Tuesday, February 06, 2007

On Consciousness 3

Naive person that I am, I thought when I took up this idea of “consciousness” that it would be a relatively easy path to walk using my own experiences as a guide.

After sitting down and digesting TF’s thoughts on the subject, based upon his faith as they are, I came to the sad realisation that I had in fact bitten off far more than I have the mental capacity to chew.

What a day or so of intense reading has brought to me is a whole series of ideas, ranging from Godel’s Theorem to the “colour experiment” I worked through in Part 2 to musings upon the possibilities of “consciousness” in other animals. There are innumerable papers ranging from para-psychology through the physical sciences to the outright fruitcake. There are ideas that range in their supportability from the strangely curious to the totally wierd.

Out of this experience I have a strong sense now of three fundamentals –

The first is the obvious. The connect between “consciousness” and scientific explanation is no closer today than it was fifty years ago, or five hundred years ago, or will probably be in another 50 years’ time.

The second, parallel, is that every attempt to explain “consciousness” has to fail because the language and concepts do not exist beyond the limits of personal experience. That, because of the very nature of the “Hard Problem” means that every attempted explanation has to fail. Even when the idea creates the language and concept requirements (as a free-mind thought problem) it is still going to fail (it is at that point the Godel enters the mind even though his Theorem was limited to the philosophy of mathematics and number.

The third is the realisation that any explanation I might develop (quite apart from any learned scientific discovery) can always be over-ridden with the metaphysical “God Influence” and the “Soul” – as evidenced by TF’s reply referred to in the Update on “Consciousness 2”.

I had in mind to try and draw a parallel between the (comparatively) orderly brainwave patterns of a conscious (or equally a sleeping) person with the chaotic patterns of an epileptic episode. I was a part way through writing that version when it occurred to me that I was in fact not going to be pointing at the solution of the Hard Question, but merely an illustration (another of very many) of the Hard Problem itself.

Godel is a large part of that – “In any formal system of number, there are propositions that can not be decided”. It is a small change from that idea to “In any formal explanation of consciousness, there are oppositions that can not be resolved.” Yes, not the same idea re-wrapped I agree. I was not trying to create a parallel between the two. This is where Pinker steps in with his “Some people may see it as an opening to sneak the soul back in, but this just relabels the mystery of "consciousness" as the mystery of "the soul"--a word game that provides no insight.”

I also had thoughts of passing through the next Pinker door – into the realms of morality deriving from consciousness rather than externally ordained. Don’t worry folks, I can read the replies forming in quite a few passing minds without having written another word. Without the proof of “independent consciousness” (my terminology), the certainty of a related “technology”, there is no way that there will be any agreement on that next step.

So that leaves only faith, or belief, or whatever other vague English terminology one wishes to apply.

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