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Group reading/discussion of A Place for Consciousness

  1. Yes, I would be interested in reading along and actively participating in the discussion.

    68.2%
  2. I'd be interested in following the discussion, but not in reading along or actively participating.

    31.8%
  3. I'm not really interested in the idea of a group discussion of this material.

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  1. Dec 7, 2004 #1

    hypnagogue

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    Group reading/discussion of "A Place for Consciousness"

    The purpose of this poll is to gauge forum interest in a group reading and discussion of Gregg Rosenberg's newly released book, A Place for Consciousness. I propose this endeavor because I believe the work is genuinely important enough (and, perhaps, perplexing enough!) to merit a thorough treatment, because several PF members have expressed interest in the material or have already bought the book, and because it'd be fun!

    The general format of the group discussion would be as follows. Discussion would proceed on a weekly or biweekly basis, with each interval of time devoted to one of the chapters of the book. Discussion of each chapter would begin with a new thread, leading off with a brief summary of the chapter's content, and committed PF members would proceed to post commentary, critiques, questions, etc. about material in that chapter in the appropriate thread. Despite the given time schedule, conversation regarding any given chapter could extend indefinitely, even as the group proceeds to move on to new chapters; hopefully, however, one or two weeks will be enough time for all members to give any chapter a thorough reading and iron out at least the major issues and questions that present themselves.

    Rosenberg's work is important because it appears to make significant advances on difficult issues surrounding consciousness that beforehand seemed intractable dead-ends. The following is a brief summary, color-coded in blue, of the thrust of the book and its achievements:

    Rosenberg observes that many of the conceptual problems involved with phenomenal consciousness (P-consciousness) revolve around questions of causation (e.g. interactionism denies causal closure of the physical, whereas epiphenomenalism denies P-consciousness any causal powers at all, etc.). In order to place consciousness into the natural order in a non-ad hoc way, he re-examines our theories of causality, finds them lacking, and constructs a new one. His new account of causation introduces receptivity, which is roughly a system's capacity to be affected, and novelly characterizes the familiar notion of effective causation as an operator of constraint on a given domain of possible states. He develops the new theory of causation formally by creating a directed graph notation.

    He goes on to argue that contemporary physical theory ultimately describes a schema composed of bare differences, and finds such a schema ontologically lacking. In other words, he characterizes physics as an entirely extrinsic or relational theory, and finds relational phenomena to be incoherent in the absence of some kind of bottom-line intrinsic phenomena that can instantiate and realize such extrinsic/schematic relationships. That is, he finds a system entirely described by propositions of the type "is-related-to" to be incoherent without mention of the nature of the 'stuff' to be doing the relating, much as we might imagine the abstract structure of a chess game to be incoherent in the absence of some kind of 'stuff' (a traditional chessboard with chess tokens, or a pattern of information on a computer hard drive, or a pattern of information in a person's brain, or whatever) to instantiate and realize that structure.

    He proposes phenomenal and experiential properties to be the perfect sort of candidate to play the part of this bottom line intrinsic 'stuff' that instantiates and realizes the abstract structure of relationships described by physics. So he winds up with a sort of panexperientialist theory, where physical phenomena are just the set of functional relationships that phenomenal properties engage in.

    In elaborating this idea within his detailed theory of causation, Rosenberg

    * assigns P-consciousness causal relevance without slipping into the traditionally problematic doctrines of interactionism or epiphenomenalism;
    * manages to neatly solve (or at least, present plausible solutions for) a number of paradoxes surrounding consciousness such as the boundary problem (why does human consciousness appear to 'end' at just brain activity, instead of being more 'spread out' or more 'constricted' with respect to physical phenomena?);
    * comes to a sort of functionalist view on consciousness that avoids the usual observer-relative and ontological problems associated with traditional functionalist approaches;
    * avoids falling into the usual philosophical pitfalls associated with panexperientialism and panpsychism;
    * and much more.

    The real value of this book is the manner in which it places consciousness in a natural, even aesthetically pleasing way into the natural order. Anyone familiar with the philosophical problems swirling around consciousness knows that trying to reconcile its place in nature can be frustratingly difficult. It seems as if we are trying to squeeze the square peg of consciousness into a round hole in nature, or worse, as if we are trying to jam in a peg where no hole exists! Thus, we wind up with seemingly intractible mysteries that we can only reconcile in counterintuitive, partial, and ultimately 'ugly' ways. The overall effect of Rosenberg's work is to show that a square hole does indeed exist in our account of nature, and that the square peg of consciousness fits perfectly into this opening. The result is a picture of nature that accomodates consciousness in a natural way; the problems in our account of nature and the problems of consciousness fit together in a pleasing lock and key fit and wind up solving eachother, and we are left with at least a sketch of nature that appears to be complete, intuitive, and aesthetically pleasing.


    A Place for Consciousness is available for sale in hard copy online. There is also an older version of the manuscript available for free online at http://ai.uga.edu/~ghrosenb/book.html; however, this version is not authoritative, and may be removed from the Internet at any time, so it would be very much preferable to use the hardcopy as a reference.

    Please respond to the poll and post your replies in this thread if you are genuinely interested in doing this, since the level of interest shown will determine whether or not we go through with it. Also, any comments or suggestions are welcome; for instance, would you prefer the discussion to proceed in one week or two week intervals, or some other format entirely?

    Updates (as of 1/13/05)

    • The Physics Forums group reading and discussion of Gregg Rosenberg's A Place for Consciousness is confirmed. Nonetheless, if you have not yet voted in the poll, please do so (even if you do not intend to actively participate in the discussion).
    • The group discussion will officially begin on January 14th, 2005.
    • If you intend to participate in the group discussion, you are urged to purchase and use the published book. The version available online is not the final edit, and Gregg Rosenberg has confirmed to me that "there are lots of changes in the final version that matter to the meaning." Therefore, reading from the online version could hinder your own understanding of the material and cause undue misunderstandings in the context of the group discussion.
    • There will be a default maximum period of time (2 weeks) to spend exclusively on one chapter before moving on to the next. If all questions, commentaries, etc. seem to have been exhausted before 2 weeks (e.g. if the discussion lasts a week and then a day or two passes with no new significant posts), then discussion will proceed to the next chapter.
    • Please note the new subforum in the Metaphysics & Epistemology forum, "A Place for Consciousness" Group Discussion. Our group discussion will take place in this subforum, starting tomorrow (Friday, January 14th). In the subforum, you can find information about the guidelines and format that the discussion will adhere to.

      I look forward to finally beginning. It should be fun. :smile:
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2005
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  3. Dec 8, 2004 #2

    Les Sleeth

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    I don't think I can answer any of the choices in your poll yet. After seeing Rosenberg's short-cut option of trying chapters 1-3, etc. yesterday, I've been able to read some. I got a little more interested after realizing his model converges with mine at certain points.

    The only thing that makes me hesitate to commit to a full reading is that the way he reasons gives me a headache! :surprised Personally I need more real life examples so I can connect it to what I already know. I had the same problem with almost all the classic philosophers I read, but way back when I was studying them, I endured it for the sake of "wisdom," or so I thought.

    I know your keen intellect gobbles that kind of stuff up, so I understand your excitement. At my age now, my tolerance for what doesn't match my learning style is considerably less than what it used to be.

    In a few days I should be able to say more about how or if I will participate.
     
  4. Dec 8, 2004 #3

    hypnagogue

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    Yeah, I think we've discussed this before, but there's a lot in what he says that seems agreeable with your own ideas. Not quite identical, but actually pretty close on some points (from what I gather about your own ideas, at least).

    Hey, that's what a group discussion is for. :smile: The material isn't simple enough to be able to take it all in without some difficulty. I had some of my own difficulties at various points, of course. One of the advantages of reading along with other PF members and then discussing the material is that we'll be able to ask questions to eachother and come to some concensus answer. I'll do my best to answer any questions that come from reading the text, and I'm sure other members will as well.

    The material is a bit abstract, so I can understand where you're coming from. However, I really don't think the ideas are beyond your ability to comprehend; if you've read a chapter and don't quite understand, you can at least count on the other members of the group to try to explain it in a way more conducive to your learning style. For example, if real life examples aren't sufficient to convey a certain idea, perhaps the right metaphors or analogies will do the trick.

    Sounds good. Hope to see you there.
     
  5. Dec 9, 2004 #4

    hypnagogue

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    I'd like more than 5 or 6 members participating, but that's certainly a sufficient number to have good group discussion on such a focused topic, especially with the quality and diversity of members who have 'signed up.' Also, I'm sure other members will join in once things get rolling. So, it's official, we're going to do this. :biggrin: Since the holidays and New Year's are coming up, we'll start some time in early-mid January. I'll post more information in the coming weeks as we get everything set up.

    If anyone is interested in participating and hasn't voted on the poll yet, please by all means, do so. It would be nice to get an idea of the other members who plan to participate. Even if you don't plan on participating, voicing your opinion on this whole idea would be appreciated.

    Any thoughts on the weekly vs. biweekly issue? Weekly may not be enough time to cover a chapter sufficiently, whereas things might drag a bit with biweekly. Any suggestions? For now, I'm leaning towards starting off biweekly and seeing how it goes, and possibly changing the format. However, it'd be best to maintain an established schedule to keep things going smoothly.
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2004
  6. Dec 9, 2004 #5
    Hypnagogue

    Weekly is fine by me.

    Is the downloadable version of the book near enough to the real thing for the purposes of this discussion?

    PS. Have you seen this month's Journal of C. Studies? It has a tremendous article on quantum mechanical theories of mind, focused on Stapp's. I couldn't quite grasp it all, it's not an area I've ever looked into scientifically as opposed to philosophically, but it's fascinating stuff. I finally understood the measurement problem in QM.

    I'm completely biased of course, and to me it's a fascinating study in the lengths that people will go to order to answer a metaphysical question scientifically and so postpone the collapse of their paradigm. :smile: But it's well worth reading IMHO, and extremely relevant to the ideas in Rosenberg's book.
     
  7. Dec 9, 2004 #6
    Well Les, I completely agree with you! I too found the material to be very useful for generating headaches :yuck: heh. But that's why I think this is a great idea and I'm going to jump on it. I've read much of the online paper and it has become obvious to me that the only way I'm going to understand this is to have some help!:biggrin:

    Edit: forgot to contribute preferences. For me, the longer the better. So I guess that's the "2 weeks" choice. It would be easy to get behind and miss a lot if it changed every week. Also, depending on the nature of the chapters, some may warrant only a week and others two. Perhaps if things are dragging on a particular chapter, an exception can be made to move on for that particular chapter?
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2004
  8. Dec 10, 2004 #7

    hypnagogue

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    I haven't read the hardcopy yet, so it's impossible for me to say. I think the online version has the same core of ideas, but it has been edited and is certainly not the final say in the matter. You might be able to get by using the online version, but you also might be at a considerable disadvantage if a key idea has been reworded or a large section of text has been added or ommitted. All in all, I would recommend to just buy the actual book if at all possible. It'll be worth it.

    No, I haven't seen that. I'm supposed to have a subscription, but I believe they've been coming in sporadically. I'll look for it.
     
  9. Dec 10, 2004 #8

    hypnagogue

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    As far as the timing issue goes, I think the best format may be as follows. We'll have a default maximum period of time (2 weeks) to spend exclusively on one chapter before moving on to the next. If all questions, commentaries, etc. seem to have been exhausted before 2 weeks (eg if the discussion lasts a week and then a day or two passes with no new posts), then we'll just move on to the next chapter.

    Such a setup isn't as periodic as I'd like, but it seems the best option overall as it minimizes the amount of 'down time' and keeps the momentum of the reading and discussion going to the best extent possible.
     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2004
  10. Dec 10, 2004 #9

    Les Sleeth

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    Given my personal approach for developing a theory of consciousness using my daily practice of experiencing it, the problem for me is investing time in an approach which is substantially more rationalistic than mine, and which therefore isn't likely to help me achieve what I'm trying to achieve.

    For that reason I'll probably just follow the discussion. If I start getting more interested, or seeing Rosenberg's approach is more relevant than I thought, then I'll join up. How about if I keep the aspirin ready for you brainiacs? :tongue2:
     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2004
  11. Dec 10, 2004 #10

    I think this is a good approach, some chapters we may be able to through easier than others. I would hope we could do this in a no rush rhythm, so everything could be digested and understood, if that’s possible. I plan on rereading the same chapters several times, as we go along to fully comprehend his ideas. I have the book but have not touched it yet until I read the full link you gave. This looks to be very interesting
     
  12. Dec 12, 2004 #11

    honestrosewater

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    Would it be possible to post this as a sticky at least until the discussion begins?
     
  13. Dec 12, 2004 #12

    hypnagogue

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    :confused: This thread already is stickied.
     
  14. Dec 12, 2004 #13

    honestrosewater

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    :rofl: Maybe bright flashing lights would help.
     
  15. Dec 12, 2004 #14

    hypnagogue

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    Couple of new updates. First, the group discussion will begin officially on January 14th, 2005. By that time everyone should be settled down from the holidays and be ready to begin.

    Second, if you intend to participate in the group discussion, you are urged to purchase and use the published book. The version available online is not the final edit, and Gregg Rosenberg has confirmed to me that "there are lots of changes in the final version that matter to the meaning." Therefore, reading from the online version could hinder your own understanding of the material and cause undue misunderstandings in the context of the group discussion.

    By the way, from now on I'll be keeping a running list of updates at the bottom of the original post in this thread for easy reference.
     
  16. Dec 15, 2004 #15
    hypnagogue: I would like to participate in this discussion. I have read the book twice (not without some difficulty) and think it is very worthy of further study. I'm interested to see what you and the members of the forum who join in will have to say. Regards, - Steve
     
  17. Dec 15, 2004 #16

    hypnagogue

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    Welcome aboard, Steve! And welcome to Physics Forums!
     
  18. Dec 16, 2004 #17

    hypnagogue

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    By the way, if anyone is interested in a more detailed summary of A Place for Consciousness than the one I have provided, I've noticed that Steve has a very nice chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the book posted on his blog. http://guidetoreality.blogspot.com/
     
  19. Dec 16, 2004 #18
  20. Dec 16, 2004 #19

    honestrosewater

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    You can contact Amazon directly- there should be a button on the page. At least Amazon USA. I'll do it.
    Edit: Done. The correction should appear w/in 5 business days.
    Edit reply to below: Amazon US has it listed correctly.
     
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2004
  21. Dec 16, 2004 #20

    hypnagogue

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    Nice catch, you two. I knew that Amazon had the book listed as written by Jacob Rosenberg a month or two ago... you'd think they'd have fixed it by now. :uhh:
     
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