Science and Ideology

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by scilosopher, Nov 17, 2003.

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  1. scilosopher Registered Senior Member

    You throw out the fact that we only know the world through our feelings and perceptions. This is certainly true, but these systems have evolved for their ability to help us percieve and understand the physical world as best as possible. Our cognitive processes, including feelings, are abstractions that help us to guess what will happen based on prior experience and integrate our different drives to make a decision.

    Language is a way to link us together and it therfore has elements relating to both the details of our perceptual and cognitive processes as well as the physical world we're set in. However if both our internal representation and the external physical world are purely material then language has meaning in a similar sense to DNA, only the coupling processes are much weaker.

    If one still posits that there is a non-material element to man or life as a whole, then that opens the door to all sorts of non-material aspects and effects in the universe. You keep wanting to look to origins for answers. In the context of the evolution of life, if it indeed evolved from a state where there was no life as science seems to suggest, then any non-material component arose from the material world and therefore is derivable from it under the right circumstances.

    In the context of looking all the way back to the beginning, one could ask - Is it possible that the universe had a more fundamental non-material cause or that the eternal aspect of the universe is something more fundamental than material?

    I would say yes it's possible. I certainly have no capacity to grasp what it is though. I think there are a lot more immediate issues that are of more utility to discuss because we have more information about them and have more immediate relevance to the world we live in.

    A weaker question - is it possible that the posited non-material aspect that provided the basis for the universe is the only reason life came to be? I would argue that if it generated life through a material process life must be describable in solely material terms and therefore no.

    Would knowing how the universe originated inform me on the topic and put things in a clearer light? Yes. But In my mind the only reasonable path to that is studying the material world it clearly gave rise to and we exist in. Trying to logically deduce something like that without extensive information and understanding of what it gave rise to is of questionable value.

    Saying that if everything is physical then either matter came from nothing or is eternal, doesn't really help any argument about nonmaterial aspect of the origins of the world because you can ask the same question about the non-material aspect. It just pushes it back a level (I do agree that those are the two options). Further anything that interacts with matter is understandable in material terms, and further if it follows rules that aren't inherently different than those relating to matter it doesn't add anything new to the picture.

    If philosophers say there is a non-material component, I would guess they mean information that is stored in matter and therefore it is understable in wholly material terms. I could be wrong about what they think - I got tired a long time ago reading translations of subtle writing where I felt too much was lost in translation. In any event it's what I think.
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  3. Canute Registered Senior Member

    I sort of agree with that, although do not agree that fundamental consciousness came into being in this way. But your view contradicts current biology, which assumes that feelings are non-causal. (The assumption is that the brain-states associated with feelings are causal, but that the feelings themselves are non-causal).

    Agree again, but it's a very big if.

    Not necessarily. Experientia (qualia etc) are the only non-physical element we actually know of.

    But only if you assume that consciousness is emergent from brains. I look to origins, as you say, because that is where the anomolies in the physicalist position show up most clearly. As always it's the axioms of a system of beliefs that determine its overall truth, or correspondence to reality.

    However I also feel that my view of origins solves most of the contradictions and paradoxes in current science and philosophy.

    You seem to assume that whatever was fundamental has just gone away. But that doesn't make sense. For us to exist requires that our biology exists, and our chemistry, and our quantum mechanical structure, and maybe 11 dimesional strings, and whatever underlies those. They all have all to be there right now, not in the distant past. Thus Colin McGinn argues that consciousness may be a carry-over of a non-spatial reality that preceeded the BB. (Disengeniously he does not mention the thousands of investigators before him who said the same thing, but less scientifically).

    I see your point but don't feel the conclusion follows from the premise. If it did then there would not have been such a large number of panpsychists among respectable philosophers.

    I agree that we should stick to what we know. But what I know is that I'm conscious. In fact that's what I know better than anything else I think I know. As science has no explanation for this yet, and shows no signs of doing so, it seems reasonable to suppose that science may not the best approach to explaining it.

    Yes that's normally true, especially if you posit something like 'God' as a beginning. However the problem is overcome in non-dual philosophy since 'emptiness' is only nothing in a physicalist sense, it is not actually nothing, just the nearest to nothing its possible to get. It provides a circular explanation of existence, and therefore entails no endless regression of causes.

    Perhaps, but science is having a hard time proving this.

    No, they usually go whole hog.

    {QUOTE] I could be wrong about what they think - I got tired a long time ago reading translations of subtle writing where I felt too much was lost in translation. In any event it's what I think. [/B][/QUOTE]
    Are you assuming I meant Eastern philosphers? I meant Western ones, many of them writing in English. (And also a surprising number of scientists).

    Physicalism seems to work at first glance. But there is something inherently illogical about it that shows up under the sort of sustained analysis that philsophers indulge in. Commonly it leads them to look for other alternatives.
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2003
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  5. scilosopher Registered Senior Member

    Before responding to some of what you said I'd like to ask a couple questions so I can direct my answers towards major points of discrepency -

    How would you differentiate qualia, feelings, and consciousness from what gives rise to them physically?

    Or if consciousness (and possibly qualia) as you suggest does not arise from the physical then what exactly do you mean by consciousness and how did it come to be linked with physical entities? (and how would you define qualia?)

    What is your view of origins exaclty since we keep soming back to that topic?
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  7. Canute Registered Senior Member

    Sorry this is so long. I'm rubbish at short answers.

    For clarity I'll give my definitions first (in case we don't agree on them - even definitions are a problem on this topic).

    Quale: the phenomenal character of a mental state or event, e.g., hurtfulness of pain, greenness, loudness. I'd include feelings under this. Also 'percepts' and 'sense-data'. (Following my dictionary more or less)

    Consciousness: what it is like to be. (Following Nagel, folk-psychology and most current philosophers)

    If phsyical objects, our senses and our brain give rise to qualia then qualia are none of these things, but are something that arises from them. I would distinguish qualia by their attribute of being only 'experience-able' in the first person, and by their inaccessibility to third-person observation. (Pretty standard)

    Consciousness is trickier because the word is used in so many different ways (usually in the way that is most convenient to to the writer's theory - as Chalmers has pointed out).

    By consciousness I mean the absolute minimum state of awareness that would qualify as 'something that it is like to be conscious'. Often, by 'consciousness' people mean everyday phenomenal consciousness, which is ok if it's clear what is meant, but it leads to problems.

    This is because it is often assumed (lazily imo) that one must be aware of phenomena to be conscious. This leads people to use 'consciousness' when they mean 'phenomenal consciousness'. This is the issue from which a lot of muddle over its ontology arises, since phenomena require a brain, whereas this is not a priori the case for 'what it is like to be'.

    Because of this I have a number of sub-answers to the question of how to distinguish these things from their physical causes.

    For phenomenal consciousness, which is most people's normal unanalysed experience of it, I would say that it is largely caused by ones brain states. In other words when I am conscious of a 'tree' it is because of photons colliding with my retina and so on.

    However I do not think that 'what it is like to see a tree' is entirely physically caused, since I don't think our ability to experience the brain state correlating to the tree is phsyically caused. (Otherwise the self-reference involved leads to an infinite regress).

    When it comes to 'what it is like' I don't think that it's physically caused at all, so the question contains an assumption that makes it unanswerable to me.

    Distinguishing qualia from physical objects seems straightforward. I can climb a tree, but not a thought of a tree.
    As Velmans says "...unlike physical phenomena first-person consciousness cannot be observed from the outside..."

    Another way of characterising fundamental consciousness (just came across this) is as 'pre-epistemic'. This comes from Emilios Bouratinos, who argues that consciousness causes brain. ('A Pre-Epistemology of Consciousness' Journal of Consciousness Studies - this month).

    This is a good article. At the risk of droning on too long I'll quote a bit. This is just so my view doesn't seem quite so off the wall.

    "When applied to the mind/brain issue, a combination of Leibnitz's symmetry law and Velman's dual aspect reflexive monism, yields a picture that should satisfy both reductionists and non-reductionists. Consciousness appears in it as producing the brain on the strength of the fact that the brain is producing consciousness. The psychophysical universe sees to it that there is both something more na dsomething less to consciousness than its physical transformer... can finally assume that the brain constitues an instrument for localising, enhancing, fine-tuning and modulating initially weak conscious impulses - perhaps not unlike those emerging from the quantum vacuum...

    ...there is tendency among scientists in the field to objectify (and therefore attach importance to) only those aspects of the subject that appear relevant to them under some respectable rubric such as 'science', 'reason' or 'plausibility'. This is only human. But if we want to create a science that is not only about consciousness but of it, we must find a way to become aware of what we invest in it - and why. It is the only way to secure that we can objectify our apprehensions without compromising our objectivity."

    I've mostly answered that. On the link with phsyical entities I'm not sure, but I suspect that imagination plays a big role.

    That would be a really long answer, and basically a Buddhist one. Can we come back to it after I hear what you have to say about the above?
  8. scilosopher Registered Senior Member

    I would consider all the experentia sutff you mention derivative from material existence. The fact that they are all derived from senses, which yield an internal representation of the external world makes them a very strange place for the non material world to come to exist except as a internal placeholder for information about the physical world. As all information is stored in physical form in our brain the utility of making the disctinction seems a poor one to me.

    However, I will say that I've often wondered how an "idea" such as pain could actually cause the discomfort it does in my mind. The perspective I've come to is that it's a reflection of how our brain is wired. Pain brings our attention to where it needs to be which gives the over riding nature some logic. When pain is accompanied by inability to think clearly (which seems counter-productive), it may be the case that the pain and the difficulty thinking come from the same source rather than the inability to think being the source of the pain. However I'm not sure this is always the case.

    As far as consciousness or "what it is like to be" and the associated statements seem to cry out analogy to the situation many people interested in computational systems have recognized. In many cases where analytical solutions are not possible there is the reality that many complicated systems must simply be simulated to predict. One simply can not know the answer without following the same (or very similar path as a simulation is always approximate). Therefor I would suggest that consciousness is simply a complex state (or sequence of states) that is only understandable through the actual experiencing of it (embodied in the sensory/reaction based experience of going through the input/calculation cycle others have).

    The seeming breach that would lead people to making such a distinction is due to the interesting fact that we have much better senses for observing the world around us than ourselves. This is presumably due to the fact that to survive we do not need to understand ourselves so much as the world we live in. Therefore there is a gap in our information about ourself and our thought processes vs. the physical world we live in.

    The reason I would imagine that it hasn't been cleared up by scientists is the rather new nature of studying computational systems and the physics of them. Very few scientists are schooled in the relevant areas and it isn't well understood regardless.

    Essentially buddhist ... I keep meaning to try to figure out the buddhist perspective, but it's the language thing again. Also in response to the eastern/western comment - I meant western, however most of what I read was the older stuff that was written in latin, the pesky german writers, as well as some french, etc.

    If more modern philosophers have synthesized this stuff and put it in well written english I would be interested in a reccomendation or two. Anwyays, explain your opinion on the origin of the universe at your leisure.
  9. Canute Registered Senior Member

    This is probably the best internet resource on consciousness.

    You'll find all the current arguments for and against your view. Chalmers' paper 'The problem of consciousness' is famous and seminal and a good place to start if you don't already know it.

    I find the Journal of Consciousness Studies very good but I don't know other publications.

    This is good for a review of some of the arguments around the Buddhist view without getting too 'non-dual' and thus incomprehensible.

    I won't get into your post, (I need to rest my aching brain), but if you plough through some of this stuff I think you'll soon find that the reason science is making no progress on consciousness is not likely to be inexperience with computational systems (or anything else). The problem is paradigmatic. You have to whizz wildy wildly through metaphysics, evolution, biology, ontology, epistemology, complexity, neuroscience, psychology, religion, non-dual philosophy, mathematics, quantum mechanics, introspection and God knows what else.

    Best of luck.
  10. scilosopher Registered Senior Member

    I read the Chalmers article you recommended and if he is representative I think that I agree with the general perspective, I personally think the phenomena can be expained physically, and I'm not really that worried about the details.

    I also think there are plenty of interesting questions besides consciousness that are more tractable.
  11. Canute Registered Senior Member

    Fair enough. I won't bang on. There's certainly more tractable problems.
  12. scilosopher Registered Senior Member

    I'd still be interested in any modern philosophers that write in English and give an intelligent review and integration of historical philosophy.

    It also never ceases to amaze me how a question can evoke such an unexpected line of discussion.
  13. Canute Registered Senior Member

  14. scilosopher Registered Senior Member

    Thanks ... most interesting discussions digress anyways.
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