Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

How is this statement true? "A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something."

Rate this topic


Frank
 Share

Recommended Posts

I certainly don't want the statement to be false, and I'm in no way arguing against it. I'm much more comfortable with Rand's position than the idealist lunacy alternatives. However, I'm not clear on why it would be impossible for a consciousness to be aware only of itself. And I don't want to just acdept her position out of desire to be comfortable. I want to accept it because it is unavoidably true. Could people please clarify?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

11 minutes ago, Frank said:

However, I'm not clear on why it would be impossible for a consciousness to be aware only of itself.

"Conscious of" has to mean conscious of something that exists beyond/outside itself. Otherwise it is conscious of being conscious of "being conscious of" nothing in particular but of being "conscious of". Conscious of what?

Of being "conscious of". 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Objectivism is founded upon three fundamental axioms; existence, consciousness, identity. Axioms, as such, require no proof since they serve as a starting point for all subsequent knowledge. I believe the idea that consciousness must be conscious of something is perceptually self-evident. As a thought experiment, just try to perceive literally nothing. You can't, can you? 

Perhaps you should purchase a copy of Dr. Leonard Peikoff's book, Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand, and read the chapters on epistemology. The 12-part lecture series which preceded the book, The Philosophy of Objectivism, is also worthwhile. It can be found on ARI Campus for free. 

Edited by RationalEgoist
Link to comment
Share on other sites

3 minutes ago, RationalEgoist said:

Objectivism is founded upon three fundamental axioms; existence, consciousness, identity. Axioms, as such, require no proof since they serve as a starting point for all subsequent knowledge. I believe the idea that consciousness must be conscious of something is perceptually self-evident. As a thought experiment, just try to perceive literally nothing. You can't, can you? 

Perhaps you should purchase a copy of Dr. Leonard Peikoff's book, Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand, and read the chapters on epistemology. The 12-part lecture series which proceeded the book, The Philosophy of Objectivism, is also worthwhile. It can be found on ARI Campus for free. 

I have read and reread that section. That is a great book! Really changed my life. My understanding of reality was so screwed up due to subjective idealism and other similar garbage ideas, and those first chapters got me back to Earth.

But, obviously, I've also read a lot of idealism and related drivel in the past, and am stuck on this point. I can't think of nothing, but I can mentally experience only consciousness. Meditation is an example, I may be deeply meditative  and experiencing nothing but consciousness. Is that not consciousness experiencing nothing but itself?

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

15 minutes ago, Easy Truth said:

"Conscious of" has to mean conscious of something that exists beyond/outside itself. Otherwise it is conscious of being conscious of "being conscious of" nothing in particular but of being "conscious of". Conscious of what?

Of being "conscious of". 

What about meditation, where one experiences nothing but consciousness? 

 

The vicious infinite regression works for all 5 senses, because seeing seeing is nonsense, and so on. But how does this apply to mind? Can't the mind experience, and be aware only of itself? I'm not arguing, to be clear! I just want to understand, and be convinced entirely, rather than just agree with something I like, but don't fully understand. 

Edited by Frank
Link to comment
Share on other sites

4 minutes ago, Frank said:

What about meditation, where one experiences nothing but consciousness? 

I assume you are asking "did I (you) create your environment". As in being in a dream, which is your creation. But that is a state of consciousness in the context of psychology.

This is to deal with the question of "do I create existence".

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Frank,

"A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself" does not argue against a meditating consciousness that previously matured in the context of a physical world. Rather, it argues against the sensibility of proposing consciousness in the absence of any physical existence, without any exposure to physical existence, ever.

Your consciousness matured in a physical world, was previously exposed to rich physical experience, and thereby can now "spin its wheels" so to say, experience itself without any particular focus, in a meditative state.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It takes awhile for a child to graduate from the level of 'this object, that object' to the realization that 'this is my perception of this object and that object'. He learns that people in his environment do not see, hear etc. the same things as he does, so he needs to distinguish between different minds, of which one of them is 'his'. This is why self-consciousness is inseparable from the discovery of consciousness itself. Galt's argument is probably in this line, that consciousness of consciousness (self-consciousness) depends on perceiving a world of objects and people first.

12 hours ago, Jon Letendre said:

Your consciousness matured in a physical world, was previously exposed to rich physical experience, and thereby can now "spin its wheels" so to say, experience itself without any particular focus, in a meditative state.

Pure self-consciousness, in the context of Yoga, is a physiological state achieved by entering a very low metabolic state, where the five senses and the thinking faculties (citta) are temporarily suspended. It's like dreamless sleep, except the meditator maintains awareness in the midst of it. The goal is to shift the attention toward the subtler, quieter levels of the mind, which normally go unnoticed because the attention is too engrossed in objects, thoughts and feelings to notice what's underneath them: the sense of observer-hood, of being a witness to such and such object, thought and feeling. 

The meditator's argument is that self-consciousness is always 'on', underneath every object of experience, from babyhood to old age. This includes underneath the dreaming state and even (!) underneath dreamless sleep; a sign of enlightenment is said to be when the Yogi becomes aware during sleep, and realizes that even unconsciousness is, paradoxically, an object presenting itself to consciousness. 

Rand's philosophy does not mention or discuss the idea that sense perception might be influenced by unconsciously performed mental acts. This is a consequence of her theory that every concept, without exception, is derived from the conscious level, including the concepts used in arguing for a pre-conscious activity. Yoga is an interesting challenge to this theory, because it's based on bringing the unnoticed, unconscious levels of the mind into conscious awareness. Experienced Yogis claim to directly perceive the mechanism by which the mind generates the phenomenal world, and have meticulously documented it.

Edited by KyaryPamyu
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Those are all serious-thinking good points in this discussion.

I'd like to add that when Rand introduced her axiom that consciousness is identification, one function it filled was to say which meaning of consciousness she meant. She took that one to be the most fundamental and took all others, such as in dreams or hallucinations, as dependent on consciousness in her fundamental sense of it: identification. Although it came up as a side point, in her Objectivist epistemology treatise, she indicated that she thought even a honeybee has some consciousness. I imagine that wherever there is an animal with a nervous system and some encephalization, she'd be thinking that that animal had some amount of consciousness. (A sponge is an animal, but without a nervous system.) She was in step with Aristotle in thinking that only some higher animals have powers of memory and of perception to perceive existence in terms of entities. Her definition of consciousness as identification contains 'entity' and is introduced in the duo: Existence is identity, consciousness is identification. That is perfectly fitting with the idea that fundamental consciousness is consciousness of existence.

She had some trouble understanding earliest infant development in terms of this metaphysics, including the casting of consciousness in it. As here:

Quote

In 1966 Rand added: “The (implicit) concept ‘existent’ undergoes three stages of development in man’s mind. The first stage is a child’s awareness of objects, of things—which represents the (implicit) concept ‘entity’. The second and closely allied sage is the awareness of specific, particular things which he can distinguish from the rest of his perceptual field—which represents the (implicit) concept ‘identity’”(ITOE 6). Only at a third stage are concepts attained, in Rand’s cameo portrait.

“The ability to regard entities as units is man’s distinctive method of cognition, which other living species are unable to follow.

“A unit is an existent regarded as a separate member of a group of two or more similar members. (Two stones are two units; so are two square feet of ground, if regarded as distinct parts of a continuous stretch of ground.) Note that the concept unit involves an act of consciousness (a selective focus, a certain way of regarding things), but that it is not an arbitrary creation of consciousness: it is a method of identification or classification according to the attributes which a consciousness observes in reality. . . . The criterion of classification is not invented, it is perceived in reality. Thus the concept “unit” is a bridge between metaphysics and epistemology: units do not exist qua units, what exists are things, but units are things viewed by a consciousness in certain existing relationships.” (ITOE 6–7)

Leonard Peikoff renders Rand’s idea of an existence-identity sequence in early development on page 12 of OPAR. He refers to this idea of Rand’s as something of a suggestion, and I think that is fair enough.

“The three axioms [axiomatic concepts] are not [implicitly] learned by the developing child simultaneously. ‘Existence’, Miss Rand suggests, is implicit from the start; it is given in the first sensation. To grasp ‘identity’ and (later) ‘consciousness’, however, even in implicit form, the child must attain across a period of months a certain perspective on his mental contents. He must perform, in stages, various processes of differentiation and integration that are not given in the simple act of opening his eyes.

“Before a child can distinguish this object from that one, and thus reach the implicit concept of ‘identity’, he must first come to perceive that objects exist. This requires that he move beyond the chaos of disparate, fleeting sensations with which his conscious life begins; it requires that he integrate his sensations into the percepts of things or objects. . . . At this point, the child has reached, in implicit form, the concept of ‘entity’.

(The summer after this book was published, I attended a two-week conference at which Dr. Peikoff was presenting a series of lectures. I recall that at the dining hall, he had a little girl in tow. His parental experience of infant development was recent.)

I think Peikoff’s piecing together of Rand’s existence-identity sequence has a certain neatness. He has identity wait for entity, where entity is in the form object (all these notions being only implicitly held, once they are held at all). However, I do not think it is reasonable to have the identity that is at hand with this versus that wait on object (say, four months). There are other existents with their this-versus-that assimilated by the infant mind sooner than that.

To say to someone that consciousness is consciousness of existence, I have noticed, is not something that could be grasped by someone who did not have such an experience in their repertoire already. Like talking to a person blind from birth about the colors on the clouds in this morning’s sunrise.

In connection with setting meditation in the context of the Randian setting of consciousness of existence as the primary and focal sense of consciousness, we might add the challenge of setting the awareness of such things as coldness, breathing, and other bodily conditions, which one had inarticulately from day of birth and retains to now. 

I should mention that recognitions of thinking existence could not happen without such priors as breathing giving sense of self-existence. The cognitive self of I think emerging in the second year (said as “I know,” meaning “I know how to do it”) joins preexisting awareness of bodily and situational self, affective and interpersonal self, and agency self. There is, moreover, no ontological priority of thinking-being over breathing-being in a human being, notwithstanding the greater activeness, facility, and deliciousness of thinking-being.

Sidebar on intellectual history I have accumulated for “A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something”, the following:  

Theaetetus 160b, in Plato; Categories 7b29–30, De Anima 427a20–22, Metaphysics 1010b30–1011a2, 1072b20–22, 1074b35–36, in Aristotle; Ennead V.1.6.46–50, in Plotinus; Abelard ca. 1119 (commentary on Aristotle’s Categories), quoted in Jacobi 2004, 139; Summa Theologica I Q14 A2, Obj. 3 and Reply Obj. 3, in Aquinas; Wolff 1752, quoted in Kitcher 2011, 58; Herbart 1824, quoted in Heidelberger 2004, 32–33; Ortega y Gassett [1928] 1964, 198–99; Sartre [1937] 1957, 40; [1943] 1953, 21–22; 1948; Merleau-Ponty [1945] 2012, 395–96; Edelman 1989, 159. Rand’s talk here of “a contradiction in terms” is effective for directing attention to the meaning of consciousness. In the old technical vocabulary, the contradiction she exposes is not contradictio in terminis, but contradictio in adjecto. More specifically, it is the self-contradiction Rand housed under the rubric “stolen concept fallacy.” See Rand 1957, 1039–40; Branden 1963; Salmieri 2016, 298–99.

Jacobi, Klaus. 2004. Abelard’s philosophy of language. In Brower and Guilfoy 2004, 126–57.

Brower, Jeffrey E. and Kevin Guilfoy, eds. 2004. The Cambridge Companion to Abelard. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kitcher, Patricia. 2011. Kant’s Thinker. New York: Oxford University Press.

Heidelberger, Michael. 2004. Nature from Within – Gustav Theodor Fechner and His Psychophysical Worldview. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Edelman, Gerald M. 1989. The Remembered Present – A Biological Theory of Consciousness. New York: Basic Books.

 

Edited by Boydstun
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have just a few elementary suggestions, which might be useful. First, could you please divide the universe into two sets, thing that have consciousness and things that don’t? Easy cases are that rocks have no consciousness, men do. Find where you would draw the line, saying for example that ‘a leech is conscious; a sponge is not’. I expect that you will puzzle over tardigrades. The point of this exercise is to understand the definition of ‘consciousness’, and to make explicit what the alternative(s) is/are. There may be a tendency to focus on non-essential characteristics of live on earth, for example to bring in facts of earthly organisms (proteins, brain structure), so to correct for that you should spend some time in the world of (decent) science fiction, in order to strip your definition of consciousness down to the essentials that unify leeches, humans, and the cheela (Dragon’s Egg).

Thought exercises with humans (for example “meditation where one experiences nothing but consciousness”) are not going to clarify the matter. I claim that it is not true that a human meditating experiences nothing but consciousness: instead, a meditating person experiences everything that a normal person experiences, but focuses on… well, I don’t know since I don’t meditate.  Human are axiomatically conscious, and even when deprived of external stimuli at a particular moment, there is a vast amount of ‘data’ already in the mind to work on. The two-cell version of a future human has no consciousness, and it develops a consciousness before it is born. At what point (in general conceptual terms, not days) does the embryo have consciousness?

The Rand quote is a bit more complicated than is probably obvious, where she says “before it could identify itself as consciousness”. If a tardigrade is conscious, or a leech, does it also make identifications? Is “identifying” a defining property of a “consciousness”. Obviously, this question also calls for you to unpack the concept of “identifying” – is there a difference between “responding to external stimuli” and  “identifying”? Sodium “responds” to certain external stimuli by burning, and we cannot degrade the concept of consciousness to say that sodium has a kind of consciousness. Being explicit about what it means to be “conscious of” something is going to be difficult, since bugs have consciousness but not a conceptual consciousness.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 12/23/2022 at 2:52 PM, Easy Truth said:

I assume you are asking "did I (you) create your environment". As in being in a dream, which is your creation. But that is a state of consciousness in the context of psychology.

This is to deal with the question of "do I create existence".

Essentially I'm looking for how this Randian position refutes the idea of subjective idealism that we create existence. I used meditation as an example only, but the core question is about idealism.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 12/23/2022 at 3:15 PM, Jon Letendre said:

Frank,

"A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself" does not argue against a meditating consciousness that previously matured in the context of a physical world. Rather, it argues against the sensibility of proposing consciousness in the absence of any physical existence, without any exposure to physical existence, ever.

Your consciousness matured in a physical world, was previously exposed to rich physical experience, and thereby can now "spin its wheels" so to say, experience itself without any particular focus, in a meditative state.

I agree, but how does this successfully refute the counter position of the subjective idealists, who claim the opposite?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

12 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

It takes awhile for a child to graduate from the level of 'this object, that object' to the realization that 'this is my perception of this object and that object'. He learns that people in his environment do not see, hear etc. the same things as he does, so he needs to distinguish between different minds, of which one of them is 'his'. This is why self-consciousness is inseparable from the discovery of consciousness itself. Galt's argument is probably in this line, that consciousness of consciousness (self-consciousness) depends on perceiving a world of objects and people first.

Pure self-consciousness, in the context of Yoga, is a physiological state achieved by entering a very low metabolic state, where the five senses and the thinking faculties (citta) are temporarily suspended. It's like dreamless sleep, except the meditator maintains awareness in the midst of it. The goal is to shift the attention toward the subtler, quieter levels of the mind, which normally go unnoticed because the attention is too engrossed in objects, thoughts and feelings to notice what's underneath them: the sense of observer-hood, of being a witness to such and such object, thought and feeling. 

The meditator's argument is that self-consciousness is always 'on', underneath every object of experience, from babyhood to old age. This includes underneath the dreaming state and even (!) underneath dreamless sleep; a sign of enlightenment is said to be when the Yogi becomes aware during sleep, and realizes that even unconsciousness is, paradoxically, an object presenting itself to consciousness. 

Rand's philosophy does not mention or discuss the idea that sense perception might be influenced by unconsciously performed mental acts. This is a consequence of her theory that every concept, without exception, is derived from the conscious level, including the concepts used in arguing for a pre-conscious activity. Yoga is an interesting challenge to this theory, because it's based on bringing the unnoticed, unconscious levels of the mind into conscious awareness. Experienced Yogis claim to directly perceive the mechanism by which the mind generates the phenomenal world, and have meticulously documented it.

You seem to understand my difficulty! Do you have a solution? On the basic level, I'd challenge any yogi to go under total anesthesia, and pass rigorous, well controlled tests to prove they were conscious throughout. I think they would fail, miserably. Sure, they can keep themselves semi awake during normal sleep, but this demonstrates a neat trick of their practiced skill. It does not prove consciousness is always on and observing, because it is god, as they believe. The only reason these myths exist is because they come from a time before anesthetic was common and measurable. Sure they had drugs, but not the ability to put someone under as deep as we do today. If they did back then, the person would die. Also, since they couldn't measure it well, and controls on experiments were lacking or non existent, a yogi proving consciousness during a drug induced sleep proves nothing, since no one could say how under they actually were.

 

That said, the point remains: how does Rand disprove the idea that consciousness can observe only itself? In the ultimate sense, not in this outrageous and easily disproven yogi scenario. 

Edited by Frank
Link to comment
Share on other sites

3 hours ago, DavidOdden said:

I have just a few elementary suggestions, which might be useful. First, could you please divide the universe into two sets, thing that have consciousness and things that don’t? Easy cases are that rocks have no consciousness, men do. Find where you would draw the line, saying for example that ‘a leech is conscious; a sponge is not’. I expect that you will puzzle over tardigrades. The point of this exercise is to understand the definition of ‘consciousness’, and to make explicit what the alternative(s) is/are. There may be a tendency to focus on non-essential characteristics of live on earth, for example to bring in facts of earthly organisms (proteins, brain structure), so to correct for that you should spend some time in the world of (decent) science fiction, in order to strip your definition of consciousness down to the essentials that unify leeches, humans, and the cheela (Dragon’s Egg).

Thought exercises with humans (for example “meditation where one experiences nothing but consciousness”) are not going to clarify the matter. I claim that it is not true that a human meditating experiences nothing but consciousness: instead, a meditating person experiences everything that a normal person experiences, but focuses on… well, I don’t know since I don’t meditate.  Human are axiomatically conscious, and even when deprived of external stimuli at a particular moment, there is a vast amount of ‘data’ already in the mind to work on. The two-cell version of a future human has no consciousness, and it develops a consciousness before it is born. At what point (in general conceptual terms, not days) does the embryo have consciousness?

The Rand quote is a bit more complicated than is probably obvious, where she says “before it could identify itself as consciousness”. If a tardigrade is conscious, or a leech, does it also make identifications? Is “identifying” a defining property of a “consciousness”. Obviously, this question also calls for you to unpack the concept of “identifying” – is there a difference between “responding to external stimuli” and  “identifying”? Sodium “responds” to certain external stimuli by burning, and we cannot degrade the concept of consciousness to say that sodium has a kind of consciousness. Being explicit about what it means to be “conscious of” something is going to be difficult, since bugs have consciousness but not a conceptual consciousness.

I agree with you, this makes sense. It's entirely probable that no meditator is aware of anything special, but rather may just be focused on something we normally notice less, or they're dreaming and half asleep. That said, what about the question, forgetting yogis; how does Rand's position refute subjective idealism successfully?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

8 hours ago, Boydstun said:

Those are all serious-thinking good points in this discussion.

I'd like to add that when Rand introduced her axiom that consciousness is identification, one function it filled was to say which meaning of consciousness she meant. She took that one to be the most fundamental and took all others, such as in dreams or hallucinations, as dependent on consciousness in her fundamental sense of it: identification. Although it came up as a side point, in her Objectivist epistemology treatise, she indicated that she thought even a honeybee has some consciousness. I imagine that wherever there is an animal with a nervous system and some encephalization, she'd be thinking that that animal had some amount of consciousness. (A sponge is an animal, but without a nervous system.) She was in step with Aristotle in thinking that only some higher animals have powers of memory and of perception to perceive existence in terms of entities. Her definition of consciousness as identification contains 'entity' and is introduced in the duo: Existence is identity, consciousness is identification. That is perfectly fitting with the idea that fundamental consciousness is consciousness of existence.

She had some trouble understanding earliest infant development in terms of this metaphysics, including the casting of consciousness in it. As here:

To say to someone that consciousness is consciousness of existence, I have noticed, is not something that could be grasped by someone who did not have such an experience in their repertoire already. Like talking to a person blind from birth about the colors on the clouds in this morning’s sunrise.

In connection with setting meditation in the context of the Randian setting of consciousness of existence as the primary and focal sense of consciousness, we might add the challenge of setting the awareness of such things as coldness, breathing, and other bodily conditions, which one had inarticulately from day of birth and retains to now. 

I should mention that recognitions of thinking existence could not happen without such priors as breathing giving sense of self-existence. The cognitive self of I think emerging in the second year (said as “I know,” meaning “I know how to do it”) joins preexisting awareness of bodily and situational self, affective and interpersonal self, and agency self. There is, moreover, no ontological priority of thinking-being over breathing-being in a human being, notwithstanding the greater activeness, facility, and deliciousness of thinking-being.

Sidebar on intellectual history I have accumulated for “A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something”, the following:  

Theaetetus 160b, in Plato; Categories 7b29–30, De Anima 427a20–22, Metaphysics 1010b30–1011a2, 1072b20–22, 1074b35–36, in Aristotle; Ennead V.1.6.46–50, in Plotinus; Abelard ca. 1119 (commentary on Aristotle’s Categories), quoted in Jacobi 2004, 139; Summa Theologica I Q14 A2, Obj. 3 and Reply Obj. 3, in Aquinas; Wolff 1752, quoted in Kitcher 2011, 58; Herbart 1824, quoted in Heidelberger 2004, 32–33; Ortega y Gassett [1928] 1964, 198–99; Sartre [1937] 1957, 40; [1943] 1953, 21–22; 1948; Merleau-Ponty [1945] 2012, 395–96; Edelman 1989, 159. Rand’s talk here of “a contradiction in terms” is effective for directing attention to the meaning of consciousness. In the old technical vocabulary, the contradiction she exposes is not contradictio in terminis, but contradictio in adjecto. More specifically, it is the self-contradiction Rand housed under the rubric “stolen concept fallacy.” See Rand 1957, 1039–40; Branden 1963; Salmieri 2016, 298–99.

Jacobi, Klaus. 2004. Abelard’s philosophy of language. In Brower and Guilfoy 2004, 126–57.

Brower, Jeffrey E. and Kevin Guilfoy, eds. 2004. The Cambridge Companion to Abelard. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kitcher, Patricia. 2011. Kant’s Thinker. New York: Oxford University Press.

Heidelberger, Michael. 2004. Nature from Within – Gustav Theodor Fechner and His Psychophysical Worldview. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Edelman, Gerald M. 1989. The Remembered Present – A Biological Theory of Consciousness. New York: Basic Books.

 

Thanks for the incredibly well researched, and sourced response! It cleared some things up, and I learned a lot, but I've still got a question.

What if we reformulate the question more narrowly: how does Rand's statement refute subjective idealism (or solipsism, and similar)?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, Frank said:

That said, the point remains: how does Rand disprove the idea that consciousness can observe only itself?. . . What if we reformulate the question more narrowly: how does Rand's statement refute subjective idealism (or solipsism, and similar)?

Simple, I just need to rehash the standard O'ist argument:

Q: Why can't the mind be aware only of itself?
A: Well, refer to the axioms, which boil down to: 'there is something of which I'm aware'.

Q: Can the something of which I'm aware be produced by my mind?
A: No, you must first go through many experiences before you can have an inner world.

Q: But why aren't those formative experiences self-produced?
A: Because I don't feel that I produce them.

Q: What if you do it unconsciously?
A: Hm? How could that happen?

Q: [Describe Hegel's position, or similar]
A: So, who are you guys voting for in the next election?

---
(Here's my attempt to disprove idealism on O'ist grounds, although I don't personaly subscribe to either realism or idealism).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I can’t say that I understand what subjective idealism “really” says, because I don’t know how many brands of subjective idealism there are. It appear, for example, that there are competing claims that Advaita Vedānta is and is not an example of that approach, though I don’t think there is much controvery over there fact that it reduces the universe to the fundamental reality Brahman. Let’s assume that the claim is that “only minds and content of minds exists”. There would be “competing” claims – that there is only The Mind and Its Content (a single mind), also that there are only minds (no content), or that there is only The Mind. Your question about “refutation” presupposes “mental content”, insofar as it makes no sense to “refute” unless you have an arsenal of mental existents, such as logic (which itself is a very complex existent). The question presupposes that more than mind exists. I have never encountered anyone (past my undergraduate days) who posited that there exists only “mind” (singular or plural).

My view is that Western attempts to devise a “minds and contents only” theory as promulgated by Berkeley has not been as intellectually successful, compared to Ādi Śaṅkara’s philosophizing (to the extent that this is one individual), which I think I understand slightly better. The difference between Śaṅkara and Berkeley, as I understand it, is that Śaṅkara does not deny the existence of the physical, instead he unifies the physical and the mental into a single reality: in essence, “there is a universe, there exists nothing outside the universe”. My mind, and my body, are aspects of that unified reality. An attack on Śaṅkara requires a fairly focused study of what Brahman is (I have better fish to fry). Berkeley seems to deny the existence of my foot or a rock, except insofar as they might be a mental construct in a mind. I suppose that Rand might refute that position the same way that Samuel Johnson did, with a mighty kick (though such an outburst would be out of character for her).

The most important ingredient for a refutation of Berkeley is an understanding of “refutation”. A claim is refuted when it is shown that the claim does not describe (correspond to) reality. “Reality” is not the same thing as “the claim”. On the one hand, you must presuppose “reality” to engage in the act of refutation, on the other hand, the claim being subject to refutation denies that there is “reality”. The subjective idealist therefore has to lapse into the behavior of the 5 year old who answers every statement with “I know you are but what am I?”, or else has to assimilate realist aspects of Vedantic philosophizing and say that there are levels of awareness where “reality” is just a subjective mental construct and we aren’t even aware of the details of that construct, which soon leads to the “I know you are but what am I?” mode of “reasoning”. Ultimately, Berkleyan “consciousness” isn’t even the same kind of thing as normal-people consciousness.

I recommend Stove’s award-winning argument (admittedly not made by Rand, who died 13 years earlier), if you have doubts about reality and the extent to which Berkeley’s argument was the world’s worst argument.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

8 hours ago, DavidOdden said:

. . .

The Rand quote is a bit more complicated than is probably obvious, where she says “before it could identify itself as consciousness”. If a tardigrade is conscious, or a leech, does it also make identifications? Is “identifying” a defining property of a “consciousness”. Obviously, this question also calls for you to unpack the concept of “identifying” – is there a difference between “responding to external stimuli” and  “identifying”? Sodium “responds” to certain external stimuli by burning, and we cannot degrade the concept of consciousness to say that sodium has a kind of consciousness. Being explicit about what it means to be “conscious of” something is going to be difficult, since bugs have consciousness but not a conceptual consciousness.

The context of the Rand quote is humans able to read AS or the Bible or anyway speak and listen and learn in language as a normal adult human. Another thing Rand had said about consciousness was that for those animals that possess it, it is their means of survival. But we should for her view on all that assimilate her further idea that only higher animals discern entities. That would suggest that only higher animals possess consciousness that is identification. It can be that for humans, consciousness in its identification power is the power that is a crucial enabler of the vast accomplishments of humans, including language, drawing, and music. For humans, at least humans, it can be that consciousness, at least paramount consciousness, is identification. That much I express for Rand's view. My own has something else coordinate with and equally fundamental for human consciousness and that is our awareness of other human minds in our company. And one does not have to learn of the latter from zero while learning about the world in early childhood.* Rather, it is more akin to one's ability to already recognize one's mother's distinctive voice the day one reached birth.

It is internally reasonable to constrain Rand's statement about animal's consciousness and their survival in this way: For animals possessing consciousness as identification, it is the means of their survival. Humans, of course, are among the higher animals. That constrained thesis certainly has seemed born out in biological neuroscience.

So far as I know, there is no consciousness at all in any animal that has a nervous system with a central integration and control center but is not so complex as to have a cerebral cortex in its brain organization. Even such lower animals, innervated and muscular, such as a snail, do have behavioral response hierarchies issuing from the nervous control center adapted to raise the liklihood of individual survival and reproduction, without consciousness. For them it could be said that their nervous system is the master controller for survival of the individual animal and its kind. On up the animal kingdom, the controlling brain comes to have parts and organization that are long-term controllers and these are the substrate of consciousness as identification (and as high power of consciousness for social coordination, such as the sharing of joint intentions, which the [other] great apes come nowhere near).

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

5 hours ago, Frank said:

Thanks for the incredibly well researched, and sourced response! It cleared some things up, and I learned a lot, but I've still got a question.

What if we reformulate the question more narrowly: how does Rand's statement refute subjective idealism (or solipsism, and similar)?

Frank, on solipsism, some of my remarks in the immediately preceding post may help (my addition to Rand).

Concerning idealism, the burden should be on the idealist to show that the world is not as it is perceived to be, namely, as existing and in the ways it does exist and as independently of our discernment of it. That independence element is part of what is in our perceptions. We have ways of teasing out particular elements in our perceptions that depend upon our own location, state of motion, or perceptual system. Such would be the enlargement we have of the moon near the horizon in our perception of it. We take a photograph of the witnessed scene, and it shows no such enlargement. Similarly, with the Mach-band illusion we experience when we carefully cut out a particular chit of gray from a number of those color strips you can get at the paint store. Placing the chits of the same grey we have cut out side-touching-side snugly on a table before us, it will appear that the grey darkens near the abutting edges. And we know perfectly well that each of those chits was uniform in its grayness all over its surface. Unlike the moon illusion, science has identified how the Mach-band effect comes about: through the pattern of circuitry (lateral inhibition) of the receptor neurons of the retina. But when it comes to idealism, there has to be a general argument given for it, aiming to show that all percepts or fundamental facets of all percepts are in some systematic way contributed by the conscious subject. Then the work of the realist can begin, which is to show what error there is in that general argument. (I think Moore did this with Berkeley, and I presume an Objectivist refutation of the arguments Berkeley gave would differ somewhat from Moore's.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 12/23/2022 at 3:42 PM, Frank said:

Meditation is an example, I may be deeply meditative  and experiencing nothing but consciousness. Is that not consciousness experiencing nothing but itself?

Would you truly say that when meditating, you are not conscious of anything but consciousness itself? Sure, you can say that you are focused on nothing but consciousness, yet at the same time, I would say that you are conscious of whatever is on the periphery. As far as I understand, even when you attain the friend of mine after a few hours of meditation, you are directing your attention in a way that physical sensations fall by the wayside. I think this can be demonstrated with fMRI research. But in a more philosophical way, consciousness is experienced in reality, on top of how consciousness is the unity of various contents; when consciousness is focused on itself, as a totality, consciousness still includes all the sensory experiences of the body. You couldn't scrub away everything underlying consciousness, even if you wanted to.  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

12 hours ago, DavidOdden said:

I can’t say that I understand what subjective idealism “really” says, because I don’t know how many brands of subjective idealism there are.

There's only one, since subjective idealism is Berkley's version; It's also quite different from the usual strand of idealistic theories, so it's not very indicative of other western varieties.

12 hours ago, DavidOdden said:

I have never encountered anyone (past my undergraduate days) who posited that there exists only “mind” (singular or plural).

If I get this point correctly, you claim that since 'mind' designates an aggregate of existents (logic, thought, feeling, imagination and so on), it's impossible for only mind to exist. I agree; but I think that, in this thread, 'mind-only' means mental-phenomena-only, as opposed to a dualist theory where both mental phenomena and physical matter exist.

12 hours ago, DavidOdden said:

My view is that Western attempts to devise a “minds and contents only” theory as promulgated by Berkeley has not been as intellectually successful, compared to Ādi Śaṅkara’s philosophizing (to the extent that this is one individual)

Glad to see Shankara mentioned here. SEP has a systematic overview of his philosophy.

12 hours ago, DavidOdden said:

I suppose that Rand might refute that position the same way that Samuel Johnson did, with a mighty kick (though such an outburst would be out of character for her).

Common sense sometimes means 'cold air can give you a cold', and 'the sun revolves around the earth'. Thankfully, there's plenty of nutjobs willing to consider the contrary.

12 hours ago, DavidOdden said:

The most important ingredient for a refutation of Berkeley is an understanding of “refutation”.

So, people would never argue if it was impossible to be wrong; and they can only be wrong if reality does not necessarily correspond to human claims. Therefore, facts are independent of claims made by human minds.

Fair enough, but not necessarily exhaustive. It's true that the Eiffel Tower is in France even if I say it's in Uganda. On the other hand, try this experiement: declare your existence. How do you do it? You say: 'I declare my existence'.  This declaration is true in virtue of declaring it. No correspondence theory at play here.

Now, try to declare your existence and, at the same time, declare your non-existence. Can you do it? Probaby not. Your mind is free to determine itself; freedom and necessity do not occur apart from each other, there's an identity between the two. 

Those two observations stand at the core of post-kantian critical idealism. The experience of Selfhood exists, paradoxically, in virtue of being affirmed against a non-self - which takes the form of an individual freely subjugating a non-self (nature) to its own purpose. This project is never completed, because the self is a self in virtue of determining its being, as opposed to having it determined for him.

Edited by KyaryPamyu
Link to comment
Share on other sites

26 minutes ago, KyaryPamyu said:

. . .

Those two observations stand at the core of post-kantian critical idealism. The experience of Selfhood exists, paradoxically, in virtue of being affirmed against a non-self - which takes the form of an individual freely subjugating a non-self (nature) to its own purpose. This project is never completed, because the self is a self in virtue of determining its being, as opposed to having it determined for him.

You might enjoy reading Tom Rockmore's Fichte, Kant, the Cognitive Subject, and Epistemic Constructivism

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 12/24/2022 at 2:27 AM, KyaryPamyu said:

This is why self-consciousness is inseparable from the discovery of consciousness itself. Galt's argument is probably in this line, that consciousness of consciousness (self-consciousness) depends on perceiving a world of objects and people first.

So consciousness is not defined as awareness. Meaning awareness of awareness is the indicator of consciousness in the context of this thread? Where does existence and the awareness of it fall in? Meaning without awareness of self? It seems that consciousness is being defined at a certain level of awareness. As in a bacteria is not conscious because it is not aware of itself. Perhaps a certain level of ability to identify is necessary.

A lawnmower is not conscious, not because it is not aware of itself, it simply is not aware/conscious. To say a clock is aware of time is a metaphor. Or a car being aware that there is not enough gas.

Sometimes consciousness is shown to be a chemical reaction. Sometimes it an awareness of awareness. Sometimes awareness of self as apposed to other consciousness or possible consciousnesses (plural). And sometimes as having freewill.

18 hours ago, Frank said:

It does not prove consciousness is always on and observing, because it is god, as they believe.

I suspect this is at the core of your question/interest. You are trying to disprove something. I would like to know what are you trying to disprove to "them"? And what is it that "they" believe?

Edited by Easy Truth
grammar
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 12/24/2022 at 5:28 PM, KyaryPamyu said:

Simple, I just need to rehash the standard O'ist argument:

Q: Why can't the mind be aware only of itself?
A: Well, refer to the axioms, which boil down to: 'there is something of which I'm aware'.

Q: Can the something of which I'm aware be produced by my mind?
A: No, you must first go through many experiences before you can have an inner world.

Q: But why aren't those formative experiences self-produced?
A: Because I don't feel that I produce them.

Q: What if you do it unconsciously?
A: Hm? How could that happen?

Q: [Describe Hegel's position, or similar]
A: So, who are you guys voting for in the next election?

---
(Here's my attempt to disprove idealism on O'ist grounds, although I don't personaly subscribe to either realism or idealism).

I see. If we assume tabula rasa, then the very idea of subjective idealism is impossible, because the mind cannot function without content. I'll be reading your refutation soon. Thanks.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 12/24/2022 at 5:46 PM, DavidOdden said:

I can’t say that I understand what subjective idealism “really” says, because I don’t know how many brands of subjective idealism there are. It appear, for example, that there are competing claims that Advaita Vedānta is and is not an example of that approach, though I don’t think there is much controvery over there fact that it reduces the universe to the fundamental reality Brahman. Let’s assume that the claim is that “only minds and content of minds exists”. There would be “competing” claims – that there is only The Mind and Its Content (a single mind), also that there are only minds (no content), or that there is only The Mind. Your question about “refutation” presupposes “mental content”, insofar as it makes no sense to “refute” unless you have an arsenal of mental existents, such as logic (which itself is a very complex existent). The question presupposes that more than mind exists. I have never encountered anyone (past my undergraduate days) who posited that there exists only “mind” (singular or plural).

My view is that Western attempts to devise a “minds and contents only” theory as promulgated by Berkeley has not been as intellectually successful, compared to Ādi Śaṅkara’s philosophizing (to the extent that this is one individual), which I think I understand slightly better. The difference between Śaṅkara and Berkeley, as I understand it, is that Śaṅkara does not deny the existence of the physical, instead he unifies the physical and the mental into a single reality: in essence, “there is a universe, there exists nothing outside the universe”. My mind, and my body, are aspects of that unified reality. An attack on Śaṅkara requires a fairly focused study of what Brahman is (I have better fish to fry). Berkeley seems to deny the existence of my foot or a rock, except insofar as they might be a mental construct in a mind. I suppose that Rand might refute that position the same way that Samuel Johnson did, with a mighty kick (though such an outburst would be out of character for her).

The most important ingredient for a refutation of Berkeley is an understanding of “refutation”. A claim is refuted when it is shown that the claim does not describe (correspond to) reality. “Reality” is not the same thing as “the claim”. On the one hand, you must presuppose “reality” to engage in the act of refutation, on the other hand, the claim being subject to refutation denies that there is “reality”. The subjective idealist therefore has to lapse into the behavior of the 5 year old who answers every statement with “I know you are but what am I?”, or else has to assimilate realist aspects of Vedantic philosophizing and say that there are levels of awareness where “reality” is just a subjective mental construct and we aren’t even aware of the details of that construct, which soon leads to the “I know you are but what am I?” mode of “reasoning”. Ultimately, Berkleyan “consciousness” isn’t even the same kind of thing as normal-people consciousness.

I recommend Stove’s award-winning argument (admittedly not made by Rand, who died 13 years earlier), if you have doubts about reality and the extent to which Berkeley’s argument was the world’s worst argument.

In other words: subjective idealism is based on stolen concepts that presuppose a mind/matter dichotomy. No arguments here. Wittgenstein demonstrated similar, in that solipsism is incoherent due to roughly similar points. Any idealism that denies all of reality, declaring all to be mind, arguably leads to solipsism, so this refutes much of idealism, as well. 

Further, Berkeley and Shankara (some versions of his ideas are seen as pure idealism) both mitigated their own idealism into realism by accident:

1.) All is mind.

2.) This "all" is god's mind.

3.) God is real, eternal, and ultimately existent.

They stop here, thinking, inexplicably, that they've defeated realism.

But, naturally, we now arrive at,

4.) All is real, even more real than we normally consider things to be. Every single thing is ultimately existent, and eternal, because every single thing is god. This realism is much more extreme than any other realism I know of. No other versions make literally everything real and eternal.

On the other hand, if "mind" means "unreal" or similar, like it does for the Madhyamaka and some Yogacara, that's a different issue, but still self refuting, as it means they aren't presenting a position, at all. It also is a stolen concept issue, as, the idea of "real" is meaningless if all is unreal, and then, so is "unreal" meaningless, with no "real." "All is mind," in this formulation, means "All is unreal" including the idea that "all is unreal." It is, quite literally, nonsense. Madhyamaka and Yogacara self refute into incoherent babble. I'm indebted to the writings of Ramanuja, Kumarila Bhatta, and Stafford L. Betty for helping me out with that bit.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...