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Consciousness and the Paranormal — Part 6

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Constance

Paranormal Adept
@Pharoah, it is interesting to try to distinguish the correspondences and differences in some premises held between you and Soupie, worked out in some detail in your second-last post. I'm somewhat surprised to see you in particular, and even Soupie at this point, adhering to the assumption that the brain itself produces [is responsible for] consciousness, which becomes clear in your second point:

2.
me: It seems unsurprising to me that disrupted neural activity will affect consciousness.
you: Why is that unsurprising to you?
me: because if the brain is responsible for consciousness, which is a fair assumption I think, then it is unsurprising. If I stick a knife in my head, consciousness is affected (I might have convulsive impulses to the muscles and a scattered EEG pattern).
I think that the most that can be claimed is that brains are necessary but not sufficient to account for the evolution of consciousness in living organisms and for the changing and varying nature of consciousness at each evolutionary stage. The prodigiously complex sum of all that organisms and animals encounter in their experiences in the world is equally influential in the development of consciousness. In our species (and perhaps even in some other higher animal species) culture becomes an additional influence on the developing capabilities of consciousness. There might also be influences on consciousness originating from distant [and yet unknown] regions in the cosmic, quantum holographic, envelope in which our planet and its evolving species live.

It seems to me to be a hubristic goal of IIT and other 'informational' systems to account reductively for consciousness without recognizing, understanding, and demonstrating the multivariate natural (biological) and cultural contributions to the evolution of consciousness that is required to achieve a comprehensively founded theory of the origin and nature of consciousness.

In short, the evolution of the brain facilitates the development of consciousness rather than accounting fully for it. The intricate and interracting complexity of the world as a whole far exceeds the complexity of any physical or biological 'system' evolving within it, and this is especially the case in the attempt to understand what consciousness is.
 
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Constance

Paranormal Adept
I also want to comment on item one in that post, @Pharoah:

1.
me: Applied to consciousness then, "information is the substrate of consciousness" is vacuous. What is critical is the nature of the construction of information (to work with the terminology given here), not some abstract notion of its quantity or greyscale degrees of its complexity.

you: I agree.

me: how does this agreement sit with IIT? namely, it is the nature of the construction that is important not what the substrate is.
Actually, this reminds me that I forgot to pursue my 'identical' query (re: X being identical to Y, consciousness identical to information). You rejected the notion of identical, and used the notion of substrate instead: "information is the substrate of consciousness". I looked up the term substrate to try to understand this relation (no longer being identical). I get the sense that, instead of 'substrate', one could use the term, 'building block': "information is the building block of consciousness". And to take this further, the shape of the building is determined not by how many building blocks there are, but by how they are positioned relative to one another within the environment. So rather than think of the relation between information and consciousness as homogenous (like jam—Searle), it should be thought of as a dynamic purposeful construction. The nature of the construction is critical; which is why it only happens in brains i.e. it is not in all things (as of panpsychism and IIT). The question is then, how and why the informational construction evolves into existence the way it does/has.
The term 'substrate' is a placeholder in scientific and philosophical theories and therefore cannot be relied upon for purposes of explanation.

Informational 'building blocks' is an improvement as a metaphor but requires an explanation of what the building blocks are composed of, and also a justification of your implication that these building blocks have a teleological function. How do we get this cart before the horse?
 

USI Calgary

J. Randall Murphy
Staff member
Here is my understanding of how all of you conceptualize the problem:

electromagnetic waves (matter) --> color (experience) --> observer (consciousness)

That is a truality (if you will) not a duality.

My conceptualization is as follows:

electromagnetic waves (matter) --> I am experiencing color (consciousness)

That is a duality.

Although a more accurate explication of my view (and the neurophenomenological view):

patterns of synchronized neural firings (matter) --> I am experiencing color (consciousness)
I think you've hit on a really important concept in how we discuss things, and that is how we "conceptualize the problem". This is really at the heart of the discussion, and learning to relate to this and translate it in a meaningful way between us is IMO key to making progress in this discussion. So fabulous input there. I'll outline my present view in this context again.

First, I don't subscribe to any particular philosophical model because they are too restrictive, and tend to lead to internal conflicts and inconsistencies. So I've left them behind. However that doesn't mean that other philosophers haven't expressed similar views. Searle for example acknowledges dualism within the context of mental and material realities. On this I completely agree. Many of us can visualize some object in our mind. For an example, I like to imagine a red Ferrari. In my mind I can see it parked on the blacktop next to my Malibu beachfront house. There is no question that when we imagine such things, those images exist. They are at the heart of cogito ergo sum. However in the material world we'd also have a tough time getting a car loan based on that particular context of reality. Why? I hate to sound like Captain Obvious, but a materially real red Ferrari is a different type of reality than an imaginary one, LOL.

Now let's look a little deeper into this issue. Given that we recognize that both the subjective and objective have reality within their respective contexts, how do we reconcile that with respect to what it is that composes each type of reality? On one hand we have the material and on the other we have the mental, and they are definitely not the same. So where is the common ground? I advocate the view that the material and the mental are simply different physical phenomena, just as a plasma, gravity, inertia, and EM fields are also different physical phenomena.

This is a sort of Physicalism, not to be confused with materialism ( Though some might argue the point ). So I return again to the EM field analogy. We have a material object ( the electromagnet ) giving rise to a completely unexpected non-material ( but still physical ) phenomenon ( electromagnetism ). In the case of consciousness, we have the brain-body system ( the material ), giving rise to consciousness, a completely unexpected and non-material ( but still physical ) phenomenon. This phenomenon includes the property of subjective experience, which when combined with intelligence becomes information.

All the best evidence suggests that this all takes place within normal living humans. Can it be replicated? We don't know how yet other than via reproduction, and for all we know, there may be no other way. There have been tantalizing tales of reincarnation and other phenomena, but they all fall apart under critical analysis. At best, all that is happening is some sort of information transfer, and that's not enough to qualify as a continuity of being. Hypothetically there might be a form of continuity of being, but only if our realm is some sort of massive simulation.
 

Constance

Paranormal Adept
I have not been able to access enough of what Ludwig has written to know whether he has yet addressed the question why our species has posed metaphysical questions about the nature of our being and Being as a whole and their relationship, assuming a seamless connection between our local experience on the earthworld and that which we sense exists beyond the horizons of what we can know. I think it’s possible that it has been the seamlessness of our species’ own conscious experience – a recognized integration of subjective and objective aspects of a palpable ‘reality’ -- that is the root of our expectation that all of Being is integrated. We have developed this expectation that the ontology of our own being – which is being-here, being-together with the manifestations of the physical world in our experienced local realities – must coincide with and express a single ontology of the whole of Being. The philosophical subdiscipline of Ontology as well as the subdisciplines of Philosophy of Mind and Philosophy of Science are affected by this metaphysical question and increasingly confront it.

I think (no surprise at this point) that phenomenological philosophy has made the most significant contributions to Consciousness Studies and Philosophy of Mind. But despite these contributions to the understanding of consciousness and mind, phenomenological philosophy too has been necessarily limited in the scope of its thinking by the presupposition that analysis of the nature and structure of (human) ‘being-in-the-world’ (Heidegger’s terminology) can enable us to refer to the whole of Being with any insight, given that the 'dimensions' of Being as a whole certainly extend incomprehensibly far beyond what we can experience and know. I think this is why Heidegger eventually declared ‘the end of metaphysics’ in his later writings.

Of course metaphysics is inescapable for us in our philosophical thinking about the world we know, and we will go on speculating about what lies beyond our horizons in the cosmos, and also how we are connected/interconnected with it. That we do so is one of the indelible marks of the nature of consciousness as it has evolved in our species. Far back in the history of our species we recognize the signs of the human drive to understand our own place in the whole of what-is, in all-that-is.

Physics distinguishes itself from metaphysics in the interests of learning what we can from what we can measure in physical being. Mental being -- the be-ing of consciousness and human mind and the perennial metaphysical and ontological questions we ask -- are yet to be explored scientifically and philosophically (although psychical research has made some progress in that direction for 130 years, widely ignored by material/physical science and materialist philosophy). We need to continually remind ourselves of the existentiality, the local physical and temporal situatedness in an immense cosmic reality, of ourselves and also of our contemporary science and philosophy. And we need to ask what it is that we sense (and perhaps at some level and in some part know subconsciously) about the nature of the Being within which our own be-ing has evolved.
 
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Constance

Paranormal Adept
There's that confusing notion again that pops up in Consciousness studies so often! The notion that experiences are experienced! The idea that experiences are observed in the same fashion that a sunset is observed is a confusion. There is no observer!
Who has argued that our experiences are 'observed' in the same way we observe objective entities?

This paper by Galen Strawson should be helpful to you, perhaps also to Pharoah:

Cognitive Phenomenology: Real Life



(For ease of reading it's helpful to know at the outset that Strawson occasionally introduces remarks or references coming from an interlocuter who/that expresses his/her ideas in a smaller typographical point size.)

 
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Soupie

Paranormal Adept
Essentially, they are both dynamic physical constructs, where the observer-dependent relations to each differ.
1) Again, this indicates a trialism: matter, mind, and observer. You say you are not a trialist, but your articulation of HCT seems to contradict that. Help me understand.

2) I don't think our views of matter and mind are so metaphysically different. I subscribe to a form of dual-aspect monism. I recognize that both matter and mind are processes. (One of the exciting things about QST is that it provides a logical model of how this could be; that is, of how matter can be a "process.")

Both matter and mind are aspects of a more fundamental substrate-process. At this deeper level, they share a cause; thus, their relationship at the secondary level is not causal. There is a dualism but only at the secondary level; the objective and the subjective cannot be reduced into one another. This dualism disappears at the more fundamental level of reality.

I've concluded (recognized) that this means one cannot "cause" the other. They can mediate one another (perhaps).

To truly understand this "problem" we will need a deeper understanding of (physical) reality as well as an Expansionist approach to reality as called for by Nagel. One that considers both the objective and subjective aspects of reality as metaphysically equal.
 
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Constance

Paranormal Adept
Both matter and mind are aspects of a more fundamental substrate-process. At this deeper level, they share a cause; thus, their relationship at the secondary level is not causal. There is a dualism but only at the secondary level; the objective and the subjective cannot be reduced into one another. This dualism disappears at the more fundamental level of reality.
You seem to be thinking of/referring to the nature of "a more fundamental substrate-process" than that which we recognize in the quantum substrate. I've speculated before that quantum interaction might lead to evolving interaction at what you call "the secondary level," where I assume you mean chemical and physical interactions [between forces and fields] that build the structure of what we call 'the classical level' of experienced reality following what classical (not quantum) physics has described. But given that we know nothing yet of this 'more fundamental substrate-process' -- it is a region of being we can speculate about, philosophically and theoretically, but not measure or describe, thus mysterious -- I wonder how we can legitimately use it to account for the unquestionable evolution of the secondary, classical, description of the world in which we think we exist. Further, my impression is that you want to use the metaphysical 'idea' of this 'deeper substrate' beneath the quantum level to ground an 'information' theory of how consciousness and mind become distinguished from and interact with objective properties of the world we live in and yet remain ontologically indistinguishable from one another. How would you compare your hypothesis with Searle's? I'd like to hear how @Pharoah responds to this question too.

There is a dualism but only at the secondary level; the objective and the subjective cannot be reduced into one another. This dualism disappears at the more fundamental level of reality.
If the objective and subjective "cannot be reduced into one another" in the classically described 'secondary level' at which we exist, do we not have to account for how the objective and subjective aspects of our existence in the world arise from their indistinguishability in 'the deeper substrate'? And also take them seriously in our attempt to understand the relationship of mind and matter within which we think and act and construct our cultures and civilizations?

The "dualism" (should be 'duality') might "disappear at the more fundamental level of reality," but so do we and our philosophical questions and problems disappear at that level. We don't live our biological and mental lives in that unencountered 'more fundamental level of reality'. It is possible, though, that we retain a memory of it in our subconscious minds and come closer to it through the disciplines of deep meditation and perhaps also in dreaming states of consciousness. If so, the concept of 'information' as constituting consciousness (a la Tononi) will need to be expanded to include the investigation and exploration of subconscious information, and that will require taking seriously and including psychical research and research into meditative states and the sense of reality they bring forward.

To truly understand this "problem" we will need a deeper understanding of (physical) reality as well as an Expansionist approach to reality as called for by Nagel. One that considers both the objective and subjective aspects of reality as metaphysically equal.
What are Nagel's specific recommendations concerning how we should investigate "both the objective and subjective aspects of reality" if not through analysis of human experience?

And how do you think we should understand and evaluate Searle’s ‘logical’ hypothesis concerning the relationship of consciousness to reality?


EDIT TO ADD, re your statement above that

There is a dualism but only at the secondary level; the objective and the subjective cannot be reduced into one another.
It’s not clear to me what you mean by reduced into one another.” I also suggest that ‘duality’ is preferable as a term to denote the relationship of subjectivity and objectivity in the world in which we exist than the term “dualism” given the radical separation of mind and matter that Descartes influentially claimed. [Btw, Descartes was himself not always consistent in expressing this radical separation, as some scholars in our time have demonstrated.]

Much as you will not like to hear, indeed refuse to hear it, it is the analysis developed in phenomenological philosophy that has demonstrated the inescapable interaction between subjectivity and objectivity in lived/experienced reality. Phenomenology recognizes the inescapable presence – and interdependence -- of both subjective and objective poles in the duality expressed in experienced be-ing. This school of philosophy does not collapse one pole into the other or attempt to reduce (much less erase) their mutual coexistence. Decades ago Samuel Alexander described the relation of these poles in terms of their “confluence” and “compresence.” This is essentially the same insight MP developed in his later thinking and writing about the chiasmic nature of mind and matter, the mental and the physical, on the basis of phenomenological analysis of the openness and presence of consciousness in and to the physical world.

Reading MP might change your mind about your 'consciousness=information' hypothesis [ostensibly supporting the idea that experiential consciousness is only a virtual representation produced by 'information' integrated in the brain], and moderate your consequent insistence on denying that 'experience' means directly and actively experiencing our be-ing in this world. You've read James's proto-phenomenological argument that what we feel and think results from our lived experience. That should make it easier to read MP's more complex development of the nature and meaning of consciousness.
 
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Soupie

Paranormal Adept
You seem to thinking of/referring to the nature of "a more fundamental substrate-process" than that which we recognize in the quantum substrate.
Yes, what I have in mind is more fundamental than the elementary particles.

If the objective and subjective "cannot be reduced into one another" in the classically described 'secondary level' at which we exist, do we not have to account for how the objective and subjective aspects of our existence in the world arise from their indistinguishability in 'the deeper substrate'?
Yes. But the key would be that both matter and mind arise from something more fundamental than themselves. The nature of that more fundamental level and how both matter and mind arise from it may be beyond us of course.

What are Nagel's specific recommendations concerning how we should investigate "both the objective and subjective aspects of reality" if not through analysis of human experience?
My understanding of Nagel's call for an Expansionist approach is based off of quotes Pharoah has posted here. I haven't read his books yet.

Our scientific models of reality are based on objective, cause-and-effect, physical processes. Subjective, phenomenal consciousness simply does not fit into these models.

Some will search in vain for an objective consciousness "stuff," some will ignore consciousness, or we can build an "expansionist" model of reality that incorporates both objectivity and subjectivity in a sophisticated way.
 

Constance

Paranormal Adept
Yes, what I have in mind is more fundamental than the elementary particles. ... the key would be that both matter and mind arise from something more fundamental than themselves. The nature of that more fundamental level and how both matter and mind arise from it may be beyond us of course.

If so, how can a theory be built on it? Or even a hypothesis that can be tested?


Our scientific models of reality are based on objective, cause-and-effect, physical processes. Subjective, phenomenal consciousness simply does not fit into these models.
So science should keep looking for a way to bend nature in order to account for consciousness as physical? Should science not instead more exhaustively explore nature and human experience (in and of nature) in order to understand the nature of consciousness and its actual relationship to the physical world? And thereby (not insignificantly) recognize at last that science is possible in the first place because scientists are conscious beings?

Some will search in vain for an objective consciousness "stuff," some will ignore consciousness, or we can build an "expansionist" model of reality that incorporates both objectivity and subjectivity in a sophisticated way.
We already know that there is no such thing as "objective consciousness 'stuff'." {Note that that does not mean that embodied conscious beings such as ourselves are unable to distinguish objectivity from subjectivity.} Some might, alternatively, as you say, "ignore consciousness" despite their being conscious, in which case they will lead unaware and unexamined lives. It looks like, since neither you nor I have yet read the book in which Nagel explicates his 'expansionist' program, we'll need @Pharoah to explain to us what Nagel's 'model' is.

ps: Phenomenological philosophy does "incorporate both objectivity and subjectivity in a 'sophisticated' way." Perhaps some day you'll read it and understand its critique of reductive physicalism. I do wish that day would come.
 
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Soupie

Paranormal Adept
Reading MP might change your mind about your 'consciousness=information' hypothesis [ostensibly supporting the idea that experiential consciousness is only a virtual representation produced by 'information' integrated in the brain], and moderate your consequent insistence on denying that 'experience' means directly and actively experiencing our be-ing in this world.
I found the writings of phenomenological writers to be needlessly dense and wordy. Even the little bit of it that Evan Thompson discussed in Mind and Life I found to be unpalatable. And in some cases, I've found phenomenology to be indistinguishable from psychology.

At the end of the day, introspection can only take us so far. I much prefer neurophenomenology which is the integration of 3rd person and 1st person investigations of the body-mind.

Regarding your belief that consciousness entails "directly" experiencing the world, I'm not sure what to make of it. On my view, conscious experience is experience of the world. It's as direct an experience of the world as we can get.

But, as we've been discussing througout this entire discussion, there is a duality between mind and matter. Mind is not matter; matter is not mind.

Said differently, conscious experience (mind) is how we experience the world (matter), but conscious experience (mind) is not the world (matter).

World --> Organism --> Experience of the World

Only via an idealist, purely 1st person perspective can we say we (the phenomenal-self) "directly" experience the world.

However, when we assume a 3rd person perspective, we see that consciousness is the medium (buffer) through which we (the body-self) experience the world.

There are now many examples we can be offered that illustrate that our experience of the physical world is not one and the same as the physical world.
 

Constance

Paranormal Adept
There are now many examples we can be offered that illustrate that our experience of the physical world is not one and the same as the physical world.
Right, it isn't, and I say 'Vive la difference'. Without experience -- without life and the conscious perspectives and responses it brings into the physical world -- our planet would remain an unlit rock without art, philosophy, science, literature, and the history of the cultures and civilizations our species has constructed on the earth. Maybe all those other subjects do not interest you. In that case, why not study geology?

Heidegger distinguishes between 'earth' and 'world'. We create a human world out of the materials earth provides us locally (rocks, trees, soil etc). We exist therefore in a complex 'world' composed of the given materials of local nature and the cultures and meanings we create with these materials. Your concept of 'the world' is missing half the equation, which consciousness and mind add. If you are not interested in the second half of the world you live in, why concern yourself with consciousness, which mediates [active verb] between the two?
 

Constance

Paranormal Adept
In other words, matter schmatter. We're discussing the relationship of mind to matter using our minds, and though you hope to see the reduction of mind to matter, you most likely never will.
 
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Soupie

Paranormal Adept
In other words, matter schmatter. We're discussing the relationship of mind to matter using our minds, and though you hope to see the reduction of mind to matter, you most likely never will.
No, we're discussing the relationship of mind to body using both our mind and body.

And no, I don't hope to see the reduction of mind to matter. In fact, I don't believe mind can be reduced to matter. However, I do entertain the notion that both mind and matter can be reduced to a more fundamental substrate.
 

Constance

Paranormal Adept
No, we're discussing the relationship of mind to body using both our mind and body.
Of course we're using our bodies; couldn't have evolved to develop consciousness or minds without them.

And no, I don't hope to see the reduction of mind to matter. In fact, I don't believe mind can be reduced to matter. However, I do entertain the notion that both mind and matter can be reduced to a more fundamental substrate.
That's cool if it turns out to be true. Let me know when the sub-quantum substrate is understood. Won't we still have the challenge of understanding what consciousness is that it can produce and invent new worlds?
 

USI Calgary

J. Randall Murphy
Staff member
In other words, matter schmatter. We're discussing the relationship of mind to matter using our minds, and though you hope to see the reduction of mind to matter, you most likely never will.
I'd put it this way instead: Mind cannot be reduced to the material, but reducing it to the physical, may be possible. This delineates the point of contention between materialists and physicalists, and there is no unanimous agreement on it. Some materialists seem to think Physicalism is no different than Materialism. The crux lies in ones view of what constitutes a material thing versus a physical thing.

I'm on the side of the fence that says material things are composed of the building blocks of the material around us, basically particles, while the physical includes phenomena such as the fundamental forces of nature recognized by physics, not all of which have been fully explained, and in some sense cannot be explained in terms of material. For example gravity or magnetism. We know they are associated with material, but we don't know exactly how that comes to be. So when it comes to consciousness, I'm basically with Chalmers on that point, it's something "fundamental" and physical, but non-material.

However at the same time I don't fit cleanly into any particular pigeon-hole. I guess I'm sort of a rogue physicalist with a dash of New Mysterianism, the former reminding the woo-woo crowd that because consciousness exists, it can be objectively studied, and the latter to remind physicists that working out the behavior of fundamental physical phenomena doesn't explain exactly how it got there.
 
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