Mysticism and the epistemology of consciousness

Canute

Note: This post has been split off from this thread. -hypnagogue

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Your principle objection seems to be to the knowledge claims of mystics and meditators. It's a reasonable objection, and one I made for about forty years, but it does not hold up to analysis. This is because those knowledge claims are accompanied by an ontological claim.

If consciousness is individuated and arises from brains then your objection would be insurmountable, and the claims of mystics could be no more than conjectures. However, these claims have to be seen in the light of the further claim that human consciousness is not ultimately individuated but arises from the same source as everything else. Thus in mysticism the nature of knowledge and the nature of Self are intimately connected issues, or, rather, the intimate connection between them is fully acknowledged rather than ignored. In this way more can be known by identity than appears ordinarily to be the case to many people, for ultimately our identity encompasses more than just our everyday 'self'. This little everyday self, which even Dennett rightly characterises as a fiction, a bowerbird's bower, is not our 'Self'. In this way 'knowledge by identity' can extend beyond the epistemic limits you assume to apply, and can include knowledge of origins, causation, the mind/matter relationship and far more. I know you'll be sceptical, but this does answer the objection about the limits to self-knowledge. In mystical practice, which is specifically the search for knowledge, there are no barriers to knowledge, paradoxes, ignoramibuses, incomprehensible miracles or the like. In this sense science and 'rational'/analytical philosophy are more mystical than mysticism. (I don't like this word 'mysticism' but it'll have to do). The insoluble mysteries of Western metaphysics are an artefact of the assumptions underlying physics, and do not arise in the nondual view.

On phenomenal qualities, knowledge of redness is knowledge of how things appear, not knowledge of reality. That is, we know that we experience red, but we do not know that anything red exists. (Solpsism is unfalsifiable). But immediate knowledge of the unity between knower and known is knowledge of what is, of what we are, knowledge of our identity, which might be called ontological knowledge. This is not at all the same thing as knowing what an experience of phenomenal qualities is like, although there is an overlap. This can be seen by noting that in principle the unity of knower and known can be known even if solipsism is true, or even especially if it is true. But the existence of red objects requires that solipsism is false, so red objects cannot be shown to exist as other than mental events.

I have much stronger doubts that we can know how consciousness is situated in the grand metaphysical scheme of things just from first person experience. The reason for this is basically that such an analysis introduces metaphysical and epistemic 'distance' between immediate experience on the one hand, and the world as a whole on the other. This distance introduces substantial room for error and doubt. I.e., "just because it seems this way doesn't make it so" becomes a valid critique.
If there were a distance, metaphysical or epistemic, between individuated consciousness and the rest of the world then this objection would hold. But if there is no such distance then it does not. All mystical writers say such a distance concept is false, conceptual or arbitrary, whether temporal, spatial, epistemic or metaphysical. Again, this claim might seem implausible to you, but it does meet the objection.

In particular, he provides a metaphysical account of causation entirely independent from the mind-body problem, and this account still brings consciousness in at the end as an integral and indispensible element. So not only do his wide metaphysical claims about consciousness have stronger justification than pure first person accounts, but they are also much clearer about how consciousness fits into place in the natural world-- i.e. what the causal role of phenomenal experience is, how it is perfectly suited to play this role, and why such a role is even needed in the first place.
Rosenberg's account of consciousness is theoretical. It seems quite wrong to say that a theoretical account of consciousness is more justified than a first hand knowledge. I'm not sure what 'justified' means used in this way. As to clarity, what leads you to conclude that R's account of the way in which consciousness fits into the natural world is more clear than the view I'm supporting? I find the mystical account far more clear. (I'm not having a go at Rosenberg by the way, I agree with you that what he says is an important step forward for the scientific study of consciousness).

So what we end up with is (IMO) a quite compelling and elegant account of how consciousness is related to causation, something that to my knowledge has not been provided yet by the mystics (or anyone else for that matter).
Here I must cry foul. You cannot have looked at all into the mystical account of how consciousness relates to causation if you think no account has been provided. Causation is actually a vital topic in mysticism, since in this view strict determinism holds and extends beyond the purely physical.

I cannot ever demonstrate that you are wrong about mysticism, but in thousands of years nobody has ever come up with a logical or practical objection that sticks. As it happens I've nearly finished an essay on knowledge and self, addressing some of the issues you've raised here, and am wondering whether I dare ask you to read it and comment. Would you be prepared to do this if I don't chicken out?

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hypnagogue

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Gold Member
Canute, I split off this post from the original thread because the content was straying too far off-topic. I don't have time to address it in full right now, but I will come back to it later.

Canute

Bad timing I'm afraid. My fault. I'm away for a couple of weeks sand and surf so won't be able to keep this discussion going. I'll get back to you when I return.

Bye for now
Canute

Canute said:
Note: If consciousness is individuated and arises from brains then your objection would be insurmountable, and the claims of mystics could be no more than conjectures.
?? "if" consciousness arises from brains ?? OK, if not, then it arises from my kidney, my lung, the ether ? Please do inform me how consciousness is NOT contingent on neurons.

Les Sleeth

Gold Member
?? "if" consciousness arises from brains ?? OK, if not, then it arises from my kidney, my lung, the ether ? Please do inform me how consciousness is NOT contingent on neurons.
Have you seen the movie "Aliens"? At the end, Sigourney straps on a robotic loader and fights the grand mother bit*h alien.

Let's say Weaver, and billions of others on that planet, were born into just such a loader robot. So from day one, she and everyone else think of themselves as loader robots. Scientists can prove they are loader robots too because if you disconnect some bit of circuitry, they become ineffective in some way; or, if you spark some wire, they (the robotic part) jerk, or smile, or pee, or see God . . . See? That's proof they are the robotic aspect of the whole thing, right?

What's wrong with Rand is not her objectivism, because if we apply it to "objects" it is a wonderful perspective. The problem is assuming a priori that "objects" are all that exist (and by objects I mean physical objects), and that sense experience is the only experience available to humans. In the respect of understanding the history and nature of inner experience, Rand was seriously undereducated.

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Les Sleeth said:
Let's say Weaver, and billions of others on that planet, were born into just such a loader robot. So from day one, she and everyone else think of themselves as loader robots. . . See? That's proof they are the robotic aspect of the whole thing, right?
Wrong. A proof requires the use of premises known independently of the conclusion. In your example, Weaver "knows" as a premise that she is a robot--thus, one cannot use this a priori knowledge to prove that she is a robotic aspect. Problem #2: you hold the position that "science can prove"--but of course this is false, science never proves anything--science falsifies null hypotheses.

Les Sleeth

Gold Member
Wrong. A proof requires the use of premises known independently of the conclusion. In your example, Weaver "knows" as a premise that she is a robot--thus, one cannot use this a priori knowledge to prove that she is a robotic aspect. Problem #2: you hold the position that "science can prove"--but of course this is false, science never proves anything--science falsifies null hypotheses.
Please. You can microfocus all you want, but don't you understand what I am asking? It has nothing to do with proof or formal logic or falsification (and I never said proof was possible, by science or any other means).

Can we be fooled by appearances?

hypnagogue

Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Hi Canute, sorry for the delay.

Canute said:
If consciousness is individuated and arises from brains then your objection would be insurmountable, and the claims of mystics could be no more than conjectures. However, these claims have to be seen in the light of the further claim that human consciousness is not ultimately individuated but arises from the same source as everything else.
I believe I understand what you're getting at, but I'm not yet swayed, as I'll explain below.

I claim that the only sure knowledge that can be derived solely from phenomenal consciousness is knowledge about phenomenal consciousness itself. Using knowledge from p-consciousness to make claims about things other than p-consciousness itself (essentially, making first-order phenomenal judgments) readily admits of the possibility of error.

You claim that the mystics' knowledge circumvents this epistemic limitation essentially because they do not make claims about things other than p-consciousness after all-- it turns out that we can indeed derive sure knowledge about deeper ontological issues because these are directly revealed as contents of p-consciousness, at least to the mystics. (Correct me if I'm mistaken.) Thus, you claim that my objection is met directly.

However, my natural response is to ask, "How do the mystics know that those deeper ontological things really are revealed through p-consciousness?" It seems the answer is just that this has been revealed to them directly, through introspection of p-consciousness. But surely you can see that this is not really an effective reply? It begs the question-- it assumes at the outset what it seeks to later assert. Essentially, it answers the question "How can we really know that we can directly perceive deep ontological truths?" by saying, "We know we can directly perceive deep ontological truths because we have directly perceived that we can directly perceive deep ontological truths." It's circular.

Canute said:
Rosenberg's account of consciousness is theoretical. It seems quite wrong to say that a theoretical account of consciousness is more justified than a first hand knowledge. I'm not sure what 'justified' means used in this way.
Essentially what I mean by justified is that if proposition P is justified, then we have good reasons for believing it is true with some degree of confidence. The reason I believe Rosenberg's account is more justified than the typical mystical account is that, per the above arguments, I think there are certain epistemic limitations regarding what can be known from first person experience, and that some claims of the mystics go beyond these limitations. Where the mystic claims go beyond the epistemic limitations of introspection, we should be skeptical of them-- they are not suitably justified, there is not sufficient reason to believe they are true.

Rosenberg's account is superior, I believe, because it does make use of first person evidence (it is not entirely theoretical), but it does not conclude from this evidence anything that goes beyond the epistemic limitations of such evidence. (Specifically, it makes use of second- and third- order phenomenal judgments, but makes no strong conclusions from first-order phenomenal judgments.) Rather than extend the first person evidence farther than it should be extended, Rosenberg respects its limitations and uses other means of investigation that are themselves plausibly justified as a supplement to come to a complete account.

Canute said:
Here I must cry foul. You cannot have looked at all into the mystical account of how consciousness relates to causation if you think no account has been provided. Causation is actually a vital topic in mysticism, since in this view strict determinism holds and extends beyond the purely physical.
I didn't claim that no such account had been provided, only that to my knowledge, no such account has been given that is as clear and compelling as Rosenberg's. If you think an equally or more clear and compelling account of the relationship between consciousness and causation has indeed been provided, I'd be happy to take a look at it.

Canute said:
As it happens I've nearly finished an essay on knowledge and self, addressing some of the issues you've raised here, and am wondering whether I dare ask you to read it and comment. Would you be prepared to do this if I don't chicken out?
Sure thing (provided it's not 300 pages long ).

Les Sleeth

Gold Member
hypnagogue said:
How do the mystics know that those deeper ontological things really are revealed through p-consciousness?" It seems the answer is just that this has been revealed to them directly, through introspection of p-consciousness. But surely you can see that this is not really an effective reply? It begs the question-- it assumes at the outset what it seeks to later assert. Essentially, it answers the question "How can we really know that we can directly perceive deep ontological truths?" by saying, "We know we can directly perceive deep ontological truths because we have directly perceived that we can directly perceive deep ontological truths." It's circular.
You seem to assume one must come to certainty via logic. How do you know you exist? Is it through logic or repeated, everyday experience of your own being? With enough experience, one can chuck logic and rely on the constancy of experience.

And then, for the introspectionist there is not the slightest need to externally "prove" to others the validity of his experience. It's other's problem to find out if he really is experiencing something strictly from inside himself, not his. If others don't care to know, fine. It makes no difference to the person intent on knowing one's self. The mistake you seem to make is constantly trying to convert the inner thing into some sort of "outer" validating procedure. The only possible way to check out the introspectionist's claims is for you to repeat the inner practices he relies on. There is no external test that I know of.

hypnagogue said:
Essentially what I mean by justified is that if proposition P is justified, then we have good reasons for believing it is true with some degree of confidence.
There it is again. What others believe have nothing to do with anything for the introspectionist. He is working for his own enlightenment, not yours. His only possible interest in "externalization" is to encourage others to try introspection for themselves, not to make objective statements about ontology as the "truth." Subjective impressions, yes, but objective truth claims, no.

hypnagogue said:
The reason I believe Rosenberg's account is more justified than the typical mystical account is that, per the above arguments, I think there are certain epistemic limitations regarding what can be known from first person experience, and that some claims of the mystics go beyond these limitations.
Why do you believe that? Because you are so experienced with introspection?

hypnagogue said:
Where the mystic claims go beyond the epistemic limitations of introspection, we should be skeptical of them-- they are not suitably justified, there is not sufficient reason to believe they are true.
But how do you know where mystic claims go beyond the limitations of introspection? Aren't you just speculating?

hypnagogue said:
Rather than extend the first person evidence farther than it should be extended, Rosenberg respects its limitations and uses other means of investigation that are themselves plausibly justified as a supplement to come to a complete account.
You know, there doesn't have to be a competition between the subjective researcher and the objective researcher if each can respect the completely different set of rules the other is bound by. The problem arises when one side demands the other side validate according to their particular concept of proof.

However, I will grant you that both sides extend beyond what "should" be extended. I am a constant critic of over-extending introspectionists, as well as physicalists who claim they can explain more than they can.

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hypnagogue

Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Les Sleeth said:
You seem to assume one must come to certainty via logic.
Not at all. I believe that under the right circumstances, second- and third-order phenomenal judgments are sufficient to deliver certain knowledge about p-consciousness. (For more on this, see the thread from which this thread was split.) I am merely skeptical about how much we can trust first-order phenomenal judgments-- specifically, I think first-order phenomenal judgments cannot be taken to be certain knowledge on their own, but require other means of verification, since they are straightforwardly prone to error. And I believe many mystical claims boil down to first-order phenomenal judgments.

Les Sleeth said:
And then, for the introspectionist there is not the slightest need to externally "prove" to others the validity of his experience.
I do not question the validity of the experience as such. I question what kinds of things we can be taken to know from subjective experience. I do not expect someone to prove to me that they have experienced such-and-such qualitative experience, anymore than I expect to have to prove that I myself am phenomenally conscious. However, if one makes a claim about some facet of nature other than one's own p-consciousness itself on the basis of one's subjective experience, then such claims can and should come under scrutiny.

For instance, in this thread you claim:

Les Sleeth said:
I don't want to seem overly exact, but I have to say that I don't think the deepest experience of meditation has anything to do with the brain since that experience seems to separate one from one's body somewhat.
I have no doubt that you have had experiences as if you have been separated from your body somehow. However, I do not think that this experience, in and of itself, should give you strong reason to believe that you actually are being separated from your body, as I am about to explain.

In general, I am skeptical of the validity of concluding "X" from "I have an experience as if X." This is the implicit reasoning that seems to drive some mystical claims, but it can be shown to be faulty.

For instance, take the http://philo.zm3.net/visuals/Subjective_Contour/kanizsa-triangle_a.gif [Broken]. If you are like me, then upon looking at this figure, you have an experience as if there is a white triangle lying on top of another triangle and three black circles. By asserting that you have this experience, you are making a second-order phenomenal judgment, and I would claim that your knowledge in this case is above reproach (assuming you are not being distracted and so on). There is no room to doubt that you are in fact having this phenomenal experience; to deny it would be folly.

However, if we conclude from our experience as if there exists a white triangle that there actually does exist a white triangle in this figure, then we move into murkier territory. We are using our phenomenal experience not to make a judgment about the experience itself, but rather, we are using our experience to make a judgment about something else, namely that which our experience represents-- in this case, the figure on your computer screen. In other words, now we are making a first-order phenomenal judgment. And of course, in this case the relevant first-order judgment is wrong.

How can it be that second- and third-order phenomenal judgments can deliver sure knowledge, while first-order phenomenal judgments are much more error prone? The reason is that, whenever we make a judgment using phenomenal experience, we tacitly assume a kind of isomorphism between the experience itself and what it represents. In cases where experience is isomorphic with what is represented, judgments typically are on sure footing. When the isomorphism is broken, however, then our experiences cannot be taken to reliably represent what we take them to represent.

Second- and third-order phenomenal judgments generally deliver sure knowledge simply because, for these judgments, we are using experience to represent itself, and so isomorphism between representer and represented is guaranteed. (Experience is obviously isomorphic to itself.) However, for first-order phenomenal judgments, there is no such guarantee that an isomorphism exists between representer (experience) and represented (something other than the experience itself-- typically some feature of the external world, be it mundane or metaphysical).

This is why I do not trust first-order phenomenal judgments that come with no further justification. To supplement the first-order judgment, we must show, or at least have good reason to believe, that the required isomorphism between experience and that which it represents actually exists.

As this applies to introspectionism, it seems to me that many introspectionist claims are in fact first-order phenomenal judgments, and hence my skepticism. For instance, in the above text you speculate that deep meditation might not involve brain processes, because in deep meditation there can occur the experience as if one is separated from one's body. This is a first-order phenomenal judgment: Using experience to derive a claim about something other than the direct experience itself. I think this claim needs to be supplemented with auxiliary evidence that the required ismorphism between experience and the body/mind relation exists-- we cannot simply assume that it does.

Les Sleeth said:
The mistake you seem to make is constantly trying to convert the inner thing into some sort of "outer" validating procedure. The only possible way to check out the introspectionist's claims is for you to repeat the inner practices he relies on. There is no external test that I know of.
I do believe that first-order phenomenal judgments need external validation, for the reasons described above.

As for checking the introspectionist's claims, I already readily accept his description of his experience as such. That is not what is at issue. What is at issue is, granted that these experiences have occurred, what can we conclude from them?

Les Sleeth said:
There it is again. What others believe have nothing to do with anything for the introspectionist. He is working for his own enlightenment, not yours. His only possible interest in "externalization" is to encourage others to try introspection for themselves, not to make objective statements about ontology as the "truth." Subjective impressions, yes, but objective truth claims, no.
Canute has claimed that mystics have used introspection to come to valid objective truth claims, e.g. about causality and the nature of the mind/body relationship. Even your claim above about meditation and out of body experiences, although stated with some degree of tentativeness, amounted to a speculation about some facet of objective reality. To state it as a subjective impression, as I understand that term, would have been to say something like, "in deep meditation, one gets a feeling as if one has separated from the body." That is a claim I would have no issues with.

Les Sleeth said:
Why do you believe that? Because you are so experienced with introspection?
If it matters, I am not as naive with respect to the range and depth of possible kinds of conscious experiences as the average person. But really, I cannot see how any kind of conscious experience could trump the reasoning I've laid out above. What might privilege mystical experiences such that they do not fall prey to skepticism about first-order phenomenal judgments? Nothing that I can see, even in principle: depth or richness or power of felt experience, the highest degree of subjective confidence that one's judgment is correct, etc.-- none of these supercede the basic frailty of first-order phenomenal judgments. One can have an immensely powerful experience and be wrong about what can be concluded from it; one can have the highest degree of confidence that one's first-order phenomenal judgment is right, and still be wrong; etc.

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Les Sleeth said:
Can we be fooled by appearances?
No. Appearances [A] are an entangled quantum superposition that occur within the neurons of the brain between an external object [O] and the perception [P] of a subject, thus A = [O + P]. Because perception is always relative, never absolute, while object is always absolute as an entity that exists separate of perception, by definition appearances must always be relative. In addition, the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics does not allow both [O] and [P] to be known fully by our consciousness, without error, at any given time and place. Because our consciousness is aware that appearances are always by definition open to uncertainty, we can never be fooled by that which we know a priori is not absolute, because by definition (Webster) to be "fooled" is to act without judgement or wisdom. Consider the statement by Sue, "well it sure appears that (x) is true"...note the implicit grasp by Sue that uncertainty is present in her understanding of (x)--then when (x) is found to be false, Sue has not been fooled by the appearance of (x), her wisdom and good judgement has been confirmed. When, then, can humans be fooled if not by appearances? When they accept and conceptualize and act on false premises as if they were true. Thus, consider the fool that holds that they can fly when they jump off the bridge.

Canute

hypnagogue said:
Hi Canute, sorry for the delay.
That's Ok. Only just got back from my hols.

Much of your reply centres on the idea of "p-consciousness". I have never quite come to grips with what this term means, despite its ubiquitous use in philosophy of mind. Could you explain exactly what you mean by it just in case I'm misunderstanding you? I have trouble with dividing consciousness up into categories like this.

I claim that the only sure knowledge that can be derived solely from phenomenal consciousness is knowledge about phenomenal consciousness itself. Using knowledge from p-consciousness to make claims about things other than p-consciousness itself (essentially, making first-order phenomenal judgments) readily admits of the possibility of error.
Given only my uncertainty over the meaning of p-consciousness I probably agree with this.

You claim that the mystics' knowledge circumvents this epistemic limitation essentially because they do not make claims about things other than p-consciousness after all-- it turns out that we can indeed derive sure knowledge about deeper ontological issues because these are directly revealed as contents of p-consciousness, at least to the mystics. (Correct me if I'm mistaken.)
I wouldn't say that such knowledge is revealed as being contents of p-consciousness. Rather, I'd say that p-consciousness is revealed as being epiphenomenal, not fundamental. But, again, the precise meaning of p-consciousness is important.

However, my natural response is to ask, "How do the mystics know that those deeper ontological things really are revealed through p-consciousness?" It seems the answer is just that this has been revealed to them directly, through introspection of p-consciousness. But surely you can see that this is not really an effective reply? It begs the question-- it assumes at the outset what it seeks to later assert. Essentially, it answers the question "How can we really know that we can directly perceive deep ontological truths?" by saying, "We know we can directly perceive deep ontological truths because we have directly perceived that we can directly perceive deep ontological truths." It's circular.
Well, we know that we can directly perceive that something exists because we have directly perceived that something exists. That is not a circular argument, even though it is a mystical one. Similarly, from Aristotle, we know that some axioms are self-evident because it is self-evident that they are self-evident. Likewise, we know that we are perceiving beings because we have directly confirmed that we are beings that have perceptions. It seems perfectly reasonable to me to say that "We know we can directly perceive deep ontological truths because we have directly perceived that we can directly perceive deep ontological truths."

Essentially what I mean by justified is that if proposition P is justified, then we have good reasons for believing it is true with some degree of confidence.
That's what I call circular. The mystical view of knowledge is that either one knows something or one does not. There is such a thing as 'justified true belief,' as for the belief that the sun will rise tomorrow for instance, but such beliefs are not to be confused with knowledge. Many people consider that 'God exists' is a justified proposition, or 'There is not a teapot in orbit around Mars', but both may be false propositions.

The reason I believe Rosenberg's account is more justified than the typical mystical account is that, per the above arguments, I think there are certain epistemic limitations regarding what can be known from first person experience, and that some claims of the mystics go beyond these limitations. Where the mystic claims go beyond the epistemic limitations of introspection, we should be skeptical of them-- they are not suitably justified, there is not sufficient reason to believe they are true.
Fair enough. I feel that this is one of the best objections to mystical teachings. But the question is, what are those epistemic limitations, and are there any? Unless we know this then the objection has no force.

Rosenberg's account is superior, I believe, because it does make use of first person evidence (it is not entirely theoretical), but it does not conclude from this evidence anything that goes beyond the epistemic limitations of such evidence.
To make this judgement you have to make an assumption about the limits of first-person knowledge. But you do not know whether that assumption is correct.

It seems to me that because Rosenberg assumes his underlying assumptions are correct in this sense he does go beyond the epistemic limitations of the evidence. For example, you say, if I remember right, that in R's view the subject/object duality is ultimately a false perception. How can R know this better than a mystic who has discovered it first-hand? For R it is a theory or hypothesis, for a mystic it is a known fact, 'knowledge by acquantance' as you have called it, aka knowledge by identity.

I didn't claim that no such account had been provided, only that to my knowledge, no such account has been given that is as clear and compelling as Rosenberg's. If you think an equally or more clear and compelling account of the relationship between consciousness and causation has indeed been provided, I'd be happy to take a look at it.
The mystical view of causation is a subtle one because in this view nothing ever happens. Yes, I know this sounds ridiculous, but in this view spacetime is an epiphenomenon (has only a dependent existence) and in the absence of time and space what can happen? (Physics seems to me to be heading for the same view). So from this perspective causation can be discussed in relation to objects and events just as R does, but the discussion is complicated in that at a deeper level of analysis causes and effects are in a sense not real.

There is much written about causation in the mystical literature, particularly that of Buddhism. However I've never found a text that translates easily into scientific terms. Often the topic comes up in relation to freewill, whether consciousness is able to cause. If you come at it from this angle you'll find a great deal written about it. But I'll look out for something to recommend. (Spencer-Brown's mathematical model of cosmogenesis would be relevant, since it deals directly with the first-cause problem).

Sure thing (provided it's not 300 pages long ).
Thanks. It's not quite finished so I'll get back to you when it is. I'd very much like to hear your comments.

I'd like to slightly disagree with something Les says above because it seems relevant to do so here. Mystics, as Les says, are first and foremost concerned with discovering the truth, not with proving things to other people. However, this is not to say that their assertions about our shared reality cannot be tested. They say a good deal about the nature of reality that is easily tested. The epiphenomenality of spacetime is one example. The impossibility of explaining mind-brain or brain-mind causation without the introduction of a third term is another. That matter is epiphenomenal on 'emptiness' is a common one. There are many more. The point is not that they do not make testable claims, indeed, they claim that all their assertions are testable. They are not all testable in the third-person of course, but many of them are, and most of them can be tested by logical analysis at least.

For a good exposition of the mystical view of space, time, consciousness, self, events, objects and a few other things, I'd recommend "The Sun of Wisdom" by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso (Shambala 2000), a commentary on Nargaruna's formally reasoned explanations of the Buddha's teachings. Also "Abhidhamma Studies - Buddhist Explorations of Consciousness and Time" by the Venerable Nyanaponika Thera. The Abhidhamma literature is roughly-speaking the philosophical exposition or exploration of the Buddhist worldview, more specifically the Buddha's teachings. It supplements the Sutta and Vinaya Pitakas, thus giving us the 'Tipitaka' or "Three Baskets of Doctrine". As this literature deliberately skirts around the issue of personal practice and experience it is readable in the way that any western philosophical text is readable, although it gets damn complicated at times.

On the issue of whether meditative experience is a trustworthy guide to truth you might like this extract. - "A fertile soil for the origin and persistence of beliefs and ideas about a self, soul, God, or any other form of absolute entity is misinterpreted meditative experience occuring in devotional rapture or mystical trance." - (Author's emphasis). Thus although I'm arguing that there are no epistemic limits to knowledge, I would readily agree that it is possible to make mistakes along the way to that knowledge. However, in the end we need not rely on cognitively-processed interpretations in this way, hence 'direct' or 'unmediated' knowledge.

Les Sleeth

Gold Member
hypnagogue said:
Not at all. I believe that under the right circumstances, second- and third-order phenomenal judgments are sufficient to deliver certain knowledge about p-consciousness. (For more on this, see the thread from which this thread was split.) I am merely skeptical about how much we can trust first-order phenomenal judgments-- specifically, I think first-order phenomenal judgments cannot be taken to be certain knowledge on their own, but require other means of verification, since they are straightforwardly prone to error. And I believe many mystical claims boil down to first-order phenomenal judgments.
I understand your approach, I just don't agree that it will ever deliver certainty about the nature of consciousness. Maybe you will learn something from "second- and third-order phenomenal judgments" as you say, but you won't get certainty. That is why I decided to pursue the subjective route. You are of course entitled to have your opinions about what happens in my inner experiences, but you can't escape the fact that you are evaluting based on what you know (and don't) and viewing my experience as an outsider.

See, you cannot even prove through your method that you are conscious, and I believe that's because it is impossible to demonstrate true subjectivity through any externalization procedure. I can become certain of my own subjectivity, but I can't show it to you.

If you understand the two completely different approaches we are taking, then you should also understand that it is impossible for us to agree on how one becomes certain about what consciousness is, as I will argue below.

hypnagogue said:
. . . you claim:

Les Sleeth said:
I don't want to seem overly exact, but I have to say that I don't think the deepest experience of meditation has anything to do with the brain since that experience seems to separate one from one's body somewhat.
I have no doubt that you have had experiences as if you have been separated from your body somehow. However, I do not think that this experience, in and of itself, should give you strong reason to believe that you actually are being separated from your body, as I am about to explain.

In general, I am skeptical of the validity of concluding "X" from "I have an experience as if X." This is the implicit reasoning that seems to drive some mystical claims, but it can be shown to be faulty.
If I listen to your reasoning and ignore my exerience, I can be made to doubt every, single, experience of my consciousness. What would make me want to listen to your call for doubt?

If I am replacing a light fixture, I turn off the circuit breaker. How many times should I go look at (i.e., experience) the state of the circuit breaker before I decide I'm certain it's off? What if each time I come back from looking, you are waiting with a reason for me to doubt what I experienced, so I check again. How long should I listen to you after I repeatedly find the breaker switched off? I might say, "well, if you are in such doubt, why don't you go look for yourself." But you decline and only want to evaluate my certainty.

The core of ME only I have access to, you don't. I claim that I have practiced for almost 32 years a way to merge with that core, and have had thousands of experiences witnessing what occurs. I also say it cannot be externalized for your scrutiny, and then you claim that is cause for doubt.

But who should doubt? Me? No way Brian, I am not going to doubt it because at this point there is absolutely nothing I am more certain about than the nature of my being. Now you can doubt all you want, and maybe you should since you've not decided to see if what I say occurs really does when one learns to merge. But your doubt does not mean the slightest thing to the reality of what I say occurs. It only reflects your state of certainty, not my state of certainty, or even the objective question of certainty (since I claim one can never achieve an external means of certainty for subjectivity).

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Les Sleeth

Gold Member
No. Appearances [A] are an entangled quantum superposition that occur within the neurons of the brain between an external object [O] and the perception [P] of a subject, thus A = [O + P]. Because perception is always relative, never absolute, while object is always absolute as an entity that exists separate of perception, by definition appearances must always be relative. In addition, the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics does not allow both [O] and [P] to be known fully by our consciousness, without error, at any given time and place. Because our consciousness is aware that appearances are always by definition open to uncertainty, we can never be fooled by that which we know a priori is not absolute, because by definition (Webster) to be "fooled" is to act without judgement or wisdom. Consider the statement by Sue, "well it sure appears that (x) is true"...note the implicit grasp by Sue that uncertainty is present in her understanding of (x)--then when (x) is found to be false, Sue has not been fooled by the appearance of (x), her wisdom and good judgement has been confirmed. When, then, can humans be fooled if not by appearances? When they accept and conceptualize and act on false premises as if they were true. Thus, consider the fool that holds that they can fly when they jump off the bridge.
I hope you don't think that's a good demonstration of objectivism. Why all the nitpicking? If we have to go through all that just to exhange thoughts on a simple idea, I'll need a bottle of aspirin to talk to you.

My earlier point about Sigourney Weaver in the robotic loader was an answer to your response to Canute "?? "if" consciousness arises from brains ?? OK, if not, then it arises from my kidney, my lung, the ether ? Please do inform me how consciousness is NOT contingent on neurons."

You seem certain that consciousness comes from neurons, but a lot of people believe that consciousness might exist prior to its association with the brain, and is drawn into it where the brain teaches it to think, individuate, and use the body. The comment about "appearances" was to say that if we do exist prior to our entrance into the brain, because our only memory is being part of a brain, we could become convinced by the appearance of being in a brain that we are created by the brain.

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Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
Appearances [A] are an entangled quantum superposition that occur within the neurons of the brain between an external object [O] and the perception [P] of a subject, thus A = [O + P].
Where did you get this? Not from a legitimate physics source!

Can you "objectively" define the term "entangled quantum superposition"?

The neutral pion is one example of a "entangled quantum superposition" of two diquark superposed states. Superposition of two "states" is a fundamental concept of quantum mechanics. Under this condition the system under investigation (e.g., the superposition) is effectivity in both quantum states at the same time (sounds crazy, but that's QM for you), and thus evolves as it would as an independent state. Nothing non-legitimate here--basic QM theory. Of course, it is my spin that such is the nature of "appearance" given the fact that appearance as an existent can be described as an electro-chemical wavefunction within neurons, and that such a wavefunction follows rules of quantum mechanics. I may be wrong, I look forward to your falsification of my hypothesis--such is the way of science. That appearance must always be a combination of object [O] + perception [P] comes from Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand. She may be wrong--but it is the most logical definition of appearance that I am aware of--if you can do better--please do.

Canute

I'd just say that you'll have difficulty proving that any such an "object" of perception exists as anything more than just a perception. But that's getting nitpicky. I rather liked your quantum entanglement of observer and observed. The question is, to what do observer and observed ultimately reduce?

Les Sleeth said:
You seem certain that consciousness comes from neurons, but a lot of people believe that consciousness might exist prior to its association with the brain, and is drawn into it where the brain teaches it to think, individuate, and use the body.
This is such a mystical view of reality that I cannot relate to it. I have so many questions.

First, you hold that consciousness comes from something outside the brain. OK, do you have any idea when in the process of human development from embryo this occurs, the process of inputting consciousness into the brain ? And does the brain have a place set aside, sort of a second bedroom, all ready for consciousness to be introduced as a ready to go complex entity ? And, of great importance, how much energy does this input process take, and where does the energy come from ? If from the brain, it would seem to me very testable that during human development there would be a large energy drain from internal energy supplies at time of input, or a large energy gain if from external source.

As to the form of this external consciousness, is it like as Descarte says, that it "knows" that it exists because it thinks ? Well, if the answer is yes, then it is clear that this consciousness cannot be god because he/she tells us that it does not need to think that it exists to know it, it is just "I am"--it exists, no thinking required. But I suppose that this higher power could then create this consciousness to be a faculty that "thinks", but we must then all agree by that this consciousness that enters the brain cannot be god him/her self. Which makes so much sense to me given the great capacity for evil within human consciousness.

Now, your next point is really confusing to me--next you hold that "the brain" teaches the consciousness that was put into the brain. But why ? Why would a pure and thinking consciousness that was put into the brain by a supposed higher mystical power need to be taught anything ? It seems to me you have the process backward. Your argument would make much more sense to me if the pure consciousness, encoded with all the pure good information of the higher power, was the teacher.

But then again, you may have a point ! Since by definition each human "brain" differs genetically, and we have both good and evil in the world, perhaps it is the corrupt brains of humans that teach the pure consciousness evil, and that is why we have such a "consciousness" mess within human species; e.g.,--there is no standard of what is to be taught by the brain to the pure added consciousness, it is each brain to itself under your system. But now I am yet more confused why a higher mystical power would set up the game this way--why set it up in such a way that you know it must fail (e.g., brain teaches). So, I now reach a logical conclusion--if your mystical hypothesis about "origin of consciousness" is correct, then the process you describe could not come about by the means of intelligent design, for the simple reason that no intelligent being would knowingly design a system that it knew was designed to fail.

Finally, you hold that the brain teaches the added consciousness to 'use the body'. But why does the brain need consciousness to "use the body" ? And what do you mean by "use the body" ? Body as a structure differs from mind as a structure, and you hold that consciousness is in fact within the mind (e.g., linked to brain--but separate). But, I just cannot grasp what it is exactly that you think is the relationship between "body" and "consciousness" ?

Sorry, lots of questions here--but your hypothesis that consciousness does not come from neurons is very complex and completely new to me.

Canute

The hypothesis that consciousness does not come from neurons may be new to you, but it's not new. Whether it is the case or not is another matter, but it has many supporters, including many respectable scientists and philosophers. Certainly there is no evidence that it is not the case, and the inability of researchers to come up with any such evidence is increasingly suggestive. The following is a famous comment - and it still stands.

"Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious.
Nobody even knows what it would be like to have the slightest idea
about how anything material could be conscious. So much for the philosophy of consciousness"

J. A. Fodor
Times Literary Supplement
July 3 1992

Canute said:
"Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious. Nobody even knows what it would be like to have the slightest idea about how anything material could be conscious. So much for the philosophy of consciousness" J. A. Fodor Times Literary Supplement July 3 1992
But this is a nonsense statement. "Noboby has the slightest idea..." In fact, many people have much more that slightest idea--so consider this argument published in the journal, Minds and Machines, 1996:

Shades of Consciousness Author: Girle, Roderic A.a Affiliations: a. Department of Philosophy, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand

Abstract: It has been argued that consciousness might be what differentiates human from machine mentality. What then is consciousness? We discuss consciousness, particularly perception accounts of consciousness. It is argued that perception and consciousness are distinct. Armstrong's (1980) account of consciousness is rejected. It is proposed that perception is a necessary but not sufficient condition for consciousness, and that there is a distinction to be drawn between consciousness and self-consciousness. Consciousness is tightly linked to attention and to certain sorts of knowledge. Implications for machine consciousness and machine attention are discussed.

And this in journal "Trends in Cognitive Sciences", 1998:

Will there be a neuroscientific theory of consciousness? Authors: Kurthen, Martina; Grunwald, Thomasa; Elger, Christian E.a Affiliations: a. Department of Epileptology, University of Bonn, Sigmund-Freud-Str. 25, D-53105, Bonn, Germany

Abstract: Neuroscientists and philosophers nowadays claim that the problem of phenomenal consciousness is a scientific problem. Increasing knowledge of the neural correlates of consciousness is expected to yield an explanation of consciousness in neuroscientific terms. On the other hand, it is sometimes argued that even complete knowledge of brain function will leave unanswered the question of why cerebral processes are accompanied by consciousness at all. Proponents of this view assume an unbridgeable explanatory gap' between the brain and the whole realm of phenomenal consciousness. Here, it is argued that this explanatory gap' problem can not adequately be met by current neuroscientific approaches to consciousness, while purely philosophical approaches remain controversial because they inevitably reach a level of contradictory intuitions that do not seem to be resolvable by further argument. However, the problem may be resolved once one accepts that the features of consciousness itself might change with our judgments and descriptions of consciousness inspired by neuroscience. Such a change of consciousness' becomes realistic when consciousness is construed as a description-dependent, non-intrinsic' property. Hence, it is argued that neuroscientists are right not to try to refute the explanatory gap argument, but that they should continue research on the neural correlates of consciousness, thus preparing new descriptions of phenomenal consciousness.

---

I think it important that statements on this Physics Forum at least attempt to link esoteric comments and quotes with scientific facts--and the facts of what modern day philosophers think and research about consciousness does not support the comments of J. A. Fodor.

Paul Martin

Sorry, lots of questions here--but your hypothesis that consciousness does not come from neurons is very complex and completely new to me.
Please don't be sorry; I, for one, am delighted that you expressed those questions. I am one of those people who "believe that consciousness might exist prior to its association with the brain" and your questions provide a framework which might help me express why I think that belief is reasonable. My beliefs are evidently different from Les Sleeth's, so I'll let him speak for himself. (In particular, I don't think the "brain teaches [consciousness] to think, individuate, and use the body"; instead, I would say that consciousness learns how to run an individual body, much as a person learns to drive a car.)

(You didn't ask why people might believe this hypothesis, so if you are not interested in this question, you may skip past these two parenthetical paragraphs. In my case, my belief in the hypotheses was first suggested by what I vaguely seem to remember from a couple of personal "mystical experiences". Later it was reinforced by learning that many prominent thinkers have held similar beliefs -- thanks to Canute and others at PF who have introduced me to them. And finally the belief has been supported by the conclusions of the best logic I could muster, that the consequences of this hypothesis are consistent both internally and with the evidence from the phenomenal world. I am sincerely interested in any opinions which might cast doubt on these conclusions, so I thank any readers in advance for any comments they might make in this respect.

Logically, if we ask about the ultimate origin of reality, there are several popular candidates. These might include false vacuum, a Higgs field, energy (dark and/or light), turtles, or whatever. My choice for that candidate is some subset of consciousness. I think that the pure "ability to know" is the most likely candidate for the ultimate primordial ontological entity, but I leave open the possibility that the ability to remember and recall might also be part of it. My reasons are twofold: first, consciousness is the only thing I know to exist beyond doubt, and second, I can sort of see how consciousness could lead to, or be responsible for the construction of, everything else in the phenomenal world. I know of no logical explanation of how any of the other candidates for the "original stuff" could lead to, or be responsible for the construction of, consciousness.)
First, you hold that consciousness comes from something outside the brain. OK, do you have any idea when in the process of human development from embryo this occurs, the process of inputting consciousness into the brain?
I think the best way to understand my view of this question is to consider the analogy of consciousness : brain :: music : radio. That is, I view the brain as an instrument which can "carry" consciousness similar to the way in which a radio can "carry" music. The music certainly "comes out of" the radio, but of course we know that it does not originate there. There is a much more complex part of the system that actually produces the music and the radio simply "tunes in" to the signal containing the music information and it converts it into mechanical vibrations in air.

So, to answer your question using the analogue first, there are several processes involved in inputting music into the radio: 1. Construction of the radio transmitting station, 2. construction of the radio instrument itself, 3. production of the music at the transmitter (live musicians, recording playback, etc.) 4. broadcast of the musical radio program, and 5. reception of that particular program in the radio. So, "Where in the process of radio development, from raw materials to functioning radio (process 2 of 5 above), does the inputting of the music into the radio occur?" Well, I guess you could take your pick. But any simple answer would be incomplete.

Finally, to answer your question directly, I would say that consciousness is directly involved in driving each of the sperms, and in particular the successful one, and that consciousness continues to learn how to operate the developing organism from that moment until the moment of death. It's not a lot different from a person learning how to drive a car. Better yet, it is more like driving a Mars Rover remotely from earth, since there is two way communication (environmental information from Mars to Earth, and willful action commands from Earth to Mars. Libet's half-second delay would be analogous to the much longer delay between Earth and Mars.)
And does the brain have a place set aside, sort of a second bedroom, all ready for consciousness to be introduced as a ready to go complex entity ?
Yes, I suppose so in the same sense that a radio has such a place set aside for the music. Both instruments have to be exquisitely designed to be able to detect and interpret signals from the outside (in addition the brain has also to be able to transmit signals) so you could consider all of this design to be deliberately set aside for those purposes. In my view, consciousness is outside the brain and the two are in two-way communication.
And, of great importance, how much energy does this input process take, and where does the energy come from ?
Using the radio analogy again, I think we are talking about process number 5. In the case of the brain/consciousness we are talking about the process of consciousness sending signals containing willful intent to the brain, the brain's reception and interpretation of these signals, and the initiation of neural processes that will ultimately result in muscle action that will in part act out that intent. (There is a similar process in reverse where sensory organs produce neural patterns which contain perceptual information that gets transmitted out to consciousness.)

The energy used to drive these processes is again analogous to the energy involved in a radio playing music. The overwhelming quantity of energy is local to the brain/radio. It comes from metabolizing food for the brain and from some electrical power source for the radio. By comparison, there is a very small amount of energy carrying the signal itself. This is perturbations of the EM field for the radio and it is some yet-to-be-discovered communication medium between brain and consciousness.
If from the brain, it would seem to me very testable that during human development there would be a large energy drain from internal energy supplies at time of input, or a large energy gain if from external source.
I think I have explained why we should not expect that the signal energy should be large. Imagine that you could somehow play a radio for Isaac Newton and challenge him to find the source of the music given the knowledge he had while he was alive. He would probably not soon or easily detect the energy in the RF signal in the antenna circuit. That would be overwhelmed by the energy in the circuits coming from the power supply. I'd say that my hypothesis is testable, but not before a lot more is known about the real nature of consciousness.
As to the form of this external consciousness, is it like as Descarte says, that it "knows" that it exists because it thinks ?
Not in my view. I think the ability to know is primary. After that, two things that became known was the fact of existence, and the knowledge that thinking was possible because it was happening. I'd say that it thinks because it knows, and it just exists (it is ontologically fundamental - "it" being consciousness throughout this sentence).
Well, if the answer is yes, then it is clear that this consciousness cannot be god because he/she tells us that it does not need to think that it exists to know it, it is just "I am"--it exists, no thinking required.
Well, the answer was not yes but I would like to comment anyway. It is clear to me that this consciousness cannot be god as defined by most theologians, philosophers, worshipers, and atheists. The reason is that by most definitions, god is taken to be unlimited in power and knowledge. In my view, consciousness is limited, in part, by what it has learned over a finite time. The only definition for 'god' which I think is consistent with my view of consciousness as the fundamental ontological entity is that of St. Anselm: "a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality" ("History of Philosophy, Selected Readings", Abernathy and Langford, 1965, p. 262).

In my view, there is only one consciousness, so that consciousness is the only thing that can conceive. It doesn't make any sense to me to think that it could conceive anything greater than what it can conceive, so it satisfies Anselm's definition. By my hypothesis, it exists in reality, and in my direct experience, it exists in my understanding, so again, it fits Anselm's definition. Now, N.B., that makes me (i.e. my consciousness) god; it makes you god; it makes each of us god while we are conscious, and there is absolutely nothing that implies that god is perfect, infinite, omniscient, omnipotent, complete, immutable, or any other such putative and ubiquitous attributes of god. The blind acceptance of these attributes, in my view, is the most horrendous error of thought ever entertained and it has caused more damage and trouble in the world than any other idea. I think it's about time it got straightened out.

As for "no thinking required", I agree with you. But just as in the case of "no mountain climbing required", many people do it anyway. I think the phenomenal world is ample evidence that some thinking has been done in spite of its not being required.
But I suppose that this higher power could then create this consciousness to be a faculty that "thinks", but we must then all agree by that this consciousness that enters the brain cannot be god him/her self.
I, for one, don't suppose that the higher power (consciousness) could create any conscious faculty. I think that instead it creates devices (organisms) through which it can project itself in the sense of a remote operator and thus perceive via the senses of the organism and act via the muscles of the organism. If we water down the definition of 'think' to include such things as calculation, then, yes, machines that 'think' have already been produced in large numbers. As for agreeing that consciousness cannot be god, it all depends on your definition of 'god'. I have already covered my views on that and I'd say that if consciousness is not called 'god', then there is nothing else that deserves the name.
Which makes so much sense to me given the great capacity for evil within human consciousness.
In my view, the capacity and ubiquity of evil is a direct consequence of my hypothesis. Evil is simply the result of acting out of ignorance and ignorance is simply the natural state of a consciousness which is not omniscient and has to learn everything from direct experience or logical inference. It takes time.
Now, your next point is really confusing to me--next you hold that "the brain" teaches the consciousness that was put into the brain.
Again, I don't agree with Les here. I would say that consciousness learns how to operate a body by communicating with it via the brain. (Much like the JPL scientists learn to drive their Mars Rovers.)
But why ? Why would a pure and thinking consciousness that was put into the brain by a supposed higher mystical power need to be taught anything?
Consciousness doesn't need to teach anything but it needs to learn. It needs to learn how to run the body in order to alter the evolution of the physical world to act out intentions and achieve desired results.
It seems to me you have the process backward. Your argument would make much more sense to me if the pure consciousness, encoded with all the pure good information of the higher power, was the teacher.
Here I think we need to examine what it means 'to know'. If it simply means to "contain information", then I could say that a set of encyclopaedias knows quite a bit. But that's not the same as consciously "knowing". In the first sense, we can "teach" a computer things by programming it, but we can't teach it in the second sense IMHO. That opinion is, of course, one of the most salient of contentious issues being discussed in these threads. I think the brain is "taught" many things, such as autonomic and even habitual functions, in the same sense that we "teach" or program a computer. But when it comes to conscious perception, conception, or willful and deliberate action, these are not wholly brain functions but they involve consciousness as the fundamental participant.
perhaps it is the corrupt brains of humans that teach the pure consciousness evil, and that is why we have such a "consciousness" mess within human species; e.g.,--there is no standard of what is to be taught by the brain to the pure added consciousness, it is each brain to itself
The way I see it, we have such a "consciousness" mess because the one consciousness is severely limited in what it knows and can know about the situation in the world. It does the best it can with the information it has from each organism as it drives it through its particular world-line. It makes mistakes not unlike the JPL scientists driving their rover into a sand trap.
But now I am yet more confused why a higher mystical power would set up the game this way--why set it up in such a way that you know it must fail (e.g., brain teaches).
'Fail' is a strong word. In my view, the universe has been remarkably successful. We have untold billions of galaxies each going about the highly improbable job of constructing heavy atoms and producing all kinds of energy and information. Biology on Earth has been spectacularly successful if you consider how much of the surface of globe is inhabited by thriving organisms and for how long. I think the "higher mystical power" deserves our utmost awe and respect for that accomplishment, particularly since I don't think that it could have known in advance all the consequences of the game once it was set up.

We humans are true microcosms of this picture. We embark on many enterprises with only vague notions of how they will turn out. We typically find a mixture of "success" and "failure" and we learn as we go. Since our consciousnesses, in my view, are one and the same as the consciousness that "set up" the physical universe, we should expect the same sort of outcome. Brahman = Athman.
So, I now reach a logical conclusion--if your mystical hypothesis about "origin of consciousness" is correct, then the process you describe could not come about by the means of intelligent design, for the simple reason that no intelligent being would knowingly design a system that it knew was designed to fail.
'Intelligent design' does not mean 'fail-safe design'. We humans design things all the time that fail, such as cars, the Titanic, etc. According to your logic that would disqualify us as "intelligent beings". I guess if 'intelligent' means 'omniscient', then I agree that we aren't intelligent. But that, IMHO, is too tough a standard either for us or for god.
Finally, you hold that the brain teaches the added consciousness to 'use the body'. But why does the brain need consciousness to "use the body" ? And what do you mean by "use the body" ?
Again, Les and I see things a bit differently here so I'll answer strictly from my point of view. I say that consciousness learns how to 'use the body' the same way a driver learns how to drive a car. Consciousness can also teach the body to automatically perform some repetitious functions, such as playing a certain passage on the piano, but for the most part, I think those are "learned" by the brain without the involvement of consciousness (think of the autonomic functions). This would be as if your car came equipped with some automatic capability for, I don't know, say, automatically braking for an obstruction in the road unseen by the driver. As for why the brain needs consciousness to "use the body" the answer is the same as why a car needs a driver to get from point A to point B. Attempts to build robot controlled cars to negotiate a course unattended by a human have been pitifully unsuccessful. If consciousness is not actively "driving" the organism, it simply sleeps. What I mean by "use the body" is to deliberately cause the muscles to perform some intended action in the world.
Body as a structure differs from mind as a structure, and you hold that consciousness is in fact within the mind (e.g., linked to brain--but separate). But, I just cannot grasp what it is exactly that you think is the relationship between "body" and "consciousness" ?
Again, speaking for myself and not for Les, first of all, I say that 'consciousness' and 'mind' are nearly synonymous. So to me, the mind/body problem is the same as the consciousness/body problem. I say that consciousness exists apart from the body and the relationship is that the two are in direct two-way communication, with perceptions flowing one way and orders for intentional actions flowing the other way. It's like the two-way radio connection between JPL and Mars.

It's been good talking with you, Rade. I am very eager to hear where this does not make sense to you.

Paul

Canute

Rade - Fodor's comment was not intended to suggest that nobody was doing any work on the consciousness problem. He's done a lot of that work himself. His point was that nobody has yet got any idea how consiousness arises from matter. This was true then and is still true now. Of course, there are a number of hypotheses. However all have been shown to inadequate. If you read through the scientific literature on consciouness it becomes clear quite quickly that nobody has any idea how consciousness arises from brains, and there is as yet no scientific evidence that it does (or that it does not).

Hi Paul - I notice you reduce the problem to the relationship between consciousness and body. The trouble with this is that it is dualism, or seems to be. Have you considered that there might be a third term involved in this relationship? This would allow dualism to be avoided. We could say that mind and body arise from consciousness (in its fundamental form) and that consciousness (in its fundamental form) mediates the relationship between mind and body which, in this view, become just two complementary aspects of consciousness.

This would mean that at a fundamental level we are all one, as you suggest, but that in the realms of living and dying sentient beings we take on the attributes of mind/body, subject/object and so on and thus individuate ourselves. If one takes either mind or body as fundamental then the relationship between mind and body makes no sense, as Fodor's comment implies, for dualism makes no sense to anybody. But if mind and matter arise from something else then there is a possible resolution. They become two aspects rather than two things, like the opposite faces of a mountain represented by the Yin/Yang symbol, with the mountain as what is fundamental, not minds or bodies.

Paul Martin

Hi Canute,

Welcome back. I hope you enjoyed your holiday.
Canute said:
I notice you reduce the problem to the relationship between consciousness and body.
As I see it, I have reduced the problem (of explaining everything) to a single fundamental entity, that being consciousness. In fact, I reduce it even further to only a subset of consciousness as we experience it, that being simply "the ability to know" (with the caveat that "the ability to remember and recall" might also be necessary). In my view, the relationship between consciousness and body occurs much later in the evolution of reality.
Canute said:
The trouble with this is that it is dualism, or seems to be.
I don't see that as "trouble". The only trouble, IMHO, is that dualism is not fashionable at the moment. Fashion has never been a motivator or much of a consideration for me.
Canute said:
Have you considered that there might be a third term involved in this relationship?
Yes. As we discussed before you left for the beach, I consider that Penrose's triple, of mind, ideas, and physicality, appeared very early in the evolution of reality as quasi-fundamental entities. And as I pointed out then, I consider that mind (i.e. consciousness) is the truly fundamental one of these three. BTW we have never resolved our different definitions of 'mind'. I consider 'mind' to be synonymous with 'consciousness' and you seem to hold that they are different. What is the difference as you see it?
Canute said:
We could say that mind and body arise from consciousness (in its fundamental form) and that consciousness (in its fundamental form) mediates the relationship between mind and body which, in this view, become just two complementary aspects of consciousness.
If, by 'mind' you mean 'the association of the single consciousness with a particular body/brain (as analogous to a person getting in and driving a particular car)' then I agree completely with what you said here. In my view, the one consciousness first came up with Ideas (i.e. the Platonic World: the second of Penrose's fundamental worlds) by pure thought, then by choosing among some of those Ideas and using a combination of imagination, memory, and recall (which capabilities had been sufficiently evolved by then) developed (or constructed) Physicality (the third of Penrose's fundamental worlds) much as we construct virtual reality systems as the implementation of ideas following chosen rules and playing out the physical evolution in a memory substrate.

The mediation, then, of the relationship between mind and body would be for the one consciousness to establish two-way communication with one of the bodies and begin actively (vicariously) "living the life" of that body. Perceptions of the body would be relayed to the consciousness so it could "know" what is going on in that body's physical environment, and intentional commands for actions by the body could be relayed to the body so that it could act according to the one consciousness's free will.

One way to think of this process is to consider the faculty of attention, which is a capability of consciousness, and suppose that the one consciousness attends to the body's world-line in some sequence. Note that the temporal sequence and/or rate needn't match the temporal physical dimension. Nor, does the transit along the world-line need to be continuous. This last would neatly explain sleep. It all makes perfect sense to me and it seems to explain everything.
Canute said:
If one takes either mind or body as fundamental then the relationship between mind and body makes no sense, as Fodor's comment implies, for dualism makes no sense to anybody. But if mind and matter arise from something else then there is a possible resolution. They become two aspects rather than two things, like the opposite faces of a mountain represented by the Yin/Yang symbol, with the mountain as what is fundamental, not minds or bodies.
Does my suggested definition for 'mind' fix that problem? It seems to me that it does and that I can agree with what you said here.

Paul

Canute

Paul Martin said:
I don't see that as "trouble". The only trouble, IMHO, is that dualism is not fashionable at the moment. Fashion has never been a motivator or much of a consideration for me.
On this one I feel you're wrong. Dualism just does not work. Once one assumes that mind and body are all that there is there is no way to explain how they relate, nor how they come into existence. But, as you say, we haven't clarified the definitions of these things yet. I'll try below and see if we agree.

I consider that Penrose's triple, of mind, ideas, and physicality, appeared very early in the evolution of reality as quasi-fundamental entities. And as I pointed out then, I consider that mind (i.e. consciousness) is the truly fundamental one of these three. BTW we have never resolved our different definitions of 'mind'. I consider 'mind' to be synonymous with 'consciousness' and you seem to hold that they are different. What is the difference as you see it?
I'm out of my depths here, but this is roughly how I use the words. By 'mind'
I mean that faculty that sees as real the mental phenomena of our human universe, the faculty that dies with the death of our brain. For our more fundamental faculty, that does not die, I'd capitalise it as 'Mind'. (Similarly I'd use 'self' and 'Self'). By 'consciousness' I mean the usual 'what it is like,' but would include both consciousness as it appears to be to us as individuated sentient beings and also what is more fundamental (your 'CC'). This is a bit sloppy really, and not strictly in line with the Buddhist use of the words, but as I'm not yet omniscient I'm not sure what to call the more fundamental kind of consciousness, or even whether the term 'consciousness' can be applied to it without confusion. Perhaps one should just call it Reality. I've got a feeling that if we can agree on the definitions we can probably agree on most of the rest.

If, by 'mind' you mean 'the association of the single consciousness with a particular body/brain (as analogous to a person getting in and driving a particular car)' then I agree completely with what you said here.
Yes, that's about it for me, with Mind as the part not so associated.

In my view, the one consciousness first came up with Ideas (i.e. the Platonic World: the second of Penrose's fundamental worlds) by pure thought, then by choosing among some of those Ideas and using a combination of imagination, memory, and recall (which capabilities had been sufficiently evolved by then) developed (or constructed) Physicality (the third of Penrose's fundamental worlds) much as we construct virtual reality systems as the implementation of ideas following chosen rules and playing out the physical evolution in a memory substrate.
You agree with George Spencer Brown then, as I've suggested earlier, who argues that the world is created by making conceptual distinctions. These distinctions may, I think, be called Ideas, or the basis of Ideas. In this view the universe becomes real by a process of ignorance and confusion, in that we forget it is really all just Ideas and mistakenly take it to be more real than that from which it emerges or emanates. (Hence Plato's argument that we have forgotten the truth and must work to rediscover it). If what you say here is correct then this view seems consistent with Penrose's hypothesis to a large degree.

The mediation, then, of the relationship between mind and body would be for the one consciousness to establish two-way communication with one of the bodies and begin actively (vicariously) "living the life" of that body.
Do you mean that mind and body arise from consciousness (CC)? If so I agree.

Perceptions of the body would be relayed to the consciousness so it could "know" what is going on in that body's physical environment, and intentional commands for actions by the body could be relayed to the body so that it could act according to the one consciousness's free will.
I feel the Buddhist view on these things is the correct one, but wouldn't dare attempt to expound it in any depth. When it gets to the details I'll leave it to the experts. But freewill in Buddhism is, I think, stated in metaphorical terms, accepting the will of God (CC, Allah etc), keeping in mind that God is just a convenient word and leaving it undefined here. Acting according to ordinary mind is to act as a machine, since ordinary mind is 'conditioned,' i.e. subject to the unrelenting laws of cause and effect. The personal 'freedom' so valued in materialist societies is not freedom at all in this view but slavery.

One way to think of this process is to consider the faculty of attention, which is a capability of consciousness, and suppose that the one consciousness attends to the body's world-line in some sequence. Note that the temporal sequence and/or rate needn't match the temporal physical dimension. Nor, does the transit along the world-line need to be continuous. This last would neatly explain sleep. It all makes perfect sense to me and it seems to explain everything.
I don't get that bit I'm afraid.

Does my suggested definition for 'mind' fix that problem? It seems to me that it does and that I can agree with what you said here.
Not quite sure yet. It may fix it, but it may be that it cannot be fully fixed until we can agree about the concept of 'nonduality'. Only with the concept of nonduality can we overcome the problems of dualism, whether of the Cartesian or cosmological kind. (Interestingly, quantum cosmologists seem to be reaching the same conclusion, with the introduction of the 'hypothesis of duality,' but that's another discussion I suppose).

At the moment this concept plays no part in your theory, and you assume that CC is not nothing. If it is not nothing then the metaphysical questions always found in dualistic cosmologies arise, such as what is it made out of, did it arise from nothing etc. You may be avoiding Cartesian mind-body dualism, but I wonder whether you have avoided 'ontological' or cosmological dualism. The answer would depend on whether your theory is, to use a term from physics, background-dependent or background-independent. If it is one or the other then it is founded on dualism. This is the problem which has led cosmologists to toy with the idea that neither answer is correct (the 'hypothesis of duality') thus at last, in one area of research at least, coming into line with the doctrine of Buddhism and the other mystical religions.

On the whole I'm sure we mostly agree, but it's interesting to tease out the differences.

Cheers
Canute

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Les Sleeth

Gold Member
Now, your next point is really confusing to me--next you hold that "the brain" teaches the consciousness that was put into the brain. But why? Why would a pure and thinking consciousness that was put into the brain by a supposed higher mystical power need to be taught anything?

I can’t answer all your questions with any certainty, though I could hypothesize. So after defining “mystical,” let me tell you what encourages me to see consciousness, and how it interacts with the brain, the way I do.

If anything real is mystical, what is it? I say, it is an experience that defies adequate conceptualization. I don’t think anything outside consciousness is mystical, but rather “mystical” is a possible type of experience for consciousness. Keeping in mind a requirement is that any possible mystical experience worthy of philosophical consideration must be real (i.e., not a hallucination, delusion, fantasy, supernatural, magic, etc.), then we might wonder what sort of experience cannot be conceptualized.

If you think about how conceptualization works, it has to create several components to link together with logic; or, if one strictly visualizes, one has to be able to create a mental picture. But what if consciousness, instead of being a complex thing caught up in thinking, imagining, liking, disliking, calculating – i.e., incessantly active -- finds a way to be “whole.” An analogy I like is a flowing stream we pretend is conscious.

Say the waves, eddies, and splashing on rocks of a flowing stream represent the activities of mentality so, for example, if a stream were conscious, to think it uses waves, to be emotional it splashes on rocks, and to imagine it creates an eddy. However, if we trace the spring back to its origin, we find it issues out of an underground spring, forms a deep still pool, but overflows at a distant edge to create the flowing stream. The surface of that pool is conscious too, but it is perfectly still.

How will the stream below explain the conscious experience of utter stillness when it has to initiate a wave or an eddy to understand anything? The stillness of the pool creates a “unity” the stream is never privy to. So the stream can’t begin to understand or imagine how anything can be still and yet be conscious because its own incessantly active experience of consciousness is one of something that dis-unites it. In other words, stillness “mystifies” normal consciousness.

Is there such a thing as a unified consciousness? Yes, it arises from a very ancient meditation practice known as samadhi in the East, and union in the West. I highly recommend you look into it if you want to read the most reliable reports of mystical experience. I myself have practiced union meditation for 32 years (this December), usually over an hour per day (as I did this morning).

In that experience, consciousness becomes perfectly still (though not permanently), and it seems to separate from the brain a bit. In the deepest experience, after the separation it feels like one joins temporarily with a vast consciousness that exists everywhere (this is a very common report of past accomplished samadhi/union practitioners which you can research). I have experienced this so many times over the years that it affects how I theorize what consciousness is and how it interacts with the CSN.

Here’s how I’ve reasoned it out. I don’t remember existing as an individual before being born, so something about my brain at least helped establish the individual now known as Les Sleeth. Those occasions when I temporarily join the greater consciousness in meditation, it seems like that’s where I’ve come from. My experience of it is that the greater consciousness seems very “general” so if I did come from it, my logical conclusion is that the brain works to create a sense of separation from that greater consciousness, which converts it from general consciousness to an individual consciousness within that general expanse.

Now, I look around at all the animal nervous systems, and I can see that as the brain evolved, the animals got smarter. So what am I to conclude but that the complex organization of the brain teaches the bit of “general” consciousness drawn into the CSN to dedicate and organize parts of itself to specialized functions like thinking, language and imagination.

If any of that is true (and I’m not saying it is, I have just tried to make sense of my experiences and observations), then why would someone want to return to the undifferentiated experience of general consciousness that I described was the goal of samadhi/union meditation? Well, because it feels really good to get whole again after being so disintegrated by the brain. One doesn’t forget anything the brain teaches, and one does gain a new perspective in wholeness, which, as you might logically predict, is a much greater sense of wholeness, unity, generalities . . . The expanded experience and the peace one feels can make devotees of the experience quite addicted to it.

Is there anyway for you to know if I am saying anything real? Not through objective evaluation, but you can learn to experience union for yourself. Obviously it can be a huge problem for people who don’t share common experiences yet wish to communicate about the nature of reality. By now, for example, you may again be thinking that I am truly paranoid, as you suggested in another post. :tongue2: In a lot of ways I am sypathetic to purely objective thinkers who are turned off by "inner" discussions because a lot of it isn't based on personal experience, and often makes little sense. To me it seems the only options are to stop attempting to communcate, or to encourage others to expand the scope of their experiences.