More Attempts At Defining Consciousness

Well, I’ve run into some unexpected difficulty getting my hands on a certain article, so the article I wanted to post yesterday is going to have to wait some more. This afternoon I’d just like to offer the following to see how people of varying worldviews react, and if anybody can add anything or make any other valuable suggestions.

A few posts back I took a stab at defining consciousness:

While I hesitate to speculate on what consciousness is, I feel fairly confident in asserting what consciousness does, or what its characteristics are: consciousness affords the abilities to feel, to know, to create, to express intent and to choose. Consciousness also affords the ability to manipulate objective matter via choice

Something elemental, like wind, can certainly manipulate objective matter, yet it presumably does so independent of any choice or consciousness. For what it’s worth, I’m currently unsure to what extent I’d claim that consciousness is analogous to soul / spirit, but I believe that regardless of the distinction, any demonstration that consciousness is anything else besides a mere product of neural transactions has [the conventional cerebro-centric view of consciousness] dead in the water.


The definition is not without problems, but not a terrible start either, and here’s an interesting observation I made along the way: among the Unmoved Mover’s logically required qualities we find the ability to manipulate matter via pure intent alone. If the Unmoved Mover is pure act, or pure consciousness, then it is not physical, yet commanded or informed that which is physical.

Interestingly, Genesis says we are “in God’s image,” and in a most straightforward and almost tautological way, human beings actually do move matter purely by applying intent. We use raw intent to initiate  the matter that is our own bodies. By pure thought alone, we can move our arms. While it’s true we also use muscles and nerves and brains, raw intent is still the first step in the causal chain. People can and will argue as to whether that intent is something more like free will vs. something more like an uncontrolled algorithm, but as far as humans are concerned, manipulation of physical matter always begins in the mind. Provided we’re still talking about the manipulation of matter vs. the creation of matter, this is the same ability the Unmoved Mover would need, and it becomes interesting to observe that we see something similar albeit drastically less impressive amongst our own kind.

In light of the offered definition, I’m interested in answers to the following questions: how would you suggest we might go about testing for immaterial consciousness? If something like ghosts or spirits do exist, what sort of phenomena might we logically expect to accompany their presence? What sort of criteria might we use to ascertain the potential existence of immaterial consciousness? When would a person be justified in offering an immaterial consciousness of some sort as a plausible explanation to a set of phenomena?

Answers to these questions seem integral to any fruitful discussion of the matter.

39 Comments

  1. John Morales says:

    Consciousness is a polysemous term.

    By pure thought alone, we can move our arms.

    Unless, for example, you have bodily damage (such as paralysis).
    Don’t confuse volition with intent, or sapience with sentience, or motivation with cognition.
    For example, bodily reflexes and the autonomic nervous system function whether we’re conscious or not.
    PS Human thought is electro-chemical in nature — hardly “pure”! :)

    … how would you suggest we might go about testing for the presence of an immaterial consciousness?

    This has been one goal of parapsychology for over a century, and something that is yet to be established.

  2. jim says:

    “By pure thought alone, we can move our arms. While it’s true we also use muscles and nerves and brains, raw intent is still the first step in the causal chain.”
    Except some studies are now showing that the feeling of ‘intent’ is fictional, grafted onto prior causes of which we are consciously unaware…
    “Free will is something I cherish. I can live with the idea of science killing off God. But free will? That’s going too far. And yet a couple of books I’ve been reading lately have left me brooding over the possibility that free will is as much a myth as divine justice.
    The chief offender is “The Illusion of Conscious Will,” by Dr. Daniel M. Wegner, a psychologist at Harvard [reviewed by TWC]. What makes Dr. Wegner’s critique more effective than others I’ve read over the years is that it is less philosophical than empirical, drawing heavily upon recent research in cognitive science and neurology.
    Dr. Wegner also carries out his vivisection of free will with a disturbing cheerfulness, like a neurosurgeon joking as he cuts a patient’s brain.
    We think of will as a force, but actually, Dr. Wegner says, it is a feeling — “merely a feeling,” as he puts it — of control over our actions. I think, “I’m going to get up now,” and when I do a moment later, I credit that feeling with having been the instigating cause. But as we all know, correlation does not equal causation.
    When neurologists make patients’ limbs jerk by electrically zapping certain regions of their brains, the patients often insist they meant to move that arm, and they even invent reasons why. Neurologists call these erroneous, post hoc explanations confabulations, but Dr. Wegner prefers the catchier “intention inventions.” He suggests that whenever we explain our acts as the outcome of our conscious choice, we are engaging in intention invention, because our actions actually stem from countless causes of which we are completely unaware.
    He cites experiments in which subjects pushed a button whenever they chose while noting the time of their decision as displayed on a clock. The subjects took 0.2 seconds on average to push the button after they decided to do so. But an electroencephalograph monitoring their brain waves revealed that the subjects’ brains generated a spike of brain activity 0.3 seconds before they decided to push the button.
    The meaning of these widely debated findings, Dr. Wegner says, is that our conscious willing is an afterthought, which “kicks in at some point after the brain has already started preparing for the action.”
    You can read the whole thing here. It’s still a controversial idea in some circles. As you can see from the article, even non-theists don’t like the idea of giving up free will. But the ghost in the machine is demonstrating less and less impact on the real world as time marches on. It’s an interesting subject. I just wrote a little something about it today. More to follow.

  3. Bobaloo says:

    Firstly I have to agree with John, consciousness is definitely a polysemous term. It may be one of the least understood phenomena in the universe yet it is so real and so close to each of us that we feel as if we are all experts on what consciousness is to me. This subjective nature of experience, what philosophers often call “qualia.” The real problem facing any theory of consciousness is that consciousness is experience subjectively. The only resounding or concrete theory one could give would be subjective, and any objective theory would be explaining a phenomena outside its scope.
    However, I do not mean to say that an objective theory of consciousness is unimportant or impossible. It seems that any theory of, “what consciousness is,” will either be subjective and relevant only to the owner of the theory, or consciousness can be examined as a phenomena that will inevitably be explained away with advancement of the sciences. Either option leaves us, as mere commentators, with the burden of explaining something that we are all experts on (our consciousness) in terms not suited for its explanation.
    It seems simple, “that right there, the feeling, that you have, like when you are going about the world viewing, smelling, experiencing. Those experiences which you have yourself, the point-of-view that you always inhabit, that is what I want you to explain to me.” However, where to start? I agree with CL when he says “human beings actually do move matter purely by applying intent.” Intent seems to be one of the key components to a consciousness, however I see it being used in a different way. J.R. Searle was a famous proponent of an idea called intentionality. In his paper Minds, Brains Programs he formulates the Chinese room thought experiment. This thought experiment outlines exactly what intentionality is. This philosophically technical term is has been elaborated by philosophers for decades but has basically come to be a term that represents the idea that any action that an unmoved mover purveys is accompanied by some value. This ability to attribute value is what I think likely separates human minds from that of basic animal instincts.
    As for your Q’s about consciousness, It would be difficult to say with any argumentative fortitude how one could go about explaining the immaterial consciousness, but I would follow Descartes’ line of thinking if you really want to corral the quicksilver.
    CL- Its been quite a while since I been on your blog. I heard about the newest edition to the family, congrats! Hope all is well in SF and I hope I get to see you around the holidays!

  4. LMAO!
    What a crock of shit. Consciousness is all in the mind. Get it! Har Har Har! You have to get into these stupid, gay, pussy-assed esoteric arguments about consciousness, and you can’t because you haven’t the foggiest notion of what you’re talking about! Why don’t you pile up a nice stack of video games on a little skateboard alter and go pray to your sky daddy?
    Of course, as funny as you could even think this is, it can’t hold a candle to the witchcraft preached by that gay-assed, pasty-faced nitwit Rick Warren, and his fat, pudgy, alcoholic, chain-smoking reprobate of a human being bum-buddy, Gideon! It’s even funnier imagining you imagining that they are actually pious, knowledgeable men!
    Here’s one for the fat-ass… hey, Gideon? Bum buddy of cl! Does that squealing Pentecostal bring back memories of the squealing you do when you’re hunkered over a big fat bowl of chitlins and hog jowls? Or, the grunting and snorting sounds you make downing three triple-thick shakes and six bags of Cheetos, watching your favorite losing team, the Kansas City Chiefs?
    Oh, and cl… there isn’t a SLUG on this planet that’s dumber than you, sonny, nevermind any human being. Revel in it, boy, you da man in da stoopid department, bro!

  5. Dominic Saltarelli says:

    In light of the definition of consciousness offered, I’m interested in answers to the following questions: how would you suggest we might go about testing for the presence of an immaterial consciousness? If something like ghosts or spirits do exist, what sort of phenomena might we logically expect to accompany their presence? What sort of criteria might we use to ascertain the potential existence of immaterial consciousness? When would a person be justified in offering an immaterial consciousness of some sort as a plausible explanation to a set of phenomena?

    Convince a disembodied consciousness to possess
    something that we know can’t think, like a store mannequin. Get it to move it’s arm or something in response to a question. You know, tap once for no, twice for yes, kinda thing. If they can throw video games, they can move a mannequin, right?
    If its a consciousness, it can act with intent, if it’s immaterial but can interact with matter, it can impose its intent on something that doesn’t have a brain. Get a definite link between an action and intent behind the action, and… Bam! Immaterial consciousness.
    Since you seem to live near a haunted house, try and get some cooperation out of the spooks, and establish some intent behind otherwise inexplicable occurrences.

  6. cl says:

    Bobaloo,
    Whasssupppp my friend! Long time no hear. What have you been up to? Call me up, or email me your number. I smashed my last phone into pieces. I’ll respond to your comment later. I think I can get a better answer out of ya if maybe I can explain myself better.
    Dominic,

    Since you seem to live near a haunted house, try and get some cooperation out of the spooks, and establish some intent behind otherwise inexplicable occurrences.

    I definitely will NOT be going that route, and I’ll get to the “why” in an upcoming post.

    Get a definite link between an action and intent behind the action, and… Bam! Immaterial consciousness.

    Thank you for that. I tend to agree that’s a useful criterion, and will keep that in mind as things develop.

  7. Dominic Saltarelli says:

    I definitely will NOT be going that route, and I’ll get to the “why” in an upcoming post.

    Trying to keep all your fingers intact?

  8. Gideon says:

    *Crickets chirping*
    Well, SI?
    I don’t see dem infidels flocking over here to help you, bud. I guess I was right about you, all along!
    Oh, nice script, there, Insect Boy. Looks kinda familiar… great minds must think alike!
    See ya… oh, and by the way, you’re always welcome to come over to my blog… bring the Chief with ya!
    LMAO!
    *Crickets resume chirping*

  9. cl says:

    Gideon,
    SI’s little rant is indicative of the fact that he refuses to come over here to actually participate in intelligent discussion, even when asked to do so – yet – he’s more than willing to come by with the stated intent of trolling, all the while complaining about the presence of trolls on his own blog. Classic!
    Dominic,

    Trying to keep all your fingers intact?

    LOL!! Now see, that’s good humor, if you ask me. Yes, I’m trying to keep them intact, but no, that’s not what’s motivating my lack of attempt at cooperating with them. :)

  10. cl says:

    And Gideon, I tried to explain to SI that at his blog, “trollish comments” get a harsh reaction, precisely because they disrupt an actual conformity of ideas. Let’s face it: SI’s is a place where he and other atheist sheep graze. That’s why the reaction is so strong and predictable over there.
    The commentary here, on the other hand, lacks conformity as it is composed almost entirely of dissenters and freethinkers. There is no status quo of thought here, and that’s one of the things I’m most happy about.

  11. D says:

    Wow – I have, like, an entirely different perspective than you do on this. I define “consciousness” as “self-awareness.” To be conscious, says I, is simply to have a sense of “self” as distinct from “surroundings.”
    I look at the gradient of intelligence as observable in nature. We see un-thinking non-living matter, such as rocks and air and water; we see un-thinking living matter, such as trees and bacteria; then there are a whole range of organisms with wildly varying degrees of nervous development, from “mere” nerves to entire nervous systems to big-ol’ brains like ours.
    What brains appear to do that no other thing in nature does is to model the world, to build from sense data a coherent picture of one’s surroundings (we can investigate this process indirectly by closely examining the function of illusions). These models then couple with instincts and learned experiences (as applicable) to cause bodies to behave in certain ways – brains have macroscopic effects upon the behaviors of the bodies in which they reside, which effects in their turn are informed by the product of sense data supplied by the organism’s environment and the architecture of the brain itself.
    And then some brains are complex enough to not only model the world, but to model themselves. The brain is now not merely “doing awareness,” but also specifically “doing self-awareness.” This process, the faculty of being aware of oneself as a distinct entity (illusory though that perception is), is what I mean by “consciousness.” It may arise from any of a number of surprising things, but that is the fundamental gap, as I see it, between “dumb matter” and “smart matter.”
    Note also that until or unless I can show, by simulation or demonstration, that this is actually how things work, I recognize that this remains armchair speculation. However, please also note that it is more parsimonious than many other accounts insofar as it proposes a mechanism for the operation of consciousness as a naturally emerging property of otherwise dumb matter, the existence of which is clearly established. (As a side note, I hit you back on parsimony here.)
    I take exception to your ideas of “pure intent” and such because intentions have causal antecedents. Think about it: when you intend to do something, do you “merely begin” intending to do that thing for no reason whatsoever? Of course not! You intend to do things for reasons, and those reasons may be facts about the world, desires as you perceive them, principles of rationality itself, or even arbitrary whims. But none of those things is “chosen” in any meaningful sense by you – we do not choose the facts of the world in which we find ourselves, we do not choose what the dictates of reason shall be, we do not choose what desires shall sway us, and we do not choose what arbitrary whims foist themselves upon us. All of these things have causal antecedents beyond our control, so in what sense does any “raw intent” ever serve as an unrooted root of a causal chain, and not a mere intermediate step in the greater web of causality?

  12. cl says:

    I’d like to point out that only two people have given or attempted answers at the original questions: Dominic, and Bobaloo.
    Bobaloo,

    This ability to attribute value is what I think likely separates human minds from that of basic animal instincts.

    I would agree, and D seems to echo much of that sentiment in her observation that consciousness “models the world.”
    Yet, though useful, none of what you said helps us develop criteria by which we might “test” for the presence of something like an immaterial consciousness. Elaborate some more on what you meant by “following Descartes’ line,” if you would. It’s been a while since we last talked; do you believe in ghosts or spirits or anything of the sort? Or have you become more of the strict reductionist-materialist in your thinking?? What would convince you that something like an immaterial consciousness exists?

    I heard about the newest edition to the family, congrats! Hope all is well in SF and I hope I get to see you around the holidays!

    Hey thanks. We’re well. I think you will get to see me over the holidays. Probably in back of the shop, in proper form.
    D,

    Wow – I have, like, an entirely different perspective than you do on this. I define “consciousness” as “self-awareness.” To be conscious, says I, is simply to have a sense of “self” as distinct from “surroundings.”

    How is that any different from what I’ve offered here? To have a sense of self, we must feel, correct? Nothing in your description seems to vitiate mine.

    However, please also note that it is more parsimonious than many other accounts insofar as it proposes a mechanism for the operation of consciousness as a naturally emerging property of otherwise dumb matter, the existence of which is clearly established.

    That would depend on what you allude to when you say, “many other accounts,” and I’ll follow the link back to our discussion about parsimony as soon as I get a chance.

    I take exception to your ideas of “pure intent” and such because intentions have causal antecedents.

    That intentions have causal antecedents DOES NOT entail that something other than “pure intent” is the first causal step in any given chain. Yes, I’m typing to you right now because I believe that argumentation is healthy and that positions should be defended; those could be called the “causal antecedents” motivating this response. Still, the response begins with the intent to respond,
    right?
    In this situation, seeing as how those causal antecedents are values and not objects, you vindicate my point that in the case of humans, something inherently non-physical necessarily motivates and moves the physical.

    But none of those things is “chosen” in any meaningful sense by you – we do not choose the facts of the world in which we find ourselves, we do not choose what the dictates of reason shall be, we do not choose what desires shall sway us, and we do not choose what arbitrary whims foist themselves upon us. All of these things have causal antecedents beyond our control,

    Now here’s an area where we do seem to disagree. Although I get the gist of your argument, and can even accept it to a certain degree, I believe that following your line of logic to its end undermines the very concept of moral accountability. In a sense, yes, I agree with you that life deals people facts and circumstances beyond their control. Yet, we do choose the facts of our own lives, in a very real sense. We do choose what desires will sway us, or at least, we choose whether or not to indulge those desires that sway us. That sort of thing.
    Still though D, here’s what I’m interested in hearing here: what would convince you that consciousness could exist outside a body? I’m guessing nothing short of personal experience, or scientific repeatability vis-a-vis gravity.

  13. jim says:

    D:
    “But none of those things is “chosen” in any meaningful sense by you – we do not choose the facts of the world in which we find ourselves, we do not choose what the dictates of reason shall be, we do not choose what desires shall sway us, and we do not choose what arbitrary whims foist themselves upon us. All of these things have causal antecedents beyond our control, so in what sense does any “raw intent” ever serve as an unrooted root of a causal chain, and not a mere intermediate step in the greater web of causality?”
    Beautifully stated! And might I be so bold as to add, from a purely materialistic perspective (whatever that might ultimately entail), these causal agencies- desires, arbitrary whims, et al)- are metaphoric descriptive terms for the end-products of biological chemistry. What’s really hard to get my head around is that immaterial consciousness simply does not exist. This is rather hard to work out in language, but I think an at least partially successful analogy might be the feeling we get when we seemingly see something at a distance. There seems to be an abstract space there, between the seer and the seen. But the true case is that there’s an actual, physical bridge connecting the eye to the object it is beholding, built of photons. You can further trace that physical connection out the back of the eye, through the optic nerve, to the very state-changes in the brain which allow us to ‘see’.
    I’m beginning to grok self-consciousness as a house of mirrors, reflecting reflections’ reflections. Of course, this is all metaphor again; which is, I suppose, what we’re stuck with. A crazy house of representations minus substance, that we simply Kant escape. LOLOL! Language fails in the end, which leads me to believe those Zen guys had it more on the ball than some think.

  14. jim says:

    D:
    Here’s an article I’ve always enjoyed. It’s logic runs along the same line as yours, I think.

  15. cl says:

    I realize you were talking to D but I couldn’t resist the link. My initial reactions to the article were that I don’t think dogs constitute free agents under the definition of compatibilism described, so in that ‘minor-quibble’ sense I disagree with Strawson.
    As the article progressed, I realized it contains a profoundly expressed parallel to the “self-contained cause” prong of the Aristotleian arguments we’ve discussed here recently. I’d been looking for a good way to express the logical impossibility of that option, and here you come along with something unrelated but totally relevant. Who would’ve known.
    Lastly, I noticed that Strawson made use of a similar concept as my AJ from the Argument from Justice; the concept of “Ultimate responsibility.”
    Good article. I wasn’t as persuaded by the author’s conclusions, but you probably expected that much. I disagree with the second tier of the second premise of the Pessimist’s argument: I’d say that “To be truly or ultimately morally responsible for what you do, you must be truly or ultimately responsible for the choice you make, and in order to be truly or ultimately responsible for the choice you make, you must not be involuntarily compelled.” Of course, I would expect objections to center around the presupposition that all choices are “involuntarily compelled,” for that’s the reigning claim of determinism.
    Thus, the reason this goes round and round is because we have two groups of people with diametrically opposed baseline beliefs trying to converge on our apprehensions of the same concept (ultimate responsibility): we can’t, because our presuppositions get in the way. You’ll never agree to my position on free will because you inherently deny the very concept. I’ll never accept your position because I inherently accept said concept. And the carousel continues.
    Personally, I just hope the lawmakers and judges don’t come to adopt your position: I like that the courts seem to side with me!

  16. jim says:

    cl:
    As in almost all facets of the human experience where free will vs. determinism comes up, the judicial system is rather schizophrenic on the issue. Mitigating causal factors ARE weighed into judicial decisions, including via considerations regarding the shaping of character, and motivation of the defendant. ‘Bring up a child in the way he should go, and he will not depart from it’ butts heads with the idea that moral choices emerge from some metaphysical ‘choice center’ unaffected by environmental factors. To me, it’s a simple case of straightforward observation on the one hand, with feelings-based ‘intuition’ buttressed by belief systems which have emerged from said intuition on the other. We acknowledge outside influence on moral behavior all the time, not realizing that in that acknowledgment lies the death of autonomous moral agency, pure and simple. There is no middle ground, in my view.

  17. D says:

    Thank you, jim! And thanks for the link, that was a great article! Though I wish I had read it before I got on the carousel, myself – but then I couldn’t have had such a great ride, I suppose.
    Yeah, I also found it hard to wrap my head around the illusion of consciousness. One of the things that helped me grasp the idea was that “electricity” is nothing more than emergent properties of certain bits of matter under the right conditions; consciousness is the same way, just scaled up a bit. But that only got me an intellectual understanding of the principle; the visceral understanding came later, when I started to actually “do psychology” to myself (and how deliciously appropriate that Strawson recommends taking it up!) and began to see my own mind as a machine because that’s how I was working on it.
    Your last bit on metaphors is more poignant than you realize! All language, all thought, is but metaphor. An idea is always and only an idea; it is never the ding an sich it represents. And Buddhism is just chock full of useful stepping stones!
    @ cl: My definition of consciousness differs from yours insofar as mine is strictly reductive. My definition of consciousness is simply of the form of an emergent property, whereas yours seems to suggest more (especially when you consider that consciousness, which on my view explicitly depends upon a brain to function at all, could in principle be separated from a brain or brain-like substance on your view).
    By “many other accounts,” I meant substance dualism, soul doctrines, epiphenomenalism (the preposterous idea that consciousness is a “free rider” on top of brain-having, which “hands causes down” to brains but does not “pick effects up,” so to speak), and so on. I could keep giving examples that I’m sure we both disagree with, if you like.
    If intentions categorically have causal antecedents, then yes, it is true that they cannot be the first step in any given chain, otherwise you’re not looking at a chain – you must perforce be looking at a mere fragment of a greater “actual chain.” Or did you mean a “partial chain?” I could see that. You could simply stipulate that what you mean by “chain x” is the sequence of events beginning with your forming of an intention and ending wherever. But then you’re simply dropping the greater context of, well, all that came before. The response does not begin with the intent to respond, its beginning goes back through that which is being responded to, and that person’s entire life, all the way back to the beginning of the Universe As We Know It (or at least that far, anyway). It’s all one giant cascade of dominoes, my friend. And I would say that moral values in a human brain are
    just as physical as the magnetic domain values in your computer’s hard drive.
    Penultimately: Determinism in no way undermines moral accountability. I say it all there, and this is already long, so I’ll not repeat myself unnecessarily.
    And finally, I’d need definitions of the terms “consciousness,” “outside,” and “body,” as well as a demonstration of those principles in action (either such a consciousness, or showing exactly how it could be done in principle even if it can’t be done yet). For instance, I agree with Dijkstra that asking whether a computer can think is no more interesting than asking whether a submarine can swim; and if a computer became self-aware, I would call that a mind outside a human body, but it’s just a mind inside a machine body at that point. So it gets complicated, but I can sure explain further on whatever point you’d like!

  18. John Morales says:

    cl, I suspect you’ll find this question silly, but I assure you it’s serious.
    Do you consider dogs to be conscious?

  19. Bobaloo says:

    CL- So good to hear that everything is going well man! And yes I will see you in our usual spot in the back of the shop!
    Over the summer I took Philosophy Of The Mind and on the first day of class, to keep from discouraging people from dropping an overly difficult class, the professor asked us some questions to pump our intuitions. She asked us a similar question to yours; “do you think that a mind is immaterial and distinct from the body or are minds a mere product of brains?” I would have to answer, as a naturalist (just to give you a better grasp of where im coming from), that minds are the products of some neurophysiological process. More specifically, I find the Multiple Drafts Model (MDM) of consciousness, first proposed by Dennett, to be the soundest of all explanations about consciousness. The MDM basically states that; the brain has multiple places of realization and these are unrelated with other points of realization and it takes all or at least some number of these points to make an overall consciousness. Moreover, the consciousness is not a phenomenal field wherein the immaterial “soul” or “self” sits watching life on the big screen. This phenomenal field is often referred to as the Cartesian Theatre. In order for me to even provide a reductive explanation of consciousness I must be sitting in my Cartesian Theatre, which could prove to be difficult as I already subscribe to a ideal that denies the Cartesian Theaters non-existence.
    Descartes was the first skeptic, correction, the first rationalist skeptic to doubt the existence of the self. When he went about his meditations he would ask himself, “what can I know a priori about X” and he would derive all the properties that he could a priori. Then he would go on doubting all the things that he had previously gathered about X a posteriori. I suggest a similar examination be done of the immaterial consciousness. Descartes himself was very concerned with proving to himself that he himself actually existed. In his mind he succeeded , however circular he may have been his work resonates with us still today.
    Descartes believed that no matter what there was a narrative “I” that cannot be doubted. Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum” was the epitomization of this idea, now called proprioception or the realization of the self as the center of narrative gravity; a place, who’s location is un-definable in space and time, however who’s referent is in a general location that is representative of the narrative self. I call it narrative gravity because like centers of gravity consciousness has no physical place but only a referent “created” place in the body. So what can we now say about immaterial consciousness. We can say that it has the ability to use itself as a referent, it is distinct from the body, it is self-aware and as Kant would put it is entirely noumenal.
    These properties seem to be the basic intrinsic properties of an immaterial consciousness, so if we want to prove their existence outside of bodies and minds we will have to look around our world for things with these properties. Since our case study is directed at your specific example lets get all CSI on your paranormal crime scene. So in order for me, as the skeptic, to classify that which caused the DVD cases to fly unnaturally to the ground as an immaterial consciousness I would need it to satisfy these conditions:1) it is self-referent, 2) it is self- aware, 3) it is distinctly different from bodies with minds, and 4) it is capable of manipulating physical space. Now we cannot derive 1 or 2 unless one of your friends has phenomenal powers to move DVD cases unnaturally we must assume that we cannot know anything about an entity satisfying condition 1 and 2 because it would have to disclose this too us. Condition 3 provides grounds for the immaterial and 4 provides for the movement of the DVD cases if indeed you have not been hoodwinked. These conditions seem to me impossible for any entity to have. These conditions provide a good justification for what would be considered an immaterial consciousness capable of throwing DVDs, but I don’t see how anyone could reductively and cogently codify all these conditions in order to define this immaterial entity.
    Maybe I have a lack of imagination, or a naturalistic bias, but nonetheless I feel that the burden of proof is on the one making the claims about immaterial things in general. Your experience, however phenomenal may be nothing more than that, a complex state of affairs, maybe never understood, however appreciated and examined; is nothing more than a mere phenomenon wherein the mystery supersedes the clarity. Or I could be wrong yet again, maybe there is some perfectly good naturalistic explanation for the phenomenal experience, maybe you all had a collective mushroom flashback, I really don’t know. The only thing one can take from an experience like this is a deep sense of gratitude for the mysteries in life, phenomena is the fuel for a skeptical world!

  20. cl says:

    Sorry D, didn’t get to yours this time :(
    jim,

    As in almost all facets of the human experience where free will vs. determinism comes up, the judicial system is rather schizophrenic on the issue. Mitigating causal factors ARE weighed into judicial decisions,

    Correct, but that does not refute the fact that I would rather have judges and lawyers BELIEVING that we are responsible for our own actions. I do not want judges and lawyers to take up your position, which seems to be that all our actions are just the results of factors beyond our control. If the idea of hell keeps the otherwise-pathological person under control, the idea of no ultimate responsibility gives the otherwise-controlled person a license for pathology.
    John,
    I would’ve treated that as a genuine question. That you thought I wouldn’t suggests you possibly still haven’t realized the type of replies I really do consider silly, so let me be more clear: as one example, linking to videos that mock other people’s opinions instead of explaining why your own opinions should be preferred. That’s silly, and will always be treated as silliness. Also, scoffing at opinions without giving a sound explanation of why those opinions should be scoffed at. Those are things I consider silly. Anyways, on to the next, I guess:

    Do you consider dogs to be conscious?

    What definition of consciousness does your question presuppose?
    Bobaloo,

    I would have to answer, as a naturalist (just to give you a better grasp of where im coming from), that minds are the products of some neurophysiological process.

    Cool. I’ll keep that in mind as we exchange here. Lots can change in a coupla years, so I had to ask!

    More specifically, I find the Multiple Drafts Model (MDM) of consciousness, first proposed by Dennett, to be the soundest of all explanations about consciousness.

    You are not the first to suggest I look into Dennett’s explanations of consciousness. I shall definitely put that on my to-do list. Bring me the book, if you’d like.

    This phenomenal field is often referred to as the Cartesian Theatre.

    How would you compare the standard “dream world” we each inhabit at night against this Cartesian Theatre? How would you compare Jung’s “unconscious” with this Cartesian Theatre? Answers to those questions will help me discern exactly what you do and don’t believe exists.

    In order for me to even provide a reductive explanation of consciousness I must be sitting in my Cartesian Theatre, which could prove to be difficult as I already subscribe to a ideal that denies the Cartesian Theaters non-existence.

    I get the whole cogito ergo sum thing, but doesn’t this only invalidate the attempted validation that one’s own consciousness is something more? IOW, if we could validate or even demonstrate as plausible this “immaterial consciousness” hypothesis, doesn’t reductionism reduce to crumbles?

    So what can we now say about immaterial consciousness. We can say that it has the ability to use itself as a referent, it is distinct from the body, it is self-aware and as Kant would put it is entirely noumenal… So in order for me, as the skeptic, to classify that which caused the DVD cases to fly unnaturally to the ground as an immaterial consciousness I would need it to satisfy these conditions:1) it is self-referent, 2) it is self- aware, 3) it is distinctly different from bodies with minds, and 4) it is capable of manipulating physical space.

    Thank you. These are exactly the types of statements I’m looking for: useful ones. I can’t respond to points 1-4 right this second, but I will definitely respond later, if I don’t craft an entire post out your comment.

    Maybe I have a lack of imagination, or a naturalistic bias, but nonetheless I feel that the burden of proof is on the one making the claims about immaterial things in general.

    I agree, and wouldn’t say that’s attributable to bias or lack of imagination. I completely understand why people become skeptics, and I don’t mean that as an insult.

    Your experience, however phenomenal may be nothing more than that, a complex state of affairs, maybe never understood, however appreciated and examined; is nothing more than a mere phenomenon wherein the mystery supersedes the clarity.

    I agree, and given that fact, wouldn’t you say my position (that the most we can say is that natural gravity fails to account for the data) is the most reasonable and rationally cautious? I realize the inherent difficulty in meeting your 1 and 2 from this single incident, and that’s why I don’t stretch the conclusions I’m willing to take from it. On the other hand, I’m not going to sit there and pretend we can easily dismiss flying video games to natural gravity or group hallucination.

    Or I could be wrong yet again, maybe there is some perfectly good naturalistic explanation for the phenomenal experience, maybe you all had a collective mushroom flashback, I really don’t know.

    See, that’s what I really wanted from the skeptics I invited to that post: attempts at natural explanations that might have been overlooked. Anyone can plug their ears and chalk it all up to lying or misperception, but that’s not what rationalism and science are about in my opinion.
    By the way, I don’t think shrooms trigger flashbacks. Isn’t that more of an acid thing?

  21. Bobaloo says:

    CL- You said: “By the way, I don’t think shrooms trigger flashbacks. Isn’t that more of an acid thing?”
    Touche! Haha, I should have known better!
    You also said: “wouldn’t you say my position (that the most we can say is that natural gravity fails to account for the data) is the most reasonable and rationally cautious? I realize the inherent difficulty in meeting your 1 and 2 from this single incident, and that’s why I don’t stretch the conclusions I’m willing to take from it. On the other hand, I’m not going to sit there and pretend we can easily dismiss flying video games to natural gravity or group hallucination.”
    Agreed, this experience is well worth the examination at least so that we can better understand how real world events can better be understood through reasonable argumentation. It seems to me that the event of the DVDs flying to the floor can be contextually classified into three possible reasonable attitudes. A) I am mystified and perplexed by the event so much that I attribute the causal factors to a supernatural or paranormal entity. B) Some physical or natural forces must have created the situation and determined all facets of the event. Or C) this event is crazy and so am I so lets forget about it with a few beers.
    Im gonna circle B). Why you ask? Because it is the intuitive response from my consciousness, from my self, from my mind. I don’t really know, its just something that I may be predisposed to do, doubt things that seem supernatural or paranormal. I have never experienced anything that I could even remotely put into category A) so Im going to avoid that route altogether.
    This article<“>http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/10/30/paranormal-superstitions.html&gt; may lend a little clarity as to why I am a B) person. It seems that I am hardwired to be skeptical of events that use phenomena as premises. It seems that any reductive explanation of an event who’s causes and effects are not entirely clear is now the scientific norm. The more Quantum Mechanists(QT) learn about the nature of particles the more we realize how wrong we are about physics in general. Determinism as a philosophical school of thought is having to deal with some tough evidence due to the findings of QT. So events like this must either be random acts of nature not yet explainable by our best theories or are likely caused by immaterial entity(s) that satisfy conditions 1-4. Ive got my money on science.

  22. Bobaloo says:

    CL- I believe I may have been too loose in my definition of the Cartesian Theatre. You asked: “How would you compare the standard “dream world” we each inhabit at night against this Cartesian Theatre? How would you compare Jung’s “unconscious” with this Cartesian Theatre? Answers to those questions will help me discern exactly what you do and don’t believe exists.”
    The Cartesian Theatre is supposed to represent the idea of a central seat of consciousness where the soul is seated watching the big screen of life. An example may help clear up some confusion. Consider what you are doing right now, looking at a computer screen reading letters that have carefully
    been arranged to make semantic sense to you the reader. Now in this moment you can envision(in your mind) what you are actually seeing, feeling, smelling, ect. All of your senses seems to be reporting to one main hub of sensation wherein the senses converge to complete the whole picture. This is the Cartesian Theatre, the seat of the soul, an amalgamation of all senses in one centralized area of the brain. However this idea is bunk, psychologists discovered decades ago that there is no central point that the senses converge on. The senses are processed in the moment and are constantly editing and converting the world around us to better suit our needs in that moment of perception. The MDM is the defeater of the Cartesian Theatre.
    Ill bring you the book, its called Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennett. Its a great work of enormous value to any discussion about the mind. I hope this was a more straightforward explanation of the Cartesian Theatre than my last stab.
    As for dreams, I think the Cartesian would have say, “dreams are displayed in our phenomenal field(Cartesian Theatre) so vividly and clearly. My Cartesian Theatre is where I do my experiencing, everything I have ever known, felt, heard, smelled, and dreamt has come to my one point in consciousness, and this point is my Cartesian Theatre.” Dualist theories of the mind are immune to reductive arguments because they entail so much phenomena. These phenomena contain presuppositions that are in direct disagreement with modern neurophysiology and neuropsychology. There are very few practicing dualist philosophers left, its pretty much a dead idea.

  23. John Morales says:

    What definition of consciousness does your question presuppose?

    My dog meets your criteria for consciousness, so I was curious to see if you think my dog is conscious:
    I feel fairly confident in asserting what consciousness does, or what its characteristics are: consciousness affords the abilities to feel, to know, to create, to express intent and to choose. Consciousness also affords the ability to manipulate objective matter via choice

  24. cl says:

    My dog meets your criteria for consciousness,

    I disagree. Your dog cannot know or create in the sense I’m using those words in the definition. Yes, your dog can “know” where its food is, or what its name is. Yes, your dog can create a pile of poop or a bed of blankets. It can’t know the capitol of West Virginia. It can’t make a painting or song that conveys meaning humans would understand.
    Still, I’d say yes, your dog is conscious, or, sentient might be a better word. But it is not conscious in the same way a person is, at least not according to any evidence I’m aware of.

  25. cl says:

    Bobaloo,

    It seems to me that the event of the DVDs flying to the floor can be contextually classified into three possible reasonable attitudes. A) I am mystified and perplexed by the event so much that I attribute the causal factors to a supernatural or paranormal entity. B) Some physical or natural forces must have created the situation and determined all facets of the event. Or C) this event is crazy and so am I so lets forget about it with a few beers.

    Well, the group I absolutely cannot fathom whatsoever are C, so I can relate to what you say about feeling “predisposed” towards B. My assessment of your options is that A and B are both hasty induction: we don’t yet know whether the cause was supernatural or natural; in fact, I really object to the whole distinction between the two. How do we reasonably draw the line if the line is always being redrawn? We used to think fire and lightning were supernatural. Often, we use supernatural as a euphemism for ‘that which we currently don’t understand,’ which should do away with any reliance on the word supernatural as an accurate description of anything. If you ask me.
    Still, I would advise my own option of D) I am mystified and perplexed by the event so much that I know attribution of the event to natural gravity cannot account for the evidence. The only sort of positive conclusion I can draw from the video game incident alone is inconclusive: that it is consistent with what we’d expect given the immaterial consciousness hypothesis in that it for sure satisfies your 3 & 4 from your earlier comment (because excluding my friends or another person, whatever caused the games to move was obviously “distinctly different from bodies with minds” (3) and “capable of manipulating physical space” (4) ). Problem is, we can’t rule out some weird freak non-conscious cause. Still, the video game incident is at least consistent with what we’d expect per your 1 & 2, too: it’s certainly plausible that whatever moved those games may have been self-referent (1) and self-aware (2). We were smack in the middle of a conversation about the anomalous phenomena in the house.
    Yes, these things are certainly consistent. Problem is, for those who want to see and to taste, it’s just not good enough. We can’t reproduce it that we’re aware of. So I can see why it doesn’t persuade most skeptics. We’ve got at least enough solid evidence to establish consistency, but we need something more like correlation to budge the average skeptic. Stick around!

    I have never experienced anything that I could even remotely put into category A

    Really? What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you, either dreaming or while awake? Nothing that seemingly breaches normality anywhere?

    It seems that any reductive explanation of an event who’s causes and effects are not entirely clear is now the scientific norm.

    I agree, which is odd given the salient facts following that sentence: “The more Quantum Mechanists(QT) learn about the nature of particles the more we realize how wrong we are about physics in general. Determinism as a philosophical school of thought is having to deal with some tough evidence due to the findings of QT.”

    Ive got my money on science.

    Do you really mean naturalism? I ask because, science is just a matter of what’s true in actuality. If entities exist in forms science just hasn’t apprehended yet, discovery of such entities – or in fact their own revelation – would constitute “science” in that it would represent a bona fide, empirical addition to the body of human knowledge. I guess what I’m getting at is – although it seemingly cannot verify them with equal repeatability as say, a chemical reaction – I don’t see that science excludes “things spiritual” or that “things spiritual” are inherently unamenable to science. IOW, although I do believe each apprehend and explain their own things best, I tend to reject Gould’s NOMA. Does that make sense? Or does it seem like gibberish? A lot of people react to that like its gibberish, but it makes clear sense to me. Whatever is, is.
    As for the Dennett book, hook it up! I appreciate the elaboration on the Cartesian Theatre concept, and what it means to you. I think we got alot out of this thread, and still more to come. I’ve got to get back to D, too.

  26. John Morales says:

    Still, I’d say yes, your dog is conscious, or, sentient might be a better word. But it is not conscious in the same way a person is, at least not according to any evidence I’m aware of.

    Thank you. Clearly, being quite a different species, it’s not remarkable that its consciousness is different to a human’s.
    Note I referred @1 to possible confusion of sapience with sentience.
    I submit that consciousness can exist without sapience, but requires sentience.
    Do you agree?
    PS Did you read the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry I linked to @1?

  27. cl says:

    I submit that consciousness can exist without sapience, but requires sentience. Do you agree?

    Yes, I agree. I never disagreed. If you thought I did, from whence did that assumption spring?

    Note I referred @1 to possible confusion of sapience with sentience.

    Yeah, I saw that you wrote that. I had no idea where you were coming from. I just kind of ignored your comment, based on the fruitless nature of our past conversations. No offense, and I’m not claiming to know your motives, but I just don’t have that feeling that you’re here to learn. Rather, I get the feeling you’re here to assert your intelligence over what you presume to be “silly theists.”
    If you’re interested in lessening the chance of other theists walking away with this perception, I’d be more than willing to discuss why I frequently perceive these things about you.

    PS Did you read the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry I linked to @1?

    I skimmed through it. If there’s something you’d like me to address, let me know.

  28. John Morales says:

    I submit that consciousness can exist without sapience, but requires sentience. Do you agree?

    Yes, I agree. I never disagreed. If you thought I did, from whence did that assumption spring?

    Apparently, it was my own confusion that you had been unclear.
    It does highlight a relevant distinction, however, because it widens the scope of conscious beings outside only that of humans.

    No offense, and I’m not claiming to know your motives, but I just don’t have that feeling that you’re here to learn. Rather, I get the feeling you’re here to assert your intelligence over what you presume to be “silly theists.”

    No, I’m here to exchange views and for mutual criticism of ideas. I do wish I were read more literally.
    What offends me is perceived disingenuity, not honest expression.
    You need have no fear on that account.

    If there’s something you’d like me to address, let me know.

    I had two salient bases for linking to that: (1) support for my contention that “Consciousness is a polysemous term” and (2) to suggest that you seem to conflate the senses “Sentience” and “Self-consciousness” as explained in §2.1.

  29. cl says:

    It does highlight a relevant distinction, however, because it widens the scope of conscious beings outside only that of humans.

    Yet, don’t most or all Earthly beings besides humans also qualify as conscious per one or more of the other conditions I gave in the opening paragraphs? For example, all mammals can “feel” and “choose,” and isn’t a similar observation what prompted your question about your dog?
    Since the answer to those questions is undeniably yes – then that the scope extends to a wider group than just humans had been established since the very beginning, correct? If the scope was established since the very beginning, what prompted you to restate information that is readily available in the OP?

    What offends me is perceived disingenuity, not honest expression.
    You need have no fear on that account.

    I take that to mean that the honest expression of my feelings doesn’t offend you, but the fact that I perceive disingenuity does. Why would it offend you that I don’t feel a genuine connection with you like I do with other commenters here?

  30. D says:

    Why would it offend you that I don’t feel a genuine connection with you like I do with other commenters here?

    Vanity. Vexation of spirit. Chasing after the wind.
    You’re kinda-sorta special, cl. I mean that as a compliment. I’m nothing special, and I don’t think anyone else is special, either. Your writing makes me second-guess myself on that point.
    It vexes me to no end that the folks at DA choose to respond as they do, rather than treat your responses as an opportunity for self-refinement. I would level the same charge against you, yet I cannot articulate such a thought because you do not lay your own beliefs on the line.
    Why not? If I may be corrected, then I would love to be so. There is always more for me to learn. Perhaps you do in fact know everything; yet if you did, then you should lay it out for us, because you could bring us all around to your way of thinking because knowing “everything” includes knowing “what would cause us to think as you do.” So you don’t know everything, effing duh. But yet you do not lay your actual beliefs on the line. Are you not interested in changing them, in improving them? Or am I missing something?
    I am transfixed by you, cl. I cannot look away. But I want to understand you, and I cannot if you do not articulate yourself to me. Do you not think yourself strong enough to withstand criticism of your actual beliefs? Or do you perhaps think that articulating your actual beliefs will cause you to run into consistency problems later? If the former, then why not make yourself stronger or take the criticisms seriously? If the latter, then who cares if you have consistency problems? You’re just a mortal like the rest of us, right?
    I don’t get it. The rest is details, the fundamental thesis is “I don’t get it.”

  31. John Morales says:

    [Have you got a comment RSS feed? I can’t find one.]

    If the scope was established since the very beginning, what prompted you to restate information that is readily available in the OP?

    It wasn’t obvious to me, which is why I asked. The point is that we scientifically know humans are animals (in “accident” if not in “substance”&sup1;) and hence our consciousness is (absent other evidence) based on whatever animal consciousness is (whether such be natural or supernatural).

    I take that to mean that the honest expression of my feelings doesn’t offend you, but the fact that I perceive disingenuity does. Why would it offend you that I don’t feel a genuine connection with you like I do with other commenters here?

    For the record, no, I expressed it badly. I meant when others do it, though of course I feel embarrassed if I do it.
    I don’t like feeling embarrassed.
    The fact that you perceive disingenuity is only relevant if it in fact exists.
    This is all very meta, though, and not particularly relevant.

    &sup1; Little joke about dualism, for the humour-impaired.
    I here borrow nomenclature from the jargon of theology (the doctrine of transubstantiation, to be precise).

  32. dguller says:

    There are actually several intriguing points to be made about your questions.

    If a hypothesis is fundamentally untestable, then is that the failure of those who reject it? For example, let us say that there is a group of individuals who believe that there is an invisible spaceship hiding on the other side of Pluto at this moment. At this moment, there is no conceivable way of testing this hypothesis. What epistemic attitude should we take? Should we say that those who believe this hypothesis and those who disbelieve it are on equal footing? Or should we say that those making the assertion have the burden of proof, and thus should bring credible evidence to bear? And if there is no possible evidence for it, then is that OUR fault or THEIRS?

    I think that this is relevant, because you are asserting the existence of a specific phenomenon, i.e. immaterial consciousness, which I presume means consciousness utterly independent of material conditions. That would be necessary for your interpretation of OBE and NDE as evidence of conscious awareness after the death of the brain and body.

    Since it is YOU who are asserting this positive claim, then it should be YOU to explain how to experimentally verify its veracity. The burden of proof is not upon me or your readers, and our inability to find a test for an untestable hypothesis is not our fault, but your hypothesis’s.

    Personally, I find it compelling that all our conscious states are correlated with brain activity, and that there are some states that can only be understood as generated by the brain itself (e.g. the filled in blind spot), and that our conscious interospective experience is often a poor guide to what is actually going on in our mind (e.g. the Libet experiments on free will). So, on the one hand, you have an overwhelming amount of evidence that the mind is generated by the brain, and on the other hand, you have NDE and OBE, both of which can be understood to be neurobiological phenomena.

  33. cl says:

    dguller,

    Just popped in briefly and noticed this comment. I’m a bit discouraged that you seem to be forging along the same old path without taking the time to answer this post’s closing questions. When you get a moment, would you be willing to provide at least cursory answers to the questions? I have my own ideas on these things, and trust me, you’re going to hear them. I’m well aware of the fact that the positive claimant retains the burden of proof, and would appreciate a little “benefit of the doubt” if you would. For me, it’s not a confrontation such that determining “whose fault X is” has any usefulness. Rather, what I’m looking for is cooperation between myself and the readers. Hence, the picking of the reader’s brain with the string of questions at the end of this post.

    If you would answer each of the questions in lieu of implying culpability, I think we might get much closer to a fruitful discussion. After that, I’d be more than willing to talk about your variation on Russell’s teapot.

    If you decline to answer, well… that’s your choice, and, if that’s the case, I’m more than content to pause and wait until you either address the posts listed in #5 of the primer, or the upcoming ones I’ve been alluding to.

    Talk soon…

  34. dguller says:

    cl:

    I apologize for my aggressive tone. I only meant to emphasize certain points.

    That being said, I honestly cannot conceive of any possible tests for your immaterial consciousness hypothesis. That is the best answer that I can give at this time. If you have your own ideas, then I would be interested to hear them.

  35. dguller says:

    cl:

    And as for the issues in post #5, I cannot address them all at this time, but I will say that the veridical dream, and its variants, are unimpressive, because they fail to take into account base rate of the event in question in addition to the probability of the individual event. Certainly, the individual event in question is highly improbable and unlikely, but the fact that dreams are occurring billions of times daily means that, by chance alone, someone somewhere will have a veridical dream. Statistics and probability are absolutely essential to uncovering the truth about causes and patterns in the world, and they trump any anecdoate, no matter how compelling, because an individual event, as captured by an anecdote, is so loaded with biases and confounding factors that it is effectively worthless.

  36. dguller says:

    cl:

    Actually, I have thought of a test for immaterial consciousness.

    In every patient room in a hospital, you include a sealed envelope with a random sequence of 3 digits, which is generated by a computer, and printed out. You ensure blinding by having someone put the printout into an envelope, and then have someone else randomize the envelopes and place them in every patient room. This procedure is repeated on a daily basis to ensure randomization and blinding.

    Every patient in the hospital is instructed that if they have an ODE or NDE, then they must make an effort in their immaterial state to look into the envelop and attempt to see the 3 random digits therein.

    If there are any ODE and NDE in the hospital, then the patients should be asked about what the numbers are in the envelopes.

    A statistical analysis is performed that compares the accurate reports to the inaccurate reports. If the ODE and NDE patients are often more often than chance, then that would be good evidence for an immaterial conscious mind.

    Needless to say, this study would have to be replicated.

  37. dguller says:

    And you could add a control group. Researchers could also ask family members who did not have an ODE or NDE to guess the numbers in the envelopes. One could then statistically analyze to see which group was more accurate, as well.

  38. dguller says:

    And needless to say the envelope should be hidden in the room so patients and their family members do not know where they are.

  39. dguller says:

    An even better control would be asking the patients themselves BEFORE the NDE or OBE what they thought the numbers are. Then compare their before and after results, and see which is better. It may be the case that they are more accurate before the NDE or OBE.

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