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What work does p-consciousness do?

  1. Jan 6, 2005 #1
    I’ve been thinking that the core of the problem with the Ned Block/David Chalmers breakdown of the problem of consciousness (access vs. phenomenal; “easy” vs. “hard”) is the pushing of subjective experience to epiphenomenal status. Why would we expect people to start accepting the ontological necessity of something epiphenomenal? The burden on those of us who think subjective experience is something fundamental in nature is then to show that P-consciousness must do some kind of work in the world – it must be associated with action and causation.

    But we know old-fashioned interactionist dualism won’t succeed, so what is this work that p-consciousness does? Where does the causal closure of the physical world fail? Gregg Rosenberg’s book, which will be the topic of a different thread, is thought-provoking on proposing a general link between experience and the fundamental underpinnings of all causality. But let me ask the question here: what specific work might experience do? Alternatively, where are the traces of the impact p-consciousness has on nature?

    Let me put up 2 candidates. First, the interpretation of the measurement problem in quantum mechanics may necessitate the existence of an experiential element in nature. P-consciousness is necessary to do the work of quantum measurements/interactions in the world. Second, the coordinated activity of components in complex organized systems (including but perhaps not limited to humans or living things) requires a binding element which in our human case is felt as p-consciousness.
     
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  3. Jan 6, 2005 #2
    Hi Steve,

    FWIW, my belief is close to the last part of your suggestion. If the Theory of Natural Individuals holds, the "purpose" of any natural individual is to achieve a more definite effective state for itself by reducing the number of possible joint states of its bound individuals. In the context of the brain, the hypothesized cortical natural individual has an effective state whose purpose is to initiate or modulate motor programming. We can think of its effective state as constituted by a set of interfaces between the individuals it binds and the body's motor systems. I would suppose that the cortical individual's specific purpose (i.e., why it would be selected for by evolution) is to reduce its constituent's possible joint states in a way that reflects a more reliable integration of all the relevant information being fed to the cortex.

    --Gregg

     
  4. Jan 6, 2005 #3
    Hi Gregg,
    Welcome to the PF forum.

    Could we not look back down the chain of natural individuals, to the lowest level to see as you say, a series of effective states as constituted by a set of interfaces between the individuals it binds. Looking then from the bottom to the top of the chain there would appear to be four main operators’ existence, organization, survival and perfection.
     
  5. Jan 6, 2005 #4
    Existence, organization and survival are clearly evident, though I'm not sure what you intend when you call them operators. I also don't know the sense you intend for "perfection" so I can't really comment, but, in general, I'm not likely to believe in something that would attract that label.

    --Gregg

     
  6. Jan 6, 2005 #5

    honestrosewater

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    Pardon my ignorance, but what do you think of the idea that p-consciousness is a product of an exergonic reaction? It's just an idea, but perhaps you guys can see its implications faster and more clearly than I can.
     
  7. Jan 7, 2005 #6

    loseyourname

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    Do you mean that it's the product of any exergonic reaction? That is, that any exergonic reaction results in phenomenal experience? I find that a bit of an ad hoc hypothesis. Besides, if it were true, why do we only experience the reactions that take place in the brain and not the rest of the body?
     
  8. Jan 7, 2005 #7

    StatusX

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    There are even parts of the brain that we don't experience, so I think a theory of consciousness is unattainable until we at least know what is different about the parts of the brain we experience from those we don't. Until we know this, looking for a theory of consciousness would be like Newton being told the final theory of physics will be based on strings of energy and trying to work it out for himself.

    As for consciousness doing work, I don't think this is necessary. It seems to cause things, but I think everything we do could be attributed to the physical brain. This doesn't necessarily mean consciousness doesn't exist, it just doesn't have any functional role whatsoever. This is, in fact, why it will be so difficult, if even possible, to explain. So what causes us to talk about it? I don't know. I'll bet there is a physical explanation for why we believe we are conscious (ie, it is accounted for by the wiring of neurons in our brain), but that doesn't change the fact that green has some kind of pure existence. The lack of a functional role for green is best demonstrated by the fact that it is so difficult to explain in words. It can only be described at all by using words which provoke similar feelings as the one usually accompanied by green.
     
  9. Jan 7, 2005 #8

    honestrosewater

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    Well, the products form spontaneously from the reactants, right? So if p-consciousness is observed to be present in some cases and absent in others, then the presence of p-consciousness should be preceded by the presence of a set of reactants which are not present preceding the absence of p-consciousness, and, in systems where the absence of p-concsiousness follows its presence, there should occur some endergonic reaction which removes p-consciousness from the system, in which p-consciousness is a reactant. Right? (I'm not actually sure that's right.) Is that not helpful or useful in any way?

    I am just trying to find some idea that gives me something physical to look for, is falsifiable in principle, and could explain why p-consciousness would arise in physical systems in this universe in the first place. This is the best idea I've come up with so far. Perhaps I need to add more conditions to my list.
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2005
  10. Jan 7, 2005 #9
    The fact that many (most?) bodily and brain activities take place unconsciously is a challenge to finding an active role for p-consciousness. A possible answer to this challenge has the unfortunate side-effect of complicating matters a bit, but here it is. What we humans experience is a very high-level form of reflective self-consciousness. However, simpler systems (including the parts of our own biology which are evolutionary holdovers from earlier times), have a less robust but still existent feeling or experience which is a marker of this proposed binding element (which is a necessary ingredient for the coordinated functioning of the system in question).
     
  11. Jan 7, 2005 #10
    Alternatively, the p-consciousness "we" know about belongs to something like the cortical individual Gregg talked about; our other bodily systems cannot be accessed in the same way by this system/individual, but we still could infer they have a similar binding element.
     
  12. Jan 7, 2005 #11
    What I mean by operators is what you mean by effective and receptive properties. I will try and stick to your terminology. What I mean by perfection is intelligence, human intelligence.
     
  13. Jan 7, 2005 #12
    Not to sound too cynical, but you must know a whole different class of people than I do! ;-)
     
  14. Jan 7, 2005 #13
    For an ignorance check, please note I had to look up exergonic. :smile:
     
  15. Jan 7, 2005 #14
    Hi Steve,

    Again FWIW: The Theory of Natural Individuals separates the notion of consciousness into two component notions, experiencing plus cognition. One can argue the legitimacy of this move, but that is what it does. It then proposes that there are kinds of experiencing that are kinds of protoconsciousness. These exist more widely in nature than consciousness does because they do not involve sophisticated (or perhaps any) cognition. So, on this picture, experiencings come in many varieties along a very diverse scale of richness, sophistication, and diversity. The differentiating factor between a conscious individual and other individuals is not the presence of experiencing.

    With this in mind, the theory entails a combination of your points below and above. Our consciousness is (likely) a cortical individual though other parts of the brain have their own kinds of (simpler protoconscious) experiences. Privacy of experience exists, so the cortical individual is oblivious to the experiencings of other individuals in the brain.

    By hypothesis, the cortical individual uniquely experiences the carriers active in a receptive field belonging to the whole person. What makes cortical experience special -- i.e., what makes it *consciousness* -- is that the individual it belongs to has responsibility for global (i.e., person-level) behavioural coordination, requiring abilities like focus of attention, maintenance of a self-concept, and other conceptualization, planning, and evaluation activities unique to the problem of global behavioural coordination.

    On this view, the presence of carriers that do all this non-trivial stuff at the level of the whole person are what make consciousness different from protoconsciousness.

    --Gregg

     
  16. Jan 7, 2005 #15

    loseyourname

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    That was one hell of a sentence, Rachel. I had to read that three times. I don't think the idea works, though, because the reactions that take place in interneurons are no different (thermodynamically speaking) from the reactions that take place in motor neurons, yet we do not experience these.
     
  17. Jan 8, 2005 #16

    honestrosewater

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    Great, one down.
     
  18. Jan 10, 2005 #17

    honestrosewater

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    Steve, You mean work as a force acting on an object to cause a displacement, right? And not just being useful in some way?
     
  19. Jan 11, 2005 #18
    I’m not sure. The problem is that if consciousness did work in the normal sense at a macroscopic scale, researchers would have noticed it. This is why Cartesian interactionist dualism is a non-starter. If it does work (and I’m guided by an opinion that it does), it must either be at a subtly small scale of nature where classical analysis breaks down, or (influenced by Gregg’s work again) it must be a manifestation of another side to causality: a receptive or magnetic quality that binds and coordinates the interactions in complex dynamic systems.
     
  20. Jan 11, 2005 #19

    hypnagogue

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    I believe we should proceed under the assumption that the brain straightforwardly follows physical law as does any other physical system, but it should be noted that this is still something of an assumption. If p-consciousness did work on a macroscopic scale, it could be that researchers already have noticed its activity (e.g. with fMRI), but have merely assumed it to be the signature of 'normal' physical processes. As long as p-consciousness's supposed causal role did not behave in a manner blatantly inconsistent with standard physical principles, this scenario is at least plausible. I'm not aware of any studies that have rigorously checked the brain's behavior against known physical principles (understandably so, of course, as this would be such a taxing undertaking for such a speculative hypothesis).
     
  21. Jan 12, 2005 #20

    honestrosewater

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    Do you suspect p-consciousness plays an inhibitory or excitatory role or both or neither or mixed or ...?
     
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