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One of those consciousness threads

  1. May 2, 2006 #1
    Ok so let's have a focused thread on consciousness, both in general and specific areas..

    I will propose some questions, and the known speculations on them, along with my personal opinions.

    First off this is a tough area, one where we don't yet have a solution, so this thread might not give any insight into the science part of things, but it may be able to let people grow individually, and teach them to think in new ways, subjectielly.

    The main question will always be What is consciousness?
    However since that is too broad of a topic to discuss, I will divide this main question into several small ones.

    1. Can we really define consciousness?
    As it is, a definition is created after we know most of what there is to know about something.
    Since this issue is so broad and diverse, defining consciousness will be difficult, but I will try.

    Definition 1: A Materialist view;
    Consciousness is simply reactions in the brain and body, created by external stimuli to the sensory system, along with memories and a very complex neuralnet that cross checks this information for relevance to the stimuli.

    Pros of this theory: If everything is physical, then surely this must be the solution, all there is to consciousness is its physical parts, as such wem ust study the brain and its workings until we figure out how everything works. Quantify, calculate, predict.

    Cons: Not many cons at this point, read later on.

    Definition 2; A more solipsistic view;

    Only the self can be verified. We can never quantify and predict the emotion of happiness with math or science.
    Even if we knew everything about the brain, there is still something there beyond the veil, that cannot be predicted.
    Qualia is a good example; you can never measure or predict the subjective qualia state.

    Pros: Well, it is true that solipsism is true, nobody can prove otherwise.
    Cons: Some materialists say that qualia is just "magical."
    It has no relevance because if it can't be observed in a lab, or predicted with math, then it by default doesn't exist.

    Conclusion for part 1 and some more opinions;

    I firmly believe that there is more to consciousness than just its physical parts.
    Take for instance the image you see with your eyes, or the music you hear with your ears. Typical qualia experience;
    Now, the image you see is not inherently represented in the physical world as anything physical.
    The only thing others will have to do is trust you on your word that you are seeing that image or hearing that sound.

    The only reason they do trust you is because they can also see that image and hear that sound.
    But if a scientist were to go completely neutral and logical, like materalists claim to do, then they would even have to drop this assumption that anyone is actually seeing anything or hearing anything.
    Because as it stands now, qualia does not exist in the physical world, it only appears to do so.

    We can only observe its after effects, these living organisms seem to react to their environment, so they must be at least sensing something.
    But do they see an image? I don't think so, I can't seem to find this image on any mr scans, nor can I find any images on my elite Electron Neuralnet Analyzer.

    Keep in mind, this image you are seeing with your eyes, the combined "big picture" that your eyes and brain creates, is not stored anywhere explicitly, we can only see its after effects in the brain.

    Oh yeah and part 2 will be added to the thread soon.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 14, 2006 #2
    Not sure I agree with your remark here. I think we DO have a “solution” (it’s just that not everyone is happy with the implications of that “solution”). But before we can discuss possible “solutions”, we need to be clear just what we think the “problem” is………. What is the problem? (and please don’t say “the Hard Problem”, because that begs the question : “What IS the Hard Problem exactly?”)

    My answer : A particular complex dynamical arrangement of temporally extended (but usually spatially localised) self-representational neurophysiological states based on some form of information exchange with the “external” world.

    With respect, your suggestions of definitions seem to lean more towards defining “what consciousness consists of” rather than defining what we mean by the word “consciousness”.

    How about this for a definition of (the meaning of) consciousness :
    Consciousness is defined as the ability of an agent to form a temporally extended and detailed self-representation, and to relate this self-representation to information gathered from (exchanged with) the “external” world.

    (I’m not suggesting this is the best definition for a “meaning of consciousness”, but it’s a start.)
    Maybe so, but “firmly believe” does not unfortunately carry much weight in scientific or philosophical discussion.

    What makes you think that the “image you see” exists at all as an entity in its own right? Remember that the “image you see” is NOT actually an “image” that is being “seen” by anyone, much less yourself. This is the mistake of the Cartesian Theatre view of conscious experience. There is no movie projector in the brain which is projecting images for you to see. Rather, it is the case that “you”, “the image” and “you in the act of seeing the image” are all inextricably linked into one complex dynamic series of neurophysiological states in your brain – there is no separate and well-defined “you” experiencing a separate and well-defined “image” – they are both part and parcel of the same thing (which you mistakenly interpret as “you” seeing an “image” – this is the illusion created by conscious experience).

    You have no idea whether they are hearing the “same” sound or not. In fact, in the view I am presenting here it makes no sense to ask whether two people hear the same “sound”, because the “sound” that is “heard” does not exist as an entity in its own right – it only exists as part and parcel of the experience of consciousness. The only commonality between two people exposed to a common source of noise is that the source is (approximately) the same for both of them; the actual “sound they hear” is locked up inside their own conscious experiences.

    Exactly right. “Qualia” are a shorthand invention to “explain” something which does not need explanation. Qualia simply do not exist, nor do they need to exist in order to explain conscious experience.

    No, they don’t see an “image” in the sense of an agent viewing an image – again this is the “Cartesian Theatre” illusion

    We do not “see an image with our eyes” (the eyes just act as dumb photoreceptors), instead we create the impression that we are viewing an image inside our brains. But in fact there is no separate “image” and no separate “viewer”, both are inextricably bound up together in the conscious illusion of a “self seeing an image”.

    Note : I am NOT suggesting that consciousness is an “illusion” (just as Dennett does not). What I am suggesting is that the notion that a conscious agent has of “seeing” and “image”, with the idea that the “image” exists as an entity in its own right, being viewed by some homunculus inside the brain, is an illusion. This is the Cartesian Theatre illusion.

    Best Regards

  4. May 20, 2006 #3
    Can we really define consciousness?


    If I fall down....You would say I have lost consciousness...

    If I got up and revived...You would say I have regained consciousness...

    : )

    Here is a standard model for philosophy and the 'me'


    The dellusion is understandable...

  5. May 21, 2006 #4
    :rofl: This is not a definition!

    It reminds me of one of Searle's definitions of consciousness that I read somewhere, which went something like "consciousness is the state that we experience when we are not unconscious" :rofl:


    Best Regards

  6. May 21, 2006 #5
    All though there might not be a single “you” in the act of seeing an "image”, that doesn't stop something from seeing the image. One can doubt Cartesian dualism, but even though different parts of the brain trick themselves into believing that they er one, something do have the notions that constitute the whole experiences. After all, you know the world through observations. Take away qualia, and we wouldn't be able to have these discussions.
  7. May 21, 2006 #6


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    This is still way over simplified. There is nothing correspopnding to an "image" in your brain and nothing corresponding to a "viewer". Not one, not many, not any. What there is is a tremendously complex collection of neuron/synapse interactions which form a process updating your working memory and at a high level this is integrated into a memory stream which appears in your consciousness as an image. Many many psychology experiments demostrate that your "image" is, as moving finger puts it, virtual. Just as a rainbow isn't really a thing in the sky, so your image isn't really there in your head.
  8. May 21, 2006 #7
    I agree that the image of a rainbow is an illusion in a way that it's just made up of innumerable notions. But still, at the bottom of it all, notions do exist. Rejecting simple qualia on the basis that our "brain images" doesn't match the "real physical world", is incoherent. The "images", or at least the notions of different parts of the "images", doesn't go away just because one call it an illusion. All we see is just bundles of sense-data, also called qualia. It's harder to prove the physical world.
    To state it in an extreme form: Qualia are like paint on a canvas. When different colors are mixed together in different ways they become various paintings. The physical facts (as we have learned to know it), on the other hand, are what the painting represent. From this one might conclude that there is a real physical world outside the qualia, maybe even causing the qualia, but all we know for sure by experiencing, is qualia (since experiencing is qualia). We only see/experience a mixture of what might be the effects of something physical.
  9. May 22, 2006 #8
    Look upon qualia and the self as "conceptual products" of consciousness.
    Without the concept of qualia we wouldn't be able to have these discussions.
    Without the concept of self we wouldn't be able to have these discussions.
    But if both qualia and self arise from consciousness, all we are saying is that without consciousness we wouldn't be able to have these discussions.
    None of this means that the concepts of either qualia or self have any independent existence.

    Best Regards

  10. May 22, 2006 #9
    But don't make the mistake (as Chalmers does) of thinking that these so-called qualia have any kind of independent physical or other form of existence (ie independent of the conscious experience which is generating them as a virtual phenomenon) - because once you take that road you are on the way to the illusion of Chalmers' "Hard Problem" and the need for a "whole new physics".

    Best Regards

  11. May 22, 2006 #10
    Maybe we operate with different definitions of what qualia is, but what I'm talking about is the raw experience that our consciousness has to have in order to be conscious. It comes before consciousness. A computer can store information, but for it to be conscious it needs some sort of experience. The experience itself doesn't necessary have any influence on anything, but it's there and doesn't turn into an illusion just because we find it handy. I know physicists would prefer not to think about qualia since it doesn't match physical observations yet, but that doesn't mean it's an illusion. Unlike Chalmers, I think qualia are intrinsic properties within the physical world, or rather physical properties are a part of a qualia field. Crazy, huh?:wink:
  12. May 23, 2006 #11
    These raw materials (inputs) are the combinations of various sensory data plus data from memory states. The brain constructs consciousness by information processing these raw materials. But I don't think most qualia-buffs would argue that the raw incoming sensory data (sensory signals from the eyes, ears etc) are the actual qualia.

    I have not said that the “conscious experience” itself is an illusion (and I don’t think Dennett does this either). But the conscious experience is a unity, an entirety or a “one” which cannot be reduced to separate physical components of “quale” and “self”. These latter constructs are not physical, but virtual constructs produced by the very real conscious experience.

    I don’t think it’s so much that physicists don’t like to “think about qualia”, I think it’s more that (many of those who study this field) recognise that qualia are not real, existing artefacts, but instead are virtual entities created within conscious experience.

    I quite happily “think about qualia” – the term is a very useful shorthand term for referring to the virtual entities created within my conscious experience. But I have absolutely no evidence, and no reason, to think that qualia exist as some kind of physical object.

    Best Regards

  13. May 23, 2006 #12
    Hi MF,

    I'm sorry I don't have time right now to get involved in this most interesting discussion, but I couldn't let this pass without comment:
    You seem to make this categorical assertion as if you believe it to be absolutely true. Do you not think there is a possibility that the brain does not, or even cannot, construct consciousness? If you are so sure that it can, and does, can you describe how the brain does it? You indicated once that you think Metzinger has described the method, but I think he has not. We need to talk more, but for now are you absolutely sure that the brain constructs consciousness?

  14. May 24, 2006 #13
    Come now, Paul, I think we both know the idea of "absolute truth" is a chimera.

    Sure, there is a possibility that the brain does/can not construct consciousness (severe brain damage would do it for one).

    Hehehe, if I could describe exactly how the brain does it then I wouldn't be wasting my time here, I would be stepping up for my Nobel Prize. I think Metzinger's ideas are a step in the right direction however.

    I cannot be absolutely sure of anything - certain knowledge (as we started to discuss on another thread) is unattainable. All I can ever do is to evaluate different possible explanations and choose what (to me) seems the most rational.

    Best Regards

  15. May 24, 2006 #14
    I agree to the idea that combinations of various sensory data plus data from memory states are things that an “upper consciusness”, with it’s personality and feeling of self, needs for coming into existence. But it also needs the possibility for experience (which you agreed to not beeing an illusion), and that is the basis for all consciousness – experience and raw conciousness are the same.

    Dennet, Metzinger, Blackmore and other qualia-opponents fail to explain how phenomenally represented information gets to be experienced in the first place. They only have theories on how already experienced information accumulate and creates an illusion of a self.

    Now, whether qualia are seperated from the experience (conscious unit) itself, or actually is the experience, is a tuff question. But just as you can compare qualia with an organization, and state that “an organization is only a concept or illusion - it’s actually just a bunch of people”, you can say that yes, consciousness might only be a concept or illusion, but it’s components are just as real as that bunch of people.

    Consciousness consists not of data, but of phenomenal information, since it’s experiencable. Again, that information might be experience itself, but still the components are real since experiencing is real. So, why can’t we locate qualia in the brain? Because qualia are the instruments through which "we" (the experiences) examine the world. We would have to leave experiencing to be able to find qualia, but then of course we wouldn’t be able to experience the finding of qualia. In this sense you might be right when you say that qualia are not physical objects. But I would rather say that physical objects are properties of a qualia field.
  16. May 24, 2006 #15
    Hi Lars

    This looks like the same post that you placed in the Metzinger thread. Rather than copy my reply here, I'll just redirect you to the Metzinger thread.


    Best Regards

  17. May 25, 2006 #16
    I have a question. What exactly do you call the "thing" you mention above--e.g., what name do you give to this thing ? Is it a real "thing" that exists, or an illusion ? How do you claim to have such knowledge ? If there is not a "separate you" what type of "you" are you talking about -- that is, how do you know that you are not a separate and well-defined entity that exists ? Are you then saying that you know that you do not exist as a well-defined entity ? Sorry for so many questions--but when someone makes the comment "there is no...." as you do above--my first question is "how do you know", where is your evidence that your philosophic bent holds absolute truth ?
  18. May 26, 2006 #17

    Consciousness is very real, just as real as the software program that is currently running on my computer

    Just the same way anyone else does. This is (to my mind) the best rational explanation of consciousness which avoids metaphysical dualism.

    In the sense that “I” am the physical body that supports my conscious experience, I do exist. Without that physical body, I would not exist.

    I am saying that the notion that there is a separate metaphysical “self” somewhere within the brain which is somehow “observing” the world through consciousness is an illusion – this is the “cartesian theatre illusion” (read Dennett’s consciousness explained for more details).

    The first rule of philosophy is there no access to absolute truth. We each make sense of the world in more or less rational ways. To me, the dualism inherent in the cartesian theatre illusion is an irrational intuition. The better rational explanation, which avoids metaphysical dualism, is that the conscious self is created as a virtual self as part of the process of consciousness.

    Best Regards

  19. May 26, 2006 #18
    Hi MF,

    Since I'm not sure what baggage comes along with the "cartesian theatre illusion", I would prefer to skip the labeling. What do you think is irrational about dualism?

    In your example, is it not useful to distinguish between the software program running in your computer and the actual hardware made of atoms? After all, there is no such "real" distinction; the computer and its "software" is simply a single coherent collection of atoms strictly obeying the laws of physics. What we think of "software" is nothing but a conceptual pattern of some specific states of parts of the machine. Is it irrational to think of the "software" as somehow existing independently of the hardware?
    To paraphrase, using your example again, "In the sense that your computer is the physical entity that supports the software execution, your computer does exist. Without that computer, the computer would not exist." True enough.

    But you have switched the identification of "I". At least you have in my opinion. You claim that ""I" am the physical body", and then proceed to ignore consciousness, which you identified with the software in your computer. In my opinion, it is the software which should be identified with the "I" in your example. In my humble opinion, "I" am my consciousness, not my chemical body. When you talk to me, my body may be doing the reporting, but it is my consciousness that is providing the answers and opinions.

    So, if we take my perspective, for the moment, we can paraphrase your example differently: "In the sense that "I" am the software that is running in the computer, I do exist (which you seem to acknowledge in your first quote above). Without the computer hardware (physical body), "I", the software could very well exist." In fact, software typically exists independently of hardware before, during, and after the hardware might be built, operated, and destroyed.

    To push your excellent example just a little further, no software exists that did not have its ultimate origin in a conscious mind. All software begins as a collection of general and rather vague concepts in a mind. From there, the concepts get refined, and expressed symbolically. Those symbols are further refined and transformed with considerable interest, involvement, and intervention by additional conscious thought, and eventually the software attains a form that is useful in the computer hardware. From that point on, and only then, it can operate without conscious attention.
    So, of course, I take your statement that, "Without that physical body, I would not exist." to be only a belief or conjecture on your part and not a claim to absolute truth.
    Agreed. Now, to me it makes sense to interpret the phenomenon of consciousness along the lines of your software/hardware example. In doing so, we can see that a sort of "dualism", i.e. the hardware/software dichotomy, makes sense whether or not we acknowledge that any such dichotomy exists in physical reality.

    Where does that interpretation not make sense to you? Where is it irrational?

    Warm regards,

  20. May 26, 2006 #19


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    The instances of the software apart from the computer are finite and clearly known. Copies on disk or on paper, partial instances in the memories of its programmers, descriptions in manuals, etc. The instance of "consciousness" apart from the body is neither clear nor understood, so to postulate it when you don't have to, in order to account for the objective phenomena, is irrational.
  21. May 26, 2006 #20
    Software is just hardware as long as it's not beeing experienced. A computer program that translates data from one form to another, is just physical equipment exchanging physical signals. The experienced "concept of software" (the nature of software), on the other hand, is qualia - phenomenal experience. Comparing consciousness with a software program is actually saying that consciousness equals qualia, which of course don’t explain how consciousness arise.
    Last edited: May 26, 2006
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