More Consciousness

Discuss arguments for existence of God and faith in general. Any aspect of any orientation toward religion/spirituality, as long as it is based upon a positive open to other people attitude.

Moderator: Metacrock

Post Reply
Superfund
Posts: 237
Joined: Mon Jan 12, 2009 8:33 am

More Consciousness

Post by Superfund » Mon Aug 31, 2015 8:25 pm

I enjoyed contributing a small snip of what I was reading recently in another post as it seemed relevant to some discussions so I figured to share a bit more as consciousness seems a subject of interest at the moment. The following is an excerpt from David Bentley Harts new book "The Experience of God Being, Consciousness, Bliss" Which I should encourage you to buy in all respect to the author. I'm two thirds the way through and I am finding that it is shaping up to be a brilliant book imho. So enjoy!

-Consciousness

"In those moments when our experience of the world awakens us to the strangeness-the utter fortuity and pure givenness-of existence, we are confronted by two mysteries simultaneously, or at least by a mystery with two equally inscrutable poles. No less wonderful than the being of things is our consciousness of them: our ability to know the world, to possess a continuous subjective awareness of reality, to mirror the unity of being in the unity of private cognizance, to contemplate the world and ourselves, to assume each moment of experience into a fuller comprehension of the whole, and to relate ourselves to the world through acts of judgment and will. In a single movement of thought, the mind is capable of receiving the world in both its integrity and diversity, of holding past, present and future together, of contemplating reality at once under both its particular (or concrete) and its general (or abstract) aspects, of composing endless imaginative and conceptual variations upon experience, of pondering itself as it ponders the outer world-and all the while preserving that limpid and silent presence to itself in which it indivisibly abides. Being is transparent to mind; mind is transparent to being; each is "fitted “to the other, open to the other, at once containing and contained by the other. Each is the mysterious glass in which the other shines, revealed not in itself but only in reflecting and being reflected by the other.

To a convinced materialist, all of this is a reality essentially physical in nature, and probably entirely mechanical (in the broadest sense): even if the science as yet eludes us, consciousness must be explicable entirely in terms of the interaction between our neural constitution and the concrete world around us. Even the materialist would acknowledge, of course, that the powers of the mind cannot be exhaustively accounted for solely in terms of the mechanics of sensory stimulus and neurological response, if for no other reason than the fairly obvious truth that neither stimulus nor response is, by itself, a mental phenomenon; neither, as a purely physical reality, possesses conceptual content or personal awareness. I would go further, however and say that consciousness is a reality that cannot be explained in any purely physiological terms at all. All our modern "scientistic" presuppositions may tell us that mind must be entirely a mechanical function or residue of the brain's neuronal processes, but even the most basic phenomenology of consciousness discloses so vast an incommensurability between physical causation and mental events that it is probably impossible that the latter could ever be wholly reduced to the former. It may well be, in fact, that the widely cherished expectation that neuroscience will one day discover an explanation of consciousness solely within the brain's electrochemical processes is no less enormous a category error that the expectation that physics will one day discover the reason for the existence of the material universe. In either case, the problem is not one of pardonably exaggerated hope but of fundamental and incorrigible conceptual confusion.

For one thing-and this is no small matter-considered solely within the conceptual paradigms we have inherited from the mechanical philosophy, it is something of a conundrum that such a thing as consciousness should be possible for material beings at all. Absolutely central to the mechanistic vision of reality is the principle that material forces are inherently mindless, intrinsically devoid of purpose, and therefore only adventitiously and accidentally directed towards any end. Complex rational organization, so we are told, is not a property naturally residing in material reality, but is only a state imposed upon material reality whenever matter is assumed into composite structures whose essentially disparate parts, as a result of design or chance, operate together in some kind of functional order. Nothing within the material constituents of those structures has the least innate tendency toward such order, any more than the material elements from which a watch is composed have any innate tendency towards horology. And, if complex rational order is extrinsic to what matter essentially is, how much more so must rationality itself be; for consciousness would appear to be everything that, according to the principles of mechanism, matter is not: directed, purposive, essentially rational. The notion that material causes could yield a result so apparently contrary to material nature is paradoxical enough that it ought to give even the most convinced materialists pause.

Certainly at the dawn of the mechanistic age the difficulty seemed obvious to most scientists and philosophers, and they were for the most part content simply to draw a demarcation between the distinct realms of material mechanism and rational soul, and leave the operations of each to its own proper sphere. They could do this with untroubled consciences, however, only because they were not metaphysical materialists or "naturalists" of the late modern kind, and so did not regard matter as some sort of grand monistic principle, besides which there can be no other. Today the dominant prejudices all tend in quite the opposite direction; now the circle must be squared, however improbable the task may seem, if we are to "save appearances" without abandoning our convictions about reality. The result is an almost endless variety of particularly thorny problems. Cartesian dualism-the idea that the soul and the body are two conjoined but ontologically distinct kinds of substance-suffered from a great many explanatory deficiencies, perhaps, but at least it was a coherent position and made it possible to find a place for consciousness in a cosmos stripped of formal and final causes. After all, if one truly believes that matter is, as the mechanical philosophy says, nothing more than mass and force and that all material actions are nothing more than exchanges of energy accomplished by undetermined movement, immediate contact, direct force and direct resistance then it makes a good deal of sense to regard mind-with its seeming indivisibility, intentional orientation toward formal and final objects of thought, incommunicable privacy of perspective, capacity for abstract concepts, and all its other mysterious powers-as essentially separate from the economy of material interactions. Admittedly, the question of precisely how two essentially alien orders of reality might interact with one another, or be united in some tertium quid, may be a vexing one; but, considered in purely mechanistic terms, it is nowhere near so baffling as the question of how any combination of diverse material forces, even when fortuitously gathered into complex neurological systems, could just somehow add up to the simplicity and immediacy of consciousness, to its extraordinary openness to the physical world, to its reflective awareness of itself, or to the liberty of its conceptual and imaginative powers from the constraints of its material circumstances.

Most attempts to provide an answer without straying beyond the boundaries of materialist orthodoxy are ultimately little more than vague appeals to the power of cumulative complexity: somehow, the argument goes, a sufficient number of neurological systems and subsystems operating in connection with one another will at some point naturally produce unified, self-reflective and intentional consciousness, or at least (as strange as this may sound) the illusion of such consciousness. This is probably just another version of the pleonistic fallacy, another hopeless attempt to overcome a qualitative difference by way of an indeterminately large number of gradual quantitative steps. Even if it is not, it remains a supposition almost cruelly resistant to scientific investigation or demonstration, simply because consciousness as an actual phenomenon is entirely confined to the experience of a particular mind, a particular subject. It is a uniquely "first person" phenomenon-the very phenomenon of the "first person" as such, actually the sole act whereby someone is anyone at all-with no directly objective "third person" aspect available to research. My thoughts and feelings are my own, yours are yours and all of theirs are theirs, and none of us has access to anyone's but his or her own. One can observe behaviors associated with consciousness in others, but none of those affords any immediate intuition of the subjectivity that lies behind them. One can conduct an exhaustive surveillance of all those electrical events in the neurons of the brain that are undoubtedly the physical concomitants of mental states, but one does not thereby gain access to that singular, continuous, and wholly interior experience of being this person that is the actual substance of conscious thought. one can even alter, confuse, or interfere with particular conscious states by intruding upon the activities of the brain, chemically, surgically, traumatically, or otherwise; but one can never enter into, let alone measure, the persistent and irreducibly private perspective of the subject in whom these states inhere.

This should be obvious, even to the most committed believer in empirical method, but its implications often prove strangely difficult to grasp (perhaps they are altogether too obvious): there is an absolute qualitative abyss between the objective facts of neurophysiology and the subjective experience of being a conscious self, and so a method capable of providing a model of only the former can never produce an adequate causal narrative of the latter. While one may choose to believe that the brains objectively observable electrochemical process and the mind's subjective, impenetrably private experiences are simply two sides of a single, wholly physical phenomenon, there is still no empirical way in which the two sides can be collapsed into a single observable datum, or even connected to one another in a clear causal sequence. The purely physical nature of those experiences remains, therefore, only a conjecture, and one that lacks even the support of a plausible analogy to some other physical process, as there is no other "mechanism" in nature remotely similar to consciousness. The difference in kind between the material structure of the brain and the subjective structure of consciousness remains fixed and inviolable, and so the precise relation between them cannot be defined, or even isolated as an object of scientific scrutiny. And this is an epistemological limit that it seems reasonable to think may never be erased, no matter how sophisticated our knowledge of the complex activities of the brain may become; we will never be able to examine, from any objective vantage, the simple act of thought in its proper aspect: the conscious awareness of a subject. And the impotence of traditional scientific method here a conceptual aporia that is irresoluble in mechanical terms: How could it be that, in this instance alone, the essential aimlessness of matter achieves so intense and intricate a concentration of its various random forces that, all at once, it is fantastically inverted into the virtual opposite of everything modern orthodoxy tells us matter is? In the end, there will always remain that essential part of the conscious self that seems simply to stand apart from the spectacle of material causality: pure perspective, a gaze in upon reality that is itself available to no gaze from beyond itself, known to itself only in its act of knowing what is other than itself. For a scientific culture that believes true knowledge of anything can be gained only by the systematic reduction of that thing to its simplest parts, undertaken from an entirely third person stance, this inaccessible first person subjectivity-this absolute interiority, full of numberless incommunicable qualitative sensations and velleities and intuitions that no inquisitive eye will ever glimpse, and that is impossible to disassemble, reconstruct, or model- is so radically elusive a phenomenon that there seems no hope of capturing it in any complete scientific account. Those who imagine otherwise simply have not understood the problem fully

None of this, however, is to denigrate the very real advances that have been achieved in neuroscience over the past several decades. It is quite wonderful that we seem to be finding so many correlations between certain portions of the brain and certain elementary cognitive functions. But that has little bearing on most of the more difficult questions consciousness raises: how matter can produce subjective awareness, how abstract processes of reasoning or deliberation could possibly correspond with sequences of purely physical events in the brain, and so on. That there is a deep and integral connection between brain and mind no one doubts; but, again, since the brain can be investigated only mechanically while consciousness admits of no mechanical description, the nature of that connection is impossible to conceive, let alone identify. To put the matter a little absurdly, if one did not know that such a thing as subjective consciousness existed, one would never discover that it did through any empirical investigation of the structure and activities of the brain, however comprehensive or exact; one could map out the whole magnificent machinery of the brain for everyone to see, in all its intricacy , and compile a complete catalogue of all its typical processes of stimulus and response, all its systems and functions, and yet still never guess that a privately conscious self inhabited it. Electrochemical events are not thoughts, even when they may be inseparably associated with thoughts, and no empirical inventory of such events will ever disclose for us either the content or the experiential quality of an idea, a desire, a volition, or any other mental event. This being so, we have no better warrant for saying that the brain produces the mind than the mind makes use of the brain; and in neither case can we imagine how this happens.

To be as clear as possible here: I am not saying simply that the brain is far too complex for us ever to understand its relation to consciousness fully; if that were my argument, it would amount to nothing more than a vapid prognostication based entirely upon personal incredulity. The problem is not one of the relative quantity of our knowledge of the brain. Not that it does any harm to remind ourselves just how complex the brain really is, given the extravagant claims regarding our current understanding of its workings frequently made by excited neuroscientists, psychologists, philosophers of mind and journalists, and given the wild expectations those claims often inspire. A great many scientists, psychologists and philosophers even go so far as to dismiss our common understanding of the mind-that it is a unified subject of real experiences that possesses ideas, intentions, and desires and that freely acts upon them-as mere "folk psychology," in need of correction by neurobiology. And there is no pseudoscientific fad more vigorous these days than the production of books that attempt to turn neuroscience into an explanation for every imaginable aspect of human behavior and experience. All of that merits not only considerable skepticism but a good measure of ridicule as well. Even so, putting all exaggerations aside, sound neuroscience really is providing us with an ever richer picture of the brain and its operations, and in some far distant epoch may actually achieve something like a comprehensive survey of what is perhaps the single most complex physical object in the universe. That is all entirely irrelevant to my argument, however. My claim here is that, whatever we may learn about the brain in the future, it will remain in principle impossible to produce any entirely mechanistic account of the conscious mind, for a great many reasons(many of which I shall soon address), and that therefore consciousness is a reality that defeats mechanistic or materialist thinking. For the intuitions of folk psychology are in fact perfectly accurate; they are not merely some theory about the mind that is either corrigible or dispensable. They constitute nothing less than a full and coherent phenomenological description of the life of the mind, and they are absolutely "primordial data," which cannot be abandoned in favor of some alternative description without producing logical nonsense. Simply said, consciousness as we commonly conceive of it is quite real(as all of us, apart from a few cognitive scientists and philosophers, already know-and they know it too, really). And this presents a problem for materialism, because consciousness as we commonly conceive of it is also almost certainly irreconcilable with a materialist view of reality.

Superfund
Posts: 237
Joined: Mon Jan 12, 2009 8:33 am

Re: More Consciousness

Post by Superfund » Mon Aug 31, 2015 8:26 pm

Reserved.

User avatar
Metacrock
Posts: 10046
Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 8:03 am
Location: Dallas
Contact:

Re: More Consciousness

Post by Metacrock » Thu Sep 03, 2015 1:26 pm

And this presents a problem for materialism, because consciousness as we commonly conceive of it is also almost certainly irreconcilable with a materialist view of reality.
so much for materialism. I don't have time to comment now but I will. thanks for your post.
Have Theology, Will argue: wire Metacrock
Buy My book: The Trace of God: Warrant for belief

User avatar
QuantumTroll
Posts: 1073
Joined: Sat Feb 09, 2008 5:54 am
Location: Uppsala, Sweden
Contact:

Re: More Consciousness

Post by QuantumTroll » Fri Sep 04, 2015 2:23 am

Hi Superfund,

There is a lot to like in these excerpts (an appealing earnestness, patience, and generosity), but I cannot help but feel disappointed in David Bentley Hart's apparently limited view of science and what he calls materialism. In the previous thread where you quoted him, I pointed out that the argument he was making only worked if one ignored the existence of self-organising systems.

Here is another troubling quote.
For a scientific culture that believes true knowledge of anything can be gained only by the systematic reduction of that thing to its simplest parts, undertaken from an entirely third person stance, this inaccessible first person subjectivity-this absolute interiority, full of numberless incommunicable qualitative sensations and velleities and intuitions that no inquisitive eye will ever glimpse, and that is impossible to disassemble, reconstruct, or model- is so radically elusive a phenomenon that there seems no hope of capturing it in any complete scientific account. Those who imagine otherwise simply have not understood the problem fully.
Only a small part of scientific culture works as reductively as all that, every field from chemistry on up knows that the phenomena they study lose their meaning if you cut them up too much or zoom in too much. Psychology and pedagogical science lost its illusion of being a third-person exercise over two decades ago. I'm in the wrong field to know how consciousness research might be done, but it seems to me that D.B.Hart doesn't understand science fully enough to imagine that it might succeed.

On the other hand, I think he is right in that consciousness is (partly) an entirely different sort of phenomenon from others, and I think he is right in how it is different. It could well be that science never answers this question, just as cosmology and high-energy physics may never tell us for certain about the Big Bang. So I'm not saying David Bentley Hart is wrong, per se, I'm only trying to argue that he's not exactly right either.

Superfund
Posts: 237
Joined: Mon Jan 12, 2009 8:33 am

Re: More Consciousness

Post by Superfund » Fri Sep 04, 2015 3:26 am

QuantumTroll wrote:Hi Superfund,

There is a lot to like in these excerpts (an appealing earnestness, patience, and generosity), but I cannot help but feel disappointed in David Bentley Hart's apparently limited view of science and what he calls materialism. In the previous thread where you quoted him, I pointed out that the argument he was making only worked if one ignored the existence of self-organising systems.

Here is another troubling quote.
For a scientific culture that believes true knowledge of anything can be gained only by the systematic reduction of that thing to its simplest parts, undertaken from an entirely third person stance, this inaccessible first person subjectivity-this absolute interiority, full of numberless incommunicable qualitative sensations and velleities and intuitions that no inquisitive eye will ever glimpse, and that is impossible to disassemble, reconstruct, or model- is so radically elusive a phenomenon that there seems no hope of capturing it in any complete scientific account. Those who imagine otherwise simply have not understood the problem fully.
Only a small part of scientific culture works as reductively as all that, every field from chemistry on up knows that the phenomena they study lose their meaning if you cut them up too much or zoom in too much. Psychology and pedagogical science lost its illusion of being a third-person exercise over two decades ago. I'm in the wrong field to know how consciousness research might be done, but it seems to me that D.B.Hart doesn't understand science fully enough to imagine that it might succeed.

On the other hand, I think he is right in that consciousness is (partly) an entirely different sort of phenomenon from others, and I think he is right in how it is different. It could well be that science never answers this question, just as cosmology and high-energy physics may never tell us for certain about the Big Bang. So I'm not saying David Bentley Hart is wrong, per se, I'm only trying to argue that he's not exactly right either.
Thanks for that comment. Yeah I can't say I didn't have a moment like you describe. I've read much more and am getting to understand the book. I reserved a spot to add a little bit maybe and I gotta say I am very impressed with it, in all humility. In reading and rereading to 'get the gist of it' from my own personal experience of what is labelled 'God" the book has been resonating with me rather heavily.

User avatar
Metacrock
Posts: 10046
Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 8:03 am
Location: Dallas
Contact:

Re: More Consciousness

Post by Metacrock » Fri Sep 04, 2015 12:33 pm

viable alternative to reductionism is holism. Reductionism is fine, depends. both approaches have their place.
Have Theology, Will argue: wire Metacrock
Buy My book: The Trace of God: Warrant for belief

User avatar
Metacrock
Posts: 10046
Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 8:03 am
Location: Dallas
Contact:

Re: More Consciousness

Post by Metacrock » Fri Sep 04, 2015 12:35 pm

QuantumTroll wrote:Hi Superfund,

There is a lot to like in these excerpts (an appealing earnestness, patience, and generosity), but I cannot help but feel disappointed in David Bentley Hart's apparently limited view of science and what he calls materialism. In the previous thread where you quoted him, I pointed out that the argument he was making only worked if one ignored the existence of self-organising systems.

Here is another troubling quote.
For a scientific culture that believes true knowledge of anything can be gained only by the systematic reduction of that thing to its simplest parts, undertaken from an entirely third person stance, this inaccessible first person subjectivity-this absolute interiority, full of numberless incommunicable qualitative sensations and velleities and intuitions that no inquisitive eye will ever glimpse, and that is impossible to disassemble, reconstruct, or model- is so radically elusive a phenomenon that there seems no hope of capturing it in any complete scientific account. Those who imagine otherwise simply have not understood the problem fully.
Only a small part of scientific culture works as reductively as all that, every field from chemistry on up knows that the phenomena they study lose their meaning if you cut them up too much or zoom in too much. Psychology and pedagogical science lost its illusion of being a third-person exercise over two decades ago. I'm in the wrong field to know how consciousness research might be done, but it seems to me that D.B.Hart doesn't understand science fully enough to imagine that it might succeed.

On the other hand, I think he is right in that consciousness is (partly) an entirely different sort of phenomenon from others, and I think he is right in how it is different. It could well be that science never answers this question, just as cosmology and high-energy physics may never tell us for certain about the Big Bang. So I'm not saying David Bentley Hart is wrong, per se, I'm only trying to argue that he's not exactly right either.
tell me about self organizing systems
Have Theology, Will argue: wire Metacrock
Buy My book: The Trace of God: Warrant for belief

Post Reply