The Third Rail of Consciousness

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

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Kuznetzova
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The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by Kuznetzova » Sun Sep 02, 2012 10:48 pm

Within political discourse, and in particular, the political language used by politicians, there are several issues which are considered a "third rail". An issue which is a "third rail" means some topic that is never talked about in a public venue. The metaphor is that the third rail of a railroad is electrically hot, so touching it would shock or kill the would-be speaker. Harping on a Third Rail topic would be political suicide.

There is a particular philosophical position on consciousness that can roughly be summarized as the following:
"Consciousness is a turing-computable function being performed by the biomechanics of the brain."
Since the early 1970s, philosophers, scientists, and intellectuals of all stripes have come to slowly learn to never take the above position. The above stance is what I am going to call the "Third Rail of Consciousness". Writers and debators have learned through trials and tribulations to never take the position, because they know that the philosophers will seize on it, and paint the claimant into a corner.

To a person who has already adopted various strict forms of reductionist materalism (for example Eliminative Materialism), the above claim appears to be reasonable, even self-evident. On deeper inspection, it turns out to be baseless, even hopelessly reaching. To see how a philosopher paints the reductionist into a corner, we can imagine a fictitious conversation between a vanilla materialist, and a philosopher.

vanilla materialist: "I hereby claim consciousness is a function of the brain."
Philosopher: "If consciousness is a function, what does that function do?"
vanilla materialist: "I hereby claim consciousness is a function of the brain!"
Philosopher: "Alright, that's fine. So what does the function do?"
vanilla materialist: "I hereby claim consciousness is a function of the brain!"
Philosopher: "Yes, I understand. Now what does the function perform exactly?"
vanilla materialist: "I hereby claim consciousness is a function of the brain!"
Philosopher: "And what is the use of this function?"
vanilla materialist: "I hereby claim consciousness is a function of the brain!"
Philosopher: "And what function are we talking?"
vanilla materialist: "I hereby claim consciousness is a function of the brain!"
Philosopher: "WHAT DOES IT DO?"

Even a novice philosopher can paint the most elite debater into a corner by simply sticking to two questions and not letting up. Namely,
1. What function does consciousness perform?
2. and Why did it evolve?

Neuroscientists and intellectuals of the last 40 years are now fully aware that these probing questions are always lurking around the corner. And so taking a position that consciousness is just brain function is something they have learned to completely avoid. In doing so, a number of more subtle approaches have been adopted by them. Before elaborating on these more subtle approaches, we should review the historical backdrop upon which all this started.

Thomas Nagel and bats.
Nagel, argued in a 1974 article that there is something that it is like to be a humnan. The title of his article was "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?". In it he argued that there is something that it is like to be a bat. This set the stage for what was to come. Nagel's position was not that of cartesian dualism, or humonculi in theatres, but something entirely new. In coming decades, Nagel's ambiguous ideas were going to be refined into a more rigorous system.


Joseph Levine and gaps.
In a 1983 paper, Levine coined the term "explanatory gap". In short, a scientific account of human existence is insufficient to explain the existence of internal, first-person experiences. Again, this was not a re-hashing of any argument about mental phenomenon existing independently of physical phenomena in biological brains. Instead it was simply a statement of fact: that modern science lacked an explanation for mental states in terms of physical states. To summarize -- science contains an explanatory gap when it comes to consciousness.


David Chalmers and zombies.
Levine's philosophy sparked a heated debate about whether the explanatory gap was really just a lack of technological progress in neuorscience. We could ask the question: Will advanced neuroscience of the future simply gain enough knowledge on the brain that the explanatory gap will be bridged? Chalmers took this argument to the bank -- and actually answered this question in the negative! Chalmers claimed that even if you had a complete, highly-detailed, blueprint of the human brain, there is still nothing about that blueprint that would entail logically that the brain was having internal experiences. Whereas Levine had shown an explanatory gap, Chalmers had posited a gap in reasoning itself. Chalmers' argument was so subtle, yet so powerful, that many could not understand it completely. In order to help the less clever, Chalmers came up with a cartoonish mental exercise to help elucidate his argument. Given that a blueprint of the brain only ever shows mechanisms of chemicals and cells, one could plausibly account for all human behavior in terms of unconscious zombies. Like robots, the zombies map input to output; they map perception to behavior; but do not ever feel anything. One has to imagine androids who look and act exactly as we do, but don't have any internal experience.

Dual Aspect Theory
What Chalmers had shown to us seems impossible to argue against. A mechanistic blueprint of the brain simply does not get you to consciousness taking place therein -- and showed this is not entailed because scientific materialism cannot rule out zombies. (i.e. entailment would require ruling out functional zombies. You can't rule them out. You don't get the entailment.) What was spearheaded by Thomas Nagel in the 1970s is now fully formed into a system called "Dual Aspect Theory" by contemporary philosophers in 2012CE. I will not elaborate further on Dual Aspect, but just point the reader to investigate on his or her own time.



We can come full circle now and see how literate intellectuals have responded to all this. In every case, we will see them adeptly avoiding the Third Rail. (As you read the following sections below, keep your eyes peeled and notice that, at no point, do any of these people claim consciousness is a function that does something.)



Giulio Tononi and fundamental properties.
Dr. Tononi is a researcher of sleep and consciousness at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He is a neuroscientist. Tononi gave a long lecture on a theory of consciousness called Phi Integration. After finishing the lecture, he was accosted immediately by philosophers in the audience. They wanted to know what function consciousness performs and why it had evolved in humans ... (no suprise there!).

Tononi shot back an answer that demonstrated his intellectual dexterity. He declared that consciousness did not evolve at all. And instead described consciousness as, (and I quote), "... a fundamental property like mass or charge."

Tononi was positioning himself subtly here. His comparison of consciousness to mass and charge meant to highlight that even in the "hard" science of physics, scientists do not know what charge is. Physicists accept that charge exists, without further explanation. Tononi was saying that consciousness is simply a fundamental property of systems of connected units. An "explanation" of its function is then not required since the question doesn't make sense. It would be like asking why a circle contains roundness.



Gerald Edelman and epi-phenomena.
Edelman is a neuroscientist, and a winner of the Nobel Prize in immunology. He has authored six books on the subject of consciousness. His books read like functional neuroanatomy, and their focus is on the Neuronal Correlates of Consciousness. The books are intended for a general reading audience. Edelman's work does indeed contain references to philosophers, but his position is directly contrary to Chalmers'. Edelman's system segregates C states from C' states (pronounced "C-prime" states). C states are activity of real neurons in brains that can be measured emperically in a lab, (i.e. the neuronal correlates). C' states are the conscious states experienced internally by the person. Using very strong arguments from neuroanatomy and contemporary neuroscience, Edelman posits that the C' states are indeed entailed by the C states.

However, in public and even on camera, Edelman has admitted that C' states are not causal. To summarize Edelman's philosophy in a single sentence: Consciousness is not causal. He understands that this drives philosophers crazy, because it is a form of epiphenomenalism. Consciousness exists in a strange way, "on top" of the dynamics of physical matter. In other words, consciousness comes along for the ride, but itself does nothing and indeed can't do anything. Consciousness is there. Get used to it. But don't expect anything of it.


Daniel Dennett and unwitting fictions.
Daniel Dennett is an american philosopher who lives in New England. Dennett's work spans numerous fields of study, from biology, to psychology, philosophy of science, and consciousness. For our purposes here, we will focus very narrowly on a single book authored by Dennett titled "Consciousness Explained" , which was published in 1991.

Dennett's book appears superficially to be written to a general audience. Personally, I disagree. In my opinion, 'Consciousness Explained' constitutes a direct frontal attack on Nagel and Levine. Dennett drives his attack directly to the premises that started this whole modern discourse on consciousness.

Dennett's arguments always loose something crucial in a summary, so the following summary will be a course overview.

Let's return to what it is like to be a bat. This was what started the whole thing to begin with in 1974. Dennett points out that explanatory gaps abound in modern life when it comes to science, and indeed we can manufacture explanatory gaps at will. For example take the plot of the movie Star Wars. I could demand of you that you produce a scientific explanation for the plotline of Star Wars. I could then parade around with your inability to provide one as an EXPLANATORY GAP. ("You cannot explain Star Wars using objective scientific accounts. That's an explanatory gap! Check mate, scientists!") Fortunately, we can tell each other that the existence of this explanatory gap is not a problem -- because Star Wars is a work of fiction. We say it is fiction, and the conversation is safisfactorily finished. Any other book or television show suffices as an example, as long as it is a work of fiction.

Dennett shows that human beings often converse in a normative manner and we can take an example of two human beings having a "normative" conversation on a subway. One persons asks another "What is it like to jet ski?" The second person produces the expected normative response; something like, "It's exciting because you go fast. You feel like you are out of control but you still maintain the ski machine underneath you."

When asking someone "What is like to do X?" the answer that comes out of their mouth is, (what Dennett calls), an unwitting fiction. Being a fiction, science is no more obligated to explain it than it is obligated to explain the plotline of Star Wars, Twilight, or any other fictitious story.

Dennett relies on the fact the primary evidence of internal experience is that it is reported on by the person having them. There is certainly no emperically-measured neurological data showing that internal experience is happening. When Nagel said that there is something that it is like to be an X, he was merely pointing out that there are entities in our world which produce verbalizations of (something which) they believe to be internal experience. Going in circles trying to explain what people believe is a scientific foul. (Beliefs of people are inexorably intertwined with culture, religion, upbringing, level of education, language itself, et cetera.)

Dennett's book from 1991 ended up being very influential on an entire generation of neuroscientists. Gerald Edelman's philosophy is, in a subtle way, a re-hashing of the foundation layed down by Dennett. Dennett can appropriately be considered the anti-Nagel.

The spearhead of the Dennett approach contains, on one hand, a denial of the "problems" of consciousness being problems at all -- and on the second hand, an adept caution to never touch the Third Rail.

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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by Bernard » Mon Sep 03, 2012 12:47 am

Immediate questions to arise are:

Why is it important to acknowledge consciousness is involved in evolution, and that it itself evolves?

Does a tacit social caveat when it comes to reading scientific texts which demands the backhanding of the idea of consciousness as a thing valid for scientific consideration, an acknowledgement enough of scientific inability on the topic? Is that supported by lack of demand for any application of such knowledge within the normal functions of society (Eg: war, technology, medicine)?

The means by which to study consciousness may be found via inter-subjective verification about the nature and workings of consciousness, but can that ever be regarded as an empirical stand-alone means when capacity of language is undeveloped in this direction and individuals not educated toward this end - indeed are actively discouraged toward this end?

How large potentially is this area of research and what is the price? The redirection and re-gearing of human effort would appear much more drastic than it would first seem. Whole polities would require restructure to allow go-slow style research - which would be the only allowable way to go in order for language to adapt properly and to enable culture(s) to deal meaningfully with the inevitable conflicts that would arise with current scientific mappings?

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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by Kuznetzova » Mon Sep 24, 2012 7:23 am

Bernard wrote:Immediate questions to arise are:

Why is it important to acknowledge consciousness is involved in evolution, and that it itself evolves?
Consciousness is either a "mathematical" property of certain interconnected systems, or, otherwise it is a biological function that changes outward behavior of those animals who have it.

Bernard wrote: Does a tacit social caveat when it comes to reading scientific texts which demands the backhanding of the idea of consciousness as a thing valid for scientific consideration, an acknowledgement enough of scientific inability on the topic? Is that supported by lack of demand for any application of such knowledge within the normal functions of society (Eg: war, technology, medicine)?
Well even technology would be struck out of that list too. So consciousness is an aspect of humans that does not fit into the paradigm of post-WW2 man; man as "industrial robot". Our self-paradigm does not have a place for it, so Dennet and others "make sure" that there is no place for it.

Bernard wrote: The means by which to study consciousness may be found via inter-subjective verification about the nature and workings of consciousness, but can that ever be regarded as an empirical stand-alone means when capacity of language is undeveloped in this direction and individuals not educated toward this end - indeed are actively discouraged toward this end?

How large potentially is this area of research and what is the price? The redirection and re-gearing of human effort would appear much more drastic than it would first seem. Whole polities would require restructure to allow go-slow style research - which would be the only allowable way to go in order for language to adapt properly and to enable culture(s) to deal meaningfully with the inevitable conflicts that would arise with current scientific mappings?
Are you asking me about the price and potentiality of developing natural language to "verify" consciousness? This looks like sophistry to me.

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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by Bernard » Mon Sep 24, 2012 8:40 am

Are you asking me about the price and potentiality of developing natural language to "verify" consciousness? This looks like sophistry to me.
Not quite. I'm saying that a more holistic view of ourselves would be more of a revolution and change in the human circumstance than we would care to imagine.

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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by Notvacka » Mon Sep 24, 2012 9:57 am

Kuznetzova wrote:Consciousness is either a "mathematical" property of certain interconnected systems, or, otherwise it is a biological function that changes outward behavior of those animals who have it.
I see no reason why it can't be both. And more.

Kepp in mind, that the existence of a physical universe is derived by human consciousness, from within human consciousness. All we know, we know from conscious experience. We might be able to fully understand the material world around us from this point of view, but to fully explain consciousness from within consciousness, seems like an impossible feat of bootstrapping.

I like Giulio Tononi's notion of a fundamental property. Consciousness can thus be viewed as a fundamental property of certain interconnected systems which changes the outward behaviour of those who have it. :)

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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by The Voice of Time » Mon Sep 24, 2012 11:56 am

I think the proper solution to this problem is just to stop assuming consciousness is more than we perceive it to be. And the way we perceive it, it is not part of the material world, but those two worlds act on each other in time, in that what happens in one of them may be preceded by changes in the other and this forms patterns of change.

The dichotomy is not really between materialist and conscious world, but between subjective and objective, as we always know personally our subjective worlds but have to always "remember" what the objective world is supposed to be. Whereas the objective world is created through feedback, however, the subjective world creates itself (maybe or not based on the objective material), in that a subjective world cannot recognize things outside of it as those aren't part of its domain. Meaning, it cannot recognize a country it is not visiting in its consciousness, as that country isn't part of the domain called "consciousness", however, the objective realm allows this thing to exist by not needing it to be an object of consciousness, but something working "behind the scenes".

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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by Ginkgo » Mon Sep 24, 2012 2:28 pm

Kuznetzova wrote:Within political discourse, and in particular, the political language used by politicians, there are several issues which are considered a "third rail". An issue which is a "third rail" means some topic that is never talked about in a public venue. The metaphor is that the third rail of a railroad is electrically hot, so touching it would shock or kill the would-be speaker. Harping on a Third Rail topic would be political suicide.


David Chalmers and zombies.
Levine's philosophy sparked a heated debate about whether the explanatory gap was really just a lack of technological progress in neuorscience. We could ask the question: Will advanced neuroscience of the future simply gain enough knowledge on the brain that the explanatory gap will be bridged? Chalmers took this argument to the bank -- and actually answered this question in the negative! Chalmers claimed that even if you had a complete, highly-detailed, blueprint of the human brain, there is still nothing about that blueprint that would entail logically that the brain was having internal experiences. Whereas Levine had shown an explanatory gap, Chalmers had posited a gap in reasoning itself. Chalmers' argument was so subtle, yet so powerful, that many could not understand it completely. In order to help the less clever, Chalmers came up with a cartoonish mental exercise to help elucidate his argument. Given that a blueprint of the brain only ever shows mechanisms of chemicals and cells, one could plausibly account for all human behavior in terms of unconscious zombies. Like robots, the zombies map input to output; they map perception to behavior; but do not ever feel anything. One has to imagine androids who look and act exactly as we do, but don't have any internal experience.

Dual Aspect Theory
What Chalmers had shown to us seems impossible to argue against. A mechanistic blueprint of the brain simply does not get you to consciousness taking place therein -- and showed this is not entailed because scientific materialism cannot rule out zombies. (i.e. entailment would require ruling out functional zombies. You can't rule them out. You don't get the entailment.) What was spearheaded by Thomas Nagel in the 1970s is now fully formed into a system called "Dual Aspect Theory" by contemporary philosophers in 2012CE. I will not elaborate further on Dual Aspect, but just point the reader to investigate on his or her own time.



We can come full circle now and see how literate intellectuals have responded to all this. In every case, we will see them adeptly avoiding the Third Rail. (As you read the following sections below, keep your eyes peeled and notice that, at no point, do any of these people claim consciousness is a function that does something.)




Gerald Edelman and epi-phenomena.
Edelman is a neuroscientist, and a winner of the Nobel Prize in immunology. He has authored six books on the subject of consciousness. His books read like functional neuroanatomy, and their focus is on the Neuronal Correlates of Consciousness. The books are intended for a general reading audience. Edelman's work does indeed contain references to philosophers, but his position is directly contrary to Chalmers'. Edelman's system segregates C states from C' states (pronounced "C-prime" states). C states are activity of real neurons in brains that can be measured emperically in a lab, (i.e. the neuronal correlates). C' states are the conscious states experienced internally by the person. Using very strong arguments from neuroanatomy and contemporary neuroscience, Edelman posits that the C' states are indeed entailed by the C states.

However, in public and even on camera, Edelman has admitted that C' states are not causal. To summarize Edelman's philosophy in a single sentence: Consciousness is not causal. He understands that this drives philosophers crazy, because it is a form of epiphenomenalism. Consciousness exists in a strange way, "on top" of the dynamics of physical matter. In other words, consciousness comes along for the ride, but itself does nothing and indeed can't do anything. Consciousness is there. Get used to it. But don't expect anything of it.

I find Chalmers' zombie and Edelman's epi-phenomena interesting for the following reasons.

Chalmers' zombie could be looked at in terms of an epi-phenomenal being. This zombie doesn't have conscious experience because his consciousness is simply a by-product of the physical process going on in his brain. Experience goes unnoticed by the zombie so he doesn't relate to us what anything can be like. In other words he has no, 'what it is like experiences'.

For us non-zombie types consciousness is anything but a by-product of the physical process. We tend to take our thoughts seriously. Sometimes they can drive us to distraction. For a zombie thoughts hardly exist, go unnoticed; perhaps don't exist at all.

Wouldn't this mean that Chalmers' zombie doesn't attend to anything-doesn't experience anything- lacks conscious experience? Assuming attention is an integral part of consciousness,wouldn't Chalmers' zombie be rooted to the spot? Would he be able to do anything?

I think he would not be able to make even the simplest decision.

I know that zombies are only metaphysically possible, not actually possible.

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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by The Voice of Time » Mon Sep 24, 2012 2:47 pm

Zombies are actually possible. Now I'm not saying there has ever been created one, but there is no reason why there shouldn't be one.

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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by whb2012 » Wed Oct 03, 2012 11:10 pm

This summary on contemporary thought about consciousness is nicely done.

As an amateur philosopher, I've long had a very strong intuition that, fundamentally, consciousness and suffering are the same thing. This never seemed a terribly subtle or profound thought to me, so I was surprised when, some time ago, I Googled "Suffering is the cause of Conciousness" and saw so little of the sort of discussion which linked the two in the way I was thinking of it.

There were a lot of links to Buddhist understanding in which suffering is a sort of misapplication of consciousness, but that didn't get to what I was thinking. However, while there were not a lot of people thinking like this in history, there was one person who phrased exactly what I was thinking. Fyodor Dostoevsky in his book Notes from Underground says specifically that suffering is the sole origin of consciousness. As, an amateur philosopher, it was very gratifying to see one's own intuition expressed in the words of such a respected historical figure.

Dostoevsky, in the book, is addressing human consciousness in its full complexity and depth in a rather broad way, and it did sync up very well with my own thoughts. However, my own thoughts on this were more specific, or rather less dramatic and more mundanely observational.

I first started thinking about this when I was reading proponents of Artificial Intelligence who seemed very convinced that it would be possible to make computers sophisticated enough enough to actually become conscious. They were actually saying that if a computer could behave, or converse, in such a way that it would be impossible to distinguish it from a human being, then it would therefore be conscious. This seemed immediately ludicrous to me. While I understood the ethical imperative of assuming, in case such a creature did come into existence, that it was conscious, I knew that, for me, there would always be doubt as to whether or not it really was. On the other hand, I don't doubt the consciousness of my fellow biological creatures at all. The discussion above about Chalmer's zombies, which I have only learned about today, is very much exactly how I imagined these hypothetical AI to be. I would not doubt that the AI could process logical algorithms much the same as I do, and much better; what I would always doubt is if they could suffer as I, and other animals, do. This is the story of how the sudden intuition that suffering originates consciousness came to me.

This set me thinking, and I'll attempt to describe the way I have thought about this as a result of my experience with my own consciousness as well as observing fellow creatures. I find myself exploring consciousness (from here on referenced as "C") by asking, and answering, questions in the following manner. I will number my thoughts to make any discussion and replies easy.

Q1. Is C separable from it's content in the way a container, or processor, is separated from its contents?
A1. No, it is it's content.

Q2. But since the content of C is variable, how can it be said to be identical with it's content?
A2. Because the content of C is variability. That is, it is the experience of variability. If all experience consisted of the color blue, consciousness would not exist. It is in the variability of colors that any color can be distinguished as 'blue' as opposed to 'red' or some other color.

Q3. So, logically speaking, why are the colors themselves not conscious since they are actually the variability themselves?
A3. Because the colors are not themselves variable; they are only experienced as variable. They are experienced as variable because consciousness differentiates one segment of the universe from the other. There is nothing in the all encompassing process called "the Universe", which would delineate where one sub process ended and where the next began, except for consciousness. So consciousness is not simply variability, but it is the imposition of variability, it is the differentiating of the tree from the soil it is in or from the sun which gives it energy when all of these things are in a continuum of process in which everything is equally dependent for the whole process to be exactly as it is.

Q4. So what causes this differentiation which we call Consciousness?
A4. The observable, comprehensible, laws of the material universe are absolutely consistent as applied to unconscious matter as when applied to conscious matter. While we can observe conscious differentiation doing things to manipulate the universe into one possible preferred state or the other, we have not yet observed a law of the universe which differentiates one bit of matter over another in such a way as to induce differentiating consciousness in some of them. Such a law would certainly resemble consciousness itself since it would be preferring some parts of the universe over others, but the nature of physical laws is such that preference between different possibilities are impossible, since it is not possible that the comprehensible laws of the universe could produce anything other then what they have produced.

So differentiating consciousness is different then all physical law in that it consists in preferences between possibilities while comprehensible physical laws are completely absent of variety of possibilities. To comprehend a law it must be absolutely consistent and, theoretically, absolutely predictable. Quantum mechanical theory (QMT) cannot be cited as contradicting this since QMT is precisely about the underlying unpredictability of particles, and no one pretends to comprehend it. This is why the Uncertainty Principle in QMT is called a 'Principle' rather then a "Law".

Q5. So what is there some principle behind the preferential differentiation (or differentiating preferences) of consciousness?
A5. Yes, it is the principle of suffering, the primordial experience from which all experience derives. It is suffering which induces the conscious being to move. Suffering is then modulated according to the movement and the organism learns of varying possibilities in its suffering and how its movement can modulate that suffering. It learns that the effectiveness of it's movement is determined by it's environment, and begins to differentiate the environment accordingly. It evolves ways of differentiating the environment (the senses) that enhances it's ability to survive it's suffering.

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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by chaz wyman » Thu Oct 04, 2012 12:13 am

Kuznetzova wrote:Within political discourse, and in particular, the political language used by politicians, there are several issues which are considered a "third rail". An issue which is a "third rail" means some topic that is never talked about in a public venue. The metaphor is that the third rail of a railroad is electrically hot, so touching it would shock or kill the would-be speaker. Harping on a Third Rail topic would be political suicide.

I'm not sure the analogy is a good one. On a locomotive, it is the third rail that supplies the energy for the train to move. It seems to me that the rather unsatisfactory notion of the soul has been used for thousands of years to fulfil the third rail argument. Far from being the 'elephant in the room' that no one can mention - it is the basic assumption that all systems have employed at least since Plato, all through the 3 Abrahamic religions and more ideologies besides. And it is this assumption which to coin a phrase is the mother of all fuck-ups. It has led us down the path of a disabling dualism based on notions of the sacred that has impeded any progress in understanding the brain.


vanilla materialist: "I hereby claim consciousness is a function of the brain."
Philosopher: "If consciousness is a function, what does that function do?"
vanilla materialist: "I hereby claim consciousness is a function of the brain!"
Philosopher: "Alright, that's fine. So what does the function do?"
vanilla materialist: "I hereby claim consciousness is a function of the brain!"
Philosopher: "Yes, I understand. Now what does the function perform exactly?"
vanilla materialist: "I hereby claim consciousness is a function of the brain!"
Philosopher: "And what is the use of this function?"
vanilla materialist: "I hereby claim consciousness is a function of the brain!"
Philosopher: "And what function are we talking?"
vanilla materialist: "I hereby claim consciousness is a function of the brain!"
Philosopher: "WHAT DOES IT DO?"

Even a novice philosopher can paint the most elite debater into a corner by simply sticking to two questions and not letting up. Namely,
1. What function does consciousness perform?
2. and Why did it evolve?

Things do not have a purpose in evolving. Whilst it is a fair question to ask HOW it evolved, the naturalistic explanation as to why is mute. The simple fact that the emergence of consciousness has not adversely affected reproductive success is as far as evolutionary theory can and should take this question.
For there to be any trait, it does not have to prove its credentials in terms of advantage - although most traits are advantageous - it simply has to tag along on organisms that are successful in a range of other ways.
The big question will remain, how extensive is consciousness in the living world? What are the minimum material and energetic requirements for it.
You might as well ask the same questions about gravity or heat.


Neuroscientists and intellectuals of the last 40 years are now fully aware that these probing questions are always lurking around the corner. And so taking a position that consciousness is just brain function is something they have learned to completely avoid. In doing so, a number of more subtle approaches have been adopted by them. Before elaborating on these more subtle approaches, we should review the historical backdrop upon which all this started.

The neuroscientists like their coloured pictures of brain scans that have helped them map out certain brain ares that deal with such things as 'speech', 'hearing', 'face recognition', the mysteriously named "higher functions" and so on. Science has not and perhaps never will answer such questions beyond how the brain does this or that. The consciousness question is a human experiential one, not a mechanical objective one.


The spearhead of the Dennett approach contains, on one hand, a denial of the "problems" of consciousness being problems at all -- and on the second hand, an adept caution to never touch the Third Rail.
Because there is no third rail.
Consciousness is what the brain does. There is no hidden rail guiding it. The brain is what it is, and energetic material reality, matter in motion.
It seems to me we can never see behind the mirror on this one; you cannot use a telescope the see the telescope.
Sorry for the strangled metaphors.
Last edited by chaz wyman on Thu Oct 04, 2012 12:18 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by chaz wyman » Thu Oct 04, 2012 12:13 am

The Voice of Time wrote:Zombies are actually possible. Now I'm not saying there has ever been created one, but there is no reason why there shouldn't be one.

Silly post of the week.

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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by chaz wyman » Thu Oct 04, 2012 12:16 am

The Voice of Time wrote:I think the proper solution to this problem is just to stop assuming consciousness is more than we perceive it to be. And the way we perceive it, it is not part of the material world, but those two worlds act on each other in time, in that what happens in one of them may be preceded by changes in the other and this forms patterns of change.

What you are saying is that C is not more than we perceive it to be, but we perceive it to be much more than it actually is. Not only have you gone beyond this world but you are postulating a completely different one to explain the first one that you do not understand.


The dichotomy is not really between materialis....

This is naive dualism,



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Ginkgo
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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by Ginkgo » Thu Oct 04, 2012 3:21 am

Having read all of these interesting posts, so far here is what I think.

Suffering causes us to attend and if we have the ability to attend (in humans at least) we have experience. If we had the ability not to attend or to attend to everything at once then we wouldn't have any first person experience. In other words we would have no , "what it is like" experience.

The problem is that we can never catch ourselves not attending; or as Chaz says, "we can't use a telescope to see a telescope". It is only Chalmer's zombie who has the ability to attend to nothing or attend to everything. Attending to nothing or attending to everything is more than likely two sides of the same coin. That is to say, the ability to have no experience. This of course, is assuming that consciousness is attention and attention is experience. I think this would still satisfy Chalmers' definition of, "the hard problem"

We are not philosophical zombies because we are designed to attend. If we didn't then we would suffer from an overwhelming paralysis.The other question I guess is,"Is it possible to not attend to anything?" All of this would depend on what I mean by "everything" and/or "anything".



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The Voice of Time
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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by The Voice of Time » Thu Oct 04, 2012 1:45 pm

Ginkgo wrote:This of course, is assuming that consciousness is attention and attention is experience
To attend is an action, and attention the action viewed as a thing, making it an object to talk about. Consciousness itself is no action but rather a stream of information constructed as sounds, images, and so forth. Experience and experiencing is the accumulation of information, and differs from consciousness the same way as seeing the water differs from harvesting it in buckets, constructing wells and damming rivers.

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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by Kuznetzova » Thu Oct 04, 2012 11:11 pm

Notvacka wrote:[Consciousness can thus be viewed as a fundamental property of certain interconnected systems which changes the outward behaviour of those who have it. :)
Well be careful here. Tononi clearly states that it has no outward manifestation. (We don't have to agree with him, right, but we should not put words in his mouth.) Having said that, what you say here makes a lot of sense regardless. Perhaps the process of evolution of humans had to work around consciousness, rather than go through all sorts of careful tricks to "get it to work".

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