The Third Rail of Consciousness

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

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Toadny
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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by Toadny » Thu Nov 01, 2012 11:48 pm

Ginkgo wrote:
I claimed earlier that Chalmers rejects a philosophical zombie actually existing on the basis that it is not possible to lack experience at all levels. The question I am asking is this. "Can this 'super-unity' of consciousness actually be regarded as an experience?" If it is an experience it doesn't seem to be an experience as we normally understand the word.
Hi Ginkgo,

Like I said, I don't find the zombie talk helpful, it seems to add nothing but confusion. Why don't we talk about what we know. We know it is possible to lack experience at all levels, that's what it's like when you're dead.

chaz wyman
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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by chaz wyman » Fri Nov 02, 2012 2:01 am

Since we are often in the Realm of definition, let us try a few examples.

How about.....

'Super-unity' of consciousness. Definition: That which cannot be experienced.


Experience. Definition: A state for which no 'super-unity', is neither desirable nor is it possible.


Fantasy: A thing of the imagination which is necessarily impossible, e.g. 'super-unity' of consciousness is fantasy.

MarkM
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Joined: Wed Oct 31, 2012 4:02 am

Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by MarkM » Fri Nov 02, 2012 8:53 am

Kuznetzova wrote:
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.
Kuznetzova wrote:
Hello - Let me suggest a different way to restore some rational coherence to the area of consciousness.

We do not understand the larger global workings of the brain, therefore we are not in a position to categorize and separate out a notional part of it, which is what we do when we invoke the notion of consciousness. Trying to wield and use the notion of consciousness without a brain-wide context, for all we know, is like trying to reason about the top of a mountain without allusion to the lower eighty percent of the mountain.

The lower eighty percent may be amenable to materialist scrutiny, and may offer insight on the top twenty percent; presuming this hierarchical analogy is a meaningful model of course.
The point is that the importance of consciousness in a larger view of the brain may have been artificially promoted to a prominence that does not aid an investigation of the mind. So, perhaps we should consider working around it.

If we were to introduce a brain-wide notion that refers to a whole fore brain activity, we can start to talk about consciousness and its context. To enlarge the topic under consideration from just consciousness, we can include and add the balance of fore-brain activity. To do this, we can usefully revert to the notion of cognition; the management of all information in the fore-brain. Cognition is a good universal reference term for all mental activity.


Assumption 1 Consciousness is part of the larger activity that is cognition.
Assumption 2 The role of cognition is to serve the whole organism.

Inference 1 Consciousness is a sub-part of cognition, with a role that is ultimately about serving the whole organism. Consciousness is a role player in a larger enterprise.

Inference 2 Consciousness is not the objective of the organism, or of cognition.


Proposal 1 Widen the domain of study to the area of cognition.

Proposal 2 Widen the domain of relevance to include the whole organism, such that cognition itself serves the whole organism. (We do not have to define the purpose of the whole organism.)

Proposal 3 Consciousness is a sub-function of cognition, through which it serves the purpose of the whole organism.

Proposal 4 To approach the topic of consciousness, study cognition, and study cognition not with regard to consciousness, but with regard to cognition’s service to the whole organism.

Proposal 5 Consciousness may be defined by cognition, and cognition may be defined by the whole organism.

If consciousness has an effect or causes anything, we might be better positioned if we thought about it effecting the organism first, and the external, objective world second. But the advance of our understanding might be better served if we thought of consciousness as an effect of cognition, created in order to serve cognition.

It may be the case that trying to define consciousness outside of cognition and the whole organism may not only be misdirected, but premature.
However, by cradling the area under study in the notion of cognition, we can restore rational coherence, and work around third rails, and other dualist hazards.

Getting back to the issue you raised at the beginning; Turing. I do not believe that a Turing machine models what happens in the brain. The Turing machine model does not have a place for the energy it uses to complete its task. You may say that that does not matter.
I would reply that the brain, unlike a Turing machine, has to factor in the energy it uses. In my opinion, the energy a brain uses is part of its function; or to re-phrase in a reductionist view, the brain’s energy consumption is part of it’s calculations.
As a matter of curiosity, has it been proposed that a Turing machine can replicate true parallel processing ? I believe this question should be answered carefully, and the distinctions between serial processing, distributed processing and true parallel processing should be kept in mind.

Cheers

Ginkgo
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Joined: Mon Apr 30, 2012 2:47 pm

Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by Ginkgo » Sun Nov 04, 2012 1:07 am

MarkM wrote:
Kuznetzova wrote:
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.
Kuznetzova wrote:
Hello - Let me suggest a different way to restore some rational coherence to the area of consciousness.

We do not understand the larger global workings of the brain, therefore we are not in a position to categorize and separate out a notional part of it, which is what we do when we invoke the notion of consciousness. Trying to wield and use the notion of consciousness without a brain-wide context, for all we know, is like trying to reason about the top of a mountain without allusion to the lower eighty percent of the mountain.

The lower eighty percent may be amenable to materialist scrutiny, and may offer insight on the top twenty percent; presuming this hierarchical analogy is a meaningful model of course.
The point is that the importance of consciousness in a larger view of the brain may have been artificially promoted to a prominence that does not aid an investigation of the mind. So, perhaps we should consider working around it.

If we were to introduce a brain-wide notion that refers to a whole fore brain activity, we can start to talk about consciousness and its context. To enlarge the topic under consideration from just consciousness, we can include and add the balance of fore-brain activity. To do this, we can usefully revert to the notion of cognition; the management of all information in the fore-brain. Cognition is a good universal reference term for all mental activity.


Assumption 1 Consciousness is part of the larger activity that is cognition.
Assumption 2 The role of cognition is to serve the whole organism.

Inference 1 Consciousness is a sub-part of cognition, with a role that is ultimately about serving the whole organism. Consciousness is a role player in a larger enterprise.

Inference 2 Consciousness is not the objective of the organism, or of cognition.


Proposal 1 Widen the domain of study to the area of cognition.

Proposal 2 Widen the domain of relevance to include the whole organism, such that cognition itself serves the whole organism. (We do not have to define the purpose of the whole organism.)

Proposal 3 Consciousness is a sub-function of cognition, through which it serves the purpose of the whole organism.

Proposal 4 To approach the topic of consciousness, study cognition, and study cognition not with regard to consciousness, but with regard to cognition’s service to the whole organism.

Proposal 5 Consciousness may be defined by cognition, and cognition may be defined by the whole organism.

If consciousness has an effect or causes anything, we might be better positioned if we thought about it effecting the organism first, and the external, objective world second. But the advance of our understanding might be better served if we thought of consciousness as an effect of cognition, created in order to serve cognition.

It may be the case that trying to define consciousness outside of cognition and the whole organism may not only be misdirected, but premature.
However, by cradling the area under study in the notion of cognition, we can restore rational coherence, and work around third rails, and other dualist hazards.

Getting back to the issue you raised at the beginning; Turing. I do not believe that a Turing machine models what happens in the brain. The Turing machine model does not have a place for the energy it uses to complete its task. You may say that that does not matter.
I would reply that the brain, unlike a Turing machine, has to factor in the energy it uses. In my opinion, the energy a brain uses is part of its function; or to re-phrase in a reductionist view, the brain’s energy consumption is part of it’s calculations.
As a matter of curiosity, has it been proposed that a Turing machine can replicate true parallel processing ? I believe this question should be answered carefully, and the distinctions between serial processing, distributed processing and true parallel processing should be kept in mind.

Cheers


Mark, are you putting forward some form of property dualism. Perhaps emergentism?

Ginkgo
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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by Ginkgo » Sun Nov 04, 2012 1:34 am

chaz wyman wrote:Since we are often in the Realm of definition, let us try a few examples.

How about.....

'Super-unity' of consciousness. Definition: That which cannot be experienced.


Experience. Definition: A state for which no 'super-unity', is neither desirable nor is it possible.


Fantasy: A thing of the imagination which is necessarily impossible, e.g. 'super-unity' of consciousness is fantasy.


Hi chaz,

Thanks for the reply.

Can we do a thought experiment and imagine that it is possible for a human to be conscious of everything that exists within the bounds of their sensory perception at a particular time. For example, a long distance truck driver who becomes 'zoned out', having a flow experience, or as some people might say, driving on automatic pilot.

The usual understanding of a flow experience is that there is a narrowing of attention. This explains why it is difficult for the driver to give an account of some of the things he should have experienced on the trip. He wasn't attending to these things because of his narrow focus.

Let us imagine that in fact, it is actually the opposite. There isn't a narrowing of attention, but a widening of attention. The reason the driver can't recall some aspects of the trip is because he was attending to everything rather than narrowing his attention. The inability to recall is exactly the same inability to recall when we attend to everything and attend to very little. The end result is the same.

If we imagine this to be the case, is this inability to recall because of super-unity of experience? Like most people Chalmers rejects any zombie like explanation in these matters because we can only not attend to a limited extent. At the very least (during these types of zoned out phases) we must be in some way still experiencing our environment. What I am asking is (sill imagining that it is possible) does super-unity get around Chalmers' problem of having to experience the environment?


.

Ginkgo
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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by Ginkgo » Sun Nov 04, 2012 1:52 am

Toadny wrote:
Ginkgo wrote:
I claimed earlier that Chalmers rejects a philosophical zombie actually existing on the basis that it is not possible to lack experience at all levels. The question I am asking is this. "Can this 'super-unity' of consciousness actually be regarded as an experience?" If it is an experience it doesn't seem to be an experience as we normally understand the word.
Hi Ginkgo,

Like I said, I don't find the zombie talk helpful, it seems to add nothing but confusion. Why don't we talk about what we know. We know it is possible to lack experience at all levels, that's what it's like when you're dead.


Hullo Toadny,

I just have this thing about thought experiments. I always seem to ask myself, "But what if it were possible?" I guess this is why I am such a big fan of David Chalmers.


.

MarkM
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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by MarkM » Sun Nov 04, 2012 8:27 am

Thanks Ginkgo

No I am not putting forward dualism. I see no need for dualism. I would propose a theory of cognition, within which you could advance an explanation without being required to wield or resort to any notion of consciousness. I believe that consciousness may perhaps be reducible to cognition. The cognition I envision would be an enlarged notion of cognition, which is capable of accommodating consciousness. I would propose a theory of cognition, which also explains consciousness.

I believe a theory of consciousness is misleading; it misdirects speculation. I believe that we should search for a theory of cognition. I would not have anything to say about consciousness, except to show it as a cognitive arrangement. So, I don't see consciousness as a distinctive emergent property. The top of a mountain emerges from the bottom, and is distinctive, but it is a property of the mountain, not a separate creation like a tree growing on the mountain top.

Mark

chaz wyman
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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by chaz wyman » Sun Nov 04, 2012 10:51 am

Ginkgo wrote:
chaz wyman wrote:Since we are often in the Realm of definition, let us try a few examples.

How about.....

'Super-unity' of consciousness. Definition: That which cannot be experienced.


Experience. Definition: A state for which no 'super-unity', is neither desirable nor is it possible.


Fantasy: A thing of the imagination which is necessarily impossible, e.g. 'super-unity' of consciousness is fantasy.


Hi chaz,

Thanks for the reply.

Can we do a thought experiment and imagine that it is possible for a human to be conscious of everything that exists within the bounds of their sensory perception at a particular time. For example, a long distance truck driver who becomes 'zoned out', having a flow experience, or as some people might say, driving on automatic pilot.

The usual understanding of a flow experience is that there is a narrowing of attention. This explains why it is difficult for the driver to give an account of some of the things he should have experienced on the trip. He wasn't attending to these things because of his narrow focus.

Let us imagine that in fact, it is actually the opposite. There isn't a narrowing of attention, but a widening of attention. The reason the driver can't recall some aspects of the trip is because he was attending to everything rather than narrowing his attention. The inability to recall is exactly the same inability to recall when we attend to everything and attend to very little. The end result is the same.

If we imagine this to be the case, is this inability to recall because of super-unity of experience? Like most people Chalmers rejects any zombie like explanation in these matters because we can only not attend to a limited extent. At the very least (during these types of zoned out phases) we must be in some way still experiencing our environment. What I am asking is (sill imagining that it is possible) does super-unity get around Chalmers' problem of having to experience the environment?


.
I hope you realise that the above post was a bit of fun?
I have no idea what is meant by Super-unity' of consciousness, and looking through the thread all I could find by way of definition is something that does not exist. hence the joke.

However, you mention an interesting phenomenon. But I think you express it oddly. I do not think when a driver 'zones out', he is aware of "conscious of everything that exists within the bounds of their sensory perception", but only that which makes it possible to drive safely without him remembering the details of the journey. This is a common place thing, and I would say is a mechanism that allows us to do things like play the piano without having to think about every key we are playing; of having to compute all the angles and trajectories when we hit a ball; or simply walk. Being conscious of these sort of activities can place an additional burden on doing them.

This would seem to indicate that our conscious awareness, self-awareness, cannot encompass or process everything we do. Whilst it seems that we need to be conscious whilst we are learning, after that we seem to employ a series of modules which are automaticized for speed and efficiency, so that becoming aware of them can actually interrupt their processes. The bigger question is - do we even need to be aware that we are learning, or can learning also be automatic? For sure there are elements that are. A pianist cannot tell you what he does when his fingers respond to dots on a page, though he has had to 'learn' how to do it through effort and repetition. And a foal or deer learns how to run with the herd within an hour of birth, with seemingly little intelligence - and certainly no idea about the dangers which make it so important to do it. I do not believe that attention is widened, as such. Conscious attention is elsewhere, such as thinking about doing the decorating, or philosophy rather than thinking about driving, but the brain, might be more open to quicker automatic responses to stimuli, but without attending to everything in the visual cortex. I would say open to changes in motion of the objects around, in the case of driving, and the relationship between dots on the page and fingers being taken over by specific and highly tuned neural pathways. whilst the conscious mind can attend to other things entirely.

There is a definite duality here - but not one that requires an incorporeal element. You could have say three modules working simultaneously; walking, playing an instrument and thinking about what to have for lunch is well within human capability. You can even demonstrate the using multiple modules can improve activity by re-directing consciousness - people learning to walk a tight-rope, do much better if they are singing a song at the same time as this stops them thinking too hard about what they are doing!

I have no idea what your last paragraph refers to.
As far as we can tell, it seems obvious that consciousness is only a tiny part of what our brain does. So the phrase Super-unity' of consciousness seem way off beam to me.

Toadny
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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by Toadny » Sun Nov 04, 2012 10:59 am

Ginkgo wrote: Can we do a thought experiment and imagine that it is possible for a human to be conscious of everything that exists within the bounds of their sensory perception at a particular time.
I don't understand what you mean by this, and I wonder if you do. What are the bounds of my sensory perception? There's my vision for example and my periferal vision. At one moment I may be focusing on the face of the cyclist Jacquelin on the calendar, the word "November" below is in my periferal vision. Are you saying we should imagine it's possible for me to be conscious of all the information on the calendar at once, as well as all the controls on my camera which also is in my field of view, every mark on the wall, every crumb on the plate on the bench?

I wouldn't see the point in imagining that, as it is simply not the way our consciousness works
The usual understanding of a flow experience is that there is a narrowing of attention.
My understanding is that there is a lot of bullshit involved in talk about "flow experiences".
This explains why it is difficult for the driver to give an account of some of the things he should have experienced on the trip. He wasn't attending to these things because of his narrow focus.
I don't think this is the explanation for driving on "autopilot". My explanation would involve different types or levels of control of our activities, so that we can carry out "automatic" activities without attention.

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Notvacka
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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by Notvacka » Sun Nov 04, 2012 11:22 am

MarkM wrote:The top of a mountain emerges from the bottom, and is distinctive, but it is a property of the mountain, not a separate creation like a tree growing on the mountain top.
I think this metaphor aptly illustrates your point, but I can't resist pointing out that the distinction between tree and mountain is less than obvious and probably arbitrary. The mountain would not be the same without the tree, and the tree could be viewed as a property of the mountain just like the top. I would suggest that the top of a mountain is not necessarily distinctive, and neither is a tree growing there.

I agree that it could be useful to view consciousness as part of cognition. But perhaps such distinctions doesn't matter. Consciousness is not an either/or affair as the words "conscious" and "unconscious" imply. For instance, some, but not all animals are capable of recognising their own image in a mirror for what it is. I would take that as a sign of consciousness, but less capable animals are probably conscious too, in their own way. There are different levels, or rather some sliding scale, of consciousness.

Anyway, a complete, scientific, reductionist explanation of consciousness still wouldn't explain consciousness as it is, as experienced from within itself, that is. :)

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Kuznetzova
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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by Kuznetzova » Tue Nov 13, 2012 11:40 pm

Toadny wrote: 2. Philosopher-scientists frequently adopt the Third Rail stance. Professor David Deutsch explicitly adopted it in an article published this week in Aeon Magazine and in the Guardian. Many participants at last year's online Conference on Consciousness adopted it.
David Deutsche and the coterie from Aeon Magazine, and participants of the Online Conference will be pressed to answer the question : What is the function that consciousness is performing in terms of behavior?

Toadny
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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by Toadny » Thu Nov 15, 2012 4:24 pm

Kuznetzova wrote:
Toadny wrote: 2. Philosopher-scientists frequently adopt the Third Rail stance. Professor David Deutsch explicitly adopted it in an article published this week in Aeon Magazine and in the Guardian. Many participants at last year's online Conference on Consciousness adopted it.
David Deutsche and the coterie from Aeon Magazine, and participants of the Online Conference will be pressed to answer the question : What is the function that consciousness is performing in terms of behavior?
Extremely disappointing response.

Dimebag
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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by Dimebag » Fri Nov 16, 2012 10:21 pm

Toadny wrote:
Kuznetzova wrote:
Toadny wrote: 2. Philosopher-scientists frequently adopt the Third Rail stance. Professor David Deutsch explicitly adopted it in an article published this week in Aeon Magazine and in the Guardian. Many participants at last year's online Conference on Consciousness adopted it.
David Deutsche and the coterie from Aeon Magazine, and participants of the Online Conference will be pressed to answer the question : What is the function that consciousness is performing in terms of behavior?
Extremely disappointing response.
Actually, it's a pretty central question when it comes to understanding consciousness.

chaz wyman
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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by chaz wyman » Sat Nov 17, 2012 12:10 am

Dimebag wrote:
Toadny wrote:[Extremely disappointing response.
Actually, it's a pretty central question when it comes to understanding consciousness.
And how would you answer that question?

Some think that the consciousness is nothing more than an epiphenomenon, that does not immediately or directly guide the necessary activities of the brain ad hoc.
Tests have shown from scanning that choices are made before we are consciously aware of them. This is vital in many activities such as piano playing, sports and driving. In the worst case consciousness is reduced to the status of observer, in the other extreme the idea that the consciousness is continually directing the actions of our body is a delusion but that through reflections we change the motivation of the automatic systems that necessarily direct our actions.

For example we can consciously tell our bodies to learn to play the piano, but due to the speed and intuitive nature of piano playing the conscious effort would only impede it.

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Notvacka
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Re: The Third Rail of Consciousness

Post by Notvacka » Sat Nov 17, 2012 1:03 am

chaz wyman wrote:How about Consciousness is being aware of being aware??
A good suggestion. But what does it mean?

We know about consciousness because we are conscious beings ourselves, and we assume some level of consciousness in higher animals, because in some respects they behave like we do. But are fish conscious? Worms? Plants? How would we know? Obviously, intelligence has nothing to do with it; we don't doubt that other people are conscious, even if their IQ is too low for them to ever pass the Turing test. A plant registers the direction of sunlight, and grows towards it. It's a form of awareness. Could the plant be aware of its own awareness? Certainly not in any way similar to human consciousness. Perhaps in some other way, then? But it's not compex enough! Why? The human brain is a very complicated structure, and it produces human consciousness. Does that mean that only similarly complex structures could produce consciousness of some kind? Not necessarily. And how could we possibly tell?
Kuznetzova wrote:What is the function that consciousness is performing in terms of behavior?
It's not necessary, and perhaps not even possible, to pinpoint a particular function. Obviously consciousness performs some function. For instance, it's hard to imagine us having this discussion without consciousness. And the only reason we assume some level of consciousness in cats and dogs, is that they behave in ways recognisable to us, because they are a somewhat like us and capable of expressing emotions that we can relate to.
chaz wyman wrote:Tests have shown from scanning that choices are made before we are consciously aware of them.
Yes. But that does not mean that the unconscious parts of the brain, where decisions are made, are not informed by consciousness at some point.

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