Does the brain really "cause" consciousness?

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

  1. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    In my sleep I am unconscious - and I am without consciousness.
    But I am aware that some people, such as yourselves, equate consciousness with life.
    My point is that for such people to speak of "unconsciousness" is confusing due to the language they must use - where un- and non- are synonymous.
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  3. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    No, according to Libet's reasoning, ordinary planning, like calling your dentist and making an appointment for next Wednesday at 5 PM and writing this down in your planner, and then showing up at your dentist next Wednesday a little before 5 PM, is evidence we don't have free will.
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  5. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    I guess I just don't qualify for a Stepfordian, unlike some other people ...
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  7. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    My position is that it is not, itself, an inderminate state - and I didn't mean to suggest it was, if that was what you thought.
    My position is that consciousness is a process... which operates at a level that is certainly the realm of indeterminism - but even then the indeterminism provides for randomness but within a probability function.
    As for randomness... my point here was that the only uncaused events in the material realm that we have evidence of are random (e.g. radioactive decay), and that for consciousness to be a "thing" separate from matter (if that is your position, as it is that of many) then it has to cause matter to behave in the material realm as if it is both uncaused and non-random.
    There is no evidence of such.

    As for complexity theory and emergent properties... I do hold consciousness to be an emergent property.
    The way that apparent complexity can arise from seemingly simple laws/rules is demonstrated by "Conway's Game of Life". And when the underlying rules are more numerous and possibly more complex than we yet even understand....
  8. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Are you hoping that such evocation will somehow alter the logic of the argument you presented? 'Cos guess what that would be an example of....
    Perhaps you'd like to actually explain why you think a certain view to be psycopathic, or dismisses or humanity? And then how that actually applies to the arguments being presented.
  9. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    As I already noted, I think this is on the level of axioms, so there is nothing to explain, no argument to make.

    One either holds that to believe that selfhood and free will are merely illusory, is repugnant, anti-humanistic, psychopathic; or one doesn't believe so. This is a matter of ethics, of values.

    Of course, you will probably argue that ethics is an epiphenomenon too ...
  10. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    But I don't consider it to be on the level of axioms, and further that to hold that it is is yet another position from personal incredulity.
    Why is it axiomatic? How can one find an axiom to be so and yet others don't? Does that not demonstrate how it is not axiomatic?

    I consider your position, as stated (and highlighted by your position that you consider it axiomatic), to be simplistic and to ignore the issues at play. You don't explain your position; you don't counter any argument made; you simply make an argument from personal incredulity with a side-dish of appeal to emotion.

    Why do you think such a position to be "repugnant, anti-humanistic, pyscopathic"?
    Why do you think it a matter of ethics, of values?

    "Too"? Where have I yet argued for any epiphenomenalist position?
    I do consider such things to be ultimately illusory - on the same level as consciousness, for sure: anything that only has meaning to conscious things would be.
    But since we are all trapped by the illusion, as explained, and have no chance of escaping it regardless of how we understand it (i.e. whether we consider it illusory or not), then ethics, values etc are no different regardless of our understanding of this issue.

    But you seem to fail to grasp this, and rather than try to, rather than try to explain what you don't understand, or how it differs from your position, you cry foul, you now wrap it up (falsely, as far as I'm concerned) as a matter of axioms, and argue from emotion which leads to your personal incredulity.
  11. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    There is lack of clear understanding of what Libet did and how he did it. Quote below should clarify. Point is that the “decision” was WHEN to act, not a yes or no choice, and Libet knew what the decision was before the test subject was consciously aware of having made the decision.

    To give a numerical illustration: The subject believed “he decided” to push the button at 17 seconds into the next minute but Libet knew that the “conscious decision” would be (“17”) at 16.5 seconds into the next minute. I.e. before the subject “consciously decided” to push the button. I.e. Libet knew when the decision was actually unconsciously made. The button might have been pushed at 18 seconds into the next minute as it took time to carry out the decision unconsciously made at (or before?) 16.5s and consciously “made” at 17s, but obviously the subject only consciously learned of the decision made half a second earlier in his brain.
    More recent work on this was summarized in The Economist. I´ll try to find my post about there results.

    Then later, I´ll tell where I differ with Sarkus who is basically correct in much he posted in last page –(only part I have read) but I will show that it is possible to have Free Will even though: (1) every neuron is following the natural laws deterministically & (2) neurons, mainly in the brain, control behavior. “Possible” is bold as I tend to doubt genuine free will exists, but it could and not be in conflict with the laws of physics and chemisty – that is what I showed long ago in another post.
  12. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Without yet reading what you propose, I think the issue I'll have will probably be in how neurons "control" behaviour without themselves being part of the chain of cause/effect. To offer a genuine "freewill" I would think that such "control" would need to be both uncaused and non-random.
    But I don't want to prejudge!

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  13. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Here is my post on The economist´s sumary of work about 3.5 years ago:
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 16, 2012
  14. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    No, I think we will agree completely on how neurons firing controls the body´s every mussel - Note speech also is mussel movements, controlled by neuron discharges. - Only unobservable "thoughts and quala" (feelings for those who don´t know that term) are made without mussel movements.

    When you have read my longer post defending my non-standard POV about how all perception ("Defending" by telling both why evolution would select for the mechanism I suggest and showing its "explanatory power" for more than a dozen facts that the accepted POV of most cognitive scientists either can not explain or make demonstrably false predictions about) I would welcome your comments. Until then, briefly, the main reasons why we differ are in what is "You" and to a lesser extent what is "consciousness."

    When I want to clearly distinguish between "you" (or "me" etc.) that are NOT my body (or even material things)* but my psychological self, I often put these words in quotes.
    * Don´t be mislead by this - I don´t propose we are some "spirit" etc. - I have a Ph.D. in physics and think these ideas about some non-material spirit are total without any foundation, except the hope that somehow "one" can continue to exist after the body is dead. I struggled with the problem of resolving the obvious conflict between free will and deterministic ruled by natural laws neurons for years, and finally gave up, but then found a solution while trying to understand how perception (just visual, but later generalized) was possible.

    For an analogy example: Consider a computer program- it is real and can have many physical embodiments (one of the first being holes punched in cards) but the program itself is non-material and yet can be controlling material things and actions without violation of physics. In my POV "I" am not a physical body, "I" and "my consciousness" are not material - they are information processes taking place, at times, primarily in the parietal section of my brain. I call this program running, mainly in parietal brain, the Real Time Simulation," RTS, - My longer post will supporting this POV with many facts but before I find link to it, I´ll answer Hansda´s post differently than you did. He asked:

    (1) In your sleep, you are conscious or unconscious? & (2) In your sleep, you are alive or dead?

    On (1): "You" (defined above) are conscious in sleep when dreaming and unconscious other wise, although there is no sharp distinction as consciousness is not an "all or nothing" thing. I define "conscious" as when the brain is running the RTS. - More on the RTS in my longer post defending this "crackpot" POV. In dream state, consciousness is not strongly tied to sensory inputs (need not be as few actions are taken). If in the awake state, the RTS is deprived of almost all sensory inputs, it will "run on the noise" - hallucinate. -This "depravation" is done by having all but less than a pound of your weight supported by total emersion in body temp water with body constrained to be motionless on horizontal table in light less (black dark) chamber.

    On (2): Answer depends upon what you mean by the you in your question I made bold.
    If by that you, you mean your body, you are alive so long as the "sleep" is just that, instead of start of a process that will eventually decompose your body.
    If by that you, you mean what I mean by "you" then as stated in my answer to (1) sometimes conscious, and some times not. When "not" then "you" do not exist as the RTS program is not running in your parietal brain.
  15. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    "It has been suggested that consciousness is merely a side-effect of neuronal functions, an epiphenomenon of brain states. Libet's experiments are proffered in support of this theory; our reports of conscious instigation of our own acts are, in this view, a mistake of retrospection. However, some dualist philosophers have disputed this conclusion:

    "In short, the [neuronal] causes and correlates of conscious experience should not be confused with their ontology [...] the only evidence about what conscious experiences are like comes from first-person sources, which consistently suggest consciousness to be something other than or additional to neuronal activity."

    A more general criticism from a dualist-interactionist perspective has been raised by Alexander Batthyany who points out that Libet asked his subjects to merely "let the urge [to move] appear on its own at any time without any pre-planning or concentration on when to act".[12] According to Batthyany, neither reductionist nor non-reductionist agency theories claim that urges which appear on their own are suitable examples of (allegedly) consciously caused events because one cannot passively wait for an urge to occur while at the same time being the one who is consciously bringing it about. Libet's results thus cannot be interpreted to provide empirical evidence in favour of agency reductionism, since non-reductionist theories, even including dualist interactionism, would predict the very same experimental results.

    Timing issues

    Daniel Dennett argues that no clear conclusion about volition can be derived from Libet's experiment because of ambiguities in the timings of the different events involved. Libet tells when the readiness potential occurs objectively, using electrodes, but relies on the subject reporting the position of the hand of a clock to determine when the conscious decision was made. As Dennett points out, this is only a report of where it seems to the subject that various things come together, not of the objective time at which they actually occur.

    "Suppose Libet knows that your readiness potential peaked at second 6,810 of the experimental trial, and the clock dot was straight down (which is what you reported you saw) at millisecond 7,005. How many milliseconds should he have to add to this number to get the time you were conscious of it? The light gets from your clock face to your eyeball almost instantaneously, but the path of the signals from retina through lateral geniculate nucleus to striate cortex takes 5 to 10 milliseconds — a paltry fraction of the 300 milliseconds offset, but how much longer does it take them to get to you. (Or are you located in the striate cortex?) The visual signals have to be processed before they arrive at wherever they need to arrive for you to make a conscious decision of simultaneity. Libet's method presupposes, in short, that we can locate the intersection of two trajectories: • the rising-to-consciousness of signals representing the decision to flick • the rising to consciousness of signals representing successive clock-face orientations so that these events occur side-by-side as it were in place where their simultaneity can be noted."----
  16. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

    Well, I highly doubt your bias can be overcome, regardless of evidence, as you are already imposing the a priori and unwarranted criteria of "an uncaused non-random event". You have simply defined free will in such a way that suits your bias. What necessitates free will being "uncaused"?
  17. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Yes, that is what it SUGGESTS, but all knowledge that is not innate is based on experiences / learning - Why for long time a round earth could not be believed. By their very nature "subjective experiences" need not be facts about reality, but usually they are believed to be true (when not on drugs) - that is all your argument is wisely stating - not that we learn facts that way.
    That is possible for Libet´s pioneering experiments but not for more recent ones. (See part now bold in quote of post 70) where the experimenter knew the decision / results up to 8 seconds before the subject did. Mental processing delays for visual (retinal signals) must be much less than a second (why eyes, ears, tounge tasing & smell senses are so near the brain). If that were not true you could not hit a fast baseball or play ping-pong. Most of even a second advanced knowledge by the experimenter and CERTAINLY all most all of 8 seconds, is a real indication of unconcessous processing that consciousness only learns of later.!
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 16, 2012
  18. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    I first mentioned the RTS in a post back in Feb 2004 here:
    and gave instructions as to how to read the 1994 paper I published on it. Also there is some experimental data on preception of retinally fixed images, supporting the validity of the RTS, I have not mentioned in later post at sciforms - There is too much support for me to list (or even remember) it all.
    C´est moi read in May 2005 my published paper and at posted (with bold text being quotes from me):
    Here are some links from Feb 2005 that speaks of "phantom limbs" and the "crumbling hand" experiments as supporting the RTS:
    Here some more supporting evidence is discussed and the relationship to genuine free will treated too:
    I had forgotten more support than I include in more recent posts on the RTS (but found may other old ones while looking for the long essay)!

    Here is link to earliest (Oct 2005) posting of the "long essay" describing the RTS but it is focused mainly on the Free will question.

    It is past my bed time here in Brazil already so I´ll answer any question tomorrow..
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 16, 2012
  19. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    I'm not buying it takes 8 seconds to consciously decide everything. Electrical activity in the brain could be anything--a ramp-up voltage, a readiness potential, or just the excitement of anticipating making a decision. The scientists, in other words, are "deciding" what to call it in accord with what they are trying to prove. Funny how THEIR decisions are to be taken as conscious and rational while the subjects' are just unconscious brain noise. I guess it has to be that way since noone is really going to take a scientist's conclusions seriously that were made 8 seconds prior to him becoming aware of them.
  20. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Nor should you. That is NOT what the experiment of 3.5 or more years ago showed or claimed.

    Read more carefull and you will see the subjects were given a hard probelme to solve - some could not solve it, but those who could did produce unique EEG signals that indicated they had found a solution (or a false one) unconsciously up to 8 seconds before they realized consciously that they had found a solution.

    I.e. about 8 seconds BEFORE the subject consciously thought he/she had found a solution, the experimenter relaibly knew he/she would consciously claim to have solved the problem about 8 seconds later, and then beging to tell his solution.
  21. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    So they were thinking about the problem before they reached the solution. Happens all the time. Ideas come from our subconscious. Inspirational cues, moments of "aha!" Doesn't mean we ourselves didn't solve the problem.
  22. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    You criticise it as bias yet offer nothing else in response and even fail to show how it is biased rather than just the outcome of a neutral process. If you are claiming the process used is bias then at least provide an explanation as to why you think that.

    I am also not imposing any a priori criteria, but rather that such criteria are a logical conclusion of the evidence that we do have of how matter interacts.
    I have also not defined free-will as anything other than a fairly standard "doing what we consciously want to do".
    You have an alternative definition that you want to work to?

    It seems to be a logical conclusion from cause and effect within the closed universe of the material realm.

    There seem to be two options with regard consciousness and freewill - either they are part and parcel of the material realm, or they are something different.

    Let's start with the former:
    Matter interacts with matter in predictable ways - predictable if you have full knowledge of the matter and allow for probabilistic outcomes.
    If consciousness is to exist within such an environment then it, too, must behave like all other matter in this regard - i.e. every interaction is the result of a previous one; every moment is the cause of the following; the only evidence for uncaused events are random events such as radioactive decay and other such.
    This would result in consciousness (and freewill) being part and parcel of such an environment, and our conscious perception of them is illusory - as there is no real "choice" within the motions and the interactions of the matter.

    If there is to be "genuine" choice - if our consciousness is to exert its will on the interactions of the matter then it must somehow determine the outcome of those interactions, then ultimately there must be no other cause to that decision at the material level... as we have detailed above that matter interacts according the governing laws.
    So for freewill to exist in such an environment it must itself be the cause of non-random outcomes at the micro-level of matter-interaction.
    But for itself to be the cause then it must be ultimately be uncaused, as otherwise it is just part of the same chain of cause/effect as everything else.

    As such, for free-will to exist in a purely material realm, it requires uncasued non-random events.

    Now for the second option of consciousness being separate from matter:
    Matter interacts with matter in the same way as if it were a wholly material realm.
    Somehow consciousness exerts its will on that matter - and causes the matter to interact differently - for outcomes to no longer being random, and for changes in that matter to now being somehow uncaused (at least from the point of view of the material realm).
    So again we have, at the material level, consciousness and freewill requiring there to be uncaused and non-random events at the material level, even if the causes are at the conscious level that we can't directly observe.

    But there is no evidence of uncaused and non-random events at the material level, at least none which does not start with a priori assumptions.

    Hope that answers your question?
  23. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    Sarkus, re: your thesis that consciousness, to be free, has to be uncaused. Let me offer an alternative scenario. My brain is a confluence of causal chains all happening in parallel. Some motivate me to act in one way while others motivate me to act in another way. When I make a consious decision to act, I am not initiating an uncaused event per se. I am simply choosing which preexistent chain of causes will effect my behavior. My action was freely chosen to the degree that it was selected from a number of preexistent possibilities for action.

    I also want to point out the role of reasons in causing our behavior. Most the time we acknowledge there is a reason or even several reasons for what we do. And few of us question this. Wouldn't a reason constitute a cause of a conscious decision to act that doesn't entail a loss of freedom?

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