Does the brain really "cause" consciousness?

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

  1. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    I'm confused, as in the first sentence you say you don't understand, yet later you provide your own examples of non-deterministic processes?
    My current position is that each event is either caused or non-caused but random - and a given set of inputs will result in an output that is probabilistically determined rather than strictly determined.
    Possibly so, yes. But bear in mind that there's a categorical difference between a thought (e.g. atheism, religion etc) and the actual mechanism/process that gives rise to that thought.
    I don't deny that this is how it intuitively feels for everyone, even me.
    But my position is arrived at through a bottom-up approach as opposed to a top-down... i.e. the fundamenntals I work from are that there is no evidence for an uncaused but non-random event. Anything we might consider as such we only do so with an a priori assumption.
    From this position, all things are either caused, or they are un-caused but random. And that includes consciousness.
    So when I look at what my consciousness "chooses" - I accept that these are driven by causes - at the micro level.
    But my consciousness can not identify all these causes... is not aware of them. My consciousness is merely the output of all these causes that the brain weighs up and concludes upon.

    Your top-down approach reaches consciousness as the "chooser" yet you stop there rather than asking "why did I choose?". At first one would look at macro causes, but each of those has sub-causes... all the way down to the micro- level.
    Can we know what they are? No.

    But whether consciousness is an illusion or not, in both cases it feels the same, as if it is an illusion it is not one we can break free from.
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  3. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    It can be considered that, yes. But if, say, the atmosphere suddenly became utterly still, we can say that "wind" has left the atmosphere. By using your consideration, "wind" would be a different entity to the atmosphere, rather than merely an activity of a "moving" atmosphere?

    I'm also confused as to your use of "unconscious" being somehow different to being an absence of consciousness... given that you hold that the brain can work in an "unconscious" state, yet you have just stated that when consciousness is dead it is because if has no consciousness.
    How are "no consciousness" and "unconscious" not synonymous?
    All you're doing is equating "life" to "consciousness". It is not explaining what consciousness is that is somehow different to the mere activity of life.
    Further, you seem to be arguing down the track of the (current) inability to create life/consciousness from anything other than a conscious/living entity as somehow showing that it is an inherent part of - but somehow separate to - life.
    How does your logic differentiate between this "consciousness" and the mere highly-tuned and delicately balanced activity of underlying material?
    It was a throw-away comment, nothing more. I missed the "

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    " at the end.
    But it is speculation, if you wish to take it more seriously.
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  5. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    We've been over this many times, myself, you, and some other posters.
    I'll try to think of yet another way of explaining this to you.
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  7. wellwisher Banned Banned

    The basis for consciousness has its foundation based on the way neurons are designed. When a neuron is at rest, it exists at highest potential. The ion pumps use ATP energy to exchange and pump cations to create a membrane potential. When neurons fire, this potential lowers.

    Computer memory is different in that computer memory is at lowest potential. This makes the memory stable. If you designed computer memory to be at highest potential, after it was made, it would be very unstable and subject to spontaneous change; AI. The high potential rest design of neurons creates a controlled instability. Neurons constantly renew the potential so consciousness is fluid yet in constant flux.
  8. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    You offer persuasive arguments. To clarify, my assumption regarding thinking the thoughts I do is that I myself am their cause--that thru reasoning and logic I construct the lines of thought I do and that I do so out of a free and voluntary operation of my mind. That's why I stop the causal process there. If I were to assume, as you apparently do, that all my thought processes were really just the cumulative effects of chemical and synaptic reactions in my brain then I am no longer performing them myself. I can then no longer claim responsibility for any of my thoughts or decisions and must resign myself to being a neurological automaton. Certainly there are times when we are being driven by preexistent brain activity. Hunger. Emotion. Sex. Pain. Mental illness. But there are other times when our minds themselves are the free causal agents of our own behavior. Call me deluded, but until scientists have actually reduced all human thought including their own to synaptic processes, which to my knowledge they are far from doing, I'm sticking to that story. And I bet you do to. I can't imagine a person living their life not thinking they are a free causal agent of their own behavior.
  9. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member


    I'm so relieved you've got this all figured out. Just to be clear then, so at what point does consciousness arise in this neural potentiation event? Is the neuron conscious? The electrical charge itself conscious? Is the moment of discharge to another neuron the conscious event? Saying consciousness is based on these physical events because well it just always mysteriously happens that way is what we call magic. EXPLAINING how consciousness arises from these physical events--that would be science. How do we go from a non-conscious firing of synapses to a microsecond of conscious qualia-based experience?
  10. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    It is the perfect illusion in that regard: that the only way we can sense it operate is as if it is not an illusion. It hides itself within the very fabric of its own workings.
    And in doing so you limit your enquiry. What causes you to think X, Y or Z? I'm not suggesting for one moment that you could provide anything other than fleeting possibilities that are consciously understood - and as such the illusion preserves itself.
    But for what it's worth - I can't help but act as though I am in control of my own behaviour - whether consciousness is an illusion or not. From a practical point of view - which is what really matters in the practical world - the illusion is perfect, and we are the arbiters of our own fate. But just as we can understand an optical illusion yet always see the illusion rather than reality, so we can only ever be conscious of the illusion (if indeed it is illusory) even if we understand that it is an illusion.
    It is a fallacy to say that we can not claim responsibility for our own thoughts and actions when we hold consciousness to be an illusion... as the illusion is, as stated, perfect... it is an illusion of the very thing through which we are aware of the world - including itself. It is this same illusion (again, if this is what it is) that defines responsibility, what is "I" / "we" and everything else. Things like responsibility are phenomena on the same level as consciousness in that regard, and as such use consciousness as the "causation". But that does not mean that there is not underlying layers of activity that we are simply either not aware of, or that "we" (as conscious entities) simply ignore.
    It's not an "either or" scenario. The concept/recognition that consciousness is an illusion can in no way alter the way your consciousness works, although it can certainly alter your philosophies (e.g. religious thoughts etc). It is otherwise a purely intellectual position. You can not switch off the illusion, the same way that you can not stop your brain perceiving optical illusions... it is just the way your brain works. But it doesn't stop us understanding that such things are illusions.
    (And remember, by "illusion" I am not saying non-existent... but rather that it exists just not as we might perceive it).
  11. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    You've been over it, I'm sure. But that doesn't mean that it is any more relevant now than it was the previous times you tried to make the same point.
    I understand what the point your trying to make is - but I do not see its relevancy here - and nor it seems are you able to indicate its relevance. Instead it seems you are relying on a rather vague arm-waving cry of "foul!".

    If you think me claiming a position to be an argument from personal incredulity is to throw the baby out with the bathwater, then perhaps you need to show which arguments being made are the bath-water, and which are the still relevant baby... as to me an appeal to emotion, or an appeal to personal incredulity, is still an appeal to emotion or personal incredulity.
    If the person making the argument (or you) feel that the arguments stem from more than emotion / personal incredulity - feel free to explain the underlying argument, and perhaps try not to word them as "I just can't believe that... therefore...".
    There may well have been good points made, and where I consider them to be such I address them (as you'll note I didn't just post a 1-liner saying "Appeal to emotion!" but rather addressed the post and then stated where I felt the person's arguments stemmed from) which gives the person full indication of my view, of their argument, and thus opening to respond and address my criticism of their arguments and what I perceive as the flawed logic of their position as stated.

    Which you'll have probably noted that they have done... and the discussion proceeds cordially.

    But thanks for your contribution.
  12. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

    I have yet to see any conclusive, or even compelling, evidence that free will is wholly illusory.

    However, the existing evidence does not support the conclusion that free will is an illusion. First of all, it does not show that a decision has been made before people are aware of having made it. It simply finds discernible patterns of neural activity that precede decisions. If we assume that conscious decisions have neural correlates, then we should expect to find early signs of those correlates “ramping up” to the moment of consciousness. It would be miraculous if the brain did nothing at all until the moment when people became aware of a decision to move. -

    While there was an RP (readiness potential) before volunteers made their decision to move, the signal was the same whether or not they elected to tap. Miller concludes that the RP may merely be a sign that the brain is paying attention and does not indicate that a decision has been made. -

    The discovery of neuroplasticity, in particular the power of the mind to change the brain, is still too new for scientists, let alone the rest of us, to grasp its full meaning. But even as it offers new therapies for illnesses of the mind, it promises something more fundamental: a new understanding of what it means to be human. -,9171,1580438-1,00.html
  13. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    To say that free will or selfhood are illusory is to dismiss our humaneness. It is downright psychopathic.

    At this point, I don't think there is any argument to argue for this in any more detail; one simply considers the ideas that free will or selfhood are illusory, as anti-humanistic, or one doesn't.
  14. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member


    Exactly. Per Libet's reasoning, planning and then acting according to that plan is seen as evidence that we don't have free will. That is just absurd.​
  15. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    No it's not, on either count.
    You mean you have nothing more to offer than your appeal from emotion?
  16. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    If the planning happens sub-consciously, and all the conscious is aware of is an "after-the-event" decision which it then dresses up as "free choice"... it can very much be seen as evidence that things are not as they first seem.
    It is far from absurd.
  17. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

    There is no evidence of this, as all we can discern is the mind becoming aware of needing a decision, whether or not action is taken. It is plain that if these experiments truly show free will to be illusory then the precursor measurements should be distinguishable at least between action and no action, if not between one action and another.

    But you are free to ignore any evidence which contradicts your bias.
  18. hansda Valued Senior Member

    This is similar to the case as if brain is not working, though consciousness is there in the brain. It is sort of brain-dead situation.

    "No-consciousness" and "unconscious" are not synonymous. "No-consciousness" is a situation of death.

    "Unconscious" is a case when a living being is in sleep. He is not conscious about what is happening around him but he is alive. His brain is taking rest, working minimally but it has not stopped working. His brain regulates heart-beat, breathing and other essential organs function to support life.

    Yes. Consciousness is life. Consciousness supports activities of various organs of our body. The way electric current/power is needed for any electronic device to work, similarly consciousness is essential for our body to work.

    Take the example of a computer or a TV. As long as these electronic items are connected to a power source, they work. Similarly as long as consciousness is there in the brain; brain works.

    It is good to speculate. It generates ideas.
  19. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    There is a universe of evidence that effects are preceded by cause, and that there has never been evidenced an uncaused non-random event.
    Everything else - i.e. the illusory nature of consciousness - rationally, to me, stems from those principles.
    I don't ignore any evidence and I interpret it without a priori assumptions of the existence of uncaused non-random events.
    If you can provide evidence to the contrary - i.e. provide evidence of an uncaused non-random event - then perhaps you can start claiming that I am ignoring evidence.
  20. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    And how do you propose to identify consciousness in such a brain-dead situation?
    If you are not conscious then you have no consciousness. If you are not conscious then you are unconscious. How are they therefore not synonymous?
    You seem to be using "unconscious" from a different understanding of consciousness than you use "not conscious"... which is nothing but confusing, to be honest.
    Then you have a very difficult time identifying any difference between consicousness as merely an activity of matter, and consciousness as this "other" requirement for life. I.e. your usage of the term "consciousness" adds nothing to the existing term "life", and does not further any investigation into what consciousness might actually be.
    And the same could be said that as long as there is a working pattern of matter within the system (e.g. of electricity) then it works... and likewise as long as there is the necessary activity within the brain, the brain works. I.e. your analogy works for both considerations of consciousness - either a separate "thing" or merely a word to describe activity within the brain.
    And given the lack of evidence for consciousness as a separate thing, how is it a more rational position to take compared to the position of consciousness as merely a pattern of activity?
  21. hansda Valued Senior Member

    In your sleep, you are conscious or unconscious?

    In your sleep, you are alive or dead?
  22. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member


    Correct me if I'm wrong Sarkus, but weren't you claiming earlier that consciousness might be an indeterminate state like randomness or a quantum wavefunction? In that case we would still have it being caused by physical processes but just not being reducible to those processes. This gets into complexity theory and emergent properties, a Wiki article about which I can post as soon as I post this.
  23. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member


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