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Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Questions About Consciousness



The simple point about consciousness (or conscious experience) is that everything that happens in the brain could happen without consciousness. That is, why is consciousness added on top of all those physical- or brain- processes because the organism itself, it can be argued, could function, to some degree at least, without consciousness. David Chalmers writes:

"If all we knew about were the facts of physics, and even the facts about dynamics and information processing in complex systems, there would be no compelling reason to postulate the existence of conscious experience. If it were not for our direct evidence in the first-person case, the hypothesis would seem unwarranted…" (David Chalmers, 1996: 4-5)
Consciousness can't be inferred or deduced from "the facts of physics, and even the facts about dynamics and information processing in complex systems". If anything, consciousness must emerge from the facts of physics, etc.

Why does it do so?

How does it do so?

The way that David Chalmers actually puts it is as if consciousness (or conscious experience) is simply not needed – it adds nothing to the organism except, well, conscious experience. Isn’t the mind or consciousness used to help us survive and get us around the world? Surely this is obviously the case. Unless there's a behaviourist or functionalist argument which states that we would act the same - that is, respond to inputs or stimuli - even without consciousness.

That can’t be correct because we reason about input and stimuli; whereas the lower animals, computers and machines do not. Reason is part of mind and indeed of consciousness. Mind or reason may still respond to input or stimuli; though it needn't respond with fixed output – at least not in the same way every time as is the case with the lower animals and computers or machines.

Chalmers say that "there would be no compelling reason to postulate the existence of consciousness experience" over above the physical facts. Who would be doing the postulating anyway? A conscious mind. Who would be asking these questions about the need to postulate consciousness? A conscious mind. We can hardly talk about "our direct evidence in the first-person case" for consciousness because it can hardly function as evidence if our minds or consciousness has never even been in doubt. You can't use something that is beyond doubt as evidence. At least it wouldn't be like everyday scientific evidence; just as one doesn't count anything as ‘evidence’ for the truth of 2 + 2 = 4. Talk of evidence doesn’t seem to the point in this specific context.

Jerry Fodor puts all the above in an even more rudimentary way:

"Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious. Nobody even knows what it would be like to have the slightest idea about how anything material could be conscious. So much for the philosophy of consciousness." (Fodor, 1992)
Is this bald statement similar to how we once thought of the conundrum of how the organic (or the living) could arise from the inorganic or, as it were, the dead?

Perhaps it's also like the emergence of water’s liquidity from H2 O molecules or even light from a stream of photons. Perhaps there are a thousand cases of emergence - if the liquidity of water is emergence - in the world. The difference is that it is we who are conscious. So consciousness is something that's extra-special to us because we are conscious creatures. And consciousness, or mind, accounts for all these questions in the first place!

Perhaps Fodor’s questions (or rhetorical questions) are bogus questions.
 
Is something’s being conscious simply a causal question as to what causes consciousness? Or is Fodor asking us how matter causes consciousness? Perhaps the real question is why matter sometimes causes consciousness. Though why do H2 O molecules cause water or water’s liquidity? What do we mean by ‘why’ here? Is there even an answer to these kinds of why-question? What would an answer be like? Could there even be an answer? Can every question be answered? If we ask a question, does that mean that it can be answered or that there must be an answer? Perhaps, again, some why-questions are simply meaningless or bogus. Try to imagine what the answer would, or could, be like when we ask how matter can cause consciousness. Perhaps that's why, as Fodor puts it, no one "even what it would be like to have the slightest idea about how anything material could be conscious". That's because there may not be an answer because the very question itself is bogus or meaningless; just as question ‘Why is water H2 0?’ or ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ or ‘Why is gravity this rather than that?’ can be deemed to be meaningless.

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