access consciousness anyway.) In this case it is pretty unambiguous that Bargh is really talking about access consciousness since he's talking about the purpose or function of consciousness.

    The point of creating the conceptual distinction between access and phenomenal consciousness in the first place is to disentangle this perpetually inherent ambiguity between the functions consciousness is usually associated with on the one hand, and the qualitative, experiential character of consciousness on the other. By definition of the terms, to speak about the functionality of consciousness is to speak about access consciousness. This also helps to clarify the role of scientific investigations about consciousness: access consciousness is straightforwardly examinable and explicable by scientific methods, whereas phenomenal consciousness is a much trickier beast. It may be that the only proper scientific investigation about phenomenal consciousness that can occur is an indirect one that works through studying access consciousness and making some assumptions about the link between access and phenomenal consciousness, in order to draw conclusions about the latter from studies of the former.

    Well, to reiterate my previous point, I don't think Bargh is really claiming that the ultimate end of access consciousness is to completely annihilate itself. Rather, I think he claims that its purpose is to assist in the creation of dedicated subconscious processes for specific tasks such that these processes can eventually take primary responsibility for carrying out these tasks. To the extent that we always come across novel situations, then, access consciousness would never be completely useless. It would only become less crucial for carrying out specific kinds of tasks. Besides, to establish a cognitive function as unnecessary does not imply that that function will cease to exist entirely.
     
  25. Mar 12, 2006 #24

    Q_Goest

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    Hey PIT2. The paper you referenced by John Bargh is a terrific one for discussion. Kinda wish you'd have used it for the MB Journal club because it combines neurology with consciousness. Regardless, your question of whether consciousness evolved at all seems like a reasonable question to ask when confronted with the question of whether consciousness will ever lead to it's own elimination.

    If I might try and put into my own words what Bargh is getting at, it is that consciousness allows humans to 'program' actions, be they learned actions or social behavior. He's suggesting consciousness evolved and points out how consciousness is used to program the brain so that more complex actions can be 'learned'. Interestingly, he mentions 'mirror neurons' as being part of that system of learning (bottom of page 13) as discussed in Hypno's M&B JC paper. The paper is very interesting and nicely written. It's easily understandable to those of us without the expertise in Bargh's field which is nice. It's a long paper though, so if you haven't already read it, I'd suggest reading the first few pages and once you get the basic jist of what he says, skip to page 24 and read from "Implications for the Purpose of Consciousness" to the top of page 27 (Conclusions).

    It sounds from reading this that Bargh is of the opinion that the phenomenon of consciousness, in the broad sense of the term, is a phenomenon that evolved in the same sense that the wing on a bird evolved. I apologize for the analogy here, I'm having difficulty explaining what I'm seeing here so I'm going to use some analogy. Bargh seems to take a strict physicalist, computationalist and a functionalist view of consciousness.

    A bird's wing is something that evolved to allow flight. Functionally, a wing allows something to move through a fluid. There are other ways of creating the phenomenon of flight such as allowing for buoyancy for example. A fish doesn't need wings, they only need to be buoyant to fly through water. The phenomenon of flight doesn't require anything fundamental to nature. The wing is only one of a number of possible ways of creating the phenomenon of flight.

    In comparison, an electric eel has body organs which evolved to make use of something much more fundamental than a bird's wings. We might say the function of that organ is to kill prey or as a means of self defense. But the organ requires an electrical charge be generated in order to produce the phenomenon which it is known for so any equal function will not produce the phenomenon. For example, the eel could maintain the functions of killing or defending by biting but that doesn't utilize the same fundamental physical feature of nature. Note that here I'm suggesting that consciousness is analogous to an electric charge such that any functionally similar organ which doesn't use electric charge won't be able to produce the phenomenon of consciousness.

    To address your issue of consciousness not evolving, it seems to me there can be (at least) two views taken of this from a physicalist's perspective. The body organ that creates the phenomenon of consciousness (ie: the brain) may be like a wing, or it may be like the electric eel's organ which requires something much more fundamental to produce the phenomenon. I think one could argue that consciousness might make use of some fundamental feature of nature, one we simply don't have a solid understanding of yet. If that's true, then whatever fundamental feature of nature that is, requires the brain to somehow interact with it just as an eel's organ must interact with electrons.
     
  26. Mar 21, 2006 #25

    GCT

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    the article is very interesting. But the question is of whether there's a difference in a person who thinks he or she is conscious or is convinced that they are, and the individual that truly possesses consciousness. How many of you would advocate for the concept of "degrees of consciousness?" Consciousness is inevitably a "jail cell" of some sort, in that one can't seem to escape it, not even animals. I've always thought that a human mind is more conscious than an animal's simply based on mental illness, in that some people seem to have the capacity to suffer it endlessly, to respond to the knowledge of one's existence...endlessly. In that sense, many things are conscious, including insects. Put an insect in an oxygenated jar (with holes on the cover), as long as you sustain it, it will be required to deal with the situation. Perhaps the human capacity for suicide suggests a higher form of "conciousness," in the sense that it seems that we are "concious" that we're "conscious."

    Anyways, my main intention is to question on whether there are various degrees of consciousness. I can go throughout the day and not notice a thing about what I'm doing, partly because I have a busy schedule. But another person may not find it too difficult, to be aware of such sensory information (while sitting in front of a computer screen, noticing the pictures, and the general "weirdness" of interacting with a computer).
     
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