Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Mind to Mind: Mr. Dennett & Mr. Gautama Exchange Ideas (part 1)

  1. Mar 29, 2004 #1

    Les Sleeth

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Mind to Mind: Mr. Dennett & Mr. Gautama Exchange Ideas

    (NOTE: The main body of this thread, though written as a fantasy :cool:, prepares for earnest “test questions” posed at the end of the thread.)

    Good day ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Mind to Mind! Sit back and enjoy as we utilize Time-Zip® technology to facilitate another mental time travel adventure. Today it’s to be an “idea exchange” between a famous person of the past and a modern thinker. We are pleased to announce that for this exchange, the mind of the Buddha has been time-zipped here for a brief chat with the highly-regarded philosopher Daniel Dennett. We have convinced the Buddha to participate in this exchange from a philosophical perspective (although he insists he is not a philosopher). In the spirit of treating both as philosophers, from here on “the Buddha” will be referred to by his actual last name, Mr. Gautama, just as we will do with Mr. Dennett.

    Mr. Dennett and Mr. Gautama were chosen for this idea exchange because there seems to be remarkable agreement between Mr. Dennett’s functional model of consciousness and Mr. Gautama’s model that relies on “aggregates,” and yet they disagree about the overall nature of consciousness. The intention, then, is to see if how they differ yields any new insights about consciousness. For this exchange, Mind to Mind has selected LW Sleeth to act as Moderator (though not without considerable trepidation).

    (Mind to Mind disclaimer: As readers undoubtedly know, the Time-Zip® process only brings an individual’s mind from the past, and then represents his physical presence in our studio with a hologram; Mr. Dennett is represented holographically here as well, projected from his office at Tufts University. Time-Zip® is still a shaky process, with quantum irregularities interrupting connections to the past, so please bear with us through any technical difficulties we encounter. Also, for the sake of promoting objectivity we feel obligated to disclose that although the Moderator has assured us he is not Buddhist, nor involved in any other religion, he does admit to favoring Mr. Gautama’s point of view over Mr. Dennett’s.)

    Moderator: Welcome gentlemen.

    Mr. Dennett: Thank you.

    Mr. Gautama: [nods head smiling].

    Moderator: I am an admirer of both of your understandings about the nature of consciousness, but as my employer Mind to Mind revealed, I do lean philosophically towards Mr. Gautama’s model.

    Mr. Dennett: That’s too bad because I am right [laughs]. :rolleyes:

    Moderator: You have to admit the physicalistic model of consciousness, as I’ll call it, so well represented by you Mr. Dennett, seems to stir resistance and passionate disagreement from many thinkers who wonder if something more basic is at the foundation of human conscious existence -- from now on I’ll take the liberty of referring to such thinkers as foundationalists.

    Mr. Dennett: Well, the physicalistic side has its objections to foundationalist concepts too, such as that they are not measurable, observable by the senses, translatable into “practical” applications, and, at their worst, can become wildly idealistic imaginings that are not grounded by experience and reason.

    Mr. Gautama: [slowly nods head in agreement].

    Moderator: Good points, and Mr. Gautama seems to agree. There are plenty of us, and I’ll include myself with the foundationalists, who do not dispute the powerful role physiology plays in human awareness. Our main objection seems to be that the all-physicalistic model is incomplete. Thus we come to why the two of you specifically have been asked to participate in this idea exchange: Mr. Gautama’s model of consciousness includes an aspect Mr. Dennett’s model does not. The “extra” of Mr. Gautama’s model might suggest that behind the operations of human awareness is something more basic or foundational.

    Mr. Dennett: hruuuump [has stern look on face]. :frown:

    Mr. Gautama: [smiles serenely, eyes sparkling]. :smile:

    Moderator: Although Mr. Dennett’s and Mr. Gautama’s ideas are too complex to detail properly here, I’ve asked each to briefly summarize the aspect of their model we are going to compare and contrast. Mr. Dennett, why don’t you start.

    Mr. Dennett: Thank you. I tend to be long-winded, so I brought along a well-written excerpt from a George Johnson review of my book, “Consciousness Explained.”
    Mr. Johnson writes, “. . . who, or what, is reading . . . neurological archives? The self? The ego? The soul? For want of a theory of consciousness, it is easy to fall back on the image of a little person -- a homunculus, the philosophers call it -- who sits in the cranial control room monitoring a console of gauges and pulling the right strings. But then, of course, we're stuck with explaining the inner workings of this engineer-marionette. Does it too have a little creature inside it? If so, we fall into an infinite regress, with homunculi embedded in homunculi like an image ricocheting between mirrors. . . .
    As Mr. Dennett explained . . . the reason we get the regress is that at each level we are assuming a single homunculus with powers and abilities equal to those of its host. Suppose instead that there are in the brain a horde of very stupid homunculi, each utterly dependent on the others. Make the homunculi stupid enough and it's easy to imagine that each can be replaced by a machine -- a circuit made of neurons. But from the collective behavior of all these neurological devices, consciousness emerges -- a qualitative leap no more magical than the one that occurs when wetness arises from the jostling of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. . . .
    To avoid the problem of infinite regress, he [Mr. Dennett] hypothesizes that this master controller is not a fully cognizant marionette but a ‘virtual machine,’ created on the fly from temporary coalitions of stupid homunculi. It is because of this mental software, he proposes, that we can not only think but reflect on our own thinking, as we engage in the step-by-step deliberations that occupy us when we are most aware of the plodding of our minds.”

    Moderator: It seems a conclusion we must take from your ideas Mr. Dennett is that there is no original, abiding “self” of consciousness. What we interpret as a singular self is in actuality the result of contributions from several sources. Extended concentration on tasks and repeated patterns give the illusion of a singular self, but really the self is “created on the fly.”

    Mr. Dennett: In essence, I wouldn’t disagree with your characterization.

    Moderator: I explained your model in those terms in order to suggest that Mr. Gautama might agree yours is a pretty good model of how the human mind arises through the functions of the brain.

    Mr. Gautama: As best I understand his model, yes I agree.

    Moderator: Mr. Gautama, I have enjoyed many of your ideas, such as those recorded in discourses where you’ve declared there is no permanent “self.” You have explained the unique self we believe ourselves to be is in fact a collection of traits you called the aggregates, and all together these yield an acquired self. Would please share with us how you have spoken about this subject.

    Mr. Gautama: I taught my students that one does not regard the material shape as being the self or the self as being material shape. Nor does one regard emotion, perception, the impulses, or intellect in any of these ways. One comprehends of each that it is impermanent. As one of my students explained, “For just as for an assemblage of parts the term ‘chariot’ is employed, so when the aggregates are present, the expression ‘living being’ is employed.”

    Moderator: Mr. Dennett, do you find the similarities between your two models interesting?

    Mr. Dennett: Indeed. I’d go so far to grant that the major differences between my functionalist model and Mr. Gautama’s more generalized explanation is undoubtedly due to the advantages I’ve had from access to details provided by the years of neurological research.
    However, don’t get me wrong I also know I’m being set up for what’s “erroneous” about my model. :wink:

    Moderator: Maybe a little, but not exactly Mr. Dennett.

    Mr. Gautama: [smiles] :smile:

    Moderator: Anyway, so much for the similarities between the models. What is significantly different? If you don’t mind Mr. Dennett, I’d like to start with a quote from a short article you wrote where you said, “Your stream of consciousness is replete with an apparently unending supply of associations. As each fleeting occupant of the position of greatest influence gives way to its successors, any attempt to halt this helter-skelter parade and monitor the details of the associations only generates a further flood of evanescent states, and so on.”

    Mr. Dennett: Yes, and your point is . . .

    Moderator: Well, you seem to see consciousness as the busy-ness of the mind, along with the brain functionality which establishes it.

    Mr. Dennett: More or less, yes. As I said in an interview where I critiqued Chalmers’ qualia nonsense, “What impresses me about my own consciousness, as I know it so intimately, is my delight in some features and dismay over others, my distraction and concentration, my unnamable sinking feelings of foreboding and my blithe disregard of some perceptual details, my obsessions and oversights, my ability to conjure up fantasies, my inability to hold more than a few items in consciousness at a time, my ability to be moved to tears by a vivid recollection of the death of a loved one, my inability to catch myself in the act of framing the words I sometimes say to myself, and so forth.”

    Last edited: Mar 30, 2004
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 29, 2004 #2

    Les Sleeth

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Mind to Mind: Mr. Dennett & Mr. Gautama Exchange Ideas

    (continued from Part I)

    Moderator: I am interested in “what impresses” you about consciousness. That’s because of how it seems to contrast with something Mr. Gautama’s values.
    For example, an incident taken from Mr. Gautama’s famous discourse “States of Consciousness” records a man named Potthapada who was philosophizing in a boisterous way to a crowd of wandering mendicants in a park. When Potthapada saw Mr. Gautama, his attitude changed and he said, “Let’s be quiet gentlemen, don’t make a noise. That ascetic Gautama is coming, and he likes quiet and speaks in praise of quiet. If he sees us quiet, he might visit us.”
    Is it true Mr. Gautama, that you value quiet?

    Mr. Gautama: Yes it is.

    Moderator: But if consciousness is dependent on activity as Mr. Dennett suggests, how can one experience quiet?

    Mr. Gautama: Things are not precisely as Mr. Dennett suggests. There is that aspect which moves, changes, and is defined by being active, just as he says. I’ve said that aspect is born, made, becoming, and compounded – it is acquired. But there is another plane Mr. Dennett apparently doesn’t know about, where there is neither extension nor motion, no coming or going or remaining or deceasing or uprising.

    Mr. Dennett: Sounds impossible to make sense of. :confused: How can one prove it exists?

    Mr. Gautama: [sits quietly looking incredibly serene, his mind in perfect stillness, his eyes sparkling blissfully] :smile:

    Mr. Dennett: Impressive Mr. Gautama, but it is not proof. :rolleyes:

    Mr. Gautama: It is the only proof possible -- experience it for yourself, then you will know.

    Mr. Dennett: I can assure you Mr. Gautama I have more or less quiet moments, but it is impossible to stop the mind.

    Mr. Gautama: The way you are looking at it, you are correct. You are thinking of stopping the moving aspect with the moving aspect itself. True, that cannot be done. But because there already exists an unmoving foundation, an escape can be shown for the moving (the born, become, made, and compounded). So this “escape” I refer to is not achieved by stopping the mind with the mind, but rather it is achieved by joining with a foundation that is already perfectly still.

    Mr. Dennett: And how does one realize that escape?

    Mr. Gautama: A series of steps, practiced over time. First, one practices quiet until one’s awareness unmistakably feels the presence of what lies behind all the operations of consciousness. Next the objective becomes to practice feeling that background so it grows to be more and more noticeable. As the background becomes more noticeable, one understands it is far more powerful than the aspect of oneself contemplating it. With continued practice, one realizes the background is actually the foundation out of which “self,” the contemplator, has arisen.

    Mr. Dennett: A paradox Mr. Gautama? :rolleyes:

    Mr. Gautama: Not a paradox really, but it is often a dilemma for the person who wants to maintain self more than he wants to know his foundation.

    Mr. Dennett: Why should that be a dilemma?

    Mr. Gautama: Because yet one more step is possible and necessary, a step which can be difficult to take. If one is skilled enough and trusts the foundation enough to let go -- to surrender, relax, yield to that foundation -- it will absorb one back into it so that all the movement which one believes defines consciousness (and self) ceases. It is difficult because the return of self into the foundation appears to put an end to the individual. Yet in that moment, and only in that moment, does one know for certain one’s origin. That union of “self” with the foundational plane is what many have called samadhi.

    Mr. Dennett: This contradicts all my years of thought and study, and so makes little sense to me. As I once wrote about how I see it, coalitions of themes and projects may succeed in dominating “attention” for some useful and highly productive period of time, fending off would-be digressions for quite a while, and creating the sense of an abiding self or ego taking charge of the whole operation. And so on. That I say, Mr. Gautama, is what you interpret as a “foundation.”

    Moderator: Surely you aren’t questioning Mr. Gautama’s honesty?

    Mr. Dennett: Not at all, I am questioning his interpretation. The problem with the foundational concept is similar to the concept of qualia: we arrive in mysteryland. As I’ve written before, if you define qualia as intrinsic properties of experiences considered in isolation from all their causes and effects, logically independent of all dispositional properties, then they are logically guaranteed to elude all broad functional analysis–but it’s an empty victory, since there is no reason to believe such properties exist.

    Moderator: Mr. Dennett, it seems you saying that for something to be true, it must be accessible to broad functional analysis. Mr. Gautama has pointed out that the “reason to believe such properties exist” is from developing direct experiential skills which take place from within consciousness itself. In such a case, wouldn’t the reason for your mysteryland likely be due to trying to directly experience the foundation of consciousness from the outside?

    Mr. Dennett: I say there is no other way to know things.

    Moderator: Do you agree Mr. Gautama?

    Mr. Gautama: It is not possible that I could agree after attaining a pure experience of what you call the foundation, after spending the rest of my life teaching thousands of others how to attain that, and after seeing so many of the devoted attain it. Can I deny what I have attained, successfully taught, and witnessed?

    Moderator: But then Mr. Gautama, how would you account for the differences between your model of consciousness and Mr. Dennett’s?

    Mr. Gautama: There is only one way to account for it. My model reflects what I know; Mr. Dennett’s model reflects what he knows too, but also what he doesn’t know about consciousness.

    Mr. Dennett: What I “know” Mr. Gautama (as I have written) is that whether people realize it or not, it is precisely the "remarkable functions associated with" consciousness that drive them to wonder about how consciousness could possibly reside in a brain. In fact, if you carefully dissociate all these remarkable functions from consciousness -- in your own, first-person case -- there is nothing left for you to wonder about.

    Mr. Gautama: [smiles serenely] I would respectfully submit to you, Mr. Dennett, that you haven’t the slightest idea what would happen if one were to “dissociate all these remarkable functions from consciousness.” Speaking from experience I can say I do know, and quite intimately.


    Mr. Dennett: What was that? :confused:

    Moderator: Ah yes, quantum fluctuations have disrupted our time-zip. I am afraid we’ve lost Mr. Gautama. However, I do think Mr. Gautama explained what is missing from your model quite well, don’t you Mr. Dennett?

    Mr. Dennett: Nothing he said convinced me anything is missing from my model!

    Moderator: Well, I think he gave us a possible test for the completeness of your model, Mr. Dennett. Would you be willing to answer a couple of questions I have for you to see if I am correct?

    Mr. Dennett: We are wasting time, I’ve got papers to grade. :mad:


    Moderator: Mr. Dennett? Mr. Dennett? Mr. Dennett? Gee, he disconnected. I guess I upset him. Well, I wonder if anyone else would be willing to suggest answers for the test questions I was about to propose. They were:

    If, as Mr. Dennett suggests, the “busy-ness” of brain functionality is what creates consciousness, then shouldn’t we expect the absence of busy-ness to result in the loss of consciousness? For example, if a person were functioning at 90% mental busy-ness, and he quieted it to 45%, then shouldn’t we expect him to be half as conscious as he was at 90%? And if one could manage to stop mentality altogether for a time, shouldn’t we expect a person to become unconscious?

    Yet, if we study the entire history of conscious development, there are numerous reports, some well-documented, of individuals successful at stilling the mind; and these individuals rather than being remembered as unconscious, are instead studied, contemplated, and revered as some of the planet’s wisest of all humans.

    If that is so, possibly the reason Mr. Gautama could only agree with Mr. Dennett’s model to a point was because the purely physicalist model is incomplete, just as a purely foundationalist model would be. Possibly Mr. Dennett, like many other strong thinkers, is fascinated by the machinations of his own mind, so taken with mentality skills that he fails to notice the stillness that rests in between rational operations and behind cerebral functionality.

    Can we be confident with any consciousness model that hasn’t accounted for all conscious achievement? More to the point, if a model can only reflect what is being focused on and what it’s creators know, can we be confident with any consciousness model whose creators openly acknowledge that for their models they are only looking at, accepting, and relying on that which they personally know and prefer?
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2004
  4. Mar 30, 2004 #3


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Very nice posts, LW. Quite innovative and humorous as well as raising some interesting points-- very nice read.

    I think you may be on to something here, but we should more closely analyze what is meant by 'busy-ness' in the brain. Presumably there is a lot of busy-ness in the brain that does not make itself directly apparent in conscious experience, and the physicalist would seem to have a bit of an out here.

    For instance, it could be that the brain is quite busy even when one willfully empties consciousness of specific mental contents. Indeed, this view seems to be supported by the following excerpt from an article on meditation and neuroscience:

    (The article is located at http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/newton0204.asp, and indeed the spirit of it is much attuned to the paradigm you have set forth in this thread.)

    Admittedly this result is obtained by asking the monks to induce a state of compassion, rather than asking them to completely empty their minds of mental content. But still, I think this may point in the general direction that heightened brain activity does not always correlate directly with the presence of more greatly enumerated, discrete mental contents.

    A potential key here, I think, is to dissociate the notions of mental (conscious) contents and mental (conscious) activity. For instance, the act of meditation might be characterized as involving the emptying of specific contents of consciousness while simultaneously heightening the mental activity of attention, or concentration. If the level of attention depends on the level of brain activity or 'busy-ness,' then we would expect that heightening one's attention implies a heightening of the acitvity of certain brain regions even if the emptying of mental content implies the lowering of activity in other brain regions.

    Along these lines, we might note that when attention is dulled (for instance, in the groggy moments between sleeping and full wakefulness), the busy-ness of those brain regions correlated with attention should also be dulled ex hypothesi, giving us something like the expected physicalist result you mention. Of course, such a result bears empirical investigation and justification, something which is a ways from yet being established (there is not yet even a clear conception of what level of analysis of brain activity counts as a neural correlate of conscious attention, which we would need to have in order to establish such a systematic covariation in the first place). But if we presume that such a correlate exists and that its level of busy-ness determines the level of conscious attention, then we have something very much like a systematic decrease in mental activity being tied with a systematic decrease in brain activity. Again, the key insight here would be to count attention itself as a mental activity, rather than focusing only on the conscious referents of attention.

    That is not the end of the story, however. Importantly, 'neural correlate' can refer to e.g. a pattern of extended brain activity, rather than being limited to a topographical mapping to specific brain regions. (For instance, the neural correlate of attention, if it exists in any strong or meaningful sense, could be 'global brain activity following functional description F' rather than 'general presence of heightened activity in the inferior temporal lobe' or somesuch.) So 'lower activity' of a neural correlate could refer to a degraded pattern of neural transfer rather than degraded intensity-- in this context it is not clear that the notion of 'busy-ness' in the brain in the direct sense of overall frequency of neural firings is the thing that really matters, which could be a critique ultimately leveled at the idea of general, brute force brain busy-ness on a fine scale correlating directly with mental activity. On this view, the brain could very well get very active and still result in a degradation of consciousness if the heightened activity breaks from the pattern correlated with consciousness. Indeed, this seems to be the case at least on a gross scale with epilepsy, which is characterized in the most acute cases both by an extended burst of neural activity and a degradation of consciousness. This could be explained by noting that epilepsy is characterized by hyper-synchronization of neural activity, presumably destroying the functional pattern of activity associated with consciousness.

    The concept of pattern degradation I used above is a little vague, as it is not clear exactly what would count as such. Ultimately this bears empirical investigation to give us a clearer idea.

    This is a very valid and important remark. Given the epistemic limitations involved in consciousness-- subjective access vs. objective access, the problem of other minds, and the like-- any particular individual's notions of what consciousness is in general and the particular forms it can take in particular, can only be informed in a direct sense by that individuals own experiences with it. And, invariably, one's notions of what consciousness is and what it can do will play a crucial, foundational role in determining the shape of one's theories about it.

    Verbal reports of fringe or extraordinary states of consciousness, such as accounts of extended meditation or experiences with psychoactive substances, are invaluable to us in that they help sketch out what non-obvious territory needs to be covered by a theory of consciousness. But, importantly, there may very well be key insights to be garnered from such experiences that cannot be grasped unless the individual himself experiences such states first-hand. For instance, the notion of subjective experience or phenomenal consciousness, the 'what it is like,' is often disregarded by physicalist thinkers out of hand, and I think this may be due in no small part to their own personal limits of conscious experience. It is certainly still possible for the physicalist to hold onto his claims after experiencing such things, but I believe they do present the notion of what is meant by 'subjective experience' in such dramatic and explicit ways that it becomes more difficult to honestly think as if such things do not have any existence worth taking seriously.
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2004
  5. Mar 30, 2004 #4
    Wonderful post, Sleeth, what a joy to read. You must have put a lot into it, and it was nice of you to share it with us.

    I'm a little burned out on this subject, so I'll just add a quick comment. I think Mr. Dennett's words, sensible and intelligent as they are, are no match for Mr. Gautama's silent smile. I disagree with almost everything Mr. Gautama says, but I agree with absolutely everything he doesn't.
  6. Mar 30, 2004 #5

    Les Sleeth

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Thank you.

    I knew when I used “busy-ness” as a test for the functionalist position I hadn’t broken it down into all the types of busy-ness the brain does. To keep the opening posts of the thread from being any longer, I figured I’d explain more in the discussion that followed.

    I agree totally that the brain is involved in many levels of neuronal busy-ness which function in support of our conscious experience. I don’t know for certain, but I suspect there are plenty of neurons firing somewhere even in the most perfectly silent mind, even if deprived of sensory input. And then, as you point out, meditation too wouldn’t necessarily escape brain activity.

    My view is that we, whatever “we” are, live in the body and therefore are dependent on the brain. However we exist, it is there that we seem to be conscious. Too many studies have been done demonstrating just how brain-dependent we are, so no dispute there.

    I agree. At one point in my original post (I later removed it) I had the Moderator insert the stipulation that for busy-ness to be a candidate for bringing consciousness, the busy-ness had to be productive, logical and non-delusional rationality. I will explain more what I mean below.

    A very important aspect of my argument is the very specific practice of samadhi. I am not citing calming down, or chanting, or mantras or anything else in support of my case. To those who practice samadhi, all that other stuff is considered completely the wrong direction for attaining union, even if some of it is valuable in its own realm. In the case of monks meditating on compassion, that very well could stir emotions and so affect the dynamic I am trying to point to. I know this idea of “samadhi” is relatively unfamiliar, and that is why it might be difficult to see what I am saying. I also will explain more about this below.

    Well said.

    Let me see if I can state more clearly what my specific point was in the “idea exchange” between Mr. Gautama and Mr. Dennett. This time I’m going to start with what Mr. Gautama knew.

    One of the ideas on the fundamental nature of consciousness some of us believe is that behind all the operations of consciousness is something which is essentially, singularly and neutrally “consciousness,” and it is out of that base or “foundational” state, as I labeled it, which all the functions of consciousness arise.

    I cited Mr. Gautama’s model because he said that all the functions and operations of consciousness is what we think self is, and consciousness itself is. In that way he seems to agree with Mr. Dennett. However, he also claimed not only is there foundation behind conscious functions, but that one can experience it. In fact, the only possible way to know what consciousness really is in it original nature is to directly experience that. But how is such a thing possible?

    This concept of samadhi is something very, very specific. It is not general meditation or calming or any of that. Let’s try an analogy. Say a particular pool of water can think, but to do so it has to freeze itself into the shape of thoughts which rise up out of the pool to take form. As it grows in awareness, it begins to wonder what potentiality allows it to be conscious, and so begins thinking about that. The potentiality it is wondering about is the raw condition of water, unfrozen, and formless resting neutrally in it’s pool. So no matter what sort of “thought” it has, the thought cannot show the pool its nature because once the pool has frozen another shape within itself, it has obscured the very thing it’s trying to grasp. The only possible way for that pool to experience, and therefore know, its original nature is to allow all its mental operations “merge” back into the neutral state of the pool.

    Now, the work of samadhi, or union as it was called in the West, has been know for several millennia. People who earnestly attempt it are very dedicated because that is what it takes to get good at it. One practices every day, and for years. That is often why monastic life was chosen to do it – to keep distractions at bay. These days experiments with certain psychotropic drugs have given some a taste of that “foundational” background, which is why you see so many former hippies involved in conscious studies (just kidding, sort of :smile: ).

    Okay, that’s what Mr. Gautama knew. What does Mr. Dennett know and believe?

    Mr. Dennett knows the brain is a busy place. But he defines consciousness, like Rorty and a number of people here at PF, as the ability to use language, which is itself dependent on conceptualization. So my test of busy-ness was a specific answer to Mr. Dennett’s apparent belief that mentality, particularly that associated with conceptualization and language, is what establishes consciousness. I didn’t discuss all the ways the brain might be busy beyond that because it didn’t seem to be the standard for consciousness Mr. Dennett is proposing.

    Now let’s bring the two ideas together: the claim that mentality associated with conceptualization and language is consciousness, and the reported ability of a very specific dedicated class of practitioners who developed the ability to allow mental operations to be absorbed back into their foundational origin.

    My point is, even if we hold off on the claim that union/samadhi adepts are merging with some consciousness “foundation,” if Mr. Dennett and others are correct about what establishes consciousness, then how do we explain the apparent heightening of consciousness that seems to result from a still mind? Shouldn’t there instead be a loss of consciousness if conceptualization and language are what creates it?
  7. Mar 30, 2004 #6

    Les Sleeth

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Thank you. I know you are burned out, but maybe you'll get revitalized!
  8. Mar 30, 2004 #7
    From what I have read of Mr. Dennett here at the PF's, I haven't read any of his work myself, and especially this thread, Dennett's consciousness is typical of an egocentric and ego driven brain that only knows of itself by it own activity, busyness. As usual if one does away with its busyness one ceases to exist or at least ones consciousness ceases to exist.
    This is so exactly what so many of my teachers, both spoken and written, have said and point out about the unfocused, ego driven mind that I am amazed that it isn't obvious to all. I can almost hear Roy Masters saying those very words. Of course most people have not heard of Roy Masters much less his teachings nor read much if anything about Buddhism, meditation or Zen.
    The point is that only by stilling our minds and quietening our egos can we come to know our true selves or true consciousness. Roy Masters used to say that such people were asleep and only by stilling the busyness can they become awake. This is the exact opposite of what Dennett apparently believes. It is IMHO that Mr. Dennett's consciousness is an illusion, possibly a delusion inflicted by our egos so that it can remain in control of our being and not let us become aware of what a truly puny and pathetic little thing our egos really are. (It is necessary for us to have a strong ego while young so that we can become independent and develop our own character however like training wheels it soon become more a hindrance to our development than an aid.)
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2004
  9. Mar 31, 2004 #8

    Les Sleeth

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    In my opinion, part of what Dennett says is very insightful. If there is a "true consciousness" as you say, it is still somehow bound up in human physiology. We can see in a developing infant how a being who lacks individuality and thinking ability clearly uses the brain to individuate and learn to think. Dennett's idea that the properties of "self" are sort of synergizing mini-homunculi seems is an interesting model for how a being might interact with a neuronal medium.

    My problem with Dennett is that he stops with the mechanics of the brain. As you know (since you've commented in my past threads), a big complaint of mine about so-called "objective research" conducted by empiricists is that you can tell many of them are studying with an a priori assumption in place. That assumption is that all reality is physical.

    I believe it is impossible for someone's a priori assumptions not to show in either one's research or reasoning because it pops up all the time as a preference on the one hand, and a predjudice on the other. Dennett is no exception, which you can verify quite easily by reading his clear preference for all that's physical, and his automatic rejection of anything even hinting it might be non-physical, such as qualia or what I called "foundational."

    The problem with his attitude is, besides the fact that the question of the nature of existence is still quite open, is that any model he creates must necessarily omit the non-physical whether it's indicated or not. That leads to a second problem which is the tendency to gloss over significant gaps in models by ignoring them or treating them as trivial, and then usually waving it off with the promise "one day soon the gap will be filled."

    Dennett, for instance, claims one day a computer will be conscious, which should be true if his model correct. But I think he senses a computer isn't going to be conscious like a human, or even a less-evolved animal, because he is already trying to define what human consciousness is without certain aspects it really has so that he can call his computer conscious.

    It's that same deal with abiogenesis advocates who claim the vitalist notion is now proven to have been nonsense all along. They cannot demonstrate life spontaneously forming from chemicals so they decide to call a virus "life." Ha, so obvious! And then of course, "it's just a matter of time before we generate life in the lab." In this respect, I think Chalmers is dead wrong to have gone along with that (though I suspect it's a tactical move to get the discussion off of vitalism and onto the nature of consciousness). I say that because the abiogenesists are missing the same exact thing the functionalists are missing in their consciousness model.

    According to the physicalistic model, in both cases you have a series of complicated functions adding up to either life or conscousness. However, what they can't explain is what causes those functions to organize like that. If it is caused by physical processes alone, as they say, then they should be able to set up non-living experiments which show the kind of self organization which leads to system-building, and then actually see system building. Self organization that leads to amino acids, crystals, etc. are not true instances of system-building self organization. In every case the physicalist can cite of self organization, it always stops organizing in a few steps, or if it does continue, it is essentially repetitive (the repetive thing, I predict, is exactly what is going to keep a computer from becoming conscious).

    So what both abiogenesists and functionalists lack is a proper demonstration of a self organization principle that would lead to life or consciousness. Can you get even one physicalist to admit they lack that component in their models? Of course not. They wave it off, gloss it over, pretend they've already got it because of the Urey-Miller piddling demonstration, or because the brain does have a function-dependent aspects.

    Returning to the question of an underlying foundation of consciousness -- how can it be proven? If we accept the foundationalist idea as a hypothesis, then we know that the avenue of proof is to search for a way to experience what has been hypothesized. If the foundation is there, if it is obscured by our own mental activity, if no one can experience the foundation except whatever foundation is present at the base of one's own consciousness . . . then there is only one possible way to experience and know about the proposed foundation. That is, one can only "prove" the presence of a consciousness foundation to oneself.
  10. Mar 31, 2004 #9
    One of the things that I was trying to point out is that what Dennett is talking about is strictly ego driven "normal" consciousness. Ego being the part of consciousness that we identify as "I" or our self identity.
    If we take away all of our busy thinking according to Dennett there is nothing left. This indicates to me that the busy ego driven calculating and linear reasoning mind is all that he knows or admits to.
    If we quieten this busy mind we also quieten our egos and both eventually with practice disappear temporarily. I know that you are aware of this though you may not have thought of this in these terms. When our busy mind and egos disappear we however remain conscious. We are in a state of heightened consciousness and awareness. We are aware of a presence of a union or foundation, to use yours terms.
    There is no doubt that the mind, consciousness and physical brain are all tied together somehow but I am not convinced that the physical brain is the sole organ or origin of consciousness. I know and have experienced the mind not only controlling the brain but consciously aware of and controlling the physical body in ways that we usually think of as being unconscious automatic systems such as blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate etc. All of this has been empirically proven by science and is sometimes called and uses biofeedback. Yet they have no explanation for it.
    I don't have a handle or explanation of consciousness. I have a developing idea and understanding of the physical brain being in part the organ that interfaces the physical with our subjective mind and spiritual soul or being and it is through the brain interface that allows the immaterial subjective mind to interact with the material physical body and world.
    Since materialists or better physicalist cannot and will not admit the existence of subjectivity and spirituality and they therefore can have no influence on the physical, they must make the mind and subjective phenomena emergent properties of the physical brain. This is impossible to prove empirically and logically. All such discussions will be hopelessly limited and onesidedly incomplete. It is like a song without music or a painting with out color.
    I seriously doubt that Mr. Dennett has ever tried to quieten his busy mind or subdue his ego or he would not have said what he did about there being nothing left. To those of us who have done this frequently and often this is the weakest part of his work. Sure it is insightful as far as it goes but imagine how insightful it could be if he just took that one more step and actually did or tried to do what he said. Again its the blind man describing and elephant to other blind men.
    So called emergent phenomena such as life and consciousness cannot be explained or proven empirically because there is nothing empirical to measure or prove. How can science measure the difference from a live body and a dead body without referring to properties of life being present or absent. It is the same with consciousness. These two things are beyond the purview and expertise of science as they are immaterial subjective properties or possibly values. A thing is either alive or dead and there is no "little bit" alive or "little bit dead" or "little bit" conscious.
    This to me indicates that such phenomena are not emergent physical properties at all. What they are however is still a complete mystery to me.
  11. Apr 2, 2004 #10

    Les Sleeth

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I think you are probably right about what's shaped Dennett's views. My goal is to point out that both linear reasoning and the "feel" of things are important to human consciousness. Toward that end, I wanted to acknowledge that Dennett might be on to something with his model, and that it even agreed with the Buddha's model (to a point) but who in addition valued the feeling aspect.

    It seems to me that too often the debate becomes an either-or situation. Either one is committed to the linear approach or one is committed to the more intuitive, feeling approach. What I believe is that each is necessary, and each provides knowledge of different aspects of reality. That's why when you hear someone reasoning with only one consciousness mode in gear, the resulting concepts are lacking an element they need to be complete.
  12. Apr 2, 2004 #11
    In this I could not agree more. One of the most important aspects of Buddhism is the wholeness or oneness of our being and bringing both aspects of living, reality into harmony.
    I am probably still a little gun shy about all of our battles with the materialist or physicalists where it was all one or the other to the death with no quarter asked or given. I have to calm down and chill out a bit here in an area where both are possible, considered and even necessary.
    Our linear analytical minds are the way we interact with the physical world of everyday life and each other. Our inner mind or consciousness is the way we interact with the subjective and spiritual world, for want of a better term, where we are all interconnected with what you referred to as the union or foundation and which I refer to as the universal consciousness or One, God to me. It is my understanding that one of the steps to enlightenment is the joining in harmony of these two aspects of our brain/mind.
    They are, in reality, not separate, different parts of us, but merely different aspects of our one brain/mind interface, to coin a phrase if I may. It is that as we grow and learn as youngsters we, here in the west especially, learn to use the linear, analytical portion of our mind to the neglect of the other.
    As we become older more mature adults we must teach ourselves first that the other exists and is real then learn to use it.
    Part of the problem is that was we approach adulthood we become independent and for the first time in our lives are standing on our own. This is scary and we are unsure of ourselves and the territory, We therefore cling somewhat too tightly to the obvious material world just to have a place to set our feet. We desperately need a secure firm real place to stand on our own for the first time. Only later when we are more secure can we let go of the firm, real, material world and begin to soar the insubstantial heavens of our subjective spiritual minds.
    There is a story of a Buddhist monk who reached this level of awareness for the fist time. He said that he found that he had no place to set his feet, no place to stand and he was being blown this way and that as a leaf or petal on the breeze. It can be scary at first especially when we are not too steady on our feet to begin with. It takes courage and confidence to let go of the material realm and float on the wind. This is just one of the doors through which we must pass that you mentioned earlier.
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2004
  13. Apr 4, 2004 #12

    Les Sleeth

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I've decided the same thing. Some of those battles at the last PF seemed epic to me, going on for pages and pages, writing mini-essays on every post. It seems the mentors are shooting for more politeness here. I still have to break my old combative habits.

    Part of my problem is the large population of people here who assume science can reveal everything that is revealable. It produces an attitude, often quite intolerant, that demands everything be justified empirically, even though there seems to be things which don't fall into that category. On the other hand, I prefer that to purely speculative thinking. So what I really like here is the effort to keep philosophy linked to evidence, while my frustration comes from those unwilling to acknowledge any type of evidence other than what emerges from the empirical system. Hopefully better discussions will evolve through the intelligent exchange of ideas between both camps.
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2004
  14. Apr 5, 2004 #13
    Yes, we can hope. My biggest problem is that they choose to ignore even empirical evidence that the immaterial subjective side can influence and effect the material physical side as in mind over matter. Our thoughts, feelings, purpose and intent can and do effect changes in our bodies as well as the other way around, to paraphrase myself from another thread.

    I can understand it. "They" just can't accept that everything doesn't have a physical cause or origin. If it doesn't then it can't be real. We 'more mature' (read older) people have seen and experienced so much that cannot be so simply explained that we have no trouble accepting the improbable and unexplained. In fact I sometimes think that that constitutes most of my life.
  15. Dec 16, 2004 #14


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Les or Royce,
    Are you suggesting that a person can experience something other than themselves? That you can remove yourself from your experience? Or have I confused something?
    BTW Great post Les, I'm glad I found it :smile:
    Edit: Do you have any good links explaining samadhi?
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2004
  16. Dec 16, 2004 #15


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    What a coincidence, Rachel. I was just thinking about this thread the other day.
  17. Dec 16, 2004 #16


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Wow, you know what-- I was too. Seriously. Strange indeed.
  18. Dec 16, 2004 #17

    Les Sleeth

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    It's cosmic. :biggrin:

    I am not a Buddhist, but the inner practice the Buddha taught I do practice, and have for a long time. It is more dear to me than I can express. I love and totally trust what it reveals to me, how it insists I be in order to experience it. Much of the "Les" you see here my is view from that experience.

    Honestrosewater, if you want to learn more about samadhi, PM me and I'll recommend various ways to study the history of and/or explore it experientially.
  19. Dec 16, 2004 #18


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Actually this came up in a search for abiogenesis. I wanted to see if Les had already explained his ideas somewhere.
    Perhaps Rosenberg had you guys thinking about completing physicalism which made you think of this thread.
    Sound familiar?
  20. Dec 16, 2004 #19

    Les Sleeth

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    If you have the patience to read through a long thread, this thread here contains more of my own ideas for life's origin than anything I've posted at this PF (usually I just poke holes in other people's theories). I had a thread at the last PF about it, but that's gone. :cry:
  21. Dec 17, 2004 #20


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Yes, I'm reading that thread now. :smile: (Since you mentioned it in the other thread.) And yes, please PM about samadhi whenever you have the time. The links I've found so far are mostly about yoga.
    I have come across PF archives via google- I mean really old PF archives.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook