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Why consciousness is not reducible to nonconscious things

  1. Oct 17, 2009 #1
    What do you think of the following argument about consciousness* (from now on called "C"):


    P1: The only things reductionism reduces, are our own misconceptions.
    P2: Misconceptions require C.
    C: To say that C is reducible, is to say that C is a misconception that requires C.


    As you see, the conclusion doesnt get rid of C. The statement "C is reducible" can be compared with the statement "C is dreamable". Even if C is dreamable, there is still a C that is dreaming it. That is why C is not reducible to non-C things.

    * Btw my definition of C is "having experiences". Examples of experiences are for example pain, what it feels like to see a car, etc. This is my theoretically neutral definition of C. It doesnt state C is material or non-material, it just refers to our experiences, and we all understand what we mean when talking about them.
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 19, 2009 #2
    Your argument is pretty bad.

    Here is my take on it. consciousness is a physical fact, but is not reducible to physical facts. The thing that is non-reducible is the subjective mood necessary to be conscious.
  4. Oct 19, 2009 #3
    You say the argument is bad, can you point out where the flaw is (premise 1, 2 or the conclusion)?
  5. Oct 19, 2009 #4
    Your argument is based on a false understanding of (hierarchical) reductionism. It is no misconception to say that water consists of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, even when further reductionism reveals that these atoms consists of protons, neutrons and electrons.

    Here is an argument against your position.

    1. Consciousness can interact with the brain (premise)
    2. The brain is material (premise)
    3. Consciousness can interact with matter (from 1&2)
    4. Anything that can interact with matter is by definition matter (from definition)
    5. Consciousness is a material phenomena (from 3&4).
  6. Oct 19, 2009 #5
    The proton/neutron situation shows that the "2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom" view is a flawed/incomplete view of the situation. Its the same as when you think a parked car is a solid, static, motionless object. Further investigation reveals the car to consist of a huge amount of moving atoms with lots of space between them. The initial idea of the car as being a solid motionless object, was a misconception and it has been reduced to a more accurate view of the physical situation.

    Your argument is an argument for monism, of which materialism is just one type. It is not an argument for materialism in particular. There are other types of monism aswell (neutral monism, panpsychism, idealism, etc.).

    Btw its important to note that im not saying consciousness is immaterial, since my definition is theoretically neutral. The argument merely says that C is not reducible to nonconscious things. If matter is considered void of consciousness, then C is not reducible to that.
  7. Oct 19, 2009 #6


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    Can you clarify? At face-value, this statement is false.
  8. Oct 19, 2009 #7


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    Between the extremes of emergent monism and disconnected dualism, there is a futher ontic position - the dichotomy.

    So in this view, anything real can always be reduced in two complementary directions. And these directions are bounding limits rather than fundamental states.

    With the mind~brain issue for example, we can see that we can reduce it to the ancient dichotomy of substance~form. Or local constructive materials and globally constraining organisation.

    So consciousness is not reducible to material causes, but it could be treated as a generalised form. An arrangement of material that has the organisation we would consider the essence of mindfulness. The challenge then is to develop mathematically rigorous descriptions of "mindfulness". Which is what people try to do with neural nets, or complex adaptive system theory, etc.

    Again, emergence and dualism are poor choices, even if very common ones. If you get into mind science you can discover other positions to take.
  9. Oct 19, 2009 #8

    I don ` t even think you know what is a proposition. A proposition can be either true or false, decided upon by a state of affair. This is not commonly understood. You would not know this if you are not a philosopher.
  10. Oct 19, 2009 #9
    The argument has 2 propositions and a conclusion. Which of them has a flaw in it?
  11. Oct 19, 2009 #10

    I read Premise 2, and i can` t help but want to inflict pain on myself.
  12. Oct 19, 2009 #11
    No, both are accurate and neither is flawed. The reduced view is more precise in that particular area, though.

    Idealism is certainly not materialism.
  13. Oct 19, 2009 #12
    Do you not accept the conservation of momentum? If you kick matter, it kicks back. You can't kick matter if your foot is not material itself, because that would be a violation of the conservation of momentum.
  14. Oct 20, 2009 #13


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    Your statement is:
    Light can interact with matter yet it is not matter.
  15. Oct 20, 2009 #14
    From 3 & 4, it follows that "consciousness is matter", and not material phenomena.
    What this implies is that 1 is false. Intuitively, i think it is hard to make the case that matter is consciousness.
  16. Oct 20, 2009 #15

    Pretty simple. Just change matter to physical facts.
  17. Oct 20, 2009 #16


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    4. Anything that can interact with physical facts is by definition physical facts (from definition)

    That makes no sense at all.
  18. Oct 20, 2009 #17
    It is like asking why not "2+2=5". I can` t help you. :surprised

    Seriously, tho, materialism makes no distinction between particles with mass, and particles without mass. In either case, they both need to governed by some law to make it work.

    As to why you think "physical facts" does not make sense is beyond me. "Physics facts" is supposed to make a empirical proposition true( or false). They are suppose to be completely mind-independent. Don` t argue. This is how philosophers set the relationships, and that is how i learn it.

    In fact, i can think of a better way of express materialism:
    Every process in the universe can be explained by physical laws, and constitutes.
  19. Oct 20, 2009 #18


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    I wasn't asking for your help, I was asking Mattara to clarify his statement, which is false. Your modification makes no sense.

    There's no way you're going to be able to express the original argument if the words and definitions are ambiguous, resulting in refutable premises.

    I'm simply asking for the original argument to be written with acceptable premises.
  20. Oct 20, 2009 #19
    Lets put it this way, the reduced view gives a full description of the physical nature of the object (for as far as we know), whereas the nonreduced view gives an incomplete description. The view that a car is a motionless solid object, is incomplete. If someone gave you such a description of a car, you would never know that it actually consists of zillions of physical ingredients moving rapidly, aswell as lots of empty space. Your understanding(concept) of the car would be incomplete.

    Neutral monism, panpsychism and idealism are types of monism, but they are certainly not materialism. Quite the contrary. Since your argument about interaction is only an argument for monism, it is not an argument for materialism in particular. This argument of mine would also be invalid, for the same reason yours is:

    1. C can interact with the brain (premise)
    2. The brain is material (premise)
    3. C can interact with matter (from 1&2)
    4. Anything that interacts with C, is conscious.
    5. Matter is a conscious phenomenon.
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2009
  21. Oct 21, 2009 #20

    Well, then you must not get it. It is crazy. It is like saying 2+2=42...
    I just had to comment when your wrote "proton is massless", because matter could only interact with matter. It is sad, and funny at the same time.

    ok, if you say so.
  22. Oct 21, 2009 #21


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    I didn't write that. That would be false. Read it again. What I wrote is correct.

    You seem to be having difficulty with your emotions. Science and philosophy should not make you feel sad.
  23. Oct 21, 2009 #22

    No, no.. I love science and philosophy. That is not the problem. It`s just that reading about how photon is massless sounds crazy in a philosophy discussion about materialism. Don` t you think?
  24. Oct 21, 2009 #23


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    I never mentioned photons. Nor did I mention mass. (I also didn't mention protons, so I'm not sure why, in post 20, you put those words in my mouth, then proceeded to mock me for it.)

    It seems to me there's some dancing around the issue here. You're taking my words, mangling them, reattributing them to me, then calling them sad or crazy or whatever other derisive-yet-completely-unsubstantive adjective comes to your mind.

    The original premise was:

    "Anything that can interact with matter is by definition matter (from definition)"

    This premise is false.

    That's it. That's my whole case. Mattara made this statement in post 4. It was flawed; it contains a false premise. I asked for clarification.

    BTW, it is not necessary for you to pick up this ball. It is really directed to Mattara. If you have some constructive input in his place that'd great.
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2009
  25. Oct 21, 2009 #24
    That does not follow. Just because all consciousness can be explained in terms of mater does not mean that all mater can be explained in terms of consciousness.

    (M (C))
  26. Oct 21, 2009 #25
    Just because all consciousness is matter does not imply that all mater is conscious. Just like that fact that some life is made of matter does not imply that all matter is alive. There is no contradiction.
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