Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
PeterJ

Can science explain consciousness? (split from can science explain w/o God)

Recommended Posts

It seems to me that evolution is off-topic, or not very important to the topic. More importantly and less contrversially science (the natural kind) cannot explain consciousness, and this alone means giving a negative answer to the OP's question. It hardly needs saying that it cannot explain metaphysics either. Horses for courses.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It seems to me that evolution is off-topic, or not very important to the topic. More importantly and less contrversially science (the natural kind) cannot explain consciousness, and this alone means giving a negative answer to the OP's question. It hardly needs saying that it cannot explain metaphysics either. Horses for courses.

This is a very bold claim and seems demonstrably untrue.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It seems to me that evolution is off-topic, or not very important to the topic. More importantly and less contrversially science (the natural kind) cannot explain consciousness, and this alone means giving a negative answer to the OP's question. It hardly needs saying that it cannot explain metaphysics either. Horses for courses.

 

Great answer, Peter! - and a humbling reminder too.

 

I've adverted to consciousness before in conversations similar to this one as a remedial to (what I see as) excessive scientistic exuberance in certain individuals. Often the point is missed and I receive a response along the lines of "Ah, yes, but we're working on that now."

 

By "working on that" evidently what my interlocutor has in mind is establishing correlations between neurobiological activity and mental states or events (thoughts, beliefs, desires, pains, tickles, itches, etc); important work no doubt, but misses entirely the explanation-defying nature of consciousness itself, and does nothing to address the hard problem of consciousness, to wit: how is it that a slab of senseless meat is able to produce the qualitative, subjective inner states that we're all so familiar with?

 

Thomas Huxley (yes, Darwin's bulldog) clearly understood the problem when he wrote:

 

"[H]ow it is that anything so remarkable as a state of consciousness comes about as a result of irritating nervous tissue, is just as unaccountable as the appearance of the Djinn when Aladdin rubbed his lamp."

 

(Erm, I think a Djinn is a genie :confused: )

 

My aforementioned interlocutors labor under the misapprehension that by establishing correlations (Under what circumstances will that Djinn appear? - Do we need to rub the lamp a certain way? Does it work every day or only on weekdays? etc) they thereby solve the riddle of consciousness. Their laudable efforts, however, leave entirely untouched the real explanation-begging question:

 

How did that darn thing get in there in the first place?

 

You're quite right, Peter. Science has no explanation for this. Science has not even a candidate or potential explanation for this. We haven't even the foggiest idea what form an explanation might take!

 

We live in exciting times. ;)

Edited by Reg Prescott

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If I remember correctly Hofstadter makes a fair argument for consciousness as an illusion, but my sister-in-law has my copy of Strange Loop right now.
Something to do with the way our brains represent other people in our "imagination" being turned back on itself to represent our "selves".

Where's Acme when i need him?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As for consciousness being an illusion, moth, this idea more or less went away with Behaviourism. It's the scientific equivalent of hiding under the bedclothes. And yet, mysticism does say that consciousness is largely a deception, and that even Mind has to be transcended for Reality.

 

 

I don't think that's quite right, Peter, strange though it may sound. The position known as "eliminative materialism" is alive and well, albeit as a minority view. Daniel Dennett, for one, advocates something like this; some have suggested his book "Consciousness Explained" might be more aptly renamed "Consciousness Explained Away".

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eliminative_materialism

Edited by Reg Prescott

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sillybilly - Yes, that's true. But at least articles on consciousness can get published these days, and it isn't just assumed that consciousness is a folk superstition. Elsewhere another researcher points out that if consciousness reduces to matter then the problem of consiousness is in fact the problem of matter. The problem of matter is no easier than the problem of consciousness.

 

'Consciousness Explained' gets my vote for the most idiotic book title ever. Damn good marketing though.

 

I think you;re right, we do live in exciting times. I suspect things are changing big time and that it won't be long before science begins to change its mind about religion. The philosophers need to change first for this to happen, but I think maybe they are going to change. Academic philosophy is coming in for a lot of criticism these days for making no progress in two millennia, and this may lead them to rethink their approach. I feel that people like Hawking and Tyson are making some good points. Fingers crossed.

Edited by PeterJ

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It seems to me that evolution is off-topic, or not very important to the topic. More importantly and less contrversially science (the natural kind) cannot explain consciousness, and this alone means giving a negative answer to the OP's question. It hardly needs saying that it cannot explain metaphysics either. Horses for courses.

You seem to have missed something.

At best, you must mean "science (the natural kind) cannot explain consciousness" yet.

And, as others have pointed out , you may be simply wrong about it anyway.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You seem to have missed something.

At best, you must mean "science (the natural kind) cannot explain consciousness" yet.

And, as others have pointed out , you may be simply wrong about it anyway.

 

I ommtted the 'yet' for a reason. This is not a phenomenon accessible to observation. The inability of science to deal with this phenonemon is surely rather obvious.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

I ommtted the 'yet' for a reason. This is not a phenomenon accessible to observation. The inability of science to deal with this phenonemon is surely rather obvious.

 

Interesting post again, Peter, but John Searle (one of my fave dudes), for one, would disagree, and suggest that the above -- often repeated -- misgiving over science's putative inability to deal with consciousness arises from a confusion between different meanings of the terms objective and subjective. The (supposedly confused) claim is that:

 

Science is objective; consciousness is subjective; thus there can be no science of consciousness

 

Science is indeed objective, but epistemically objective. That is, science attempts to get at the fact of the matter, and ideally all investigators will converge on the correct answer. One man's opinion is not as good as any other man's. That water boils at a certain temperature under whatever conditions is not a matter of taste like, say, the merits of red wine vs white wine.

 

Conversely, consciousness is indeed subjective, but ontologically subjective. That is, consciousness exists only insofar as it is experienced by a subject.

 

Your pain, for example, is an ontologically subjective state, hence accessible to only you, and not subject to third person scrutiny. But Searle would respond that there is an epistemically objective answer to questions regarding your pain. It is surely not a matter of opinion whether or not you are in pain; there is a (epistemically objective) fact of the matter.

 

In conclusion, Searle sees no barrier, in principle, to an epistemically objective science of ontologically subjective consciousness.

 

How would you respond to this, Peter?

Edited by Reg Prescott

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

Interesting post again, Peter, but John Searle (one of my fave dudes), for one, would disagree, and suggest that the above -- often repeated -- misgiving over science's putative inability to deal with consciousness arises from a confusion between different meanings of the terms objective and subjective. The (supposedly confused) claim is that:

 

Science is objective; consciousness is subjective; thus there can be no science of consciousness

 

Science is indeed objective, but epistemically objective. That is, science attempts to get at the fact of the matter, and ideally all investigators will converge on the correct answer. One man's opinion is not as good as any other man's. That water boils at a certain temperature under whatever conditions is not a matter of taste like, say, the merits of red wine vs white wine.

 

Conversely, consciousness is indeed subjective, but ontologically subjective. That is, consciousness exists only insofar as it is experienced by a subject.

 

Your pain, for example, is an ontologically subjective state, hence accessible to only you, and not subject to third person scrutiny. But Searle would respond that there is an epistemically objective answer to questions regarding your pain. It is surely not a matter of opinion whether or not you are in pain; there is a (epistemically objective) fact of the matter.

 

In conclusion, Searle sees no barrier, in principle, to an epistemically objective science of ontologically subjective consciousness.

 

How would you respond to this, Peter?

 

I would say Searle is wrong. It would mean basing a whole science on first-person reports and I can't see much use for such a limited approach. So far it's got us nowhere. Science should be first-hand, I would say, and not rely on anecdotes. A scientists should be studying the phenomenon itself, not asking for directions to it.

 

The problem would be that the word 'science' has some leeway as to meaning. I do think that consciousness can be addressed by science, but not while we limit the use of the word to the natural sciences and the evidence of our physical sense alone. If we call metaphysics a science of logic then this changes things, and if we call Buddhism a science of mind things change a lot. This would entail calling mind a sixth sense, so that the meaning of 'empiricism' is extended.

 

Also, more importantly, I would disagree with Searle that consciousness is ontologically subjective. I'm not even sure that this phrase makes any sense. How can ontology be subjective unless the whole world is subjective? .

Obvious, but wrong. Here's one of many counter examples.

http://www.livescience.com/47096-theories-seek-to-explain-consciousness.html

 

Counter-example?

 

It is yet another inconclusive article claiming that success is nearly ours! Just a little longer to wait and, of course, more funding required. The article shows just how far we have to go.

Edited by PeterJ

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Peter,

You seem to have forgotten what you actually said which was "This is not a phenomenon accessible to observation. The inability of science to deal with this phenonemon is surely rather obvious. "

Science is accessing it, so you are wrong.

It doesn't matter if science hasn't got very far yet.

You, in the meantime, have utterly failed to give a reason why science can not address it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, I have given a reason. Science cannot observe this phenomenon. Science is not 'accessing it' and never will. Do you not know the 'other minds' problem, or the unfalsifiability of solipsism? It would be impossible for anybody to demonstrate the existence of consciousness, It can only be inferred or extrapolated from our own undemonstrable experience. This has all been said before a thousand times and often in respectable journals. It's just the facts, and we either accept them or not.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Science can't observe anything (because it's an abstract concept)- but scientists can.

Quite a lot of us scientists are able to observe consciousness.

Can't you?

Now I accept that I do logically have to ask that question (and I have to trust you with your answer) because I can't directly observe your consciousness.

 

I also never directly observed an atom.

Are you claiming that science can't study atoms?

 

Also, we can experiment (and many do) with altered states of consciousness- in ourselves and (this is the important bit) in other animals.

 

So it's simply unrealistic to say we can't study it.

At root, it's a bunch of processes involving chemicals in the brain.

All subject to the rules of physics.

Unless, of course, you say it's not just a property of the arrangement and function of cells in the brain and that God or something has to be involved somewhere to make something conscious.

In which case, the first thing you need to do is demonstrate the existence of that God or whatever it is- the "vital spark" that makes the difference between a brain and a pile of chemicals.

Good luck.

 

Just as a thought experiment- imagine that I could copy myself- every atom, molecule and electron replicated exactly in terms of its position and motion.

Would that copy say he was conscious if you asked him?

If not, why not? What's missing?

If so then there's nothing to consciousness than a complex arrangement of molecules doing what physics tells them to.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

..."Just as a thought experiment- imagine that I could copy myself- every atom, molecule and electron replicated exactly in terms of its position and motion.

Would that copy say he was conscious if you asked him?"

 

I don't know, and nor do you. What has his first-person report got to do with anything anyway? Why ask, why not just meausre whether he is conscious? Oh yes, because you can't. So you have to ask, and you end up with a science that is not empirical. Some science.

 

You seem to be ignoring a million articles on the topic as well as common sense.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

I don't know, and nor do you. What has his first-person report got to do with anything anyway? Why ask, ..

Oh yes, because you can't.

 

perhaps I should ask this parrot

Or a hypothetical copy of it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_consciousness

Or, perhaps, I could repeat the measurements and observations made about it that indicate that it is conscious.

Wy?

Oh yes, because I can.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't know, and nor do you. What has his first-person report got to do with anything anyway? Why ask, why not just meausre whether he is conscious?

Why look at the level of the mercury in the thermometer when you can just measure temperature? Oh, yes, because you can't.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The interesting thing about measurement of consciousness is that they even know when they are doing it badly.

http://bja.oxfordjournals.org/content/96/6/801.long

and, in order to do that, they must have a reference measurement that does it well.

 

The fact that there are commercial monitors for it, that we can measure it in animals* and that there's even a scale for it, shows that we damned well can measure it .

 

Trying to say otherwise is flying in the face of the evidence.

And even if all these are wrong, it doesn't matter. The issue is still the subject of scientific research, so there's no way you can reasonably say it isn't.

 

*

https://web.archive.org/web/20131109230457/http://fcmconference.org/img/CambridgeDeclarationOnConsciousness.pdf

Edited by John Cuthber

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

..."Just as a thought experiment- imagine that I could copy myself- every atom, molecule and electron replicated exactly in terms of its position and motion.

Would that copy say he was conscious if you asked him?"

 

I don't know, and nor do you. What has his first-person report got to do with anything anyway? Why ask, why not just meausre whether he is conscious? Oh yes, because you can't. So you have to ask, and you end up with a science that is not empirical. Some science.

 

You seem to be ignoring a million articles on the topic as well as common sense.

On a materialistic picture, the answer is obviously "yes". This is Dennett's standard response to the p-zombie objection. If you think that p-zombies are possible, then you ought to think there is not only no third person access to consciousness, but also no first person access. A p-zombie is first person indistinguishable from a conscious "twin".

 

Even the dualists don't deny that actions are the result of neuronal processes. An atom by atom copy, the phenomenal zombie twin, will act identically to the conscious twin. If you ask it if it is conscious, it will respond as honestly in the affirmative as the conscious twin. It will describe its love of its children with just as much appearance of passion and joy as the conscious twin. And neither the p-zombie nor its conscious twin would be lying. The p-zombie doesn't know it's a p-zombie.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
An atom by atom copy, the phenomenal zombie twin, will act identically to the conscious twin.

There's a complication - the atoms have to be not only placed, but provided with the same field forces and otherwise set in motion identically. The concept of an identical copy is not a simple one.

 

Essentially, consciousness and other aspects of living are moving patterns in substrate likewise composed of moving patterns - the materialistic approach is not only far from adequacy so far, but conceptually dubious. The "material" of which consciousness is composed is not well defined.

 

There's no apparent reason it can't be, this has nothing to do with "science" in the abstract, but it does suggest the distance between the questions and the answers in this matter.

Edited by overtone

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes. The idea that science can measure consciousness is just plain daft. I don't know how anyone can believe otherwise when it's so obvious. There's lots of bluster here but no counter-evidence and It's perfectly safe to say there never will be any. I'm not sure it's worth arguing about something so blindingly apparent so I'l stop. Objectors will need to produce some evidence or they're waiving their arms arouinf for nothing. We've known for millenia that consiousness is not measurable.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There's a complication - the atoms have to be not only placed, but provided with the same field forces and otherwise set in motion identically. The concept of an identical copy is not a simple one.

 

Essentially, consciousness and other aspects of living are moving patterns in substrate likewise composed of moving patterns - the materialistic approach is not only far from adequacy so far, but conceptually dubious. The "material" of which consciousness is composed is not well defined.

 

There's no apparent reason it can't be, this has nothing to do with "science" in the abstract, but it does suggest the distance between the questions and the answers in this matter.

when I raised the issue I set up a thought experiment that's completely impossible.

I specified that the electrons were all copied and that's impossible because of quantum mechanics.

 

I'm not concerned that it's impossible in practice.

I'd like to know what would happen if, in some way, it could be made.

Now, if I was saying that you could only study consciousness by making this model then it would be a problem.

But I only introduced the idea to show that you would need to show that consciousness was something outside of reality for it to be impossible to study.

Since it is real it is open to study.

 

Peter may not believe it, but the fact is it must be possible to study it simply because there are people who do study it.

Yes. The idea that science can measure consciousness is just plain daft. I don't know how anyone can believe otherwise when it's so obvious.

In the real world of medicine, people do measure it.

Your point is like saying nobody studies sexuality because you can't get a test tube full of it.

 

Meanwhile, the research goes on.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes. The idea that science can measure consciousness is just plain daft. I don't know how anyone can believe otherwise when it's so obvious.

Yes. The idea that science can measure temperature is just plain daft. I don't know how anyone can believe otherwise when it's so obvious.

Peter may not believe it, but the fact is it must be possible to study it simply because there are people who do study it.

 

In the real world of medicine, people do measure it.

Your point is like saying nobody studies sexuality because you can't get a test tube full of it.

 

Meanwhile, the research goes on.

^What John said.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just as a thought experiment- imagine that I could copy myself- every atom, molecule and electron replicated exactly in terms of its position and motion.

Would that copy say he was conscious if you asked him?

If not, why not? What's missing?

If so then there's nothing to consciousness than a complex arrangement of molecules doing what physics tells them to.

 

I can think of two fairly weighty objections that could be raised here:

 

1. "there's nothing to consciousness than a complex arrangement of molecules doing what physics tells them to" is a claim that consciousness is reducible to physical states, and thereby incurs all the objections associated with reductive physicalism. For example, we'd have to ask next whether you mean each type of conscious state reduces to a physical state, or whether only each token does.

 

If it's the former then each type of conscious state, pain say, reduces to (i.e., is identical with) a physical/neuronal state of the human brain. What, then, do we say of other animals, or extraterrestrials, or even so-called artificial intelligence? Given that their brains -- if they even have one -- are constituted differently, it seems we must conclude they do not, indeed cannot experience pain.

 

If it's the latter, and pain is instantiated differently in your brain and mine (and perhaps even in your own brain at different times), and in animals and supercomputers, then what makes all these states pain? Given that they are not physically identical, in what sense are they the same state? At this point you're probably wanting to scream "They all hurt!!", but that won't do; that's what we're trying to reduce, remember?

 

 

2. With regards the physical duplicate of yourself, this brings us to the fascinating Twin Earth thought experiments of Hilary Putnam. Imagine a far off planet which is identical with our own Earth, molecule for molecule (as they like to say), with only one difference: their 'water' although superficially indistinguishable from our own water (H2O), actually has a quite different, and very complex, chemical composition, which we'll call XYZ for short. We both use the word water, of course, but our term refers to H2O, while theirs refers to XYZ.

 

On Twin Earth, there is, of course, a duplicate John Cuthber, who also calls himself John Cuthber, but we'd better call him Twohn Cuthber to avoid confusion. And to thicken the plot even more, let's place ourselves in the year 1600, say, before the chemical composition of water was known.

 

On a particularly hot summer's day here on Earth John thinks, "A drink of water would be nice right now."

 

Meanwhile, on Twin Earth, Twohn, who is equally thirsty, yearns, "A drink of water would be nice right now."

 

Now, by hypothesis, John and Twohn are physically identical. The question we ask next is : But are they also mentally identical?

 

It would appear that their respective thoughts are about different things: John's is about water (H2O); Twohn's is about twater (XYZ). We might say their thoughts have the same narrow content, but not the same wide content.

 

Now, if you buy this argument, we're forced to conclude that the mind isn't (entirely) in the head! Environmental factors are partially constitutive of mental states. Two people can be physically identical but not mentally so. Would John's duplicate be conscious? No doubt. Would he have the same conscious states as our John? Apparently not.

 

And so it would appear that the claim there's nothing to consciousness than a complex arrangement of molecules doing what physics tells them to is no longer sustainable, assuming that consciousness in this context includes intentional states (i.e., those mental states with a content), and not merely the raw feels of phenomenal consciousness.

Edited by Reg Prescott

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

AFAIK science can't explain causality, but it can decipher causes, and the causes of consciousness are no different.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.