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Inanimate consciousness

  1. May 22, 2006 #1
    Leibniz proposed his philosophy of monads http://www.theosophy-nw.org/theosnw/world/modeur/ph-ryan.htm. Some physicist such as F. David Peat, Nick Herbert and writer Michael Talbot claim that in some sense, inanimate objects such as rocks, water and plasmas contain "consciousness".
    I know what is defined as organic and inorganic but is there some level of intelligence at the subatomic level and possibly even the so-called vacuum of space? Is there a "ghost in the atom"?
    Thanks RAD
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 1, 2006 #2
    If consciousness is simply a product of a particular form of dynamic information processing (which is my belief), how can we ever have inanimate consciousness?

    Best Regards
  4. Jun 1, 2006 #3
    Inanimate may have been a poor choice of words
  5. Jun 3, 2006 #4


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    It's about time to put some dualism into this conversation :biggrin:

    If consciousness is simply "a product of a particular form of dynamical information processing" then you've just REDEFINED consciousness as "a particular form of dynamical processing".
    That's what happens all the time in all scientific "inquiries into consciousness", the reason for this being that scientific inquiry is ONLY open to behavioural studies, and consciousness is NOT something which is behavioural. As such, it always is *redefined* as another concept, and then one comes to the conclusion that one has understood "consciousness" which is nothing else but the other concept.

    There is no way to inquire scientifically into "consciousness" as it is, by definition, not open to such behavioural inquiry. Now, one can conclude from that, that consciousness as such, is a non-existing concept, because the only concepts that have existence are behavioural. This is up to a point correct, but circular: in order to understand the behavioural aspects of the world, only behavioural aspects matter (and hence only things open to scientific inquiry matter). As such, the concept of consciousness does not exist. In fact, one could conclude that consciousness does not exist, except for your own one, of which you KNOW it exists, because you experience it. There is absolutely no need to invoke a concept such as consciousness to explain all the behavioural aspects of things (rocks, plants, animals, people) around you. In principle, their entire behaviour can be explained without such a concept.
    But you cannot explain your OWN subjective experience that way. You can find a relationship between physical aspects of your body, and related experiences, but there is no way to DERIVE, from the physical aspects, that this results in these subjective experiences. This relationship can only be empirical, and by analogy, and by making the hypothesis that other people are "conscious in the way you are".
    There's no way to derive the eventual conscious experience or not of a rock from its physics. Now maybe rocks don't have a conscious experience, but you cannot prove it, in the same way as you cannot prove that other people are conscious besides yourself. As I said, there's no need for such a concept to explain ANY behavioural aspect of any physical structure (such as the body of your friend). Consciousness only arises as a concept in order to give a name to your own mental subjective experience world (and which has no influence on your behaviour, which, I take it, is entirely determined by its physics, independent of any concept of consciousness).

    So I take it that people "redefining" consciousness into something behavioural never understood what was meant with it, or assume that the thing that was meant with it is a useless concept. Which it is entirely, from a strictly scientific (and hence behavioural) PoV. In many cases, consciousness is confused with some form of intelligence, or processing capacity, or sensory activity, but all these are OTHER concepts, which DO have a behavioural aspect (and are hence open to scientific inquiry).

    I'm happy to see that a guy like David Peat thinks about like I do about these things, because it is a good illustration of the difficulty in thinking about consciousness. A good question illustrating this is:
    "does it hurt a rock when we cut it ?"
    Crazy as it may seem, this question illustrates the dualist view on consciousness: there's no way to know that there is no subjective mental world attached to a rock. It would be fairly primitive of course :tongue2:, but you'll see that any attempt to refute the existence of this subjective mental world of a rock involves an (arbitrary) re-definition of the concept of consciousness.
    Not that I think that rocks are conscious :-) but deep down, I must admit that I don't know - in the same way that I assume that other people are conscious, but I must admit that deep down, I don't know. However, I have no doubts about the existance of my OWN subjective mental world.
  6. Jun 7, 2006 #5
    The 'old' philosophers like Descartes and Leibniz had a very poor concept of ENERGY. Consciousness is a highly processed and controlled form of energy. If you do not think so, just stop breathing for 10 minutes. The brain requires a constant source of energy to maintain consciousness.

    Rocks do not process energy. Therefore, no consciousness.

    The big problem with philosophy is that some take words that have meaning and arrange them in various orders and expect this new arrangement to have meaning. ROCKS has meaning, HAVE has meaning, and CONSCIOUSNESS has meaning, but the sentence 'Rocks have consciousness' produces nonsense-no meaning. Now, if one wants to contemplate the 'ghost in the atom', one should consider the interconnection of ALL by the graviton. When we understand the 'graviton' we will understand the Universe.
  7. Jun 7, 2006 #6
    This is not a "redefinition of consciousness", it is simply a suggestion as to how the phenomenon of consciousness arises.

    If you think this is some kind of "redefinition" of consciousness, perhaps you would like to give your preferred definition of consciousness so that we can take it from there?

    Best Regards
  8. Jul 4, 2006 #7
    I presume this is about phenomenal consciousness, in which case the standard definition would be 'what it is like'. It's not a scientific definition, for the reasons Vanesch gives, but it's all we've got.


    I mostly agree with you. You're speaking of what Chalmers calls the 'sleight of hand' by which many researchers sweep the problem under the carpet. Behaviourism is dead, long live Functionalism. It's a case of out the frying pan into the fire.

    However, I disagree strongly on this one. For example, I find it hard to believe that we could explain the existence of this discussion without reference to phenomenal consciousness. Without this we wouldn't know the discussion was taking place. Indeed, it has yet to be shown that the behaviour of anything at all can be explained without reference to phenomenal consciousness, since it has yet to be shown that anything that behaves could exist in its absence. Even many physicists argue that the existence of our universe is entirely dependent on consciousness.

    Also, as you imply, it would also be very difficult to explain the behaviour of philosophers who write about the unfalsifiability if solipsism without reference to consciousness.

    I doubt that rocks are conscious any more than are money, democracy or thermostats. But the elements that constitute rocks and thermostats may be conscious, as Peat and a great many others have argued. Panpsychism is even today a respectable position. Surprisingly, there is even one explanation of consciousness by which you should doubt the existence of your own subjective mental world. In this view that world is what is represented by Plato's cave and Dennett's bower-bird's nest.

  9. Jul 9, 2006 #8
    What was offered is not a “definition” of consciousness, it is an attempt at explaining the origins of consciousness.

    Science is not limited to “behavioural studies”. I think what you are trying to say is that scientific enquiry is all about examining phenomena from the third-person perspective, whereas the subjective experience of consciousness cannot be examined from the third person perspective. This does NOT mean that consciousness cannot be studied by science, it just means that the purely subjective aspects of consciousness are not amenable to scientific study. Any scientific study of the phenomenon of consciousness is, by definition, a third-person perspective study.

    Incorrect. There is no way to enquire scientifically into the purely subjective aspects of consciousness, but this does not mean that consciousness cannot be studied scientifically. Any scientific study of consciousness is, by definition, a third-person perspective study.

    This is not correct. One does not correctly conclude that consciousness is a “non-existing concept” – one simply concludes that whilst the purely subjective aspects of consciousness are not amenable to scientific study, the third-person perspective aspects of the phenomenon of consciousness are amenable to scientific study.

    This would be a false conclusion.

    Not correct. You may want to look up heterophenomenology. Part of the “behavioural aspect” of a conscious human agent is the fact that it reports conscious experiences. To explain such behaviour on the basis that consciousness does not exist would mean that one must reject such reports as being false. On what basis would one reject reports of conscious experience as being false?

    Sure there is – read Metzinger. The subjective conscious experience can be explained as the creation of virtual entities within a particular form of self-referential information processing system.

    Why should one assume that an agent (such as a rock) has “conscious experiences” if there is absolutely no evidence that it does?

    And as I said, you are incorrect. “the body of my friend” (assuming she is conscious) will most likely report that she experiences consciousness. Such a report is part of her “behavioural aspect” as you call it. Unless I assume such reports are false, I must assume that she is reporting a real phenomenal state.

    Again incorrect. Consciousness “arises as a concept in order to give a name” not only to my subjective experience, but also to the reported subjective experiences of other conscious agents. Contrary to your claim, consciousness has a very real influence on the behaviour of human conscious agents – they are able to report that they are conscious.

    If you believe that consciousness has no influence on behaviour (ie is epiphenomenal), then presumably you would also claim that zombies are physically possible – agents which behave identically to humans in all respects, but which are not conscious?

    I have not “redefined consciousness”, I have offered an explanation for the origin of consciousness in terms of a particular form of information processing. Unlike you, I believe that consciousness can be studied, and that consciousness does affect behaviour.

    Absolutely incorrect. Consciousness affects the behaviour of agents, and the attributes of consciousness can be studied from a third-person (scientific) perspective.

    We believe that we “know” that other people are conscious in the same way that we believe that we know very many other things about the world – from the reports that those other people provide. Do you doubt the veracity of reports of consciousness from other humans? Why?

    With respect - it’s not “all that we’ve got”. There is more than one way to define consciousness. To define some phenomenon X as “what it is like” is to deliberately preclude any objective account or explanation of X. In other words, if one chooses to define consciousness simply as “what it is like” then one places the concept outside the realm of objective investigation or objective understanding, by definition.

    Which problem are you referring to? The infamous “hard problem”? Would you care to explain the details of the so-called problem?

    My point precisely – consciousness affects behaviour, and as such the phenomenon of consciousness is amenable to scientific study (which is why the simple definition of “what it is like” is inadequate).

    Best Regards
  10. Aug 2, 2006 #9
    What is an aspect of consciousness that is not purely subjective?
  11. Aug 2, 2006 #10
    I had a pet rock once when i was a child!

    I had a hamster, but it died, so i replaced it with a rock and it never died. It seemed like a valid solution at the time. :yuck:
  12. Aug 2, 2006 #11
    People are often knocked unconscious and forced into what might be considered an inanimate state, if it weren't for continuing cellular metabolic functions.

    Perhaps what you're looking for is ametabolic consciousness.
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2006
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