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I'm rereading Galt's speech and came across the passage that says that a being conscious only of itself is a contradiction in terms, because something must exist of which it is conscious. While, if valid, this is a good proof against any God of a major religion, I fail to understand why the premises are true. If something must exist in order for my to be conscious, why am I not sufficient? In other words...I exist...why is that not all the existence required, in order for me to have a consciousness?

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I'm rereading Galt's speech and came across the passage that says that a being conscious only of itself is a contradiction in terms, because something must exist of which it is conscious. While, if valid, this is a good proof against any God of a major religion, I fail to understand why the premises are true. If something must exist in order for my to be conscious, why am I not sufficient? In other words...I exist...why is that not all the existence required, in order for me to have a consciousness?

I believe it is covered in some depth in opar, but the basic answer is that to be concious you must be concious of some thing, and in order to properly identify that thing, you must be aware of it as existing as opposed to something else. So in other words, to identify a thing, you must also possess a differentia which implies another object. If god existed as conciousness before the universe, you have a conciousness with nothing to be concious of. Additionally, conciousness implies volition, and volition requires the ability to make choices. Choices can only be made with regard to existents.

Gordon

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Okay, that makes sense, unless you assume a physical body. If I am the only being in the universe, and I am in human form, then I can be conscious of my hands, toes, elbows, etc. And I know that there are varying positions, amongst Christians, as to whether or not God has a physical form. If he does have a physical form, I think this argument breaks down.

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Yes, but if God is everything, then that means that the whole of existence wasn't created by him, because it is him. If, as they claim, existence was created by God, and existence is the sum of everything that exists, then God couldn't have had a physical manifestation.

Incidentally, isn't a consciousness an existent as well? Doesn't this in principle invalidate their argument? How can something create itself? So either you would have to go for the (in my eyes) arbitrary definition of existence being everything which exists, except God, or it breaks down. This doesn't really make sense to me...

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Although it is possible for conscious beings to be conscious of their consciousness, (and to even examine the identity of said consciousness), they first have to be conscious of something external in order to observe that there is such a state as "being conscious of something". Without some kind of external stimulus, you could never observe that you were, in fact, conscious. You conclude that you are conscious by observing your consciousness in operation. Self-awareness is actually a corrolary, not an irreducible primary.

An imaginary consciousness "conscious only of itself" would encounter the question "how do you know it?" and be unable to answer it; that is why it's a contradiction in terms. You cannot claim anything is knowledge unless you know how you came by it. Like a lot of things in AR's writing, however, the nature of the contradiction is not necessarily immediately evident. It requires some chewing. This is also why Descartes attempts to abstract reality from the fact of consciousness were doomed to failure.

Edited by JMeganSnow
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Where did Rand say that a consciousness which is conscious only of itself is a contradiction in terms? you must've misread it. it's "a consciousness without something to be conscious OF is a contradiction in terms"

the "something to be conscious of" INCLUDES the person and his consciousness. which means that even if you are the only thing that exists in the universe, then existence still exists, and your consciousness still exists, even if it is only conscious of itself (a very unlikely thing to happen, but still... :D )

As for proving that god doesn't exist - God isn't such a special thing. There are tons of things that a person can decide to believe in, that have no evidence at all. There are a lot of things that people can believe in, that cant be proven or refuted. for example: I believe that there are flying elephants in the sky. but those elephants cant be detected. but those elephants are shy and they turn into light the minute that someone tries to spot them. There is no way to prove that (of course) but there is also no way to refute it. you can't prove a mystic that they are WRONG, you can only show them that the method they use to gain knowledge is not truth oriented (reason, logic).

(Edit: check your spelling! - GC)

Edited by GreedyCapitalist
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Where did Rand say that a consciousness which is consciouse only of itself is a contradiction in terms? you must've misread it. it's "a consciouseness without something to be consciouse OF is a contradiction in terms"

the "something to be consciouse of" INCLUDES the person and his consciousness. which means that even if you are the only thing that exists in the universe, then existence still exists, and your consciousness still exists, even if it is only consiouse of itself (a very unlikely thing to happen, but still... :D )

"A conciousness concious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms:before it could identify itself as conciousness, it had to be concious of something."-Ayn Rand, Atlas shrugged, Galt's speech

I explained this briefly above. You cannot identify an object unless you can differentiate it from something else.

In a perfect sensory deprivation tank you might be only aware of yourself, but that possiblity would be predicated on your already possessing sensorily derived information prior to entering the tank.

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You cannot identify an object unless you can differentiate it from something else.

So what you're saying is that unless I see a green object, I will never be able to identify that the red objects I've seen before are red?

Also, I don't have that sentence that you quote from Atlas Shrugged. it doesnt appear in my book (it's hebrew translation), but even if it did I wouldnt agree with it.

And in any case of disagreement we can always go to the physical world and check who's right. I am talking about the brain. If you put a human being inside the tank you talked about, He wont be able to percieve any sights, forms, movement, sound, words, etc when he grows up (even if you take him out of the tank after a few years), However, his brain is designed by it's nature to be aware of what happens inside his body (The position of his muscles, even if he can't see or feel his body) and to plan his motion, to plan the rate of his breathing, and the brain is also capable of forming new connections randomly, without an outside stimulus. There is no prevention that the person would also develope the understanding that there is an entity called "me" that "does things".

And philosophycally speaking, if a single human being is all that exists in the universe, Are you saying that all of a sudden that human being's consciousness doesnt exist, or that existense doesnt exist? Of course not! What you said is that that person would not be able to identify himself as a consciousness, but it doesnt mean that he doesnt have one.

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So what you're saying is that unless I see a green object, I will never be able to identify that the red objects I've seen before are red?
That is not what it means: it means that if you have only seen red objects, you will not identify that they are red, and categorically different from green or blue objects. If all objects were just different shades of red, you'd just form difference concepts for the shades that you could identify, like Red1, Red2 and Red3. If all objects that you had seen were the same color of red, you'd be blind so the question would be moot.
Also, I don't have that sentence that you quote from Atlas Shrugged.
Bottom of p. 993.
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So what you're saying is that unless I see a green object, I will never be able to identify that the red objects I've seen before are red?

Also, I don't have that sentence that you quote from Atlas Shrugged. it doesnt appear in my book (it's hebrew translation), but even if it did I wouldnt agree with it.

And in any case of disagreement we can always go to the physical world and check who's right. I am talking about the brain. If you put a human being inside the tank you talked about, He wont be able to percieve any sights, forms, movement, sound, words, etc when he grows up (even if you take him out of the tank after a few years), However, his brain is designed by it's nature to be aware of what happens inside his body (The position of his muscles, even if he can't see or feel his body) and to plan his motion, to plan the rate of his breathing, and the brain is also capable of forming new connections randomly, without an outside stimulus. There is no prevention that the person would also develope the understanding that there is an entity called "me" that "does things".

And philosophycally speaking, if a single human being is all that exists in the universe, Are you saying that all of a sudden that human being's consciousness doesnt exist, or that existense doesnt exist? Of course not! What you said is that that person would not be able to identify himself as a consciousness, but it doesnt mean that he doesnt have one.

I think I see what you are saying. You are talking about conciousness in the sense of being awake as opposed to sleeping or being knocked out. If god did exist in a human form that possessed sensory organs then he would be sensorily aware of a few sensations assuming he lived long enough to figure them out. With those sensations he might (if he were smart enough :worry: ) identify red as distinct from other colors or being well fed from hunger, which would make him aware of them on a perceptual level but not a conceptual one. This is essentially the beggining of concept formation.

The problem is, that bringing in his sense organs and everything they are aware of requires an existent universe. If he is cold, what is causing him to be cold? Are the atoms moving slower? What atoms? If he was hungry could he identify himself as such without experiencing fullness which requires food? Not to mention that his body existing would mean that some elements of reality exist, at least 150 lbs of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. What is holding them together? All of these existants change the landscape a bit. God has to exist before existence in order to create existence. The type of god referred to is generally regarded as a being of pure conciousness. That is the part that is a contradiction in terms. Giving him a physical body essentially evades the question of who made the universe since it had to have been someone other then god. A more precise way of saing it might be 'a conciousness aware only of its own conciousness is a contradiction in terms. A conciousness devoid of sense organs or anything to sense. It would have no information to gather, identify or process. It couldn't identify itself because there is nothing to compare it to.

Consider what is entailed in beliving the statement, 'I exist' -'I' as opposed to other entities. 'Exist' as opposed to not existing. There are no other entities and he cannot not exist. We are talking complete tabula rasa here.

It just occurred to me that omnicience is very achievable when nothing exists. If we eliminate this pesky universe, any of us could be omnicient like god.

At any rate, I suggest if you have it available to you, you look into Intro to Obj. Epistomology or Obj. the Phil. of Ayn Rand. All of this is discussed in greater detail then I could do justice to. If not, I or others on this site will probably be more then willing to discuss it with you if anything is still unclear. I doubt anyone couldn't use some good old fashioned 'chewing' of concept formation and conciousness. (In other words, that is not a request to stop the discussion, just a recommendation that would probably save you time.)

Best regards,

Gordon

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There is no way to proove that (of course) but there is also no way to refute it. you can't prove a mistic that they are WRONG, you can only show them that the method they use to gain knowledge is not truth oriented (reason, logic).

Even this view gives the mystic too much 'credit'. This view appears to assume that there is a burden to disprove a mystic when such burden does not exist. There is no need to disprove an assertion for which no evidence exists to begin with. I don't have to prove the mystic wrong as he hasn't established any reason to believe or think that he's right. In other words, the ball is never put into my court to begin with, it's still in the court of the mystic. As such, I can categorically deny any claims a mystic makes.

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I will have to read everything you wrote again to examin it more carefully, but still, no one answered my point just yet: The fact that a consciousness exists without sense organs means that it wont be able to differentiate itself from the world. It means that it wont be able to grasp it's own nature. Fine, but does this mean that just because it fails in the identification of it's own nature, that it does not exist? I don't see why.

An example for this would be something quite terrible (but it has been done, actually): is to operate on an animal (an embrio, that his sense organs did not develope yet), and take it's brain out, put it on a dish, with nutritients to keep it alive. Now, consider that the physical form of your thoughts are changes in electrical field across the cells of your brain (which has been verified, BTW). Now, a brain in a dish produces those spontaneouse electrical changes, and it's cells are "talking" to one another (through electric pulses). This means that there is a consciousness, with no sense organs. Does this mean that it is not really a consciousness? it definitely is: If you give it electric stimuli it will sense it and react to it. if you "plug in" some sense organs, it will be able to code and percieve the information that they deliver. Just because it is currently in an inactive state does not change the nature of the thing that lies on the dish. And the fact that it doesnt have self awareness also doesnt change the fact that it is a consciousness (a device, if you will, with the ability to percieve things).

BTW, I agree with what RationalCop said, and thanks for the recommendation of the books. I plan to read them during the summer.

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I will have to read everything you wrote again to examin it more carefully, but still, no one answered my point just yet: The fact that a consciousness exists without sense organs means that it wont be able to differentiate itself from the world. It means that it wont be able to grasp it's own nature. Fine, but does this mean that just because it fails in the identification of it's own nature, that it does not exist? I don't see why.

An example for this would be something quite terrible (but it has been done, actually): is to operate on an animal (an embrio, that his sense organs did not develope yet), and take it's brain out, put it on a dish, with nutritients to keep it alive. Now, consider that the physical form of your thoughts are changes in electrical field across the cells of your brain (which has been verified, BTW). Now, a brain in a dish produces those spontaneouse electrical changes, and it's cells are "talking" to one another (through electric pulses). This means that there is a consciousness, with no sense organs. Does this mean that it is not really a consciousness? it definitely is: If you give it electric stimuli it will sense it and react to it. if you "plug in" some sense organs, it will be able to code and percieve the information that they deliver. Just because it is currently in an inactive state does not change the nature of the thing that lies on the dish. And the fact that it doesnt have self awareness also doesnt change the fact that it is a consciousness (a device, if you will, with the ability to percieve things).

BTW, I agree with what RationalCop said, and thanks for the recommendation of the books. I plan to read them during the summer.

Hmmm...I think that there is a difference between the brain and the conciousness that your example is not taking into consideration. A disembodied brain is not the same thing as a disembodied conciousness. As you say, it is still consuming nutrients from the petry dish. I am not a neurologist, to be certain, but I would guess that that process by itself would still produce some effects on the brain. Not unlike poking it. I doubt that a great deal of conciousness would develop as it would be proportional to the amount of stimuli in it's environment but it is likely that it would have some impact. I wouldn't argue that the brain would not exist if it had no input, only that the conciousness of the brain wouldn't. But no input has to be literally no input.

God as the creator of the universe, remember, has to be a conciousness which existed prior to the existence of the physical world. So he was a conciousness unconnected to a physical brain, so there are literally no inputs. No protein in the petry dish, no temporature fluctuation, not even the cold of a vacuum, just conciousness completely ungrounded in any way. There are no sense organs, nothing to sense if there were, no memories, no differentiations, no identifications, no random electrochemical cellular fluctuations caused by some genetic variable, nothing in the fullest sense of the word. It isn't something that can be tested because, in short, we can't make a something from a nothing. Only mysticism can do that...well, they believe they can.

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Although it is possible for conscious beings to be conscious of their consciousness, (and to even examine the identity of said consciousness), they first have to be conscious of something external in order to observe that there is such a state as "being conscious of something". Without some kind of external stimulus, you could never observe that you were, in fact, conscious.

Not only that, but until the encroachment of the external stimulus, your consciousness would not even exist, it would only be a potential. The external stimulus would not only allow your consciousness to see itself, it would bring it in to existence in the first place.

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[A consciousness conscious only of its capacity of consciousness is a contradiction] is a good proof against any God of a major religion
To an extent. In terms of a religion saying that a particular consciousness was conscious only of its capacity of consciousnes, showing that it is a contradiction would be effective. But god being conscious of a (external) physical world, or even being conscious of its (internal) thoughts aren't disproved by this example.

It doesn't definitively disprove god or prove the existence of a physical world, but it is a nice idea to toss around a bit.

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But god being conscious of a (external) physical world

If the god's consciousness depends on an external world, it can't have created that world (as in bringing it into existence out of nothing).

or even being conscious of its (internal) thoughts

The argument is exactly that you can't have any internal thoughts without first having external stimuli.

It doesn't definitively disprove god or prove the existence of a physical world

It conclusively proves that consciousness cannot exist without existence, and thus further proves that "creation" as an act of god is impossible (further, since the law of identity is sufficient to prove that you can't make something out of nothing).

mrocktor

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  • 4 weeks later...
I remember reading somewhere that a small number of Christians believe that god is nature, therefore omniscient, although not the creator. He also does not exhibit omnipotence and does not have a will for mankind, other than that they live.
There is no reason at all to care about this, unless evidence is provided. Until then, it ought to be ignored. What is the point of wasting time on this?
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I remember reading somewhere that a small number of Christians believe that god is nature, therefore omniscient, although not the creator. He also does not exhibit omnipotence and does not have a will for mankind, other than that they live.

Yeah, that's technically known as "pantheism." Baruch Spinoza, a Jewish philosopher, advanced views pretty close to what you describe, but I'm sure there are Christians who think that way too.

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I will have to read everything you wrote again to examin it more carefully, but still, no one answered my point just yet: The fact that a consciousness exists without sense organs means that it wont be able to differentiate itself from the world. It means that it wont be able to grasp it's own nature. Fine, but does this mean that just because it fails in the identification of it's own nature, that it does not exist? I don't see why.

Consciousness refers to awareness of existence. A "consciousness" with no means of becoming aware of existence-- i.e., no sense organs, is impossible in the same way that a "runner" with no legs is impossible (because a "runner" is someone who uses legs to move around swiftly). Does that help clarify it?

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You're right, there is no evidence to prove it, but if god is merely nature exactly as our senses percieve it and with no special powers outside of nature, he would not be supernatural (in fact, he would be nature) and would then fit into objectivism, wouldn't he? Also, if this is true, god can't be used to defend the "fact" that he existed conscious only of himself before the universe was created, because he is the universe.

Of course, in this case, there would be no reason to call "him" god instead of nature, would there? (that is a rhetorical question btw)

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  • 4 weeks later...

Consciousness refers to awareness of existence. A "consciousness" with no means of becoming aware of existence-- i.e., no sense organs, is impossible in the same way that a "runner" with no legs is impossible (because a "runner" is someone who uses legs to move around swiftly). Does that help clarify it?

The only problem with that is that a brain with no sense-organs is still capable of sensing inner-signals, which are still generated in the brain. Especially if it's an already adult, well developed brain of an animal.

I am aware that even after exerted from the body the brain cannot exist in a vacuum: there is still pressure on it, and if we decide to feed it, it does have a chemical interaction with the environment. However, those physical and chemical interactions are not sense-organs: They do not provide meaningful information about the environment, in a way that the brain can store and use.

But as we know there is a mechanism in the brain that is capable of selectively triggering different parts of the brain (volition). That mechanism would still be active, even without sense organs, and the signals inside the brain are part of existence, and are detectable for the brain. So in this sense, you have a consciousness that is only conscious of itself (I think).

There is a problem about this though: I am talking about a mature brain. But as I see it the process (or instance) "conscious only of itself" has to be a contradiction in all times and in all situations for it to be a contradiction period.

I am laughing at my own claims though, as well, especially about the mental image of a brain floating in space in a vacuum... when nothing else in the universe exists... It is ridiculous in a new scale... almost feels like superman will be created in the big bang the moment after and save the brain in the next instance... B)

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Consciousness refers to awareness of existence. A "consciousness" with no means of becoming aware of existence-- i.e., no sense organs, is impossible in the same way that a "runner" with no legs is impossible (because a "runner" is someone who uses legs to move around swiftly). Does that help clarify it?

The only problem with that is that a brain with no sense-organs is still capable of sensing inner-signals, which are still generated in the brain. Especially if it's an already adult, well developed brain of an animal.

I am aware that even after exerted from the body the brain cannot exist in a vacuum: there is still pressure on it, and if we decide to feed it, it does have a chemical interaction with the environment. However, those physical and chemical interactions are not sense-organs: They do not provide meaningful information about the environment, in a way that the brain can store and use.

But as we know there is a mechanism in the brain that is capable of selectively triggering different parts of the brain (volition). That mechanism would still be active, even without sense organs, and the signals inside the brain are part of existence, and are detectable for the brain. So in this sense, you have a consciousness that is only conscious of itself (I think).

There is a problem about this though: I am talking about a mature brain. But as I see it the process (or instance) "conscious only of itself" has to be a contradiction in all times and in all situations for it to be a contradiction period.

It is generally not valid to use a damaged object as proof that the object is other than it is. By the same reasoning one could claim that because there are humans born without a rational faculty it invalidates the definition of: man is a rational being.

Your brain floating in nothingness is completely ridiculous and I do not think that creating a hypothetical situation that could never exist is a valid way to arrive at a conclusion. What could it tell you about how things work in reality?

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