Why consciousness must be electric

Nested hierarchies have been discussed adequately, one should think. So here is an alternative matter.

I would propose that consciousness must be electrical in nature, due to two crucial facts:

1. The information that becomes conscious is some of the information being carried by the action-potentials of the nerve cells. It is not any other kind of information, such as quantum states of molecules, it is simply the information that nerve cells are known to carry via action-potentials.

2. Electric fields are the only physical phenomenon in the brain that have both the ability to extend in space significantly beyond nerve conduction itself and to be able to change and interact exceedingly swiftly, just as we experience conscious changes occurring “instantly.”

There are many other issues involved, of course, however, the fact remains that the physical phenomena underlying consciousness must be able to account for how consciousness appears to have the kind of extension and interactivity that creates consciousness, as electric fields would seem to be able to do. And that physical phenomenon must be tied to the information being carried as nerve impulses, as the electric fields of the nervous system ineluctibly are.

There does not seem to be a realistic option of a different sort of phenomenon that can unify that information encoded in the nerves into a conscious whole, and to do so exceedingly swiftly and surely. Certainly quantum physics offers nothing beyond electric fields interacting that could magically account for consciousness, no matter how much hocus-pocus people try to coax out of quantum phenomena. In the end it can’t be strange loops or the “illusion of consciousness” either, as one has to explain the difference between the consciousness and the unconscious (I would propose that the amount of, and type of, interaction of electric fields is what is crucial).

A great many issues could be discussed, however it seems to me that beginning with the basics is appropriate. There really is only one good candidate for consciousness in the physics of the brain at all, which is the electric fields that are unquestionably a necessary part of nerve conduction in the first place. If consciousness simply is what it is to be like a highly structured and unified (always becoming unified) electric field from the inside, so to speak, then it is the one phenomenon that we know not just abstractly, but as reality itself.

336 thoughts on “Why consciousness must be electric

  1. Erik,

    Regarding the “brain as radio receiver” idea, here’s a comment I made at UD 12(!) years ago:

    The problems with this model become evident when you consider physical changes to the brain. Russell Swerdlow and Jeffrey Burns tell of a man who suddenly became a pedophile due to the growth of a brain tumor (follow link below for the full story). The pedophilia disappeared when the tumor was removed, but returned when the tumor partially regrew. The tumor was removed again, and the man’s urges subsided for a second time.

    Under the “immaterial soul as transmitter” model, this man’s soul is the seat of his will (including his sexual morality). If so, why should he oscillate between pedophilia and normalcy as the tumor waxes and wanes? The integrity of his transcendent soul ought to remain untouched by the brain tumor.

    To salvage the model, you could argue that the soul itself remains virtuous, but that the brain-cum-soulwave-receiver garbles the signal, so that the body ends up acting against the soul’s will. But in that case the soul would experience great distress at losing control of the body, and would express that distress (assuming it retained control of the speech organs). This did not happen in the case of Swerdlow’s patient.

    If the soul completely lost control over the body, including the organs of speech, then the soul would be unable to communicate its distress to anyone else. The body would just continue on its unguided path like a zombie, with the helpless soul along for the ride.

    Without visibility into the soul, we would never know that this was happening. Perhaps we’re suspecting something vaguely like this when we say of someone, “She hasn’t been herself lately.”

    Two problems with this model: A garbled message from the soul/transmitter would be unlikely to result in behavior as purposive and coordinated as pedophilia; I’d expect something more akin to an epileptic seizure. Secondly, most of us have had the experience of intoxication, which certainly alters our will and may cause behavior inconsistent with our “true” character. Yet in the moment we feel no conflict between our will and our actions. Our will has been affected by the alcohol. But why should the soul, which is the seat of the will in our model, be affected by alcohol, a purely material substance affecting the material brain?

    I can’t think of any other options for salvaging the idea of a transcendental soul. I gave up the idea a long time ago, and you know what? It’s not so bad. Life is still meaningful, morality still has its force, and I don’t have to worry about being bored in heaven (singing God’s praises eternally never sounded like much fun to me as a kid).

    A link to the tumor/pedophilia story:
    http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2003-07-28-pedophile-tumor_x.htm

  2. keiths,

    Your brain-tumor-and-pedophilia link argument could have the point you intend if all people with that kind of tumor would turn pedophiles. Until that happens, you are not making much of a point.

    Even so, nobody is denying that the health of the body (including the health of the brain) affects behavior. The body is the vehicle through which the soul can manifest. Through a poor vehicle, the soul manifests poorly, and in the absence of the vehicle it does not manifest at all.

    But the manifestation depends crucially on the strength of the soul. A strong soul would be able to make much of a poor vehicle, a weak soul would not be able to make much of a healthy vehicle. Just like the car and the driver: Without a car, you cannot drive, and you cannot drive properly if e.g. a wheel is missing, but a good driver can still drive better even when a wheel is missing than a very poor driver in a better car.

  3. Erik,

    The pedophilia/tumor account is just one example among zillions.

    Remember our discussion of petrushka’s uncle, and how badly that went for you?

    More tomorrow.

  4. keiths: The pedophilia/tumor account is just one example among zillions.

    I know. It’s one example among zillions how the argument is irrelevant. Did you even understand how it’s irrelevant? Unless everyone with the same tumor turns pedophile, the point you are trying to make is not what you think it is.

    keiths: Remember our discussion of petrushka’s uncle, and how badly that went for you?

    Okay, so you didn’t understand.

  5. keiths:
    CharlieM,

    Here are some sentence’s from Glen’s Steiner quote.For each of them, could you indicate 1) whether you believe Steiner is correct; and 2) why you give the answer you do?

    a) What we are consciously aware of in an ordinary thought is in reality the process of destruction that is taking place in our nervous system.

    Yes I believe he is correct, but as to why will take a bit of explaining.

    Modern thinkers generally hold that the concept of the elements as they appear in the periodic table is correct and that the ancient understanding of the five elements is the result of a lack of knowledge. I believe that they are both valid but different ways of looking at reality.

    The modern way is analytic and reductionist. It emphasises the differences between substances. The ancient way is more holistic and looks for the similarity between substances. Thus ‘earth’ is everything of a solid nature, water everything of a liquid nature, air, everything gaseous and fire is energy.

    If we look at the human form there is the digestive system with the mouth at the top where solids and liquids are taken in. the digestive system involves destroying the form of the food, separating the waste from the substances to be used. Moving up a stage there is the respiratory system where air is taken in and waste gases are expelled. Moving up again the higher sense organs and the central nervous system which use the energy from light and air.

    All these systems involve catabolic and anabolic processes. The brain uses more that its fair share of energy but it has less regeneration than the other bodily systems. Any regeneration that occurs within the cells is not the result of thinking, it is not a conscious process. Any thinking that goes on is accompanied by neurons firing and this is a process which I would describe as catabolic rather than anabolic. It is a process that cannot go on indefinitely without being supplemented by a renewal process.

    I would have liked to have gone into more detail but I’ve run out of time. I’ll try to reply to your other questions when I get the time.

  6. CharlieM: The brain uses more that its fair share of energy but it has less regeneration than the other bodily systems.

    It is true that brains are metabolically “expensive,” but from what I recall the most metabolically expensive tissue (in terms of calories burned per cubic centimeter of tissue) is not the brain but the liver. I don’t think it’s true that brains regenerate less than other tissues.

  7. Kantian Naturalist: I don’t think it’s true that brains regenerate less than other tissues.

    Well, it’s well-known that lost brain cells aren’t replaced, except possibly in some very specialized places, like the hippocampus (even the latter is disputed again, however), and perhaps very slowly in other regions. Livers, especially, are quite good at regrowing when significant damage occurs.

    But the relative lack of neurogenesis seems as though that probably has more to do with keeping the brain more constant than if it had a substantial turnover of cells, and not because of metabolic expense or any such thing. And of course a lot of repair and change does occur in brains, just not a lot of neurogenesis.

    Once again, though, one is at a loss to figure out what Charlie is on about. Livers are more energetic, and far better at regrowing than the brain. It’s rather pointless to try to make neuronal activity into “catabolic” (in any case, it seems to be associated with anabolic processes, which accommodate to common neural activity) or “anabolic,” but this seems to be a binary into which Charlie and Steiner want to slot biologic activities.

    But it’s not clear what sort of argument Charlie is attempting. So brain cells need maintenance and repair, how is that meaningfully different from other cells?

    Glen Davidson

  8. keiths:
    Erik,

    Remember our discussion of petrushka’s uncle, and how badly that went for you?

    As immortal as the man who mistook his wife for a hat.

  9. Here’s a relevant comment I made to Erik:

    Your prior defenses of immaterialism have been disasters. I particularly remember this exchange:

    petrushka:

    I had an uncle who suffered a brain hemorrhage and lived 25 years without forming any new long term memories. Every day he had to be informed that he had been sick. His children grew up, got married, but every morning when he awoke, he expected them to be 8 and 10 years old.

    Erik:

    Similarly, brain damage hampers one’s ability to give memory an expression, but memory is distinct from its expression.

    keiths:

    Seriously? You think petrushka’s uncle actually remembered that his kids had grown up and married, but that he couldn’t “express” that memory, instead expressing the thought that they were 8 and 10 years old, day after day, month after month, year after year?

    He remembered it, but just couldn’t get his mouth to form the words?

    That’s ridiculous, Erik.

    Erik:

    How is it known that he remembered those things before, but then lost the memory? I assume it’s because he was asked and he told about it. If so, my point stands – memories are not known to third persons by looking at the brain, but by interviewing, which is a subjective method by definition. If this be your method, you have no reason to disbelieve me either.

    keiths:

    So you are actually suggesting — seriously, with a straight face — that petrushka’s uncle was aware that his children were grown up, and that he was thinking about it, but that through some bizarre malfunction he was unable to form the words, and instead formed sentences that directly contradicted what he actually believed?

    And that he wasn’t able to say “Wow, this is weird, I’m trying to say certain things about my children but the words won’t come out of my mouth?”

    Seriously?

    And all of this to avoid admitting the obvious fact that memory is a physical phenomenon?

  10. keiths:

    As if matter had to decide that it wanted to be conscious, or to take up space, or to reflect light, and so on. Steiner has really gone off the rails here, personifying matter. It reminds me of his tomato rant.

    CharlieM:

    I wonder who it is that has the double standards. You accuse Steiner of personifying matter. But then you go on to say, ‘To ascribe the power of thinking to oneself is to ascribe the power of thinking to matter’.

    Matter simply has the properties that it has, Charlie. It doesn’t decide to have them. Arrange matter a certain way, to form a mirror, and it reflects light with high efficiency. Arrange matter a different way, into the form of a pickup truck, and it is capable of carrying cargo down the road. Arrange matter a third way, into the form of a living human body, and a portion of that matter thinks. The matter doesn’t decide to reflect light, or carry cargo, or think. Those simply follow from the properties of matter, arranged in certain ways.

    Steiner’s error is to insist on the need for a decision prior to thought.

    He doesn’t understand the physicalist position, and as I keep pointing out, he’s making an obvious logical mistake. Deciding to think is itself is a form of thinking. Thus Steiner creates an infinite regress and thought never gets off the ground.

    Drawing out the goofy implications:

    1. Matter can’t think without deciding to think.
    2. But deciding is itself a form of thinking.
    3. So matter can’t think without deciding to decide to think.
    4. But deciding is itself a form of thinking.
    5. So matter can’t think without deciding to decide to decide to think.
    6. But deciding is itself a form of thinking.
    7. So matter can’t think without deciding to decide to decide to decide to think.
    etc.

    The problem is obvious, and it’s one created by Steiner himself through his goofy assumption. It’s not a problem for the physicalist, who rejects Steiner’s anthropomorphic view in which matter “decides” to have its properties.

  11. keiths: CharlieM,

    Here are some sentence’s from Glen’s Steiner quote. For each of them, could you indicate 1) whether you believe Steiner is correct; and 2) why you give the answer you do?

    b) In this example, by means of meditation we hold the thought back so far that it does not connect itself with the brain.

    Yes. Considering my beliefs about mind and matter it would be hypocritical of me not to believe that thinking is possible without the assistance of a brain.

  12. I do not think the root of consciousness is electric. With all of J-mac fascination with Quantum Mechanics, and the fact a few interpretations of Quantum Mechanics suggests the root of consciousness is not material, I started revisiting my QM books again. It’s been a while. I may create videos with essays on the topic some day.

  13. CharlieM:

    All these systems involve catabolic and anabolic processes. The brain uses more that its fair share of energy but it has less regeneration than the other bodily systems. Any regeneration that occurs within the cells is not the result of thinking, it is not a conscious process. Any thinking that goes on is accompanied by neurons firing and this is a process which I would describe as catabolic rather than anabolic. It is a process that cannot go on indefinitely without being supplemented by a renewal process.

    But Steiner’s statement goes much further than that. He doesn’t merely say that brain-based thinking is accompanied by destruction. He says:

    What we are consciously aware of in an ordinary thought is in reality the process of destruction that is taking place in our nervous system.

    If this translation of Steiner’s German is accurate, then each thought is actually an awareness of the destructive process. This seems weird and very Steineresque.

    Before people were aware of how thinking took place, or even that it involved the brain, it seems odd to suggest that their thoughts were an awareness of destruction taking place in their brains — or anywhere, for that matter.

  14. Regarding this statement of Steiner’s…

    In this example, by means of meditation we hold the thought back so far that it does not connect itself with the brain.

    …Charlie wrote…

    Yes. Considering my beliefs about mind and matter it would be hypocritical of me not to believe that thinking is possible without the assistance of a brain.

    Okay, but I’m not asking how you avoid hypocrisy, but rather why you think the statement is correct.

    And note Steiner’s phrasing, which implies that some thoughts “connect themselves with the brain” while others don’t. That has an odd implication, because Steiner also says that (as I noted in the previous comment) that brain-based thoughts are actually an awareness of a process of destruction taking place in the brain. So there are these non-brain-based thoughts, and some of them connect themselves with the brain, at which point they morph into an awareness of a destructive process taking place in the brain.

    Well, what were they an awareness of before the connection? And why do they bother “connecting” themselves with the brain in the first place, if non-brain-based thinking is possible? And how does Steiner know any of this? Did he get it from “clairvoyant investigation”, also known as “pulling it out of one’s ass”?

    Adoring acolytes tend not to ask these questions, but skeptics do.

  15. keiths:

    Steiner is claiming that if the physicalist is correct, then the following sequence must occur, in the specified order:

    1. matter decides to think
    2. matter thinks

    What he fails to recognize is that deciding is a form of thinking. If thinking cannot occur until after a decision is made, then thinking can never get off the ground, because the decision itself is a thought. It’s simple logic.

    CharlieM:

    Not sure why you think they need to be in that particular order but even if it is so you have still failed to interpret Steiner correctly. What you should have written is:

    1. matter decides to think about the material world.
    2. matter thinks about the material world.

    How does that help? It only seems to make the problem worse for you.

    Remember, Steiner’s aim is to adopt the physicalist view arguendo in order to show that it leads to a special difficulty or absurdity. How would “matter thinking about the material world” be a special difficulty if “matter thinking” were not?

  16. CharlieM,

    Ah! I spotted something while looking through earlier comments that helps me understand the source of your error. You wrote:

    Materialists believe that matter thinks. Materialists believe that they themselves are material. Therefore matter believes that matter thinks. How does matter know this? Because matter thinks about it. And this circular reasoning is at the basis of the materialist philosophy.

    But there’s nothing circular about that reasoning. You could just as easily substitute ‘soul’ for ‘matter’ and ‘dualists’ for ‘materialists’ in that paragraph:

    Dualists believe that the soul thinks. Dualists believe that they themselves are immaterial souls. Therefore souls believe that souls think. How do the souls know this? Because the souls think about it. And this circular reasoning is at the basis of the dualist philosophy.

    The last sentence is false in both paragraphs. It isn’t circular reasoning in either case.

  17. keiths:
    keiths:

    CharlieM:

    Matter simply has the properties that it has, Charlie.It doesn’t decide to have them.Arrange matter a certain way, to form a mirror, and it reflects light with high efficiency.Arrange matter a different way, into the form of a pickup truck, and it is capable of carrying cargo down the road. Arrange matter a third way, into the form of a living human body, and a portion of that matter thinks.The matter doesn’t decide to reflect light, or carry cargo, or think.Those simply follow from the properties of matter, arranged in certain ways.

    Steiner’s error is to insist on the need for a decision prior to thought.

    He doesn’t understand the physicalist position, and as I keep pointing out, he’s making an obvious logical mistake.Deciding to think is itself is a form of thinking.Thus Steiner creates an infinite regress and thought never gets off the ground.

    Drawing out the goofy implications:

    1. Matter can’t think without deciding to think.
    2. But deciding is itself a form of thinking.
    3. So matter can’t think without deciding to decide to think.
    4. But deciding is itself a form of thinking.
    5. So matter can’t think without deciding to decide to decide to think.
    6. But deciding is itself a form of thinking.
    7.So matter can’t think without deciding to decide to decide to decide to think.
    etc.

    The problem is obvious, and it’s one created by Steiner himself through his goofy assumption.It’s not a problem for the physicalist, who rejects Steiner’s anthropomorphic view in which matter “decides” to have its properties.

    The problenm has not been created by Steiner.

    The problem has been expressed by many thinkers. For instance, Daniel Keane quoting David Chalmers writes:

    “When we think and perceive, there is a whir of information-processing, but there is also a subjective aspect.”

    “It is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises. Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does.”

    In short, why should moving parts produce perception and sensation? And why should only brains (as far as we know) be responsible for consciousness?

    David Chalmers states that there is agreement as to the physical basis for thinking. In other words matter thinks.
    And from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

    The hard problem of consciousness is the problem of explaining why any physical state is conscious rather than nonconscious. It is the problem of explaining why there is “something it is like” for a subject in conscious experience, why conscious mental states “light up” and directly appear to the subject. The usual methods of science involve explanation of functional, dynamical, and structural properties—explanation of what a thing does, how it changes over time, and how it is put together. But even after we have explained the functional, dynamical, and structural properties of the conscious mind, we can still meaningfully ask the question, Why is it conscious? This suggests that an explanation of consciousness will have to go beyond the usual methods of science. Consciousness therefore presents a hard problem for science, or perhaps it marks the limits of what science can explain. Explaining why consciousness occurs at all can be contrasted with so-called “easy problems” of consciousness: the problems of explaining the function, dynamics, and structure of consciousness. These features can be explained using the usual methods of science. But that leaves the question of why there is something it is like for the subject when these functions, dynamics, and structures are present. This is the hard problem.

    The point Steiner was making is that whether we believe that the entity that does the thinking is ‘the self’ or ‘the material brain’ makes no difference. it gets us no nearer to solving what is considered to be the hard problem. And asking why we (matter) come to think about our own existence is just another way of putting the hard problem.

  18. keiths:
    CharlieM:

    But Steiner’s statement goes much further than that.He doesn’t merely say that brain-based thinking is accompanied by destruction.He says:

    What we are consciously aware of in an ordinary thought is in reality the process of destruction that is taking place in our nervous system.

    If this translation of Steiner’s German is accurate, then each thought is actually an awareness of the destructive process.This seems weird and very Steineresque.

    Before people were aware of how thinking took place, or even that it involved the brain, it seems odd to suggest that their thoughts were an awareness of destruction taking place in their brains — or anywhere, for that matter.

    There is a problem here with your interpretation. This is partly the fault of posters quoting snippets from Steiners books and lectures which, without further information and research, can be easily misinterpreted. And I am as much a culprit as anyone else in posting snippets.

    Steiner explained that normal human thinking is achieved at the expense of the physical substance of the nervous system. Anyone who has had a more extensive reading of Steiner’s works (and there is a lot of it) would realise that he was most certainly not arguing that any thinking that we engage in gives us an awareness of the distructive process. He is saying that the activity of thinking itself is a destructive process.

    Thinking instigates a combustive process in the brain and we know that combustion destroys physical form. The crystallisation of salt is a form building process. Paracelsus uses the terms salt, mercury and sulphur to express these processes. By ‘salt’ he meant the form building process, by ‘sulphur’ the form destroying process, and by ‘mercury’ the movement between the two. Thinking is a specific example of this process, it is a form destroying process which must counteracted by a form building process.

    Scientific research is beginning to allow us to have a better understanding of these processes:

    Sciencedaily has a link to the article Salts in the brain control our sleep-wake cycle from the University of Copenhagen in April 2016.

    Our study shows that the brain uses something as simple as changing the level of salts to control whether we are asleep or awake. This discovery reveals that studying only neurons in order to understand brain activity is not enough. We must include all the supportive cells, especially the so-called astrocytes, which regulate the level of salts in the brain. The brain is more than a group of neurons that function like a computer. The fact that the brain needs 7-8 hours of sleep to function well on a daily basis reveals that there’s much more we need to understand, aside from neurocomputation,” Professor Maiken Nedergaard concludes.

    We can put conscious thinking on the side of form destroying, and sleep on the side of form building.

  19. keiths: Regarding this statement of Steiner’s…

    In this example, by means of meditation we hold the thought back so far that it does not connect itself with the brain.

    …Charlie wrote…

    Yes. Considering my beliefs about mind and matter it would be hypocritical of me not to believe that thinking is possible without the assistance of a brain.

    Okay, but I’m not asking how you avoid hypocrisy, but rather why you think the statement is correct.

    And note Steiner’s phrasing, which implies that some thoughts “connect themselves with the brain” while others don’t. That has an odd implication, because Steiner also says that (as I noted in the previous comment) that brain-based thoughts are actually an awareness of a process of destruction taking place in the brain. So there are these non-brain-based thoughts, and some of them connect themselves with the brain, at which point they morph into an awareness of a destructive process taking place in the brain.

    Well, what were they an awareness of before the connection? And why do they bother “connecting” themselves with the brain in the first place, if non-brain-based thinking is possible? And how does Steiner know any of this? Did he get it from “clairvoyant investigation”, also known as “pulling it out of one’s ass”?

    Adoring acolytes tend not to ask these questions, but skeptics do.

    I hope I have cleared up your misunderstanding of Steiner’s meaning in my last reply. And to give you a reasonable explanation as to why I believe his statement is correct would take much more time that I have at the moment.

  20. keiths: keiths:

    Steiner is claiming that if the physicalist is correct, then the following sequence must occur, in the specified order:

    1. matter decides to think
    2. matter thinks

    What he fails to recognize is that deciding is a form of thinking. If thinking cannot occur until after a decision is made, then thinking can never get off the ground, because the decision itself is a thought. It’s simple logic.

    CharlieM:

    Not sure why you think they need to be in that particular order but even if it is so you have still failed to interpret Steiner correctly. What you should have written is:

    1. matter decides to think about the material world.
    2. matter thinks about the material world.

    How does that help? It only seems to make the problem worse for you.

    Remember, Steiner’s aim is to adopt the physicalist view arguendo in order to show that it leads to a special difficulty or absurdity. How would “matter thinking about the material world” be a special difficulty if “matter thinking” were not?

    Because “matter thinking” is a problem. It is an instance of the hard problem of consciousness. The materialist view doesn’t lead to a specific difficulty. The specific difficulty already exists, materialism just does not get us any further in answering this problem.

  21. keiths:
    CharlieM,

    Ah!I spotted something while looking through earlier comments that helps me understand the source of your error.You wrote:

    See below.

    But there’s nothing circular about that reasoning.You could just as easily substitute ‘soul’ for ‘matter’ and ‘dualists’ for ‘materialists’ in that paragraph:,

    See below.

    The last sentence is false in both paragraphs.It isn’t circular reasoning in either case.

    I wrote:

    Materialists believe that matter thinks. Materialists believe that they themselves are material. Therefore matter believes that matter thinks. How does matter know this? Because matter thinks about it. And this circular reasoning is at the basis of the materialist philosophy.

    You wrote:

    Dualists believe that the soul thinks. Dualists believe that they themselves are immaterial souls. Therefore souls believe that souls think. How do the souls know this? Because the souls think about it. And this circular reasoning is at the basis of the dualist philosophy.

    Let me restate it:
    Materialists/dualists believe that matter/the soul thinks. Materialists/dualists believe that the self is based on matter/the immaterial soul. So from this point of view matter/the immaterial soul thinks. So they have replaced ‘the self’ either with ‘matter’ or ‘the immaterial soul’. So how does the materialist/dualist know this? They have arrived at this belief through thinking.

    Tell me why in both these cases, this is not circular reasoning?

  22. CharlieM:

    Tell me why in both these cases, this is not circular reasoning?

    Where’s the circle? If it’s circular reasoning, you should be able to show that the conclusion is also a premise.

    Try to do it as a formal argument, with numbered steps.

  23. CharlieM:

    The materialist view doesn’t lead to a specific difficulty. The specific difficulty already exists, materialism just does not get us any further in answering this problem.

    Let’s assume you’re right, and that all Steiner is trying to say is that physicalism can’t (yet) explain consciousness, because it can’t explain why matter doesn’t just exist instead of giving rise to consciousness.

    So what? Steiner can’t explain consciousness either, whether in terms of the soul alone or the soul in conjunction with the brain. The same question he asks of matter applies to the soul or the soul/brain combination as well: Why don’t they just exist instead of giving rise to consciousness?

    So physicalists can’t explain consciousness, but neither can Steiner. What physicalists can do is present overwhelming evidence linking consciousness to the brain, leaving no role for soul, spirit, or other nonphysical woo.

  24. keiths:
    CharlieM:

    Where’s the circle?If it’s circular reasoning, you should be able to show that the conclusion is also a premise.

    Try to do it as a formal argument, with numbered steps.

    Okay. But if not circular reasoning then it is a shifting of the problem away from the solution. Instead of ‘thinking about thinking’, we now have ‘thinking about matter that thinks’ or ‘thinking about an immaterial soul that thinks’.

  25. keiths:
    CharlieM:

    Let’s assume you’re right, and that all Steiner is trying to say is that physicalism can’t (yet) explain consciousness, because it can’t explain why matter doesn’t just exist instead of giving rise to consciousness.

    So what?Steiner can’t explain consciousness either, whether in terms of the soul alone or the soul in conjunction with the brain.The same question he asks of matter applies to the soul or the soul/brain combination as well:Why don’t they just exist instead of giving rise to consciousness?

    So physicalists can’t explain consciousness, but neither can Steiner.What physicalists can do is present overwhelming evidence linking consciousness to the brain, leaving no role for soul, spirit, or other nonphysical woo.

    But Steiner is not trying to explain consciousness in terms of matter or soul or any combination.

    He begins with ‘thinking’. We are confronted by percepts and through thinking we attach concepts to our percepts and in this way we come to a more inclusive understanding. For any entity it is our activity which combines concept and percept and gives us the full reality. There is only one entity for which the percept and the concept are one and the same for us, and that entity is ‘thinking’ . Thinking is a reality in and of itself.

    In The Philosophy of Freedom he explains what he means by the terms ‘concept’ and ‘percept’.

  26. Religion had a significant place in people’s lives when half or more of one’s children died before reaching adulthood.

    Now that only a tiny fraction die early, religion has been replaced by malpractice claims and torts.

  27. petrushka:
    Religion had a significant place in people’s lives when half or more of one’s childrendied before reaching adulthood.

    Now that only a tiny fraction die early, religion has been replaced by malpractice claims and torts.

    A huge number of boring words either way.

    Glen Davidson

  28. GlenDavidson: A huge number of boring words either way.

    My observation is that people who have children talk differently from people who do not. Parenthood seems to focus one’s thought, and perhaps pushes some potential thoughts aside.

  29. keiths:

    So physicalists can’t explain consciousness, but neither can Steiner. What physicalists can do is present overwhelming evidence linking consciousness to the brain, leaving no role for soul, spirit, or other nonphysical woo.

    petrushka:

    At least none of the necessity.

    Right. There could potentially be functions that the brain and the soul/spirit/whatever are both capable of carrying out. But any wooprietors pushing that angle would need to explain why the soul/spirit/whatever doesn’t step in and take over those functions when the brain stops doing them correctly (due to damage or malfunction).

    The woo hypothesis would become pretty ridiculous at that point: “Sure, the brain does those things. But there’s a soul/spirit/whatever that can do them too. It just fails to do so when the brain is malfunctioning and the person needs it the most.”

    It reminds me of one of the glaring holes in the argument for the veridicality of out-of-body experiences. Folks who have had those experiences describe seeing things as their soul/spirit/whatever moves about. But if the soul thingy can see without eyes, then why do we need eyes in the first place? Why don’t we all look like this?

  30. Seeing is inefficient. Why not just know where stuff is.

    Sight is a rather limited interpretation of reality, a tiny fraction of possibility ways of knowing.

  31. CharlieM:

    Okay. But if not circular reasoning then it is a shifting of the problem away from the solution. Instead of ‘thinking about thinking’, we now have ‘thinking about matter that thinks’ or ‘thinking about an immaterial soul that thinks’.

    Thinking about how matter thinks, or about how an immaterial soul (supposedly) thinks, is “thinking about thinking”.

  32. CharlieM:

    But Steiner is not trying to explain consciousness in terms of matter or soul or any combination.

    And he can’t. It’s a blatant double standard: He rejects physicalism for lacking an explanation, but he hangs on to his own wooish beliefs despite the fact that he himself lacks an explanation.

  33. CharlieM:

    Okay. But if not circular reasoning then it is a shifting of the problem away from the solution. Instead of ‘thinking about thinking’, we now have ‘thinking about matter that thinks’ or ‘thinking about an immaterial soul that thinks’.

    Yes, that’s how you get away from circular thinking.

    That’s how the discovery of causes happens.

    Glen Davidson

Leave a Reply