Does the brain really "cause" consciousness?

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Magical Realist, Dec 8, 2012.

  1. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    Many scientists certainly assume it does. Afterall, for every self-reported conscious experience there appears to exist a corresponding firing of neural synapses. But does that really establish causation? Similarly we may assume that since every fire is accompanied by the burning of a material, that the burning of the material is causing the flame. Yet we also allow for the flame's causation of the burning of material. Is not the flame burning the log? Does not a flame in fact ignite the whole process?


    So this notion of a one-way bottom up causation of consciousness appears abit simplistic upon analysis. Do we really attribute our thoughts and decisions to the mere sporadic firestorm crackling inside our brains? No. On a daily basis we freely attribute to ourselves an equally causal role on the course of our own mental processes. We assume we have moral responsibility for our actions, and take credit for the choices and reasonings that our mind generates. So what gives? What is really causing what?


    Perhaps our error here is that we fail to see that consciousness and brain processes are really just two manifestations of a third process. Perhaps as with the flame and its material, we trap ourselves into a game of reciprocal causation simply because we do not see that there is another underlying agency besides the mental and the physical that is generating them both. This position is known as neutral monism. That since consciousness and brain processes ARE ontically the same, they are not in fact causing each other but rather are unfolding out of an as yet unknown deeper order that we have yet to discover. Just as the flame and the burning of the material are really just two manifestations of one underlying thermal reaction.
     
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  3. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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    Setting aside temporarily what might be loaded under "really"...

    The brain does cause consciousness. In terms of appearances -- or the compact convenience of attributing the "causes" of occurrences and changes to macroscopic objects and their actions -- which everyday commonsense favors. Of course, getting down into the instrument-revealed and formal details of neural micro-structure, reference to their summation as an entity called the "brain", alone, is then not a sufficient explanation (i.e., the "how" of the organ accomplishing consciousness).

    Returning to the excluded issue of "really", there are of course examples of apparent causes not being the "true source" of such -- like a firing from a portable rocket launcher being the reason why a building exploded in the scenes or the world of a computer game (even the scientific explanation for how the explosion worked is therein exposed as superficial facade). But if we should be confined ourselves only to such appearances (including those further refined by methodological naturalism), then there is only the task of understanding a phenomenal world in terms of its interdependent phenomena and empirical regularities. Of tracing the behavior, modification, origin or eradication of one item to that of other manifested or indirectly inferred items. Hypotheses about a "noumenal" realm merely serve the purpose of projecting our desires for freedom from natural appearances upon what the critic knows no more about conclusively than the defender -- such arguments are "weapons of ideological warfare" only, centered around enhancing the value of human life.

    Immanuel Kant: ...the philosopher who maintains the reality of certain ideas never possesses sufficient knowledge in order to render his own propositions certain; his opponent is equally unable to prove the opposite. It is true, no doubt, that this equality of fortune, which is peculiar to human reason, favours neither of the two parties with regard to their speculative knowledge [theoretical philosophy], and hence the never-ending feuds in this arena. But we shall see nevertheless that, in relation to its practical employment [practical / moral philosophy], reason has the right of admitting what, in the sphere of pure speculation, it would not be allowed to admit without sufficient proof. [...] Here, therefore, reason is in possession, without having to prove the legitimacy of its title, which, indeed, it would be difficult to do. The burden of proof rests, therefore, on the opponent; and as he knows as little of the point in question, to enable him to prove its non-existence, as the other who maintains its reality, it is evident that there is an advantage on the side of him who maintains something as a practically necessary supposition. He is clearly entitled, as it were in self-defence, to use the same weapons in support of his own good cause, which the opponent uses against it, that is, to employ hypotheses, which are not intended to strengthen the arguments in favour of his own view, but only to show that the opponent knows far too little of the subject under discussion to flatter himself that he possesses any advantage over us, so far as speculative insight is concerned. In the field of pure reason, therefore, hypotheses are admitted as weapons of defence only, not in order to establish a right, but simply in order to defend it; and it is our duty at all times to look for a real opponent within ourselves.
     
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  5. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

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    Evidence of neuroplasticity strongly suggests otherwise. A person can imagine practicing some skill, like playing the piano, and alter the brain in the same manner a person actually practicing that skill does. In actual practice of a skill, we can assume that the brain changes in response to external stimuli, but in imagined practice it is ambiguous. What chooses to imagine such things? If the brain then the brain must exercise free will in choosing to alter itself. If the brain is not strictly subject to determinism then consciousness can hardly be pinned down.
     
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  7. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    "It is as impossible for the subtlest philosophy as for the commonest reasoning to argue freedom away. Philosophy must therefore assume that no true contradiction will be found between freedom and natural necessity in the same human actions, for it cannot give up the idea of nature any more than that of freedom. Hence even if we should never be able to conceive how freedom is possible, at least this apparent contradiction must be convincingly eradicated. For if the thought of freedom contradicts itself or nature ... it would have to be surrendered in competition with natural necessity."--Kant
    (Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, p.75-6)
     
  8. kwhilborn Banned Banned

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    This is a twist from does consciousness cause reality.

    Post #4 suggests freedom is necessary in all philosophy, yet The Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics takes away freedom as it suggests we live out every decision we make even if we did not make them. I don't believe in this Interpretation, however it is a philosophical argument that takes away freedom of sorts.

    Some believe cells are not only conscious but can formulate memories and smart responses based upon them. Just ask John Travolta.

    There are some papers on this however that are not woo and should be considered. A cell obviously has no brain so can it be conscious?
     
  9. hansda Valued Senior Member

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    Can brain work without consciousness?

    'How brain works?' - is a matter of intense speculation but i don't think if brain causes consciousness. I think 'brain' and 'consciousness' are two different entity. Consciousness is independent, whereas functioning of brain depends upon consciousness. 'Consciousness' can not be considered as cause of something but consciousness itself can be the prime cause for all other things.
     
  10. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    I think there are times when the brain DOES exert causal influences on our consciousness. Mood disorders. Addiction. PTSD. Obsessions. Schizophrenia and psychosis. Epilepsy. But it is precisely at those times that we say the brain is malfunctioning. When the brain ISN'T causing or influencing consciousness that's when we assume it is functioning correctly. There is then this sort of assumed independence between conscious experience and the brain. We probably go thru phases all the time where the brain is exerting tremendous causal influence on our minds. Then other times we are so lucid as to be virtually free from those influences. How can a system operate so as to generate a causally independent property? Something to do with emergence I'd wager..
     
  11. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

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    Many would argue instead that consciousness depends on a functioning brain, and that consciousness itself is the effect of things.
    If one is a dualist one will think one way, and a monist another.

    Personally I am of the opinion that "consciousness" is to brain as waves are to water - i.e. merely a pattern of activity within the substrate - in the case of consciousness I think it is "caused" by genetics, evolution and any countless number of external stimuli over the course of our development.
    I also think that consciousness is merely a self-referential insight into but a small part of the operation of our brain. Our consciousness can appear to cause changes within the brain (e.g. learning influences brain development), but I consider such "causes" to actually be external / non-conscious, and not with the consciousness as initiator... the consciousness only picks up on the decisions after the event. But certainly physical changes to the brain can affect our consciousness - i.e. cease it entirely.
    Or so medical science suggests.
     
  12. leopold Valued Senior Member

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    cloning proves one or both of the following:
    1. consciousness is caused by life itself.
    2. consciousness is some function of DNA.
     
  13. lightgigantic Banned Banned

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    how come point 2 draws consciousness as contingent on dna and not vice versa? IOW how are you distinguishing between consciousness and the chemicals consciousness utilizes?
     
  14. leopold Valued Senior Member

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    if it were the other way around then you must assume some kind of "creator".
    you must also assume some kind of "telekinesis".
    i am not willing to do that.
    i take my analogy from dolly the cloned sheep.
    i make the assumption dollys mental capacity and capability to be normal.
     
  15. lightgigantic Banned Banned

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    your first principle already incorporates that concept

    why?


    Given that all they are really doing with cloning is swapping parts (as opposed to creating something "new") its not any different from blood transfusions or urea synthesis
     
  16. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    If DNA were to be contingent on consciousness, this would be much like moving a chair "solely with the power of one's thoughts."


    They don't think so, though, given that they believe that the body is the alpha and omega of existence, of selfhood.
     
  17. lightgigantic Banned Banned

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    Even if they think that it still doesn't hold for this argument.

    I mean even the car industry can recognize the difference between the wholesale distribution of second hand car parts and the manufacturing of them.

    However I think that his fixation on DNA with consciousness might derive from dna having the capacity to be synthesized (never mind that the eggs, the process of fertilization and environment for gestation aren't ...)
     
  18. hansda Valued Senior Member

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    Sometimes our body also malfunctions. Does it mean our body is affecting our consciousness?

    Newton in his First Law of Motion explained inertia. He explained unless something external acts, inertia remains. So, inertia follows cause and effect principle. The external thing which is external to inertia can be consciousness and may not follow inertial principles.



    When our body dies, there is no consciousness in the body but brain and DNA are still there in the body. Will the brain or DNA work after death?
     
  19. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    The brain is the organ, consciousness is just part of what it does. The other part is unconscious regulation of the body.
     
  20. hansda Valued Senior Member

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    When brain works, we become conscious of the things. This is possible due to the presence of consciousness. In the absence of consciousness, brain can not work or function.
     
  21. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    Nonsense. Consciousness is just a description of the brain at work. Like calculation is a description of a computer at work. There is no ephemeral calculating force that must be present for a computer to function.
     
  22. hansda Valued Senior Member

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    When brain stops working(say at death), what happens to consciousness?
     
  23. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    When I open my hand, where does my fist go?

    Consciousness is thought. Even when you stop thinking, you are no longer conscious.
     

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