Calling all consciousness deniers

Is the mind the same as the body? What is consciousness? Can machines have it?

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monktastic
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Calling all consciousness deniers

Post by monktastic » Thu Jul 13, 2017 10:32 pm

Howdy all,

Over the years I've had a number of curious conversations with people who claim it's reasonable to deny the existence of consciousness, but I've never really grokked their arguments. I'm assuming there must be some such people on this board, and I'd like to figure out exactly what it is you mean.

What do I mean by consciousness? I mean the sheer fact that something seems to be happening. As far as I can tell, it is the only thing I cannot meaningfully deny. When I say that I deny it, I mean something like "the conscious experience of doubt seems to be happening."

Some have argued back: it doesn't really seem that way, it only seems to seem. I admit I don't understand the distinction.

Of course, I've just replaced one word ("consciousness") with another ("seeming"), instead of more precisely defining it. I admit that I cannot. The best I can do is try to point it out.

Take a look around. Forget about all philosophy and sophistication for just a moment. Let your thoughts totally rest. Now, look very directly and innocently (and interpret this in plain English): doesn't it seem like something is happening?

I think you'll find that the answer is a definite "yes." Very shortly (milliseconds?) after recognizing the sheer fact of consciousness, the mind is off to the races. It dives headlong into intellectual speculations, potentially generating all manner of hypotheses as to how it might be wrong. It fails to notice that this entire process of generating evidence against consciousness is taking place within consciousness. But it can be noticed again, by simply looking. (As an aside, the discipline of repeating this process in a methodical way is sometimes called "meditation").

Anyway, wanted to share my perspective and hear your thoughts.

surreptitious57
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Re: Calling all consciousness deniers

Post by surreptitious57 » Fri Jul 14, 2017 12:11 am

I am not a consciousness denier. I am a biological organism with a functioning brain. I am both aware and self aware
Meaning I know I am aware. I rely on my brain and my sense organs to experience and interpret the world therefore
I am conscious. I think therefore I am. Without consciousness I cannot do anything so I know it exists. And welcome

SteveKlinko
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Re: Calling all consciousness deniers

Post by SteveKlinko » Fri Jul 14, 2017 3:07 pm

monktastic wrote:
Thu Jul 13, 2017 10:32 pm
Howdy all,

Over the years I've had a number of curious conversations with people who claim it's reasonable to deny the existence of consciousness, but I've never really grokked their arguments. I'm assuming there must be some such people on this board, and I'd like to figure out exactly what it is you mean.

What do I mean by consciousness? I mean the sheer fact that something seems to be happening. As far as I can tell, it is the only thing I cannot meaningfully deny. When I say that I deny it, I mean something like "the conscious experience of doubt seems to be happening."

Some have argued back: it doesn't really seem that way, it only seems to seem. I admit I don't understand the distinction.

Of course, I've just replaced one word ("consciousness") with another ("seeming"), instead of more precisely defining it. I admit that I cannot. The best I can do is try to point it out.

Take a look around. Forget about all philosophy and sophistication for just a moment. Let your thoughts totally rest. Now, look very directly and innocently (and interpret this in plain English): doesn't it seem like something is happening?

I think you'll find that the answer is a definite "yes." Very shortly (milliseconds?) after recognizing the sheer fact of consciousness, the mind is off to the races. It dives headlong into intellectual speculations, potentially generating all manner of hypotheses as to how it might be wrong. It fails to notice that this entire process of generating evidence against consciousness is taking place within consciousness. But it can be noticed again, by simply looking. (As an aside, the discipline of repeating this process in a methodical way is sometimes called "meditation").

Anyway, wanted to share my perspective and hear your thoughts.
I am copying my reply from the Dualism II post here because it applies:

Consciousness will never be explained or even studied by Science as long as Scientists proclaim that there is no such thing as Consciousness or that it is just an Illusion. What can you do when people say there is no Hard Problem or Explanatory Gap and it is all already solved Scientifically? They say its all in the Neurons. They don't understand the Hard Problem of Consciousness that leads to the Explanatory Gap.

I think that Science will develop new Concepts that are not known yet. These Concepts will describe Consciousness in a Scientific way. It will be a new branch of Science. But first Science must acknowledge the existence of a separate Consciousness concept that is Not Explained yet and that can be studied. The very fact that Consciousness exists in the Universe means that we must explain it. It is basic human Scientific curiosity that will drive it. It might take thinking in new Scientific ways.

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Noax
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Re: Calling all consciousness deniers

Post by Noax » Fri Jul 14, 2017 5:11 pm

monktastic wrote:
Thu Jul 13, 2017 10:32 pm
Over the years I've had a number of curious conversations with people who claim it's reasonable to deny the existence of consciousness, but I've never really grokked their arguments.

What do I mean by consciousness? I mean the sheer fact that something seems to be happening.
You are looking for those that deny that things are happening??? Not too many of those, but maybe a few.

What is your goal here? Are you looking to rationalize the dualistic position you already seem to hold, or are you on the fence and considering both sides? You kind of heard from both sides in the first two replies there.

I ask because you seem to be twisting the argument of one side into 'denial that things happen'. To misrepresent the argument of another probably means you've already made up your mind, and there is plenty of literature to support that. Go with it.

monktastic
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Re: Calling all consciousness deniers

Post by monktastic » Fri Jul 14, 2017 8:05 pm

Noax wrote:
Fri Jul 14, 2017 5:11 pm
monktastic wrote:
Thu Jul 13, 2017 10:32 pm
Over the years I've had a number of curious conversations with people who claim it's reasonable to deny the existence of consciousness, but I've never really grokked their arguments.

What do I mean by consciousness? I mean the sheer fact that something seems to be happening.
You are looking for those that deny that things are happening???
No, for those deny that they seem to be happening. Or those that say "yes, it may seem that way, but we can be certain [now or in the future] that it's just neurons firing." In other words, those who believe that physicality is more certain than the sheer fact of experience / consciousness / seeming.

I want to understand where our views diverge.

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Noax
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Re: Calling all consciousness deniers

Post by Noax » Fri Jul 14, 2017 8:53 pm

monktastic wrote:
Fri Jul 14, 2017 8:05 pm
In other words, those who believe that physicality is more certain than the sheer fact of experience / consciousness / seeming.
OK, you seem to be contrasting with idealism (belief that experience is all there is, without any experience-independent reality beyond it). That is not denial of consciousness, it is denial of everything else. Yes, there are idealists on this forum.

The subject line does not seem to convey your re-statement of your request.

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PauloL
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Re: Calling all consciousness deniers

Post by PauloL » Sun Jul 16, 2017 5:29 pm

SteveKlinko wrote:
Fri Jul 14, 2017 3:07 pm

I am copying my reply from the Dualism II post here because it applies:

Consciousness will never be explained or even studied by Science as long as Scientists proclaim that there is no such thing as Consciousness or that it is just an Illusion. What can you do when people say there is no Hard Problem or Explanatory Gap and it is all already solved Scientifically? They say its all in the Neurons. They don't understand the Hard Problem of Consciousness that leads to the Explanatory Gap.

I think that Science will develop new Concepts that are not known yet. These Concepts will describe Consciousness in a Scientific way. It will be a new branch of Science. But first Science must acknowledge the existence of a separate Consciousness concept that is Not Explained yet and that can be studied. The very fact that Consciousness exists in the Universe means that we must explain it. It is basic human Scientific curiosity that will drive it. It might take thinking in new Scientific ways.
I'd like to add my answer in Dualism II, inspired by these comments by Steve:

In fact scientism boycotted any further investigation on the mind by deriding its study as associated to spiritism, for instance, something scientifically unsound, but curbing anyone interested in studying honestly the mind as an entity.

To substantiate this boycott, just look at this quote from a book in Neurosciences:

"Progress in addressing the mind-body problem has come from focusing on empirically accessible questions rather than on eristic philosophical arguments with no clear resolution."

There's no dispute between any scientific areas, Philosophy included, so why do people think that they may feel in the right to call whatever they like to other legitimate scientific areas, to the point of disparaging and vilifying them? Isn't this devious behavior eristic on its own?

Wyman
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Re: Calling all consciousness deniers

Post by Wyman » Mon Jul 17, 2017 1:12 am

monktastic wrote:
Thu Jul 13, 2017 10:32 pm
Howdy all,

Over the years I've had a number of curious conversations with people who claim it's reasonable to deny the existence of consciousness, but I've never really grokked their arguments. I'm assuming there must be some such people on this board, and I'd like to figure out exactly what it is you mean.

What do I mean by consciousness? I mean the sheer fact that something seems to be happening. As far as I can tell, it is the only thing I cannot meaningfully deny. When I say that I deny it, I mean something like "the conscious experience of doubt seems to be happening."

Some have argued back: it doesn't really seem that way, it only seems to seem. I admit I don't understand the distinction.

Of course, I've just replaced one word ("consciousness") with another ("seeming"), instead of more precisely defining it. I admit that I cannot. The best I can do is try to point it out.

Take a look around. Forget about all philosophy and sophistication for just a moment. Let your thoughts totally rest. Now, look very directly and innocently (and interpret this in plain English): doesn't it seem like something is happening?

I think you'll find that the answer is a definite "yes." Very shortly (milliseconds?) after recognizing the sheer fact of consciousness, the mind is off to the races. It dives headlong into intellectual speculations, potentially generating all manner of hypotheses as to how it might be wrong. It fails to notice that this entire process of generating evidence against consciousness is taking place within consciousness. But it can be noticed again, by simply looking. (As an aside, the discipline of repeating this process in a methodical way is sometimes called "meditation").

Anyway, wanted to share my perspective and hear your thoughts.
I don't think that people deny that things happen or that consciousness exists as a process. What people deny is that there are intermediary 'things' called qualia or phenomenal experiences or conscious experiences that come between us and reality. Materialists/physicalists, for instance, must either deny the existence of such things or else show that such things are physical. But there is no evidence that the 'images' of consciousness are physical things - thus, they usually deny their existence.

Searle describes consciousness as a process or bodily function like digestion. I don't think that that is a very good explanation, but I do think that conscious experience can be interpreted as a process rather than a thing.

monktastic
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Joined: Thu Jul 13, 2017 9:58 pm

Re: Calling all consciousness deniers

Post by monktastic » Mon Jul 17, 2017 4:18 pm

Wyman wrote:
Mon Jul 17, 2017 1:12 am
I don't think that people deny that things happen or that consciousness exists as a process. What people deny is that there are intermediary 'things' called qualia or phenomenal experiences or conscious experiences that come between us and reality. Materialists/physicalists, for instance, must either deny the existence of such things or else show that such things are physical. But there is no evidence that the 'images' of consciousness are physical things - thus, they usually deny their existence.

Searle describes consciousness as a process or bodily function like digestion. I don't think that that is a very good explanation, but I do think that conscious experience can be interpreted as a process rather than a thing.
Thank you. So if one has a commitment to physicalism, then, being a monist, one must either deny the existence of qualia or demonstrate their physicality. The former is easier. That makes sense.

Which means my question does, indeed, boil down to: what is the intuition for being a physicalist and denying qualia, when qualia constitute one's only evidence for physical reality to begin with? (Not just evidence in the form of sensory experiences indicating a physical reality, but in the form of the reasoning process, i.e. the qualia called "thoughts.")

The argument I most commonly hear goes something like this: qualia clearly do not constitute one's evidence for physical reality, because they do not exist.

I see no contradiction in the reasoning. What I do see is something like this: when people take up the practice of meditation, they soon discover that they have many more thoughts than they previously recognized. Slowly, one discovers a rich mental space that they were previously somehow overlooking. It becomes increasingly clear that the only first-hand data one has is not meaningfully physical. Instead, there's an extremely rapid and subtle mental process (of normally unconscious metaphysical beliefs and reasoning) that takes all this first-hand experience (qualia) and reasons it away as an illusion of an imagined "physical world" that must be its cause.

It is a truly remarkably sleight of hand. The Great Spaghetti Monster knows I'm not free of it.

Again, I recognize that there would be no contradiction in claiming that the above is merely a trick of a physical brain, nor any convincing response to it. From that position, the reasonably conclusion is that this claimed "first-hand data" is just another illusion. I don't begrudge this view.

Nonetheless, I'm suggesting that the sleight of hand I'm describing is absolutely worth seeing clearly for oneself. There is "only one thing" that one ever encounters, and it somehow uses itself to deny itself in favor of an imagined other thing that it itself is conjuring (via imagination). It is as wondrous as it is absurd.

It sounds like I'm arguing for idealism, when I'm really arguing for more people to engage in the practice of nonconceptually investigating the nature of conceptuality. One does not lose the ability for conceptuality in the process, but does gain something.

Wyman
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Joined: Sat Jan 04, 2014 2:21 pm

Re: Calling all consciousness deniers

Post by Wyman » Mon Jul 17, 2017 9:54 pm

monktastic wrote:
Mon Jul 17, 2017 4:18 pm
Wyman wrote:
Mon Jul 17, 2017 1:12 am
I don't think that people deny that things happen or that consciousness exists as a process. What people deny is that there are intermediary 'things' called qualia or phenomenal experiences or conscious experiences that come between us and reality. Materialists/physicalists, for instance, must either deny the existence of such things or else show that such things are physical. But there is no evidence that the 'images' of consciousness are physical things - thus, they usually deny their existence.

Searle describes consciousness as a process or bodily function like digestion. I don't think that that is a very good explanation, but I do think that conscious experience can be interpreted as a process rather than a thing.
Thank you. So if one has a commitment to physicalism, then, being a monist, one must either deny the existence of qualia or demonstrate their physicality. The former is easier. That makes sense.

Which means my question does, indeed, boil down to: what is the intuition for being a physicalist and denying qualia, when qualia constitute one's only evidence for physical reality to begin with? (Not just evidence in the form of sensory experiences indicating a physical reality, but in the form of the reasoning process, i.e. the qualia called "thoughts.")

The argument I most commonly hear goes something like this: qualia clearly do not constitute one's evidence for physical reality, because they do not exist.

I see no contradiction in the reasoning. What I do see is something like this: when people take up the practice of meditation, they soon discover that they have many more thoughts than they previously recognized. Slowly, one discovers a rich mental space that they were previously somehow overlooking. It becomes increasingly clear that the only first-hand data one has is not meaningfully physical. Instead, there's an extremely rapid and subtle mental process (of normally unconscious metaphysical beliefs and reasoning) that takes all this first-hand experience (qualia) and reasons it away as an illusion of an imagined "physical world" that must be its cause.

It is a truly remarkably sleight of hand. The Great Spaghetti Monster knows I'm not free of it.

Again, I recognize that there would be no contradiction in claiming that the above is merely a trick of a physical brain, nor any convincing response to it. From that position, the reasonably conclusion is that this claimed "first-hand data" is just another illusion. I don't begrudge this view.

Nonetheless, I'm suggesting that the sleight of hand I'm describing is absolutely worth seeing clearly for oneself. There is "only one thing" that one ever encounters, and it somehow uses itself to deny itself in favor of an imagined other thing that it itself is conjuring (via imagination). It is as wondrous as it is absurd.

It sounds like I'm arguing for idealism, when I'm really arguing for more people to engage in the practice of nonconceptually investigating the nature of conceptuality. One does not lose the ability for conceptuality in the process, but does gain something.
Here's a thought experiment. Imagine one of those video cameras at a department store that projects passersby onto a large TV screen. When no one is passing by, there is a still image of, say a wall with some shelves on it. Is the image on the screen a 'thing?' Or is it just a bunch of photons shooting out of a television? When no one is moving across it, the image appears static, as the stream of photons is continuous. That is why we call it 'an' image - a thing, an entity. When there is movement, we are more inclined to think of the 'image' as a stream of ever-changing photons streams - never one steady image any more than a river is ever static. We can certainly think of it as static - as a thing, as an entity - but that does not make it static.

Go a step further - there is no 'image' at all on the TV. An image appears to us only after the photons emitted from the TV strike our retinas, and are processed physically by our brains. So we think of the emission of photons as a physical event and the visual representation of the emission as a percept. Move the whole process (the whole analogy) one step forward and think of the percept as a physical event (like the video image in the example) and... then what? Perhaps a loop, where our perceptual apparatus is constantly either 'catching up' to the physical event taking place in our brains or perhaps anticipating what will come next.

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