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8 Great Philosophical Questions That We’ll Never Solve
Posted: 01 November 2012 07:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 121 ]
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George - 01 November 2012 06:43 AM

Well, IMO, (and you are right, I can’t prove it), consciousness is as much of a “necessary” byproduct as is a spandrel between two arches. But it is as necessary as it is accidental. IOW, they are a necessary result of other underlying factors but both happened by an accident; in evolutionary terms this means that a byproduct (consciousness, in our case) is not a survival and reproductive advantage (the colour of our blood would be another examples of such “necessary and accidental” byproduct).

Hmm. Let’s try. Correct me where I am wrong.

Say there is an evolutionary pressure for mounting domes on arches. Then necessarily you will have spandrels. But it is wrong to say that there is an evolutionary pressure for spandrels. Right?

Now say nature developed the trick of not just reacting on physical impulses in nature, but to build in the capacity into organisms to picture their surroundings and anticipate the future (it sounds complex but of course a simple example is an animal in search for water because it is thirsty). As this turns out to be a good trick, i.e a lot of such species are successful and some of them develop more and more of this capacity. Now I think my point is that this capacity is consciousness itself. So consciousness is not a spandrel, it is the domes on arches itself. So to speak, domes mounted on arches are consciousness.

You see, a spandrel is something else then a dome on arches. It is only that we get spandrels when we make the construction. But consciousness is the capability to picture the environment and its own situation in this environment. It is like a triangle: would you say it is a necessary byproduct of a triangle that its angles add up to 180⁰? Or is it a necessary fact in such away that we could even define a triangle as ‘three lines which angles add up to 180⁰?

So as Doug said, it is because of the functional state that consciousness evolved. But having this functional state means being conscious. It doesn’t cause consciousness as ‘necessary byproduct’.

The comparison with spandrels might even backfire: without spandrels it is not possible to mount domes on arches. But then this means that one would have to add consciousness to the functional states so that they can exist. And that sounds pretty absurd to me. So I think the metaphor of consciousness as spandrel does not even apply.

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Posted: 01 November 2012 07:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 122 ]
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GdB - 01 November 2012 07:44 AM

So as Doug said, it is because of the functional state that consciousness evolved. But having this functional state means being conscious. It doesn’t cause consciousness as ‘necessary byproduct’.

I think then that you are defining “consciousness” in the former way, as I said above:

Whether or not one considers the consciousness to have evolved depends upon how one defines consciousness. If one defines it in terms of the functional state (a certain sort of information processing) then it did evolve. If one defines it as a kind of qualia-linked awareness, thus-ness or “what it’s like”, then it is arguably a spandrel.

I think one can define consciousness in that way (for example, it wouldn’t surprise me if certain sorts of scientists would opt for this kind of definition, since it lends itself to an objective analysis), but the definition is a bit confusing in certain contexts. Often what we mean by consciousness is not a certain sort of functional state but rather a certain sort of internal ‘suchness’ or qualia. And if what we mean by consciousness is qualia, then we don’t mean to pick out the functional state with the term “consciousness”.

It’s rather like water and H2O. They are the same thing, and there is an extensional sense of meaning in which we mean H2O by “water”, but there is also an intensional sense of meaning in which the scientists learned something when they discovered that H2O was water. (They didn’t discover it just by analyzing the meaning of the term “water”).

But anyhow in no sense does the functional state cause consciousness.

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Posted: 01 November 2012 08:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 123 ]
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I agree with Doug, GdB. You are welcome to define consciousness any way you like, but what you are describing here is not consciousness to me. I have sleepwalked a great deal in my life, being able to navigate through all kinds of environments and situations, but as far as I know (and I could be wrong here) I was not aware of what I was doing—and I have had it confirmed by a doctor, BTW. That to me is consciousness and that I believe to be a spandrel.

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Posted: 01 November 2012 08:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 124 ]
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George - 01 November 2012 08:09 AM

I agree with Doug, GdB. You are welcome to define consciousness any way you like, but what you are describing here is not consciousness to me. I have sleepwalked a great deal in my life, being able to navigate through all kinds of environments and situations, but as far as I know (and I could be wrong here) I was not aware of what I was doing—and I have had it confirmed by a doctor, BTW. That to me is consciousness and that I believe to be a spandrel.

This case is more complex, George, because in this case the state you’re describing could be either the qualia OR the functional state responsible for getting you up to walk around, without interfacing properly with your short- or long-term memory. (As normally happens when we are asleep and dreaming).

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Posted: 01 November 2012 08:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 125 ]
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dougsmith - 01 November 2012 08:13 AM
George - 01 November 2012 08:09 AM

I agree with Doug, GdB. You are welcome to define consciousness any way you like, but what you are describing here is not consciousness to me. I have sleepwalked a great deal in my life, being able to navigate through all kinds of environments and situations, but as far as I know (and I could be wrong here) I was not aware of what I was doing—and I have had it confirmed by a doctor, BTW. That to me is consciousness and that I believe to be a spandrel.

This case is more complex, George, because in this case the state you’re describing could be either the qualia OR the functional state responsible for getting you up to walk around, without interfacing properly with your short- or long-term memory. (As normally happens when we are asleep and dreaming).

Yes, you’re right. I realized that after I posted it.

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Posted: 01 November 2012 08:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 126 ]
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dougsmith - 01 November 2012 07:53 AM

I think one can define consciousness in that way (for example, it wouldn’t surprise me if certain sorts of scientists would opt for this kind of definition, since it lends itself to an objective analysis), but the definition is a bit confusing in certain contexts. Often what we mean by consciousness is not a certain sort of functional state but rather a certain sort of internal ‘suchness’ or qualia. And if what we mean by consciousness is qualia, then we don’t mean to pick out the functional state with the term “consciousness”.

Right, I’m thinking about the context of morality. I don’t know if we could suffer using the functional state definition but certainly it wouldn’t matter. It matters because we experience the suffering.

Stephen

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Posted: 01 November 2012 08:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 127 ]
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George - 01 November 2012 08:09 AM

I agree with Doug, GdB. You are welcome to define consciousness any way you like, but what you are describing here is not consciousness to me. I have sleepwalked a great deal in my life, being able to navigate through all kinds of environments and situations, but as far as I know (and I could be wrong here) I was not aware of what I was doing—and I have had it confirmed by a doctor, BTW. That to me is consciousness and that I believe to be a spandrel.

I agree with Doug too. So obviously we understand him differently. Can somebody help clarify this? Maybe, Doug, as most experienced philosopher (noblesse oblige wink), you can differentiate your position in contrast with those of George and me?

George, your misunderstanding of sleepwalking is at least is a hint the direction where we differ. Forgetting how you did it is not the same as not being conscious during your sleepwalking.

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Posted: 01 November 2012 08:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 128 ]
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GdB - 01 November 2012 08:19 AM

I agree with Doug too. So obviously we understand him differently. Can somebody help clarify this? Maybe, Doug, as most experienced philosopher (noblesse oblige wink), you can differentiate your position in contrast with those of George and me?

I’m not sure, but I think you are both defining “consciousness” differently. You seem to be defining it in functional terms, and George seems to be defining it in qualitative terms. If that’s correct, then I think you’re both right: in functional terms, consciousness did evolve. In qualitative terms, it’s a spandrel.

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Posted: 01 November 2012 09:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 129 ]
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I am not sure what else to add here. I certainly don’t see consciousness being, as Doug put it, a “functional state (a certain sort of information processing).” Libet’s experiment points to the processing of information taking place before we become aware of it, so I am not sure what that has to do with consciousness. But if that’s what you want to call consciousness, GdB, then that’s fine with me.

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Posted: 01 November 2012 09:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 130 ]
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Well, consciousness isn’t just any kind of functional state; Libet’s experiment showed processing of information occurred before conscious awareness, but one could also look at the functional state of that conscious awareness (and its associated information processing).

The precise picture of that functional state is not something I have a good handle on. I expect it’s something that is going to require a good deal of additional study until we really know what’s happening.

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Posted: 01 November 2012 10:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 131 ]
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I think Libet’s experiment showed more than just the processing of information. It showed that the mind came to a conclusion (!) on how to behave, one that agreed with the body performig a task reflecting that decision. The moment of being aware of that decision popping up in the brain—and that is the point we should be focusing on here—kicked in a few seconds after the brain already knew what it was going to do. It is that very moment, the knowing “I am going to do X,” that I label as awareness.

Of course when the problem is more complicated, say, plannig a trip, we can be aware of our mind doing all the calculations instead of just feeling the popping up of the final decision. But here I am also inclined to believe that although we feel as if we are consciously doing the thinking, the actual process is probably always a few seconds ahead of our awareness, ultimately leading to the illusion of free will.

[ Edited: 01 November 2012 10:10 AM by George ]
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Posted: 01 November 2012 10:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 132 ]
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I don’t mean that it only showed the processing of information; what I am saying is that the state of “awareness” is, inter alia, the processing of information. It can be looked upon as the processing of information (which I think is how GdB is looking at it, and IIRC Dennett as well), or it can be looked upon as qualia, which are necessarily correlated with this kind of processing of information.

(Precisely which kind is “this” kind I leave for the future to discover).

But anyhow as we’ve said it has nothing to do with free will, except perhaps refuting a particular sort of libertarian free will that identifies the will with conscious awareness.

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Posted: 01 November 2012 10:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 133 ]
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I once read a quote that said something like, “Anyone who tells you they understand consciousness is a liar.”  But I’ll be damned if I can remember the exact quote or who said it. :-(

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Posted: 01 November 2012 10:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 134 ]
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dougsmith - 01 November 2012 10:19 AM

I don’t mean that it only showed the processing of information; what I am saying is that the state of “awareness” is, inter alia, the processing of information. It can be looked upon as the processing of information (which I think is how GdB is looking at it, and IIRC Dennett as well), or it can be looked upon as qualia, which are necessarily correlated with this kind of processing of information.

(Precisely which kind is “this” kind I leave for the future to discover).

But anyhow as we’ve said it has nothing to do with free will, except perhaps refuting a particular sort of libertarian free will that identifies the will with conscious awareness.

Well, we may not know what consciousness is, but I think the neuroscientists have a pretty good idea (or at least I hope they do) when it happens. And they say it happens after the decision is being made. That’s why I said earlier I find Dennett confusing; and now it includes also you and GdB as well. As admirable and thought-provoking as Dennett’s (and yours and GdB’s) objection to this problem is, I must go with what the scientists say, and they say they have a pretty good idea WHEN the state of awareness happens. They could be wrong I guess, but it would take a bit more than a philosopher to convince me of that—I don’t mean this as an insult.

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Posted: 01 November 2012 10:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 135 ]
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I agree that the scientists have a good idea of when awareness happens. But to repeat, when awareness happens has nothing particularly to do with free will, unless one supports a particular sort of libertarian free will that identifies the will with a certain sort of conscious awareness.

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