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to explain consciousness

  1. Mar 25, 2004 #1

    Ivan Seeking

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  3. Mar 26, 2004 #2


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    Great article Ivan! Thanks!
  4. Mar 26, 2004 #3
    The article seems to me to be balled up in the meaning of the word conscious and the word zombie.

    It seems to me that there are four related terms here that need to be understood and taken into account for this kind of discussion: conscious, aware, percieving, and sentient.

    To refer to that which is not deliberately dealt with by the conscious mind as "zombie" strikes me as grotesque oversimplification, and as such, inaccurate.
  5. Mar 26, 2004 #4


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    You say aware; is this interpreted as self-aware? There are computer systems that are in a limited way self-aware, in that they monitor themselves and make decisions based on that. And they are also perceiving, I think. So we're down to conscious and sentient, and I wonder how you distinguish these two words.
  6. Mar 26, 2004 #5
    No, I don't think the computer you speak of is self-aware or self-percieving. The operations it can perform may be exceptionally sophisticated but remain mechanical. It might be compared to the autonomic system of the brain which performs an astonishing amount of monitoring functions and which makes "decisions", but this kind of stuff is "zombie", and outside conscious control, except indirectly.

    The point I meant to make was that there are infinite shadings of consciousness from the super-consciousness of mania down to brain death. The article implies that speaking along fluidly without first formulating the thoughts in your head was "zombie", and essentially unconscious.

    If you've ever done any kind of meditation aimed at quieting the interior monolog you will know that the more you can diminish it the more vivid and rich all your sensory experiences become and the more real and solid the world is seen to be. Conscious cogitation during which our attention is diverted from the environment onto what is going on in our minds doesn't authentically represent a "greater" level of awareness. The more a person thinks, the less attention they have to apply to stimuli from outside. Einstein once had to call the Princeton operator for his own address because he got so deep in thought when he was outside walking and talking with a friend that he couldnt remember where he lived.
  7. Mar 27, 2004 #6


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    Well, I must be a zombie then. I just took a walk around my neighborhood (which is semi rural) and enjoyed all the impressions of early spring nature that I encountered, but I have never NEVER got an increase in sensitivity to the world from meditation and "quieting", and yes I have practiced that in the past. And if speaking without consciously deciding to speak is zombie, then I'm it.

    Pretty much I don't find your descriptions of consciousness to match my experience of consciousness.
  8. Mar 27, 2004 #7
    Im not sure why you are phrasing it this way and directing it to me. There is precious little human behavior I would call "zombie" outside the autonomic functions like sweating, shivering, heart beating and such.

    You may not have sustained this practise long enough for the phenomenon to kick in. It generally takes a few months.

    I don't think that speaking without consciously deciding to speak is "zombie". That is what the people interviewed for that article think. I disagree with them.

    I don't think I have gone very far at all in trying to describe consciousness. My main point is that I thoroughly disagree with the grotesque "zombie or conscious" dichotomy that is discussed in the article. There is every fine shading in between, and that is where I believe most people operate from. I don't believe that if a person does something that isn't consciously deliberated ahead of time that it is accurate to call it "zombie" because there is often an extremely high level of awarness. I like to watch baseball once in a while because when they show closeups of the pitcher as he sizes up the batter and also "reads" the man on first base, I see the face of a man who is exceptionally aware and alive, but who probably has only the most rudimentary of interior monologs going on. He is all about percieving and reacting with extreme precision, not about thinking.
  9. Mar 30, 2004 #8


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    Zooby's objections are understandable, largely because the article is not very explicit what it means by consciousness. For instance, the following quote.

    What the speaker should say is that this is a noted aspect of consciousness. Behavioral flexibility does not exhaust the notion of what consciousness is. In particular, there is phenomenal consciousness, or subjective experience-- the perceived 'blueness' of blue, for instance. One can speak of flexible behavioral tasks without ever invoking the subjective experience of blueness. So this is only an incomplete characterization of consciousness.

    The majority of the article treats consciousness as if it means 'explicit introspective awareness' or 'self-awareness.' This aspect of consciousness is referred to in the literature as higher-order consciousness, or H-consciousness for short. However, importantly, the term 'consciousness' as a whole is not exhausted by H-consciousness. Other aspects of consciousness include discriminatory consciousness, responsive consciousness, and phenomenal consciousness. From http://publish.uwo.ca/~mcintosh/consc.htm :

    An interesting question now arises: can one be considered to be conscious in some sense even when one is not H-conscious? It is a difficult question, and the answer is not trivially "no." For instance, if I am cruising along in my car on 'autopilot,' without H-consciousness, one might reasonably state that I am still experiencing P-consciousness even though I am not explicitly aware of it. On this view, we would say that there is something it is like for me to drive even when I have no H-consciousness of my task performance. This seems to make some sense; if I suddenly become cognizant of the road before me, it is not as if this springs from a void of unconsciousness-- it is more like I suddenly become more intensely aware of the road.

    Similarly, suppose the radio has been playing the whole time and I have not been paying attention, but I suddenly 'tune in' to the music being played. In retrospect, it is not as if someone has suddenly has turned on the radio. I may have some dim memory of the radio having been playing, even if I cannot say exactly what it was that was being played. This amounts to an argument for the presence of P-consciousness without H-consciousness. Of course, it is not this simple-- one may reason that I dimly remember the music playing in virtue of having a dim H-consciousness of it, or in virtue of 'just barely' paying attention to it. But in any case, it is not an open and shut case that one need be H-conscious in order to be conscious in any other sense.

    I think we should also clarify what is meant by H-consciousness. H-consciousness, the aspect of consciousness referred to in the article, basically amounts to 'attention.' One need not be consciously deliberating over one's actions in order to be paying close attention to them. For instance, zooby says:

    Strictly speaking, having 'interior monologues,' or 'thinking' in the explicit sense, is not synonymous with H-consciousness. A pitcher can be paying attention to the tasks he is performing without consciously deliberating on them in the same sense that I can pay attention to my act of typing without consciously deliberating over the individual keystrokes. We also have examples from music where for instance, the musician occassionally has the incredible experience of 'watching' himself perform music without any sense that he is consciously directing his playing. This is a clear case of H-consciousness without interior monologue or deliberate, conscious behavioral control.
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