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What is Consciousness?

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Quoting again from the DH article above (which quotes IOE), one finds the following statment:

Sensations are the primary material of consciousness and, therefore, cannot be communicated by means of

the material which is derived from them. The existential causes of sensations can be described and defined

in conceptual terms (e.g., the wavelengths of light and the structure of the human eye, which produce the

sensations of color), but one cannot communicate what color is like, to a person who is born blind. To

define the meaning of the concept “blue,” for instance, one must point to some blue objects to signify, in

effect: “I mean this.” Such an identification of a concept is known as an “ostensive definition.”

1

Ostensive definitions are usually regarded as applicable only to conceptualized sensations. But they are

applicable to axioms as well. Since axiomatic concepts are identifications of irreducible primaries, the only

way to define one is by means of an ostensive definition e.g., to define “existence,” one would have to

sweep one's arm around and say: “I mean this.” (Rand 1990, 40-41).

-----------------------------------------------

So a refinement of the question at hand becomes: because concsiousness, like existence, is an axiomatic element of Objectivism, are we (likewise) reduced to "defining" consciousness in the fashion of "look inside your own head--I mean that..."?

I can see why an ostensive definition of this kind works for existence--we are looking outward, and because the evidence of the our sense is reliable, that formulation is convincing.

I don't see as easily why this same notion is true for consciousness, however. Looking inward is not quite as reliable looking outward. I know this because, for instance, when I do honestly look inward, it is not self evident that what I see in my mind's eye is "consciousness."

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You can't see yourself seeing... Looking "inward" is not possible; it's a bad metaphor. You can feel things inside your body, but you can't feel inside the feeling.

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You can't see yourself seeing... Looking "inward" is not possible; it's a bad metaphor. You can feel things inside your body, but you can't feel inside the feeling.

Bad metaphor or not, people look inward all the time.

Marcus Aurelious--no slouch when it comes to subtle reflections--said that "to live happily is an inward power of the soul." There are hundreds of quotes from great thinkers about the the virtue of looking inward.

You looked inward before typing your reply, I would guess, and will look inward again before typing another. It simply means taking the measure of the activity of your mind, i.e., directing yourself to do so, and then watching yourself doing as directed.

In the Eastern tradition, this is called something akin to "witnessing."

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But anything that happens consciously cannot be observed, is what I'm saying... the reason being that the act of observing is preoccupying our consciousness...

You can review the memory of doing something, but you cannot watch yourself make choices--because in order to make choices, you must direct your attention to whatever is involved in the choice you're making.

So "inward" refers to inside your body, or inside your brain, but NOT inside your consciousness....

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... but you cannot watch yourself make choices--because in order to make choices, you must direct your attention to whatever is involved in the choice you're making.

Not quite. One can and does - simultaneously with observing external reality for that choice -

turn inward to assess:- the motivations for the choice, the ramifications of it (for you and

anyone else), the emotions the choice evokes, the concepts it is drawn from - and, and...

In short, one is watching oneself make the choice. Thousands of such processes later, and you

can create an aggregate image of your consciousness.

Anything else is a choice made by a 'logical' robot, and irrational.

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Yikes! So maybe Objectivish thought is compatible with lafe after deeth? Who woulda known?

The thing is for me that the Astonishing Testimony from a Neurosurgeon (!) of Loif after dath. We are perhaps supposed to snap our heads up in astonishment that someone has reported an NDE while (he says) he was in a profound coma. As if it had never happened before. As far as I can tell, nothing in the book is Startling and New. It is the same old dreary NDE bullshit as given by anyone else. Light, clouds, peace, blah. Evidence of an afterlife? I think not. Interesting? Well, notable perhaps that Objectivish folk find this persuasive, interesting only to the measure that Objectivish folks actually take it seriously.

Here is pretty much all you need to know about the book "Proof of Heaven" and the doctor, his own words:

There is no scientific explanation for the fact that while my body lay in coma, my mind—my conscious, inner self—was alive and well. ** While the neurons of my cortex were stunned to complete inactivity by the bacteria that had attacked them, my brain-free consciousness journeyed to another, larger dimension of the universe: a dimension I’d never dreamed existed and which the old, pre-coma me would have been more than happy to explain was a simple impossibility.

But that dimension—in rough outline, the same one described by countless subjects of near-death experiences and other mystical states—is there. It exists, and what I saw and learned there has placed me quite literally in a new world: a world where we are much more than our brains and bodies, and where death is not the end of consciousness but rather a chapter in a vast, and incalculably positive, journey.

The book that the good doctor is peddling is currently on pre-order (no previews) and is unreviewed. But here a sharp-minded pre-reviewer echoes my sentiments:

What’s easier to believe? That a neurosurgeon experienced a common phenomenon that has been studied and explained from a biological standpoint, and he is now positioned to make millions off a book that panders to the “I Want To Believ-ers” of the world?

Or that a formerly-skeptical neurosurgeon actually visited a different plane of existence (which, coincidentally, sounds a lot like a dream, or as Gawker pointed out, a DMT trip) and disproved a number of studies in the process?

As comforting as it might be to believe that a neurosurgeon’s unwillingness to apply the scientific explanationshe gave to his patients to his own experience is definitive proof that Heaven is a real place, the facts seem to disprove this. It seems that Dr. Alexander is either a shrewd businessman looking to make money off those who are desperate to believe, or that he himself is delusional.

Either way, the answer to the question, “what happens after we die?” will not be found in his book.

Edited by william.scherk

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... but you cannot watch yourself make choices--because in order to make choices, you must direct your attention to whatever is involved in the choice you're making.

Not quite. One can and does - simultaneously with observing external reality for that choice -

turn inward to assess:- the motivations for the choice, the ramifications of it (for you and

anyone else), the emotions the choice evokes, the concepts it is drawn from - and, and...

In short, one is watching oneself make the choice. Thousands of such processes later, and you

can create an aggregate image of your consciousness.

Anything else is a choice made by a 'logical' robot, and irrational.

Consciousness does not have an inside and an outside... That's why the metaphor doesn't work.

You can have emotions without consciously focusing on them, just as you can see and hear things without paying attention to them. Not everything your brain does falls under "conscious" activity, though you can consciously review these things after the fact.

Consciousness is what we use to look at the emotion, it is not the place we find the emotion "inside" of. The emotion is created by our brain, unconsciously. We affect our brain by the way we think, but we do not actively control every part of it.

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Until one has experienced such an event themselves I would not be so quick to pass it off as "BS". William, no one is telling anyone to snap their heads up for anything, this MD's NDE is one mans experience, an exp which changed his mind and outllook on life after death. I tend to listen when a man of science has things to say about experiences he would have (previous to his OBE) chaulked up as foolishness. Last time I checked Charlotte Hannah has not been in neurosurgery nor had the OBE experience herself. It's easy for us to accuse somone of being full of sh*t, but until one has had such an exp and has wlaked in those shoes I wouldn't be too quick to label this man a liar. You seem quite hostile to the idea for some reason.

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"But after learning to speak, a child can counterfeit this process, by memorization and imitation. The anti-conceptual mentality stops on this level of development - on

the first levels of abstraction, which identify perceptual material consisting predominantly of physical objects - and does not choose to take the next, crucial, fully volitional step: the higher levels of abstraction from abstractions, which cannot be learned by imitation."

[Rand]

Calling somethig "fully volitional" would mean that it depends 100 % on volition. But is making abstractions from abstractions volition-dependent? Isn't it a capacity that develops in step with the maturation of the complex human brain?

While there do exist individuals who cannot take these next steps of making abstractions from abstractions (due to a cerebral dysfunction), I can't think of a so-called "anti-conceptual mentality" who 'fully volitionally chooses' not to take those next steps.

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"But after learning to speak, a child can counterfeit this process, by memorization and imitation. The anti-conceptual mentality stops on this level of development - on

the first levels of abstraction, which identify perceptual material consisting predominantly of physical objects - and does not choose to take the next, crucial, fully volitional step: the higher levels of abstraction from abstractions, which cannot be learned by imitation."

[Rand]

Calling somethig "fully volitional" would mean that it depends 100 % on volition. But is making abstractions from abstractions volition-dependent? Isn't a capacity that develops in step with the maturation of the complex human brain?

While there do exist individuals who cannot take these next steps of making abstractions from abstractions (due to a cerebral dysfunction), I can't think of a so-called "anti-conceptual mentality" who 'fully volitionally chooses' not to take those next steps.

The maturation of the brain you speak of, brings evrything into the realm of materialism,

don't you think? Biological growth, the 'meat' of the brain. But what about

the networks - the 'circuitry' of the brain? How much is automatically built?

I don't know.

I admit to cherry-picking from

the little of neuroscience I know, but it appears 'neural mapping' is recently demonstrating

that we have the facility to 'choose' and create further neural pathways - deliberately,

and consciously. That it takes effort to do so, would come as no surprise to

Rand and her "fully volitional" concept buiding..

But I'm a little ambivalent on "ANTI-conceptual mentality". There could exist people who aren't

aware of their self-responsibility to conceptualize - if you don't know the choice,

how do you make a choice? - so I lean to "a-conceptual mentality" or somesuch.

(Although anti-conceptualists do also exist: those who know, but deny or 'evade' knowing.)

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Until one has experienced such an event themselves I would not be so quick to pass it off as "BS".

I'm not certain this is a good rule of thumb -- if it means that one can never pass off an NDE report as bullshit evidence of life after death, slowly or quickly.

William, no one is telling anyone to snap their heads up for anything, this MD's NDE is one mans experience, an exp which changed his mind and outllook on life after death.

Then perhaps you can expand on your original comment. What is remarkable about the story that it pertains to consciousness? How does it relate to the concerns and questions raised in this thread?

All we got with your mention of the book was a label -- 'fascinating.' In the context of consciousness, coma, and the experiences of levels of physical awareness, of minimally conscious states, of the odd flatness and lack of distress in locked-in patients -- even Dr Alexander's story can be interesting, okay. Fascinating perhaps, in that conversion experiences and altered states of consciousness are interesting in themselves, and may shed light on the puzzles of self, mind, brain, will and awareness that bedevil us in this thread.

But honestly, as evidence of another realm, a spirit realm? Perhaps you can be more clear about what makes the doctor more fascinating that any other NDE reporter? I got the impression this was being slipped in as 'evidence' of life after death, which it seems to me it is anything but. If you want to argue for a life for the mind beyond death of the body and brain, you will be expected to provide a much much stronger warrant than Alexander, in my opinion. Remember J Neil Schulman's long attempt to convince OLers of the brief incarnation of 'god' inside his body?

I tend to listen when a man of science has things to say about experiences he would have (previous to his OBE) chaulked up as foolishness. Last time I checked Charlotte Hannah has not been in neurosurgery nor had the OBE experience herself. It's easy for us to accuse somone of being full of sh*t, but until one has had such an exp and has wlaked in those shoes I wouldn't be too quick to label this man a liar. You seem quite hostile to the idea for some reason.

I am not anxious to walk in the shoes of a coma victim, and definitely not anxious to get an E coli infection in my meninges. The prognosis is not very good for adults. That the doctor came out neurologically undamaged (as far as we know) is a clue that no part of his brain 'died' ... moreover, if you read his lengthy interviews before reading his book, the course of his illness and the story of his recovery, you can see that he at no time consulted a neurologist (let alone a researcher like Damasio) about his recovered 'memory of coma' experiences; he kept them hidden. That coma (not only coma from meningial infection) provides interesting findings about consciousness is one thing, and I am certainly not hostile to examining cases.

I am hostile to spiritist wishfullness and life after death longings. It strikes me odd that I might have to defend that stance.

In a thread about consciousness, if you introduce a duality between body and mind, with a consciousness of another realm beyond reality, what are we supposed to do with that? Murmur approvingly, hope we get in a coma so we can be credentialled to discuss it one day?

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... but you cannot watch yourself make choices--because in order to make choices, you must direct your attention to whatever is involved in the choice you're making.

Not quite. One can and does - simultaneously with observing external reality for that choice -

turn inward to assess:- the motivations for the choice, the ramifications of it (for you and

anyone else), the emotions the choice evokes, the concepts it is drawn from - and, and...

In short, one is watching oneself make the choice. Thousands of such processes later, and you

can create an aggregate image of your consciousness.

Anything else is a choice made by a 'logical' robot, and irrational.

Consciousness does not have an inside and an outside... That's why the metaphor doesn't work.

You can have emotions without consciously focusing on them, just as you can see and hear things without paying attention to them. Not everything your brain does falls under "conscious" activity, though you can consciously review these things after the fact.

Consciousness is what we use to look at the emotion, it is not the place we find the emotion "inside" of. The emotion is created by our brain, unconsciously. We affect our brain by the way we think, but we do not actively control every part of it.

Emotion is a consequence in the SUB-conscious mind, initiated by something in reality;

not "created by the brain".

(Which is another thread.)

I'll ask you, Calvin, do you have a sense of 'self-familiarity'? Are you familiar with some profile, an image

you have of yourself?

Well - that's "inside" consciousness, from uncountable acts of introspection.

It is what we can't validate, as axiomatic, but can only "point at".

Quoting Rand:

"Consciousness is the faculty of awareness - the faculty of perceiving that which exists. [...]

Directly, or indirectly, every phenomenon of consciousness is derived from one's awareness

of the external world...

Extrospection is a process of cognition directed outward - a process of apprehending some existent(s)

of the external world. Introspection is a process of cognition directed inward - a process

of apprehending one's own psychological actions in regard to to some existent(s) of the

external world, such actions as thinking, feeling, reminiscing, etc...

Awareness is awareness of something.

A content-less state of consciousness is a contradiction in terms."

[AR Concepts of Consciousness - ITOE]

.

So saying "Consciousness is what we use to look at the emotion..." is wrong way round.

We use introspection to "look at the emotion" - as a content of our consciousness. Here is "the place we find the emotion."

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We're having semantic problems...

What I call consciousness obviously isn't the same thing you call consciousness. My definition of consciousness is the looking, so we never have to look for anything within consciousness. If it's within our consciousness we are seeing it.

I don't like what Rand had to say about consciousness because she leaves room for too many contradictions. There needs to be a definitive difference between awareness and consciousness: if you can sense anything, you are aware, but consciousness is the ability to focus.

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OK, I can see the problem now:

I think one must hold firmly in mind (what I see as) the binary nature of consciousness:

that of an "actor", and also of a "repository". Not one or the other, but equally both, at all times.

(Other tools and terms will work as well.)

You are apparently perceiving consciousness as "actor", alone - so the difficulty you're having. With that premise, you arrive at "focus" (correctly, as focused cognitional awareness) but also "memory" (incorrectly replacing the far larger scope of consciousness.) "A content-less state of consciousness is a contradiction in terms."

AR:

"Two fundamental attributes are involved in every state, aspect or function of man's

consciousness: content and action - the content of awareness, and the action of

consciousness in regard to that content." [CoC,ITOE]

Content and action. (That 'binary nature'of consciousness.)

All this points to the total feasibility (as well as self-evident truth) of "actor" beung able to review "repository" - and, thus self-awareness.

(Very rarely that I've seen or heard are there any contradictions in Rand - she was

too immaculately thorough for that - best to check one's own interpretations first.)

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Tony, the difference is that I believe we can be aware of something without being conscious of it. Consciousness is a combination of awareness and volition (which necessitates memory/self-awareness).

We can go through experiences without noticing every (or sometimes any) part of them; this doesn't mean we were unaware at the time, but that we weren't exercising our consciousness.

Awareness is the content, but we choose which of that content to focus on (bring into consciousness).

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Speaking of consciousness, here is a fascinating story;

http://news.yahoo.co...-213527063.html

This reminds me of a story about Lincoln. One of his aides John Nicolay wrote in this journal that Lincoln had mentioned on the previous day that he had lost 10 pounds during the course of the Civil War.

Nicolay's response, as recorded in his journal? "Important, if true."**

Likewise with the glowing reports that come in the wake of (some, mind you) NDE's. :laugh:

[**The irony here, of course, is that the Nicolay's journal entry is pretty decent proof that Lincoln was sometimes full of bullshit.]

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Tony, the difference is that I believe we can be aware of something without being conscious of it. Consciousness is a combination of awareness and volition (which necessitates memory/self-awareness).

We can go through experiences without noticing every (or sometimes any) part of them; this doesn't mean we were unaware at the time, but that we weren't exercising our consciousness.

Awareness is the content, but we choose which of that content to focus on (bring into consciousness).

Broadly, I've no quibble with this. Except you've distinguished awareness from consciousness, when

it seems to me that they are almost completely indistinguishable (in Objectivism, at least.)

If you used 'action consciousness' - and 'content consciousness', it would be clearer.

Sure, I agree we take in sensory data constantly, of which 90+% possibly, we are unaware - or

do not choose to focus on. This must end up as content in the sub-consciousness, though, not so?

Which makes checking and reviewing our data banks (with introspection, "inward-directed cognition") important.

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I don't have a complete argument for you yet, but do you not think that awareness without memory is possible?

This would mean that every moment would be an entirely fresh experience... In this state there would be no choice to make, but it does not mean that you would not be having an experience.

At the most basic levels of life I believe this is how it works: experience without memory; awareness without consciousness.

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Calling somethig "fully volitional" would mean that it depends 100 % on volition. But is making abstractions from abstractions volition-dependent? Isn't a capacity that develops in step with the maturation of the complex human brain?

While there do exist individuals who cannot take these next steps of making abstractions from abstractions (due to a cerebral dysfunction), I can't think of a so-called "anti-conceptual mentality" who 'fully volitionally chooses' not to take those next steps.

The maturation of the brain you speak of, brings evrything into the realm of materialism,

don't you think? Biological growth, the 'meat' of the brain. But what about

the networks - the 'circuitry' of the brain? How much is automatically built?

The 'material' aspect is that without matter, no brain function can exist at all. Even the the most intricate neural networks can only exist with a material substrate.

But I'm a little ambivalent on "ANTI-conceptual mentality". There could exist people who aren't

aware of their self-responsibility to conceptualize - if you don't know the choice,

how do you make a choice? - so I lean to "a-conceptual mentality" or somesuch.

(Although anti-conceptualists do also exist: those who know, but deny or 'evade' knowing.)

I often have the feeling that Rand would have been a good deal easier to understand is she had not written ITOE ...

I see Rand primarily as an individual whose strong moral and political convictions manifested themselves in her novels.

Whereas in reading ITOE, I've always had the feeling that, in her effort to provide an epistemological foundation to her philosophy, she somehow got 'stuck', half along the way, in her theory of concepts and could not progress further. That's why one can get the impression that her theory of concepts is strangely unconnected to the rest of her philosophy.

For in large parts, Rand's theory of concepts is about mastering one's native language to a point of being able to correctly apply lexical classes and subclasses (called 'hypernyms' and 'hyponyms' in linguistics).

She correctly points out that perception preceeds conceptualization, but an individual's ability (at a certain stage in his/her intellectual development) to identify e. g. a 'chair' as belonging to the broader category 'furniture' requires no volitional mental effort.

All languages have categories and subcategories, but the categories themselves can vary a good deal. In German for example, we don't have the richness of specific terms refering to different types of movement which the English language has.

There exists e. g. no specific term in German for the Engish verb "to nudge". Instead this movement is described as 'pushing with the elbow'; in English, 'nudge' belongs to a subclass, in German there exists no analogous term in a subclass.

Rand's theory of concepts applied to the learning of a foreign language: one must learn how the non-native languages categorizes its terms into classes and subclasses.

But again, what is so revoutionary about all this? What is (aside from her attack on subjectivism) the gist of Rand's 'philosophical message' in ITOE?

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I don't have a complete argument for you yet, but do you not think that awareness without memory is possible?

This would mean that every moment would be an entirely fresh experience... In this state there would be no choice to make, but it does not mean that you would not be having an experience.

At the most basic levels of life I believe this is how it works: experience without memory; awareness without consciousness.

Interesting - like that book title, "The Power of Now" - but how desirable (or possible) would such a state be? "Awareness without consciousness" implies an empty mind. All action, but no content. It would require knowledge without context.

What is desirable is achieving that state by bringing full focus to bear on something in reality (as though you'd never seen it before). That's an ongoing problem we have with the complacency of habitual, defocused thought. Definitely, each experience should be one of seeing everything anew - but not at the cost of 'content consciousness'. It's about one's judgment, ultimately: We don't choose - normally - to focus on HOW we drive a car (i.e its mechanical controls) which would involve accessing our 'content' of consciousness inappropriately - but choose instead to pay attention to other more important aspects of what we're doing: position on the road, speed, and so on.

(Certainly there is an automated element of consciousness that is beneficial.)

One can isolate 'action consciousness' from 'content consciousness' ("memory", by your terms)

but only for the purpose of examination. In reality they inter-act continually, "feeding" one another,

and cannot be separated, as I see it. You act according to what you know, and by the nature of your principles and values and virtues; and you form and confirm these concepts of what you know, by action (observation, experience and volitional cognition).

Reiterating the obvious, which can't be reiterated enough - it is critical, as much as is possible and what we're doing here,

to be able to remove any perception of *mystery* from consciousness - and I include the subconscious - through objective identification. Not doing so, is to exist at the mercy of something unfathomable and unpredictable.

Although (as axiomatic) consciousness is unprovable, we can know it by what it ACHIEVES.

'Content of consciousness' at its highest level of abstractions, is no less than man's soul.

It's the sum total of what he knows - and what he IS.

One could faithfully paraphrase Rand's well known quote this way:-

"Man is a being of self-made consciousness."

Two writers (non-Objectivist) put it similarly and more poetically:

"The vision that you glorify in your mind,

the ideal that you enthrone in your heart -

this you will build your life by,

and this you will become."[James Allen]

"Every person is the creation of himself, the image of his own thinking and

believing. As individuals think and believe so they are."[CM Bristol]

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