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The ghost in the machine

  1. Oct 12, 2004 #1
    It seems logical to me that consciousnes existing at the molecular level (cells) strongly implies that consciousness exist at all levels of matter, including atomic and subatomic levels
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 12, 2004 #2
    First, what reason do you have for thinking that the antecedent of that conditional is true? What reason do you have for thinking that consciousness exists at the molecular (or cellular) level (by which I take you to mean that individual molecules or cells are capable of having conscious states)?

    Second, even if the antecedent is true, why does that "strongly imply" the ubiquity of consciousness? It is obviously not the case that the truth of the antecedent entails the truth of the consequent (in fact, it seems, prima facie, like a whole/part fallacy). So, what type of inference are you making?
  4. Oct 12, 2004 #3
    To cogito

    At what level does consciousness initiate itself? If not at the cellular level than I ask you at what level? If consciouness is not permeated throughout all of the universe then one must take a dualistic vision of reality.
  5. Oct 12, 2004 #4
    You seem to be a bit confused here. You seem to be claiming both that consciousness is initiated at the cellular level, and that it permeates the universe. These two claims are contradictory. If consciousness is initiated at a cellular level, then it follows that sub-cellular physical systems are not conscious. But, if sub-cellular physical systems are not conscious, then consciousness does not permeate sub-cellular physical systems. Sub-cellular physical systems are, however, part of the universe. Hence, it follows that there are some parts of the universe that consciousness does not permeate.

    Anyway, I think that consciousness is a property of systems with a certain sort of functional organization. In humans, for instance, any number of changes to neurophysiology may be sufficient for destroying the capacity for consciousness. Many non-human animals show behavioral evidence of having conscious states, and these states seem dependent on having a particular functional organization in the same way that human consciousness is so dependent. I think, in short, that consciousness is an emergent property and a function of a particular type of cognitive architecture. As to what the necessary and sufficient conditions are for consciousness to emerge, I have no idea, and neither does anybody else. Nobody knows how it is the case that a hunk of meat could have conscious states. This is one of the "hard problems" of consciousness.

    Further, claiming that some things in the world are conscious and others aren't doesn't commit us to dualism proper, unless we claim that consciousness is either a non-physical substance (as Descartes did), or a non-physical property of physical systems (as the property-dualists and epiphenomenalists have). We can claim both that not everything is conscious and that consciousness is a physical property (albeit a higher-order, functional property) thereby avoiding the pitfalls of dualism.
  6. Oct 12, 2004 #5
    How can one be aware of different parts of one's body if, in fact there wasn't some sense of awareness there? I would suggest that (at the very least) consciousness begins at the cellular level. And thus comprised of the "living energy" therein.
  7. Oct 12, 2004 #6
    Here's a similar line of reasoning: How can I be aware of that apple on the table if there isn't some sense of awareness in the apple?

    Clearly, this doesn't make sense. So, why is your line of reasoning any better? I can be aware of any number of things outside my body. I can be aware of a mental image as well, but this doesn't entail either that the things outside my body are conscious, or that mental images are themselves conscious.

    Whatever the case, proprioception is completely consistent with the view that consciousness is an emergent, functional property of the brain.

    Further, what is this "living energy" you mention? Sounds like the elan vital to me, and I thought that went the way of geocentrism and phlogiston.
  8. Oct 12, 2004 #7
    Because it's certainly not an extension of our body and we don't feel it in that sense.

    And yet what are mental images except manifestations of consciousness?

    Proprioception? What's that?

    The energy I'm referring to here is "conscious energy." And yes, I suppose it might coincide with the elan vital argument, from what I've heard of it anyway. Basically it entails the notion of animism, correct?
  9. Oct 13, 2004 #8


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    Right now, the only thing we know for sure that has consciousness is full-humans. No duality - more like a singularity.

    For both you and Iacchus32, you're making assertions and generalizations, but you're not backing them up. And I don't just mean logic: you need to show some evidence of what you are claiming. You can start by first defining consciousness, then showing evidence that it does, in fact, exist in other beings.

    Here's a functional, though limited definition: consciousness is simply self-awareness. Using this definition, there is evidence that other higher level mammals (dolphins and many primates) are self-aware: they pass the mirror test. Ie, they can recognize themselves in the mirror as unique beings.

    To pre-empt the inevitable, while the ability to "feel" is another definition, you need to be careful there: people often extend the concept to any response to stimuli. But there is no evidence that stimulus-response is conscious feeling.

    Regarding the apple example, Iacchus, you're using circular reasoning: parts of your body have consciousness, therefore parts of your body have consciousness.

    But what if they don't? What if we drop the assumption and the circular reasoning? What can we feel from parts of the body that aren't even alive - like skin (the top few layers)? How can you feel it when someone touches you if your skin isn't even alive? And how can we feel an apple if it isn't part of your body?

    The answer to all of those questions is that pressure, vibration, and other sensations are passed through the dead parts like pulling on a wire transmits a force. When the sensation hits a nerve cell, the nerve picks up the feeling and transmits it through the nervous system. So then couldn't we say that since the cells of the nervous system are the only things participating in "feeling" that only they have conscioiusness (using your apparent definiton)? But then, most of the cells only act as wires, transmitting the feeling of the nerve endings - surely these don't "feel" themselves. And the nerve endings act on stimulus-response and no biologist would ever say that stimulus-response is "feeling." So that leaves us with the conclusion that "feeling" is what happens when the brain reads the signals of the nervous system and interprets them. And then, not just individual brain cells, but large sections are required to process the signals. And since different sections do different things, we're left with one inevitable conclusion: the human body contains only one consciousness.

    Your finger has no more consciousness than that apple - it contains no machinery for processing real feelings.

    By the way: a manifestation is an indication of the existence of something. It isn't the "something" itself. Your thoughts show that you have consciousness - they aren't themselves conscious. You inadvertently supported the wrong position...
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2004
  10. Oct 13, 2004 #9


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    While a bacterium definitely has a rudimentary "map-making" skill (in that it tends to follow the gradients of "positive" chemicals and avoiding gradients of "negative" gradients), is this to be termed "consciousness"?
    IMO, no; I think it would be better to see "consciousness" as an assemblage of various skills (which will include "map-making"), rather than some mysterious entity suddenly popping out of nowhere in humans (or, for that matter, a mystical essence permeating all matter).
  11. Oct 13, 2004 #10
    Hmm ...

    I am a conscious being myself (hey, at least I know this much :wink:), in which case I ought to know a little bit about it myself, don't you think?

    Yes, this is self-evident. Which, is no doubt a part of being self-aware, correct?

    If it was a living tissue I would say yes.

    No, because the apple is not conceived and/or felt as part of my body.

    Yes, and if I scrape the outer layer(s) of my skin it doesn't hurt. Oh, and another thing, all you need is a single "living cell" to clone a fully conscious human being. So it at least must have the propensity for consciousness don't you think? Also, the body acts as a single living organism, and its energy (conscious or otherwise) is distributed and utilized by each cell throughout.

    Of which the whole body is the extension of.

    Except that if I cut it, this is precisely where the pain is experienced.

    They entail the conscious experience or sensation, of being self-aware that is.
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2004
  12. Oct 13, 2004 #11
    Unless all of the following are explained in physicalist terms the ghost in the machine is what experiences the world the way we assume it exists.

    01=We have disassebled the human brain down to quantum tunneling, until Subjunctive Esperience in humans, is explainded by its assembled parts, there is no reason to believe that all substance is not conscious and aware in one way or another, depending upon its physcial complexity.
    02=What is inside a atom for it to know how to organize and evolve matter into complex states.
    03=Detailed information exchange in semiconscious states to latter be revealed in conscious states, OBE.
    04=How memory can be passed between atoms and molecules, when during a humans lifetime, all this substance is replaced several times.
    05=What makes inert matter come to life and what makes it die and loose it again.

    The ghost in the machine can not be refutiated until these answers are found. If they are not, the ghost would only need, two qualities to experience physcial reality. Thus we come to the metaphyscial and physcial feel.
    01=Transmutation of information between metaphyscial and physcial states.
    02=Ability to be aware of these transmuted states.

    Hence reality is experience, the ghost who knows its functional abilities wherever it is.
  13. Oct 13, 2004 #12


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    You'd think so...
    But why? Again, it seems like you are using a circular definition/reasoning: living tissue is conscious, therefore living tissue is conscious. What about non-living things? A computer responds to stimuli. A virus responds to stimuli. What make something "living?" What makes something "conscious?" You're not explaining anything.
    But why does that matter? I have shown why I think it doesn't. If the fact that the apple isn't connected to the body is all there is to it, then you haven't logically shown anything, you've simply defined it that way. That's not good enough.
    But you can certainly feel it.
    Certainly not. Why does that imply that a single cell is in and of itself a conscious being? Indeed, calling them two different things ("a single living cell" and "a fully conscious human being") implies pretty clearly to me that "a single living cell" is not a "fully conscious human being." But let me ask you this: do you hold a funeral for every skin cell and hair cell that goes down your shower drain? If they are all conscious beings, why don't you? If humans and skin cells are the same, why don't you treat them the same?
    Again, thats a contradiction: if the human body acts as a single living organism, you can't also say that it is made of separate organisms.
    Right: one body, one being, one consciousness. [/quote] Except that if I cut it, this is precisely where the pain is experienced. [/quote] You don't need to cut it to feel it and besides, if you cut the nerves, you don't feel it. But in any case, you still haven't provided any evidence that "feeling" exists outside of the human mind. All this logic implies to me clearly that it doesn't, but if you want to assert it, fine: suggest to me an experiment that can demonstrate that a live skin cell is conscious.
    Yes, and...? That still doesn't change the definition of "manifest" or support your position in any other way.

    Iacchus, you've asserted it over and over again, and what you are saying could be true, but I have yet to see a logical reason or piece of evidence why it is true. Without that, you have no basis for asserting it any more than I can assert that there is an invisible purple dragon in my garage.

    Now, it appears that your line of reasoning is that:
    -A living thing is...?
    -Any response to stimulus in a living thing is "feeling."
    -Any "feeling" means a consciousness is present.

    But you haven't defined any of the key terms there and you haven't explicitly laid out this line of reasoning so I'm not sure its correct (indeed, you seem to imply that everything is conscious).

    I've laid out an objective definition/critereon and proposed an experiment which can allow you to objectively conclude whether something is conscious. Could you please do the same?
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2004
  14. Oct 13, 2004 #13


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    "The ghost in the machine" is a computer analogy where the actions of the system deviate from the programming. If your criterea for judging "consciousness" in an object is that it displays behavior outside of what would normally be expected from an object, I'm onboard with that: No inanimate object has ever been shown to do that.
    Right: the power of the human mind is (appaerntly) greater than the sum of its parts. Therefore, humans are consicous.
    Now wait - why does there have to be a consciousness for that? Indeed, consciousness implies precisely the opposite to me (and to your "ghost in the machine" analogy): if atoms simply follow the laws of the universe, that shows that they are not conscious. You could argue that there is a single consciousness that decided what those laws should be, or programmed your machine (God), but that's a different argument. If the machine is following its programming, then it is not conscious.
    Again, that's exploring human consciousness. It doesn't say anything about consciousness anywhere else.
    Huh? Who says molecules have memory? If you're talking about how the brain stores memories, that's encoded into our DNA. Its part of our programming. That doesn't even imply that humans have consciousness, much less the atoms that make up the brain. Memory doesn't work the way you are implying.
    Who says matter "comes to life"? Since it can be shown experimentally (by every science experiment of every kind, ever) that matter never, ever behaves outside the parameters of the laws of science, that implies that it doesn't come to life.
    Indeed, the ghost in the machine itself seems to refute your assertions about it.
    What is the evidence (and context) that this happens?
    Indeed, but like I said above, only humans, thus far, have been shown to have this "ghost."
  15. Oct 13, 2004 #14


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    Agreed. And here's the pickle: I'm more willing to accept that there may well be no such thing as consciousness than that everything has consciousness. We may yet through science reduce all of human behavior to equations (I don't think we will, but its possible)!
  16. Oct 13, 2004 #15
    Conscious wholeness

    I cannot "prove" that consciousness exist at atomic levels (or cellular) no more than I can prove the moon is made of cheese. That is why I used the term "implies' in my original posting.

    I can say that the universe is alive and thinking because WE are alive and thinking. From a wholeness point of view, if the universe is self aware in part, it is self aware as a whole.

    No doubt, atoms have organized themselves into structures that have the capacity of thought and self awareness. What we define as consciosness just boils down to semantics. I think most would agree that the universe has some type of organizing principal to it and what we define as animate and inanimate objects is more a subject of opinion than fact.
  17. Oct 13, 2004 #16
    Yet humans are composed of the same material of your inanimate object, so maybe the ghost is more than an analogy. Humans deviate from there programming, thats why we are unpredictable. All objects have deviated from there programing, how else might you explain evolution.

    Or the sum of of a human parts, are no greater than its consciousness. When we disassemble a human it is no longer conscious.

    Everything physcial follows the same laws, not everything physcial has the same consciousness. The ghost in the machine can contest to that.

    Then how do you explain, when the parts were inactive, its brain remembered what never was conscious?

    So you think your memory stored in your DNA. :smile: Well I would agree that your capacity to hit a home run might be, but there is no evidence to support why you like to hit home runs.

    Then how do you explain the fact you are made of matter and are alive? Or maybe I should use myself as an example. I know I am am made of matter and I am alive. You are negating the fact that this does occur.

    The ghost in the machine is more real than it seems. No one can demonstrate by physcial means an explanation for any of the above, except by its presence.

    Physcial systems transmute from non-physcial systems. Science demonstrates to us that physcial systems are born of relationships not ever smaller physcial systems. Information is transmuted by relationships not memory bricks.

    So very right you are and so its presence can not be explained, through physcial means, there is no reason to justify and all to the contrary that it does not possess all that there is.
  18. Oct 13, 2004 #17
    Iacchus32, it is really very simple and shouldn't require much detouring from your circular patterns:

    Your arm responds to input from the world and sends electrical signals up to your brain so that you "feel" it. Your arm is not aware. It is a poly-route responsive device that is very handy and pretty accurate, but it is not aware just because you say it is...
    I know you are aware of your arm and that makes it special to you ;) but your arm is not "aware" of you. It responds only to whatever input it recieves...
  19. Oct 13, 2004 #18
    That is the same as asking at what "level" does order arise from chaos.
  20. Nov 5, 2004 #19

    On the Monads of Leibniz
    By Charles J. Ryan
    Many people used to wonder why scientists paid so much attention to the excessively minute and seemingly unimportant particles of which this world and the stars are made; but the events of recent years have convinced nearly everyone that the study of the atom is crucial to man's future. The student, therefore, who loves nature follows with profound interest every increase in true knowledge about the structure of 'matter,' for it promises to lead to deeper wisdom, even to glimpses of regions of life and consciousness hitherto unknown; or if suspected, usually regarded as belonging only to the sphere of religious faith or hope, not to sober reality.

    Along these lines, the views of the great German philosopher and mathematician Leibniz (1646-1716) are of profound interest. Leibniz shares the honor with Newton of perfecting the principle and mechanism of the differential calculus, though he came to it quite independently. However, he is perhaps better appreciated (outside of mathematical circles) for his daring penetration beyond the sense-world of matter in search of a superphysical reality, which he intuitively felt was concealed there. His researches led him to the formulation of his famous theory of the monad.

    Leibniz had nothing but the very incomplete scientific equipment of the 17th century, but his marvelous insight pierced so far beneath superficial appearances that it is only within our own century that science has begun to catch up with his magnificent intuitions. There is a strong resemblance between his ideas and the philosophies of the Orient. Two main aspects are of special interest today in view of recent scientific discoveries: (1) the illusory nature of physical matter, and (2) the fact that every particle of which the universe is composed is a living, growing entity or being. He was a true evolutionist. He decided that 'matter' is not dead, but is the semblance or outward and visible appearance of an invisible (to us) superphysical reality composed of metaphysical or, we might say, spiritual points which he called monads. Each monad is a distinct individual possessing its own kind or degree of consciousness and existence. Life is everywhere, rising in grades of intelligence from the most primitive monad to the ineffable glory of the "monad of monads," the incomprehensible Divine Unity or One -- the word monad being derived from the Greek monas or one.

    Leibniz was of course not the first European philosopher to accept the granulated structure of matter. The Greek Atomists held concepts in some ways similar, but their views seem quite materialistic compared with the subtle and highly transcendental content which so brilliantly distinguishes Leibniz's monadic theory. Holbach, a champion of materialism, who is often set up in contrast to Leibniz, argued that since man, "a material being," thinks, therefore matter is capable of thought! Leibniz, on the contrary, spiritualized matter instead of materializing the soul. But his monads are not within normal human perception, and in logically concluding that "pure reason" or thought is greater than sense perception, Leibniz went so far as to declare that interior thought-processes can truly reveal wider universes (or 'planes') of being than are available to the senses. He included time -- past, present and future -- in the same conclusion.

    Leibniz's philosophical monads so closely resemble the modern scientific concept of the 'primary particles' which compose the visible universe that it is difficult to draw a vital distinction between them. Neither the monads nor the concourse of primary particles of modern research -- electrons, protons, neutrons, photons, etc., which combine to form the 'organizations' we call atoms -- can be adequately observed by our physical senses. But we can establish their existence by experiments which show the effects they produce. We can see what they can do, but this does not explain what they are in themselves.

    In regard to the 'organizations' of the primary particles, beginning even with the simplest combination, and then moving on to the atom, the molecule, a combination of atoms, and onward to increasingly complicated structures, right up to our solar system and even beyond, each combination is composed of lesser and 'simpler' components, and each component in turn has its own unique place and function. But for all that, the smallest physical particles can no longer be regarded as the ultimate of simplicity. They may in turn have highly complex structures, which emphasizes the fact that the physical atom, etc., is an illusion -- the ephemeral appearance of the enduring monad, according to Leibniz. An important phase of this subject is that balanced organizations -- or perhaps we should say 'organisms'-- could hardly be formed by accident, but in order to establish themselves into an equilibrium and to maintain it, even the primary particles of science must have attributes which it is difficult if not impossible to distinguish from personality. There is obviously a plan which all the parts follow purposively -- an idea not as yet wholly welcomed by science, but one Leibniz would naturally approve of!

    Modern philosophy-science has advanced so far towards Leibniz that it ought not to be difficult to adopt his monadic theory in its entirety. But this would mean that the popularly accepted classification of objects into organic and inorganic would be overthrown, for he was positive that the monadic host which stands behind the illusory mask of matter is entirely composed of living entities, intelligent in various degrees. And this principle of universal life, with no qualifications or exceptions, leads directly to a kind of hierarchical structure of the universe. Leibniz sums up his comprehensive idea of evolution in these words:

    All the natural divisions of the World show one sole concatenation of beings, in which all the various classes of living creatures, like so many links, are entwined so perfectly that it is impossible to state, either by imagination or by observation, where any one either begins or ends. . . . Everything in Nature progresses by stages, and this law of advancement, which applies to each individual, forms part of my theory of unbroken succession.
    In Leibniz's day the scientists followed Newton's principles as shown in his 'practical' laws of motion, space and time, which have no metaphysical content. Matter was regarded in its molar or mass aspect. Even Dalton's later theory of the indivisible, solid atom was nearly a century away, and although it was of great importance as a steppingstone, it could not last in the light of twentieth century physical, chemical and philosophical research.

    As Sir Richard Tute once observed, the essentially metaphysical theories about natural phenomena which recent discoveries have actually forced on our scientists, provide the information or background which Leibniz needed but could not supply. Since Ms time, Dalton's individual, hard, material atom has been split into particles so mysterious that to demonstrate even their existence science, armed with all the latest knowledge and the most powerful mathematical resources, has been compelled to rise above practical or commonsense notions of matter, time and space! It has had to call upon strange principles such as the existence of higher dimensions, grades or planes of space beyond or within that with which we are familiar. The so-called 'other dimensional' entities cannot be measured by our yardsticks nor perceived by our senses. As Leibniz realized, they have no extension' in our familiar space, no comprehensible form or size, yet, paradoxically, they are very real.

    Naturally Leibniz ran into difficulties with the dynamics of his day as accepted by Newton, Huygens, Halley, etc. But though be could not present final proof of his theory of the transcendental nature of matter, his insight was not to be denied, and be felt no reason to modify his magnificent hypothesis, but left its complete justification to the future. It was not until modern relativity and quantum theories were brought forward that a satisfactory way was found scientifically to rationalize the primary particles of physics, and therefore the monads of Leibniz. It is now fully understood that such concepts are not merely quaint and perplexing, if ingenious, mathematical speculations, but that they are actual approaches to the truth, though owing to our limitations they cannot be pictured in the ordinary way. Thus it might be said that modern research bases its studies on equations which imply the existence of a superphysical reality.

    Long before Leibniz, in the Dark Ages of Europe, the scholars of the universities discussed with ardor such problems as those concerning space. We all know one of their famous questions, "How many angels can dance on the point of a needle?" This has often been held up to scorn as an example of an unprofitable waste of time, but it was means absurd, for it opened the important subject of the non-physical planes of space. Angels or spirits being disembodied, or as might say, immaterial and without Leibniz and modern science extension, there would be plenty of room for the whole, heavenly host on the point of a needle!

    Leibniz as an intuitive philosopher ranks with his great contemporary, Spinoza, and if their teachings were judiciously combined, each modifying the other in certain directions, the result would be an excellent bridge between religion and science, between so-called physical matter and the realities that lie behind it.

    (From Sunrise magazine, October 1963. Copyright © 1963 by Theosophical University Press)
  21. Nov 8, 2004 #20

    Your view is often called 'microphenomenalism'. It has supporters amongst scientists and philosophers and there are occasional papers published in the prof. lit. in support of it. Penrose and Wheeler flirt with it. This doesn't mean microphenomenalism is true of course, but it does mean that we don't know yet that it isn't, and also that it has not yet been shown that there are any logical reasons for dismissing it. It is a scientifically untestable idea (because of the 'other minds' problem), and that leads many to dismiss it. However this seems a poor reason for not at least considering it, since the hypothesis that human beings are conscious is also scientifically untestable.

    I liked the article you quoted, but feel that Leibnitz's monads make no sense without some tinkering. The problem is that in this view the cosmos is many things rather than one. This causes some logical problems when it comes to considering the origins of this universe. However if you factor in holography, Schroedinger's unity of souls, Leibnitz's idea that an entity or substance that is one thing cannot have physical extension, and so on, then you get something like the idea that the entire universe (or rather a representation of the information that comprises the entire universe) is contained within every speck of dust, as asserted in the Avatamsaka Sutra.
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2004
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