Why Is Consciousness So Mysterious? by Keith Ward
by Robert Lawrence Kuhn (9/27/10 9:46 pm)
Consciousness is a major problem for materialists, who believe that everything that exists is composed of publicly observable material elements in this (or at least in some) space-time.
Yet consciousness is something that is most immediately known to each person who reads this post. It is immediate knowledge by acquaintance.
Empiricist philosophers may have been wrong about many things, but they were probably right in thinking that all knowledge begins with experience—with a direct apprehension of some state of affairs, which is then described and categorized using general concepts. If this is so, consciousness is the necessary basis of all theoretical knowledge, including knowledge of the human brain and its behavior. One problem philosophers have traditionally dealt with is whether and how such immediate acquaintance plus the conceptual interpretation can give rise to accurate theoretical knowledge of the world outside of conscious experience.
It is a strange inversion of this situation to say that the problem is how material brains can give rise to conscious experience. That inversion suggests that we know material brains exist, but consciousness may well be an illusion or a causally inert by-product of brains. Yet we only know that brains exist because we are conscious of them. If such consciousness is an illusion, then material brains are part of the illusion. There is no sensible way of saying that our consciousness is illusory but its contents are absolutely real. We have to trust that our consciousness provides genuine knowledge by acquaintance before we can trust that any of its contents provide clues to what is real.
But are brains not real? And does their functioning not govern the sorts of experiences, the sorts of consciousness, we have? Yes indeed, we learn—through experience and reflection upon it—that there are material causes of conscious states. But causes are logically distinct from their effects, and far from throwing doubt on the existence of those effects, a causal account presupposes that effects really exist.
Brain events do cause conscious states to exist. Is this a problem? Only if it is believed that material events can have only material effects. But that is a dogma that consciousness undermines. Consciousness seems to show that materialism is false, since consciousness does not consist of publicly observable material elements in space-time. There are material causes of immaterial states. Conscious states also usually involve an affective, evaluative element, and a tendency to seek or avoid their objects. So, in the absence of a conclusive rebuttal, it is reasonable to believe that conscious states influence behavior. It they did not, consciousness would have no evolutionary efficacy, and knowledge of a state of affairs would have no effect on behavior.
It is a basic datum of experience that our consciousness of a situation, of its pleasant or threatening character, will influence our behavior. Reading these words, for instance, will cause some responsive feeling and activity—if only an inclination to write a letter of protest or to think hard, which puts our brains into new physical states.
The major mystery of consciousness is just what the causal relationship between conscious and physical states is. There are six main possibilities: consciousness is an illusion (hard materialism), matter is an illusion (hard idealism), consciousness is dependent on matter (nonreductive physicalism), matter is dependent on consciousness (theism), the two exist independently (dualism), or they are different aspects of one underlying reality (monism). All have been tried, and none is wholly satisfactory. That is why consciousness is such a fascinating and important problem.
My own view, on strictly philosophical grounds, is that consciousness is an irreducible feature of reality and is probably the ontologically primary reality—which inclines me to views more like the last three on my list. The great majority of classical philosophers have taken this view. But to work it out fully, taking into account the recent findings of evolutionary biology, neurophysiology, and quantum physics, is a formidable undertaking, requiring both bold speculation and intellectual humility.
I agree with University of Oxford mathematician Roger Penrose in thinking that the future of science is closely bound up with somehow integrating consciousness and the material substratum of the cosmos in a coherent way. Neither of us, I think, suppose that it has yet been done.
+ view all Discussions (28)
Objective understanding of how something works, or some property relies on three viewpoints.
(1) An overall (whole) view of the object or process concerned - the wetness of water.
(2) A reduced level of some of the parts and processes - ex – interaction of molecules.
(3) We view both from our own conscious level - we stand back from both levels and see how the parts make the whole. But the understanding is itself a subjective experience. Like Rodger Penrose says understanding involves awareness.
Now when we try to understand our own consciousness we strike a problem. I have only one direct view of consciousness - my own. In trying to understand what gives rise to consciousness, one doesn't want to know what makes a person "appear" conscious; one wants to know what gives rise to the actual phenomena - I must therefore put my own personal consciousness on the stage. But I cannot do this. I cannot stand outside my own consciousness and look at it and its workings. The best I can manage is some reflections on myself, but then I am looking at myself in some detached way (Nagel's view from nowhere), that is not much better than observing someone else’s inferred consciousness. We cannot consciously stand apart from own consciousness. Therefore how consciousness arises from a mechanical mind is beyond comprehension, and so appears as emergent.
Posted 3:19 AM / April 28, 2013
Amazingly... we now have the truth about consciousness.
Jeremy Griffith explains:
"The truth is, the subject of consciousness brings our mind so quickly into contact with the unbearably depressing issue of the human condition that ‘consciousness’ has become synonymous with—indeed code for—the problem of the human condition."
Taken from the book "Freedom", at www.humancondition.com.
Once the human condition is explained, consciousness is actually really simply defined. It is not complex at all! Amazing stuff!
Posted 8:42 PM / August 30, 2012
The chief tenets of New Thought (best described as Gnostic Christianity) are:
God is infinite intelligence
Spirit is the ultimate reality
True human self-hood is divine
In short, Monism - that Spirit (Big Mind), mind & matter are the same (New Thought). Culture (small mind) is subjective Spirit and that Nature is objective Spirit. Different movement of one absolute Spirit.
Ken Wilber felt the philosophy Friedrich Schelling successfully integrated the 'Ascending' (the path of Wisdom) and the 'Descending' (the path of compassion).
Schelling understood that development or evolution was a spiritual movemnt.
In the 'spirit' of keeping this comment short, you can read more about Schelling and New Thought at www.harmonyangels.com
It's got a useful UI. Click 'Ski the GS', then click
'GS Trail Map'. For Schilling, ski down the TRUTH mountain till you find 'Philosophy' (lower left). For New Thought, ski down the GOODNESS moutain till you find 'New Thought'. Happy Trails.
Posted 9:32 PM / August 16, 2012
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Can Religion Be Explained Without God?
Most people believe that God exists and religion is God’™s revelation. But some claim that religion needs nothing supernatural; that religion, without God, can flourish because personal psychology and group sociology drive religion.
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- Why Is Consciousness So Mysterious? by Keith Ward
- Does God Make Sense? by V.V. Raman
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