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nimble
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I am kind of disappointed to see that I couldn't find any Objectivist thoughts on how consciousness works. In fact, metaphysics is kind of just left out of Objectivism; like writings go so far as to claim independent reality and that it exists, but not much elaboration by Rand. I was wondering if any Objectivists would like to undertake a philosophical exercise with me to maybe solve some of my questions.

I want to be a materialist, simply because dualism has huge flaws, but I see materialism is far from comprehensive in describing even the most basic of perceptions/experiences. I understand that they usually say neurons fire and it causes experiences, but what exactly is that thing which interprets those neurons and turns them into the experiences we are familiar with?

Basically, I would like to get a firmer grip on my understanding of consciousness and its intricacies, or even its general nature. Like if someone could answer the question above and say that it is this X gland in the brain that projects a little picture in your head when you imagine things, and you see them with the inside of your eyes, and this gland is located here...

Of course, I am just being playful but if you understand what I mean, please help if you can.

Edited by nimble
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Isn't that a question for the specialized sciences, rather than philosophy?

No, because I don't think the sciences can do that. Imagine any thing, a cow, etc. In your mind, you see a cow. If a scientist tried to "objectively" study that, he would see electricity moving info in your brain. But that certainly isn't observing the cow that you obviously saw in your mind.

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More simply stated, my question is what takes the objective things we can study, electricity, neurons, etc. and makes it into the subjective experience we are all familiar with, like imagining a cow. I know subjective is a touchy word to use around here, but I mean it only with respect to saying we can't study it with microscopes. The cow you imagine is your cow and no one else sees it.

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I understand that they usually say neurons fire and it causes experiences, but what exactly is that thing which interprets those neurons and turns them into the experiences we are familiar with?

...

Like if someone could answer the question above and say that it is this X gland in the brain that projects a little picture in your head when you imagine things, and you see them with the inside of your eyes, and this gland is located here...

I realise you werent being entirely serious, but its worth noting that this sort of approach to the problem is generally classed as a Homunculus fallacy.

Anyway, noone knows how consciousness is produced, philosophers least of all. Hopefully neuroscience might be able to give us some pointers in the future, but its still an open question.

No, because I don't think the sciences can do that. Imagine any thing, a cow, etc. In your mind, you see a cow. If a scientist tried to "objectively" study that, he would see electricity moving info in your brain. But that certainly isn't observing the cow that you obviously saw in your mind.

Scientists cant 'see' quarks either, yet they are still objects of investigation. If we can correlate mind pictures with brain events, then you could use a combination of asking people what they see, and trying the experiments on yourself so that you can see it too.

Edited by Hal
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Good question. By leaving the workings of consciousness vague, it leaves the impression that there is something magical happening there, which I'm sure no Objectivist wants. Objectivism defines consciousness as “the faculty of perceiving that which exists.”

I'm going to pick it apart a little further... What does it mean to perceive? Objectivism doesn't really define 'perceive' except to say it's synonomous with 'know', so let's look at Webster's: "To become aware through the senses". What is aware? "Having or showing realization, perception, or knowledge". Since this is in part circular, this is where Webster starts to hit a brick wall. We must, and do, study the workings of the mind to understand concepts such as perceive and to be aware.

What happens when you see a tomato? What happened the first time you saw a tomato? You were probably a young child and associated it with what you know... a red ball with the additional attributes that it is squishy and you can eat it. What happened the first time you saw a ball? As a baby when you first saw a ball, it probably didn't register much to you. You see it, but it gets lost in the vision of all the other things you see that you don't know what they are. Once our hands waving insanely around happen to touch it you attach more knowlege to the ball. It's something I can reach and pick up and if I drop it it does funny things. You build up an experience base which registers in different parts of your brain. In your vision center you register red, and round, your motor parts of your brain register that it something you can reach. Your logic parts realize that if I let go of it, it falls. Your instinctual parts of your brain probably want you to pursue it. The more experience you have with an object, the more parts of your brain get involved, and the higher your awareness becomes. When you see a new object, like a tomato, you can start to base this on other things you know, like the ball. It is through experience that we learn how to perceive. Now as an adult, most everyday things are known to you. When you look at something it's not just the image in your retinas which is sent to your brain via the optic nerves that happens, it's a whole host of memories, experiences, what-if-scenarios, etc that you've gained throughout your life that come into play and give you a deep rich and meaningful knowledge of what you see.

Scientific study of the brain may have been about watching electricity move through the brain at one point, but now they are beginning to understand different parts of the brain and how they work together.

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I'm going to pick it apart a little further... What does it mean to perceive? Objectivism doesn't really define 'perceive' except to say it's synonomous with 'know', so let's look at Webster's: "To become aware through the senses". What is aware? "Having or showing realization, perception, or knowledge". Since this is in part circular, this is where Webster starts to hit a brick wall.
You can do this with any term. When you look something up in a dictionary, youre only going to get words as an answer. But these words will be defined in terms of other words, and so on. In order to properly understand the term you need to actually observe how it used in reality, not just read a dictionary.

We must, and do, study the workings of the mind to understand concepts such as perceive and to be aware.
Most people have an intuitive idea of what it means to 'perceive' something - we can all use the word in day-to-day conversation without any problems, philosophical or otherwise. Nothing is hidden here. Science can tell us how perception works, and it can tell us whether there are any neural processes which correspond to what we call 'perceiving'. But it cannot tell us anything about the word, or concept, 'perceive'. Edited by Hal
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Most people have an intuitive idea of what it means to 'perceive' something - we can all use the word in day-to-day conversation without any problems, philosophical or otherwise. Nothing is hidden here.

Correct me if I'm wrong Nimble, but I think you were looking for something more than this?

Science can tell us how perception works, and it can tell us whether there are any neural processes which correspond to what we call 'perceiving'. But it cannot tell us anything about the word, or concept, 'perceive'.
Knowing how 'X' works obviously tells us something about 'X'. In either case, Nimble was asking how consciousness works.
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I am kind of disappointed to see that I couldn't find any Objectivist thoughts on how consciousness works.
You need to make up your mind: are you asking about how consciousness works, or what consciousness refers to? The reason why you can't find an answer to the first question is because there are no serious works that answer that question -- that's beyond our grasp at present, and Objectivists don't engage in silliness. If you are interested only in the philosophical aspects, and I assume that you're read ITOE, then it sounds like you're sayingt hat you find her explanations to be inadequate. If it's the latter, would you point to a specific area that you find to be treated inadequately?

The question which you asked "what exactly is that thing which interprets those neurons and turns them into the experiences we are familiar with" has a significant philosophical error in it -- it supposes that neural firings are "interpreted" and "turned into" experiences. It might be correct that this happens, but it's wrong, philosophically, to presume that it does. You had some other philosophical errors, for example you assume that people see a cow in the mind -- that's representatinalism, and as you know Objectivist epistemology is realist. But we can skip over that problem: again, representationalism can be considered from a scientific POV and a philosophical one. In the latter case, I think the idea that sense data reside in the invisible 18th dimension within the brain is silly, but if you can present evidence for such a metaphysical foundation for representationalism, go for it.

The rest of your question is scientific, so I refer you to my point that nobody knows, therefore no Objectivist knows. We are starting to learn some specific things that are relevant, for example we can now study physical correlations within the brain between external and internal events, but brain imaging tools are still extremely crude.

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Correct me if I'm wrong Nimble, but I think you were looking for something more than this?
From his post, I think he was asking for a scientific (ie neurological) explanation of the perception process, not what perception 'is'. The former is a question for science, the latter is a question for philosophers/lexicographers. We all know roughly what perception is (its what we do when we are awake), but we dont know the physical basis/cause of it. Analysing our concepts of 'consciousness' and 'perception' doesnt help advance us towards a neurological explanation of how these processes occur. Edited by Hal
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Correct me if I'm wrong Nimble, but I think you were looking for something more than this?

Knowing how 'X' works obviously tells us something about 'X'. In either case, Nimble was asking how consciousness works.

I do want more than just 'we don't know.'

To David O, I find ITOE to explain epistemology quite well, but it lacks metaphysical analysis of what it is that we are perceiving, and more specifically, how we are perceiving it. It might be true that humans don't know yet, but I don't find it to be silliness to try to find out. You can stick to preaching to the choir about politics, since we are all capitalists/rights-oriented here, but I'd like to actually venture out and try to spark insightful conversation, and hopefully learn something new in the process, even if it is only what others think on the subject. Maybe even is someone points me in the direction of a good science book.

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The question which you asked "what exactly is that thing which interprets those neurons and turns them into the experiences we are familiar with" has a significant philosophical error in it -- it supposes that neural firings are "interpreted" and "turned into" experiences. It might be correct that this happens, but it's wrong, philosophically, to presume that it does. You had some other philosophical errors, for example you assume that people see a cow in the mind -- that's representatinalism, and as you know Objectivist epistemology is realist. But we can skip over that problem: again, representationalism can be considered from a scientific POV and a philosophical one. In the latter case, I think the idea that sense data reside in the invisible 18th dimension within the brain is silly, but if you can present evidence for such a metaphysical foundation for representationalism, go for it.

Wait so you are saying that when I imagine a cow, I don't at least get some vague image of a cow in my mind, instead I really just sense electricity in my brain? Even better, let's not use an image, think of a word, like 'shirt.' There may be an electronic imprint of the way the word sounds in your head, much like a CD, but when you think of that word, (or play the CD), what perceives it being said in your mind?

What I am asking I guess is let's say the brain stores all/most of your perceptions in electronic form in the brain, what is it that retrieves those electronic peices of data and plays them in your mind?

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I do want more than just 'we don't know.'
If you want to know the answer "what is the physical nature of perception?", you should get involved in that line of cognitive research. If you want to know why Objectivists don't say what the physical nature of perception is, it is, as I said, because that is unknown. If you don't want to know that fact, then don't ask. It is not silly to ask what the physical nature of perception is; it is silliness to claim to know. It is particular silly to think that there are brain images in the 18th dimension -- do you really believe that??

Are you asking what would be good scientific readings in the cognition & physiology area? I would suggest that you select something specfic and focus on that. An example would be visual perception; but maybe you prefer auditory perception.

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I do want more than just 'we don't know.'

I've seen a tendency of Objectivists here to believe that if they personally don't know then either no one knows or it isn't relavent. I'm glad to see someone here with a curiosity about how things work.

Maybe even is someone points me in the direction of a good science book.

Try Mind Hacks: Tips & Tricks for Using Your Brain. This isn't actually a hack book for reprogramming your brain, but it does lay out what neuroscience has learned about the workings of the brain in the last two decades.

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I'd like to actually venture out and try to spark insightful conversation, and hopefully learn something new in the process, even if it is only what others think on the subject. Maybe even is someone points me in the direction of a good science book.

I find Antonio Damasio's popular-science writing on neurology to be interesting. I've only read "The Feeling of What Happens", but "Descartes' Error" seems to be highly recommended too.

Edited by Hal
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Of course, I am just being playful but if you understand what I mean, please help if you can.

I'm a little confused as to what you're asking. Are you asking about the metaphysical nature of consciousness? Or are you asking about the details of the relationship between consciousness and the physical processes of the brain?

The answer to the first is: Consciousness exists. Consciousness is consciousness. Each consciousness acts in accordance with its nature.

The second, as Hal and David have already pointed out, is still an open question in science (as far as I know, anyway).

Yeah, the metaphysics of Objectivism is a little bare compared to a lot of other metaphysical systems, but I'm curious why you find that inadequate, considering the more complex ones are mostly fantasy. There is a bit more to Objectivist metaphysics than "claim[ing] independent reality and that it exists," but all the rest of it really does is identify the implications of "existence exists." A study of consciousness itself, though, doesn't really belong to metaphysics, which is concerned with the nature of Existence or Being as such.

I'm going to pick it apart a little further... What does it mean to perceive? Objectivism doesn't really define 'perceive' except to say it's synonomous with 'know'...

Um... Objectivism does define "percieve" (well, it's actually percept which is defined, from which we can infer a definition for perceive and perception), and does not say that it's synonomous with know.

From page 1 of ITOE: "A percept is a group of sensations autaomatically retained and integrated by the brain of a living organism."

So, perceive, in the context of Objectivism, means: the act of a brain integrating and retaining a group of sensations.

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Wait so you are saying that when I imagine a cow, I don't at least get some vague image of a cow in my mind, instead I really just sense electricity in my brain?
I'm saying that the claim of representationalism, that you have an actual picture of a cow in your brain, is false. You don't get an image in the brain, nor do you see an image of a cow in your brain. You do have a visual representation of a cow, whose physical locus is the brain. Does that make things clearer?
Even better, let's not use an image, think of a word, like 'shirt.' There may be an electronic imprint of the way the word sounds in your head, much like a CD, but when you think of that word, (or play the CD), what perceives it being said in your mind?
I seriously doubt this, that it's like a recording on a CD. There certainly is some representation of the word, which is not one bit like the object on a CD -- I could write reams on the nature of that difference, if you want (and pay me enough). But note: words aren't "said in your mind". I understand that you're talking metaphorically, but if you want to understand the nature of perception, you have to break free of the popular metaphors.
What I am asking I guess is let's say the brain stores all/most of your perceptions in electronic form in the brain, what is it that retrieves those electronic peices of data and plays them in your mind?
I don't say that perceptions are stored in electronic form in the brain. However, percepts can enter different kinds of memory, and are realised there in some physical way that it electro-chemical (not electronic).

For example, suppose someone says the Hottentot word [!am] to you: you hear something, but how do you perceive it? Let's scan your brain, and do some other tests to see what happens. Then you hear it again -- is the brain event the same? After a few more times, the cognitive nature of the event changes; so let's add the word [!ap]. How do they relate physically? Then how about adding [//ap]? Then [=gaop]. What I've just described is an example of concept-formation in the realm of language sound. These are question that can be studied, and you can be the first on your block to answer them. At the level of basic non-physiological studies, we have only the most crude knowledge of how the ability to categorize new language sound works, and literally nothing on brain function.

I don't think that the "brain stores everything" claim is a testable scientific claim -- I've never seem any description of a method to test that. I do suppose that the brain stores a lot. Right now, though, we don't know the physical representation of the English sound [p] in the brain.

I've seen a tendency of Objectivists here to believe that if they personally don't know then either no one knows or it isn't relavent.
I was speaking of serious scientific research, not popular euphoro-science. Also, I was speaking of "knowing", not "thinking" or "suspecting".
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I do want more than just 'we don't know.'

To David O, I find ITOE to explain epistemology quite well, but it lacks metaphysical analysis of what it is that we are perceiving, and more specifically, how we are perceiving it. It might be true that humans don't know yet, but I don't find it to be silliness to try to find out. You can stick to preaching to the choir about politics, since we are all capitalists/rights-oriented here, but I'd like to actually venture out and try to spark insightful conversation, and hopefully learn something new in the process, even if it is only what others think on the subject. Maybe even is someone points me in the direction of a good science book.

I agree with you, Objectivism is severly lacking in psychological understanding. There are some things Objectivism does very well, and I do think there is some value to it, however psychology is not one of them. Look up some psychology books. I might not recomend Jung to you, as you seem to be of a more materialistic mind, however, much of psychology deals with exactly what you are asking for...the synthesis of the hard science and the soft science of the mind. You may find that it undermines your Objectivist beliefs...it seems to be a pattern with the study. At any rate, I doubt you'll find the answers you're looking for here. Then again, I'm not an Objectivist, so why believe me?

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I agree with you, Objectivism is severly lacking in psychological understanding. There are some things Objectivism does very well, and I do think there is some value to it, however psychology is not one of them.

Objectivism says absolutely nothing about psychology, so you're absolutely right. While Ayn Rand did do some writing on psychology, they are not properly considered part of Objectivism.

Look up some psychology books. I might not recomend Jung to you, as you seem to be of a more materialistic mind, however, much of psychology deals with exactly what you are asking for...the synthesis of the hard science and the soft science of the mind. You may find that it undermines your Objectivist beliefs...it seems to be a pattern with the study. At any rate, I doubt you'll find the answers you're looking for here.
If you know of some studies that have been done which conclusively explain the relationship between consciousness and the physical processes of the brain, please post them. I'm sure there are a number of people here who would be very interested in reading them. (Not me, though. It's sounds like a big snore to me.)

Then again, I'm not an Objectivist, so why believe me?

If the things you say are backed up by demonstratable facts, Objectivists will believe you.

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I agree with you, Objectivism is severly lacking in psychological understanding.
Freudian psychology is completely lacking when it comes to particle theory; Jungian psychology is totally crippled in the realm of understanding vertebrate evolution and contralaterality; connectionism has completely ignored basic ethics; behaviorism completely ignores Boyle's Law. Why would that be? Because these are about different things. Objectivism is a philosophy, not a specialized science. Objectivism states basic philosophical principles which are applicable to any science as part of the foundation. You should read some works within Objectivism: you may find that it undermines your faith in Jungean psychology.
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If the things you say are backed up by demonstratable facts, Objectivists will believe you.

Unfortunately not the Objectivists I've come across on this forum (with the exception of a few).

Without even examining the theory, I can say with confidence that if it finds a way to disprove [axiom x], then there must be some error contained within in.

...any experiments which claim to "prove" otherwise MUST be wrong

The theory being discussed is a theory which has been tested to very high accuracy. Such things backed up by demonstratable facts are deemed to be an 'anti-concept'.

Edited by DrBaltar
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You can quote his name, this is a public forum. He knows better than to say something he doesn't want quoted later.

But, anyway, in a sense he is right. If an interpretation of an experiment contradicts a philosophic axiom, then the interpretation is wrong. Axioms are tautological, they are self-evident, their validity is necessary for any proof whatsoever to be possible. They are inherent in the nature of reality as such. It doesn't mean that the experimental evidence is wrong (although it might be), but that the interpretation is, and one need not examine the theory to know that.

And, I don't know if the things you were saying did involve an anti-concept, but I suspect you aren't familiar with the term, since you put it in skeptical scare quotes. It is a very specific type of package deal, and as such, renders any argument making use of it invalid. Ayn Rand identified the anti-concept in her article, "Extremism, or the Art of Smearing," which is in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. Feel free to read it, decide on the validity of Objectivism's objections to the anti-concept for yourself, and then decide if you were, in fact using an anti-concept.

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The quote wasn't from a public forum.

Axioms are correct by definition. 'A is A' is always correct. If A is a chair, then it is true that: a chair is a chair. But if A is a unicorn, it is still true that: a unicorn is a unicorn. Does that mean there are really unicorns? No. The iron clad part about 'A is A' is the operator 'is' when relating something to itself. Axioms only relate to reality if their terms relate to reality.

So if an interpretation of an experiment violates an axiom, then the interpretation and/or the terms in the axiom need to be re-evaluated.

Edited by DrBaltar
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The quote wasn't from a public forum.

Axioms are correct by definition. 'A is A' is always correct. If A is a chair, then it is true that: a chair is a chair. But if A is a unicorn, it is still true that: a unicorn is a unicorn. Does that mean there are really unicorns? No. The iron clad part about 'A is A' is the operator 'is' when relating something to itself. Axioms only relate to reality if their terms relate to reality.

So if an interpretation of an experiment violates an axiom, then the interpretation and/or the terms in the axiom need to be re-evaluated.

:sigh: And all of that is precisely the failure of modern philosophy.

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