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What is the "self"? What is "consciousness"?

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Tony, checking his 1999, Damasio is not on the team they cite for innate fear of snakes. But you can get his book, and study it for yourself if you seriously want to know his clinical and modern-research evidence for his models. Or not. Actually, I doubt you should (from your satisfaction) or will crack such books promising report of progress. Chat on. I don't have time for that.

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On 7/12/2020 at 6:17 PM, whYNOT said:

"Contrary to Rand, most theorists hold that the stored information involved in emotion may include certain 'hard-wired' (i.e. genetically determined) responses such as an innate fear of snakes".

 

And which are other instances of "stored information involved in emotion"?

This question has puzzled me, why is that hard-wired and innate responses are so much presupposed by many intellectuals? How does that pertain to emotions? I went to a chapter The Mind, in Edward O. Wilson's "Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge" where he gets onto the subject. 

"The reciprocity of mind and body can be visualized by the following scenario, which I have adapted from an account by the neurologist, Antonio R. Damasio. Imagine that you are strolling along a deserted city street at night. Your reverie is interrupted by quick footsteps drawing close behind. Your brain focuses instantly and churns out alternative scenarios--ignore, freeze, turn and confront, or escape. The last scenario prevails and you run. In the space of a few seconds the conscious response triggers automatic changes in your physiology". {he goes into the chemicals released, increasing basic metabolic rate, glucose to feed the muscles, lungs bring in more air - etc.].

Right to the "reciprocity of mind and body" - but no, this isn't the accurate sequence of what happens, it can't be. The emotion, fear, is what impels the need to take action (run/confront) - with the immediate release of chemicals etc. NOT following the action (running)**.  What triggers before "the space of a few seconds" the physiological changes, is the possible threat of danger you instantly perceived, rightly or wrongly,  by the sound of footsteps in the dark and a city street. The cause is what you, the city dweller, have self- programmed, from the longstanding value you placed in your life, and from the dis-values of possible injuries, loss of your valuables or worse to predators. The *subconscious* mind is what briefly - and automatically - takes over in a risky scenario, preparing you for action by the value-judgments you've made, much faster than you can stop, consider and identify the threat.

At a stretch of the imagination, one could have a naive country bumpkin in Wilson's scenario who has never been in a city before and has heard absolutely nothing about the dangers. Quick footsteps behind him would not perturb him in the least - fear wouldn't occur to him. The one size-fits-all emotional responses which are usually depicted in studies of emotions and the brain, is just untrue. Different people make far differing identifications and. therefore, evaluations, by objective and non-objective standards, and therefore will and visibly do experience a variety and/or different  intensity of emotions when faced by a spread of scenarios.

**[I'd think rather influenced by William James. i.e.: I am afraid ~because~ I run]

 

 

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E. O. Wilson continues:

"Damasio, in depicting the mind holistically in such episodes, has suggested the existence of two broad categories of emotions. The first, primary emotion, comprises the responses ordinarily called inborn or instinctive. Primary emotion requires little conscious activity beyond the recognition of certain elementary stimuli, the kind that students of instinctive behavior in animals call releasers--they are said to "release" the pre-programmed behavior. For human beings such stimuli include sexual enticement, loud noises, the sudden appearance of huge shapes, the writhing movements of snakes or serpentine objects, and the particular configuration of pain associated with heart attacks or broken bones. The primary emotions have been passed down with little change from the vertebrate forebears of the human line. They are activated by circuits of the limbic system, among which the amygdala appears to be the master integrating and relay center.

"Secondary emotions arise from personalized events in life. To meet an old friend, fall in love, win a promotion, or suffer an insult, is to fire the limbic circuits of primary emotion, but only after the highest integrative processes of the cerebral cortex have been engaged. ... Nature, Damasio observes, with its "tinkerish knack for economy, did not select independent mechanisms for expressing primary and secondary emotions. It simply allowed secondary emotions to be expressed by the same channel already prepared to convey primary emotions". EOW

{This last insight is most familiar, in keeping with Rand's - "Now in what manner does the human being discover the concept of "value"? By what means does he become aware of the issue of "good" or "evil" in its simplest form? By means of the physical sensations of *pleasure* or *pain*. Just as sensations are the first step of the development of a human consciousness, in the realm of *cognition*, so they are its first step in the realm of *evaluation*. [...]

 "Just as the pleasure-pain mechanism of man's body is an automatic indicator of his body's welfare or injury, a barometer of its basic alternative, life or death---so the emotional mechanism of man's consciousness is geared to perform the same function ... by means of two basic emotions: joy or suffering. Emotions are the automatic results of man's value-judgments integrated by his subconscious ..." Etc.)

Rand then would have recognized Damasio's "nature's economy" and "channels".  (I.e. "Just as ... and "is geared to perform the same function"). But she was distinct about sensations/emotions, not his primary ("inborn - instinctive") and secondary emotions. And she elicited this only by introspection long before a neuroscientist! But her major departure is value/value-judgments automatically integrated in the subconscious, are what are the cause and nature of our emotions. All the physiological events are consequences of that.

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4 hours ago, whYNOT said:

This question has puzzled me, why is that hard-wired and innate responses are so much presupposed by many intellectuals? How does that pertain to emotions? I went to a chapter The Mind, in Edward O. Wilson's "Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge" where he gets onto the subject. 

I think many people overestimate what hardwired is supposed to mean, not to mention that there is a huge deal of disagreement about "innateness". It is heavily debated. 

As I explained to you before, that's a description of the bottom-up process. What you are criticizing is a pop science book, for (over)simplifying what can go on in the human mind. The author fails to describe how the feared thing is represented in the mind. He might believe the representation is innate, he might believe the representation comes about from learning. He might believe some combination of the two. Either way, the process he describes isn't wrong. Worst case, it's an incomplete explanation. 

What you quoted describes an automatic response. That would be something like a formal cause. If you ask how the response became automatic, you would get a very different answer. That would be something like an efficient cause. 

Getting back to the debate again, between innate and learned, I think as scientists learn more, it becomes clear that emotion-based representations of something as feared are in large part learned. You can take a look at this: https://www.childstudycenter-rutgers.com/research

2 hours ago, whYNOT said:

But she was distinct about sensations/emotions, not his primary ("inborn - instinctive") and secondary emotions.

Quote Damasio for your definitions of his terms, not the interpretation of someone else. 

*

I think this all connects to consciousness and self because this gets out how your self includes all of your mental life, even the parts that are habituated and automatized.

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On 7/15/2020 at 3:48 AM, Eiuol said:

I think many people overestimate what hardwired is supposed to mean, not to mention that there is a huge deal of disagreement about "innateness". It is heavily debated. 

As I explained to you before, that's a description of the bottom-up process. What you are criticizing is a pop science book, for (over)simplifying what can go on in the human mind. The author fails to describe how the feared thing is represented in the mind. He might believe the representation is innate, he might believe the representation comes about from learning. He might believe some combination of the two. Either way, the process he describes isn't wrong. Worst case, it's an incomplete explanation. 

What you quoted describes an automatic response. That would be something like a formal cause. If you ask how the response became automatic, you would get a very different answer. That would be something like an efficient cause. 

Getting back to the debate again, between innate and learned, I think as scientists learn more, it becomes clear that emotion-based representations of something as feared are in large part learned. You can take a look at this: https://www.childstudycenter-rutgers.com/research

Quote Damasio for your definitions of his terms, not the interpretation of someone else. 

*

I think this all connects to consciousness and self because this gets out how your self includes all of your mental life, even the parts that are habituated and automatized.

There is at large a definite and growing bias to innateness and hard-wiring, the same bias shown by determinists for the same reason. One more way to shift personal responsibility, individuation and independence off the individual onto other, predestined 'causes'. That these vague innate theories will be shown to have an influence on all human behaviors, including emotional responses, is therefore not surprising. Nor that anti-individualists, the total determinists, are strong proponents of the theory.

The majority opinion is that 'your body' detects the disturbance/stimulus/ etc. and your body that 'causes' the emotion. Hardly or nothing to do with your mind.

The contradistinction that it is your body that ¬registers¬ the physiological ¬effects¬ of an emotion is unconsidered or evaded. NOT the cause, the final (and instant) effect. I don't know (do you?) if you agree with Rand's original theory, i.e. basically, each person sets his/her own standard of the emotions they will experience, in a given situation. The inextricable link from one's thinking to one's choice of values - to one's emotions - is of course the product of a volitional consciousness (or defaulted by any who haven't applied thinking/evaluations). 

To repeat, it is one's mind that has set and automates the standards (and why often that several people's emotions may be observably all over the place faced by the identical scene-situation) to which the specific emotion experienced is really just the obedient consequence. For self-proof one only has to make the mental effort to trace back and connect *this* emotion one feels - to the values and dis-values one holds - sometimes a clear link, sometimes not immediately evident.

When scientists and neurologists ¬only¬ focus on the physical/physiological aspects they miss or avoid the most important aspect, the conscious and subconscious mind.

Most of what is passed off as hard wired can easily be dispatched with - by humans also being biological animals, having a sensory pain/pleasure mechanism ["loud noises"], psychology, by one's pre-learned knowledge, subconsciously-gathered behaviors and attitudes from others - or else is too trivial, like the suckling reflex, to argue. What Peikoff said about there being nothing in the subconscious mind that didn't get there by conscious means, I've validated by observation and experience, beyond any personal doubt.

Ha! If you believe "Consilience" is "pop-science", you apparently have not read it. This is no lightweight work by E. Wilson. He sincerely makes a comprehensive unified knowledge theory, in its fundaments much agreeable to Objectivists I'd think. Where I think he goes wrong is on most he writes of the humanities and social sciences and his belief in heritability and epigenetics, while he does make a weak case for free will, but the overall book is very strong.

 

 

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On 7/18/2020 at 1:00 AM, Eiuol said:

Have the thoughts helped you much?

Helped recognize that it is your "self" which lays down and sets the parameters of your own specific emotion responses, for one? And how bad an idea it is to try to distance the consciousness from the body? And a 'self-less' thought/evaluation/emotion is THE self-contradiction.

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On 7/15/2020 at 3:48 AM, Eiuol said:

I think many people overestimate what hardwired is supposed to mean, not to mention that there is a huge deal of disagreement about "innateness". It is heavily debated. 

 

Btw, there is only one single proposition where O'ism is concerned about hard wiring and innateness, that I'm aware of, and that is the field of *knowledge* - supposedly - 'hard-wired and innate', also called 'instinctive knowledge'. What we exactly don't have. Everything outside of this, in behaviors and natural tendencies isn't knowledge, they can be biological (or learned or chosen). One's biology is not hard - wired, rather "metaphysically given". Like one's e.g. digestive system. Needed clearing up to alleviate your huge deal of disagreement.

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  • 1 month later...
14 hours ago, Sebastien said:

Thanks Boydstun and William O.

Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit presents a progression of historical attempts to secure stable truth.

What Hegel argues is that each historical attempt is unstable because it tries to secure an object of consciousness as object.

When Hegel gets to absolute knowing, we discover that the Self (The I) is the only really stable object of knowledge. We find out that what we were trying to secure, an object of knowledge, is only stable when mediated by the self.

It takes some skill to make this compatible with Objectivism, but here's my attempt.

If the self is a stable object, this is a good starting point for arguing that self-interest is also a stable object.

Hegel is not a subjectivist. He doesn't say there is no object. He says that the object lacks self-subsistence, that it is what it is largely through the I.

This is moderately compatible with Objectivism because Ms. Rand says that reality is neither subjective nor objective, but is both at the same time.

In the first essay from Capitalism the Unknown Ideal, she says that an airplane is objectively superior to a bicycle. But there is no need for a man to pay for an airplane if the range his transportation needs are entirely fulfilled by the bicycle.

Therefor the objective superiority of the airplane is only realized through those who use the airplane, not the bicycle.

So reality has an objective aspect and a subjective aspect, and the subjective aspect, the aspect of the I, is important.

There are other examples.

Let me know if I need more examples to make this point more solid.

Sebastien, as you know, Rand distinguishes in “What Is Capitalism?” (1965) three contrasting views on what is the nature of value:

Value is intrinsic in external things by themselves.

Value is subjective, meaning only in the mind.

Value is objective, meaning it is a relation between external things and a mind directing a life.

 

In her “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology” (1969–70), Rand distinguishes three contrasting views on what is the nature of concepts:

Concepts are perceptions of universals lying in external things intrinsically, lying in things  independently of mind.

Concepts are subjective, that is, products of the mind independent of facts of reality.

Concepts are objective, that is, produced by human consciousness in accordance with the facts of reality, active classifications by mind with content taken from reality.

 

Rand was introducing a somewhat new notion of the “objective,” so what had previously usually been meant by that term she labeled “intrinsic.” What you have called “objective” is what Rand had called “intrinsic” if I understand you correctly. Is that right? (I.e., when you say "Rand says that reality is neither subjective or objective, but is both at the same time.)

In her Atlas Shrugged (1957), specifically in Galt’s speech, Rand characterizes the most fundamental nature of consciousness as perception of what exists, as identifier of existents. Further, “that which you call your soul or spirit is your consciousness” (1017). Also, “‘things as they are’ are things as perceived by your mind” (1036).

She writes there too: “It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept ‘Value’ possible” (1013). When we join that to “a rational process is a moral process” (1017), we might reasonably infer that at least in higher, rational consciousness there is an aliveness implicit in its episodes. And in oral exchange a dozen years later, Rand remarked concerning consciousness: “It’s a concept that could not enter your mind or your language unless in the form of a faculty of a living entity. That’s what the concept means” (Rand 1969–70, 252; cf. Binswanger 2014, 30–41).

Hegel writes in the fourth chapter of Phenomenology of Spirit (1807):

“Self-consciousness is the reflection out of the being of the world of sense and perception, and is essentially the return from otherness. As self-consciousness, it is movement; but since what it distinguishes from itself is only itself as itself, the difference, as an otherness, is immediately superseded for it; the difference is not, and it [self-consciousness] is only the motionless tautology of: ‘I am I’; but since for it the difference does not have the form of being, it is not self-consciousness. Hence otherness is for it in the form of a being, or as a distinct moment; but there is also for consciousness the unity of itself with this difference as a second distant moment. With the first moment, self-consciousness is in the form of consciousness, and the whole expanse of the sensuous world is preserved for it, but at the same time only as connected with the second moment, the unity of self consciousness with itself; and hence the sensuous world is for it an enduring existence which, however, is only appearance, or a difference which, in itself, is no difference. This antithesis of its appearance and it truth has, however, for its essence only the truth, viz., the unity of self-consciousness with itself; this unity must become essential to self-consciousness, i.e. self-consciousness is Desire in general.” (105)

Sebastien, I don’t think that in Rand’s view desire, or purposiveness, is first in view only in self-consciousness. Rather, purpose is already an aspect of consciousness of existents, and that element of purposiveness, that element of aliveness, is seen when we reflect upon the mere episode of consciousness of an existent. Its entry into our episodes of consciousness does not wait for our reflective consciousness of ourselves, only our reflective consciousness of our consciousness of existence.

Upon our conscious reflection upon our conscious selves, we continue to find life, and we see it even more fully, it seems to me. But speaking in terms of Hegel’s moments, I deny and Rand should deny that the first moment requires the second moment to occur. Further, there is unity in the first moment, and it is unity of existence, from which the unity of consciousness and self-consciousness derives.

In Rand’s conceptions, and in mine, there is never parity or self-sameness between consciousness (or self-consciousness) and existence. The latter has primacy over the former, that is, existence has primacy over consciousness, and fact has primacy over truth and over value.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

References                 

Binswanger, H. 2014. How We Know. TOF.

Hegel, G.W.F. 1807. Phenomenology of Spirit. A.V. Miller, translator. 1977. Oxford.

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Hi Boydstun,

Thank you for your lengthy and interesting reply.

I don't suggest that Rand and Hegel are in complete agreement.

I agree with you that for Rand, existence has primacy over consciousness.

But what if it is in my self-interest to only deal with parts of reality and existence that do align perfectly with my self?

For instance, if I want to be a philosopher, and not a doctor, then I do not need to study medicine. I can simply trade my knowledge with someone willing to pay for it, and use my money to see a doctor when I need to.

Or what if I study business because I want a guaranteed job and don't want to ever experience poverty?

What reality we encounter depends partly on our choices. And if this is the case, then an adept mind can choose to deal only with parts of reality which are implicated in our life choices. And if this is the case, then reality can conform to consciousness, and consciousness will have primacy over reality.

In The Objectivist Ethics, Ms. Rand says that productive work is the arena in which man does not need to adapt to his background, as the animals do, but can shape his background to conform to his own self. (Rand 29)

Just my thought.

 

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Boydstun

As I understand it, both objective and subjective are part of the Objectivist Understanding, not the intrinsic.

The intrinsic theory of value is exemplified by the Marxian school of thought, which says that labour-time is the substance of the value of a commodity, that commodities have intrinsic value because they are products of labour.

Marx completely negates the possibility that the value of commodities has a subjective element. He says value does not come from circulation or consumption.

Ms. Rand, on the other hand, recognizes that commodities are valuable because, on the one hand, they serve an objective need, and on the other hand, they provide subjective pleasure or happiness.

If I'm not mistaken.

 

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43 minutes ago, Sebastien said:

Hi Boydstun,

Thank you for your lengthy and interesting reply.

I don't suggest that Rand and Hegel are in complete agreement.

I agree with you that for Rand, existence has primacy over consciousness.

But what if it is in my self-interest to only deal with parts of reality and existence that do align perfectly with my self?

For instance, if I want to be a philosopher, and not a doctor, then I do not need to study medicine. I can simply trade my knowledge with someone willing to pay for it, and use my money to see a doctor when I need to.

Or what if I study business because I want a guaranteed job and don't want to ever experience poverty?

What reality we encounter depends partly on our choices. And if this is the case, then an adept mind can choose to deal only with parts of reality which are implicated in our life choices. And if this is the case, then reality can conform to consciousness, and consciousness will have primacy over reality.

In The Objectivist Ethics, Ms. Rand says that productive work is the arena in which man does not need to adapt to his background, as the animals do, but can shape his background to conform to his own self. (Rand 29)

Just my thought.

 

What you observe here are "free will" and the "man made".  These are somewhat different from the primacy of consciousness.

The relationship between existence and consciousness in the same thing is hierarchical.  Your consciousness is possible due to and indeed arose from existence.  You weren't, then you were (now you are) and your consciousness is, but one day you simply won't be.  Technically, the existence of you, in all your complexity, does not at once "cause" you to be conscious... you ARE conscious because of your identity... the whole nature of the complexity of you... things are their attributes after all.  Electron's do not have charge because of existence causes them to be so, electrons simply exist AND ARE negatively charged.  Your conscious existence has specific requirements in reality, i.e. in the "natural" world from which you consist, which were not met, prior to your being conscious... and will not be met... after you pass.

The reverse, i.e. a disembodied consciousness, deciding it needed something to be conscious of, giving birth to existence, to one day in the far future dissolving it ... would be the erroneous idea of the primacy of consciousness. 

 

Consciousness does play an interactive and hence causative role in the world- it would have to since, far from being cut-off from it...  it is embedded and constituent here fully of and by the natural world... a natural and real identity as absolute as anything else in existence.   As such, free-will and the man made are not counterexamples of the primacy of existence they are examples of it.. in a particular structural and functioning form.

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34 minutes ago, Sebastien said:

Boydstun

As I understand it, both objective and subjective are part of the Objectivist Understanding, not the intrinsic.

The intrinsic theory of value is exemplified by the Marxian school of thought, which says that labour-time is the substance of the value of a commodity, that commodities have intrinsic value because they are products of labour.

Marx completely negates the possibility that the value of commodities has a subjective element. He says value does not come from circulation or consumption.

Ms. Rand, on the other hand, recognizes that commodities are valuable because, on the one hand, they serve an objective need, and on the other hand, they provide subjective pleasure or happiness.

If I'm not mistaken.

 

 

Although it sounds paradoxical, subjective pleasure and happiness are objective values.  We are mental as well as physical creatures, and our mental health plays just as an important role in self-sustenance as our physical health.  In fact, more so in the modern world.

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10 minutes ago, StrictlyLogical said:

What you observe here are "free will" and the "man made".  These are somewhat different from the primacy of consciousness.

I would probably agree with you, Strictly Logical. Actually, the idea of the primacy of consciousness is more important to Marxism than it is to Objectivism. If you are a Marxist, and you believe that consciousness is primary, this means that your consciousness can change reality, i.e. the world. This can be a disasterous mode of thinking.

However, taken by itself, Hegel's account of the primacy of consciousness over the external world, doesn't need to be problematic. It might be incompatible with Objectivism, that much is possibly clear.

However let us take into account quotations and proverbs that are meant to be empowering:

"You are the master of your existence." "You can accomplish anything if you set your mind to it."

"No obstacle is too difficult for you to overcome."

If we want a theoretical basis to support these proverbs, Hegel is a good basis.

 

Ultimately, I argue that Hegel and Ayn Rand have moderate compatibility.

Both agree that reality is knowable, in contrast with Kant, and both celebrate human freedom.

Thanks.

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12 minutes ago, StrictlyLogical said:

Although it sounds paradoxical, subjective pleasure and happiness are objective values.  We are mental as well as physical creatures, and our mental health plays just as an important role in self-sustenance as our physical health.  In fact, more so in the modern world.

Yes, Strictly Logical, subjective pleasure and happiness are objective values.

That is why Jefferson said we have a right to the pursuit of happiness. The objectification of happiness is the basis of this principle.

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