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.