November 19, 2009
In the past weeks we’ve devoted a couple of discussions to exploring consciousness. Here and here, we’ve discussed what I then called the immaterial consciousness hypothesis, but the more I think about it, the more I realize those words are insufficient and flawed.
I want to begin with as few assumptions as possible. Using the word immaterial commits us to something that may or may not necessarily be the case. It could very well be that consciousness — specifically human consciousness — is actually some hitherto undiscovered form of matter or energy, and if we assume it is immaterial a priori, we’ve already biased our research.
The problem here is that I really have no idea what I’m talking about. Neither do our most intelligent scientists, when we really get down to it. Despite the leaps and bounds we’ve made in neurology and psychology, we’re still quite in the dark as to what consciousness really is — or if it’s even anything at all.
So, what do we do when we don’t necessarily know what we’re looking for? Given what we’ll discuss in the upcoming weeks, I think it would serve us well to create a couple of hypotheses that clearly express what I think consciousness is not. Though that doesn’t absolve us from the responsibility of crafting a useful hypothesis as to what consciousness is — and in that regard I intend to do my best — we have to start somewhere, so I’d like to introduce what I see as two general variants of what we’ve called the cerebro-centric consciousness hypothesis (CCH).
In the next post, we’ll consider the emendations the previous immaterial consciousness hypothesis seems to need.
In practice — meaning as I see them typically expressed by real human beings — I tend to notice two distinct versions of the cerebro-centric consciousness hypothesis. The first could be referred to as the strong (sCCH), and as you might guess, the second could be called the weak (wCCH). Specifically, as used in these discussions, under both versions of the CCH, consciousness ceases forever after death. Both versions of the CCH are roughly describable as biologically contained. wCCH differs from sCCH primarily in the range of phenomena it’s willing to permit.
Under this model, consciousness cannot in any way extend “beyond” the brain producing it. sCCH denies things like telepathy, astral projection, precognition, and most all other so-called AMP (anomalous mental phenomena). We’ll discuss this in greater detail as we introduce individual case studies. Today’s distinctions are intended basically as preliminary delineations.
Though offered in the context of explaining his philosophy of desire utilitarianism, the following quote from Alonzo Fyfe accurately conveys sCCH (note that I am not making the truth-claim that Fyfe endorses sCCH, simply noting that a statement Fyfe wrote in an unrelated context happens to express a key undercurrent of sCCH as offered here):
..desires are brain states, and there is only one brain attached to my arms and legs in such a way that they can directly cause the movement of those arms and legs. Of course it is my desires that I am acting to fulfill. How can I possibly act to fulfill desires that are locked away as a part of somebody else’s brain?
Maybe I’m wrong, but if you look closely, it appears Fyfe’s closing question rests exclusively on the premise that sCCH is true. IOW, we can’t possibly fulfill desires locked away as part of somebody else’s brain, because that’s their consciousness. The idea is essentially reductionist at its core: consciousness becomes quite literally the goings-on of the brain, and our brain is in our heads, so consciousness is in our heads. I bring special attention to Fyfe’s use of the words “locked away.” That phrase specifically implies that desires cannot be shared save by some sort of verbal communication from one person to another.
wCCH also maintains that consciousness is ultimately the goings-on of the brain, but unlike sCCH, wCCH permits perhaps the full range of AMP (anomalous mental phenomena). Still, wCCH attributes said phenomena as strictly caused (and dependent on) active brain function.
However, under wCCH, we can allow for something like a field of consciousness that individual brains [acting as receptors] are either codependent upon and/or able to tap into, something like what the ancients referred to as the Akasha, or in more Western terms, something like Jung’s unconscious mind. Remember though, under wCCH, consciousness is still biologically contained, meaning that it does not occur outside of biologically-based organisms. Also, as with sCCH, under wCCH our ride in the universe is a one-time deal.
The core similarities are that both sCCH and wCCH deny life after death, ghosts, spirits, angels, demons and any other claimed non-biological conscious entities. In both sCCH and wCCH, consciousness is a by-product of biology. Note that neither sCCH nor wCCH preclude the existence of matter-based, conscious extraterrestrials. The essential differences are that wCCH allows for consciousness to extend “beyond” our biological trappings.
To return to Fyfe’s statement, under wCCH, one person is theoretically to share desires or emotions with another without verbal communication or physical proximity. Under wCCH, it is possible that we can feel a desire that is not necessarily our own.
I felt these distinctions were necessary, because when it comes to consciousness and brains, there are many strange phenomena that might at a glance appear to be spiritual, that may in fact be organic. We’re going to discuss some strange things in upcoming weeks, and we’d be fools not to proceed with caution.
In the next post, we’ll more clearly delineate the foundational tenets of the immaterial consciousness hypothesis, and see if we can’t come up with a better name for the CCH’s competitor.