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Consciousness as Irreducible

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I have just started reading, “How We Know” and and in the section, “Consciousness as Irreducible” and I am wondering if someone can help me understand this a bit better. 

The part that I am hung up on is where Harry says, “Consciousness exists and matter exist” and then starts to talk about materielists. I am missing something conceptually. 

Can someone help me better understand conpeteptually the idea that consciousness and matter are seperate? It almost sound as if consciousness is something mystical, but I have always rejected mysticism on the grounds that it has no grounding in the natural world. 

 

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The most common way of thinking about it that I've seen is that consciousness is a characteristic, in the same sense that grip is a characteristic. Grip isn't a thing that you touch, and it is not an entity, but it is real. But it is something you're capable of doing by using your hands. Like with any action, consciousness is something that an entity does, it just so happens that the word is used like a noun (but so is a word like "grip"). Consciousness and matter are only separable conceptually.

But also I would be careful in that Binswanger, as far as I remember, considers himself a dualist (even if he does distinguish himself from a substance dualist). He makes substantial errors about consciousness when it comes to distinguishing consciousness from physical things.

Consciousness is irreducible because there are no further components to break it down into. This does not mean it is necessarily a fundamental constituent of the universe. 

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3 hours ago, Eiuol said:

The most common way of thinking about it that I've seen is that consciousness is a characteristic, in the same sense that grip is a characteristic. Grip isn't a thing that you touch, and it is not an entity, but it is real. But it is something you're capable of doing by using your hands. Like with any action, consciousness is something that an entity does, it just so happens that the word is used like a noun (but so is a word like "grip"). Consciousness and matter are only separable conceptually.

But also I would be careful in that Binswanger, as far as I remember, considers himself a dualist (even if he does distinguish himself from a substance dualist). He makes substantial errors about consciousness when it comes to distinguishing consciousness from physical things.

Consciousness is irreducible because there are no further components to break it down into. This does not mean it is necessarily a fundamental constituent of the universe. 

Thanks. The grip analogy makes sense. Curious though how HB can be a dualist with Objectivist epistemology. 

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6 hours ago, Veritas said:

Can someone help me better understand conpeteptually the idea that consciousness and matter are seperate?

Consciousness is mental in nature; matter is physical. This doesn't mean they can be separated. The existence of consciousness is dependent on matter.

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1 hour ago, MisterSwig said:

Consciousness is mental in nature; matter is physical. This doesn't mean they can be separated. The existence of consciousness is dependent on matter.

Right, hence the primacy of existence. If it is mental in  "nature" is it simply descriptive of an action? If it is not material can it be said to have identity?

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1 hour ago, Veritas said:

If it is mental in  "nature" is it simply descriptive of an action?

Of action and content. The mind identifies things. You can't separate its content from its state.

1 hour ago, Veritas said:

If it is not material can it be said to have identity?

Yes. Every thing has identity. Otherwise it wouldn't be a thing, and we couldn't talk about it. There is nothing about identity that demands a thing be material in nature. It simply must exist for us to be aware of it.

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9 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

There is nothing about identity that demands a thing be material in nature.

There would need to be some material connection though (any and all action must be embodied). That much is always required.

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@Veritas, in case you weren't aware, Dr. Binswanger responds to emails from laymen, and he has a paid online forum (HBL) that you can subscribe to for free for two weeks. So it's entirely possible to ask Dr. Binswanger himself these questions if you're so inclined.

If you do this, I'd appreciate it if you posted the results here.

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Veritas, why can't Dr. Binswanger and others working within Rand's system take consciousness as awareness to be a first-person standpoint and fundamentally in contrast to a third-person standpoint such as when they say that consciousness is some sort of brain processing, which is to say physiological, which is to say physical? In other words, couldn't one say that in certain sorts of contexts it is sensible to say consciousness is physical and in other sorts of contexts consciousness is in stark contrast to the physical?

Does what Binswanger writes rule out that option for him?

 

Edited by Boydstun

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2 hours ago, Boydstun said:

Veritas, why can't Dr. Binswanger and others working within Rand's system take consciousness as awareness to be a first-person standpoint and fundamentally in contrast to a third-person standpoint such as when they say that consciousness is some sort of brain processing, which is to say physiological, which is to say physical? In other words, couldn't one say that in certain sorts of contexts it is sensible to say consciousness is physical and in other sorts of contexts consciousness is in stark contrast to the physical?

Does what Binswanger writes rule out that option for him?

 

Hello Boydstun:

I think it likely assumed to be crucial to any discussion of consciousness to keep in tact the integrations of Rand regarding the natural world and consciousness, the complete rejection of the supernatural, and the repudiation of any dichotomy in the natural world.  We are neither ghosts nor corpses NOR some mongrel marriage of the two.  We, including our consciousness's ARE part of the natural world and not in any way exempt of the absolutes of identity and causation.  Some fear by a layperson, is quite understandable given the false alternatives offered out there: consciousness is an illusion, free will is impossible, the part of the mind which IS conscious is causally impotent (this one definitely is self refuting as no one could self report consciousness on a piece of paper...), free will is supernatural etc.. SO, I think the concern and confusion here is not entirely surprising.

Personally, upon my first read of How We Know, I was completely perplexed by Dr. Binswanger's presentation of the irreducibility of "consciousness".  I do not recall ever having been put on notice in the text that the "consciousness" discussed there was defined AS only that which one calls the "first-person viewpoint" or the "first person experience" rather than being defined as the objectively existing natural phenomenon occurring in the complex natural system which is the brain we each have.  Equivalently, I do not recall a clear explanation that the only type of reducibility which is impossible (in the context), i.e. restricted from any analytic division, is that of  "first-person viewpoints".  I take it assumed that once the natural phenomenon of consciousness, from all viewpoints (after all, every existent is an existence of ONE, in THIS world, in reality ... i.e. having absolute "identity" no ideal vs. projection, no multiplicity, no existential duality), is understood completely and identified as a complex phenomenon, we could one day be routinely "reducing" observed natural (perhaps non-biological) consciousness's in myriad ways when dealing with their creation and study.

After reading so many perplexing and completely unintelligible statements (to me) about "consciousness" and "irreducibility",  I began to conclude that what was being referred to could not have been the "natural phenomenon" in existence as such, and that what was being discussed was restricted only to the "first-person experience" ASPECT of what I considered the phenomenon of consciousness to BE in reality.

I wonder if there was any reason why this was not made explicit, and why there was not a better and fuller description of both this "aspect" of "consciousness" and "consciousness" as an existent as such, and the differentia between them.  Is this just assumed in philosophical circles?  Scientific (psychology and physics) circles?

 

I also could be completely wrong, and missed entirely the careful and explicit disclosure in there as to what in reality the subject of the discussion of "consciousness" was all about. 

If so, could you (or anyone) point me to those more explicit passages so I can reread them?

 

I am not entirely certain that there is not some danger, some dichotomy, lying at the base of even the most benign looking "dualism"... 

I fear that holding such a view makes us feel we ARE not what we ARE made and consist of... what we DO not what functions and processes we perform...

I fear that we will feel that

We ARE not and DO not what we ARE and DO....

and hence feel that we are somehow exceptions to identity and causation... and hence outside of existence itself.

 

SL

 

Edited by StrictlyLogical
Added some final comments

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On 4/28/2019 at 7:07 PM, Veritas said:

Can someone help me better understand conpeteptually the idea that consciousness and matter are seperate? It almost sound as if consciousness is something mystical, but I have always rejected mysticism on the grounds that it has no grounding in the natural world. 

This analogy might help you. Think of a piano string, and the sound that it makes. The string (1) and the sound (2) are not identical, they are two different things. You can say that the sound is caused by the vibrating string but you can't say that the sound is identical to the string. The sound is the sound, the string is the string. So you won't describe the sound as 'a very long and thin wire made of steel', and you also won't describe the string as 'a high-pitched squeak'. The sound is irreducible to the string.

The same thing applies to matter and consciousness. Certainly consciousness is caused by material things (a nervous system), but the experience of an apple is just that, the experience of an apple. The fact that the experience has material causes does not mean that the brain (1) and the experience of the apple (2) are identical. The brain is the brain, the experience is the experience. When you talk about the brain you talk about neurons, synapses and so on. When you dissect the experience of the apple, you analyse it on its own terms - color, smell, how vivid or clear the experience is etc. It's in this way that consciousness is a thing in its own right, irreducible to its material causes.

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20 minutes ago, KyaryPamyu said:

This analogy might help you. Think of a piano string, and the sound that it makes. The string (1) and the sound (2) are not identical, they are two different things. You can say that the sound is caused by the vibrating string but you can't say that the sound is identical to the string. The sound is the sound, the string is the string. So you won't describe the sound as 'a very long and thin wire made of steel', and you also won't describe the string as 'a high-pitched squeak'. The sound is irreducible to the string.

The same thing applies to matter and consciousness. Certainly consciousness is caused by material things (a nervous system), but the experience of an apple is just that, the experience of an apple. The fact that the experience has material causes does not mean that the brain (1) and the experience of the apple (2) are identical. The brain is the brain, the experience is the experience. When you talk about the brain you talk about neurons, synapses and so on. When you dissect the experience of the apple, you analyse it on its own terms - color, smell, how vivid or clear the experience is etc. It's in this way that consciousness is a thing in its own right, irreducible to its material causes.

Don't want to be argumentative, but I think the string example is reducible and it already has a dichotomy built into it, the string is not the air.

 

Now, even if we were instead to speak of the "string" on the one hand and the "string vibrating" on the other...

what does it mean to claim the vibrating string is not reducible?  The string is reducible, it has portions along its lengths with mass and tension which has a force on each of its neighbor portions... a vibrating string can be reduced in terms of both the actions and constituent bits of the string... its doing what it does is completely reducible on every scale.

Honestly, I have yet to encounter a coherent concept of "irreducibility" which is consistent with Objectivism, except for the idea of  irreducibility of the "first person" viewpoint and the "first person" experience.

 

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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On 4/28/2019 at 12:07 PM, Veritas said:

The part that I am hung up on is where Harry says, “Consciousness exists and matter exist” and then starts to talk about materielists. I am missing something conceptually. 

Consciousness is an attribute of living things.  Living is action.  Consciousness is a type of action.  The concept of action assumes entities that act, nevertheless the action is distinguishable and distinct from the entity that acts.   So yes, as Binswanger writes “Consciousness exists and matter exist” but also I would add consciousness can only exist because matter exists, matter as both subject and object of consciousness.  

Binswanger is correct to argue against a version of reductionism that would deny consciousness exists.  But to investigate the physiological nature of brains (human or animal) to identify what actions of consciousness are and how they occur is not reductionist.  Binswanger is wrong to adopt the dualist premise that consciousness is one of the fundamental ontological components of the universe, literally a yet to be discovered substance.

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2 minutes ago, StrictlyLogical said:

Jebus... he really says this??????

He has.  I don't know if he restated it in his book, I haven't read it.  That is what it means to be a substance dualist.

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8 minutes ago, Grames said:

He has.  I don't know if he restated it in his book, I haven't read it.  That is what it means to be a substance dualist.

I assume a "substance dualist"goes father that saying that there is distinction between A doing X and A not doing X...

they go beyond saying i.e. consciousness is what a living brain does versus non-consciousness is what a 1 hour old dead brain does.

 

The "substance" I suppose is like some "floating thing" which sits "beside" the acting brain ... in some other dimension then... hence the "substance dualism"?

 

 

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5 minutes ago, StrictlyLogical said:

I assume a "substance dualist"goes father that saying that there is distinction between A doing X and A not doing X...

they go beyond saying i.e. consciousness is what a living brain does versus non-consciousness is what a 1 hour old dead brain does.

 

The "substance" I suppose is like some "floating thing" which sits "beside" the acting brain ... in some other dimension then... hence the "substance dualism"?

 

 

See https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dualism/#ProDua  section 2. covering predicate, property and substance dualism.  I hold that they are all equally untenable.  The entire approach of expecting a particular kind of material ontology to explain everything, and when it fails to claim a non-material ontology must be valid is just nuts.  It assumes being is static and inert, that actions have some other cause than the entities that act.

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4 minutes ago, Grames said:

It assumes being is static and inert, that actions have some other cause than the entities that act.

Aha.... this is where the concept of "emergence" comes from...  since a phenomenon must be a "stuff", it must emerge from the acting system and cannot consist in the system's acting.

i.s. a dualist holds a brain doing x "gives rise to" the "emergence" of a consciousness (stuff) (which possibly sits floating beside the natural world... and according to some is impotent) to be contrasted with a non-dualist holding the brain's doing X (which means a BRAIN doing X, not a disembodied doing of X which is impossible) IS what consciousness consists in.

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19 minutes ago, Grames said:

I hold that they are all equally untenable

What is the status of that aspect of the universe which is "what it is like to be a mouse"?

We could never know it, or describe it from third person analysis...

I suppose in the end, what we can or cannot ever know does not matter to the absolutes of existence such as the fact that the mouse is what it is ... and (to extent we can say it can "know" anything) being a mouse, only a mouse knows what it is like to BE a mouse.

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1 hour ago, StrictlyLogical said:

Aha.... this is where the concept of "emergence" comes from...  since a phenomenon must be a "stuff", it must emerge from the acting system and cannot consist in the system's acting.

Not necessarily.  I suppose emergence can be a version of re-invented dualism. I myself would accept a version of epistemological emergence, where the novel property must be given its own category of thought not a new order of being.   Rand's solution to the problem of universals was to assert universals are epistemological, I would follow her lead with so-called emergent properties.

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17 hours ago, Grames said:

Binswanger is wrong to adopt the dualist premise that consciousness is one of the fundamental ontological components of the universe, literally a yet to be discovered substance.

Quote

He has.  I don't know if he restated it in his book, I haven't read it.  That is what it means to be a substance dualist. 

Where are you getting the idea that Binswanger is a substance dualist?

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On 4/29/2019 at 7:14 AM, Eiuol said:

There would need to be some material connection though (any and all action must be embodied). That much is always required.

I'm not clear on what you mean by "material connection." Is that something like a physical link between the mind and the body (or brain)? Also, "all action must be embodied" sounds unnecessary or imprecise to me. I believe that any action must be consistent with (not contradict) the nature of the thing that is acting. It seems reasonable to say that the mind is caused by the human organism responding to stimuli. That response, however, includes our power to will voluntary mental actions. Whether those mental actions, in turn, affect the brain, I'm not sure. I tend to think that it is the will that affects the brain in coordination with the mind, the will being our power to control aspects of the self.

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MrSwig: "Whether those mental actions...affect the brain..." Most exciting were the findings of neuroscience which established that new neural pathways are being constantly formed, e.g. after injuries and by new actions of the brain, learning new motor skills, like sports, etc. - and - most pertinently - I think it can be deduced, by fresh experiences, modes and processes of thought. Empirical proof, imo, of the volitional consciousness. One which also has physical causal effects on the brain-consciousness, 'self-forming' as it goes (acts).

Edited by whYNOT

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39 minutes ago, whYNOT said:

Most exciting were the findings of neuroscience...

Can you link to the research you're referencing? Thanks. 

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1 hour ago, MisterSwig said:

all action must be embodied

Mr Swig:  You claim this statement by Eiuol is unnecessary or imprecise... BUT it is logically equivalent to "no disembodied actions exit".... Are you proposing the possibility of "disembodied action"?

 

A - I saw running in the lobby today.

B - Sorry, WHAT did you see running in the lobby?

A - No, I saw running in the lobby just "running".

B - Did you see people running, or dogs running or ... mice running?  I mean you must have seen SOMETHING running in the lobby?

A - Nope just "running"... I saw it in the lobby today.

B - <shakes head> that's incredible, that's fantastic and impossible... there cannot be running without something running <walks away>

 

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