Consciousness - the elephant in the room

What is a human being? What is life? Can science give us reliable answers to such questions? The electricity of life. The meaning of human consciousness. Are we alone? Are the traditional contests between science and religion still relevant? Does the word "spirit" still hold meaning today?

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Consciousness - the elephant in the room

Unread postby Scott MC » Fri Oct 07, 2011 3:38 pm

Consciousness is, in at least one sense, what we are.

As such, the absence of anything even close to a working definition for it should be a bit more of a cause for concern in scientific circles than it seems to be at present.
99.999+% of everything can't be that simple, can it?
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Re: Consciousness - the elephant in the room

Unread postby mathew » Fri Oct 07, 2011 9:09 pm

Andrew Johnson Has put together one heck of a presentation on this topic.

"Sometimes, you have to go into into the dark in order to see the light" -Gary Schwartz


http://www.checktheevidence.co.uk/cms/i ... &Itemid=76
The wind.. in its greatest power, whirls. -Black Elk
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Re: Consciousness - the elephant in the room

Unread postby tayga » Sat Oct 08, 2011 12:11 am

Scott MC wrote:Consciousness is, in at least one sense, what we are.

As such, the absence of anything even close to a working definition for it should be a bit more of a cause for concern in scientific circles than it seems to be at present.


File it with 'mass', 'charge' and 'energy' then. It shares the same vagueness of definition which is probably connected to the the fact that it is similarly poorly understood.

I've read some interesting stuff on consciousness. It's tough going but 'Exploring Consciousness' by Rita Carter was a good summary of the state of the art and the range of viewpoints that exist in this field of study.
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It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong.

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Normal science does not aim at novelties of fact or theory and, when successful, finds none.
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Re: Consciousness - the elephant in the room

Unread postby Scott MC » Wed Oct 19, 2011 2:32 pm

But consciousness is what we are.

Shouldn't that logically be a top priority for research?
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Re: Consciousness - the elephant in the room

Unread postby tayga » Thu Oct 20, 2011 3:40 pm

Scott MC wrote:But consciousness is what we are.


Is it?

At the beginning of Julian Jaynes' 'The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind', he demonstrates a number of things that consciousness ISN'T. You'd be surprised.
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It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong.

- Richard P. Feynman

Normal science does not aim at novelties of fact or theory and, when successful, finds none.
- Thomas Kuhn
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Re: Consciousness - the elephant in the room

Unread postby nick c » Thu Oct 20, 2011 6:22 pm

tayga wrote:At the beginning of Julian Jaynes' 'The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind', he demonstrates a number of things that consciousness ISN'T. You'd be surprised.
The first section (of three) is must reading for anyone who wants to discuss consciousness. Jaynes' analysis is an excellent effort at pinning down exactly what is this thing we call consciousness, and as you point out, what it is not. He goes through a variety of misconceptions, showing that consciousness is not intelligence, not memory, not thinking, not learning...

Much of the time during our waking hours we are not conscious, indeed consciousness sometimes is a hindrance. For example, try to consciously supervise the tying of your shoes, it will be a slow and tedious process. It is best done automatically. Consciousness performs the function of authorizing you to tie your shoes, if you do not do it automatically, your consciousness will authorize you to practice more and learn the process until you can do it automatically (unconsciously).
Basketball players will use the expression "he was unconscious" when a player gets hot and can't miss his shots. That is exactly the case, the more he thinks of (is conscious of) the process of shooting a basketball the harder it gets and his shooting percentage goes down. Consciousness can authorize the basketball player to practice his shot so that he can perform it automatically (unconsciously) during a game.
Driving a car is mostly an unconcious process. Consciousness might direct us to go in a certain direction, it may alert us to possible hazards and order us to be more careful... or it may just be absorbed into what we are listening to on the radio, content to leave the operation of the vehicle to an unconscious mentality.
Jaynes asks us to imagine that we are a flashlight in a dark room...
Julian Jaynes wrote:Consciousness is a much smaller part of out mental life than we are conscious of, because we cannot be conscious of what we are not conscious of. How simple that is to say; how difficult to appreciate! It is like asking a flashlight in a dark room to search around for something that does not have any light shining upon it. The flashlight, since there is light in whatever direction it turns, would have to conclude that there is light everywhere. And so consciousness can seem to pervade all mentality when it actually does not.


Consciousness is authorization, it is the "captain" of the ship. But where did it come from and why do we have it?

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Re: Consciousness - the elephant in the room

Unread postby Scott MC » Thu Oct 20, 2011 7:48 pm

Jaynes' valiant attempt to describe consciousness never comes close to any kind of intelligible definition.

There are semantic difficulties with English (the whole 'being unconscious' thing), and there are obviously some very fertile brains on it, but really, when you simply look for conclusions, there are none - not even a working hypothesis. :o

I'm not very well read at all in the field yet, but has any researcher made a link between consciousness and life?
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Re: Consciousness - the elephant in the room

Unread postby tayga » Fri Oct 21, 2011 1:15 pm

Scott MC wrote:has any researcher made a link between consciousness and life?


Well, there's another tough subject :D

What do you mean by life?
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It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong.

- Richard P. Feynman

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- Thomas Kuhn
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Re: Consciousness - the elephant in the room

Unread postby nick c » Fri Oct 21, 2011 6:43 pm

Scott MC wrote:Jaynes' valiant attempt to describe consciousness never comes close to any kind of intelligible definition.
On the contrary. Jaynes approaches the subject in a scientific manner, he defines consciousness in the first section of the book. The problem with most discussions of consciousness is that everyone has a different idea of what it is. Jaynes starts out by establishing a working definition; as the reader progresses with the book, he knows precisely what Jaynes means when he uses the word "conscious." Whether the reader agrees or not with his conclusions, the meaning of the word is understood.

Scott MC wrote:There are semantic difficulties with English (the whole 'being unconscious' thing), and there are obviously some very fertile brains on it, but really, when you simply look for conclusions, there are none - not even a working hypothesis.
Jaynes explains how consciousness arises from language. That is the cultural connection, conciousness is locked into a social context. Our consciousness arises from our use of language, specifically the use of metaphors and analogs.

Scott MC wrote:I'm not very well read at all in the field yet, but has any researcher made a link between consciousness and life?
Recommended: The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind, by Julian Jaynes
As far as I know there has never been a case of consciousness (as defined by Jaynes) without a living human body, yet it is possible to have a living human body without consciousness. Jaynes proposes that there were entire civilizations of humans in the past that did not possess consciousness.
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Re: Consciousness - the elephant in the room

Unread postby Scott MC » Fri Oct 21, 2011 10:18 pm

nick c wrote: Jaynes proposes that there were entire civilizations of humans in the past that did not possess consciousness.


I bet that's popular. But seriously.

The whole Sanskrit literature revolves around the subject of consciousness. Yoga? Meditation? Ayurveda? Perhaps it was after Mr Jaynes' time that these things became known about in the US and elsewhere.

nick c wrote:Jaynes explains how consciousness arises from language.


Mr Jaynes' approach assumes that consciousness 'arises'. But until we can ascertain the point and moment it does so, what to speak of knowing its nature and characteristics, that idea too should be recognised as entirely unsubstantiated.

@Tayga - re: life - Isn't it interesting that because these things - life & consciousness - are outside the scope of what science can readily test, it sets them aside and just careens around getting involved in solving a myriad of miniscule and perplexing problems, forgetting or oblivious to some very important gaps in human knowledge.

:oops:
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Re: Consciousness - the elephant in the room

Unread postby GaryN » Fri Oct 21, 2011 11:15 pm

Thanks for the link to Jaynes, Nick. I'll have to try and read that one, as I am in
agreement that language is the key.
nick c wrote:
Jaynes proposes that there were entire civilizations of humans in the past that did not possess consciousness.

I'd go with that too. It fits with the Adam and Eve thing, "they were naked and knew it not".
Animals have no guilt about their nakedness. Eating from the 'tree' awoke them to their
individuality.
BTW, there is also another thread on the subject:
http://www.thunderbolts.info/forum/phpB ... f=9&t=3569
In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete. -Buckminster Fuller
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Re: Consciousness - the elephant in the room

Unread postby nick c » Sat Oct 22, 2011 7:06 am

John MC wrote:But seriously.

The whole Sanskrit literature revolves around the subject of consciousness. Yoga? Meditation? Ayurveda? Perhaps it was after Mr Jaynes' time that these things became known about in the US and elsewhere.

Yes, Sanskrit literature would be well into the era of consciousness. Obviously, consciousness would be a requirement for anyone who brings up the subject of "consciousness."

John MT wrote:Mr Jaynes' approach assumes that consciousness 'arises'. But until we can ascertain the point and moment it does so, what to speak of knowing its nature and characteristics, that idea too should be recognised as entirely unsubstantiated.

But that is exactly what Jaynes does. After reading the book, there will be no doubt in the readers mind as to what constitutes "consciousness," whether or not you agree with the author's conclusions.
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Re: Consciousness - the elephant in the room

Unread postby nick c » Sat Oct 22, 2011 7:17 am

hi GaryN,
Yes, the book is a good read. I am sure that you would enjoy it.
http://www.julianjaynes.org/bicameralmind.php

I'd go with that too. It fits with the Adam and Eve thing, "they were naked and knew it not".
Animals have no guilt about their nakedness. Eating from the 'tree' awoke them to their
individuality.
Exactly. I do not remember any discussion, by Jaynes, of Adam and Eve. But I am sure that he would agree that it is an allusion made by conscious man, to the time when humans were bicameral, ie without consciousness.
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Re: Consciousness - the elephant in the room

Unread postby Scott MC » Sat Oct 22, 2011 8:15 pm

To me there looks to be a very, very thin evidential basis for the "bi-cameral" revolution. Wafer thin. I don't accept Mr Jaynes as an authority on consciousness, despite his book. A global cultural explosion in material development doesn't equal the emergence of "that which is introspectable."

Imho, it's just Darwinian/New Age bunkum - part of the same categoric positive feedback loop that pervades practically all the sciences, but applied anthropologically (which imho again, is similar to 'derivatives' in economics - totally batshit freaking crazy, because for all the apparent 'credentials' it has frighteningly little relevance to anything resembling actual observations due to its fixation with minutae - Mr Jaynes' theory doesn't even have credentials).

It's also very polluting semantically - adding to the utter confusion re: consciousness.

My point is, that the phrase "that which is introspectable" begs the question, 'why do we know practically nothing about 'that which is introspectable', despite Mr Jaynes' book?

And how high is his theory on the scale of introspectability, from, say ...
1. Why do I suffer? or How can I be happy?
to
10. ?

Does Mr Jaynes describe pranayama or yoga at all?
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Re: Consciousness - the elephant in the room

Unread postby nick c » Sun Oct 23, 2011 9:48 am

John MT,
I cannot make much sense of your post, it seems to be emotionally charged!
It certainly has some misconceptions about Jaynes.
I don't accept Mr Jaynes as an authority on consciousness, despite his book.
[...]
Mr Jaynes' theory doesn't even have credentials
This is an opinion, to which you are entitled. What is "authority" and what are you looking for to qualify as an "authority"?
Actually, if one wishes to make an appeal to authority...which I don't, then Dr. Jaynes would qualify with flying colors. Check out his bio:
Julian Jaynes was born on West Newton, Massachusetts. He did his undergraduate work at Harvard and McGill and then went on to receive both his master's and doctoral degrees in Psychology from Yale. Jaynes was a popular teacher and he lectured in the psychology department at Princeton University from 1966 to 1990. He also served as Visiting Lecturer or Scholar in Residence in departments of philosophy, English, and archeology and in numerous medical schools. Julian Jaynes was an associate editor of the internationally renowned journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences and on the editorial board of the Journal of Mind and Behavior.
http://radio-weblogs.com/0107127/storie ... Meraz.html
What he wrote impresses me, not so much his credentials.

Imho, it's just Darwinian/New Age bunkum
Again, you are entitled to an opinion. But to classify Jaynes' theory as New Age makes no sense. I have never seen any New Age literature refer to Jaynes or promote his theory? but then I really don't read too much of that. To dismiss it as "New Age bunkum" seems like a convenient method of avoiding having to deal with the issues.
Darwin was the quintessential gradualist, Jaynes proposed a sudden change in human mentality at a specific point in human history. No gradual evolution was involved, according to Jaynes consciousness arose as an adaptation to an unspecified catastrophic change in the environment. Furthermore consciousness did not evolve in incremental or gradual steps. It is either there or it is not. Your statement equating Jaynes with Darwinism has no basis whatsoever.

It's also very polluting semantically - adding to the utter confusion re: consciousness.

My point is, that the phrase "that which is introspectable" begs the question, 'why do we know practically nothing about 'that which is introspectable', despite Mr Jaynes' book?

And how high is his theory on the scale of introspectability, from, say ...
1. Why do I suffer? or How can I be happy?
to
10. ?

Does Mr Jaynes describe pranayama or yoga at all?
Jaynes use of the word 'introspection' is not at all vague. It is the ability to examine one's own thoughts, experience, feelings, etc. Jaynes goes on to explain how language creates a mental structure that allows for this introspection. The subject which is being introspected upon is the discretion of the person doing the introspecting, it may be profound or mundane. (I suspect from what you wrote above, that you are a proponent of the premise that consciousness is an innate property of all life, that it has levels. While I would disagree, I certainly can understand your position. Can you understand mine?)
Apparently you are searching for something different. Perhaps Jaynes' description of consciousness is to narrow for you.

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