Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Does Consciousness Exist?

(Now with Part 2.)

Life, for instance, does not exist. I can define it; everything that lives can be assigned a goal. At the very least, it strives to stay alive.

Nevertheless, it does not really exist. There's no physical difference between 'living' matter and 'dead' matter, aside from this abstract, 'goals.'

Apparently, these logical abstracts are somehow separate from physics, which is something interesting I have to think about. They are completely consistent with physics, and objective - aliens can easily come up with the same concepts, life and goal, and discover the logical relationship between them. But, they are clearly separate from physics.

Anyway, I similarly seem to have bowls, one of which I'm currently eating out of. But a bowl is an arbitrary designation - it's really just an arrangement of leptons and quarks. The attachment between 'bowl' particles just happens to be much stronger than with 'non-bowl' particles. If I routinely applied bullet like pressures, I would not consider my bowl to be solid. It's a quantitative difference, not a qualitative one - I cannot test a sample and decide it came from a bowl, except by first making an arbitrary definition of bowl. By contrast, I can always tell if something is hot or cold, what kind of atoms it's made of, what the forces between them are, and so on. Aliens cannot rationally disagree with me, while there are many situations under which they would disagree about the bowl-ness of my bowl.

The same thing happens temporally - if a moment to me were millions of years, I would see the bowl decaying rapidly.

In other words, the designation 'solid bowl' happens to work on this particular object due to the myriad details of the particular situation - it is emergent.

On the opposite end, I might be very small, light, and fast. Liquid surfaces would seem very solid to me, and I would be able to shape them like (very hard) snow, because they wouldn't fall fast enough for me to care.


Most educated people believe that consciousness is the same way - it doesn't actually exist, as such. It is 'emergent' just like living things and solid bowls.

This would mean that, for instance, suffering is arbitrary, just like the bowl is. It would be an accident of details.

This view is the only known fatal attack on my theory of consciousness. If indeed consciousness were not real, its existence hardly needs to be explained. Alternatively, you could say that since it doesn't exist, the question of causality and physics is quite irrelevant.

However. The idea that consciousness isn't real is clearly incoherent, though I cannot yet say why. Aliens cannot refute the idea that you suffer. There's no internal structure to reduce suffering to, like there is with life and bowls. Suffering exists by the simple fact that we suffer.

I simply cannot yet prove this.

15 comments:

Peter said...

There's no physical difference between 'living' matter and 'dead' matter, aside from this abstract, 'goals.'

All you've proved is that life is made up of atoms and molecules, not that it doesn't exist.

By the same reasoning and definitions, there is also no physical difference between a bound electron and an unbound electron. They're both "electrons" - same weight, same charge, same spin, etc. So "bound electrons" don't exist.

Well, unless you're going to examine these abstract things called "vectors" or "amplitude configuration" (QM). Then you can tell the difference.

The idea that consciousness isn't real is clearly incoherent, though I cannot yet say why.

One has to be conscious in order to even consider whether consciousness is real. Descarte is known for having eloquently shown this - "I think, therefore I am." Consciousness has a first person ontology, which cannot be reduced away - you cannot show that it is an illusion, etc.

Unless I've totally missed the question you're really trying to answer...

Alrenous said...

All you've proved is that life is made up of atoms and molecules, not that it doesn't exist.

Right, I've come to understand that this isn't clear.

Life is not a necessary concept to describe the entity made up of atoms.

Much like unicorns are unnecessary to describe the entity, (or anything) life does not exist.

By the same reasoning and definitions, there is also no physical difference between a bound electron and an unbound electron.

Indeed, the concept 'bound' is also unnecessary to describe the electron.

One has to be conscious in order to even consider whether consciousness is real.

Consider this. Assume that consciousness does not exist.

Since it doesn't exist, we didn't consider the concept through it, nor did we gather the supporting evidence through it.

Could we still consider and observe? Can a computer compute and take input data?

O.o said...

"Consider this. Assume that consciousness does not exist.

Since it doesn't exist, we didn't consider the concept through it, nor did we gather the supporting evidence through it."



(A) Consciousness does not exist.
(B) If consciousness does not exist, then we cannot have considered that consciousness does not exist consciously, or else it would exist.

(C) But we did consider that consciousness does not exist consciously.
Therefore (D) Consciousness does exist.

This is why your argument, as formulated, is unsound. You've asserted (A) and (B), but the negation of (C) creates a contradiction. And since (C) leads to (D), you must accept (D) if you do not negate (C). But (A & D) cannot be true, so in doing that you also create a contradiction.

Any argument which negates the existence of consciousness cannot require the instantiation of such verbs as "assume" or "consider", because they make the entire argument reflexive.

Similarly, arguments which prove that logic doesn't exist cannot invoke logic in their proof.

Alrenous said...

(C)But we did consider that consciousness does not exist consciously.

Ah, but did we? What if we have dreamed up 'consciousness' just as we have dreamed up gods?

Because we can't precisely define consciousness, I can't (yet) see any way out of this. Can you be fooled into thinking you are conscious? Well, define consciousness.

By contrast, can I program a computer to claim that it is conscious? Most certainly.

Unless there's a form of logic that cannot be represented mathematically, and therefore can't be programmed into a computer, there's no reason that 'assume' cannot be defined without reference to consciousness.

By the way, I greatly appreciate you using actual formal logic. It is my intention as well, although I don't know the actual names.

thoughtsatthemoment said...

I believe there a difference between intelligence and consciousness. The discussion so far has showed that intelligence exists, but not necessarily consciousness.

The question is exactly what consciousness is. If it means being awake and functioning, then it surely exists.

Beyond that, consciousness might indeed an illusion of the mind, which, in turn, could be an illusion of the brain. The brain has feelings about all the mental activities within it and the collection of the feelings make up a unique sense of consciousness.

It's interesting to note that there is surgery that cuts the cords between the two halves of the brain. And the patient will experience two separate consciousnesses. That's scary thing to think about, isn't it?

Alrenous said...

"The discussion so far"

There's a link to Part 2 at the top because I thought about it some more and figured it out. It's obvious you haven't read it. I don't mind, but it effectively means you're talking to yourself through my comment section, which seems a baroque way of going about it.

Nevertheless, I've decided to join in, and will now commence talking to myself in my own comment section.


'Intelligence' is the conflation of learning, reasoning, and creativity. None require subjective experience. Simple versions of all three have already been programmed up.


"The question is exactly what consciousness is."

It's a primitive. It cannot be defined in more fundamental terms.

"Beyond that, consciousness might indeed an illusion of the mind"

You're begging the question. Moreover, you're begging the wrong question. You cannot be deluded into thinking you're conscious - that would just make you conscious (of a delusion). Put another way, what is holding the illusion? Well, that's you.


Unless, of course, you thoughtsatthemoment are not, in fact, conscious. I can't see any reason to suppose that humans cannot be born with a blind mind's eye anymore than one cannot be born without regular eyes. But, I assure you, I am indeed conscious. There is a phenomenon to be explained.

"That's scary thing to think about, isn't it?"

So you admit to feeling fear but not to, you know, feeling fear?

I don't find it frightening. It just shows that the unity of consciousness is in part a physical phenomenon. So, on the contrary, I find it reassuring that consciousness does not appear to suspend physical causality entirely.

Indeed, is there any qualitative difference in the case of separation between two severed brain halves, and the case of separation between my brain and yours?

Anonymous said...

"The same thing happens temporally - if a moment to me were millions of years, I would see the bowl decaying rapidly.

In other words, the designation 'solid bowl' happens to work on this particular object due to the myriad details of the particular situation - it is emergent.

On the opposite end, I might be very small, light, and fast. Liquid surfaces would seem very solid to me, and I would be able to shape them like (very hard) snow, because they wouldn't fall fast enough for me to care."

All this means is that life and consciousness are relative. Everything is alive and conscious, just relative to itself.

Alrenous said...

And what does the relativity mean?

Anonymous said...

I believe that whoever says consciousness doesn’t exist probably is himself unconscious, and thus should be killed to save natural resources.

Alrenous said...

'Can be,' as 'should' implies that it is somehow necessary. Necessary for what?

The point of the exercise is that I'm a philosopher, and knowing I'm as prone to error as the guy who thinks consciousness doesn't exist, I have to find some way to prove it must exist.

I believe I have, though lacking a proper peer-review system, I'm forced to check myself for errors which is tedious and can only happen over large stretches of time.

Randy said...

Everything that exists is composed of matter which neither lives, nor does it die (matter is not alive) it simply changes form and interacts via the fundamental forces. Therefore, what is this thing we call “living matter”? It is my position that living matter (Life) does not truly exist. It is an illusion brought about by the complex interactions of ordinary matter. What we call life-forms are not actually “living” rather they are simply forms of matter interacting in a complex manner. The way I see it, billions of years ago, animate life did not mysteriously emerge from inanimate, non-living matter. That to me equates to a sort of alchemy. Those highly animated forms which we call Life arose because matter was already animated in some way by those fundamental forces. Over time and through the process of evolution, those forms changed and became even more animated. What I mean by “animated” is something which is interactive, dynamic, ever-changing, vibrant, excited, energetic…matter is all those things. There is really no such thing as inanimate, dead, static, unchanging, or inactive matter. I hold that matter is animated and at times can be highly animated, but it is never "alive". Some forms of matter are simply more animated or more interactive than other forms. We call those highly interactive, highly animated forms of matter Life.

What we call consciousness is really an illusion brought about by those complex interactions and our ability to interact with our environment. We “think” we are acting consciously when really all we are doing is interacting in a complex manner. Not everything interacts in as complex a manner as us humans, so there is no reason to believe that everything has the same level of feeling conscious or aware that we do. However, all matter interacts at some level and that is the most fundamental constituent to what we call consciousness…the ability to interact.

When it really boils down to it, all that exists is the different interactions, gravity, electromagnetic, strong nuclear and weak nuclear...the fundamental forces. Life and consciousness are just terms/labels we tag on to specific complex forms of those same interactions.

Alrenous said...

So I got this far:

"Everything that exists is composed of matter"

and then I knew you wouldn't say anything I haven't already heard. I also knew you weren't paying attention to what I'm saying, since you're begging the question so hard it broke.

I scanned another couple places and found you repeating me.

If you wanted to earn my contempt, congratulations, you have succeeded. If not, I'm willing to give you a second chance.

Randy said...

I was simply sharing my perspective. My OWN perspective. I have no idea who you are nor have I ever "repeated" you from any different sites. I don't even know what "other places" you're talking about. Can you name a few? Why would you show contempt for someone who shares possibly similar beliefs? Do have any idea who you're even talking to or do you just show contempt for anyone who you feel like?

Randy said...

I guess our ideas are not so similar, lol. Oh well.

Alrenous said...

It's common courtesy to read the post you're sharing your 'own' perspective on. Well, not that common, I guess.

Can I name a place where you've repeated me? Yes. How about six to eight inches upward?

You:
"It is my position that living matter (Life) does not truly exist. "

Me:
"Nevertheless, it does not really exist. There's no physical difference between 'living' matter and 'dead' matter, aside from this abstract, 'goals.'"
(Emphasis added.)
That, after calling you out for not reading my post, you did not read my post, confirms that my skill in quickly judging people has not lapsed.

Do I show contempt for everyone I feel like? Yes. As it turns out, 99.9etc% of the time, it's justified.

Quit embarrassing yourself; we will both profit.