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being conscious only of itself

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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).

It still wouldn't be consciousness conscious of itself, it would be consciousness conscious of "activity of brain."

Not only are the signals in the brain part of existence (as you say), but so are any images (or whatever) that result from them. Dreams are not consciousness, random patterns from electrical signals are not consciousness, all are existence. What is consciousness then? You never see it. You ignore whatever you're aware of, and merely isolate that *fact* that you're aware of it.

In *that* moment you have consciousness aware of itself, but it is awareness of "awareness of existence." So there has to be existence first. Couldn't the existence in "awareness of existence" be consciousness? Only if you step back and say "Hey, I'm aware of myself, being aware of myself, being aware." But at the lowest level, existence must come first. Because what is implied at the end of the sentence is "I'm aware of myself, being aware of myself, being aware (of something)." And the last "something" in such a chain can never be consciousness, which can be at best second-to-last.

Edited by ian
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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?

The very question we are discussing is whether or not such a thing as a consciousness without anything other than itself to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms. It left me no choice but to create a situation in which there is nothing in the universe except a consciousness (physical existence of a consciousness+the function of a consciousness).

The consciousness is not defected in the case I provided, since the definition of consciousness does not include sense organs as well: "consciousness is the faculty of perceiving that which exists". it only talks about a capacity to perceive, and does not demand that the data to be perceived be supplied too, for it to be considered a consciousness. It has the means to hold knowledge, but not the means to acquire it, according to the definition. So as long as my brain is capable of electrical and chemical activity that represents entities that exist, it is not defected.

I just want to make my point clear again: "A consciousness without nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms". That is my starting point. Now, if the only thing that exists is a consciousness (which also includes the physical properties of it), then it is a part of existence, and as such it has something to be conscious of.

However, if we define "consciousness" to be some functionality without a physical existence then I would simply say that such a thing (nothing but a consciousness exists) cannot exist. But I wouldn't base the reason for that on "conscious only of itself" claim, but about some other claim. It would be the same claim that I would use to say that a "table" cannot exist without having a physical body, or that "rain" cannot fall without having drops of water that exist physically. Not sure what that claim is though. Would have to think about it.

Hmm. Maybe if we define consciousness as a functionality of perceiving things without any physical entity to support it, then this would solve the problem and I would agree that it would be a contradiction in terms if "itself" is a mere functionality with no physical existence.

Edited by ifatart
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It still wouldn't be consciousness conscious of itself, it would be consciousness conscious of "activity of brain."

Yeah, the problem was in my definition: I was working with a different definition than yours. I made my definition include the physical aspects of consciousness. This is why you don't recognize "activity of brain" as part of "itself" while I did.

Not only are the signals in the brain part of existence (as you say), but so are any images (or whatever) that result from them.

No, this is exactly the separation I just made: the signals in the brain are physical, they are not a part of "consciousness". But the images a living being sees and all the thoughts, emotions and experiences ARE the things that compose what a consciousness IS.

Dreams are not consciousness, random patterns from electrical signals are not consciousness, all are existence.

No, I disagree. Dreams are definitely a part of a consciousness.

Electrical signals are physical properties, so they are not.

But the experience created by those random signals is a part of consciousness.

What is consciousness then? You never see it. You ignore whatever you're aware of, and merely isolate that *fact* that you're aware of it.

In *that* moment you have consciousness aware of itself, but it is awareness of "awareness of existence." So there has to be existence first. Couldn't the existence in "awareness of existence" be consciousness? Only if you step back and say "Hey, I'm aware of myself, being aware of myself, being aware." But at the lowest level, existence must come first. Because what is implied at the end of the sentence is "I'm aware of myself, being aware of myself, being aware (of something)." And the last "something" in such a chain can never be consciousness, which can be at best second-to-last.

You've put it in a very intelligent way, thank you.

However, I did not argue about that. I agree that existence comes before consciousness. I was just arguing that a consciousness conscious only of itself will not contradict "existence exist" since I was using a definition that allows "consciousness" to be a part of existence as well. But if the only thing that is claimed to exists is not physical then that would be a contradiction in terms. But I think this leads to a discussion about the nature of existence (physical existents versus. existence of concepts).

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No, I disagree. Dreams are definitely a part of a consciousness.

Electrical signals are physical properties, so they are not.

But the experience created by those random signals is a part of consciousness.

Yup, ok. I understand your definition, but the Objectivist definition does not include experience as part of consciousness, it is only the fact that you know about the experience.

I was just arguing that a consciousness conscious only of itself will not contradict "existence exist" since I was using a definition that allows "consciousness" to be a part of existence as well. But if the only thing that is claimed to exists is not physical then that would be a contradiction in terms. But I think this leads to a discussion about the nature of existence (physical existents versus. existence of concepts).

Ok. I would just say that consciousness (as defined in the Objectivist way above) is still part of existence. It may be invisible (or inaudible, whatever) but the fact that you are aware is still a fact.

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However, if we define "consciousness" to be some functionality without a physical existence then I would simply say that such a thing (nothing but a consciousness exists) cannot exist.

Consciousness is that (whatever it is) which perceives existence. The brain is a physical object; that's different. Philosophical idealists, for example, Hegel, thought that only consciousness is real and that all physical material is simply an illusion. But they were assuming that a consciousness, with no object besides itself, not even a brain to be conscious of, is possible. That's what I'm saying is a contradiction in terms.

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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.

In your example, you describe a 'mature' brain. By this do you mean to include the posession of past experiences? In other words, are you suggesting that if you took my brain, which already posesses conciousness, and stuck it in a jar, then I would continue to be concious and self aware or that if you grew a brain to full size in a jar that once mature it would have conciousness?

If you mean the former, then you are probably right, but that is because the conciousness had already been formed by reference to reality. Even if reality is removed at a later time, it still existed prior to the development of my conciousness.

If you mean the latter, then even given the existence of a physical brain, I disagree that it would develop into conciousness. Without a consistent set of existants conciousness would not be able to actually develop. Conciousness is an act of identification. To identify anything requires at least 2 items in order to be able to differentiate them. So without differentiation there cannot be identification. Without identification there can be no conciousness.

The statement Rand made that "conciousness concious only of itself is a contradiction in terms" was in reference to the primacy of conciousness. Existence has to come before identification because, simply you must have some thing to identify.

Further, in actuality, many identifications have to come before conciousness. An infant human(the closest real thing to tabula rasa with a capacity for self-awareness that I know of) doesn't see a rattle and think, oh that's the rattle and this is me, therefore I exist. It takes, I am going to guess, tens of thousands, if not more identifications before they are even remotely aware of themselves as a seperate entity.

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  • 1 month later...

Just to close this subject, here is my reply:

In your example, you describe a 'mature' brain. By this do you mean to include the possession of past experiences? In other words, are you suggesting that if you took my brain, which already possesses consciousness, and stuck it in a jar, then I would continue to be conscious and self aware or that if you grew a brain to full size in a jar that once mature it would have consciousness?
I mean the former.

If you mean the former, then you are probably right, but that is because the consciousness had already been formed by reference to reality. Even if reality is removed at a later time, it still existed prior to the development of my consciousness.

Exactly. I was a smartass, because this thing does have a consciousness and no means of input. However, this brain in a jar is also aware of past reality, which is something other than it's self. So bye bye smartass example.

The statement Rand made that "consciousness conscious only of itself is a contradiction in terms" was in reference to the primacy of consciousness. Existence has to come before identification because, simply you must have some thing to identify.

If nothing exists, consciousness cannot exist as well. But if existence exists, and consciousness exists, but nothing other than that consciousness exists, that's not a contradiction to "existence exists". And if consciousness is that which is aware of reality, and all that there is to reality is itself, then that thing is also a consciousness. That was my line of reasoning.

The question is: can one be aware of something even if one cannot differentiate it? I think so. A baby's brain perceives light, even if it does not know what darkness is. But you cannot understand the identity of something without being able to differentiate it. And if being able to identify is the criterion for consciousness (rather than simple awareness), then yes, it is impossible to have a consciousness only conscious of itself, philosophically speaking.

Physically speaking, a consciousness cannot exist without the existence of something physical to represent it. So I would dismiss the existence of consciousness alone without any matter as impossible on some other ground.

Anyway, this discussion doesn't contribute anything to my life, or my understanding of Objectivism's more advanced concepts, so I'm dropping it.

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If nothing exists, consciousness cannot exist as well. But if existence exists, and consciousness exists, but nothing other than that consciousness exists, that's not a contradiction to "existence exists". And if consciousness is that which is aware of reality, and all that there is to reality is itself, then that thing is also a consciousness. That was my line of reasoning.

The question is: can one be aware of something even if one cannot differentiate it?

Consciousness cannot be the whole of reality. A consciousness, as per its nature and its definition, is aware of reality. Aware - by what means? An eye, an ear, the neural pathways to the brain, etc. Aware - of what stimuli? Photons striking the retina, changes in air pressure distorting the eardrum, etc. What causes these stimuli? Light-emitting or light-reflecting entities, quickly vibrating entities, etc. Consciousness is aware only of entities which act in such a way as to stimulate the senses. Without these entities acting in the right ways, consciousness cannot be aware of anything at all. If all that there is to reality is only consciousness, which doesn't act in a way stimulating to the senses because there are no senses, then consciousness is not aware of anything at all. It cannot even be called "consciousness", and is as such a contradiction in terms.

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  • 4 months later...

I think that the myth of god is meant to illustrate how universes cyclically come into and out of existence. In one myth, the one that works best for me, god "becomes" a universe, plays, and then "rests" when the universe dissolves. So god doesn't exist as a conscousness apart from the exisitence of the world. Duality is necessary for creation to exist. Non-being and Being. God is a term that is meant to indicate the totality of Being, which is indeed awesome.

Coco :)

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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I think that the myth of god is meant to illustrate how universes cyclically come into and out of existence

This is totally untrue. Existence can neither "come into" or "go out of" existence, existence exists. There can be no non-existence for the times in between existence and exists and when existence doesn't exist. Existence always exists, has always existed, and will always exist. Plus: there is only ONE universe.

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Science tells us that galaxies are coming into and going out of existence all the time. Creation and dissolution are continuous. As for existence alsways existing, don't you exist? Didn't you come into being and won't you cease to exist when you die? Perhaps I misunderstand what is meant by exisitence.

This is totally untrue. Existence can neither "come into" or "go out of" existence, existence exists. There can be no non-existence for the times in between existence and exists and when existence doesn't exist. Existence always exists, has always existed, and will always exist. Plus: there is only ONE universe.
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Perhaps I misunderstand what is meant by exisitence.
No, I think you are using the term "existence" in the same sense. The difference is in the term "universe". If the universe is "everything that ever was, is and ever will be", then it does not come into existence. Things change form, live, die...the universe is changing. The universe itself simply is.
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I see what you mean. Now, isn't the universe that is "everything that ever was, is and ever will be" what pantheists mean by the term god? Is there something wrong with that concept? Please understand that this is a sincere question on my part, not a challenge.

Coco :lol:

No, I think you are using the term "existence" in the same sense. The difference is in the term "universe". If the universe is "everything that ever was, is and ever will be", then it does not come into existence. Things change form, live, die...the universe is changing. The universe itself simply is.
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I don't know much about pan-theists, but I guess they aren't simply calling the universe by a different name. I think that an essential part of their concept of God is some type of consciousness -- perhaps even a super-consciousness. That goes beyond the concept of the universe, that would have one talking about things like the purpose of the universe, which is meaningless if one is using the term just to mean "everything". Some might even think of the universe as an type of super-organism.

Edited by softwareNerd
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The pantheism that I am familiar with does not attribute personality or consiousness to the universe, except as the sentient beings that nature has evolved. What it does say is that the universe evokes feelings of awe and reverence toward nature, similar to what religious believers feel toward a god. Scientists, including Einstein and Carl Sagan who were atheists, often have spoken of nature in that way. Do Objectivists experience nature with such feelings also?

I don't know much about pan-theists, but I guess they aren't simply calling the universe by a different name. I think that an essential part of their concept of God is some type of consciousness -- perhaps even a super-consciousness. That goes beyond the concept of the universe, that would have one talking about things like the purpose of the universe, which is meaningless if one is using the term just to mean "everything". Some might even think of the universe as an type of super-organism.
Edited by Coco
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I can't speak for all Objectivists, but the Objectivist understanding of emotions is that they are automated value-judgements. So, a skier may see a white mountain with deep powder and exclaim, "awesome", but a general with an elephant army may exclaim, "I'm going to murder my map-maker". :thumbsup:

Even if one is not evaluating based on some purpose, as above, there are other types of evaluation. This evaluation may be sub-conscious (i.e. automated). So, a person may look at a vast expanse of prairie and may interpret it as "peaceful", or "uncrowded", or "untouched", or "lonely", or some other such evaluation.

In essence, the emotional process is no different from other emotional processes. So, the same type of mechanism is at work when one is considering other humans or objects. The same process is involved in a non-verbal, emotional evaluation to which we might give words like "handsome guy" or "smart woman" or "car of my dreams".

According to Objectivism, humans are not born with these types of judgements pre-programmed. So, a young child might look at nature with hardly any emotion, but might look with awe at (say) a monster chocolate cake.

Also, when one considers the process in this way, the external entity (the mountain or the cake) does not evoke an emotion in the sense of being something that is beaming good vibes to the human. The human perceives the external object and makes an evaluation.

Scientists, including Einstein and Carl Sagan who ere atheists, often have spoken of nature in that way. Do Objectivists experience nature with such feelings also?
This is just an "aside" to the topic, but it is quite common to have scientists who are rational when it comes to science, but have not bothered to question the fundamentals of philosophy and the humanitites, and who simply mouth bromides in those areas, like any average guy.
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  • 3 months later...

I have been following this thread with some amusement, because it demonstrates the futility of trying to prove axiomatic facts.

The problem of solipsism has been debated for thousands of years, and the present arguments simply echo the same points raised on countless occasions during that time.

The simple truth is that solipsism has never been shown to be a true or false idea, and it is a virtual certainty that no proof one way or the other will ever be forthcoming.

Yet, I doubt if any sane person has ever believed that nothing exists beyond his own consciousness, notwithstanding his philosophical musings to the contrary.

Rand realized this and made it a non-problem by taking an unabashedly "common sense" approach. Here is what she argued:

1. The constituents of reality exist quite independently from our perception or thoughts about them ("primacy of existence").

2. We are aware of at least some of these constituents and at least some of their common and distinguishing characteristics ("consciousness" and "identity").

We cannot escape the fact that all our perceptions confirm the truth of those statements. And, without a doubt, virtually everyone conducts themselves as if the foregoing statements are true. (Those who do not are generally regarded as "nuts.") That is why Rand said that these things are self-evident.

Moreover, these statements cannot logically be proven because they are all-encompassing ideas which form the irreducible starting points of all knowledge and proofs thereof.

So ask yourself (even if you think the universe is entirely you): Does all this hand-wringing amount to anything. If you find an answer, will it change your life? Why not just accept the obvious and move on?

Larry

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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.

In order for a definition to be -general- it must apply in every instance. No exceptions. To use your example Man is a rational animal except when he is not rational. Does that sound right to you?

Or would you prefer to say Man is sometimes a rational animal and sometimes not?

And what about infants with a human genome born without a cerebral cortex? This is a rare condition but it sometimes happens. Are such unfortunate human infants not counted as Man? Even though they have a complete human genome?

Bob Kolker

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Consciousness is an active process, not a passive one. It is a process that involves looking at and examination of what impinges upon it in some manner. If a given consciousness has not yet had anything impinge upon it at all then it cannot act, hence is not yet activated as a consiousness, and hence cannot identify itself without first having become conscious of something other than itself.

Think of it this way: consciousness conscious of itself would be like there being a computer with image processing software taking input from a camera and displaying output from the camera on a monitor, with the camera presently focussed exclusively upon the monitor. You will get a feed back loop that contains utter blackness until something external to the system impinges upon it and creates non-zero data (*). Only then does it become possible for the system to process the effects of its own activity and hence its own existence.

(*) Feedback loops in electronics create resonance because of noise (eg thermal, ambient radio waves, minor power spikes, etc) that is then filtered, tuned, and amplified by the system. Theoretically, if all these noise sources could be quenched then there would be no resonance - the mere fact that it has the capacity to resonate at a given frequency does not of its own accord mean that it will whenever power and sufficient amplification is supplied. It only does all the time in practice because the noise sources can never be fully eliminated. In application to consciousness, which as others have pointed out is not philosophically synonymous with the brain, the noise as actually would exist is external to consciousness proper and would just further demonstrate the point at hand.

As to what happens under sensory deprivation, I recall reading somewhere that after a while it is seriously disorienting and one loses track of time, eventually drifting closer to effective unconsciousness. So, not only does consciousness need awareness of something other than itself just to get started, it needs continual access to a rich data stream triggered by the outside to keep on going! I don't have my materials on hand, but isn't that actually in Objectivist literature somewhere?

I also recall (and this is now totally from memory and may be wrong) that some kinds of anaesthetic work not by putting the brain into a deep sleep-like mode but leaving it on and instead cutting the processing centres from all data input, resulting not only in no memory of the medical procedure but total inability to be conscious of anything even of internal sourcing. Voila, total loss of sense of time or anything else for that matter. Using a computer analogy again, it means not putting the system into a standby mode but making the CPU process null instructions while still running full tilt. More educated persons than I may care to correct me?

JJM

Edited by John McVey
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And what about infants with a human genome born without a cerebral cortex? This is a rare condition but it sometimes happens. Are such unfortunate human infants not counted as Man? Even though they have a complete human genome?

You need to read Don Watkins' Theory of Broken Units.

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You need to read Don Watkins' Theory of Broken Units.

Read it (thanks for pointer). Shudah, Wudah, Cudah. I am interested in what IS or IS NOT. Telos is in our heads, not Out There.

If all the sentient beings in the universe ceased to exist, so would telos.

Bob Kolker

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In order for a definition to be -general- it must apply in every instance. No exceptions. To use your example Man is a rational animal except when he is not rational. Does that sound right to you?

Or would you prefer to say Man is sometimes a rational animal and sometimes not?

And what about infants with a human genome born without a cerebral cortex? This is a rare condition but it sometimes happens. Are such unfortunate human infants not counted as Man? Even though they have a complete human genome?

Bob Kolker

Entering late into the debate, so it's probably a bit impudent for me to start up anyway, but here goes:

Man is always rational. That is what being a rational being is. That's why it's very poetic to say that the 'men' who demand your life from you are not men, but beasts. Men are defined by their purpose, what they ought to do. You say you don't care about what ought, but about what 'is'; as if they are always separate things. How man ought to behave is the definition of a man. Same as how a water molecule is described by how it ought to behave if we do a series of tests on it to determine what sort of molecule it is. 'Ought' isn't being used here to describe how I want carbon molecules our men to behave, or what is even best for these units; 'ought' is simply describing what we expect to happen when something exists.

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Entering late into the debate, so it's probably a bit impudent for me to start up anyway, but here goes:

Man is always rational. That is what being a rational being is. That's why it's very poetic to say that the 'men' who demand your life from you are not men, but beasts. Men are defined by their purpose, what they ought to do. You say you don't care about what ought, but about what 'is'; as if they are always separate things. How man ought to behave is the definition of a man. Same as how a water molecule is described by how it ought to behave if we do a series of tests on it to determine what sort of molecule it is. 'Ought' isn't being used here to describe how I want carbon molecules our men to behave, or what is even best for these units; 'ought' is simply describing what we expect to happen when something exists.

Who or what decides "ought". -Is- is easy. One just looks. -Ought- is not so clear.

Bob Kolker

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We do. We're talking about categorization right? What makes a man? Well, we have a description for what everything out to be. That's what a concept is. It is also the source of the whole issue where Plato thought that somehow concepts precede the existence of a concept. 'Ought' is science, or more simply, it is our basic human method of rationalising - of describing things by what they are and what they are not (Does it do this or not? What happens when I poke it? What does playing Barbara Streissand on a loop do to it?)

When using the word 'ought' here, we mean, how we have always seen something to act, and therefore how the concept in our mind dictates how something should act. If I were a racist, and my concept of all black men was that they were a seperate species, devoid of humanity, then I would be surprised if he were to offer me anything of value.

'Ought' is just as simple as 'is' - or are we completely missing each other's points here?

Edited by Tenure
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In telological terms, Tenure, "ought" = ethics, as in what should a creature with volition, i.e. one that has to choose a course of action, do. "Ought" doesn't apply to anything that doesn't have volition, it does not apply to water droplets, trees, rocks, or fishies.

"Ought" is derived from "is" but they are not identical. If you want to know how ethics is derived from metaphysics, I encourage you to study the Objectivist epistemology, as Ayn Rand has answered this question quite well.

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