Thursday, 25 March 2021

Does the key to consciousness lie within our brains?

I've just read the following article:

Does the key to consciousness lie within our brains?

Under the main title the article says:

Much recent research supports the view that science can describe consciousness.

Then the recent research is necessarily flawed. Science describes the material world, by which I mean the quantifiable/measurable aspects of reality.  Our thoughts, emotions, perceptions, although having quantifiable aspects, are not exhausted by their quantifiable aspects e.g. the patch of green I see may be of a certain size and shape and shade and reflect a certain wavelength of light, but the greenness itself resides outside the ambit of science.   This blog post by me is of relevance. 

Article says:

The study of consciousness remained solidly in the philosophical realm up to recent times as science had no way to measure it. That changed in the early 2000s with the arrival of brain scanning machines such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

The Brain scanning machines scan the brain, not consciousness.

Article says:

It is a common belief that humans are exceptional and superior to other animals, because we are conscious and self-aware.

It is only a few scientists and other mavericks that would deny that all non-human animals lack consciousness.  Self-awareness?  I always have regarded this as meaning to be aware that one is a self i.e a distinct entity that endures through time.  In which case, I would imagine most non-human animals lack it, but certainly not all.

Article says: 

Scientists remain unsure why consciousness first evolved, or what survival advantage it gave us and other animals.

Scientists hold the view that consciousness per se has no causal efficacy.  If they are correct, then it could not evolve, nor convey any survival advantage. 

Article says:

Higher consciousness took millions of years to evolve, so scientists believe it gave our human ancestors a big survival advantage.

Then they are being inconsistent.  If consciousness gives humans a big survival advantage then necessarily it must be causally efficacious.

Article says: 

There are others, such as Daniel Dennett, professor of philosophy at Tufts University who counter that since consciousness is the by-product of a working brain, that it is well within the grasp of science and scientists to study, describe and understand it. 

Let's leave aside how Dennett and others know that consciousness is a by-product of the brain.  Even assuming this, how does it follow that science is able to study it?  As I said at the beginning, it can't.  Even if consciousness is somehow produced by the brain it nevertheless resides outside the ambit of science.

Article says:

There has been much research over the past few decades that supports the view that science can describe consciousness. For example, neuroscientists know that looking at certain colours, such as red, influences brain activity, which can be read in a scanner. 

That's not science describing consciousness unless one identifies the experience of seeing red with characteristic brain activity.  So, here this is much more than the claim that brain activity somehow elicits consciousness, rather it would have to be the very same thing as consciousness.  But, it's not, and it's not for the simple reason that brain activity is exhausted by all possible measurements we can make of it.  In other words, its reality is cashed out in terms of all its physical properties.  Consciousness, on the other hand, such as the experience of redness, has no physical or measurable properties.


  1. You might want to check out my radical panpsychism subreddit:

  2. I recently skimmed through a long paper detailing a case for objective survival by Douglas.M.stokes it is a bit of an old paper 2006 but i still think it is worth reading here's the link

    1. Looking at Chapter 6: "Death and the Mind"

      Stokes says:

      ||"the findings of neuroscientific research in the past half-century have established an intimate dependence of the personality, including one’s memories, thoughts and emotions, on the physical state of the brain. This body of research makes the survival of the personality of the death and dissolution of the brain a much more improbable prospect that it was in the days of the early physical researchers such as Frederic W. H. Myers and William James".||

      I'm left mystified as to why everyone appears to think this. As I have pointed out in a few places on my blog, one's eyesight is intimately dependent on the state of the lenses in a pair of eyeglasses one is wearing. But whipping them off restores one's eyesight to what it originally was.

      Moreover, just as there is no conceivable mechanism whereby eyeglasses could *create* our vision (rather than merely alter it), likewise for the brain and the creation of consciousness. It's just that in the latter case, because the brain is vastly more complex than lenses, it is not so apparent that it would be just as miraculous.

      So what gives here? Why is it so obvious in the case of the brain-mind relationship that the former creates the latter? They never say, or at least they appear to think that merely listing the various ways the mind is damaged by a dysfunctional brain is sufficient evidence in and of itself. And this includes even those academics sympathetic to an afterlife.

      And it's not even true that what survives would have to be shorn of all one's personality. I could wear a pair of eyeglasses that have just normal glass within the frame so my eyesight is just the same as my unaided vision. But, of course, as the glass acquires dirt etc then my vision will deteriorate. But it sill remains the case that I could whip off my eyeglasses and my vision would be the same as it always was.

      So it's of no avail to simply list the ways that the mind (bespectacled vision) is damaged by the brain, it needs to be shown that this would also impact one's essence, one's soul (unaided vision), too. But nobody ever even *attempts* to do this. They all appear to think it's axiomatic that a damaged mind entails a damaged soul.

  3. I think you are correct in your assessment but why does this view of the mind prevail even in a paper that argues for objective survival.

  4. This is from a comment on an article by Bernardo Kastrup titled why consciousness cannot have evolved that I think you might find interesting. "Our capacity for abstraction is the single most salient feature distinguishing us from all other organic life on Earth. Almost every "human trait" is not uniquely human, but is evidenced elsewhere. Even the *ability* (vs. capacity) for abstraction is: there is a preponderance of exemplary evidence of other animals exhibiting some amount of abstraction - repurposing objects in their environment (tool use), and even some rudimentary theory of mind (some ability to understand another's mental state). It may be helpful here to define "abstraction" as formulation of a mental model outside of the immediate context in reality. It is not the ability for abstraction which makes us uniquely human, but our capacity for it - our ability to form mental models of our environment, each other, and ourselves, in past, present, and future.

    It is important to draw a distinction between ability or capacity for abstraction, and "consciousness". In fact I argue they are causally related: consciousness is a *by-product* of our capacity for mental modeling (i.e. abstraction). I think there is a critical level of recursion in that modeling capacity that spontaneously gives rise to consciousness, and that it happens when the mental modeling loops back onto itself - at that point, self-awareness emerges ("I think, therefore I am.") The distinction (between consciousness and capacity for abstraction) is important because it means that consciousness in and of itself need not be evolutionarily favored. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't (I can't think of any particular reasons that it should be). However, evolutionary theory allows for morphological features that do not, on their own, seem to confer evolutionary advantage - and many such seemingly paradoxical by-products can be found in nature - take extreme sexual dimorphism as just one example. What matters in the long-term is that over-all fitness is improved, and sometimes a feature can confer higher overall fitness (and therefore be selected for) even if a side-effect may seem deleterious when viewed on its own (of course, the case is even stronger when the side-effect is neutral). And the capacity for abstraction is clearly favorable.

    If one accepts my arguments above, there's really no paradox. Furthermore, there are a couple interesting suppositions that potentially follow: 1) some animals may indeed have some level of consciousness (if their capacity for abstraction hits that threshold), and 2) it's entirely conceivable that machines could achieve self-awareness, if outfitted with the appropriate modeling capacity.

    I think the arguments about the subjective nature of qualia are nothing but a distraction. Qualia are necessarily subjective because they are experientially path-dependent. That is to say, our individual qualia are the result of the unique experiences, and corresponding associations that our brain makes between them, that accumulate over our life's path. To explain another poster's rhetorical example: take a guy who's eaten no cheese except Wisconsin Cheddar his whole life and feed him Gorgonzola, and he might, at first try, dispute that Gorgonzola is in fact cheese. There is no essential "cheesyness", except that our qualia tells us so. For a humorous real-life example, I have a friend who hates fish, and can't/won't eat any fish with the single exception of salmon, which he inexplicably likes. He jokingly claims that salmon is not fish - because if it were, he wouldn't like it. For him, there is some unenjoyable "fishyness" qualia evoked by all fish except salmon.

    Consciousness is not our qualia, but rather both are the result of our mental modeling capacity.

    In summary, I do not think the "problem of consciousness" is Hard - just difficult." What are your thoughts on this sorry if this is too long of a comment

  5. ||consciousness is a *by-product* of our capacity for mental modeling (i.e. abstraction).||

    Obviously one cannot abstract or mentally model anything without being conscious in the first place. So this puts the cart before the horse.

    //I think there is a critical level of recursion in that modeling capacity that spontaneously gives rise to consciousness, and that it happens when the mental modeling loops back onto itself - at that point, self-awareness emerges ("I think, therefore I am.")//

    Even leaving aside my previous point, the author fails to explain how these purely material processes can somehow give rise to consciousness. Using the word "spontaneously" is not helpful. Indeed, the author is presupposing materialism, so this cannot in any shape of from be an argument for materialism, a position I regard as simply being incompatible with consciousness. Of course, if one presupposes materialism, then evolution hasn't a problem accounting for "consciousness". Anyway, he's begging the question as all materialists seem to do.

  6. The only suggested input to the mind is the brain. You have not suggested any other possible input. The development of conscious life on Earth from bacteria and the development of a foetus from sperm and egg both suggest that the only input to consciousness is the physical brain.
    Neuroscience has not completely analysed the brain by any means, and it does not claim to have a satisfactory explanation of consciousness. Claims that neuroscience can *never* explain consciousness, though, are completely without foundation. How could one know that unless one had an explanation of consciousness which involves more than the brain, which you don't?

    Claiming neuroscience will fail to explain consciousness is baseless.
    You have provided no evidence of any input to the mind other than the physical brain.

    You are just churning out baseless wishful thinking. You are claiming neuroscience can never explain consciousness but provide not a single convincing reason.

  7. I've explained numerous times why science (at least as currently conceived) cannot explain consciousness. Read my other blog posts eg It's because the fundamental sciences deal with the measurable/quantitative only.

    I don't know who you are (my stalker?) but I require sensible contributions in the comments to my posts. If you have any arguments then provide them. But I'm not interested in the usual tactic by materialists of simply making unsubstantiated assertions and ignoring my reasoning.

    1. materialists are on this bs since the victorian days of phrenology
      the "spooky stuff", "elan vital" and "woo" accusations are common since the 60's
      but when in this egoical rush for being the "discoverer" of the "real pineal gland" finds starts getting muddled you start to hear shit like "perception is allucination", "brain allucinates the world", "intentionality is an illusion", "we are robots/computer/zombies", "mechanical psychological reactions" "phenomenal consciousness is an illusion" and other shit like that
      I dont believe in reincarnation and that stuff, but you dont need to be retarded and surrender your cognitive faculties "cuz neurobehaviorist phil man said so" and "muh science"

  8. it's inconceivable why behaviorism, functionalism and other sorts of mindless cartesian mechanicism are so popular in so called cognitive "science".
    The only answers that the cultists of The Church of Res Extensa give are accusations of "woo", spooky stuff and being anti-science bigots (just look at the responses made to naturalists like Searle and Chalmers at their prime). This lunacy of making transcendental questions into empirical ones and "poo poo nae nae" at any nonsense they say and "look at the data" to justify the bullshit is ridiculous. Really recommend you the writings of Raymond Tallis


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